Tuesday, November 28, 2006


I’ve had to write about death a lot this year. Usually, it has been my experience that I will need to deal with the death of 1 or 2 people that are part of my life in a given year. This year has been different – I’ve seen a lot of people that I know, or who are important to people I know, pass from the scene. I sense that we’ve been at the crossroads a lot this year, watching the hearse go by.

Over the last week we’ve seen two more people leave. I did not know either individual, but both stories deserve a few lines. The first is the death of the grandmother of my daughter’s best friend. This lady, who was 66 at the time of her passing, was a gentle soul who had endured a number of health issues over the past decade. Things have been difficult for the family of my daughter’s friend – they have a severely autistic son who has been increasingly difficult to care for and they have had to deal with a number of other health and family issues prior to this. Jill and the mother of Maria’s friend have become friends as well and I have been impressed with this woman, who is a friendly, smart, organized and sensible soul. They have been through a lot as a family.

Meanwhile, we received news that the infant son of our church’s youth minister died on Sunday. This young couple came to St. John’s a few years ago and they have done a nice job creating a vibrant organization for the kids of the parish. They had struggled to have a child and finally were able to bring home their son earlier this year. He became ill over the weekend and died after only three months of life. Losing a child is probably the toughest thing a couple can go through. Both of these families deserve your prayers.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Eagle sighting

Yesterday was unseasonably warm for Thanksgiving Day; in fact, it was a marvelous day, with a sunny sky and temperatures in the 50s. It was so nice that the kids and I retired to the back yard to play a little football. We were throwing the ball around when suddenly my daughter Maria exclaimed, "Hey Dad! Look! What is that bird? Is that a bald eagle?" High overhead we saw the unmistakable figure of a young American Bald Eagle, probably 175-200 feet overhead, soaring right over my property.

I turned to Maria and said, "Maria, you're right, that's a bald eagle! Ben, look!" Ben looked up and saw it, too. It was pretty neat. I had only seen one once before, soaring over the Mississippi River north of town. Eagles are incredibly majestic in flight and this eagle was no exception.

While you don't expect to see eagles flying over an inner-ring suburb, times are changing and the eagles are making a strong comeback from their status as an endangered species back in the 1970s. I grew up in a place where you rarely see wild animals, excepting the ubiquitous squirrels and chipmunks that live in the city. But in our yard, it is not unusual to see a small flock of ducks waddling around. Nature's creatures have learned to co-exist in the urban environment and that gives me a lot of hope. If ducks and eagles can adapt, we should be able to as well.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Let's hear it for the boy

I can hardly believe it, but today is my son’s eleventh birthday. Back in 1995, we had no idea who we were bringing home with us. Like most babies, ours was able to do only the most rudimentary things. But like a Polaroid picture, Ben began to come into focus. We started to see the bright brown eyes and the ready smile. We saw the enthusiastic temperament. We saw him go from crawling to running in what seemed like a day. And we’ve watched him sort through a thousand things he likes to do, from playing with trucks, to playing sports, to playing his Game Boy, always asking questions, always reading everything he can, always smiling.

So today, Ben is a bright-eyed fifth grader attending Valentine Hills Elementary School. Ben is active in Scouting and sports. He will collect about five merit badges at his Cub Scout meeting tonight, and will collect his Webelos Arrow of Light, the highest honor that a Cub Scout can earn, early in 2007. It is an award his father never won. Ben plays baseball and basketball with great enthusiasm and is a valued teammate who maximizes his talent. As he has been for his entire life, he is a bundle of enthusiasms and a child who brings great joy to every room he enters. His spirit is strong, his mind always active. And his father couldn’t be more proud.

Monday, November 20, 2006


I saw two beatdowns this weekend, one of which matters more than the other. First, the one that doesn't matter so much. The Packers were clobbered at Lambeau 35-0 by a vastly superior New England Patriot squad. The Pack wasn't likely to win this game anyway, but the magnitude of the loss was pretty depressing. Meanwhile, Brett Favre's streak may finally be coming to an end following an elbow injury he suffered just before halftime. Since backup Aaron Rodgers also was injured, we may be seeing the debut of Ingle Martin the next time the Pack takes the field. Who would have bet on Ingle Martin being the answer to a trivia question?

