Saturday, January 31, 2009

Heckuva Job There, Mr. President

Among the many things we were reassured about when the era of Hope and Change came to pass was that we would never again see something like what happened with Hurricane Katrina, where people would suffer for days in the aftermath of a storm. Now that the bungling, potentially racist cabal of Bushies who screwed the pooch are gone, it was going to all go much more smoothly.

So it's a bit odd to see this article, doncha think?

More than half a million homes and businesses, most of them in Kentucky, remained without electricity from the Ozarks through Appalachia, though temperatures creeping into the 40s helped a swarm of utility workers make headway. Finding fuel — heating oil along with gas for cars and generators — was another struggle for those trying to tough it out at home, with hospitals and other essential services getting priority over members of the public.

The addition of 3,000 soldiers and airmen makes 4,600 Guardsmen pressed into service. It's the largest call-up in Kentucky history, which Beshear called an appropriate response to a storm that cut power to more than 600,000 people, the state's largest outage on record. Many people in rural areas cannot get out of their driveways due to debris and have no phone service, the governor said.

By the way, Steve Beshear is the governor of Kentucky. So where the heck is FEMA? Sure doesn't look like they're much help, are they?

Okay. I know, it's not fair to blame Barack Obama for acts of nature. But what you can blame Barack Obama for is this: being part of the party that ridiculed the efforts of the Bush administration to provide services for the people on the Gulf Coast, and for putting snarky messages on the White House website about the response of the Bushies to Katrina:

“President Obama swiftly responded to Hurricane Katrina,” the statement on the site continues. “Citing the Bush Administration’s ‘unconscionable ineptitude’ in responding to Hurricane Katrina, then-Senator Obama introduced legislation requiring disaster planners to take into account the specific needs of low-income hurricane victims.”

Mr. President, there are over a million people without power in the heart of the country right now. It's cold out there. I'm certain that you are doing everything you can to help them. But it might be nice, round about now, to maybe walk back a little of the snark and the certitude that your website is flashing right now. I'm just sayin'.

Big Blue Update 013109

Big Blue finished out its regular season in style this afternoon, beating Mounds View 71 by a final score of 65-16 at Island Lake. The kids played phenomenal defense and were able to get a number of quick scores early, coasting to an easy victory. Ben scored a free throw, managed three steals and blocked a shot in extensive action.

The victory brings their final record to 8-3. The 7-8 grade tournament starts next weekend, with a 9 a.m. opener against Irondale 1 at Island Lake in Shoreview. If things go well, the squad will play up to 3 games on Saturday and continue on to Sunday in the double-elimination tournament. As always, you can get your fill of in-house basketball coverage for northern Ramsey County at your one-stop shop -- Mr. Dilettante.

Change You Can Believe In -- Dollars, Too

It's become increasingly amusing to watch the reformers of corrupt Washington get tripped up on their own finances. Word now comes that President Obama's nominee for HHS Secretary, Tom Daschle, the former South Dakotan who was Majority Leader for a time, has tax liability problems. The invaluable Jake Tapper of ABC News has learned plenty about the man who would reform the nation's health care.

The report indicates that Daschle's failure to pay more than $101,000 taxes on the car and driver a wealthy friend let him use from 2005 through 2007 is not the only tax issue the former Senate Majority Leader has been dealing with since his December nomination prompted a more thorough examination of his income tax returns.

Mr. Daschle also didn't report $83,333 in consulting income in 2007.

The Senate Finance Committee Report also notes that during the vetting process, President Obama's Transition Team "identified certain donations that did not qualify as charitable deductions because they were not paid to qualifying organizations. Daschle adjusted his contribution deductions on his amended returns for 2005, 2006 and 2007 to remove these amounts and add additional contributions." This adjustment meant a reduction in the amount he contributed to charitable foundations of $14,963 from 2005 through 2007.

With the unreported income from the use of a car service in the amounts of $73,031 in 2005, $89,129 in 2006 and $93,096 in 2007; the unreported consulting income of $83,333 in 2007; and the adjusted reductions in charitable contributions, Daschle adds a total of $353,552 in additional income and reduced donations, meaning an additional tax payment of $128,203, in addition to $11,964 in interest.

On January 2 of this year, Daschle filed amended tax returns to pay the $140,167 in unpaid taxes.

Just a guess here -- most of the people who read this feature probably would consider making $83,333 in a year a pretty significant part of their income. I'd further wager that they would disclose that income. Daschle was not a rich man when he came to Washington but in what is a very familiar story, he found a way to leave the Senate as a multimillionaire. The open secret was that his wife Linda was one of the most prominent aviation lobbyists in Washington. A lot of money found its way into the Daschle family accounts that way, but we didn't dare accuse Daschle the Senator of corruption, since it is pretty much axiomatic that only Republicans are corrupt.

Personally, I don't know that it does much good to get too outraged about stuff like this. This is the way Washington has worked for decades. We tend to look at corruption through the wrong end of the telescope. The problem has never been money in politics; it's the politics in money. Businesses come to Washington and shower money on politicians and regulators because the politicians and regulators have arrogated the power to make or break entire industries. And since there's always a touch of larceny in the human heart, there's always going to be temptation for people like Daschle to game the system. The question to ask is not whether people like Daschle are corrupt; the better question to ask is why it is desirable to give more power to people who are in positions where they can be corrupted. That is what Obama and the Democrats are trying to do. Is this change you can believe in? If so, why?

Friday, January 30, 2009

What kind of beer do you like, neighbor?

Dennis Hopper has his views on the matter (content warning!). The boys over at Fraters Libertas have extensive listings and rankings on their website. My dad always said his favorite was something called Alpirsbacher Klosterbräu, which he always claimed was made by monks in the Black Forest. It turns out that this apparently is true, but I don't know enough German to read their website. Today I'm enjoying a Harp Lager, an ostensibly Irish beer made by Guinness but apparently brewed these days in New Brunswick. Beer is pretty darned well universal.

Most people have a favorite beer. When my friends and I were coming of age, the battle for loyalty usually was between Old Style and Miller High Life, two fairly cheap beers that were generally acceptable, especially in the mass quantities we favored in those days. If money was tight, there were other, less palatable alternatives like Blatz, which usually retailed for about $4 a case on those days. And you got what you paid for. As bad as Blatz was, there were worse things to drink. Like Carling's Black Label, which was affectionately known as "Black Flag," or the classic bad beer, Schaefer, which made no bones about its station by dubbing itself "the one beer to have when you're having more than one." Although both Black Label and Schaefer were more prevalent on the East Coast, you could get them in Wisconsin. Not that you'd ordinarily want to. Sometimes we also favored other local brews like Point or Huber, but not as often. Just about every town in Wisconsin had a brewery at one point -- my hometown brewery made a beer called Adler Brau, but they went out of business in the early 70s, so I never got to try it.

These days there are a lot of excellent beers available. I can go over to St. Anthony Village Liquor and choose from an amazing array of beers. I buy a six-pack every once in a while and experiment. One of the best local brewers is Surly Brewing, which makes a really good, hop-intense beer called Furious, along with the excellent Cynic Ale. It's neat to have the options we do today, even though it usually takes me a couple of months to go through a six pack these days.

So if you are a beer drinker, what are you having these days?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Nothin' up my sleeve. . . presto!

So the New York Times notes that President Obama likes to conduct business in his shirtsleeves. But he's also turned up the thermostats in the White House.

WASHINGTON — The capital flew into a bit of a tizzy when, on his first full day in the White House, President Obama was photographed in the Oval Office without his suit jacket. There was, however, a logical explanation: Mr. Obama, who hates the cold, had cranked up the thermostat.

“He’s from Hawaii, O.K.?” said Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, who occupies the small but strategically located office next door to his boss. “He likes it warm. You could grow orchids in there.”

