Friday, November 30, 2012

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- Sea of Red Edition

Old dude, it is time. The Big Ten Championship Game is here. And it will be a sea of red!

Scattered with blue from the empty seats at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Not important, Geritol Fan. By the way, happy almost birthday. So did that AARP card come in the mail yet?

Not so I've noticed, no.

Well, maybe you misplaced it. I hear old people have trouble with that sort of thing. Meanwhile, it's time to unleash the HYYYYYYYPPPPPPE! So watch me work.

Nebraska Cornhuskers (-3) vs. Beloved Wisconsin Badgers, in Indianapolis. Lord, they could go back there. Yes, the Badgers have returned to Indiana, where they laid waste to Purdue and Indiana this season. In fact, they've played better in the state of Indiana than they have in the state of Wisconsin this season. So what does that mean? Here's what it means. If you take a look at Wisconsin's losses this season, they have been very, very close. The five losses come with a total of only 19 points, which means that the Badgers are better than the record says they are. You might recall their visit to Lincoln earlier this season. The Badgers roared out of the gate to a big early lead, only to see Nebraska come back. You might also remember that the Badgers last year choked in East Lansing, then came back to win when it mattered. Could we have a repeat? Yes, considering that Nebraska is not as good as their record says they are. They've been winning all the close games this season. Will form hold? Wisconsin 31, Nebraska 27.

Hmmm. Could happen. The Badgers have been pretty stout on defense and you can run on Nebraska. The Badgers have runners -- of this there is no doubt. The difference is Taylor Martinez. He's played very well this season, while the Badgers are now playing Curt Phillips, a fifth-year senior with the knees of Lynn Dickey. For you youngsters, Lynn Dickey was a Packer quarterback in the 1970s and 1980s who had very bad knees. Pigeons used to land on Lynn Dickey. While Phillips isn't defenseless, he's not been on a stage this big in his career. Can he handle it? I think he can, but it still won't be enough. Another heartbreaker for Bucky. Nebraska 34, Wisconsin 33.

Hobart Statesmen (NL) vs. St. Thomas Tommies. Yep, it's D-3 football, baby! I'm tired of talking about the SEC, so let's look downmarket and down the road at the Tommies. They have taken over the MIAC from St. John's and have been pretty dominant this season. As for Hobart, I know just about nothing other than they have a cool nickname. The Statesmen -- gotta like that. I picture a bunch of guys who look like Talleyrand in shoulder pads. St. Thomas 24, Cardinal Richelieu 0.

What, no Metternich? Hobart is a fine school and apparently they have a good football program, although I'm disappointed that the Tommies aren't playing the Heidelberg Student Princes instead. Just a guess -- they won't be talking about Cardinal Richelieu much at O'Shaughnessy  Stadium. St. Thomas 31, Hobart 17.

Minnesota Vikings (+8.5) vs. Glorious Green Bay Packers. Border Battle, baby! The locals get on the bus and head down State Highway 29 to Green Bay, where they face a Packer team that is likely in a very foul mood. I personally am tired of hearing this:

I also am sick and tired of guys my age thinking that the Vikings are a better football team. I suppose I bring some of this on myself, being a Packer fan who lives in Minnesota, but let's be honest here -- does anyone really believe that the Vikings are going to win this week? Well, maybe Leslie Frazier does, and the people that call into KFAN's Whine Line, when they're not demanding more Joe Webb, that is. The Packers get Greg Jennings back, which will help a lot. What helps even more is that the Vikings are still not very good at covering wide receivers. And with Jennings back, they'll have a lot of receivers to cover. And because the Swinging Gate is no longer in the employ of the Green Bay Packers, Aaron Rodgers should have enough time to find those receivers. And besides that, Sunday is Aaron Rodgers' birthday. I think the word we're looking for here is cake. Pack 49, Whine Line 3.

Various Vikings fans in the household seem to object to that pick, Seabiscuit. But what are you gonna do? The key for the Packers is stopping Adrian Peterson. Percy Harvin apparently is not going to play, so that's going to complicate things on offense for the Vikes. Jared Allen lurks and will probably get a shot or two in, but I think the Pack has a pretty good chance. The key is that Harrison Smith and Antoine Winfield are hurting, too. If those guys are less than 100%, that makes it tough for the Purple. Packers 35, Vikings 28.

Seattle Seabags (+3.5) vs. Bear Down Chicago da Bearz. It's Russell Wilson vs. Gabe Carimi! Former Badger greats at Soldier Field! Clash of the Titans! Ehhh, not quite. Russell Wilson has been great at home, but he's had a lot of trouble winning on the road. And Soldier Field is a tough place to play, as well as an eyesore. He is still blameless for the Immaculate Interception, but my sense is that da Bearz are going to have their way this week. Look for Peanut Tillman to add Wilson to his collection of victims, and lock down the evil Golden Taint Tate. Da Bearz 17, Seabags 0.