More important, and much closer to home, my son's basketball squad took a 50-12 thrashing at the hands of a St. Anthony squad in his Irondale Basketball Association game on Saturday. Ben's team is inexperienced and lacks aggressiveness. His mates have suffered through three consecutive beatdowns now, with an average score of about 45-14. Not what you want to experience. But hope arises, as his next game is against a team that is even less experienced than Ben's team. The game will be a week from Saturday at 9:45 a.m. at Highview Middle School in New Brighton. You won't want to miss it. Actually, you probably will want to miss it, but let's keep a brave face on these things. For what it's worth, Ben is playing pretty well, considering he's been mostly up against kids who are about three inches taller than he is, and (more importantly, especially at this level) about 25-30 pounds heavier.

Badgers get the BCS boot

If reports in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel are true, the Badgers could end up accepting a bid to the Capital One Bowl as early as today. That would represent a return to a bowl they were at last year, against a good SEC foe such as Florida, Arkansas or (most likely) LSU. The Badgers, because of a respectable loss to Michigan at Ann Arbor, are on the outside looking in, even though they have not lost another game this season.

The BCS is set up to reward the big conferences, but only up to a point. If a conference has 3 top programs, as the Big 10 does this year, only two can go. Meanwhile, a team like Boise State, which beats up on similarly sized schools on their odd blue field, might get a bid. It doesn't seem right.

The good news for the Badgers is that, if they win their Capital One Bowl game against a strong opponent, should have a chance for a Top 10 or even Top 5 finish in the final standings. But the problem remains - the Badgers won't really know whether this 11-1 team is a great one, or merely one that profited from a favorable schedule. It would take a playoff for that to happen, but there's no evidence that will take place any time soon.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Milt and Bo

There's a certain randomness to death. Famous people in varying roles die regularly, but often you see some interesting juxtapositions. I remember well a week in August, 1977, when we said goodbye to two very different American icons, Elvis Presley and Groucho Marx. Both geniuses, both sui generis.

This week we said goodbye to two very successful, but very different men. Milton Friedman, probably the most influential and consequential economist since Keynes, passed away on Thursday. Yesterday, Bo Schembechler, the longtime face of Michigan football, passed away on the eve of the one of the biggest games in Michigan history, their showdown with hated Ohio State.

What do they have in common? Not much, really, except for excellence. Friedman was the leading voice of free market economic theory during a time when such thinking was generally anathema in academe and in government. He spent most of his career swimming against a seemingly insurmountable tide of Keynesian economic theory. He had his acolytes, but they were generally a lonely bunch. History will record that he had one acolyte who mattered - Ronald Reagan. And Reagan, using Friedman's wisdom to a large degree, changed the way we think about the world. Even as the Democrats prepare to take power, they must account for Friedman's theories on monetary policy and the proper role of government.

Meanwhile, Bo brought Michigan back. It's easy to forget, and I only know this from research as I am too young to remember this, but the Wolverines were a dynasty in ruins in the 1960s, much like the New York Yankees were at that same time. Bo rebuilt the program and Michigan has been a standard for excellence ever since, dominating the Big Ten for most of the past 40 years, generally in tandem with Ohio State. We will celebrate this rivalry again today, but Bo's presence will be stronger in death than it might have been in any other way. Keith Jackson, the famed announcer, called the timing of Schembechler's death "spooky." It may be the hand of Fate. Anyway, it really adds a twist to a game that already had a surfeit of subplots.

RIP, gentlemen.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Doing the math on Minnesota test scores

Interesting headlines in the local papers about test scores. Since the math standards were tightened in the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) tests, scores for many Minnesota schools dropped precipitously, especially at the high school level. There is some cause for alarm, although it's really not fair to make a year-to-year comparison, since the test material changed. What is most alarming, however, is that the poor performance is widespread.

At least in theory, math education should be pretty similar no matter where you are; cultural and language barriers that would clearly affect verbal scores should not be as large a consideration when mathematics are tested. Math scores should be objective. Based on the news reports, many of the scores, especially the alarming high school scores, represent that students are not being taught certain things that appear on the test. Kids must learn math, and learn it well, to compete in the world. And if that means more math instruction, so be it. As an English major who has had to rely on math skills throughout most of my adult life, I understand this problem especially well. Math is not optional.

