Friday, September 28, 2007

Ping ping PING

Apparently that means Sheriff Richochet Rabbit is in town, or I've turned the blog over to a golf manufacturer, or the bullets are flying again.

  • Things are changing at the ol' Star Tribune. Shortly on the heels of the forced departure of Publisher Par Ridder, the great minds on Portland Avenue have forced out editorial page chief Susan Albright and moved the eternally useless ombudsman Kate Parry off to the "health" beat. Don't know if these changes mean that the Star Tribune editorial page, which has been as useful and pleasant as 55-gallon drum of duck vomit on most issues, will start to regain a little sanity. Probably not. But we can always hope that maybe, just maybe, the level of ignorant snark will start to come down a bit. After all, we'll give you ignorant snark right here and we don't charge you a thing! And I don't employ Sid Hartman either.
  • My beloved Brewers aren't looking too good, following an embarrassing 9-5 loss to the Padres. The Cubs have been trying really hard to give away the pennant, but the Brewers do not appear to have the wit to take it. I hope that the Brewers can secure a few more reliable pitchers for next season, because they look like they're on their way otherwise. On the bright side, at least I'm not a Mets fan.
  • We've been watching parts of Ken Burns's latest saga "The War," on PBS this week. As with all Ken Burns productions, it's very good, although it's a bit much for the kids at times, especially with all the corpses. It's somewhat amusing to see how such things get interpreted by my daughter. She was asking my wife about her 2nd grade teacher, whose surname is Opheim, which is a good Scandanavian name, I believe. My daughter had assumed he was Irish, since she knows various O'Briens and O'Doughertys and came to the conclusion that since her teacher's name starts with an O, he must be Irish too. My wife suggested that his name might be German. My daughter then said, horrified, "Oh No! That means he's from Hitler!" I believe my wife was able to set my daughter straight, otherwise it may make for an interesting conversation in the class next time.
  • Even though "The War" is heavy going, it's a lot better than most of what's on television these days. Have you watched Cartoon Network recently? My goodness, it makes my eyes hurt. Some of the cartoons we used to watch when we were kids were pretty crudely drawn, of course - no one will ever say that "Clutch Cargo" or "Underdog" were exactly the pinnacle of the art form. I tell you, though, watching an episode of "Ed Edd and Eddie" is like having an allergic reaction.
  • Savoir Faire is everywhere!
  • Okay, cheesehead readers, here's one for you. Remember Biggie Rat? It was the best scary story going on the St. Therese playground back in the early 70s. Whatever happened to that?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Fearless Dilettante Football Predictions - Recriminations Version

Another week, more fun. Here we go:

Xavier Hawks 34, Fox Valley Lutheran Foxes 21 - it's the grudge match, the holy war, against the cross-town rivals. Since FVL is a WELS school, they tend to bring a fair amount of, shall we say, fervor to these games against my beloved representatives of the papist menace. But they won't win against the mighty Hawks.

ACTUAL RESULT - XAVIER 42, FVL 14. So much for the Lutherans.

Lake Forest Foresters 9, Beloit Bucs 2 - Another week, another weak sister for the Bucs. Problem is, the Bucs are weaker. Hope I'm wrong about this.

ACTUAL RESULT - LAKE FOREST 44, BELOIT 36 Beloit looks ahead and sees a 9, as in 0-9. Sigh.

Wisconsin Badgers 34, Michigan State Spartans 31 - after a two year hiatus, the Badgers get another look at the immortal Jehuu Caulcrick. Sparty is always hard to gauge, since they usually have talent but are almost always erratic. Bucky gets the nod on the Camp Randall turf.

ACTUAL RESULT - WISCONSIN 37, MICHIGAN STATE 34 That turned out to be a pretty good pick. The Badgers have work to do - the defense got gashed repeatedly. I think Sparty will end up having a pretty good year. The next two weeks (at Illinois, at Penn State) will really tell the tale.

Green Bay Packers 17, Minnesota Vikings 10 - I know, I know, the Metrodome has been the house of horrors over the years for ol' number 4. But I don't see how the Vikings will be able to score much under the leadership of the feared Kelly Holcomb. And no, Darren Sharper, Favre will not break the interception record this week. He very well might break the touchdown record, though, probably on a slant pattern to Driver. You know, the one where you get there late and miss him and watch his heels for about 40 yards. Yep, that one.

ACTUAL RESULT - PACKERS 23, VIKINGS 16 Okay, so it was Greg Jennings. Same difference. An excellent win. Here's a question: for all the words written about Favre's supposed futility in the Metrodome, do you suppose any other NFL quarterback has beaten the Vikings in Minnesota on six different occasions? I doubt it.

High school bonus picks:

Mounds View Mustangs 34, Park of Cottage Grove Wolfpack 20 - Park is improved, it appears, but they aren't usually a factor in the rugged Suburban East. Mounds View is. The tough games are coming, though.

