Monday, January 31, 2011


Let's say this at the outset: if things go badly in Egypt, anyone who says that the current administration "lost Egypt" is being silly at best and malicious at worst. Our policy regarding Egypt has not changed in any significant way since Begin and Sadat signed the peace accords in the 1970s. If someone is inclined to blame Obama, they might as well blame either Bush, or Clinton, or Reagan, or Carter too.

That said, there's danger galore in what's happening and there's an excellent chance that things will go badly. Hosni Mubarak is a standard-issue autocrat/strongman of the sort that has plagued most of the world for a long time now. He's cut from the same cloth as any Arab autocrat you'd like to name, or any caudillo in Latin America. He is a thief, a liar and a killer. On balance, he needs to go.

The problem is what follows Mubarak. I have heard and read in recent days that the Muslim Brotherhood isn't so bad, really, and that we don't really need to worry about them should they take power in Egypt. Forgive me if I don't believe that. As I mentioned earlier, both Zaiman al-Zawahiri and 9/11 figure Mohammed Atta are both Egyptians. Both came to al-Qaeda essentially from the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood sits roughly in the same place now that Khomeini and the hardcore theocrats in Iran sat in 1979. And my guess is that the MB would do everything possible to seize power in the chaos that is sure to follow Mubarak's departure.

The tough part is this: there really aren't any good options right now. Mubarak might be ruthless enough to try to mow down the protesters with his police force, but there's reason to believe that the military would not stay in its barracks if that were to happen. In any event, Mubarak is 82 years old and unlikely to last much longer even if he manages to squelch what's happening. I don't have much confidence in Mohammed el Baradei, last seen in his element as a feckless, officious bureaucrat playing Sergeant Schultz around the Iranian nuclear program. He's got Kerensky written all over him.

So what can we do? Beats me. If you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Tugging on Superman's Cape

Things that drive me nuts department: via Powerline, Caroline Glick makes the following observations:

In the case of her use of the term "blood libel," Palin exposed the Left's attempt to criminalize conservatives and make it impossible for conservatives to either defend themselves or pursue their alternative policy agenda. ... Just as its Israeli counterpart did in the wake of Rabin's assassination, so the American Left seeks to attach a sense of criminality and violence to the American Right in order to make it socially and otherwise unpalatable to support or otherwise identify with it.

It's an old tactic and an effective one and Glick is correct to call it out. There's more:

By calling the Left out for its behavior, Palin exposed its agenda. But the logic of the blood libel remained. Trusting the public's ignorance, and the liberal Jewish community's solidarity, the leftist media in the U.S. immediately condemned Palin for daring to use the term, hinted she was an anti-Semite for doing so, and argued that by defending herself, she was again inciting violence. ...

After all, it is high time that Sarah Palin stopping hitting the closed fist of the Left with her face. More still:

It matters not whether these conservative thinkers support Palin. What matters is that by telling her not to defend herself from libelous attacks, they are accepting the Left's right to criminalize all conservatives. If she is not defended against a patently obscene effort to connect her to a madman's rampage in Tucson, then conservatives in the U.S. are signaling they really don't want to control U.S. policy.

I think this is true, too. As does John Hinderaker of Powerline, who endorses Glick's position, but in a peculiar and maddening way:

I agree with that last observation, which is why we, along with many others who do not necessarily support Palin as a potential Presidential candidate, have defended her against the Left's increasingly over-the-top attacks.

I agree with Glick, too. Here's my question for Hinderaker: why the escape clause? Why must one offer a disclaimer about Palin's presidential prospects while ostensibly defending her from attack? Either she's worth defending on the merits or she isn't. Hinderaker makes a point of quoting a Palin defender at length, but then undercuts his own argument at the end.

It's not clear that Palin is running for president anyway. We can deal with her prospects and potential alternatives if she becomes a candidate. For now, if you feel like defending her, just defend her. Criminy.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Guilty Pleasures Part Seventy-Five -- Fearless Maria Explores Matters of the Heart

Fearless Maria is here today and she's ready to unleash some tunes. So what are you thinking about today?

Hola! I've been thinking about la corazon, it's a new Spanish vocabulary word for me! And I'd like to say that Spanish is muy fantastico. And I could give you a full Spanish monologue, but we'd better get this show on the road. And don't think we're talking literally, because I have no reason to stand out in the bitter coldness when we have a heated sanctuary right here!

La casa de Fearless Maria is warm, no doubt about that. But I noticed you said the word "corazon," which means "heart" in English. Are you thinking about matters of the heart, Fearless Maria?

Well, actually I was thinking about the matters of having no school tomorrow because I'm done with my first semester, but sure, sure, I'll go along with that. We can all do some acting now and then, right Dad? Except maybe not Lindsay Lohan!

Don't think she's available right now, Maria. So we're talking about songs with heart, then?

Sure, I'll go along with that, too. We'll be to Valentine's Day soon enough and I'll get a bunch of cards with hearts on them then, so this is almost timely. And thinking about songs with hearts or love in it gives us basically all the songs ever created, because the first person who came up with a song -- probably some caveman who couldn't get the right pitch -- sounded so good that everybody copied him! And that's why there's so many songs about love and hearts, because some stupid caveman had to think of the idea! Great work, Fred Flintstone!

Wow, that was stirring! Better get on with the songs, then. Let's start with this song from the great Hank Williams:

Wow, heavy accents! Maybe Hank Williams could have gone to Walmart and got himself a heater or something to melt out that cold, cold heart! He really has to face the technology in our society!

You realize that Hank died before Walmart even existed, right?

Okay, well then, why didn't he find a heater in a haystack or something? I think they had plenty of those down there in Nashville or wherever he was? Or maybe he could have stayed warm by feeling the heat coming off his shiny shirt! It is a great song, but Hank seems a little mopey to me and maybe he needs Chuckles the Clown to come cheer him up! Oh, that's right, Chuckles is dead, too! They'll have to discuss the matter in Heaven! Gee Dad, this is getting depressing, can we move on?

Good point, Maria. We don't want to depress the customers! Let's see if Brother Ray can cheer you up with his bossa nova stylings on this one, from about a decade later:

Gosh, whoever he was commanding to unchain his heart had better do it! He's got a full orchestra and a bunch of background singers with him, and a very heavy piano, too! That'll get their attention! Now Dad, I remember something else -- didn't someone else sing that song, too?

Yes, as a matter of fact, someone else did. But I like Ray Charles better, I think.

So do I. Joe Cocker's okay, but he's a little cocky if you ask me! I'm just joking, Dad! So what else do you have?

Well, you probably could have guessed I'd find a way to sneak in the Yardbirds, right?

Yes, Dad. I know you love the Yardbirds. They have a fairly large square in your heart. That's right, Dad, a four-sided polygon!

We'll leave the geometry out this. First, let's play it:

This is actually the later version of the Yardbirds with Jimmy Page. The song was first done when they had Jeff Beck on guitar. And of course Eric Clapton was in the Yardbirds, too, before that.

So what you're saying is that every guitar player in England was a member of the Yardbirds, Dad? How did they keep them straight? There's practically a whole dictionary of them!

That's why I love the Yardbirds, Maria. But I don't want to influence the voters.

You'd better not, Dad! We're only halfway done and that would be cheating! And we have enough cheating in the real elections, right?

So I heard, Maria. Anyway, Jimmy Page played on that Yardbirds song, but then he moved on to Led Zeppelin, where he unleashed all manner of monster riffs, including this one:

I forgot about this -- no one had any buttons on their shirts in the 70s, right? And they must have influenced that Taylor Lautner guy on Twilight, right? Because when he plays Jacob he never has a shirt on? So what's the deal -- the button makers were on a long vacation in Florida? I want the scoop!

I don't know, Maria. Back in the 1970s most of the time I was sporting bad kid shirts like they wore on the Brady Bunch. So I didn't worry about buttons much. You may be on to something!

Or did they just want us to look at their ugly chest hair, because it looks manly? No, really not, FYI! What do we have next?

This was about the same time, but very different. It's Neil Young, who could play some crazy guitar riffs when he wanted to, but not here:

Hey, Dad, shouldn't Neil have used the Girl Scout motto and been prepared before he went out on stage? Or maybe he was trying to help the concession stand, because by the time he finally found the right harmonica, you could have bought popcorn, a drink and maybe even some nachos! Delicioso! The song in general is a good one and he looks like a pretty normal human being in this one, although I heard he could get a little sloppy later on, right Dad?

You might say that, Maria. But Neil's had a very long career -- he's one of the few old 60s guys who is still making new music these days that people actually want to hear. So he's got that going for him.