Hard to argue with any of that. So I won't. Gino remains happy for another week. Bears 27, Seattle 17.

And with that, I think we're done here. I'd better go try to make nice with the Viking fans in the house now. Ben out!

Cliff Note

The editorial board of the Washington Post seems to be confused by something the Obama administration and its allies on the Hill are doing. I believe this is what they call nuance:

Democrats, meanwhile, are sounding more and more maximalist in resisting spending cuts. Many insist that Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and education — pretty much everything except the Pentagon — are untouchable. Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), who had been one of the more reasonable Democratic leaders, said Tuesday that, while he favors reform of entitlement programs, it shouldn’t be part of the negotiations on the fiscal cliff. The Post’s Greg Sargent reported that union leaders and other liberals came away from a White House meeting encouraged that administration officials agree.

“They expect taxes to go up on the wealthy and to protect Medicare and Medicaid benefits,” one attendee said. “They feel confident that they don’t have to compromise.”

Don’t have to compromise?
Of course they don't have to compromise. Why? Because they know that they can by with it:

The poll also indicates that the GOP is not exactly bargaining from a position of strength. Fifty-three percent of the country has an unfavorable view of the Republican Party; only 42% want to see congressional Republican have more influence than the president over the direction the nation takes in the next two years. And seven in ten say the GOP has not done enough to cooperate with Obama.

All of that helps explain why more Americans would blame the Republicans in Congress (45%) rather than Obama (34%) if the fiscal cliff provisions actually go into effect next year. Obama comes in for his share of criticism - nearly half say he is not doing enough to cooperate with the Republicans, although seven in ten want him to compromise with the GOP even if he has to sacrifice some of his beliefs.

The CNN poll was conducted by ORC International from November 16-18, with 1,023 adult Americans questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.

Emphasis mine. Compromising with Obama means capitulating, of course, because whatever he wants is "balanced," so by definition anything the Republicans want is not balanced. As you watch the kabuki, this is what you need to understand.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The First Mr. D's Neighborhood 2014 Minnesota Senate Candidate Straw Poll

So I saw where political guru Larry Sabato thinks Al Franken could be safe in 2014 (H/T Brian Lambert):
Minnesota: After winning the narrowest of belated victories in 2009, Sen. Al Franken (D) has a decent approval rating in Gopherland, and he enters his first reelection bid as a slight favorite. We suspect he would trounce Rep. Michele Bachmann (R), who barely survived her 2012 reelection bid in Minnesota’s most Republican House district. Another possibility — one-time presidential contender and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) — will not be a candidate, having landed a lucrative job in association-land. The quality of the Republican challenger will determine much here. Minnesota has a reputation for being more Democratic than it actually is.
Three brief observations:
  1. I don't know if Franken would "trounce" Bachmann, but I think Bachmann would be a weaker candidate than some other possibilities, about which more in a moment.
  2. T-Paw probably won't run, but if he gets bored in "association-land," he might get in the ring.
  3. Sabato is right that Minnesota's reputation as being Democratic is overstated. Republicans have won in this state and fairly recently.
Maybe Sabato can't think of any candidates, but that doesn't mean there aren't any. So let's do a straw poll. I'm going to throw out a list of potential candidates for Franken's seat, based on nothing other than my own whim; please understand that I have no reason to believe that any of these individuals will actually run, but I'd like at least some of them to consider it. Vote for your favorite(s) -- I've set it up so you can vote for more than one candidate -- and explain why you like the candidate in the comment section. By the way, I'm leaving out Norm Coleman, Tom Emmer and Kurt Bills, because we don't need no steenkin' retreads. You may not think it's fair, but it's my blog. Vote early, vote often people!

Who should run against Al Franken in 2014? free polls 

Good News for Chicago

Now that Jesse Jackson Jr. has resigned from Congress, the citizens of his congressional district will need to select a new representative. And a candidate has arrived:
Disgraced former U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds said he will ask voters to focus on his congressional experience rather than his state and federal criminal record as he announced his bid today for the seat held by Jesse Jackson Jr., who has resigned.

At a downtown hotel news conference, Reynolds acknowledged having made “mistakes” in the past. For his campaign, he will try to assume the mantle of an incumbent while also seeking redemption from voters. Red and white campaign signs urged voters to “re-elect” Reynolds “so he can finish the work” while another stark red sign with white letters said simply: “Redemption.”
Finish the work? What kind of work would that be? Back to the article:
Reynolds held the 2nd Congressional District seat from 1993 until October 1995, when a Cook County jury convicted him of several sex-related charges, including having sex with an underage volunteer campaign worker. While serving time in state prison, Reynolds also was convicted on federal financial and campaign fraud charges. President Bill Clinton commuted Reynolds' sentence to time served in 2001.
So we know this much -- Reynolds is fully capable of working it. Meanwhile, there's some good news on the marketing front for this would-be solon:
Under law, Reynolds, formerly a South Side resident who is now renting in Dolton, no longer has to register as a sex offender.
That is helpful. I actually remember Reynolds well from when I lived in Chicago. Given that description of his (ahem) activities, you might be surprised to learn that he was once considered a "reformer" in Chicago, who was sent to Washington to clean up the mess left behind by his predecessor:
Reynolds replaced Gus Savage, a controversial and outspoken congressman who was condemned by the House Ethics Committee amid allegations of sexual misconduct involving a Peace Corps volunteer while he was on an official congressional visit to Zaire.
Gus Savage is still available, too. Maybe they could have a runoff.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Handicapping the HOF Ballot