The orchid comparison seems appropriate, considering how much of a hothouse flower the President has been so far. I wouldn't care about this much, except for this little bon mot that candidate Obama let fly last year:

"We can't drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times . . . and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK."

I suppose it's old news when our betters instruct us on how to behave and then don't follow suit. There's a cottage industry of bloggers and wags trailing in the wake of Al Gore's carbon footprint, to use just one example. I guess all I'd say is this: during the winter we set our furnace at 68 and during the summer we set our air conditioner at 78. We aren't doing it to demonstrate our moral goodness; we're just trying to save a few dollars. What other countries would say about it is of no concern to me.

Enjoy your toasty warm White House, Mr. President. I sincerely hope that the other countries say OK. You may want to check with Ahmedinejad just to be sure, though.

Fearless Dilettante Football Predictions - Won't You Come Home Bill Bidwill Edition

Time to pick the Super Bowl. First things first: my allegiance is to the Cardinals in this game. Any franchise that has had to wait over 60 years for another shot at the championship deserves a certain amount of sympathy. The Stinger makes the valuable point that a lot of the misfortune the Cardinals have suffered over the years lies at the feet of Bill Bidwill, the longtime owner of the team, who has tried to run things on the cheap for years. Until the 1970s, the same things were said about the Rooneys, who never had a winner in Pittsburgh until Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw came to town. Since then, the Steelers have been mostly near the top of the NFL. Things change. And let's be honest -- the Halas family is pretty penurious, too. The difference is that the Bears have had a lot of success over the years and even ran the poor relation Cardinals out of Chicago back in 1960. The nomadic Cardinals have had almost no success. I try to be a hard-hearted, gimlet-eyed conservative most of the time, but not on Sunday. Of course, there's no sentimentality left over for these guys.

Having said all that about the Redbirds, I think the Steelers are going to win. Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald have been playing out of their minds throughout the playoffs and they are exceptionally dangerous. The Cardinals have a lot of offensive weapons and for the first time since they had Dan Dierdorf and Conrad Dobler back in the 1970s, they have a good offensive line. This Cardinals team has the potential to score 30 on you any time they take the field. Teams that score 30 a game consistently win Super Bowls.

Still, I think the Steelers will have the better of it. It's easy to make fun of Troy Polamalu for his Milli Vanilli hair and his antic personality, but the guy is one of the best safeties in the history of the game. He has tremendous speed and he will make it difficult for Warner to throw on rhythm, which is a key part of the Cardinal offense. When the Steelers have the ball, I expect a heavy dose of Willie Parker. It's still not clear how much Hines Ward will play, but I have a suspicion that the Steelers rookie wideout Limas Sweed will make a big play in this game. Sweed was an excellent collegian and has been brought along slowly by the patient Pittsburgh coaching staff. He reminds me a bit of Plaxico Burress, but without the sociopathic tendencies.

The pick: Steelers 27, Cardinals 23. The over-under on fawning Obama references from the NBC crew, which includes modern-day Murrow Keith Olbermann: 8.

As always, if you want analysis based on reason and knowledge, as opposed to the blind squirrel suppositions that are on offer here, go see my friend Brad Carlson.

ACTUAL RESULT: STEELERS 27, CARDINALS 23. I watched much of the game with the Night Writer, Picklesworth and kingdavid, among others, but I guess I should have gone to Vegas. Dumb luck! But pretty cool. And we got a fawning Obama reference from Steelers owner Dan Rooney. I didn't bother to count the others, but I'll bet they were numerous.

Only slightly more lopsided than the Gopher/Iowa game

Rod Blagojevich is gone. The vote was 59-0. And for good measure, the Illinois Senate also voted 59-0 to bar Blago from ever holding public office in Illinois again. No word on whether or not he is barred from appearing on Top Chef or American Idol; he likely has a standing invitation for the Biggest Loser, though.

Don't think this is over, though. Patrick Fitzgerald will be bringing Blago to justice soon. But he might want to hear what Blago has to say. There's a pretty good chance that Blago knows some things that might make some of the swells who sat in judgment of him today just a little bit nervous.

Even though Blagojevich namechecked Rahm Emanuel, I don't suspect that Fitzgerald will have much interest in pursuing the Machine pols who have decamped to Washington. Instead, I suspect the scalp he wants is this guy.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A soap impression of his wife which he ate and donated to the National Trust

Happiness is a warm gun. Must be time for bullets!

  • Finally, someone turned the lights on over in the rump Republican caucus in the House. The godawful stimulus bill passed today without a single Republican vote in favor. If the Senate votes along similar lines, the Democrats will own this monstrosity. If only the Republicans had the wit to vote this way during the Bush years....

  • Over at Gino's new blog, a cautionary tale. Oh, those Russians.

  • It sure seems that Rush Limbaugh is suddenly relevant again. Obama name-checked him over the weekend and now the great herd of independent media is demanding to know why random Republican congressmen aren't denouncing Limbaugh. If I didn't know better, I'd suspect that maybe some folks at MSNBC are really in the tank for Obama.

  • Meanwhile, Obama has said he wants to start talking to Iran. As always, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has offered a few ground rules. "Meet people, talk to them with respect and put an end to the expansionist policies. If you talk about change it must put an end to the US military presence in the world, withdraw your troops and take them back inside your borders," Ahmedinejad helpfully suggests. Okay, we'll get right on that.

  • On a personal note, I really like my new car. Really, really like it. The Intrepid is a fun car to drive, but you sit so low it's like being in a submarine. This Santa Fe puts you up nice and high, but it's not a struggle to climb up into the seat at all. My nasty commute will be a lot more pleasant in this ride.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Merry #@$%! Christmas, Mr. Potter!

Every time a bell rings, an alderman gets his bling:

"But if you're asking me do I see myself like a modern-day Frank Capra movie, and I'm the Jimmy Stewart or Gary Cooper character, a guy idealistically trying to do what's right for people, fighting a system, and then be pushed back? Yeah, I see myself that way."

Yep. Blago really said that. He's a regular Mr. Smith with a pompadour, that guy.

The charnel house at 11th and Nicollet

I worked at Target Corporation for 8½ years and while I left there six years ago, I still have a lot of friends there. The news that the retailer is the latest to lay off a large number of workers hits hard. I would wager that just about everyone who lives in the Twin Cities knows someone who works for the Bullseye. I haven't made my calls yet, but I fear that some of my friends are no longer with the company after today.

Target is a strange company, by turns benevolent and ruthless. Target famously has set aside 5% of its profits for community service projects and during my time there I saw the company undertake a number of highly successful community-based initiatives. At the same time, there was a saying among Targetoids, especially in the district and regional offices: the day you're hired, the bullet is fired. Target has never hesitated to jettison people who didn't measure up to whatever metric was in place at the time. And if you were on the outs, it was a hellish place to be. The one job that always seemed to open up was toy buyer; guess right on the animatronic Elmo and you get a big bonus. Guess wrong and you're gone. Most years it was easy to guess wrong.

The people who work for the company, especially at the corporate headquarters, are uniformly bright, engaged and diligent people. I met more intelligent, talented people at Target than at any other place I've worked, which includes a Chicago law firm that was filled with attorneys sporting Ivy League credentials.

It's impossible to predict what is going to happen next, but this much I know: a person with a great idea and some venture capital ought to be hanging out on 11th Street and Nicollet Mall this afternoon, looking for people carrying boxes. There will be some very talented people looking for a new opportunity.

Nancy Boys Back Off

Looks like the Planned Parenthood Payoff may get jettisoned from the stimulus bill. Good news.

Monday, January 26, 2009

You Know What Would Be Nice?

If Nancy Pelosi would stop pretending that she's a devout Catholic. You can't be putting in money for Planned Parenthood in the "stimulus" package and still be a devout Catholic. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this sort of thing suggests that Pelosi is to Catholicism what Noam Chomsky is to Judaism.