Okay, Dad. Good to know. But you know what's been missing from this Guilty Pleasures? Fun! Neil Young seems so serious, and the rest of those guys might be having fun, but I can't tell because I'm blinded by their shiny shirts and ugly chest hair, except for Ray Charles. Ray is still okay! But I want some fun, so I picked this one out for you!

How Deee-liteful! And really freaky! But fun, compared to the rest of these songs - especially the slide whistle.

Well, I'm always up for a little Bootsy Collins, but remember how you didn't want me to influence the vote in favor of the Yardbirds before?

Oh, how could I ever forget that, Dad?

Well, aren't you influencing the vote, Maria?

Shhhh. It's one thing for me, it's another for the person who actually owns this blog. Try to keep it fair, Dad!

Fair enough, Maria. So is that all of them?

Yep. Certainly. They're all back in their cages now. And so now we need to have everyone else vote for the winner in the comments section. Show us a little piece of your heart!

Wait, that's a Janis Joplin song.

Too late, Dad. The contest is over. Vote, people! Vote! Or else we'll sic these guys on ya! And you wouldn't like that, now would you, Dad?

Not at all, Maria. You heard her -- let's get some votes!

Winning the Future, Losing the News Cycle

It's been said that ridicule is one of the most effective weapons to use against a political opponent. Sarah Palin gets a lot of that, but she can dish it out pretty well, too. Watch at the link as the distaff Emanuel Goldstein turns a president's hour-long speech into the equivalent of Gerald Ford's WIN button. Money quote:

His theme last night in the State of the Union was the WTF, you know, “Winning the Future,” and I thought OK, that acronym, spot on. There were a lot of WTF moments throughout that speech.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Just a thought

We might really want to start paying attention to what's happening in Egypt. It's been a fairly quiet place for the last 30 years or so under the iron grip of Hosni Mubarak, but that may be changing:

Emboldened by the Tunisian uprising and frustrated by corruption, poverty and repression, protesters in Egypt have demanded that the 82-year-old Mubarak step

"The people want the regime to fall," they chanted. On Tuesday, the first day of rallies known as the "Day of Wrath" among activists, three protesters and a policeman were killed.

Security forces have arrested about 500 demonstrators over the two days, an Interior Ministry source said. Witnesses said officers, some in civilian clothes, hauled away people and bundled them into unmarked vans. They beat some with batons.

The coordinated protests were unlike anything witnessed in Egypt -- one of the United States' closest Middle East allies -- since Mubarak, a former air force commander, came to power in 1981 after President Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Islamists.

Two things to note: the age of Mubarak and the folks who killed Sadat. The Islamists have been operating in Egypt for a long time now but many of the bad actors have been outsourcing -- remember that Mohammed Atta was an Egyptian, as is Zaiman al-Zawahiri. Egypt is a crucial, crucial country and if it goes to the Islamists, things are going to get interesting, in the Chinese curse sense of the term.

The Sputnik Half-Century

President Obama has decided that we are at a Sputnik Moment:

Mr. Obama, who made his remarks during a visit to a community college here, was not yet born when the Soviets’ launch of the Sputnik orbiter in 1957 shocked Americans and prompted a national commitment to education, space and science spending. “Fifty years later, our nation’s Sputnik moment is back,“ Mr. Obama said.

What does this really mean? Two thoughts:
  • First of all, it means that, for all of Obama's posturing about the future and hope, he's going back to the old playbook yet again. This is another call for government to order up a desired result and spend as much money as it can to make it happen. I don't think that's an especially novel approach.
  • The last "Sputnik Moment" began in 1957 and has lasted for over a half-century. We've been spending tremendous amounts of money on public education, including the sciences and mathematics, for at least that long. The problem is that we have a mismatch between the education establishment and the course material. But Obama and his party rely on the education establishment for political and financial support, so don't look for any changes that might actually help, like allowing talented scientists into the classroom without having to jump throught the licensure requirements of the education establishment.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Party's Over

Everywhere you look, they've got hat in hand and want more money. No, I'm not talking about the panhandlers on Hennepin Avenue. I'm talking about various levels of government.

Mitch Berg takes note of the LGA situation in Minnesota and explains it nicely:

As we pointed out last year, Local Government Aid – which started out as an attempt to help small, poor rural towns build critical infrastructure like roads
and water treatment plants – has become a money-laundering scheme for large, DFL-controlled cities, enabling to shift their spending from their own property tax payers to the rest of the state – especially the parts of the state that pay full taxes, but receive no LGA (most of the state’s top-forty cities, mostly third-tier, GOP-leaning suburbs).

These third-tier suburbs, or rather the residents of these suburbs, are also the chief target for Mark Dayton's plan to cover the much-touted $6.2 billion deficit. It's not going to happen, at least the way Dayton thinks it should.

Meanwhile, at the next level, financially derelict states are looking for help from the Feds. That may not be coming, either:

[House Majority Leader Eric] Cantor flatly rejected any changes in the law that would allow state governments struggling with record budget deficits brought on by the economic recession and rising pension costs to restructure debt, including allowing them to declare bankruptcy.

“I don’t think that that is necessary, because state governments have at their disposal the requisite tools to address their fiscal ills,” the majority leader said, before going a step further.

“I think some ... have mentioned this Chapter 9 equivalent for states is somehow going to stave off some kind of federal bailout — we don’t need that to stave off a federal bailout. There will be no bailout of the states,” Cantor said. “States can deal with this and have the ability to do so on their own.”

Tough love? Of course it is. But necessary, too. It's silly to imagine that there's some way that the plutocrats of Lake Minnetonka and the robber barons of North Oaks or the Scrooge McDucks of Sunfish Lake are going to be able to finance the messes that governments at all levels have made. The Feds surely don't have the money, either, which we've been borrowing from the Chinese, who are likely looking down on us because they are sitting on a bubble.

We've been spending money like crazy people, at all levels of government, for the better part of a century now. Plenty of people have known this, but we've been kicking the can down the road for a long time. I've been listening to politicians talk about making hard choices for most of my adult life, but I haven't seen too many who have actually made any. Well, the time has come. And don't expect the swells to pay, because they don't have the money, either.

The bailouts that are expected aren't about money as much as they are about avoiding accountability. But there's accountability all around. It belongs to the governmental entities at all levels who made promises they had no reason to believe they could keep, and it belongs to the citizens who either voted for the profligates or didn't bother to pay attention to what was happening. That means we all own it, but it has to stop. Everyone is getting a haircut, and soon. It's going to look like Camp Lejeune around here pretty quick.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Fan's Notes III: Gratifying Result

And so my beloved Packers go to the Super Bowl after a hard-fought 21-14 victory over the Bears, our ancient rival. A few thoughts:
  • The Bears are a tough out. I lived in Chicago for five years and I had a chance to observe the circus first hand. Bears fans are pretty angry about the result, which isn't surprising to me because in my experience they tend to be a pretty emotional bunch. Truth be told, if you look at overall talent, the Bears should not have been anywhere near the NFC Championship game. But they were there and hosted the game, mostly because they are an incredibly smart, resourceful team. I heard it said more than a few times this season that the Bears were a lucky team. While that might be true, but as Branch Rickey said, luck is the residue of design. Good fortune only matters if you are able to recognize it and capitalize. The Bears did this all season and in the final game, when their quarterback was knocked out of the game and they were in danger of getting blown off their home field, they made it a game. I have nothing but admiration for Lovie Smith and the rest of his staff.
  • As for Jay Cutler, the long knives came out quickly from certain quarters, questioning his toughness. I don't get it. He's somewhat erratic, but he's the most talented quarterback the Bears have had in my lifetime. If the Bears stay with him, he'll be a problem for my Packers for a long time.
  • Speaking of resourceful. . . the Packers wear the NFC crown and I'm pretty amazed. The guys they lost along the way were slated to be huge contributors to the team. They picked up guys off the street and had to play them, in some cases a lot. Ted Thompson has been reviled a fair amount in Green Bay but I'm not sure that anyone else could have found the right guys to keep things going the way he did.
  • And then there's the defense. Dom Capers is a genius. He has some highly talented players on his team, especially Clay Matthews, B. J. Raji and the entire secondary. The guys who were playing in other positions yesterday were a pretty ragtag bunch, but they played beautifully. I saw a lot of Rob Francois, a linebacker who wears #49, on the field yesterday. Francois was probably the fifth- or sixth-string linebacker and a guy who would never see the field under ordinary circumstances. But there he was, on the field in the biggest game of the year. And he held up. If you doubt the importance of coaching, watching what the Packer defense did this season should put a stop to that.
  • Aaron Rodgers turned out to be mortal yesterday but in the end it didn't matter. I suspect he'll play much better in the Super Bowl than he did against the Bears. He made one very bad decision on the ball that Brian Urlacher intercepted, but the other one was a play that Donald Driver should have made. The reason the Packers are in the Super Bowl is that they can overcome a substandard game from their quarterback. That's what it takes.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Olbermann is Gone

Not much to say about it, really. Our friend Brad Carlson has it pretty well covered and I'd encourage you to read his take on the matter. And, while you're over at Brad's, you should read this piece, too.