Always an interesting day when the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot comes out. There are 37 names on the ballot this year, including some fairly prominent and controversial figures. Some of the most prominent of the Steroid Era figures are appearing for the first time, including Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa.  Some of the guys on the ballot clearly aren't all-time greats, but others are. Let's take a spin through the names -- unless otherwise indicated, the candidates are on the ballot for the first time:

Sandy Alomar, Jr. His brother Roberto is already in the HOF, elected in 2011. Roberto was one of the greatest second basemen of all time. Sandy Alomar, Jr. was a catcher who had a long career in the major leagues, but never was a great player. No chance.

Jeff Bagwell. This is his 3rd year on the ballot. He got 56% last year and will likely make the HOF in the next few years. Probably not this year, though. A great player who played in obscurity in Houston. Some suspect he might have used performance enhancing drugs, but there is no solid evidence.

Also a catcher
Craig Biggio. First year on the ballot. If Roberto Alomar isn't the greatest second baseman since Joe Morgan and Ryne Sandberg, it's likely that Biggio is. His credentials are impeccable -- well over 3000 hits, over 400 stolen bases, 4 Gold Gloves and not a whiff of scandal. He's the best bet of the first year candidates to make it and I think he will. Was a teammate of Bagwell for most of his career.

Barry Bonds. Based on sheer numbers, probably one of the top five players in baseball history. Of course, he cheated. It's too bad, actually. If his career had ended in 1998, he would have been a first ballot Hall of Famer. Now, he might not get in for a very long time, if at all. His nasty disposition doesn't help him, either. Still, a genuinely great player.

Jeff Cirillo. A long, distinguished career, including a few stints with my beloved Milwaukee Brewers. Not a Hall of Famer, though.

Royce Clayton. A very good player but like Cirillo, not a Hall of Famer.

Roger Clemens. Of the cheaters (or suspected cheaters), potentially the hardest case. Based on the numbers, he's probably one of the ten greatest pitchers in the history of the game. And like Bonds, if he'd quit before 2000, he would already be in the Hall. He beat the criminal rap, but the jury of the baseball writers is far less likely to give him the nod. I suspect he could make it some day, but it's going to be a long time coming.

Jeff Conine. See Jeff Cirillo. Same story -- a distinguished career but not HOF worthy.

Steve Finley. To me, one of the most underrated players of his era. An excellent outfielder and a very good hitter, but in the end he falls short.

Julio Franco. If you want to talk about a long career, this is the guy. He first broke into the majors all the way back in 1982. He fell out of the majors for a while but returned three times. He was pushing 50 when he finally retired. A solid player, especially with the bat, but not a Hall of Famer.

Shawn Green. A great player for a few years either side of 2000, but after that he fell off quickly. Not a Hall of Famer.

Roberto Hernandez. A hard-throwing right handed relief specialist. He had a long career and was very good from time to time, but he's not a Hall of Famer by any means. Kind of a right-handed Arthur Rhodes.

Ryan Klesko. Solid player, power hitter, similar in some respects to Shawn Green. Was a factor on a lot of very good Atlanta Braves teams, but not a great player. No shot.

You might have noticed

I haven't been writing a lot about politics in the past week or so. It's not that I'm abandoning the field, but at the moment I'm finding politics to be something less than, shall we say, edifying. Too much kabuki and not enough meat right now. If something comes up that merits discussion, I'll get back to it, but for now there are other things to discuss. I'll try to be interesting.

Marvin Miller

It's easy to forget how different baseball was before Marvin Miller came on the scene in 1966. Miller was the head of the Major League Baseball Player's Association, which was the first professional sports union that really mattered. Miller died yesterday at the age of 95. Miller's work at the helm of the Player's Association ultimately led to free agency in baseball, which changed the game completely.