We all know what Catholic teaching is on birth control generally and abortion in particular. It hasn't changed in two millenia. I'm sure that George Niederaurer, the Archbishop of San Francisco, isn't too excited about taking on Pelosi right now, especially after licking his wounds from the Prop 8 battle. But it would be helpful if someone called Pelosi out on this. Besides me and Leo, that is.

I was going to write about something

But I don't need to, because Leo has it covered. Go read it.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Hoopty Doo

We pulled the trigger on a car on Saturday. We went over to Poquet Auto in lovely Golden Valley and got a 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe with less than 9000 miles. It looks a lot like the one in the picture, except ours will trade in the seaside backdrop for something more like this.

We reached a point of no return on Thursday night, when our beloved old Lumina broke down in a parking lot in St. Anthony. Our mechanic reported that a new fuel pump was needed and considering that the cost of the repair was more than the car is worth, it was a pretty easy decision. Lazarus will going to a charity and I hope that it will continue to serve someone. But it won't be us.

The new ride is a departure for us in a number of ways. We've always owned only Detroit metal and we've pretty much had sedans, so a Santa Fe is a different choice. The mileage on this model is about the same as we would get with a conventional sedan, so the added versatility seemed to make sense. Hyundai has improved its vehicles considerably in the last 5 years and this model compares favorably with another car I test drove, a Toyota Highlander. Although it looks a bit smaller than the Highlander, the Santa Fe's interior dimensions are almost exactly the same, with plenty of room in the back seat for our growing kids. And considering that this one has low miles and was in our price range, it was a pretty easy decision to make.

Some people are really into cars. We aren't. We've never seen the need to spend a lot of money on a vehicle for its cachet. We just want something that is reliable and adaptable to our prosaic suburban lifestyle. And of course, if Gino drives one, you know it's got to be good.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Katharine Hepburn, 1938

They say that people objected to Katharine Hepburn back in the day because she wore trousers. Guess I don't see what the problem is. Oh wait, she's smoking. Bad, bad, bad.


A few changes to the blogroll, some quite overdue:

Unfortunately, the Northern Alliance Wannabe has decided to hang up his excellent blog, but he has a new enterprise going, A Voice for the Unborn, the title of which is pretty much self-explanatory. Many of us are friends with the blogger in question and we are glad he's back in the fray with this valuable and timely new venture.

Our friend Right Hook, while continuing to contribute to the invaluable Boots On, has now hung out his own shingle at the New Brighton Conservative Bunker. There will be some cross-posting of material at Boots On, but having his own place will free RH to cover even more topics. This is an unalloyed Good Thing.

A lot of us were sad when the most excellent Yucky Salad with Bones disappeared last year. Blogging gets in your blood, though, and Bill and Katie are back with Doesn't Anybody Knock? And they've brought friends. Their new venture is a free-wheeling group blog, full of their trademark humor and free of groupthink.

Speaking of happy returns, the Appletonian has returned to the fray, after shutting his site down for a time. Between the Appletonian and Blogger Beer, the Valley is very well covered.

I've also added the new Breitbart venture Big Hollywood. Besides providing a valuable, gimlet-eyed take on Left Coast doings, he's also given comedy genius Iowahawk yet another perch. It is my considered opinion that Iowahawk will someday take over sole ownership of the Internet.

Check 'em out!

Big Blue Update 012409

Big Blue got off to a fast start and held off a late rally to defeat a very good Roseville squad 48-39 this afternoon at Brimhall Elementary School in Roseville. Ben did not score in the game but managed a couple of steals and at least two rebounds. The win brings Big Blue's overall mark to 7-3.

The regular season concludes next Saturday with a 2 p.m. tilt against Mounds View 71. The game will take place at Island Lake in Shoreview. You know you want coverage of 7th-8th grade in-house basketball in northern Ramsey County. It's crucial to you, which is why you'll always find it here at Mr. Dilettante.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Never Understood A Single Word He Said

One of Barack Obama's most early and ardent campaign supporters was Douglas Kmiec, a former Reagan hand and a professor and dean at Catholic University and Notre Dame. Kmiec has argued long and hard that Barack Obama is more pro-life than the Republicans who ran against him. Kmiec even has a well-wrought website that goes on in fulsome detail about why Barack Obama is the real friend of the unborn. Kmiec's vociferous support gave many Catholics the cover they needed to pull the lever for an unapologetically pro-choice politician.

Today President Obama repaid Kmiec for his service by restoring funding to international organizations that provide abortions.

We Catholics aren't nearly strong as our Protestant brethren in being able to quote Scripture, but Jeremiah (5:21) had the answer for Professor Kmiec:

Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not.

And if Old Testament prophets aren't your thing, consider the words of a more modern Jeremiah:

He's a politician. I'm a pastor. We speak to two different audiences. And he says what he has to say as a politician. I say what I have to say as a pastor. Those are two different worlds. I do what I do, he does what politicians do.

And Barack Obama will be doing it for the next four years. And no matter how hard Doug Kmiec emulates Bertrand Russell in his ability to make distinctions, we could all see this coming right up Pennsylvania Avenue.

Here in My Car, I Feel Safest of All

UPDATE: Jill and I went out and bought our new hoopty this afternoon. Details anon.

I need a new car. I have a few ideas about what I'm going to buy but I'm curious about how other people feel about their rides.

So here are my questions for you:

1) What do you drive?
2) Do you like it? If so, why?
3) Would you recommend it?

The floor is open!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

BFMD - The Dilettante Soundtrack

We've really covered the waterfront today on Blogs for Mirth Day -- a sincere thank you to all the playas. And a heartfelt tip of the cap to the estimable Learned Foot, who came up with this excellent idea. Two bits of business left.

First, we need to decide the winner of the TV Show Theme Showdown. We are in the final round and the top seeds have won out. So your final vote is between:


As you can see, even though The Avengers lost in the semifinals, I still support efforts to maximize the use of Diana Rigg on this blog, however. Cast your votes in the comments section, por favor.

Meanwhile, our intrepid contestants have created quite a treasure trove of musical fun. Herewith, all the songs mentioned in this thread through 8:20 p.m.

Lynyrd Skynyrd, Free Bird

Rolling Stones, Satisfaction

Meat Loaf, Bat Out of Hell

Kingston Trio, Tom Dooley

Don Henley, Dirty Laundry

Bruce Springsteen, Streets of Philadelphia

O'Jays, Love Train

Donovan, Mellow Yellow

Donovan, Atlantis

Jimmy Castor Bunch, Trogolodyte (and lets also throw in the Bertha Butt Boogie)

Beatles, Get Back

Gordon Lightfoot, If You Could Read my Mind

Aaron Neville, Tell It Like It Is

Abba, Fernando

Jimi Hendrix, Purple Haze

Ian Hunter, Once Bitten Twice Shy (and Great White, Once Bitten Twice Shy)

Boomtown Rats, I Don't Like Mondays

And in tribute to the founder of BFMD,

Cameo, Word Up (and we'll throw in Candy, too)

Mirth Up!

BFMD News Update — A Case Where the Headline Probably Hurts Worse Than The Event Reported

Chirac Mauled by His Psycho Lap Dog

How does one say "schadenfreude" in French, anyway?

Further reports as warranted -- I fully expect that kingdavid will be all over this one soon, as this one is right in his wheelhouse.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled mirth.

It's Blogs for Mirth Day

Barring something totally unforeseen, the world and all its problems will still be with us tomorrow. So for today, it's time for some mirth.

For our first act of BFMD, we present OPEN THREAD UNO. Here's how it works:

You may post on any topic you'd like, but your post must either include:

1) A quote from any rock song you can think of, but it has to be one that an average reader would know -- i.e., better to quote the Beatles than Richard Hell and the Voidoids (for reasons explained below) -- or,

2) A limerick or haiku (we'll call this the Picklesworth exception).

