Monday, April 30, 2007

Shots fly

It was a lovely weekend in Minnesota. Still, the bullets are flying. Incoming!

· Ben’s Brewers made their debut in an “exhibition” game against the Rangers on Saturday afternoon. It didn’t go so well for the Brew Crew, as the Rangers pounded them 13-3. Our charges didn’t play that badly, but didn’t have an answer for the superior pitching of the Rangers team. Ben made his American League debut as a pitcher in the 4th inning, and unfortunately he seemed dipped in kerosene, giving up five runs. On the bright side, only one of the hits was a shot and he recorded the first strikeout of his nascent pitching career. Meanwhile, Ben drove in his first American League RBI in the second inning on a sharp grounder that the Ranger second baseman made a nice play on. We remain confident that the season will go well, though. The first real game will be this coming Saturday against the Cardinals – game time is 6 p.m. at Sitzer Park in Shoreview. You won’t want to miss it!
· We are getting a new archbishop and it sounds like some of the sheep have decided to reject their incoming shepherd. Bishop John Nienstedt, currently the bishop of the New Ulm Diocese, will be replacing Harry Flynn next year, when Flynn reaches the mandatory retirement age of 75. In his initial remarks, Bishop Nienstedt made it clear that he’s going to change things in the archdiocese. He is fifteen years younger than Flynn and that age difference is crucial. Flynn, like most of the senior leadership in the U.S. church, came of age during the heady days of Vatican II and the papacies of John XXIII and Paul VI. Priests of this era tended to countenance a lot of things that might have been regarded poorly by the Church historically. Churches like St. Joan of Arc, which are essentially off the reservation on most Church teachings, have been tolerated by Flynn and his predecessor, John Roach. But I’m guessing that will change once Bishop Nienstedt takes over. The issue, of course, is that parishioners of places like St. Joan will not be happy about giving up their creative interpretations of Church teachings – the ones where proto-Marxism, openly gay-flavored services and the like are part of the equation. These folks are, of course, politically liberal, and that means they will be squawking loudly about all this. But I’m guessing that, in the end, Nienstedt will hold firm. After all, traditionally, there’s a name for those who reject Church teachings. The name is Protestant.
· It’s going to take me a day or two to figure out the results of the NFL draft. My quick impression is that Adrian Peterson is a good pick for the Vikings and that the Packers made a very puzzling set of choices. This is, as the film critic and historian Andrew Sarris termed it, a “subject for further research.”

Friday, April 27, 2007

God bless the child

Peggy Noonan is one of my favorite writers and she has an outstanding essay posted on OpinionJournal, the Wall Street Journal's opinion website ( Noonan's thesis is that we are very busy scaring our children to death these days and, by extension, that our penchant for doing so indicates that, despite all of our protestations about how we act "for the children," we're really more concerned about our politics and our own need for self-expression. I think she's absolutely right - here's the conclusion:

One is politics--our political views, our cultural views, so need to be expressed and are, God knows, so much more important than the peace of a child. Another is money--there's money in the sickness that is sold to us. Everyone who works at a TV network knew ratings would go up when the Cho tapes broke.
But another reason is that, for all our protestations about how sensitive we are, how interested in justice, how interested in the children, we are not. We are interested in politics. We are interested in money. We are interested in ourselves.

We are frightening our children to death, and I'll tell you what makes me angriest. I am not sure the makers of our culture fully notice what they are doing, what impact their work is having, because the makers of our culture are affluent. Affluence buys protection. You can afford to make your children safe. You can afford the constant vigilance needed to protect your children from the culture you produce, from the magazine and the TV and the CD and the radio. You can afford the doctors and tutors and nannies and mannies and therapists, the people who put off the TV and the Internet and offer conversation.

If you have money in America, you can hire people who compose the human chrysalis that protect the butterflies of the upper classes as they grow. The lacking, the poor, the working and middle class--they have no protection. Their kids are on their own. And they're scared.