Before Miller fought it out with the baseball owners, the reserve clause was the dominant factor in baseball economics. Baseball had, and still has, an antitrust exemption and the reserve clause essentially bound players to their teams in perpetuity, making it difficult to gain any leverage in negotiations. Miller changed that. When the players struck in 1972, it was the beginning of a vast change that culminated in 1975, when Miller got the cases of major league pitchers Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith in front of a federal arbitrator named Peter Seitz:
But in December 1975, Mr. Seitz, the baseball arbitrator, ruling in a case brought by the pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally and argued by the union, invalidated the reserve clause in the standard player contract. Mr. Seitz found that this clause, allowing all contracts to be extended for one year at management’s option upon their expiration, did not mean that contracts could be extended in perpetuity. Once a player refused to re-sign after the expiration of that one-year extension, Mr. Seitz ruled, he could sell his pitching prowess or hitting skills to the highest bidder.
And so they did. Eventually some of the biggest stars in the game, including Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter, signed huge contracts with the New York Yankees. While the Yankees have long been the biggest spenders, other teams were able to get players that helped them. The Milwaukee Brewers of my youth were a terrible team but were able to add Sal Bando, an aging but still valuable third baseman, to their team in 1977. Bando played for the Brewers and was later a team executive for nearly 20 years after that. And every player that followed these early free agents benefited immensely from the system that is now in place. Put it this way -- in 1966, the average salary for major league player was about $19,000, which works out to about $135,650 in current dollars. The average current salary for a major league player is $3.1 million.

I would argue that Miller and Pete Rozelle, the visionary commissioner of the National Football League, are the two men who made professional sport what it is today. Miller helped baseball players understand the economic power they actually wield, while Rozelle understood the power of television and of relentless marketing. We live in a world where sports are ubiquitous. Marvin Miller had a lot to do with that.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

il miglior fabbro

I was thinking about writing something about the bizarre events in Little Falls in which two teenaged cousins apparently broke into a man's house, at which point he shot them both and didn't bother to report the matter to the police for a day, but there's no need because Mitch Berg is on the case. A sample:

This is a case that should be used in self-defense classes as a punch-list of everything not to do in a self-defense case.

-- You just don’t get to shoot on sight.  Many juries will have a hard time accepting that you had a reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm if you shoot before you can fully see your perp in what amounts to an ambush zone.
-- You do not finish them off when they’re down.

And above and beyond that?  You call the cops immediately.
And this wise observation:
And while I send my condolences to the victims’ families, of course, the kids had no business in his house.  Note, unruly teenagers; you’re not immortal, and you’re only as safe as your least-informed, least-stable victim lets you be.
Much more at the link.

What we know and don't, continued

First, let's consider the following:

It is thus with most of us; we are what other people say we are. We know ourselves chiefly by hearsay.
-- Eric Hoffer
I've been spending time with my friend Jeff's essay "The Bipolar in Society" because I think he's on to something very important. Jeff is bipolar. He wants us to understand what that means. But he also wants us to understand something else:

If you are labeled as having a mental illness, there is probably something you need to attend to. My advice to you is to do so.

But don’t let them take your soul.

Imagine the person who diagnoses you as a clown credentialed with useful, but extraordinarily limited, knowledge. Do this as a rhetorical ploy: to remind yourself that this authority knows so little. In our secular, Enlightenment order of scientism and rationality, the doctors and lawyers have become the high priests.

(This doesn’t mean that individual lawyers and doctors do not hold the same reservations I am articulating here. Some of my best friends are doctors and lawyers, and because they are part of the system, they see its problems as well as anyone. I am referring not to individuals but to the authority accorded the roles of “doctor” and “lawyer.”)
Emphasis mine. This is a very useful point, because no matter what we believe otherwise, we all have our priests and every society ends up with a priesthood of some sort. And those who would be priests are a pretty contentious lot, because the power of being a priest is vast. And one of the most important powers of any priesthood is the power to define terms. Back to Jeff:

“Bipolar” does not define my being. It describes a few tendencies I have.

Yet, I have chosen for years to be out about my bipolar. The social stigma attached to doing so has hurt me far more than the “disease” ever has.

Some of the particulars involved in the stigma are immediately evident and you can read those for yourself at the link.

I know more than a little bit about bipolar because my mother was bipolar. Her behavior was significantly more problematic than Jeff's, because she could become violent in some cases. There are stories that I could share about it, but won't in this forum. I will say this -- as a result of her behavior, my childhood had more than a few brushes with social workers and mental health professionals, who were (a) quite well meaning and (b) mostly ineffectual in their efforts. It wasn't for a lack of effort, or because their intentions were anything less than sincere. But even though they couldn't do much for us, there were times when their decisions had enormous impacts in our lives. And the various labels that were placed on my mother had impacts for me and for my siblings. And we'll continue with this later.

Monday, November 26, 2012

What we know and don't

I posted a link over the weekend to my friend Jeff's essay "The Bipolar in Society." I didn't want to say a lot about it initially, because I didn't want people to do one thing that he warns against in the essay, which is to assume that you understand something because of a taxonomy. We all employ our own in one form or another and it's very easy to become enamored with your own worldview. I didn't want anyone who came to the essay to have any preconceived notions about it, especially mine.