The next poster must:

1) Tell us what the song quote is ("Gee NW, I think that's Born to Run by Springsteen") and then supply another song, limerick or haiku; if the last post was a limerick or haiku, the next poster can post another limerick or haiku or (degree of difficulty!) change it back to a song lyric by including a lyric in a limerick or haiku, to wit:

So c'mon, Wendy

Tramps like us baby we were

Born to run, whoa, whoa

This is why picking an easy song to recognize is important; the thread will grind to a halt quickly if it turns into "Stump the Band," or worse it will be dominated by Picklesworth. And we all know painful that could be.

2) Or, you can offer a joke instead. The joke must be better quality than what you would find on a Dixie Riddle Cup; please don't work blue.

More mirth anon. Play on, playas!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Kids, If You Want Some Fun

I haven't done an open thread in a long time – maybe ever. Here's your chance to spout off, be clever, whatever. But there is one rule — your post must include a random lyric from a Steely Dan song. Have at it!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Our Newly Minted Patriots

I'm not going to spend a lot of time rehashing the events of today -- there are millions of bloggers plowing that ground and it's highly unlikely that my views will differ much from what you can read elsewhere.

I've made sport of the vacuous self-congratulatory celebrities surrounding Obama twice in the last day, mainly because I'm skeptical that they really mean what they say. My suspicion is that the pledges of fealty to ideals generally, and to Barack Obama in particular, are written on sand. Maybe Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers is sincere in his Puss-n-Boots imitation, but it's more likely that he'll choose a night of debauchery over a day of public service. That's just the way it is.

But what about other people, especially those whom this new president has inspired, who swear that they are now ready to make real sacrifices for the nation? Are they serious?

The former 60s radical David Horowitz has an interesting essay out that has been reprinted at Powerline. He makes a valuable point about the messages that Obama and his surrogates have offered in recent days:

Barack Obama is the head of a party whose leaders have accused the outgoing president and his Republican Party of betraying their own country by waging an
illegal, aggressive, and unnecessary war and in the process destroying its Constitution and the liberties it guarantees. By contrast, in his victory speech in November, Barack Obama repeated his pledge to be president of all Americans,
liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, and thanked the American
troops whom a Republican president had sent to Afghanistan and Iraq in these words: "Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking
up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us."

In the speech announcing his economic stimulus package, Obama deliberately passed up the golden opportunity it presented to blame the biggest financial disaster in the nation's history on Republicans, as Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders would inevitably have done.

At the "We Are One" celebration, orchestrated by his team, the script that was given to liberal actress Marisa Tomei included a passage from Ronald Reagan's inaugural, a gesture that paid tribute to him as a leader who preached tolerance and compassion and a united nation. Another actor read similar sentiments from Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Farewell Address without so much as mentioning its famous admonitions about the "military-industrial complex," as a Democrat invariably would. Liberal actor Jack Black then paid tribute to another Republican hero, Teddy Roosevelt, as America's pioneer environmentalist, and Tiger Woods presented himself as the proud scion of a military family, praising his family's service and paying tribute to America's armed forces. Even the music was inclusive, with country singer Garth Brooks playing an extended set.

In his appointments, Obama has also pursued the national unity theme, ceding to Republicans vital positions as heads of his National Security team, and to conservatives and centrists the key positions on his economic team. As his Secretary of State and his chief of staff, he has appointed two Democrats prominently identified with support for the Iraq war, the most divisive national issue since Vietnam, and one over which much of the leadership of the Democratic Party, including its standard bearers in the last two presidential elections, played disgraceful roles.

These appointments are not merely symbolic gestures but solid commitments to policies that are at least centrist and do not take America's world leadership lightly. Naturally, Obama has made appointments -- and policy commitments -- to the left as well. Conservatives should and will be watching these, opposing those which are destructive to the national interest. Conservatives will also recognize that having lost the election, these battles will not be easily won.

But on this Inauguration Day, before the onset of these political battles, it is important for conservatives to focus on what has already been gained in political terms by symbolism of Obama's election and the decisions he has made.

It may all turn to ashes, of course. But my sense is that Obama does understand that conservative concerns aren't simply to be dismissed outright. That in itself would separate him from many in his party. And it is undeniable that he has a chance to get some of his acolytes to support American ideals in ways that they may not have chosen to before. Again, Horowitz:

All over the country Americans have invested their hopes in Obama's ability to pull his country together to face its challenges. Among these Americans are millions -- most likely tens of millions -- who have never identified with their government before, who felt "outside" the system they regarded as run by elites, who ascribed its economic troubles to the greedy rich, who bought the Jackson-Sharpton canard that America was a racist society and they were locked out, who would have scorned the term "patriot" as a compromise with such evils, and who turned their backs on America's wars.

If it seems unfair that Barack Obama should be the source of a new patriotism -- albeit of untested mettle -- life is unfair. If the Obama future is uncertain and fraught with unseen perils, conservatives can deal with those perils as they come. What matters today is that many Americans have begun to join their country's cause, and conservatives should celebrate that fact and encourage it. What matters now is that the American dream with its enormous power to inspire at home and abroad is back in business. What it means is that the race card has been played out and America can once again see itself -- and be seen -- for what it is: a land of incomparable opportunity, incomparable tolerance, and justice for all. Conservative values -- individual responsibility, equal opportunity, racial and ethnic pluralism, and family --
are now symbolically embedded in the American White House. As a result, a great
dimension of American power has been restored. Will these values be supported,
strengthened, put into practice? It is up to us to see that they are.

Pay attention to the last two sentences. "Will these values be supported, strengthened, put into practice? It is up to us to see that they are." Indeed. That is what a loyal opposition does. Obama is going to do things that are wrongheaded and irritating. That's a given. But we shouldn't ignore or deny the positive things he will accomplish in the coming years. That's also what a loyal opposition does.

Godspeed, President Obama. And welcome to those who are now engaging in our national enterprise. We're glad you're here; we're going to need you.

Better People Starting Today - Iowahawk Provides a Useful Transcript

Revisiting what I wrote yesterday -- Iowahawk has provided a public service. This is much easier than watching the video.

W in the Rear View

The Man You Love to Hate leaves the stage today. What do we make of him now? Here are two smart takes on our outgoing president, first from Jay Reding and the second from John Hinderaker at Power Line.

I don't pretend to know how George W. Bush will ultimately be viewed, nor do I think the current assessments of him will be especially important in a few years. I would simply suggest that the popular notion that he was one of the worst, if not the worst presidents in history is simply silly. But as Hinderaker notes, the truth is that Bush never understood something that every successful politician knows: you have to service what you sell.

In the end, the greatest failures of the Bush administration were political. Bush was the first MBA President, and he always seemed to think that results would carry the day. He followed Lincoln, who wrote that if events bore him out, no one would remember his critics, while if events did not bear him out, a thousand angels swearing he was right wouldn't make any difference.

That's fine as far as it goes, but Lincoln went to considerable lengths, sometimes to the derogation of the war effort, to make sure that public opinion in the North stayed with him. And he was, in the event, saved by the victories won by Grant and Sherman.

Bush's great failing was that his focus was almost exclusively on policy, and he was unwilling to pay adequate attention to politics. This failing manifested itself repeatedly throughout his term in office. With hindsight, the beginning of the end for Bush was his unwillingness to defend himself when he was attacked for the "sixteen words" in his State of the Union address--words that were indisputably true. The same thing happened after Hurricane Katrina, the event that got his second term off on the wrong foot. In truth, the federal response to Katrina was both the largest and the fastest response to any natural disaster in world history. Yet Bush was never willing to stand up to his critics and make the case in his own defense.

That tendency to turn the other cheek was, in the end, fatal. Bush never cared much about politics. He was almost contemptuous of political leadership, willing to engage in politics on a sustained basis only in his two successful election campaigns. But he was a politician, and the job of a politician, as President, is to use political skills to lead the American people. Bush's unwillingness or inability to do what it would take to be an effective political leader, in the end undid his administration.