The Stupid Party

If you ever wondered why the GOP is sometimes referred to as “The Stupid Party,” it provided another example today. For reasons that defy any rational explanation, Republican senators today selected Trent Lott to a leadership position. Lott was sent to the backbench after he made foolish comments at Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday celebration. Was that offense petty? Yes. Should it be a political hanging offense? Probably not. Should he be in the leadership? No. Once he received the reputation as a segregationist, he was permanently tainted. It doesn’t matter whether or not the charges are fair or not. There are other Senators who would be equally effective in a leadership post.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Joe Kobylka, RIP

Sad news from Beloit College today – Joe Kobylka, the long-time director of the Alumni Association, passed away at the age of 77. Many years ago, I worked closely with Joe during my short tenure as sports information director at Beloit College.

Here’s the official announcement from the College:

The only nickname that seemed broad enough to describe Joe Kobylka’s many contributions to the College was “Mr. Beloit.” A journalist who started his career on the staff of the Round Table, he chronicled Beloit’s history as a local reporter before joining Beloit College to direct the Alumni Office in 1966. Over the course of nearly three decades, Joe came to symbolize the friendly face of the College to the alumni community. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of every College event and graduate of most of the last century, and he was singularly adept at making everyone feel welcome. Joe is survived by his wife, Faith Kellogg Kobylka '54, two sons, Joe '78 and Rich '82, and a daughter, Sandy '87, and seven grandchildren.

That’s a brief assessment, but it hardly begins to express how important a figure Joe was. Joe was a leader, an always-approachable figure who always knew the right answer, and a mentor who cared deeply about the College and all who are associated with it. I turned to Joe countless times during my Beloit years, both as a student journalist and as a staff member, and I always knew he would be able to help me get an answer or provide a worthwhile insight. You meet some special people in your life and you have to appreciate them, because they do go away. Thank you, Joe, for your kindness, your wisdom, and your example.

The new leadership, wheeled in on casters

One of the most amusing things about the aftermath of the election is seeing the ancient liberals who are now getting ready to take over leadership on Capitol Hill. One picture I saw featured two fossilized Michiganders, Sen. Carl Levin (b. 1934) and Rep. John Dingell (b. 1926), appearing to hold each other up as they celebrated their great fortune. The ascension of folks like Levin and Dingell may represent many things, but a fresh start is not one of them.

Visuals do matter and the Democrats are going to have a problem with these guys, since a lot of their leadership looks more like Montgomery Burns than fresh-faced reformers. Ex-cellent!

Monday, November 13, 2006

The outlines are forming

We're starting to get a sense of where the much lauded new Democratic congress is headed. Here's what to watch:
  1. You'll know that the lefties are in charge if John Murtha overtakes Steny Hoyer for Majority Leader. Murtha has been front and center in the anti-war wing of the party and he has long coveted a leadership role. If Nancy Pelosi steers it that way, and her comments yesterday indicate that she's thinking that way, it will mean that the House will be pushing hard for a quick surrender. Sorry if you don't like that term, but that's what they want.
  2. The new Donkeys were elected ostensibly for their moderation. There are specific examples of this, including Tim Walz here in Minnesota and Heath Shuler in North Carolina. The districts they represent, while open to the Democratic message, still are generally conservative in outlook. A wise Democratic leadership would find ways to shield such members from having to take controversial stands, at least initially. But I doubt that's going to happen.
  3. Meanwhile, closer to home we can already conclude that the Democrats haven't learned much at the state level. By selecting the bombastic, nasty Larry Pogemiller as the next Senate majority leader, the D's are signaling that a full-scale conflict with Governor Pawlenty is imminent. Dean Johnson, although he was tough, was good at putting on a conciliatory face. Pogemiller doesn't really give a rat's behind what his opponents think. With another lefty, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, set to be the new House Speaker, the D's have announced their intentions to swing hard left. I'll be curious to see how that posture affects such newly minted members as Kate Knuth in 50B and Paul Gardner in 53A, who represent districts that have historically rejected strident leftism.
  4. Finally, the Star Tribune couldn't even wait and began profiling potential opponents for Sen. Norm Coleman, who will be running for re-election in 2008. The names floated in the article include Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak, Rep. Betty McCollum, trial lawyer extraordinaire Mike Ciresi, and reputed comedian Al Franken. If that's the best the DFL has, Norm should be pretty relaxed. My sincere wish would be for McCollum to emerge and for Norm to kick her butt. That way, I'd also get a less absurd representative in Congress.