Jeff makes the point in a section I find particularly striking:

I am not in revolt against the Constitution and political system of the United States. I believe they are about the best we can hope for at the present historical juncture.
I am in revolt against the tyranny of knowledge, which had its beginnings in the 17th century Enlightenment and continues today, getting stronger all the time.
Story: A friend of mine told me about a man who lived in rural, northern Mississippi, a place not yet thoroughly colonized by the said tyranny. He got a little wild one day—got in his car, put a jug of white lightning between his legs, and rode around town sipping from the jug and shooting his pistol off into the air out of his car window. The sheriff pulled him over and put him in jail until he dried out and calmed down. That was the end of it.
I asked my friend why the man wasn’t brought up on charges. “Oh, it’s rural Mississippi,” he responded. “The sheriff just figured Sam got a little wild one afternoon. That’s all there was to it.”
Here in Minnesota, where I live, Sam would have been brought up on weapons and drinking and driving charges. He would have been processed through the legal system. He would have been evaluated like a specimen by psychiatrists to determine whether or not he was “suffering” from a mental illness. If they so wanted, these psychiatrists could have sent him to the mental ward of a hospital or, worse, a mental hospital itself. They would have claimed to act out of compassion, out of a desire to help this man.
Analysis: The pre-Enlightenment view of humanity that still holds sway in rural, northern Mississippi conceives that people, all people, sometimes get possessed by wildness. This possession is temporary. All we need to do if someone gets out of control is bring in the authorities and wait until some degree of normalcy is restored. Nothing else is needed. No more knowledge than that is necessary. 
The post-Enlightenment view of humanity holds that we can be categorized into the well-adjusted and the maladjusted, the sick and the well, the criminal and the noncriminal, the homosexual and the heterosexual, and so on.
Emphasis in original. I think this is spot-on. One of the things that always struck me during my undergraduate years is how easy and alluring it was to see the world through a particular prism. The college that Jeff and I both attended was, in the mid-80s, generally still a place where one could choose your own worldview and you had feminists and Freudians and even a few Straussians here and there. The trick in describing things is that I end up using the same sort of taxonomy that Jeff is warning about in his essay.

Jeff uses a key word in his essay -- humility. The relevant passage:

No human being is a specimen. Every person I have met is a glorious mystery, a complexity, a fluidity, a richness, consisting of levels and spirals and possibilities and a future that can bring anything. No human being is a label, and a mere label is not worthy of study.

I am a revolutionary against the tyranny of knowledge, the belief that we can label, study, and know something as fluid and wonderful as an individual human being. We must limit “knowledge.”

We must learn humility. I believe the pre-Enlightenment view of humanity represented by rural Mississippi in this story is more compassionate than that of Minnesota.

I give thanks for humility.

I do, too, although humility seems to be in short supply these days. There's a lot more at the link. A whole lot more.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Just go read it

The link is here. There's more to chew on this bone than nearly anything you'll read elsewhere this weekend. And that's all I'll say about it.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- Jay Cutler Concussion Edition

Okay, I'm back. The turkey is gone and I've slept off the tryptophan and so now I'm ready I'm ready to pick some more games. I'd better wake up the old dude. Hey, Geritol Fan! Hit the bricks, pal! It's time to make some picks!

Oh, don't worry about me, grasshopper. I'm fully caffeinated.

Good, for a second there I thought rigor mortis was kicking in. I mean, you look like this:

I was ready to give him a nine-pence and everything.

I'm getting better.

Based on your picks, I don't think that's accurate. But you'll be stone dead in a minute. Watch me work!

Michigan State Sparty the Spartan (-8.5) vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers. I don't know if you realize this, old dude, but Sparty has to win this game to get a bowl bid. That's probably why they're favored, even though they are on the road and have been very inconsistent and lucky this season. Our Gophers are dealing with the first controversy of Jerry Kill's tenure. It turns out that A. J. Barker wasn't very happy with our man Jerry the Cable Guy and threw a temper tantrum. A 4,000 word temper tantrum. I think it took less words for the Japanese to surrender after Nagasaki. But since A. J. Barker won't be catching any bombs for the Gophers any more, what will Phillip Nelson do? Throw to someone else, I suppose. Gophers 23, Sparty 17.

Knocking the Spartans out of the Carter's Little Liver Pills Bowl, then? Well, that would be a sight. I think Sparty wins, because let's face it, a potential trip to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl might require a heaping helping of Carter's Little Liver Pills. A bitter pill for Jerry Kill, I say. Michigan State 20, Gophers 13.

Beloved Wisconsin Badgers (+3) vs. Penn State Nittany Lions. Somehow Penn State has managed to have a pretty good season despite the scandals galore and the death of JoePa. I give Bill O'Brien all the credit in the world, but now the rumors are that he might be headed back to the NFL, which means that the Nittany Lions will get their chance to ride out the sanctions to come with another coach. Here's an idea:

Oops -- it looks like I posted the "Bring Out Your Dead" video again. Sorry for the error. Badgers 17, Penn State 10.

Get that chili hot, boys! Oh, who doesn't love Coach Brew? Well, aside from about 4.5 million Minnesotans, that is. Anyway, as for the Badgers, I think they'll win, too. They want to head into the championship game on the right foot. And Montee Ball has a record to get, too. Wisconsin 31, Penn State 21.