I can promise you this much: Barack Obama won't hesitate to use his political skills.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Congratulations to the Redbirds

No team in NFL history has been more star-crossed than these guys. Glad that they finally get their chance in the Big Game.

We Promise to Be Better People. . . Tomorrow

You can click on this link if you'd like. I can't really recommend you do, because it's 4 minutes of your life that you won't get back. But I post the link to make a point. What the link shows is a bunch of celebrities pledging to be better people. Starting tomorrow.

It might be uncharitable, but the way I read this self-congratulatory video in honor of Obama is that, for these supporters of the Sun King, it was acceptable to be self-involved for the past 8 years, but now they're going to clean up their act. If you watch, various of these swells apparently used to drive bad gas guzzling cars, cut people off in traffic, ignore the needs of their children and defecate on their family and friends, but now that acceptable leadership has come to Washington, they are going to straighten up and fly right.

I suppose if the citizens of Ashton Kutcher Nation actually make good on their respective pledges, it might make the world a marginally better place and potentially cause an incremental decrease in auto insurance premiums in the 213 and 949 area codes, but did they not have an affirmative responsibility to act better before tomorrow? Really, why would you put off better behavior simply because Evil W is in the White House?

The sad part of it is this: these bien pensants are so addled by their worship of The One that they can't even see the problem with the message they send. With each passing day this video looks more prescient.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Political Football

We often go to the Sunday evening Mass at our parish and we had just returned from it this evening when I got home, headed down to the family room and settled in to watch the remainder of the AFC Championship game. As I turned on the television, the game was going to halftime.

Good, I thought. After sitting through a few erectile dysfunction ads and maybe a few cinematic dysfunctional ads, I'd have a chance to listen to the assembled experts on the CBS panel tell me what happened in the first half. Sure enough, JB and the gang were there, but the portion of the broadcast dedicated to football went by in about 60 seconds. They didn't even let Bill Cowher, the former Steelers coach who presumably would have had something insightful to say about players he had coached, say a word. No, it wasn't important. They had to go to Katie Couric.

If you're of a certain age, you would know that if a sporting event is interrupted by a network anchor, it would usually mean some big news was afoot -- something like a plane crash, or maybe the Italian government falling for the 3rd time this month, or the unexpected death of some famous person (like maybe Mitch Miller, #1 in many dead pools these days). But no, this time it was to show footage of the big Inaugural shindig in Washington and for perky Katie to remind all of us football fans that famous celebrities are really, really excited about Barack Obama.

They were all there, standing out in front of the Lincoln Memorial to celebrate the new Lincoln. Bruce Springsteen, longtime avatar of the working man whose last really good album came out 25 years ago, a faux populist who has grown into a tiresome bore in middle age, was dancing in front of the reflecting pool with guitar in hand. Standing next to Bruuuuuuuuuce was ol' Pete Seeger, who's been proudly spewing nonsense in folksong format for three generations now, clearly delighted that the first candidate he could really get behind since Henry Wallace was actually going to take power. There stood America's Everyman Tom Hanks, last seen reading out Mormons as being un-American for exercising their voting and free speech rights, standing with a crap-eating grin as the second and third chins he's recently installed waved in the breeze. Stevie Wonder just called to say he loves Barack, while Bono and the rest of his U2 bandmates were windmilling about as well (by the way, aren't those guys Irish?)

There were lots more: Jamie Foxx, Marisa Tomei, Shakira, Mary J. Blige, Rosario Dawson, Tiger Woods, Usher, Queen Latifah, George Lopez, Sheryl Crow, Forrest Whitaker, Ashley Judd, George Lucas, Samuel L. Jackson, Jon Bon Jovi, Beyonce, the Black Eyed Peas, the Green Eyed Monsters, the Mitch Miller Singers and probably some combination of Woody, Tyrone, Janet and/or Arlo Guthrie. You can see them all here if you're so inclined. Actually, I'm pretty sure that Mitch Miller wasn't there.

Ya know what? I'm glad these people are happy. Good for them. But frankly, I wanted to watch football. I know Obama is going to be president in two days. You'd have to be in a coma not to know that. And I'm guessing that I wasn't the only football fan who would have preferred to hear from Bill Cowher than from the cavalcade of bien pensants preening on the Mall. Maybe someone at CBS will see fit to let Cowher speak on Tuesday.

For what's it's worth, Barack Obama is probably ill-served by all the adulation and the free-flowing comparisons to Abraham Lincoln that have been flowing through the media coverage in recent days. Powerline's Paul Mirengoff makes the point quite nicely:

It's not really in Obama's interests to be compared, before he even takes office, to our greatest president. A lower bar would suit him better. Accordingly, the extra increment of MSM praise we're witnessing this time around probably stems more from childishness than from partisanship. And to the extent that Obama has encouraged the Lincoln comparison, he probably has done so more out of egomania than political self-interest.

Just so. Let's hold off on the comparisons until the guy actually takes office and does something.

BFMD - TV Show Theme Showdown, Round 2

The votes are in. Now it's time for the semi-finals.

In the first semifinal, the contestants are:

In the lower bracket, the contestants are:

#6 seed The Avengers

Note well: I'm not trying to stack the deck in favor of the Avengers, but its upset win over Baretta gives me the perfect flimsy pretext to put up a picture of Diana Rigg. And let's face it, any reasonably smart blogger knows the value of doing something like that.

Choose your favorites in the comments section. Voting will end on Wednesday. The finals will be part of the Blogs For Mirth Day extravaganza. More details anon.

Someone Circling the Bowl Would Know

Especially amusing? This little bit of trutherism:

"If Obama as president of the United States does not obey the orders of the empire, they will kill him, like they killed Kennedy, like they killed Martin Luther King, or Lincoln, who freed the blacks and paid with his life."

"They" sound like some real bad dudes. I'm just guessing here, but I'd be willing to wager that the parrot on his shoulder sounds like Gilbert Gottfried.

Sunday Papers

The Sunday papers are getting to be little more than an envelope with which to hold the Cub circular, so I'm going to channel Glenn Reynolds and give you a few things worth reading this morning:

I champion the work of the Night Writer at every opportunity. Here's why.

You've been reading the news and hearing about layoffs, wars, financial catastrophes and unremitting gloom, right? Don't worry about it - things are great! Stinger has the skinny.

Money talks, even when it's not quite sure what it's saying.

Somebody better call Randolph Mantooth and Kevin Tighe.

Bogus Doug (who has been writing more lately -- good thing!) makes a smart point about what's happening at the Strib.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Big Blue Update - 011809

It was a stirring comeback for Big Blue as they rallied from a 22-14 deficit to score the last 17 points of the game and to defeat St. Anthony 5 31-22 this afternoon at Island Lake in Shoreview. Some really tight defense and clutch shooting down the stretch made the difference, as the Blues were able to wear down a well-coached St. Anthony squad.

As is his custom, Ben scored a basket and grabbed some rebounds, all while playing his usual tenacious defense on the wing. It was a thrilling game for everyone.

Big Blue now stands at 6-3 for the year and will return to action next Saturday for a tilt against the mysterious Roseville 5 squad. Game time is 1 p.m. at Brimhall Elementary in Roseville. When you want coverage of in-house youth basketball, especially among the titans of northern Ramsey County, look no further than Mr. Dilettante.

Change You Can Believe In, Volume XXX

Remember the last election cycle? A lot of Senate challengers, particularly Democrats, were quite adamant about opposing the bailout, including our good friend Al Franken. Perhaps the most adamant was Oregonian Jeff Merkley, who unseated Republican Gordon Smith at least in part because of Smith's support of the bailout.

Now that Merkley and his fellow freshmen colleagues have vanquished the rapacious Republicans and are now doing the people's business in Washington, it looks a little different, apparently. Mary Katherine Ham noticed:

Of seven newly minted freshman Democratic senators, six voted for releasing the second half of the $700 billion TARP funds in what is being considered Obama's first major test of strength on the Hill. This would be rather uncontroversial had not five of them, to some degree or another, campaigned against the original, unpopular bailout bill to win their seats.