Football is better

I think football is better than politics, especially when the Badgers and the Packers win in the same weekend. A few thoughts:

Of the two wins, the Badgers’ win over Iowa is much more significant, even though it may not make any difference for their immediate future. No matter how much the geniuses of the BCS play with the controls, teams have a way of upsetting expectations. It is quite possible that, when the regular season is over, that the Badgers will be 11-1, with Michigan 12-0 and Ohio State 11-1. It is also quite possible that most of the teams currently ahead of the Badgers in the BCS standings, such as Southern Cal, Notre Dame, Florida and Arkansas, will all have two losses. The question will then be, why should the Badgers not be in a BCS bowl game?

The answer is simple – one conference cannot have three teams in the BCS. As a result, it is quite likely that some teams will go into the BCS with worse records than the Badgers. Two things leave the Badgers in their current position – losing a game at Ann Arbor, and being lightly regarded at the beginning of the season. It’s difficult to see why the Badgers shouldn’t be ranked in the top 5, but they aren’t, and likely won’t be. They will get a chance to prove their point in the Capital One Bowl against a good SEC team. And if the Badgers end up 12-1, they would have an excellent argument for a top 3 position in the final poll, even if the two teams ahead of them are the boys from Columbus and Ann Arbor.

One other thing – as good as the Ron Dayne-era Badgers teams were, I think this squad may be better. John Stocco as a senior is a better quarterback than Mike Samuel ever was, or Brooks Bollinger became. While Dayne is an all-time great, P. J. Hill is an excellent young runner. The offensive line is better now than it was in 1998-1999 and the defense is better, too. Barry Alvarez set things up beautifully for Bret Bielema and, so far, the transition has been smooth.

As for the Packers, I’ll say two things. First, I was wrong about this team, thinking that they would be contending for the number one draft pick. They’re doing much better than that. I’ll also say this: they are showing progress every week. Number 4 is having a much better year this year than last, even though he has arguably less talent around him. This coaching staff seems to have gotten through to Brett about what happens when you take foolish chances. Meanwhile, Donald Driver is one of my all-time favorite Packers, because he comes ready to play every game. Yesterday he was huge, with his 82-yard touchdown only the most dramatic of several fine plays. While the high-risk, high reward Packer defense continues to get burned for long plays with alarming frequency, you can see that the Packer coaching staff is starting to make adjustments. The Vikings sent Bethel Johnson downfield successfully twice in the first half. When they went back to a similar play in the 4th quarter, the Packers were ready and Patrick Dendy made a key interception. Even though the Packers blew the game in Buffalo last week, they showed flashes of improvement. That continued yesterday. Young Mike McCarthy and his staff seem to have righted the ship after last year’s disaster. It would asking a lot for the Packers to get a playoff spot, but the 2-14 I envisioned before is now looking more like 7-9 perhaps even 8-8. And that would be major progress.

Meanwhile, the Purple continues to be a mystifying bunch. I sense that Chester Taylor, who has been very good this year, is starting to wear down. Brad Johnson looks very old now and I wonder if he’ll be able to hold up much longer. He took some ferocious shots yesterday, especially when he was sandwiched by A. J. Hawk and Nick Barnett. Johnson cannot throw the deep ball consistently any more and teams are sitting on the shorter routes the Vikings prefer to run. The natives are already getting restless about Brad Childress. If Johnson goes down and the team has to go with Brooks Bollinger, the Badger reunion will be complete. Perhaps the Vikings can get into the BCS….

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Statler and Waldorf mount the stage

Jim Henson was the comedic genius behind the Muppets, the whimsical puppets that have charmed and educated audiences for over 40 years. Henson and his crew created an indelible cast of characters, many of whom are featured in The Muppet Show, a syndicated television program that initially ran in the United States in the late 1970s and has been around ever since.