Minnesota Vikings (NL) vs. Bear Down Chicago da Bearz. So, we're still not sure if Jay Cutler can play this week. I also understand that Jason Campbell is hurt, too. So that means the Bears have brought in another old reliable:

Oops -- I think I posted the "Bring Out Your Dead" video again. My apologies. As for the game, if Cutler plays, the Bears have a good chance. If not, forget it. Vikings 7, da Bearz 0.

Peter Tom Willis? I assume there was no Henry Burris footage available. Oh, those wacky Bears quarterbacks. Anyway, you're probably right -- without Cutler, the Bears are a hot mess. I think they'll wheel him out, because if they don't, their season is in big trouble. They'd better get Jared Allen blocked, though. They might want to triple team him. Bears 24, Vikings 21.

Glorious Green Bay Packers (+2.5) vs. New York Football Giants. I have been waiting for this game for months. Months, old dude -- months! I have been saving up an enormous well of HYYYYYYYYYPPPPPPE! for this game. Simply stated, we owe these clowns a beat down. As it happens, the Giants are in the middle of one of their yearly swoons where they have a tough time beating anyone. And, as it happens, the Packers have plenty of bulletin board material from the New York media. Case in point -- an article by some fellow named Filip Bondy, who writes for the New York Daily News. He said the following:
The Green Bay Packers are supposed to be all warm and cuddly, full of small-town, winter-wonderland charm. In reality, they are a dastardly, untrustworthy group of bullies.
Did you catch that? A columnist in New York is calling our small-town heroes bullies? What a maroon! He forgets too easily that the Packers have the won the last three times they've played in New York. He also forgets that anyone who lives in New York cannot, by definition, be an underdog. And he also forgets that you never give Aaron Rodgers a chance to exact revenge. Because he will. And Eli Manning? It's true that you can't spell "elite" without Eli. But you also can't spell ineligible without Eli, or "lie" for you anagram fans. Packers 56, New York Media 24.

You've had that article clipped and tacked up to your bulletin board since last season, so I know you take that sort of thing personally. I wouldn't take Bondy too seriously, though -- he's just another in a long line of tabloid assassins in the New York newspaper wars. As for the game itself, I think it will be tough. The Packers are pretty banged up on defense and that makes me nervous. The Giants have had a week to sort things out and I think they'll be tough to beat this week. After this game, it's back to the division for the Packers and those are the games that matter. Giants 37, Packers 31.

Curt Schilling once said that one of his favorite things to do was to make 55,000 people in New York shut up. I'll bet Aaron Rodgers likes to do that, too. Ben out!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Benster and D Pick Your Game -- Turkeys in Detroit Edition

A holiday tradition!
Hope you all are having a great Thanksgiving! I'm here to pick the traditional Thanksgiving Game in Detroit, because (a) it's a tradition and (b) it gives us a chance to bust out our favorite picture, which we love. Right, old dude?

The older I get, the more I look like that guy, so I'm not so sure.

Well, that's your problem, not mine! I'm enjoying the youthful glow of being 17. And I'm ready to make the pick. So watch me work:

Ndamukong Suh pleads his case to Ed Hochuli
Houston Texans (-3.5) vs. Detroit Motor City Kitties. So, we've had a pretty good look at the Lions over the past few weeks, as they've lost to the Vikings and to the Packers. So we know this much -- they certainly know how to lose. In fact, the old dude reminds me that the Lions have been losing on a regular basis since 1957, when the Curse of Bobby Layne was issued. All the great Lions of the past -- Barry Sanders, Billy Sims, Joey Harrington -- all played for naught. Now we see another star-studded lineup of malcontents and disappointments on the field, with psychotic coach Jim Schwartz in the lead. The question isn't how much the Lions will lose by this week. The real question is will Ndamukong "Hong Kong Phooey" Suh get ejected on national television again. It could become the latest holiday tradition in Detroit -- when does the big Nebraska turkey get roasted? Texans 49, Lions 48.

So they're gonna beat the spread, then. Well, maybe. The Lions seem to be a hot mess again this year. I see that Titus Young almost got cut from the team for insubordination and there are other dramas here and there. The Lions have talent, but Houston isn't probably a good visitor for their purposes this time around. The Lions have played 17 games since you were born on Thanksgiving, with the first one when you were two days old, young fella. Their record in that stretch? 6-11. And they haven't won on Thanksgiving Day since 2003. Yeah, I think picking the Texans is probably a good idea. Texans 34, Lions 24.

We'll be back tomorrow for another round of games. In the meantime, enjoy your Thanksgiving HYYYYYYPPPPPE! Ben out!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

November 21, 1995

Bundle of joy
This post first appeared in 2008, but it still works. Happy birthday, Benster -- 17 years old today!