Too bad no one cares in this big sensitive country of ours.

Read the whole thing, though - definitely worth your time.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Baseball as antidote

When it comes to making me feel better about life, baseball is way better than chicken soup. The kids are about to start their respective seasons in the next week. Ben's Arden Hills Brewers will begin play on Saturday at noon, while Maria's Rockies squad will be starting in about one week.

Early baseball in Minnesota can be problematic; the past few years Ben has either played in snow flurries (2005) or been completely rained out (2006) on his opening weekend. This year, it looks like the weather is going to cooperate and Ben's squad looks promising. The team is young, mostly 11 year olds, but every kid on the team is an experienced player and it's obvious that they will be, at a minimum, competent. The question is going to be pitching - nine of the eleven boys are trying to pitch, but given the schedule I would not be surprised if we need every single kid to at least try his hand at pitching. SAYB has changed from counting innings to going to pitch counts to control the amount of pitching the kids do; that's a wise decision from a health standpoint, but it also means that more kids are going to have to pitch in order to get through games. It also means we should see more balls in play and less strikeouts and walks.

Meanwhile, Maria's team should be a lot of fun to watch. A couple of the kids on the team are astonishigly good hitters for 7 or 8 year-olds; I was attempting to soft-toss to a few of these kids and one of them hit a vicious line drive that forced me to duck. Following that incident, and given my need to take it easy following surgery, I have decided to hide behind the backstop and keep the book instead of doing any active coaching. At the instructional league age, you end up with some horrific mismatches and I remember Ben's teams suffering through some awful drubbings. I'm guessing that Maria's team will be doing the drubbing, but I hope not, as I think losing discourages kids from wanting to play. The ideal in the instructional team would be to have 12 teams, playing a 16-game schedule, all finishing 8-8. But it never happens that way.

Nevertheless, it will be fun. Watch this space for continuing updates!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Poison in the well

I am becoming increasingly convinced that civilized discourse in this country is becoming just about impossible, particularly where politics are involved. The debate about the war, which is coming to a head because of the Democrats' insistence on arbitrary deadlines, has become so toxic that it is simply not possible to find any compromise. And the supporters of these posturing politicians are so nasty, so partisan, that I don't see how we'll ever come up with a solution that will work.

A lot of this rancor began in the aftermath of the Reagan years. I don't know that it will do to assign blame to anyone in particular, although a lot of the tactical, scorched-earth stuff that has become endemic in political discourse these days came from the Clintons and their political machine. The thing that's most striking is the way no one on the Left seems to think that anyone on the Right could possibly be operating with good will. All the motives are seen as suspect, all the arguments seen as "talking points" or part of some "neo-con" fantasy. We've gotten to this place gradually over the last 15-20 years, but it's a terrible place to be, given the stakes in the world right now. The U.S., for better or worse, is the indispensable nation at this point in history. We cannot abdicate our responsibilities anywhere, because there is no other nation or group of nations that is able or willing to take on the burdens we have. The U.N. is a debating society, the EU is perpetually dithering and many of the other actors on the world stage are, frankly, bad guys.

My guess is we'll be walking away from a lot of things in 2009. I worry a lot about what that will mean for us as a nation. I hope that those on the Left are right about all this, because I think they will be getting their way for at least a while.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Trouble With Harry

Harry Reid, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, has long had a propensity for saying the wrong thing at a crucial moment. The other day he said that "... the war is lost." By that, he meant that we had lost in Iraq. Not surprisingly, President Bush and his colleagues in the Republican Party jumped all over the statement and now Reid has had to backtrack, again.