ACTUAL RESULT - PARK 21, MOUNDS VIEW 14 Park played a nice game.

Irondale Knights 35, St. Louis Park Orioles 7 - Irondale has improved a lot this season. St. Louis Park, not so much.

ACTUAL RESULT - IRONDALE 56, ST. LOUIS PARK 7. The fun stops this week - Irondale has a tough one against Benilde-St. Margaret. If they can beat Benilde, they could have a special year (and might be the #1 seed in their section).

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Mahmoud Ring

I've really been trying to stay away from the recent contretemps surrounding the visit of the odious Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to New York, especially the silly Kabuki theater that was presented at Columbia University, the once proud home of such intellectual giants as Jacques Barzun and Lionel Trilling, now reduced to a geopolitical version of the Jerry Springer show.

Given everything that the Iranian government has done - the hostage crisis, bankrolling Hezbollah, threatening to wipe Israel from the face of the earth - it is amazing that anyone could, with a straight face, support the regime. But sure enough, people do. I've been doing a little jousting on the subject over at "The Big Question" again and I have learned remarkable things. Apparently, based on the earnest pleadings of the bien pensants over there, Iran has been undergoing a regular Prague Spring and that free speech is in flower, including protests against the malodorous Ahmedinejad. Why, if we would simply leave the Iranians alone, there would be the flowering of freedom there. Really, it's true.

Because I've been, shall we say, a smidge skeptical of some of these claims, I've been labeled "deliberately obtuse." Now that's a badge of honor - I sincerely hope that I'm never able to make enough distinctions that I would be willing to somehow excuse a government that routinely terrorizes its people and whose titlular head claims, with a straight face (pun intended), that there are no homosexuals in Iran.

I don't remember who said it, it may have been Orwell, but the quote that comes to mind is this - there are some ideas that are so stupid that only an intellectual could believe them.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Hate Crimes on Waveland Avenue

As readers of this feature may know, this blog recently joined the Minnesota Organization of Bloggers (a/k/a the MOB). There are something like 100 blogs that are members and they span the spectrum of blogging. One blog I like to read is the Northern Alliance Wannabe (, which is hosted by a guy who happens to be a Cubs fan. The Cubs have been, to put it mildly, a bone of contention on this blog, which tends to be a bastion of Brewerdom. To make a long story short, the Wannabe linked to this blog and called one of my earlier Cub-bashing posts a "hate crime." While I suspect the Wannabe's tongue may have been pretty firmly lodged in his cheek, that sort of rhetoric practically begs for a response, no?

My particular cri de couer against the Wrigleyites stems from their long-standing charade as lovable loser underdogs. There is no question that the Cubs have been losers for a long time; they last won a World Series in 1908. There is also no question that they have been, at times, somewhat lovable. My father, God rest his soul, was a lifelong Cub fan, as were many people who came of age in Wisconsin prior to the arrival of the Braves (and later Brewers). I have strong memories of watching the Cubs on WGN back in the 1970s, when the Cubs featured the likes of Manny Trillo, Larry Biittner (not a typo, that's how it's spelled), Ivan de Jesus, Barry Foote and other such dubious luminaries. It seemed like every other game you'd see portly righthander Rick Reuschel on the mound, throwing his precise sinkers to various Pirates and Phillies and Cardinals. And accompanying the visuals would be the dulcet tones of Jack "Hey Hey" Brickhouse, with the high pitched yelpings of Lou Boudreau through the middle innings. The Cubs of that era weren't very good, but they were generally entertaining.

We are a long time removed from those days. The Chicago Tribune bought out the Wrigley family in the early 1980s and the Cubs went from being a mom and pop operation to part of a well-oiled corporate machine. The talent level improved and the Cubs began to feature some really good players, like Ryne Sandberg, Rick Sutcliffe, Andre Dawson, Mark Grace, Greg Maddux and Sammy Sosa. Money was never the issue; the Cubs were able to afford talent in ways that my beloved Brewers or teams like the Twins and Royals never could. But they didn't win anyway. The Cubs got really close in 2003, but have scuffled ever since.

This year it looks like they will win. They went out and bought the best free agent on the market, Alfonso Soriano, and they also brought on a number of other high-buck players. The lovable Cubs behaved more like the Yankees. And it looks now like this approach will at least get them into the playoffs.

So be it - I don't dispute that there are a lot of Cubs fans who have suffered their entire lifetimes, waiting for a chance to see a championship. It had to be especially galling for these folks to watch the downmarket White Sox win it all in 2005. Having spent five years in Chicago, I recognize the animosity between the North Side and the South Side. I used to eat at the Billy Goat at least once a month, so I know well the legendary curse. And, after watching the most insufferable of fans, the odious Red Sox Nation, celebrate a championship as well, Cubs fans have to be even more galled by it all. Perhaps this will be the year.