MKH has the goods at the link, including an especially amusing look back at an ad that Merkley ran during the campaign. You know, this sort of thing might just make people a little suspicious about campaign promises. Ham's conclusion is priceless:

If you're wondering how hard Obama had to work to flip these principled votes, don't trust the lede on the Politico story, which says Obama "threw himself into the fight." As the story later notes, "Obama worked the phones with close to a dozen calls."

It's reminiscent of the first time the bailout came up for a tough vote and the Washington Post reported that Obama was really diving into the fight, but didn't place a single phone call to the Hill. His charm is just that powerful, I guess.

It would appear so. Read the whole thing.

Friday, January 16, 2009

You Know What's the Best Thing About This Blogging Business?

It's that I get to interact with smart, intellectually engaged people. I've had some really thoughtful comments here this week. Thank you for sharing your wisdom -- I really appreciate your contributions.

Strib Declares Bankruptcy

It continues to look more grim by the day over on Portland Avenue. From the article:

The filing, which was made with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the southern district of New York, had been expected for months. It follows several missed payments to the paper's lenders, and it comes less than two years after a private equity group, New York-based Avista Capital Partners, bought the paper for $530 million.

In its filing, the newspaper listed assets of $493.2 million and liabilities of $661.1 million.

Those are some bad numbers and they come despite this, also from the article:

The Star Tribune, with Sunday circulation of 552,000, is the 10th-largest Sunday newspaper in the U.S. Its daily circulation of 334,000 makes it the 15th-largest daily based on circulation. The paper's website,, averaged 76 million page views per month during the past six months, placing it among the top 10 newspaper websites in the nation.

We tend to bash the Strib a lot in the local conservative blogosphere, mostly for editorial folly and the ham-handed way the paper has inserted itself into just about every political debate over the years. And there are some people who will view this moment as an opportunity for schadenfreude. Not me -- it's a sad day. The problem is this: I don't see a way for newspapers to continue with their current business model. It's gone.

Meanwhile, at least one Stribber continues to have a standing job offer. Operators are standing by.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Iowahawk Is A Genius, Volume MCMLXIX

We're trying to bring teh mirth this week, but sometimes it's simply better to outsource. Enter eternal comedy genius Iowahawk. He's branching out now, too, with a post at Breitbart's excellent new website Big Hollywood, with a reminder of why Movies Are Your Best Entertainment Value. A brief excerpt, as the Hawk previews coming attractions for 2009:

Ice Station Wasilla: Global warming unleashes Nixon, McCarthy, and Sarah Palin from a glacial tomb in this stylish post-apocalyptic horror set in Alaska. With Keanu Reeves as Al Gore.

The Vespa Diaries: Romantic revolutionary scooterist Pol Pot (Fulgencio Del Taco) and US intellectual Noam Chomsky (Sparky Affleck) find forbidden rainforest love in Steven Soderberg’s Cambodian remake of ‘Roman Holiday’ that had Sundance audiences cheering.

The Royal Fluffers: Lovable band of misfit stoners with Jew-fros trick Queen Elizabeth into filming a porno in this sweet coming-of-age teen fart bong sex comedy from Judd Apatow. Starring Jonah Sethberg, Seth Justinstein, Jay Justin Jonahbluth, Ron Jeremy, and Helen Mirren. (British release titled “On Her Majesty’s Secret Cervix”)

Fearful Silence: Courageous ‘What’s My Line?’ contestant (Leonardo DiCaprio) refuses to answer panelist questions in this game show drama set against the McCarthy-blacklist era. With Ralph Fiennes as Bennett Cerf and Keith Olbermann as Kitty Carlisle.

There's so much more, though. Read the whole thing. Really.

Fearless Dilettante Football Predictions - Keystone Kops Edition

During WWII the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers, both suffering financial hardships, combined forces for a few seasons and played as the "Steagles." If my thoughts are correct, they will meet again in a few weeks. In honor of a potential all-Pennsylvania Super Bowl, I have posted a picture of the Keystone Kops, a famous silent movie comedy team, pictured here taking a phone call from Senator Arlen Specter. Anyway, on with the picks. And remember, if you want serious commentary on football, you should probably be reading Brad Carlson.

Pittsburgh Stillers 16, Baltimore Ravens 11. As predicted here, the Ravens were able to hold off the Tennessee Titans, a team that I always believed was suspect. The Steelers are a different matter. These teams are bitter rivals of course, division foes who have been knocking heads for an eternity (remember, the current Ravens are the old Cleveland Browns). It will be a defensive struggle and nasty, nasty, nasty. But I'm thinking that rookie Baltimore QB Joe Flacco's magical run ends on the sodden turf of Heinz Field.

Philadelphia Iggles 33, Arizona Cardinals 28. Let's say this at the outset: the Cardinals are the team to root for this weekend. No franchise in all of professional sports, even the Cubs, has been as sad-sack an outfit as these Redbirds. They haven't won a thing since 1947 and even though in many respects their ineptitude is self-inflicted, it's about time that the sun shine a little on the Bidwill family, who have been owners of the team for nearly as long as the Rooneys have had ownership interest in the Steelers, but with none of the charm. As for the game itself, the Cards are playing well and it's at home. Those are positive factors. Still, I think the Eagles are a tough-minded bunch and that Donovan McNabb has something to prove. A Super Bowl ring would be the capper on a very distinguished career and I'm guessing that McNabb realizes that this is his best chance, and maybe his last. He'll do something special to win this game. And if he can win the Super Bowl, he'll get a bust in Canton.

Closed Circuit to Maria

Happy birthday, rock star! You've come a long way!
Love, Dad

No Need for Apologies

Remember all the hyperventilating about "warrantless wiretaps" and gross invasions of the civil rights of Americans that we heard about from our friends on the Left for the past few years? Remember the breathless recounting of the depredations that Evil W had perpetrated through this program? Never mind.

No need for anyone to apologize about it. I'm just glad that Barack Obama will have one of the same tools available to him that his predecessor has. Obama is going to need it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Blogs for Mirth -- TV Show Intro Contest

Learned Foot has made the call, and we at Mr. Dilettante are proud to answer. January 22 is Blogs For Mirth Day (BFMD). As you can see from the lovely imagery attached to this post, it's all in exquisitely good taste, as most KAR productions tend to be. And we're gonna play, because we like mirth. Oh my yes.

Today's assignment -- we are having an 8-video tournament to determine the coolest, mirthiest intro music in television history. Vote for your four favorites by no later than NOON CST on Saturday, January 17. The four winners will go on to the semifinals and then we will have the finals on BFMD itself. There will be further mirth this week of a yet-to-be-determined nature. But rest assured, it will be very, very mirthy. Let there be no doubt.

I have seeded the 8 contestants, all hourlong dramas, most with a certain amount of camp and, generally speaking, old as hell. Kinda like me. And here they are:

The #1 seed features vertiginous camera work, cool music and Jack Lord. Book 'em Danno, it's Hawaii Five-O.

The #8 seed is an oldie, from 1965, featuring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin having a lot of fun serving as federal agents doing really weird stuff in the West. Conrad's character was James West and the show? That would be The Wild Wild West.

The second contest pits the 4 and 5 seeds. The #4 seed had star power galore, as it was the series that launched the career of Kirk's boy, Michael Douglas. It also gave Karl Malden a chance to wear a lot of fedoras and later get a side job pitching AMEX travelers checks. You get some excellent 70s clavinova, too, as you join the boys on The Streets of San Francisco.

The #5 seed is the home of multiple shows, including Peter Falk's Columbo, Dennis Weaver's McCloud, Rock Hudson's McMillan and Wife (although in this one, the wife was gone) and, among others, Jack Klugman's Quincy, M.E., which later became its own show. But they all had the flashlight on the lonely road as part of the NBC Mystery Movie.