I have argued repeatedly in this space that the Democrats have been playing a dangerous game by actively undermining the war effort in Iraq. They have seemed far more interested in defeating George W. Bush than they are in defeating the various enemies arrayed against us in Iraq. I know that people are tired of the war, tired of the killing, tired of all of it. But we are lying to ourselves if we believe we can simply walk away from this battle. There was a time when politicians, particularly ones with significant political power, understood things like this. It's becoming increasingly clear that the current crop on Capitol Hill don't seem to get that.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The face of Satan

It's jarring, really. You so rarely get to see the face of pure evil. But there it was this morning, spread out on the front page of the Star Tribune.

The picture is of Cho Seung, the man who shot up the Virginia Tech campus on Monday. In the midst of his efforts to unleash Hell on a bucolic college campus, he stopped off to mail off some publicity photos to NBC News, including the one that the Star Tribune published this morning. In the photo, you see Cho's malevolent visage, with him brandishing two pistols at arm's length. Cho's pose was meant to summon the image of Jesus on the Cross. And in the video he provided, he went on at some length about the malevolence and evil he saw about him and how he was going to die "like Jesus."

I have read all four Gospels pretty thoroughly by now and I don't remember Jesus ever gunning down people at random. I do recall Jesus curing a number of people who were possessed by demons. It's pretty clear, looking at the picture, that demons were in control of Cho Seung. As with the demons portrayed in the Gospels, Cho's voice was filled with sputtering rage. In his madness, Cho envisioned himself as some sort of avenging angel, a martyr who would set things right by firing ammo clips into the evil students around him.

The whole thing is chilling and there has been some debate surrounding whether or not NBC should have aired this material. Ultimately, I think it was the right thing to do, for these reasons:

  • We need to be reminded that evil does exist in this world. We are currently in the process of watching the Congress put an arbitrary deadline on the war in Iraq, mainly because so many of us are tired of confronting the evil men who are blowing up our soldiers every day. We'd rather not confront evil, even where it exists. Cho has nothing to do with Iraq, of course, but he is a reminder of what evil looks like. If we are ever to effectively confront evil, we need to face it squarely.
  • We also need to see that evil, although prevalent and often pervasive, is always futile. Cho managed to kill over 30 people this day, but through his heinous actions he has brought together the Virginia Tech campus in ways that he could never have imagined. The prayers and faith of those in Blacksburg and beyond cannot erase Cho's acts, but they can and will overwhelm the malevolence that he unleashed on that campus. Those who survived this day will, in the main, not lose faith. The victims were indiscriminate; it was never a matter of someone deserving their fate. Satan would love to sit in judgment of us all, but can never do so.
  • We also see, as we learn more about Cho's past, the limits of human-built structures in containing madness. We have learned that Cho was briefly institutionalized for mental illness. We have also learned that Cho had been harassing students and that some of his professors had raised various alarms. Yet, Cho was never sent away from Blacksburg and the interventions that were proffered fell far short of stopping him. All the Ritalin and lithium in the world, and all the empty court orders, are not strong enough to stop evil. We need to understand this and look elsewhere. I know where I've loooked for guidance and strength lately and I'd recommend it to everyone who reads this blog. You need faith and you need prayer. They give you the strength to face what's ahead.

Maria joins the Rockies

The suspense is over in the Dilettante household. Maria's coach called last night and informed us that she will be a member of the Rockies in the SAYB Instructional League. We are delighted for Maria because we know her coach well - he was the coach of the dreaded "Blue Team" that Maria competed against last year in the New Brighton t-ball league and is an excellent coach with a kind and patient manner. He'll do a great job teaching Maria more about the game.

I will do what I can to help out, but my current health considerations probably preclude me from taking a very active role with this team. No one will cheer harder, though. And we'll provide updates in this space on Maria's progress this year.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


How do you make sense of the incomprehensible? Well, one way is to write about it. I've tried to make sense of the horrible events on the Virginia Tech campus, but there's little rationality involved in the actions of an armed madman. But you can, I think, look at some of the side issues while the good people of Blacksburg and begin to mourn.