My only disappointment is that now I can't ever be the Worst Person in the World.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- Conference Championship Weekend, Baby!

It's time for two teams to enter the house that Jerry Jones built and see their pretty faces on the giant television screen. That's right -- winners go to the Super Bowl! That's what I said. Deal with it.

I'll try, Benster. I'll try.

So, old dude, you realize that our beloved Packers are in the game, right? Did you get a telegram about it? Or maybe the Pony Express sent word?

I got the horse right here, pal.

I don't even know what that means, but then again most people find your rapidly aging rants pretty hard to comprehend. We'd better pick these games before your Metamucil kicks in. Watch me work!

New York J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS (+3 1/2) vs. Pittsburgh Stillers. Notice my method here, building up the drama by going to the other game first. It's an old technique. But for a master like the Benster, I know when to pull it out. Now, on to the game. Somehow both teams won games they had no right to win last week. The Steelers came back from a big early deficit and stared down the nasty birds from Baltimore, while the Jets were able to return to a stadium where they got beat by 42 freaking points the last time and win this time. I would not be surprised if the Jets find that the Steelers are better than the Patriots. Yes, you read correctly. Even though my man Benjarvus Green-Ellis, a/k/a "The Firm," has a much cooler name than Rashard Mendenhall, which sounds like a bad college dormitory connected to Pearsons Hall at Beloit (don't worry, it's an inside joke and it's hilarious), Mendenhall and his Steeler buddies are making money while the Patriots are folding Bill Belichick's sweatshirts and placing them neatly on the shelf. So, who wins the game? Stillers 31, Jets 7.

So we're back to the assumption that Revis Island is actually Gilligan's Island, then? Maybe. The Jets are a strange operation -- there's no reason that they should win and Rex Ryan is still the most cartoonish coach the NFL has seen since the glory days of Wayne Fontes, but somehow he's managed to push all the right buttons and he beat the evil genius Belichick last week. Mike Tomlin and the Steelers are a different matter. But since I have to disagree with you on a game, let's play a hunch and say that the all-green Super Bowl is coming to Big D. Appropos of nothing, I say: Jets 23, Steelers 16.

Glorious Green Bay Packers (-3 1/2) vs. Bear Down Chicaco da Bearz. No, I didn't make a typo. The Green Bay Press Gazette has officially changed the name of that silly city about 185 miles south of Green Bay. But now that I think about it, maybe the Press Gazette did make a typo. Shouldn't the name of the city be Chi-caca? I know lots of Bears fans who are filled with caca, so it only seems right, right? Anyway, Aaron Rodgers is so hot that Kari is running away. Our man torched Atlanta worse than General Sherman last week and I would expect that Chicago, or whatever you call it, is quite familiar with fire. I think they're going to try to keep the ball away from Rodgers, lest he treat the Bears secondary the way Mrs. O'Leary's cow treated that lantern back in 1871. I have also have a radical idea concerning how the Packers can deal with Devin Hester. I would at least try to gain a couple of first downs to keep him off the field. The Packers never punted last week. That seems like a fine idea this week, too. Unfortunately, I was too young to care the last time the Packers were in the Super Bowl. Instead, I climbed up on the old dude's lap with about 2 minutes to go in the game and demanded that he read me the masterwork "Griffin's Busy Day." Nowadays I prefer books like this. And the Bears are going to find out how much of a war they are in. Pack 27, da Bearz 24.

It's going to be tough, I think. But here's the key. If the Packers take an early lead and force Jay Cutler to beat them, he won't be able to do it. I could slice and dice the analysis of this game a million different ways, but it comes down to this. The Packers have a far superior offense. The Bears have far superior special teams. The defenses are about even. Can Aaron Rodgers outscore Devin Hester? I think so. The other guy I'm watching on the Chicago side is Matt Forte. If he isn't effective, the Bears are doomed. If he is, game on. Packers 31, Bears 17.

Depending on what happens Sunday, either Gino will be wearing Green and Gold or the old dude will be sporting Blue and Orange. Gino, I hope you like Green! Ben out!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Practical Application of the New Civility Movement

Yeah, that civility initiative is goin' real well:

A House Democrat compared Republicans to one of the most reviled Nazis during World War ll– ignoring efforts on both sides of the aisle to tone down the political rhetoric.

Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tennessee, used a late night House floor speech Tuesday to hit Republicans for what he called "lies" about a government takeover of the health care system, and evoked Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

"They say it's a government takeover of health care, a big lie, just like Goebbels. You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie and eventually people believe it," he said.

That should really help the healing. The best part? As CNN's aptly named Dana Bash reports, Cohen doubled down today:

In a telephone interview with Cohen Wednesday he stood by his comments.

"I didn't see anything wrong with it. Goebbels was the great propagandist of probably the 20th century, and his whole theory was if you tell the lie over and over again people will believe it," Cohen told CNN.

Dude does seem be lacking a bit of self-awareness, now doesn't he? Breathe deep the cognitive dissonance:

"I don't think I was comparing the Republicans to Goebbels. I was saying that lies are lies and Goebbels was the great perpetrator of lies and that's a danger, and if you look at Goebbels you can see the lie that he told about Jews which he constantly did, became considered fact in Germany that the Jews were evil, and people got involved and didn't stand up."

But fear not -- Cohen is certain he is remaining true to the president's call for civility:

"I think civility is not lying, and if you can't come up and say that somebody is lying when they're lying, then the lie becomes the truth. That's not uncivil to say somebody lied," he said.

That would explain why Rep. Joe Wilson was celebrated for his statement last year, of course. On the bright side, Cohen does have some reassuring news for those of us who worry about all these lying Goebbels acolytes who are apparently roosting in the halls of Congress:

But, after several questions about the appropriateness of evoking a Nazi to make that point, Cohen did say that "there are no Nazis in Congress, there are some liars, but no Nazis."

Well, I feel better now.

Lightning Round - 011811

More flashes of insight on the horizon:
  • We need our jesters and as always, Iowahawk is on the case.
  • One of the problems with the idea of having a more civilized discourse is that we've never really had one. Hell, Mencken obviated that idea all by himself for the first half of the last century. Meanwhile, as we approach the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birth, let's remember that some of his contemporaries weren't so fond of him. Steven Hayward provides some relevant examples of, ahem, civility, including these kind words for the Gipper from his supposed pal, Tip O'Neill:

"The evil is in the White House at the present time. And that evil is a man who has no care and no concern for the working class of America and the future generations of America, and who likes to ride a horse. He's cold. He's mean. He's got ice water for blood."

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Fan's Notes II: The Second Team

As most readers of this feature know, I grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin, a city about the size of St. Cloud, Minnesota. Appleton is 30 miles southwest of Green Bay and, not surprisingly, most people who live there are Packers fans, assuming they care about football at all.

I also came of age in the 1970s, a time when the football gods were not smiling much on the Badger State. The Packers were, in the main, a terrible franchise: ineptly run, poorly coached and lacking in NFL-caliber talent. For much of the 1970s, they were able to coast on the goodwill of a rabid fan base and the memories of glory from the Lombardi era. That didn't make it much easier to watch the product on the field.

Since the Packers were doomed most years, many of the kids I grew up with adopted a so-called "second team," a more successful team they could cheer for once the Packers were eliminated from contention, usually around Veteran's Day. A fair number of kids chose the Cowboys, others picked the Raiders. More than a few followed the Steelers, especially since local hero Rocky Bleier was an important member of those teams. My second team in that era was the Redskins, who were a factor but generally second fiddle to the Cowboys in those days.

There was another aspect to fandom in those days: the team you hated. For me, it was the Cowboys. They would beat my Packers and also beat "my Redskins." They always struck me as corporate and smug in that era. They even dared to call themselves America's Team. Couldn't stand them at all.