Enjoy it, Cubs fans. Just watch your back. The Brewers aren't going away. And for the first time in a long time, the eternal cry of "Wait until next year" has meaning in Milwaukee and throughout Wisconsin.

Monday, September 24, 2007

A little gushing about my Packers

When I first looked at the schedule, I was worried that my beloved Green Bay Packers would start out 0-3 and would be limping into the Metrodome. Guess not, huh? The Packers won their third game in a row to start this campaign with a convincing 31-24 victory over AFC power San Diego yesterday at Lambeau. This is good stuff for a number of reasons:

  • It looks like the Packers, even though they are playing well, have room to improve. They still haven't figured out how to run the ball effectively, but they are finding ways to score. Brett Favre is playing under better control now than he has perhaps in his entire career. He had a fantastic game yesterday, getting a number of receivers involved.
  • After the renovation of Lambeau was completed in 2002, the Packers have not defended their home turf very well. Teams were not especially worried about playing in Green Bay, especially AFC teams. The Patriots and the Jets came into Lambeau last year and absolutely wiped the turf with the Packers. Things appear to have changed.
  • There's no reason to believe the Bears are better than the Packers right now. While the Bears still have a tremendous defense, they are an absolute mess on the other side of the ball. Rex Grossman ought to be made an honorary Packer, given the way he's been sabotaging the efforts of the ursine wretches of McFetridge Drive.
  • The Lions may be improved, but the Iggles just hung 56 on them. The Lions haven't played adequate defense since Alex Karras left. Where have you gone, Lem Barney, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
  • As for our local fellas - I don't know about you, but I can't tell you how disappointed I am that the Packers never had a chance to interview Brad Childress. The Vikes are vanilla and not that talented - a bad combination. It used to be that the Vikings could plug in just about anyone at the quarterback position and they would still win. Not any more. I don't think the Packer defense is especially worried about Kelly Holcomb, Tarvaris Jackson or Brooks Bollinger.
  • Since my boys are coming to town this weekend, the jawing will begin. Although the way the Vikes are playing right now, the typical stance of most Vikings fans will be something like "oh, I don't really like the Vikings that much anyway." Some will looking to see if they still have any greenish, mid-90s gear around. A lot of that sort of thing sold up here back then.

Kill the umpire/Talk to Mr. Ed

After a tough weekend in Atlanta, it appears that the Brewers are going to fall short to the po' faced Chicago Cubs, with their $100-$200 payroll and legions of addled fans. Too bad - the Brewers have been a nice story this year and while the future looks bright, this does not appear to be the year for them. So the Cubs will likely move on; if justice is served, they'll lose to the Padres, just like they did in 1984, or the Mets, just like they did in 1969, or maybe the Diamondbacks, just for variety's sake.

The frustration reached a head yesterday, following a 7-4 loss to the Braves. The Brewers were convinced that the umpiring in the game was substandard; based on the film I saw, they may be right. The problem is the same thing, however: if you really want to be a champion, you have to win games convincingly enough that if a referee blows a call, it doesn't cost you the game. I will never forget Jerry Rice's obvious fumble in the 1998 NFC playoffs that cost the Packers a hard-fought victory; in fact, it was the only time the 49ers have beaten the Packers in the Brett Favre era. But the larger problem was that the Packers should have put the 49ers away a lot earlier.

The problem now, of course, is that suspicion of officiating is running much higher, and rightly so after the revelations that have recently rocked the NBA in the wake of the Donaghy scandal. Baseball umpires have been notably imperious for at least the last 20 years and you'd be hard pressed to find a more obvious narcissist than NFL referee Ed "Check Out the Gun Show" Hochuli whose explanations of rules have enough distinctions to make Bertrand Russell's head spin. I've always believed that officials are best when they aren't noticed, but we seem to have some budding thespians in the officiating ranks in our modern era. It's too bad, really - no one pays to see Ed Hochuli or Ed Montague or Ed Rush. Why are all these guys named Ed, by the way? My dad would be aghast; I'm betting my nephew Eddie is, too.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Trash talking

My son, Ben, is a fine fellow. He's 11 years old and brings his father great joy. But he has one quirk - he really dislikes my beloved Milwaukee Brewers. And he's not subtle about it. I commend to your attention his blog, which features a fountain of Brewers bashing, along with my rejoinder to the calumnies Ben heaps on my beloved Brew Crew:

I'll say this for my son - for an 11 year old kid, he's got the trash talking thing down pat. He could take over for Jim Rome except that he's too young to grow a ridiculous goatee.