The third contest pits seeds 3 and 6. The #3 seed features some funky percussion, a bird and a guy who got away with murder later on, all with the dulcet tones of Sammy Davis Jr., here far removed from the Rat Pack. It's the master of disguise, Robert Blake, as Baretta. And keep your eye on the sparrow.

The #6 seed is the only foreign entry. It's all about style here, as Patrick Macnee and the lovely Diana Rigg trade fun, intrigue and a few knowing glances as The Avengers.

The final battle is between seeds 2 and 7. The #2 seed is an eternal classic, written by Lalo Schifrin, a contemporary and rival of the geniuses of midcentury muscial scores, Henry Mancini and Bernard Herrmann. It's tense and it still sounds cool, 40 years on. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to consider Mission: Impossible.

The #7 seed is another long-lived cop show that features another swinging arrangement and a really cool Univac-style computer. It's Mike Connors, kicking butt and taking names as Mannix.

Choose your winners in the comments section. And remember, the mirth is just beginning.

A sensible suggestion from Learned Foot

Click the link and see. As is sometimes the case with LF, caution advised if you're in a work setting.

Go Figure

The Pentagon is reporting that 61 prisoners previously held at Guantanamo Bay are now back on the battlefield. From the AP (via Don Surber):

Sixty-one detainees who have been released from the U.S. Navy base prison in Cuba are believed to have rejoined the fight, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said. That’s up from 37 previously, Morrell said.

The new figures come as President-elect Barack Obama prepares to issue an executive order during his first week in office to close the controversial prison. It’s unlikely, however, that the Guantanamo detention facility will be closed anytime soon as Obama weighs what to do with the estimated 250 al-Qaida, Taliban or other foreign fighter suspects who remain there.

So what is the price of moral vanity? We don't yet know for certain. But it's reasonable to surmise that the currency will be blood.

(H/T: Instapundit)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Eat This

Someone is going to have an upset stomach after this particular dinner. It may not be any of the participants, though.

Taegan Goddard of Political Wire reports that Barack Obama is having dinner this evening at George Will's house and that much of the first-team conservative commentariat is there too, including the house conservatives at the New York Times, David Brooks and Bill Kristol. There are rumors that Rush Limbaugh might be there, too. UPDATE (1/14 a.m.): Nope, guess el Rushbo wasn't there after all.

I am amused. It's not often that you can get five four of the most talented bullshit artists in America together in the same room. Other than the bill for cleaning the carpet afterwards, I'll bet they're having a fascinating evening. I do hope that after they enjoy their snifters of cognac and cigars (or whatever the President-Elect is smoking these days) that they surf The Daily Kos and Free Republic. I'd be willing to wager that the comments would be a laugh riot. Here's a hint, True Believers -- it's not about you. It's never about you.

Tuesday Night Music Club

What do you listen to when you're typing a snarky post? Well, this is what iTunes spit out for me:

Last Five:

I Believe I'll Dust My Broom, Robert Johnson
Soothe Me, Sam and Dave
My Adidas, Run-DMC
You Make Me Feel So Young, Frank Sinatra
Chimes of Freedom, the Byrds

Next Five:

Tokyo Storm Warning, Elvis Costello and the Attractions
Revolution Rock, the Clash
Double Shot of My Baby's Love, the Swinging Medallions
Road Movie to Berlin, They Might Be Giants
Family Affair, Sly and the Family Stone

I Was Going to Write About Tony Dungy

But Brad Carlson has the matter covered so well, I don't need to. Hit the link.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Hanging With Rabbit Maranville

Cooperstown time. Somebody has to join the Rabbit.

  • The news is that Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice will be inducted as this year's class in the Hall of Fame. Henderson has a remarkable career. He is, pretty much without question, the greatest lead-off man in baseball history. Offensively, he had it all -- excellent power, great speed, top-notch instincts and a will to win that was second to none. Between the lines, he was the real deal. But in a lot of other ways, not so much. He was a vagabond, playing for nine different teams over the course of his 25 year career, including about 4 separate tours of duty with the Oakland Athletics. The reason for this was simple -- he was a mercenary and he tended to wear out his welcome. He was a very self-absorbed player and there were times that it appeared that he was in it for the stats as much as anything else. But the Hall of Fame is about performance, not deportment. And over the course of his 25-year career, Rickey Henderson was a hell of a performer. He stole more bases than anyone else, by a lot. He had over 3000 hits. He hit nearly 300 home runs as a leadoff hitter. He wasn't a great defensive outfielder, but he could make a good play when he had to. He's probably one of the 10 greatest players of all time. He's gotta be there.

  • Rice, the long-time strongman of the Boston Red Sox, made the Hall in his final year of eligibility. Rice was a feared slugger who hit a lot of his home runs in Fenway Park, but many of the home runs he hit would have been homers in any ballpark. He had a reputation for being surly and a tough guy for the media to cover and there's little reason to doubt that this reputation probably kept him out of the Hall for a number of years. His career stats look pretty good now, especially in the context of the time he played. He hit 382 home runs, all prior to the steroid era. I think he deserves to be in Cooperstown, although I think his contemporary Andre Dawson was a better player, especially defensively. Dawson is getting closer, though and will probably make it in the next year or two.

  • Bert Blyleven is still on the outs. I'm torn about this, because I grew up watching Blyleven and can see it both ways. His overall numbers are outstanding, especially given the many seasons he toiled for bottom-dwelling teams. I have little doubt that had he traded places with Don Sutton, Bert would be in the Hall and Sutton would not. Having said that, what I remember about Blyleven's career was that he was a guy who you thought you could beat. I grew up watching the Milwaukee Brewers and Blyleven faced the Brew Crew many times in his career. It always seemed to me that Blyleven would either pitch a four-hit shutout or he'd lose. The main knock on Blyleven is that he compiled big numbers primarily because of his great longevity. Still, he did put the numbers up. The problem is that there are two other pitchers with similar overall numbers who are also on the outside looking in -- Jim Kaat and Tommy John. Personally, I'd argue that all 3 are Hall worthy, but it's hard to see why you'd pick Bert over either of the other two.

  • The best player still not in the Hall? That would be Ron Santo, the great Cubs 3rd baseman. It still amazes me that Santo, who was a dominant player throughout the 1960s, is not there. Every year I wait for the Veteran's Committee to rectify this problem. Maybe it will happen soon. It had better.

  • Next year's first time eligibles are: Roberto Alomar, Kevin Appier, Andy Ashby, Ellis Burks, Andres Galarraga, Pat Hentgen, Mike Jackson, Eric Karros, Ray Lankford, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Shane Reynolds, Robin Ventura, and Todd Zeile. Of this group, I'd say that Larkin is probably a shoo-in. Alomar might make it in the first year but if he doesn't, will make it soon thereafter. The two interesting cases are Edgar Martinez, a great hitter who was only a DH for most of his career, and Fred McGriff, who put up big numbers but never seemed to be a guy who was a dominant player. Personally, I'd take Dawson and Blyleven before I'd take either McGriff or Martinez. I'd also suggest that Tim Raines deserves a little more consideration than he's received. As for the others on the first-timer list -- no chance.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Live to Tell

Interesting if true department. A British tabloid is reporting that prime exemplar of Western values Madonna is now being targeted for terror by groups unhappy over the current battles in Gaza. Madonna has two strikes against her: first, while she once sang a song called "Like a Virgin," she's made no bones about her lack of virginity and has been marketing her sexuality in musical form for over a quarter century. Second, she's one of the more prominent dabblers in Kabbalah, a Jewish sect. Some of the fanatics apparently think the proper method for dealing with the international superstar is to give her the Daniel Pearl treatment.

Not surprisingly, this is plenty upsetting. From the article:

Last week The People uncovered the hatred aimed at Madonna when we infiltrated secret fundamentalist Muslim websites. Our investigator posed as a British extremist to gain entry to the password-protected sites.