Despite that, the team that tormented the Packers and their fans the most in the 1970s was the Vikings. Oh, those were frustrating days. Fran Tarkenton, Chuck Foreman, John Gilliam, Alan Page, Paul Krause -- a true rogue's gallery. I can still see Tarkenton bobbing and weaving, leaving a gasping Mike McCoy in his wake, then tossing a bomb to Gilliam. Or watching Foreman catch a screen pass and run through the befuddled Packer secondary. And when the Packers had the ball, it was only a matter of time before Eric Torkelson would get 2 yards, Barty Smith would get 1 and Lynn Dickey would be sacked on third down.

Even so, I don't remember really hating the Vikings. My dad would always tell me that it was up to the Packers to get better and that Bud Grant was someone to admire. And looking back on it, he was right.

So why bring all that up? It's always been very interesting to watch the reaction that the Packers receive from this side of the St. Croix. Among a lot of Vikings fans, there's a hatred involved that seems almost puzzling, especially these days. The modern Packers are everything the 70s era teams weren't -- talented, well-coached and thoroughly professional. They aren't an especially colorful team and they don't trash talk much.

So I have a question for the audience, especially the Vikings fans. What is it about the Packers that you hate? And if you are in the process of choosing a "second team" for this week's game against the Bears, would you choose the Packers or the Bears? And if so, why?

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Fan's Notes

So it comes down to the ancient rivals, the Packers and the Bears. How cool is that? A few thoughts on what's to come:
  • I would be remiss if I didn't mention how amazed and pleased I was with the way the Packers played on Saturday night. When you run through the scenarios of a possible game in your mind, you might think about a blowout briefly, but it doesn't happen very often in the playoffs. I've been watching the Packers play for over 40 years now and what Aaron Rodgers did was pretty remarkable. You just don't see a guy play that well against a quality opponent very often. Atlanta was pretty much defenseless.
  • As great a rivalry as Packers/Bears has been, it's an unusual one. Historically, one team is up and the other is down. The Bears had their greatest years in the 1940s, the time in which the Packers began their long decline that extended through most of the 1950s. When Lombardi came to Green Bay, the Bears were mostly down, with the notable exception of 1963, about which more in a moment. In the 70s, both teams were pretty much terrible, although the foundation for the great Bears teams of the mid-80s were being established. In the 80s, the Bears were great and the Packers were either mediocre or worse. Then things shifted in the 1990s. During the long Favre era, the Packers pretty much owned the Bears until the end. Things have been mostly even lately, which has made the rivalry pick up again.
  • And because both teams are very good, what we'll see on Sunday is highly unusual. I read that in the nearly 90 years of the rivalry, this is only the 4th time both the Packers and the Bears have made the playoffs in the same year and this is the first time the two teams have met in the playoffs since 1941. For all the blood and ill will that has been part of this rivalry, that's surprising.
  • What's funny about the rivalry these days is how "civil" it is. Lovie Smith, the coach of the Bears, is clearly a very good man. He's not a snarling, implacable foe like George Halas or Mike Ditka, nor is he oafish like Abe Gibron. As a rule, the vibe you get from the Bears is professionalism, not the colorful personalities run amok that were part of the Ditka era. For their part, the Packers don't do a lot of talking these days.
  • I lived in the Chicago area in the late 1980s and early 1990s, so I was able to witness the slow decline of the Ditka-era Bears. It was an especially dismal time to be a Packers fan, with only the false hope of 1989 interrupting nearly a decade of gloomy results. This was also the era when the Packers became the bad guys in the rivalry. The vision of an otherwise forgettable Packers defensive lineman named Charles Martin, with a hit list of Bears scrawled on a towel, and the unbelievable cheap shot he delivered to Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, was perhaps the most shameful moment in Packers history.
  • This was also the time when you had national observers such as Frank Deford of Sports Illustrated suggesting that it was time for the small-town Packers to go away. Deford wrote a long essay for SI which asserted that the game had passed the Packers by and that it was no longer possible for an anachronistic small town team to remain competitive. Nearly 25 years later, we see that he was wrong. And all it takes is a trip to Lambeau to see why.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- NFL Divisional Round, Y'all

Somehow a 7-9 team beat the defending champions last week. I'm not guessing that Cam "Scam" Newton is going to be wearing the blue of the Seabags next year. But the Seabags have other problems right now. Gino told me that his Bears are gonna win and run the ball down Seattle's throat. Do you believe that, Decrepit?


I also want to give a shout-out to Fearless Maria, who has returned to the Neighborhood after a weeklong field trip to the middle of nowhere. You know what's funny about that website? They have a picture of a beautiful lake. Not that Fearless Maria saw it as an opportunity to canoe, because it looked like this. Tomorrow also happens to be Fearless Maria's birthday, so she deserves mad props for her total Maria skillz.

That was very nice of you, Benster. Wait, are you sure that's you?

Yes, it's the kinder, gentler Benster. Not really. Watch me work!

Baltimore Edgar Allan Poes (+3 1/2) vs. Pittsburgh Stillers. It's gonna be a war in the trenches in Pittsburgh this week. We actually sent a camera crew to Pittsburgh for a view of the field and it's pretty impressive. Old dude, why didn't you tell me there were so many French dudes in Pittsburgh? That was really surprising. Anyway, back to the game. Baltimore is deadly when playing on the road this time of year and they aren't afraid of the Steelers. However, the Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger, who has recovered nicely from his suspension for being a complete idiot when it comes to the ladies. Stillers 13, Poe 10.

It's too bad that John Facenda isn't around any more, because he'd have been perfect for narrating this one. I'm feeling like this one will be close. And because I'll have to disagree with you eventually on a game, it might as well be this one. Ravens 16, Steelers 14.

Glorious Green Bay Packers (+2 1/2) vs. Hotlanta Dirty Birds. Okay Gino, now it's time for me to break out my mad analytical skills. The Packers actually came pretty close to winning in Atlanta last time. In fact, they should have won, but they didn't have a ground game and it cost them on the goal line. So Gino, did you see the game in Philadelphia last week? Did ya? There was a young fella wearing #44 for the Packers. His name is James Starks. And he treated the Eagles like a rented mule. Also, Atlanta hasn't played in a while and the myth of the Falcons winning at home has been destroyed, because the Falcons lost to a team (the Saints) that got (a) screwed by the NFL and (b) smoked in Seattle. I'm going to steal some headgear from Lee Corso and put on the Cheesehead. Bang on the Drum All Day 24, Dead Bird 21.

I don't know if you've noticed, but birds have been dropping from the sky all over the world in the last few weeks. Coincidence? I think not. There were a bunch of Eagles that fell to the turf of Lincoln Financial Field last week. Could we have a similar scene in Atlanta this week? Maybe. If Benster is right and Starks plays well, the Packers will be balanced and will be in good shape. If not, they might want to consider this guy, patiently waiting by his phone. The one thing that makes me nervous is that the line in Vegas has tilted upward to the Falcons since it opened on Monday. The boys in Vegas might know something I don't. Call this a shameless homer pick: Packers 31, Falcons 20.

Seattle Seabags (+10) vs. Bear Down Chicago da Bearz. So apparently Seattle had the gall to prove me wrong last week and actually win the game. What's up with that? You don't tick off the Benster, m'kay? Now I shall suggest that da Bearz are in possession of the Hammer of the Gods. The Seabags come to the land of the ice and snow, get their butts kicked and back to Seattle they go. Also, try the veal. Dit-ka Dit-ka 100, Seabags 0.

I'm not sure Jay Cutler can score 100 points in five games, let alone one. But I agree, there's no reason to believe the Seahawks will be able to duplicate the parlor trick they played at Soldier Field earlier in the year. The difference this time is Lance Briggs is in the house. And believe me, he's tried the veal. Bears 31, Seattle 14.

New York J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS (+8 1/2) vs. New England Belichicks. When last we saw these two teams on the same field, the Jets were getting beat. I heard they didn't try the veal. But the real reason they lost is that Tom Brady destroyed them. It was OOOG-LY. The Jets have been talking a lot this week. Now, that's nothing new for the Jets, but the problem is this: as my coaches have always told me, you shouldn't be talking unless you can back it up. I think the Jets will be backing it up, if by "it" you mean the moving van because they're headed home for the season. Pats 34, Jets 0.

Nothing, huh? A ringing endorsement of Mark Sanchez! I suspect the Jets will score a time or two. But you really shouldn't try to play mind games with the smartest guy in the NFL. Belichick will just flash that wry smile of his and twist the knife a few times more. Patriots 42, Jets 17.