Two characters that fans of the show will remember are Statler and Waldorf. Statler and Waldorf are presumably wealthy, elderly gentlemen who sit high above the stage, heckling the performers below. They are amusing and often insightful, but like most hecklers, they have it easy. They are quick to criticize but they rarely offer anything that might improve the show they watch. Interestingly enough, they look a bit like George Soros.

For most of this decade, the Democrats have been playing the part of Statler and Waldorf. Republicans have essentially dominated the federal government apparatus, with firm control of the presidency and House of Representatives and tenuous control of the Senate. That appears to have changed yesterday. Meanwhile, the Democrats have been on the outside, shouting imprecations and maintaining a constant drumbeat of complaint through their allies in the mainstream news media. In this campaign, the Democratic message has been essentially this:

Republicans suck
Republicans suck
Republicans suck
Democrats are not Republicans
Vote for Democrats because Republicans suck
We told you that Republicans suck, remember?
Had you heard that Republicans suck? I thought so. Vote Democrat

The message seems to have worked. Democrats defeated enough Republicans to take control of the House and it appears possible that they may ultimately control the Senate, although we won’t know that for up to a month because of a recount in the Virginia race. The margins of control will be narrow, but the Democrats will be in control.

So what does that mean? It means a few things, not all of which are bad:

First, the Democrats will set the national agenda. Some priorities of theirs will likely pass quickly, including an increase in the minimum wage. While raising the minimum wage is a foolish idea for a number of reasons, it will happen. Fighting the war will become much more difficult, as the Democrats will be able to put significant roadblocks in front of the President, especially since they will control the purse. Finally, conservatives can probably kiss their hopes of having a truly conservative Supreme Court goodbye. Bush could nominate the most luminous conservative he could find, and he wouldn’t be able to get that individual past Pat Leahy and Dick Durbin. If John Paul Stevens or Ruth Bader Ginsburg retire in the next two years, you won’t see anyone from the Federalist Society replacing them.

Second, because the Democrats will be setting the agenda, their agenda setting will start to attract some scrutiny. They’ll have to explain why they want to raise the minimum wage, or hurt the president’s ability to wage the war. They’ll have to explain why they need to block qualified judges. They’ll need to explain why, darn the luck, Americans can’t have the “middle class tax cut” that so many of these freshly minted Congresscritters claimed they would provide. They’ll also need to explain why the tax increases they have in mind for the “top 1%” of income earners seem to be affecting well over 50% of the population.

Finally, being in opposition will allow the Republicans to climb into the theater box where Statler and Waldorf usually sit. There are smart, telegenic leaders in the Republican party who will be able to offer the sorts of pithy soundbites that play well on the news. George Bush will actually be free to swing from the heels now. Open conflict tends to clarify matters. The voters have ordered up open conflict; soon they will have a choice to make. It’s quite possible they’ll order up some more in 2008, by the way.

2008 just got a heck of a lot more interesting. Have the Democrats turned the tide? Or is this, to use a historical analogy, the Battle of the Bulge? We’ll find out soon.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day Shavings - with Occam's Razor

Now that election day is finally here, we're supposed to believe that there's been some great trend or rally that will stanch Republican losses, perhaps even to allow the GOP to fend off a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. I'm pretty skeptical about all this.

Regular readers of this feature know that I am fond of what is known as Occam's Razor, or the principle of parsimony. Occam's Razor, named after a medieval cleric named William of Occam, holds that the simplest explanation is usually the best explanation. When faced with the avalanche of nonsense that has been this political season, I think we should take the word of the Ocmeister on this.

We could believe that people have been waiting to take out their frustrations about the war on the Republicans, but that they are getting cold feet now that the election is nigh. Or, we can pick up the razor and conclude something more simple: most people don't have time to pay attention to politics until they have to. Once they do, they make their choices based on common sense. Since it is common sense not to surrender in a war, the Democrats won't do as well as they'd hoped in this election.

We can also conclude that the polling has been mostly nonsense, too. Every reputable pollster admits that it is becoming more difficult each year to reach a representative sampling. Many people screen their calls, or no longer have land line phones, or both. As a result, samples are increasingly contrivances. What would fair Occam say? Unless you can get a representative sample, polls are crap. And since you can't, polls are crap.

Will these observations prove out? We'll find out tomorrow. If I'm wrong, you can safely conclude that Mr. Dilettante is full of crap, just like the polls.