On the notorious Islambase site, a Palestinian terror leader says: "If I meet these whores I will have the honor to be the first one to cut the head off Madonna if they will keep spreading their satanic culture against Islam."

The vile threat was made by Muhammad Abdel-Al, leader of the Popular Resistance Committees - a fringe group of Palestinian militia who have launched thousands of rocket attacks on Israel.

Another misspelt rant on Islambase says: "What can be done to stop kuffars like maddona supporting the killing in Gaza?"

On another site called Ummah a fanatic naming himself Hammed10 writes: "Madonna is a disgrace.

"She insults us with her slutty behaviour and then she insults us further with her love of the Jewish kuffar non-Muslims.

"Some brothers were talking about what to do about this the other day on another site. I don't want to say too much on here. But you can pm me send a private message."

I don't spend a lot of time on Islamist chat sites, and this one appears to be some sort of (Don't Show Your) Facebook for chatty terrorists, so I can't independently verify the reportage here. But it rings true. It's simply not a good idea to get on the bad side of people who have shown the propensity to make good on threats. Reading between the lines, it's hard to tell if the grievance is with Maddona's 25+ years of flouting conventional norms, her dabbling in Kabbalah or that she's apparently not especially interested in dating "the brothers." In any event, there's reason for Madonna to worry. Because she has been able to parlay her gifts and her impressive ambition into international fame and fortune, she'll be able to protect herself and her children, most likely. That's the good news.

Still, I suspect that the lesson here is not that fanatic Muslim extremists are still about. Of course they are. What I think is more noteworthy is that Madonna and her pals in the entertainment industry are typically a lot more exercised with Rick Warren's involvement in the Obama inaugural than with the existential threat that radical Islam poses to the West and a way of life that allows entertainers like Madonna to operate in freedom. I'm a Catholic boy and I always watched with interest and amusement how Madonna, a not so good Catholic girl, spent a large portion of her career using the symbols of the Church in ways that were, well, blasphemous. I know that it always bothered people like William Donohue and other devout Catholics. That said, never once did it ever occur to anyone that she should be beheaded. There was a time when the Church would take a dim view of blasphemy and it usually didn't go very well for the blasphemer. Thankfully, we've left that behind. Madonna can dangle her crucifixes and her marital aids and anything else she wants and it doesn't threaten my faith. Perhaps this news might give some of the more silly celebrities pause and make them realize where the real threat lies. But I'm not holding my breath.

(H/T: Captain Ed)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Big Blue Update - 011009

Ben's Irondale Big Blue squad rallied late but fell short, losing to a steady Mounds View 75 team 35-29 this afternoon at Island Lake Elementary School in Shoreview. The game was fairly close but the Mounds View squad pulled away in the second half and held on despite a barrage of 3-point bombs late for the Blues.

Ben scored a basket and played his usual stellar defense. The loss brings the squad's record to 5-3 and they will return to action next week against St. Anthony 6, again at Island Lake. Game time is 2 p.m. Remember, Mr. Dilettante is your source for coverage of in-house youth basketball of the northern Ramsey County persuasion.

Our Betters in the News

A quick swing through the internet this morning reveals that, even in a time when justice is being restored to America, there might be a few speed bumps in the path to Change You Can Believe In®.

  • The Washington Post is reporting that the nomination of Eric Holder to de-Albertoize the Justice Department has hit a snag. Oddly, it seems that there are some concerns being raised about Mr. Holder's role in the delivery of justice for Marc Rich and the news that Mr. Holder has been seen consorting with the inconvenient Rod Blagojevich. It's possible that the evil Mitch McConnell might raise a few impertinent questions during the hearings that are scheduled for this week. No word yet if Holder will be martyred, although this might provide the perfect opportunity for the president-elect to demonstrate the political savvy that he gained in his rise through the Cook County Graduate School of Government Management. In the interest of ensuring a brighter future, I propose a job switch -- promote Patrick Fitzgerald to Attorney General and put Holder in as U.S. Attorney in Chicago. I bet Mr. Holder could resolve the investigations in Illinois quite expeditiously.
  • Turns out the the Mayor of Baltimore, Sheila Dixon, has been indicted on a variety of lurid charges, the most enterprising of which is the theft of donated gift cards meant for the poor. The Washington Post has the details, including her political affiliation in the 10th paragraph should you be interested enough to know that. I take this development as good news: it's a sign of our political and social progress that now an African-American woman can rise to power in one of our greatest cities and can use her office, prestige and high station as a means to steal from her constituents, just like so many of her forbears.
  • Meanwhile, the second most powerful politician left in Illinois has now been impeached by the state house. The vote was 114-1. Southwest Side representative Milt Patterson cast the lone dissenting vote after consulting with his political advisor Andy Warhol. Now begins the real game of chicken, in which the state Senate tries to weigh the relative risk of bringing the miscreant governor to justice, while wondering if they should act before he finishes his conference call with the avenging Fitzgerald. In game theory, they call this the Prisoner's Dilemma. In Chicago, they call this politics as usual.

Cross-posted at Truth vs. the Machine

Friday, January 09, 2009

I've Got the World on a String

Since we seem to have an incoming leader who appears to be channeling 1933, I thought it might be interesting to look back at some of the songs of 1933. It's a far more interesting year musically than a lot of them, as it turns out.

The 1930s were the years that the Great American Songbook was written. Even a cursory look at some of the songwriters who were active tells you how fertile a time it was. 1933 was a year when Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington and George and Ira Gershwin were all at the height of their powers. What an embarrassment of riches! We are now 76 years on and the names still have great meaning and some of the songs of the year are still remembered and beloved.

Consider one of Arlen's masterworks of the year, I've Got the World on a String, performed here over 20 years later by Frank Sinatra. Pure escapism. If the reality was grim, the song was a great release:

I've got a song that I sing

I can make the rain go

Any time I move my finger

Lucky me, can't you see - I'm in love

It wasn't all escapism, though -- Arlen and collaborator Ted Koehler also gave the world a gloomier view with another enduring classic, Stormy Weather, here performed by the great Lena Horne 10 years later. The lyrics betray something sadder, couched in the rubric of romance but certainly evocative of hard times:

I walk around heavy hearted and sad

Life comes around

And I'm still feeling bad

Rain's pourin' down

Blindin' every hope I had

This pitterin' patterin'

Beatin and spattering

Drives me mad

Love, love, love

This misery's just too much for me

Can't go on

Everything I have is gone

Stormy weather

Since my man and I ain't together

It's raining all the time

Keeps raining all the time

You listen to this and you need a drink.

But there were antidotes. One of the most beautiful and enduring songs of the era was Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Lady, shown here in a 1967 performance in Copenhagen. The melody is beautiful and lingers, almost as long as the last note that saxophonist Harry Carney plays in the clip.

In the classical realm, 1933 was the year that Prokofiev gave us Peter and the Wolf and Richard Strauss debuted Arabella.

And the songs of 1933 continued to reverberate years later. Jerome Kern and collaboartor Otto Harbach came up with a little ditty that more than 20 years later would be one of the first big hits of the rock and roll era, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, performed here in all its doo-wop splendor by the Platters.

Meanwhile, a few additional titans of the music business were born in the midst of all this. It's difficult to imagine popular music today without the contributions of James Brown, producer extraordinaire Quincy Jones and Jerry Leiber, who with collaborator Mike Stoller created songs that will likely endure as long as some of the best works of Arlen and Kern. All arrived on the scene in 1933.

One last good thing about 1933, at least personally: both my parents were born, within 12 days of each other in May of that year.

Even in the pit of the Great Depression, great music was being made, great musicians were born and there was more hope and despair. I suspect that no matter how dire 2009 might look right now, we'll have the chance to hear something that will endure. And perhaps some future generation will enjoy the great work of a baby that is born this year. We've all got the world on a string. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.