It's an odd sensation, 25 years on, to actually have the Brewers in a pennant race. And that the adversary is the Cubs is doubly odd. I remain hopeful that this particular pennant race will be the one in which the Cubs finally lose their cuddly, lovable loser persona. As we've said before, they are no such thing. Any team with a payroll over $100 million cannot be considered a plucky underdog. The irony is this - if the Cubs actually get in, this might be their best chance to get to the World Series yet. The rest of the teams in the NL are eminently beatable. The Diamondbacks have been winning with mirrors all season. The Padres have two dominant starters and not much else. The Mets are talented but incredibly erratic. Ditto on the Phillies.

All four prospective AL teams are better than anyone in the NL. Which one is the best? That's a topic for a future post.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Best Day of the Year – 16th Anniversary Edition

Today is my wedding anniversary. I have had the great fortune to be married to Jill for 16 years; we have come through many challenges together and every day I continue to see something new because of our marriage. We’ve come a long way since that cool, cloudy September day back in 1991.

I’ve seen articles recently about the state of marriage generally; it turns out that over half of the marriages that took place 25 years ago ended in divorce, according to a recent study of the matter. It’s almost impossible to make generalizations about such things, but one thing I’ve noticed is that of our closest friends, including those made here and from our respective childhoods, hardly anyone has been divorced. I don’t know if it’s a statistical quirk, but we and our married friends are beating the odds.

You could speculate endlessly about the reasons for it, but I think the most important reason is simple: Jill and I work at our marriage and we fundamentally see the world in the same way. We’ve changed since those days – I have long since dropped the Angry Young Man pose I so enjoyed in my youth and Jill has gained wisdom and patience over the years. What we’ve seen in our friends’ marriages mirrors our own experience; no matter what happens, our friends have been able to adjust to the inevitable changes that come throughout a marriage.

So tonight we’ll go someplace, have a nice dinner and perhaps a libation or two. And when I look into her eyes, I’ll gain yet another reminder of how lucky I am.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Fearless Dilettante Football Predictions - Reader's Digest Version

Only have a minute or two to post, so here you go!

Xavier 31, Berlin 7 - the Hawks win their homecoming game against hated Berlin, which still uses the politically incorrect nickname of Indians. I didn't think that was legal in Wisconsin.

Beloit 2, Knox 2 - the only team in the league that Beloit might beat. But I don't think they will

Wisconsin 21, Iowa 3 - The Hawkeyes have trouble scoring. That's been a long-standing problem in Iowa (rim shot).

Green Bay Packers 24, San Diego Chargers 21 - If you're going to be a hopeless zealot, you have to be a hopeless zealot. And the Packers are playing pretty well so far.

Bonus local picks:

Mounds View Mustangs 24, Roseville Raiders 17 - I picked against Mounds View last week. Won't make that mistake again.

Irondale Knights 31, Robbinsdale Cooper Hawks 14 - The Knights are much improved. Cooper is, well, Cooper.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Rave on, Dilettante

For the bullets are flying again.

  • People may not have noticed since the price of a gallon of gasoline has gone down nearly 50 cents here in the Twin Cities since Labor Day, but the price of oil is now sitting at over $80 a barrel, the highest it has been in recent years. Supplies are not a problem, so it would seem odd that we're seeing so much speculation about it. But I think there's a reason and the reason is the recent, barely publicized Israeli air strike on Syria. I would commend to your attention the account of Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, which you can find at . Couple this with reports from the British magazine Jane's that a Syrian-Iranian WMD joint venture went awry in recent days, killing a number of Syrian military officers and Iranian scientists, and you may have a better understanding. Events may be in the saddle again and if this stuff turns out to be true, those who have been calling for us to stop fighting in the Middle East are going to start to look even more foolish than before.
  • In happier news, the Brewers have pulled back into a tie with the Cubs and may be back in the driver's seat in the Comedy Central pennant race. It seemed from my perch that the national media had written the Brewers off entirely, but this team is resilient. Maddeningly inconsistent, too, but let's focus on the bright side. If the Brew Crew can get through the weekend in Atlanta no more than one game back, I really like their chances. It's been 25 years since they've been to the playoffs and now would be a good time. And, not to put too fine a point on it, screw the Cubs. Their cuddly image, which hides the big-market, big-buck reality of their corporate ownership, has been a fraud for years. The Cubs are big-market bullies, just like the Yankees and the Red Sox. They are simply not as good at it.
  • We've had a lively discussion on this blog about the relative merits of the two major college basketball programs in Wisconsin. My great friend Mark Miller, majordomo of Wisconsin hoops, roots for the Marquette Warriors (around here, they will always be the Warriors), while various other commenters are Badgerphiles. From my perch in Minnesota, I simply envy my friends. Based on the performance of the Golden Gophers, it is safe to say that we don't have major college basketball in Minnesota. Perhaps someday, though - a fella can dream, right?
  • So we have O.J. in a courtroom, the Clinton campaign in trouble for taking dirty Chinese money, and Hillary rolling out a new scheme to nationalize the health care system by salami slice. I need to check a calendar to make sure it's not 1994. If I see Forrest Gump showing at the multiplex, I'll know for sure. I think it was Karl Marx who said that history happens twice, the first time as history, the second time as farce. Although when it comes to farce, my favorite Marx is probably Harpo.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Vegass and other things that I wish would stay there

So did we really need O.J. Simpson back in the news? Nope, I didn't think so either. But he was only one of a few unwanted things that happened over the weekend.