We're done with our games. And now, my overdue rant about the BCS and Scam Newton. I was happy to see that Newton will be headed to the NFL, because now he can receive his paychecks over the table. In a few years we'll find out that he was paid handsomely for this year's labors and they'll have to vacate the Heisman and the National Championship. You know what? That's a good thing. This BCS thing is corrupt, corrupt, corrupt! Oh, did I mention that it was corrupt? What game knocked out TCU? They went undefeated and they didn't have to give their quarterback a Brinks truck to do it. Maybe the spectacle of watching the results of the entire 2010 season turn out to be a stinking lie will be enough for the NCAA to man up and get a playoff system going. And, while they're at it, maybe they ought to figure out a way to actually pay the players a modest amount, over the table, so we don't have to watch a lie in the coming years. Or, they could just keep doing what they're doing and make fools of themselves again. And again. And again. Ben out!

Lightning Round - 011411

And away we go.
  • Brad calls to our attention a deeply useful article in the WSJ concerning the meaning and uses of the term "blood libel."
  • Meanwhile, if we are concerned about civility, here's one thing that might cause civility to wane a bit -- the prospect of $4 or $5-a-gallon gasoline. Not surprisingly, the White House would prefer not to discuss the matter.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Asked and answered

So yesterday I wrote the following, mostly in forlorn hope:

Civility comes from mutual agreement. It cannot be imposed by one side on the other. And it certainly can't come until those who were party to the baseless calumnies heaped in recent days step forward and accept their responsibility for it. We can have an honest debate if we have honest debaters.

President Obama gave his allies on the Left a chance to climb down from the untenable place they have chosen to occupy. It is my hope that those allies will see fit to use the opportunity he has provided.

Well, we got our answer today. Behold the wisdom of the New York Times:

It was important that Mr. Obama transcend the debate about whose partisanship has been excessive and whose words have sown the most division and dread. This page and many others have identified those voices and called on them to stop demonizing their political opponents. The president’s role in Tucson was to comfort and honor, and instill hope.

Does this not show a stunning lack of awareness? The New York Times, which has published the roundly condemned calumnies of Paul Krugman, is now claiming to be on the side of the angels. And then they proceed, in the same editorial, to demonize a by-now familiar political opponent yet again:

The president’s words were an important contrast to the ugliness that continues to swirl in some parts of the country. The accusation by Sarah Palin that “journalists and pundits” had committed a “blood libel” when they raised questions about overheated rhetoric was especially disturbing, given the grave meaning of that phrase in the history of the Jewish people.

In other words, the message to Palin and anyone who felt aggrieved at the practice of attributing conservative speech as a cause for the actions of a madman: shut up, the Times explained.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, James Taranto is having none of it:

The newspaper that seized upon a horrific crime to demonize its political opponents--and to demonize "particularly" those in the media who reject its worldview and its presumption of moral authority--is now applauding the president for being able to "transcend the debate" that it instigated with its yellow journalism.

The Times expresses a desire to change the subject, to "gun safety laws and improvement to the mental health system" before taking another shot (just a figure of speech, people!) at Sarah Palin, this time for her "especially disturbing" description of the Times-led smear campaign as a "blood libel"--a term that, as we shall see below, the Times itself has used more than once other than in reference to the traditional anti-Semitic smear.

Taranto then goes on to provide the examples of the Times publishing the term "blood libel" in his piece, which I highly recommend you read in its entirety. He also gets in a well-deserved skewering of Andrew Sullivan, who, mirable dictu, has used the phrase himself.

So what can we conclude? At a minimum, it's clear that the Times has no plan to tone down their institutional rhetoric. And that is their right. It will be interesting to see if Timesman Paul Krugman ends up backing down in any way. My guess is that he won't either, which is also his right.

If that is the case, the notion that we'll have any new civility seems to be over before it could even begin. Are you surprised by this? You shouldn't be.

And one other thing: game on.

Housekeeping/Response to Chuckwagon Boy

We seem to be having some trouble on the comment side of the blog -- two different commenters have had trouble posting comments in recent days. I'm going to see if I can figure out what's happening and make sure it stops.

I get your comments via e-mail, so I'm aware of what you're saying. So, to respond to Chuckwagon Boy, who forwards this link from writer Michael Tanner in National Review, I would say this: yes, I don't have any issue with Michael Tanner's take on the matter. He does an excellent job of identifying some of the worst offenders in recent days:

Already, some are using this tragedy to try to delegitimize opinions that they disagree with. Paul Krugman, for example, has somehow managed to tie the shooting to opposition to the health-care bill. Rep. Chellie Pingree (D., Maine) took a similar tack, noting that the bill to repeal Obamacare is called the Repeal the Job-Killing Healthcare Law Act. “I’m not suggesting that the name of that one piece of legislation somehow led to the horror of this weekend — but is it really necessary to put the word ‘killing’ in the title of a major piece of legislation?” Pingree wrote in The Huffington Post. Writing in Slate, liberal columnist Jacob Weisberg blames the killings on “anti-government” ideology, drawing a straight line from believing that some government actions are “illegitimate” to murder.

Krugman in particular has been particularly disgraceful and there's no incivility in calling him out for it. And I have no trouble with Tanner's countervailing examples:

I believe that President Obama is deeply, profoundly mistaken in most of his policies. But that doesn’t mean that he loves this country any less than I do. The stimulus, the excessive spending, the health-care bill are bad policy, but Obama is not trying to destroy our economy, as Rush Limbaugh has suggested. Nor is the president a racist with a “deep-seated hatred of white people,” as Glenn Beck once said. (To his credit, Beck later retracted the remarks).

It is possible to be wrong without being evil.

Likewise, toleration of “birthers” and those who claim the president is a secret Muslim serves no worthwhile purpose. If we believe in the merits of our argument, let’s make it on its merits — without invective, personal attacks, or impugning the motives of our opponents.

The birther thing is a bit of a straw man (the first time I heard of Orly Taitz is when a portside commenter brought her to my attention), but otherwise I think Tanner is correct.

Yes, we should be civil. But as always, I (and everyone else) must reserve the right to call out people who aren't being civil in their arguments. There's been a lot of damage done in the last few days by the likes of Krugman, Weisberg, Chris Matthews and others. It will be interesting to see if they climb down or double down.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Credit Where Due

We do try to be fair here. I did not see President Obama's speech, but I did read the text. This passage is spot on:

But what we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together…

The reason many on the Right have been so angry in recent days is that there have been those who have spent the last four days attempting to assign blame, where no blame exists. Our friend Amanda has said in a different context -- it's not about you. Right. And that's the point. The actions of Jared Loughner are his own. The president said that as well tonight. And it was good of him to say it.

Civility comes from mutual agreement. It cannot be imposed by one side on the other. And it certainly can't come until those who were party to the baseless calumnies heaped in recent days step forward and accept their responsibility for it. We can have an honest debate if we have honest debaters.

President Obama gave his allies on the Left a chance to climb down from the untenable place they have chosen to occupy. It is my hope that those allies will see fit to use the opportunity he has provided. If they do, the debate that so many people claim to desire will happen. If not -- game on.

In other news, kittens are biscuits

I'm sure someone else thought of this, but I'll say it anyway.

It shouldn't surprise anyone at all that some on the Left sincerely believe that Sarah Palin's map or something must have driven Jared Loughner insane. Palin drives a lot of people insane.

Sounds Similar, But Not the Same Thing

If you've been listening to the braying media in the last few days, chances are you've heard at least a few people calling for "civility."

They aren't, really. What they are actually calling for is servility.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Fog of War

What we know so far about Jared Loughner, the guy who tried to kill Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and managed to kill 6 other people in the process:

He's pretty much nuts. A lot of people knew it, but word never reached authorities.

His political readings are all over the map.

He met Gabrielle Giffords at an event in 2007 and his obsession with her predates any map that may have appeared on Sarah Palin's Facebook page.

What we don't know at this point:

What, if any, influence Sarah Palin, the Tea Party or anyone else currently in the, ahem, crosshairs of the Anti-Vitriol Army had on Loughner's "thinking." There's no evidence that he even saw the Palin map. If he did, I'm certain we'll find out.

Monday, January 10, 2011

We Can Handle The Truth

Just so you know. I have only one or two house rules around here, otherwise it's pretty much all Voltaire, all the time.

So I'd encourage the individual who posted a comment to the blog, then deleted it, to reconsider the decision. Your words are valued.

UPDATED: The comment wasn't meant to be deleted, but the poster is having trouble with internet access. We may post the comment in another way. Stay tuned.