  • Two things happened almost as soon as the carnage ended. Those with an agenda about guns began chanting their mantras, while others condemned them for "playing politics" with the tragedy. I don't see how you can't "play politics" anymore, given how polarized we have become as a nation. I have been consistently amazed when I talk to my left-wing brethren; we live in the same world, share many of the same experiences, but our perceptions of what we see don't correspond at all. Given this, it's beyond reason to expect people not to have their views of such an event sent through their personal political prism. In a better world we might be able to get beyond such things, but I doubt it's possible any more.
  • It's once again evident that a single human being can hold enormous power, for good or evil. The shooter, who we are learning was a deeply troubled young man, had this rage building inside of himself for a long time. It appears that a number of people noticed the rage and some even attempted to intervene in his life, but to little avail. While we want to provide relief to every troubled soul, even our best efforts will sometimes fall short. I think there's a cautionary tale there for those who would use the power of the state to ameliorate all our ills, but then again, I don't want to "play politics."
  • We cannot know God's will for sure, but we can know God's mercy and I think that, even in the face of an unspeakable evil, faith will be the one thing that gets Virginia Tech and the larger community that it serves through this tragedy. We have seen moments of grace and courage throughout the aftermath of this event and those are the outward sign of God's grace. The actions of the shooter were senseless indeed, but we will be able to move forward by understanding how God is now working in Blacksburg and beyond.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

How is the blogger doing?

Actually, pretty well. I have been getting a little stronger every day and have been able to slowly resume some of my more normal daily activities. I will continue to post updates to this blog as often as possible in the days to come. Sometimes the best therapy post-brain surgery is actually using your brain. Thanks again for all your prayers and support - they continue to make a huge difference!


Monday, April 16, 2007

Bullet the blue sky

Here they come:

  • As the NBA season winds down, we are once again enjoying the spectacle of teams tanking their seasons. It's been pretty clear that the Boston Celtics, who desperately want Greg Oden to save them, have not been trying to win for a few months now. Meanwhile, the two teams that I follow most closely, the Bucks and the Timberwolves, are in the process of phoning it in for the rest of the season, having shut down Michael Redd and Kevin Garnett, respectively. While I don't doubt that adding an Oden or a Kevin Durant would do wonders for these teams, I really question whether they should be rewarded for these sorts of tactics. The only thing I'll wager is that the Memphis Grizzlies, the team with the worst overall record, will not land either Oden or Durant.
  • Speaking of bullets, the Twins are starting to run short of them already. We are only two weeks into the season and they have seen Rondell White and Jeff Cirillo go on the DL, and now Nick Punto may be headed there too. While it is early, the signs are not good over on Kirby Puckett Drive.
  • Meanwhile, our beloved Minnesota Wild are getting their heads handed to them by the Anaheim Ducks. Prior to the series there was a lot of optimism here about the chances of the Wild, but the steady diet of Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver that had been the last third of the Wild's season didn't really give us a sense of where the team stacks up with the rest of the league. I have always questioned the NHL's scheduling, which so overloads divisional rivalries that it becomes difficult to gauge things. Of course, this sort of thing has been endemic to the NHL for years, going all the way back to the 1967 season, when the league doubled by adding six expansion teams, putting them all in the same conference, then deeming that the champion of the East (read: Original Six) would play the champion of the West (read: best of six expansion squads) for the championship. Typically the result would be that Montreal would beat St. Louis, and easily. No suspense, no drama. Winning the East was all that mattered. While things have changed a lot since then, it's pretty evident that the Ducks, who had not played the Wild since December, were a whole lot better, even though their record was not significantly better than the Wild's, mainly because the Ducks were fighting off an equally good San Jose Sharks squad. I guess when an organization can't learn much after 40 years, it's not surprising that their games are almost impossible to find on cable. I have always loved hockey, but it's getting increasingly invisible and irrelevant. Except here.
  • On a much more local level, my son's Little League team met for the first time yesterday evening over at the coach's house. My Twins-loving son Ben will reluctantly wear the colors of the Arden Hills Brewers, an SAYB Little League American League powerhouse if I ever saw one. This north suburban True Blue Brew Crew is a good looking group of kids, including a number who were teammates of Ben on earlier squads. Although my current health situation precludes my taking an active coaching role, I get to be the bench coach for this team, which means I'll help the coach manage the lineup, keep the book, and scowl like Don Zimmer. Sounds like a pretty good gig, I think. Meanwhile, watch this space for news on Maria's Instructional League team, which is still TBD.