  • Please, please, would someone telly Sally Field that America really doesn't care what she thinks about the war? I could have guessed she was agin' it.
  • Now that Al Gore has been given an Emmy for his Current venture, which is a lot like YouTube except much less successful, I'm wondering what other awards he should get. Perhaps a Peabody, a Newbery, a Fulbright, a MacArthur "Genius" Grant, and certainly the Pillsbury Bake-Off. Sheesh.
  • Alan Greenspan and Vicente Fox are the latest luminaries to come out with books that bash W. I may have to write one myself; there seems to be an almost-limitless market for Bush-bashing.

Condolences also to followers of Minnesota football. As much as I want to complain about the Badgers and their lackluster performance against The Citadel, at least they didn't lose to Florida Atlantic, which I thought was a tea company. And it's only a matter of time before the Vikings are looking like the late 90s Badgers, with Childress and Bollinger at the helm. All they need is Mike Samuel and it will be perfect. Was that gloating? Naahh, it couldn't have been gloating.

Q. What do you call a Viking with a Super Bowl ring?

A. A thief.

Still a great joke, 40 years and counting....

Time for a new look

Blogger has some new templates and I have decided to ditch the dots. I think this is cleaner and it matches the format I use for online activities. Hope you like it!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Yo, Manolo, choot that piece a chit

Manolo will oblige. Here come the bullets:

  • We're back to the question of cheating with the latest exploits of Bill Belicheck and the New England Patriots. The penalty that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell slapped down was fairly severe; I know Belicheck makes millions but I think anyone would feel the sting of a $500,000 fine. What I'm hoping is that this gets the NFL to do the obvious, which is to give the defensive players a similar wireless communication system to what the quarterbacks currently have. It's never made any sense to give the advantage to one side of the ball. What will be interesting is to see how this change affects the Patriots. I've seen enough of the Patriots to wonder, at least retrospectively, how they were always able to figure out the right defense to stop the other team. Now we know.
  • I've been writing a little less about politics these days because, to be honest, I find it depressing. I haven't heard an original argument from the Democratic Party in years; it seems like the intellectual peak of the party happened sometime around my 4th birthday, and as regular readers of this feature know, I'm a late Boomer and certainly approaching my dotage. I would really like it if we could actually see a substantive discussion about the issues underpinning all the ideological hectoring, but I doubt we will. As the old saw goes, ideas have consequences, but too many of our politicians are substituting invective for explanation. It's no wonder that both the president and congress are about as popular as Michael Vick.
  • Have you seen the ads for the new Jodie Foster film, "The Brave One?" Thirty years ago she appeared in the movie "Taxi Driver," playing the role of a barely pubescent prostitute. Now she wants to be Travis Bickle. I don't know if this represents progress, or is simply another example of the utter bankruptcy of ideas in Hollywood. I went to college with a guy named Matt Tolmach, who has gone on from Beloit to a fabulous career as a producer in Hollywood. If you Google his name, you'll find that he's produced dozens of big films and is starting a production company with Tom Hanks. Matt was a good guy in his college days and I have no reason to believe that's changed. But Matt came up with more clever ideas when he ran the parody issue of the student newspaper than I've seen out of Tinseltown in recent years.
  • Time for another Mr. Dilettante contest - name your favorite guitar solo. Since my daughter has decided she wants to be a rock star, it would be good to get a few representative samplings for her to hear. I will throw out two of my favorites: Denny Dyas's lyrical, stinging playing on Steely Dan's "Bodhisattva," and Roddy Frame's hilarious sendup of Eddie Van Halen on a cover of "Jump" with his band, Aztec Camera. Let's hear yours, readership!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Fearless Dilettante Football Predictions

Another week is here. Here you go!

Xavier Hawks 35, Clintonville Truckers 24 - yes, their nickname really is the Truckers. And they're in second place. But the mighty Hawks will prevail.

Monmouth Scots 42, Beloit Bucs 14 - This will be second time my beloved Bucs lose to a team with the nickname Scots. Perhaps they could beat a team from the Isle of Wight....

Wisconsin Badgers 55, The Citadel 14 - if this is even close, Bucky should hang his head in shame. Next year they plan to schedule Culver Military Academy.

Green Bay Packers 21, New York Giants 17 - No Eli Manning, no Brandon Jacobs. No chance. And maybe Brett Favre will actually throw a touchdown pass against the kerosene-doused Giants defense.

Bonus area high school pick - White Bear Lake 21, Mounds View 14. Adam Weber's alma mater will have a tough time winning in White Bear. Next week we'll weigh in on mighty Irondale in this space.