UPDATE TWO: The comment that the blog ate (or got lost in the ether) follows. It's from our friend Amanda, who not surprisingly takes a contary view of the events of recent days. The WSJ article Amanda references is here. Her response:


The WSJ article? I'm actually trying to type despite choking on irony, here. HE'S calling out dishonesty?! Right.

My favorite response to that comes from a Shakesville post today:

Faced with the overwhelming evidence of the violent rhetoric absolutely permeating the discourse emanating from their side of the aisle, conservatives adopt the approach of a petulant child—deny, obfuscate, and lash out defensively.

And engage in the most breathtaking disingenuous hypocrisy: Conservatives, who vociferously argue against the language and legislation of social justice, on the basis that it all "normalizes" marginalized people and their lives and cultures (it does!), are suddenly nothing but blinking, wide-eyed naïveté when it comes to their own violent rhetoric.

They have a great grasp of cultural anthropology when they want to complain about progressive ideas, inclusion, diversity, and equality. But when it comes to being accountable for their own ideas, their anthropological prowess magically disappears.


It might have been a little different if "Catcher in the Rye" promoted not 'retreating in the favor of reloading,' etc etc. But it doesn't. That's why nobody linked Salinger to the assassination attempt.

But accusing Liberals of taking the position that violent rhetoric is directly the cause of the shooting is being obtuse (the idea is, that the rhetoric creates a culture, encourages such behavior - there IS a difference). It's also a refusal to take responsibility for the fact that in the VERY least, the tragedy highlights the incredibly poor taste of violent rhetoric.

However, this article in particular documents so-called isolated incidents, intertwined with the violent rhetoric that *totally didn't* cause or contribute to them! Argue of course, about the bias of the organization who compiled it, but the news articles and quotes are certainly verified by other sources.

The shooting was caused by many things - this was a mentally unbalanced individual, and one who had access to guns, thanks in part to some super-relaxed gun laws. The shooting was also perpetrated by an individual who lives in a culture of highly incendiary language and hostility. Mentally unbalanced, or whatever his condition is, doesn't make him less of a human who can and will absorb such things.

To accuse people of making cheap political points after the tragedy about gun laws, or mental illness, or a culture of violent rhetoric in this country, is like saying that these people should die/be injured without any impact or pledge to make this a world a place in which deaths like that couldn't happen. We CAN have stricter gun laws (YOU CAN KEEP YOUR HUNTING RIFLES FOR GOODNESS' SAKE), we CAN create better access/treatment for mentally ill individuals. And we can quit talking about murdering anybody who disagrees with us. Even metaphorically!

Conservative (and any) hate speech does NOT exist in a void. I know that we can all be better than that.

Finally, I just want to say: I know that you are all good people here, and equally horrified over this tragedy, in addition to whatever other tragedies would take place if people actually took the language of politicians and the like literally. Why not join those who are asking politicians and the media to eject violent rhetoric from their speeches and comments? What harm could it do? I only see positivity, in that kind of a culture.

Home Truth

Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds, writing in today's Wall Street Journal:

To paraphrase Justice Cardozo ("proof of negligence in the air, so to speak, will not do"), there is no such thing as responsibility in the air. Those who try to connect Sarah Palin and other political figures with whom they disagree to the shootings in Arizona use attacks on "rhetoric" and a "climate of hate" to obscure their own dishonesty in trying to imply responsibility where none exists. But the dishonesty remains.

To be clear, if you're using this event to criticize the "rhetoric" of Mrs. Palin or others with whom you disagree, then you're either: (a) asserting a connection between the "rhetoric" and the shooting, which based on evidence to date would be what we call a vicious lie; or (b) you're not, in which case you're just seizing on a tragedy to try to score unrelated political points, which is contemptible. Which is it?

Mark David Chapman, upon murdering John Lennon, had a copy of Catcher in the Rye in his pocket. Should we have excoriated J. D. Salinger? The Unabomber had a well-annotated copy of Earth in the Balance in his dismal Montana shack. Should we have told Al Gore to watch his mouth?

One last thing -- Gabrielle Giffords offered the proper response in the well of the House.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

The Mapmaker's Art

If you are inclined to blame the horrific event in Tucson on Sarah Palin's 2010 mapmaking, you might also want to click on this link, which was written at the time the Palin map first came out.

I would also hope that you would be inclined to say a prayer for Rep. Giffords, her family and the families of the other victims.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- NFL Wild Card Weekend Edition, Baybee!

So, it's time for the playoffs. Playoffs? You kiddin' me?

No, we're not kidding, Seabiscuit.

I'm aware of that, old dude. You're supposed to be playing along with the schtick here. Can't you get with the program? Or are you too busy being distracted by Golden Girls reruns to keep your focus? As former Twins great Juan Rincon once said, no one wants to be in your pants right now.

I have no idea what you're talking about, grasshopper. Of course, that must mean you're ready to make your picks, right?

That's right. Watch me work!

New Orleans Saints (-10 1/2) vs. Seattle Seabags. Jim Mora would like to know how Seattle is even in the playoffs. And he's not too crazy about them firing his son, either. But we'll leave that aside. Actually, I have the same question that Jim Mora has: how the heck does a 7-9 team even get into the playoffs. And then get to host a game? This is really quite silly. But the good news is that Seattle won't be staying long. Who Dat 100, Jim Mora Jr. 0.

You know, that usually outrageous pick might be close. I think the Saints will win, but I think it will be tougher than you might imagine. Two reasons -- the Saints have been very inconsistent this year, and Seattle has one of the best home field advantages in the NFL. The fans there are LOUD. The Saints will survive, but they'll have to earn it. Saints 24, Seahawks 16.

New York J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS (+2 1/2) vs. Indianapolis Mannings. Speaking of loud, it's time for another dose of Rex Ryan, the NFL's answer to Mike Gundy, with a little dose of Al Bundy, too. He's returning to Indianapolis where he gets to face the Colts yet again. However, Rex is 0-6 when Peyton Manning starts and finishes a game. And Peyton Manning pretty much always starts and finishes games. Say goodnight, Rexy! Indy 31, Gang Green 20.

I agree with that assessment, young fella. Another comparison would be Rex Ryan and, say, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, who used to bray a lot, too. The Jets have been inconsistent on the field. Manning knows how to beat them. And he will. Colts 34, Jets 20.

Baltimore Ravens (-3) vs. Kansas City Chiefs. We return to Kansas City, home of our favorite crusty sportscaster, Jack Harry. Since we're offering a lot of epic rants, click on that link and check out Jack, who has hair that you could use to strip paint. And the best part is how he gives a shout-out to Neil Diamond at the end. What the heck? Jack often would ask, "what's wrong with the Chiefs?" Until this year, the answer was, "well, they stink, Jack." But they are getting better, which should help Jack with his Metamucil bill. But he's not going to like what happens at Arrowhead on Sunday. Joe Flacco and Ray Rice, who killed me in fantasy football this year, are going to make Jack plenty cranky. And he can't rely on much comfort from his frightening weather forecaster pal. But that's another story. Ravens 45, Jack Harry 17.

Oh, we saw some strange stuff in Kansas City when we were there a few years ago. I'd also strongly recommend that you forego Jack Harry and check out Jack Stack instead. Maybe the Ravens can enjoy some tasty barbecue after they dispense with the Chiefs, who are a year away. Ravens 27, Chiefs 20.

Glorious Green Bay Packers (+2 1/2) vs. Philadelphia Fugitives from the Humane Society. Yes, it comes time to discuss our beloved Packers, who are in the playoffs despite having about 475 players on the injured reserve list. You know you're in trouble when you have to play guys off the street to win. But somehow the Packers have done that, especially on defense, where they found a guy named Erik Walden, who sounds like he should be running a bookstore or something, who managed to sack Jay Cutler 3 times last week. Speaking of sacking, Michael Vick, the dogfighting QB, will be in a dogfight for real this week. If you can hit Vick early and knock him around a bit, he'll lose effectiveness. The Packers have Clay Matthews, otherwise known as the Claymaker, who I'd definitely want to have on my side in a fight. Also, the Packers contributed to the genesis of Vick by knocking out Kevin Kolb in the first game of the season. You might have noticed who won that one. Trend? Roll Out the Barrel 50, Humane Society 43.

I worry about one guy more than anyone else on the Eagles -- DeSean Jackson, who can score from anywhere on the field. In last week's game against the Bears, Packer punter Tim Mashtay was really good at keeping the ball away from Devin Hester. If he can do that on Sunday, I think the Packers will have a good chance to win. This is actually a pretty good matchup for our boys, but special teams could swing it. Packers 27, Eagles 17.