Friday, April 13, 2007

A dog's breakfast

Since I've been laid up for most of the past few weeks, I'm probably about the only blogger around who hasn't taken a shot at l'affaire Don Imus. Now that the blade has dropped on the grizzled talk show host, it's probably too late anyway, but there are a few things worth noting.

First, things must be pretty tangled if I find myself disagreeing with Hugh Hewitt and agreeing with Don Shelby. I had that happen yesterday and it made me wonder if my meds were off. Needless to say, nearly every radio commentator around has been weighing in on Imus, who is a genuine giant of the industry despite all. Hewitt, to my mind, is one of the smartest, most pragmatic guys on the right wing side of the dial, and his take on Imus is that he had it coming. Hewitt went out of his way to praise his advertisers and to note that when Imus's corporate sponsorship started drying up, Imus was going to be toast. While that is almost certainly true, I found myself feeling a little less blithe about the efforts undertaking by race-baiters like Al Sharpton in drumming up this controversy. Sharpton abjured a victory lap yesterday, but he is clearly more powerful than ever as a result of taking down one of the biggest voices on the airwaves. I don't see how that can be a good thing.

Then there was Don Shelby, lovingly known as "DFL Don" for his barely disguised sympathies for all things that would increase the size and scope of the Leviathan state. Shelby has for the past year been an amazing shill for those who would use global warming/climate change/"wait, the focus group is trying to come up with a better name" to control our lives. Shelby's 90 second homilies generally are paeans to such nonsense. But there was Don, condeming Imus's specific remarks but also calling out, forcefully, the hypocrisy of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson in this matter. Shelby actually did something useful - he reminded his viewers that Sharpton's public career began with his active propagation of the Tawana Brawley hoax back in the 1980s. Then, for good measure, Shelby dug back and called out the Reverend Jackson for his infamous "Hymietown" remarks from distant 1984. Shelby actually seemed disgusted about it. After watching this, I looked at the lovely Mrs. Dilettante, shrugged my shoulders and began applauding the television screen. Haven't done that in years, and never for DFL Don before.

So what does this all mean? Ultimately, I think there's a little more going on. The coincidental timing of the complete implosion of the Duke lacrosse team scandalette, which has more than a few parallels to the Brawley matter, adds another dimension to this discussion. You have also seen, if you watch and listen carefully, that there's a certain amount of scrutiny coming to those who are responsible for producing the hip hop culture that makes using terms like "ho" seem less, well, unacceptable. For pale males such as myself, there are certainly limits to the available discourse, but determining where the boundaries are is increasingly difficult. My great fortune is that I've essentially stopped worrying about what's going on in popular culture for the last 20 years or so, but for those who live in the pop culture vortex, especially fusty ol' dudes like Don Imus, knowing how to sound like a hipster without crossing the ever-capricious line gets tougher and tougher. And when someone like Sharpton can set himself up as an arbiter of where the line is set, it's pretty problematic, no?