Exit Terry Ryan

As I was driving around this afternoon I heard the news - Terry Ryan, the GM of the Twins, is resigning, with all of his underlings essentially moving up one spot.

This is interesting news, especially given the timing. The Twins have had a magical run over the past 6-7 years, largely due to the efforts of Ryan and his team to keep finding good, low-cost players and building a pitching-rich farm system. Given the meager resources provided by the Pohlads, it's been nothing short of amazing to see what Terry Ryan has been able to do. This can't be good news that he's decided to take a smaller role within the organization.

It's good to know a Janesville Parker guy can make good, though.

I, Faith Formation Teacher

The call went out a few weeks back from our parish’s religious education/faith formation coordinator. We needed teachers – there’s a ton of kids who won’t have teachers unless we get some volunteers to share their faith with the impressionable youth of the parish.

Someone has to do it and these days I have the time. So I volunteered and am now teaching my daughter and seven other reasonably bright-eyed second graders each Wednesday night. Somewhere, I have to suspect that my favorite religion teacher, Sister JoLaverne, who paired arms that looked likes loaves of ciabatta and a religious fervor bordering on the wacky, is smiling.

I had my first session with the kids last night. Maria knew one of the kids, a girl who had been one of her classmates at Valentine Hills last year. One other Valentine Hills kid is also in the class, along with representatives of other local schools like Sunnyside and Island Lake. Since I only have the kids for an hour, it’s not too tough to keep their interest. In some respects, it’s a bit like coaching, although I can’t make them run laps if they screw around. If nothing else, it should be a rich source of material. I just hope my charges remember me more favorably than I remember Sister JoLaverne.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Name that tune

Do you remember, the way we used to dance
In September

Sometimes I wonder. We're six years on now from 9/11/01 and whatever amity there was in the wake of the attacks, it's gone now. has made it clear, running an ad in the New York Times yesterday that referred to Gen. David Petraeus, the commander in Iraq, as Gen. "Betray-us." Petraeus is up on Capitol Hill now, getting berated by Tom Lantos. And just about all the worthies in Congress on the left side of the aisle are on record as saying they don't believe that anything Petraeus will tell them is worth hearing.

Try to remember, the kind of September

I remember that day very well - I don't think anyone will ever forget the sense we had that the world had changed, irrevocably. But now, six years on, the politics have become so poisonous that we ignore the general who is actually fighting the war, even as Osama bin Laden reappears on video, coming on like Noam Chomsky in a turban and a jet-black Santa Claus beard.

And now the days grow short/I'm in the September of my years

Do you get the sense that the days are growing short? Are we letting our short attention spans and our addiction to spectacle, our devotion to 1080p technology and our iPhones and all the other gadgetry in the array, all well beyond our imagining only a few years earlier, distract us from maintaining the steady gaze necessary for eternal vigilance?

Fantabulous night to make romance, 'neath the color of October skies

Or are we putting it off for next month? Should we?

Turn up your radio

Now the caravan is on its way.

Dilettante Football Weekend Roundup

Here are the scores that matter:

Green Bay Packers 16, Philadelphia Eagles 13
Wisconsin Badgers 20, UNLV Rebels 13
Carroll College Pioneers 35, Beloit College Bucs 6
Xavier Hawks 39, Ripon High School 34

All told, a good weekend for the teams I support. And the Brewers are now back in first place too, having dispatched the Reds 10-5 yesterday behind an early barrage of home runs, while the benighted Cubs fell to the Pirates. At least sports-wise, things are going well.

A few quick thoughts on these results:

  • The Pack didn't muster much offense but they are becoming a much more fearsome looking defense. It remains to be seen how much gas Eagles QB Donovan McNabb has left in his tank following four consecutive injury-filled seasons, but the pass rush was ferocious for the short time I was able to watch. And I think Johnny Jolly goes on the short list of fun D-Linemen in Packers history, along with Gilbert Brown and Dave Roller. He was a treat to watch.
  • The Badgers nearly blew it in Vegas; of course, millions of people have blown it in Vegas, so why should they be any different. Meanwhile, they are playing a FUBAR level team, the Citadel, on Saturday. The Badgers had better kick the Citadel's butt or they'll be really embarrassed. On the bright side, I'm glad that I'm not a "Go Blue" fan these days. I'm even more glad I'm not Lloyd Carr. Oregon laid waste to Michigan on Saturday and it was astonishing to watch.
  • Beloit is clearly not going to be a good football team this year; Carroll is pretty good in the sorry context of the Midwest Conference, but that's two embarrassing losses in a row for my beloved alma mater. On the other hand, Macalester went out and beat the crap out of lowly Principia College on Saturday to the tune of 63-0 or something like that, so maybe Mac has improved.
  • Meanwhile, a team I support has finally managed to beat Ripon. Too bad it was my beloved high school Hawks and not the Bucs against Ripon College. Sounds like it was a wild one. Still, the X is now 3-0 and is doing well in its new conference. I'll be curious how they do against hated Omro. Can't get used to these new conference rivalries.