I remember it being a cold but sunny Tuesday morning. As it turned out, two things happened that day that are historic. First, the Dow Jones industrial average climbed over the 5000 mark for the first time. At Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the Dayton Peace Accords were initialed, marking the end of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. And at 1:52 p.m. CST, in a room at United Hospital in St. Paul, our first child was born.

We'd had a bit of a scare a month earlier and Mrs. D had spent about a week in the hospital with pre-term labor. She'd returned home and had been on bed rest. When we woke up that morning, it was clear that something was up. We called the hospital and they told us to come down. We worked our way down from our townhome in Shoreview, stopping once so I could get my cup of morning coffee. Momentous events require coffee.

Once we got to the hospital, we went to our room and Mrs. D went through the experience. Things were progressing along slowly but it seemed possible that this would be the day. The nurses and doctors came and went, none seemingly too worried about things. It was possible that it might be days before the baby would arrive, we were told, or the baby might come today. It seemed like a long morning. We'd been through the Lamaze classes and we were clued into what we might expect. We'd brought music to listen to and Mrs. D's favorite teddy bear, which she'd received as a gift in college. Whatever it took.

As the morning dragged toward noon, she turned to me and said, "look, I don't think anything is going to happen any time soon. Why don't you go and get some lunch. Take your time." Knowing that she was in good hands, I left the hospital and walked down to a Subway shop on West 7th. I got myself a turkey sub and a Pioneer Press and had a good long hour of decompressing. Although we were both excited about the possibilities of the day, it was good to get away and think about things other than the life-changing event that might happen. I strolled back to the hospital, got on the elevator and headed for the maternity ward.

When I got back, it was obvious that Mrs. D had had an eventful hour in my absence. She was rocking uncomfortably back and forth in the bed and she looked at me and said, "you can't leave now." There was a nurse nearby and we were told that the obstetrician would be arriving shortly. "It looks like the baby is going to come today," I was told. The next hour was a blur. I remember trying to hold Mrs. D's hand, and hold the teddy bear to give her a focal point. I remember trying to fish through our bag to change the tape (yep, we still had cassettes). I put on some Miles Davis - Kind of Blue, a favorite and something that would be comforting enough. As the bottom of the hour passed and we headed toward 2, it became pretty clear that this was the time. A close family friend had arrived to offer support and was pretty much horrified to realize that she had walked in at the moment of truth. She quickly beat a hasty retreat the waiting room. I will never forget the look on the friend's face.

Meanwhile, the moment had arrived. Childbirth is simultaneously amazing, frightening and a little bit bizarre. As the song "All Blues" wailed softly in the background, I saw the baby emerge. It was our son. As the nurses quickly took him to the side table to give him his first exam, the Apgar score, he let out a healthy wail. Mrs. D looked at me. I looked at her. It was the beginning.

Still joyful, but not a bundle
My son is a 7th grader and is straddling the childhood he is leaving and the exciting world of adulthood that is beckoning. He's turned into a bright, energetic kid with a quick wit and a great enthusiasm for learning more about the world he entered that cold, clear Tuesday. He's been a source of great joy.

At times, it's obvious that 13 years have passed. But it still seems like we just brought him home from the hospital.


Four years on, my son is now a high school junior. He's still the same kid but he's changed in a lot of ways, but one thing is constant. The HYYYYYYPPPE! thing that's part of our football picks is more than just shtick -- it's a reflection of the Benster's personality. He's an enthusiastic young man. He's coming of age in a tough world, but his enthusiasm should serve him well. He's beginning to understand the whys of the world even though he questions them, as a teenager will. He's still a source of great joy.

And it still seems like we just brought him home from the hospital.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The World According to D -- College Sports Edition, 2020

Okay, one last post on college sports realignment and it's a doozy. This time, let's project the condition of the battlefield once it's all done. Here is a somewhat educated guess on how I see it happening, and what I imagine it will look like by, say, 2020.

This is all about money. Traditions don't mean much unless you want them to, and there's no evidence that anyone as unsentimental as Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany or Mike Slive (his counterpart in the SEC) will care much about it.

There will be four megaconferences, 3 of which will be made by conscious choice. I predict that the Big Ten will have 20 teams in two divisions, as will the SEC. The Pac 12 will have 16, while the final conference, which will be geographically scattered and containing the schools left behind on the dance floor, will also have 20 in two divisions. All of these schools will play football and they will, in the end, be the schools in the new version of the BCS.

The Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big East and the Big XII will essentially be destroyed. The three megaconferences have too much power and will be able to dictate things going forward. Having said that, some traditional rivalries will remain in the new system, because of the way it will break down.

Smaller D-1 schools, like the schools in the Mid-American Conference, will no longer be part of the equation. This year Kent State is a Top 25 school. That won't happen again after this is all done.

The Big Ten will get most of what they want, which will be the bulk of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Maryland has new playmates for now, but when it's all done they'll find themselves playing some very familiar foes.

The SEC will get just about everything they want. Football dominance will not change much, since the SEC will get three of the biggest prizes on the board.