We'll be back to pick the National Championship college game later on. I have to get my rant on for Cam Newton and I've been busy studying the techniques of the masters like Jack Harry and Jim Mora to build up the steam to really let it loose. Feel the HYYYPPPPEEE! Ben out!

Constitutional Performance Art

So they read the Constitution aloud in Congress. Some people loved it, others not so much. But is it a useful exercise?

Yes, but only if the 112th Congress actually takes it as more than a stunt. We'll spend the next two years finding out.

Instapundit points to someone named Chance Ballew who has a more useful exercise in governmental writing:

“Instead of reading the constitution, we should make congress read IRS regulations. That would keep them occupied for a few years.”

If you want to understand how far we've really drifted since the 16th Amendment passed, looking at the tax code would be a great place to start. I'd also suggest the tax code reading would be better if accompanied by a bongo drum.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

These Are Words That Go Together Well

Thousands of people cross the Minnesota-Iowa border every day. Not all of them get wall-to-wall news coverage for it. Apparently Michele Bachmann is going down to Waterloo for some political event. Oh, and by the way, the next presidential election cycle begins in Iowa. And apparently Bachmann hasn't ruled out running for president. It's a story, dammit!

But is it a story, really? A few thoughts:

  • Most of the negative reaction Bachmann garners, both locally and nationally, is absurd. There is an entire lost solar system of intermittently unhinged bloggers in Minnesota who spend their days inveighing against Bachmann. Millions of dollars flowed into the coffers of Bachmann's most recent opponent, the hapless Tarryl Clark, because dyspeptic limousine liberals nationwide get tired of watching Bachmann's effective taunting of them on MSNBC, Fox and whatnot. Aside from Sarah Palin, who has a similar ability to drive liberals nuts, Bachmann has to be the #1 Emmanuel Goldstein for bien pensant liberals who otherwise keep their hostility a smidge more repressed.
  • Effective taunting of liberals is lucrative on both sides of the political aisle. It worked out pretty slick for Tarryl Clark and on the starboard side, Bachmann is an ace fundraiser because she also makes conservatives who are tired of listening to hectoring liberals feel better. The folks in Waterloo know this.
  • While driving liberals nuts is amusing and lucrative, it's not necessarily an executive skill set. For all I know, Bachmann may be an effective administrator who can move people, but she hasn't demonstrated that yet. And when she made a bid for a leadership position in the new Congress, she didn't have a lot of support.
  • Why would that be? My suspicion is that privately most of her colleagues don't see her as a leader. I've always thought of Bachmann as more of a Bob Dornan or William Proxmire type of politician. I grew up in Wisconsin and Proxmire, our senior senator, was always on television handing out his "Golden Fleece" award, which would spotlight an especially unsightly example of government profligacy. Most Americans knew who Proxmire was during his long tenure in Washington, but he had very little actual power in the Senate. At this point, Bachmann is the same way -- she's very well known but doesn't have anything approaching the actual power that, say, her Minnesota colleague John Kline has.
  • So why would the local media devote so much space to a theoretical Bachmann run? One, they need the eyeballs and Bachmann is more likely to attract them than other less, ahem, colorful politicians. But more importantly, talking up Bachmann has the potential of taking away attention from Tim Pawlenty, who actually is running for President.
The proper response? Whatever you want it to be. But on the whole, I'd recommend a certain amount of skepticism. Hell, I'd recommend that for just about anything you hear these days.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Bert Gets In the Hall

Let's say this at the outset: I am absolutely delighted that Bert Blyleven was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame today. Bert had a very long and distinguished career and I am convinced that had he spent most of his career as, say, a Los Angeles Dodger or a New York Yankee, he would have won well over 300 games and would have been in the Hall years ago. So good for him. Congratulations are also in order for Roberto Alomar, who also was elected today.

Now, having said that, we need to say something else -- the standards for the Baseball Hall of Fame are getting nearly impossible to understand. Blyleven made it this year in large measure because of the support he has received over the years from the baseball stathead community. No sport attracts more geeky number-crunching than baseball and Blyleven's career stats have been sliced and diced in countless ways, many of which have been helpful in making Bert's case.

While I think numbers are very important, especially for benchmarking purposes, it's always very tricky to compare career numbers across different eras, a point that the premier stathead, Bill James, has always made. To provide an example, if you compare the career numbers of two third basemen not in the Hall, Ron Santo and Matt Williams, you might argue that Santo and Williams are similar players with similar worth. You would be wrong, though -- Santo was one of the best third basemen ever to play the game, while Williams was merely very good. In fact, the only third baseman I'd rank ahead of Santo are Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Eddie Mathews and (maybe) Brooks Robinson, although I've heard Pie Traynor was pretty good. But because Santo played the vast majority of his career in the pitching-rich 1960s and played for mostly rotten Chicago Cubs teams, his numbers aren't as impressive as they might have been if he had been born 10 years earlier or 10 years later. Nor did he get the publicity that Robinson got as a key contributor to the powerful Baltimore Orioles teams of that era. Meanwhile, no one thinks Matt Williams is a Hall of Fame player, except maybe the immediate members of Matt Williams's family.

And that's what makes it tough -- comparisons are very tricky. To use another example, I can think of two pitchers who were older than Bert Blyleven but were still contemporaries, who aren't even getting a sniff these days. One is Jim Kaat and the other is Tommy John. Blyleven won 287 games in a long and distinguished major league career. Kaat won 283 games. John won 288. I saw all three pitch and while there's no doubt that Blyleven was the most dominant pitcher of the group, especially when he was getting his curveball over, Kaat and John were both outstanding. Kaat was an innings eater, one of the best fielding pitchers in the history of the game and remarkably consistent. John came in as a power pitcher, famously wrecked his arm, then came back after being the pioneering recipient of what is now known as "Tommy John surgery" and became perhaps the most crafty lefty in baseball for nearly 15 years after losing his 1975 season. To understand the sort of pitcher that John was, the best current comparison is Jamie Moyer, who pitched in the major leagues last year at the age of 47.

So what is it that makes Blyleven better than Kaat or John? You could ask all 581 members of the Baseball Writers Association of America and chances are you'd get 581 different answers. Some might even argue that Kaat or John was better. But at no point did Kaat or John ever get that close to the 75% threshold for election during their 15-year eligibility period, so if either of these worthies is going to get the nod, it will have to be from the even more mercurial Veterans' Committee.

And then there's the matter of Jack Morris, who doesn't have great numbers but was universally regarded as the best starting pitcher of the 1980s and the man who provided one of the greatest pitching performances in World Series history in 1991. Morris is getting a little closer now in the balloting, but he's got a long way to go.

We aren't even touching the matter of the Steroid Era Sluggers. Yet. That's another post, although I would say this: I was very surprised to see Jeff Bagwell get less than 50% of the vote, as he has not been implicated as a steroid user. What the BBWAA did today in the voting will also have ramifications for two other sluggers of the era who are also not implicated, Frank Thomas and the still-active Jim Thome. But we'll come back to that.


I posted yesterday about Governor Dayton's brainstorm concerning the need for increased volunteerism on behalf of schools in this state. In the comments, Swiftee and Mrs. D both point out important things:
  • Swiftee relates that in some cases, familiarity might breed contempt; and
  • Mrs. D relates that in our family's case, that is true.

I remain convinced that the amount of volunteerism in the schools is not an issue. Some teachers welcome the help, while others don't want outsiders in their classrooms. Some schools welcome volunteers, while others treat their volunteers quite shabbily. We live in the Mounds View School District, which is one of the more well-regarded districts in the state. As Mrs. D rightly points out in her comment, she has spent an enormous amount of time volunteering in the schools our children have attended and the results have been mixed, at best.

Personally, I don't think Dayton really wants volunteers. He wants bodies. And he wants money. He won't get more money from the lege, but if he can get companies to pay for computers and whatnot, the currently available money that would be otherwise allocated for computers and other capital expenditures can go into what really matters to Dayton's allies: salaries and benefits.

There's no other way to say this: we spend more money and devote more attention to public education than any other item in this state. And we aren't getting our money's worth. Throwing more money and bodies at the problem isn't going to change that.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Adopt a Dooher

Another genius idea from the Governor's opening remarks:

Better education for everyone is essential to getting Minnesota working again ... and to keep Minnesotans working in the future. To give everyone the skills necessary to succeed in an ever more competitive global economy. Doing so must be everyone's shared responsibility.