Finally, a big shout-0ut for the Irondale Knights, who got an enormous monkey off their backs by beating Totino-Grace on Friday, 21-20. Irondale hadn't beaten Totino in a long time and its a big win for this eternally rebuilding program. Since there's a good chance that Ben will attend Irondale, I'm trying to pay some attention to these guys, who are Menasha-like in their overall athletic prowess (that's a reference for my cheesehead readership, and they'll know precisely what I mean). I'm used to rooting for historically bad teams, so Irondale is a natural.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Maria helps me discuss the Brewers

Since various anonymous posters have asked me to talk about the Brewers, I have asked one of my favorite co-bloggers, my lovely daughter Maria, to help me discuss the Brewers. So, Maria, what do you think about the Brewers?

Well, the Brewers have to be normal citizens that play baseball and when they were babies, they wore diapers. So, anonymous, whoever you are, go ahead and see what this means to you and, if you like the Brewers, you should be thankful that the other co-blogger on Mr. Dilettante isn't here - my brother Ben, who would probably be discriminating against the Brewers. -- Maria

Maria brings up a great point - one of the reasons the Brewers are having some trouble down the stretch is that they are so young, they are barely out of their diapers. This first pennant race will not be the last one, I would imagine, and if they can get through on this one it would be pretty impressive. The Brew Crew has assembled a very talented young team, but they are young. Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, J. J. Hardy, Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks, Bill Hall and the rest are potentially as good a nucleus as the Yount/Molitor/Cooper/Gantner group of my youth, but that squad took 3-4 years to get over. We'll see how this goes; the Brew Crew is playing far less formidable competition than the 1978 Yankees, but it's still hard to win it the first time around. We'll see what happens.

Friday, September 07, 2007

What can you say in five minutes?

Let's find out.

  • Badgers play UNLV? Should win. Packers play Eagles? Think the Pack will win, for a change.
  • Luciano Pavarotti died yesterday. The great Italian tenor was an opera superstar and was up for any number of things, including performing with James Brown and Barry White, among others. The clips are all over YouTube if you don't believe it. I may be the only person who remembers this, but when I think of Pavarotti my first thought is an offhand comment from "Ned the Dead," a host of a local late night horror movie show that used to be on television back in Green Bay. At one point, he interrupts the movie to analyze the plot. A monster is terrorizing a town. Ned says: "How will we stop this monster? I have an idea. Let's lure him out into a field, then get a plane and drop Luciano Pavarotti on him!" No respect for the classics, that guy.
  • The kids are in school this week and the early returns are promising. Ben is attending middle school and he is excited by the pace of events, the changing classes, having a locker, etc. Maria's new teacher is very young - pretty much fresh out of college, but he's enthusiastic. We're hopeful they'll have a good year.
  • The Vikings managed to avoid the blackout because the local television station that was to air the game bought out the final 1,200 tickets. I have a feeling they'll need to make this a budget item for the rest of the season, particularly if Tarvaris Jackson can't make the grade.

That's not bad - four bullets in five minutes. Just call me Roland the Headless Thomson Blogger.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Big Uglies

It starts tonight – one of the most impressive marketing machines around, the National Football League, opens its season with a game between the defending champion Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints, the feel-good story of 2006. It should be a compelling game featuring some of the biggest names in the league, Peyton Manning and Reggie Bush.

After all the events that have taken place in the offseason, I’m guessing the NFL is happy that the focus will now return to the games, rather than the anti-social and sometimes illegal behavior of its players. We’ve all had our fill of Michael Vick, Tank Johnson and various and sundry Cincinnati Bengals. Now the game is on and the Big Uglies (a Keith Jacksonism) are striding onto the field.

As regular readers of this feature know, I am a lifelong Green Bay Packer backer. I come by this affliction honestly, having grown up in lovely Appleton, Wisconsin, Green Bay’s better looking kid brother 30 miles to the southwest. Like most Cheeseheads, I am intensely loyal to the Green and Gold. The boys closed well last year, finishing 8-8 after enduring a dismal 4-12 campaign in 2005. Brett Favre returns for his 475th season at quarterback, this time surrounded by a young offensive line, the reliable Donald Driver and a cast of unknowns. Fortunately, the defense is pretty good, especially a talented front seven. The Packers could be a winning team this year but the tale may be told early. The first game is against the talented but flawed Philadelphia Eagles, who have lately been pounding the Packers on a yearly basis, although most of the recent contests have been in Philadelphia. If the Pack wins on Sunday, expect a good season.