Senator Hotdish

I wanted to stake a claim to this, which I think should be the new nickname of our about-to-be Senator-elect for Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar. Just as Jesse Ventura earned the nickname Governor Turnbuckle, I think Senator Hotdish sums up, in a slightly pejorative way, who our future senator is and why she is cruising to election today. She comes across as pleasant, non-threatening and wholesome, if somewhat bland and indistinct. Her campaign has been political comfort food and Minnesotans have eaten it up, just as they would eat a good hotdish.

The indigestion will come later, of course.

Senator Hotdish – remember, you heard it here first. And good luck getting that middle-class tax cut, everyone!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Basketball Jones

Ben's basketball season began yesterday. Ben is a member of the fearsome Team 4 in the Irondale Basketball League 5/6 grade division. His squad played the hated Team 3 in their opener and were soundly thrashed, 57-11. It was not the beginning Ben was hoping for, but what can you do? Ben's team is wearing red shirts this year and Ben sports uniform number 3. He is playing hard, but it will be a struggle. It appears that there are two very good teams, two not so good teams, and two mysterious St. Anthony squads who are participating. St. Anthony, for those readers who are not familiar with local geography, is a small community adjacent to New Brighton and it has its own school district. Because the area in question is so small, it is unable to field full-fledged leagues for most youth sports, so it tends to partner with neighboring school districts (Mounds View, Spring Lake Park, Columbia Heights) to place its teams.

Anyway, Ben is improving, despite the drubbing he received Saturday. Ben is now in his third year of basketball and he has a very good understanding of the game and what he needs to do. His team is not bereft of talent, but it is very inexperienced and Saturday's opponents were much more polished players. I think Ben will have an opportunity to improve a lot this season, since he'll get a lot of playing time. And he'll likely top last year's output of six points, assuming he gets a chance to shoot. Watch this space for further updates on this compelling squad and its progress.

Badgers in the BCS?

The Wisconsin Badgers are now 9-1 and have a good chance to finish the season 11-1, with a tough game in Iowa City and what should be a walkoever at Camp Randall on 11/18 against hated Buffalo. If the Badgers run the table, they would have defeated all teams except for Michigan, which is currently the number two team in the country. If the Badgers win out, and Michigan knocks off Ohio State, would the Badgers have a good argument for a BCS bowl game?

Yes, they would. But will they get there? No. The reason is simple; it is impossible to be considered a top 10 team when you start out as low as the Badgers did in the preseason pecking order. Too many teams with similar credentials started out ahead of the Badgers. There are a gaggle of other teams that will finish with outstanding records, including Auburn, West Virginia, Texas, Florida, Boise State, Rutgers, Cal, USC, Notre Dame and Arkansas. It's difficult to say whether the Badgers will finish ahead of any of these teams in the end, but the one way to climb would be to win out, including their likely bowl game (Capital One Bowl, in Orlando, Jan. 1, against some SEC foe). The BCS requires that various conferences have representatives and the championship game is likely going to feature the winner of the Ohio State/Michigan game against Louisville, which is on track to finish with an undefeated record.

I'm guessing the Badgers will see either Arkansas, LSU or maybe Florida as a bowl opponent this time around. If they win that, you may see the Badgers finish in the Top 5. And that would be a heck of an accomplishment for Bret Bielema in his first year.

Manure with free gift wrap

We go to the polls tomorrow and finally, all the clanging and nonsense will be off our television screens for at least a short while. So what are we likely to get? Here’s my fearless, last-minute predictions:

First, four more years of T-Paw. It will be close, but there’s never really been a compelling reason to remove Pawlenty for Mike Hatch. Hatch’s recent outbursts, including calling a reporter a “Republican whore,” will likely be the mortal blow to his campaign. There is no doubt that, because of Pawlenty’s efforts, various taxes and fees have gone up. There is also no doubt that, as a result, some in the middle class have had to pay more. But there’s a reason for that, and it’s not Tim Pawlenty. The reason is that local governmental agencies do spend too much money. They’ve long been able to hide their spending priorities because they’ve been subsidized by the state through income taxes. Those days are gone, at least for now. And it is a good change, because it is easier for me to hold the mayor of New Brighton accountable, or the Mounds View School District for that matter, than it is to hold the governor of Minnesota accountable, to say nothing of the mob in Washington.