Increasingly we live in the same place, but we have a hard time talking to each other. Chris Rock can say things that Don Imus can't. Rosie O'Donnell can apparently say anything she wants. Hope you can say whatever you want, too. But don't count on it.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Another quick update

Day 2, post-hospital:

Learned a few things yesterday.
  • One, the doctors were not kidding when they say you have to take it slow. I spent about an hour and one half on the computer yesterday, wading through the Nigerian get-rich quick schemes and the usual, more pertinent correspondence. By the time I got home, I felt like I'd been hit by a load of bricks and I pretty much slept all afternoon. This is going to be a challenge to slow down. Although I don't usually come across this way, I'm definitely a Type A personality and I do like to push the envelope. Problem is, the envelope pushes back sometimes.
  • Trying to remember all the drugs you need to take post-op is really a challenge. I am currently sporting six separate prescriptions and will likely have at least that many going forward, every day, for the rest of my life. It didn't seem that long ago that the only self-medication I did took place in ostensibly Irish saloons, but that's not where we are any more. I hope to have a few cocktails one of these days, though. Despite it all, summer is coming and that means at least one gin and tonic on the deck. Now there's a goal worth shooting for.
  • The world keeps moving - lots of news to digest and to comment upon. But as our very recently departed Mr. Vonnegut would say, so it goes.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The lights are on

We're back. I got my get out of jail free card yesterday and was released from United Hospital, seven days after surgery. There are many things I'm thinking right now and, unfortunately, I'm still gathering my strength so this will be brief. But I still got my bullets:

  • First, a word about United Hospital. They really did a great job and the staff there is dedicated and wonderful. It's easy to complain about health care; the cost, the complexity, the byzantine structures, but the people who are doing the work are among the finest people I know.
  • Second, a word about nurses. As I went through my week-long adventures, I had 7-10 different nurses. Every single one of these people were wonderful, caring individuals, many with interesting life stories of their own. Besides helping me feel better, their decency and humanity were integral to my recovery. Nursing is a wonderful profession too often ignored or underplayed. The docs were great, but the nurses are the ones who get you through.
  • Finally, a word about prayers. I know that I have had the prayers of many, many people and it's important for everyone to know that your prayers made an enormous difference to me. There are times when you really begin to wonder, but I swear I could actually feel the strength of prayers carrying through this past week. God will and does provide, but it really helps when you have friends and family who've got your back.

I'll keep blogging and working the Caringbridge site, too. I have a long road ahead, but I face it with confidence.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Adventures in cranial surgery await

As I am going under the knife (or, more accurately, the computerized surgical scope) tomorrow, this feature will be on hiatus for a while. I have a lot of confidence in the surgeons and the team at United Hospital and I have a lot of love and support from my family, so this will go well and I'll be back to blogging soon. Thank you to everyone for your support and your prayers - please know that they are greatly appreciated and that they are helping all of us get through this.


Monday, April 02, 2007

Meanwhile, in other, non brain-surgery related matters:

A few updates and thoughts on life in the last few days:

  • Young Ben will be a member of the Brewers in Little League this year. He will be playing with a bunch of kids he knows from school, including a number of teammates from previous seasons. This should be a nice team and fun to watch. We’re looking forward to it.
  • This is the third straight year that the Twins have lost an important member of their organization right before the start of the season. Herb Carneal, who has been calling games on the Twins radio network since they arrived in Minnesota in 1961, died yesterday. I only heard Herb at the end of his long career, so I suspect I didn’t hear him at his best, but his broadcasts were always a welcome sound on my radio. He will be missed.
  • After picking the Final Four teams correctly, my sheet went pfft on Saturday night when Ohio State dispatched Georgetown. I didn’t get to see either game in its entirety, but I don’t see how the Buckeyes are going to beat Florida. The Gators are darned impressive. Then again, so was UNLV in 1991. Go Buckeyes, I suppose.
  • Meanwhile, the Masters looms over the weekend, too. I love watching the Masters, but since it regularly falls on Easter weekend, my attempted viewership is often a disputed topic in our family, since paying attention to Tiger and Phil interferes with the Easter Egg hunting and the carving of the ham, among other things. I’ve never been sure how to square this particular circle; perhaps I can get the kids Easter bonnets with Taylor-Made logos or something like that, to get them into the spirit of things. I can already hear the soothing music now. And no Hootie this year, either!