The Packers have the great fortune of being in the NFC North, which has been a weak division for some time now. The hated Chicago Bears emerged from the slough last year and were able to make it all the way to the Super Bowl, even though they feature the execrable Rex Grossman as their quarterback. A lot of things went well for Team Satan last year and I suspect they’ll not be able to duplicate the results they got last season. Meanwhile, our purple-clad locals will take the field with the mysterious Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback, along with a flashy, injury-prone new running back (Adrian Peterson) and a stout but aging defense. If Jackson proves worthy, or even competent, the Vikings could be a lot better, but I’m guessing that Pat Williams and Darren Sharper will start to slip this year, which makes progress dicey. Meanwhile, the long-suffering Detroit Lions, who have not won a thing since 1957, really think that this year will be different. They said that in 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962….

What does it mean? It means the Packers have a chance to win the division. They also have a chance to finish last. But I’m guessing my boys will be 9-7 or so, which may just be good enough to make the playoffs in the NFC. Does ol’ number 4 have enough left to lead a final charge to glory? It’s the same question we’ve been asking for at least 6-7 years. I’m looking forward to finding out.

…1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005….

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

An embarrassing Saturday

College football began in earnest over the weekend and a lot of what happened was cause for chagrin here at Mr. Dilettante. While my beloved Badgers took care of business against a respectable opponent, Washington State, the rest of the day was pretty grim. Three scores indicate why:

Macalester 34, Beloit 21. I am a proud alumnus of Beloit College, a lovely liberal arts college with a dubious football tradition. My Bucs came north to St. Paul on Saturday to take on the Macalester Scots, historically the worst college football school in Minnesota. Back in the 1970s, Mac lost 50 games in a row and over the years the Scots have usually been on the receiving end of 79-0 scores, especially when the Johnnies came to town. Because Beloit has not been strong itself, scheduling Mac has usually been the football equivalent of a bowl of chicken soup – warm, tasty, good for what ails you and ultimately rewarding. Beloit has played Mac on a fairly regular basis over the last decade and had won every time, generally by comfortable margins. But not on Saturday. We went to the game and things started out as we’d come to expect, as our beloved Bucs jumped out to a 14-0 lead. But then it changed. Mac ran a kickoff back for a touchdown and suddenly turned into an offensive juggernaut, scoring five unanswered touchdowns. The Bucs had no answer and lost meekly.

Okay, it’s possible that the Scots are finally turning it around under their new coach and that Beloit may have been the victim of a budding football renaissance along Snelling Avenue. But it doesn’t seem likely. Even at the lowly D-III level, you cannot lose to Macalester. Unless you are playing the University of Tennessee, you should never lose to a team wearing orange pants. My kids were calling Mac “Mac & Cheese” because of the resemblance of Mac’s uniforms to Kraft products. I suspect that Beloit may be headed for an 0-9 season. Still it could have been worse. You could be a Gopher.

Bowling Green 32, Minnesota 31. We’ve got trouble in River City. The Music Man-style hype that has been emanating from the Bierman Building has been impossible to avoid ever since new coach Tim Brewster came to town. We’ve learned that there is a Gopher Nation that is headed for Pasadena. Historically, membership in Gopher Nation has been secured with an AARP card, but with the Vikings generally moribund there’s a yearning for some better football entertainment round these parts and at least a few people really wanted to believe that Coach Brewster was the real deal. Guess not. There’s no way the Gophers should ever lose to Bowling Green. One game is not enough time to pass definitive judgment, but the first results weren’t good. Bowling Green is slated to be a mid-level MAC team at best and a better MAC team, Miami of Ohio, is coming to town this week. Coach Brew better have more than hype or he’ll be headed out of town faster than you can say Smokey Joe Salem. Ash-canned Gopher coach Glen Mason may be smiling, but we wouldn’t know since he’s working for the Big 10 Network. His next appearance may be on a milk carton. Still, it could be worse. You could be a Wolverine.

Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32. After I came home from Macalester, I turned on the television and the first thing I saw was this score. I blinked and it was still there. Appalachian State is a powerhouse in what used to be called Division I-AA, what the NCAA now refers to as FUBAR, or something like that. They are a quality opponent and a team that will likely win many games this season. The thing is, they usually play teams like Lenoir-Rhyne, Furman and make occasional road trips to places like North Dakota State when they need to get out of lovely Boone, North Carolina. Somehow these fellows ended up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They were in the Big House, one of the most intimidating places in sports, with 106,000 Go Bluers waiting to watch the slaughter. But the Wolverines gagged. The Mountaineers came in and beat the pride of the Big Ten straight up in the Big House. Michigan has had a penchant for stubbing its toe in recent years, but usually the loss has come against an opponent with a little higher pedigree, like Notre Dame. It’s possible that the Wolverines will still come back and win the Big Ten, but I hope they don’t; it’s hard to argue the quality of the Big Ten when its top team cannot beat Appalachian State.