That is why I am asking every business in Minnesota to adopt a school. And contribute to its improvement. To visit the school and see its realities. To meet with teachers, students, and administrators and find out what they need to improve their school - now your school. A little money, a lot of help, technical expertise, remedial reading volunteers, adult mentors, new books, used computers. Make that school's progress your shared responsibility.

This should be great news for the charter school movement, right? Naah -- that's not the sort of school Dayton has in mind. He means your garden variety public school, of course. A few questions for the governor:
  • So if a business "adopts" a school, do they get any say in how it is run? If, say, Medtronic adopted a school, could they expect an increased emphasis on science and allocate their funds to laboratory work? Or is it just supposed to offer volunteers and write checks?
  • Most businesses are running very lean right now, which is one reason unemployment is so high. How precisely will adopting a school, and allocating company resources to the adoption, help a business keep its focus on its core ongoing operations?
  • Does Dayton really believe that workers at companies don't already volunteer a lot of time to schools? And how will the schools coordinate a phalanx of even more volunteers? I'm betting it would require another paid position or two at the school. Who pays for that? The business?
  • Another thing about volunteerism: at this point there are some programs of the sort Dayton envisions that are already in place. You can see banners at Fearless Maria's school advertising the long-standing partnership they have with a local medical device company. Still, the primary source of volunteers for the school are the families of the students, and rightly so.

Minnesota Hold 'Em

MinnPost has the text of Governor Dayton's inaugural address, whereby he demonstrates that he is a terrible poker player:

To those who sincerely believe the state budget can be balanced with no tax increase - including no forced property tax increase - I say, if you can do so without destroying our schools, hospitals, and public safety, please send me your bill, so I can sign it immediately.
Glad we have that on record. Should make for a nice, short legislative session, especially if Dayton is sincere.

He isn't, of course. And that's why we'll have plenty of material in the next few months.

Monday, January 03, 2011

The Government Returns

We get a new governor today and a new legislature to go along with it. A few guesses about what's to come:
  • Wanting to be governor in the worst way. Mark Dayton bought the governorship and now he is about to find out the true cost. Although he did get the support of the DFL apparat after he won the primary, from here it appears that the support was grudging at best. He's facing a legislature that is not going to give him any political cover and it will be interesting to see if he actually has much command of the entrenched state bureaucracy. Dayton is not the sort of natural, glad-handing pol who can build consensus, as his long career amply demonstrates. He'll need to get every DFLer in his corner to have a chance. Will they support him, or will they stand off to the side when the conflicts heat up?
  • The lege vs. the media. Standing up to Mark Dayton won't be the largest challenge for the new Republican legislature. The challenge will be dealing with adverse publicity from the news media. The Lori Sturdevants of the world don't hold as much power as they once did, but the Pat Kesslers and John Cromans of the world can make life pretty miserable for politicians if they choose to. Count on a lot of sob stories about the victims of Republican policies, especially as we get closer to the end of the legislative session.
  • $3.50 gas. Or perhaps $4 gas. There's ample reason to believe that this year is going to be an expensive one at the pumps and the costs of fuel are going to be part of price increases in other goods and services. While the increasing cost of fuel won't necessarily put huge dents in the average Minnesotan's wallet, the psychological impact will be pretty big. Do you suppose that people who are feeling pinched by their day-to-day expenses will be ready to sign on to tax increases, especially in the form of a sales tax hike? I have my doubts.
  • $6.2 billion. You keep hearing that number. It does not mean what you think it means. There are a lot of assumptions about government funding built into the projected budget deficit of $6.2 billion. Some of the assumptions simply aren't sustainable right now. The primary job of Amy Koch, Kurt Zellars and the rest of the politicians on the Republican side is to provide an alternative vision of how a leaner state government might actually work. Doing so will require working around the Pat Kesslers and John Cromans of the world and getting the message directly to the citizenry.

That's the easy stuff to figure. More to come.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- We'll Go Back to the NFL Now, Because We Kinda Stunk At Picking Bowl Games Edition

We're back! We didn't do so well yesterday in picking games. That's what we get for being Big Ten fans. We should have known better. But I'm convinced that TCU got incredibly lucky with the officiating.

Well, I've always said that you have to be good enough to win the game without having to worry about the officiating, and the Badgers came up short. I would like to know if the college game has rules about helmet to helmet hits, though, since TCU's defensive hero, Tank Carder, unleashed about 3 of them on Scott Tolzien today. But we have to pick games, right Seabiscuit?

Yes, and we're just hoping that Ed Hochuli or Jeff Triplette isn't involved in any games we care about tomorrow. Put the flags away boys and let 'em play. And in the meantime, watch me work:

Minnesota Nomads (+3 1/2) vs. Motor City Kitties. So about 3 weeks ago, the Vikings were in Detroit and it was supposedly a home game. Now they're back and it's a road game. This is like Bizarro World or something. This Vikings team reminds me of Spiderman 3, where he turns dark and acts like the Mayhem guy on the insurance commercials. I think that guy was on the Metrodome roof, but we can't prove that. It is interesting to note how the Vikings made Michael Vick look like a normal quarterback last week in Philly. How will Shaun Hill do, considering that Eric Hipple is nowhere to be found? Or is it Bob Gagliano? Or maybe Joey Harrington? So many crappy Lions quarterbacks, so little time. . . . Spider Webb 100, Little Friskies 0.

I have to question your police work there, Seabiscuit. The Lions have played very well down the stretch and seem to have figured things out. The Vikings did play very well on Tuesday, but with the short week and a weak interior line looking at Ndamukong Suh, I tend to like the boys in the pale blue shirts. Lions 24, Vikings 14.

Bear Down Chicago da Bearz (+10) vs. Glorious Green Bay Packers. It's very simple for the Packers -- win and you're in. Da Bearz were fortunate to win on their home field the last time these two teams met. The Bears also have an outside shot at the No. 1 seed, if Atlanta and New Orleans lose and if the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars. I think that's how the tiebreaker works. Either that, or it's the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. I don't really know any of that weird hippie junk, but Old Dude told me about it once when he started thinking back on his own misspent youth. In any event, I don't think hippie junk will help da Bearz very much, but I hear Gino really loves that 60s era musical theater stuff. Next he's going to break out the soundtrack from A Chorus Line. Considering how the Packers have played since the debacle in Detroit, I'm going to have to go with the desperate team at home, with a chip on their shoulder. Gino gets the showtunes instead. Bang on the Drum All Day 35, Dit-ka Dit-ka 20.

I must say that Youngblood had a pretty good time at Lambeau last week, but he was pretty appalled that everyone in the stadium seemed to know the words to "Roll Out the Barrel," including his father. Polka has really not done so well in Minnesota ever since the demise of Whoopee John Wilfahrt. He'll eventually have to take advanced coursework in the career of Wisconsin favorite Alvin Styczynski. Anyway, that's pretty annoying, so let's move on. Lovie Smith, who apparently does not lead a polka band even though he could with a name like Lovie, would dearly love to beat the Packers. But if he tries and gets Cutler, Urlacher or Hester hurt in the process, he'd get run out of Chicago. So I suspect da Bearz will make a cursory effort and then let the Packers win. Vegas thinks so, too, which is why the line is ten points. Vegas is smart that way. Packers 31, Bears 17.

St. Louis Sheep (-3) vs. Seattle Seabags. This game, of course, is a travesty. These teams both stink, but the winner will get into the playoffs because the winner will be NFC West Champion. The Seabags could go in as a 7-9 team, the playoff team with a losing record in league history. They are likely without Matt Hasselback, so they'll be going with Charlie Whitehurst, who happens to be the son of former Packer great David Whitehurst, the missing link between Lynn Dickey and, well, Lynn Dickey. And to make matters worse, this game got flexed and now a national audience will be able to watch the game. But I bet they won't. This game is worse than the Beef O'Brady's Bowl, since no one even gets an order of wings or haggis out of the deal. Meanwhile, the New Orleans Saints would like to thank the National Football League for allowing this travesty to happen and giving the Saints the equivalent of a bye week in the first round. Sheep 0, Seabags 0. Oh, wait, someone has to win. Make it, Sheep 2, Seabags 0.

Seabiscuit is right. Who cares? Okay, I'll pick Seattle because, who cares? Seattle 17, St. Louis 10.

We'll be back eventually with playoff picks and the BCS National Championship, where I am guaranteed to unleash an epic rant about the unfairness of the BCS and Cam "Cash and Carry" Newton, who will have a hard time evading Oregon tacklers with all those $100 bills stuffed in his pants. The NCAA has proven itself an epic failure yet again. Ben out!