Second, we get a cliché for a Senator. Amy Klobuchar is not a breath of fresh air at all. She is a carbon copy of several other female Senators already in Washington. There’s no difference between her and Debbie Stabenow, Maria Cantwell, Patty Murray, Diane Feinstein or Mary Landrieu. She’ll fit right in, just another member of the herd of independent minds up there. Oh, and good luck getting that “middle-class tax cut” that she’s touting in her ads. And I’ll be curious to see who she’s going to negotiate with to get us out of Iraq. It’s too bad Mark Kennedy ran such a horrible campaign. The only benefit of sending Klobuchar to Washington is that she is a mediocrity replacing a loon (Mark Dayton). That’s progress, of a sort.

Third, we get a property tax increase because of the levy. It’s going to pass, but I think it will be close. The school district is getting increasing scrutiny over their practices, and that is a positive by-product of the changes that I discussed above. The dirty little secret of school budgeting is that teachers get almost all the money and that the teachers’ unions have become a very powerful force in Minnesota. The day of reckoning is coming, but it won’t be this time. And, to be fair, the Mounds View district does have some structural and demographic issues that have made it difficult to hold the line on spending. But when it comes time to negotiate new contracts with the teachers and the other unionized employees, they’ll have some difficult decisions to make.

Fourth, all this won’t matter that much, but the next election cycle will. 2008 will be momentous and we’ll see some interesting new players upon the stage. A bold prediction: Barack Obama is the Comet Kahoutek of politics. There’s a reference that dates me!

Friday, November 03, 2006


I was beginning to wonder. We’d gone through an entire campaign involving Mike Hatch and we hadn’t seen one intemperate remark. Perhaps he’d finally acquired the discipline necessary to ignore the taunts, to stay focused on the task at hand, to finally reach the goal he had sought for nearly 20 years. And then:


Article speaks for itself, I think, but let’s consider a few things.

First, the Duluth News-Tribune is hardly a Republican organ. The Duluth paper is as liberal as the Star Tribune, perhaps even more so. This is hardly surprising, considering that the Iron Range and the North Shore are among the most liberal places in the country outside the coasts. So for Hatch to even think that any reporter for the Duluth paper is a Republican operative/hack/whore, or any other pejorative term you’d prefer, borders on the preposterous.

Second, I think this reflects something about the danger the Democratic Party currently has. There is so much rage in so many places in the Democratic realm, but most people simply aren’t that angry about the world. I suspect that a lot of people are tired of the war, and that others are simply tired of George W. Bush in general, and Republicans in particular. But I don’t think there’s a lot of rage. The palpable anger that you get from so many Democrats tends to frighten off people who don’t care as much. I think that Amy Klobuchar’s calm persona has been her greatest asset in her Senate run. She’s downright soothing, compared to the antsy, nerdy Mark Kennedy. And because Klobuchar is so soothing, people haven’t really thought through the absurdities she’s been spouting. But she comes across as a cool customer and I think a lot of people are looking for that temperament in their leaders these days.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

What about the Woofies?

The Twin Cities are one of the few places that have teams in all four of the major sports; of comparably sized places, only Denver also claim this distinction. Typically the Vikings command the majority of the attention around here, while the Twins and the Wild lately have been dominating the sports pages through their successes. But the Timberwolves have been largely ignored lately.

Interest in the local NBA franchise has dwindled in the face of two consecutive disappointing seasons. It's was less than three years ago that the Wolves came within a few games of winning their first conference championship, but since that time they have seen little but misery. First the two talented mercenaries who teamed with the iconic Kevin Garnett, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell, decided to become disruptive forces and both quickly disappeared. Then Michael Olowakandi, a talented but indifferent big man, and the photogenic Wally Sczezerbiak, or however the hell you spell that, were unceremoniously traded off to Boston for a collection of players that no one had ever heard of before. Interest faded and by the end of last season, the Wolves finished with a road-kill record of 33-49. Attendance many nights would be announced at 15,000, but it was likely the Wolves were counting legs.

Things were so bad that I was able to get two free nosebleed tickets to see the Wolves' opener on Wednesday night, simply by sauntering into the new Fridley SuperTarget at 8 a.m. and asking a security guard holding 50 pairs of tickets. He was not mobbed. So Ben and I hired a sherpa and climbed to the very top of Target Center last night to watch Dwane Casey's troops battle the Scarmento Kings, who have concurrently fallen on hard times. The Wolves were alternately sleepy and lively, but managed to play well enough down the stretch to win the game, 92-83. So what did we see?

  • We saw that Kevin Garnett is, eternally, Kevin Garnett. The Big Ticket is still a dazzling player with astonishing body control and the ability to score and rebound at will. Garnett may not possess a killer mentality, but he's always a treat to watch.
  • It appears that, for now, Troy Hudson has returned from the dead. The dreadlocked guard had been a key contributor to the Wolves during their successful 2003-04 season, but had contributed almost nothing since. On Wednesday he essentially took over the game during the 4th quarter, scoring and defending with vigor.
  • Randy Foye, the 1st round draft pick, is definitely a work in progress. He seemed tentative and only played briefly. He was a fine player in college at Villanova, but he didn't show us much yesterday.
  • On the other hand, Craig Smith, the 2nd round pick, was pretty good. Smith is a bruiser, a 6-7, 275 pound space eater with a nice shot and a mean streak. He played fairly extensively until he fouled out. Smith reminds me a little of Lonnie Shelton, a former NBA star from the 1970s whose son is now an NFL lineman. The Kings were not taking liberties in the lane when Smith was in the game.
  • Marko Jaric, who failed as the Wolves' point guard last year, looked significantly more comfortable, and useful, as a wing player. He was able to use his height and wingspan effectively on the perimeter. Jaric is not an exciting player, but he played very well yesterday.
  • Mike James, the new point guard acquired in the offseason as a free agent from Toronto, showed almost nothing. It's only one game and he had to deal with Sacramento's Mike Bibby, one of the best in the league, but he'll need to do a lot more to earn the handsome salary he'll receive this year.

I don't know if the Wolves will win the fans back, especially with the Wild's strong start this year. But as they showed last night, failure will not come from a lack of effort.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

It is the silly season and of course that means that people are saying silly things. John Kerry's now famous faux pas has morphed into a mini-scandal today, even though the MSM do not want to talk about it. For evidence, consider the treatment that Kerry's comments received in this morning's editions of the Star Tribune, where a one paragraph blurb appeared under a "Developments" headline on page A-6. Of course, insulting soldiers is far less important than calling someone a "macaca." Most of our soldiers are pretty well mannered; even if they are well-armed, they won't likely do anything rash when insulted.

And the more I've thought about it, I think Kerry did insult the troops. I say that even though I suspect he is telling the truth when he insists he meant the comment as a slap at President Bush. Words matter and the words he spoke were easy to interpret as a slam on the intelligence of those who serve in the military generally, and in Iraq in particular.

It's easy to say that you support the troops but not the mission. But it's also wrong. The mission that U.S. forces are currently undertaking in Iraq is a difficult one and many of our soldiers and sailors have paid a terrible price in the course of that duty. The Democratic party generally, and John Kerry in particular, have an almost visceral disdain for military matters, which has been part of the Democratic Party DNA since the Vietnam era. Kerry has struggled with this issue his entire career and it is the reason why the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign so bothers him. He has invested a lot of his personal narrative, in believing that he was a truth-teller, that he was a valiant hero and that he has been a friend of the military. He often seems genuinely surprised at the equally visceral reaction he gets from his opponents within the military structure. And since a big part of Kerry's personal narrative is that people recognize his moral goodness, anything that would undermine his own view is not tolerable.

Kerry cannot apologize. Kerry is too proud of himself to accept any self-abasement, any shame for his statement. He will likely back off his statement in stages, blaming Republican operatives all the way. But he has a blind spot about how he comes off in this debate. We all have our blind spots, but few of us actually put ourselves out in the public arena and have to endure such personal dramas in the public eye. His choice? Absolutely. And the results are before us.

The Democrats are smart enough to recognize how toxic this really is and they are trying hard to change the subject. I 'll bet that John McCain (who is very much like Kerry) is having a lot of fun with this today as he campaigns through Minnesota.