The Pac-12 will add the best of the West, but there isn't much of it. Geography is a challenge and it will limit their options. In the end, they'll have a strong 16-team league, though.

So how will it turn out? Let's start with the Big Ten:

Coming and going

Part of the game in national politics, especially among Democrats and their supporters, is to make running for national office such a horrifying prospect that people will not want to do it.

Two examples -- first, let's look at Marco Rubio, the young Florida senator who is already apparently looking at 2016. He talks to GQ and hilarity ensues:

GQ: How old do you think the Earth is?

Marco Rubio: I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.
Which gets boiled down to:

Andrew Kaczynski@BuzzFeedAndrew
RT @felixsalmon: GQ: "How old do you think the Earth is?" Marco Rubio: "I'm not a scientist, man. That's a dispute amongst theologians.”

Nice. Meanwhile, we learn the following from Kevin Drum at Mother Jones (via Althouse):
Poor Mitt. Conservatives never liked him in the first place, so he tried hard to say all the things they wanted him to say. But once he lost, he was an instant pariah. He was saying the stuff they wanted him to say during a campaign, not realizing that the rules had changed. Once the campaign was over, that exact same stuff was a rather too blunt admission of what conservatives believe. He was betraying the cause, not helping it. The price he'll pay is a banishment from the conservative movement even more thorough than George Bush's. Conservatives are not kind to their losers.
The title of Drum's piece? Mitt Romney is Now Officially the Most Hated Man in America.

We'll set aside what Drum said, which is hardly true for most conservatives I know. What conservatives actually think really doesn't matter, of course. The larger message is this: it's just a lot easier for conservatives if they just shut up, apparently.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Who's next?

Maryland is in. Rutgers is coming, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Who's next to join Jim Delany's pajama party? Here are my guesses:

Georgia Tech: If you are looking at what animates the Big Ten, Georgia Tech has a lot to offer. It's in a major media market (Atlanta), it has a good if somewhat quirky football history and it's academically solid (a member of the AAU). My guess is that Georgia Tech will be in demand from both the Big Ten and the SEC. Strangely enough, GT might be a better fit in the Big Ten. It's long played the Georgias and Alabamas of the world, but it's not the same kind of school. I would expect this to be a top priority for Delany & co.

Virginia: There would be a lot of support for adding Mr. Jefferson's university to the Big Ten, since it is one of the premier schools in the country. They have had some success in football as well, although they don't bring as much to the party as Georgia Tech would. The thing that makes this choice unlikely is that Virginia politics would likely try to force a two-school parlay with UVa and Virginia Tech. I am certain that the Big Ten would have no use for adding Virginia Tech, however.

North Carolina: The perfect parlay with UVa, but not as likely. The Tar Heels have been a good football program and they would absolutely make a huge impact in basketball, but they wouldn't want to leave their many rivalries in the ACC. If the ACC implodes, they might show up as part of a 20-team megaconference, but otherwise don't expect them to arrive in the conference any time soon. They also bring a lot of eyeballs, though, which is a big factor.

Kansas: Academically a good fit and would bring some eyeballs in Kansas City, but has nothing to offer as a football program. This would seem to be a fallback option if other more desirable teams were unavailable. Really a basketball school and since football drives the bus, this seems less likely.

Notre Dame: An interesting scenario. They cast their lot with the ACC in all sports except football, but if the ACC implodes, they'll need a place to go. At this point, their only option might be the Big Ten. They don't want it and I think the Big Ten is tired of ND's rejections by now, but circumstances might dictate a change of heart for everyone. Eventually ND may find that they can't be an independent any longer and if that happens, the Big Ten might be the only choice remaining.

Texas: The holy grail and the ultimate darkhorse candidate. Texas offers everything -- a great football tradition and program, institutional strength and tons of eyeballs. What works against it:  Nebraska left the Big XII to get away from Texas, and the Longhorns have their own television network, so they would likely want a king's ransom to join. But if the Big XII implodes, they would be the one team everyone would want. I expect the SEC to make a play for them as well if that happens.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours?

Two Quotes and a Video

First, Ross Douthat, writing in the New York Times:
Liberals look at the Obama majority and see a coalition bound together by enlightened values — reason rather than superstition, tolerance rather than bigotry, equality rather than hierarchy. But it’s just as easy to see a coalition created by social disintegration and unified by economic fear.

Consider the Hispanic vote. Are Democrats winning Hispanics because they put forward a more welcoming face than Republicans do — one more in keeping with America’s tradition of assimilating migrants yearning to breathe free? Yes, up to a point. But they’re also winning recent immigrants because those immigrants often aren’t assimilating successfully — or worse, are assimilating downward, thanks to rising out-of-wedlock birthrates and high dropout rates. The Democratic edge among Hispanics depends heavily on these darker trends: the weaker that families and communities are, the more necessary government support inevitably seems.

Likewise with the growing number of unmarried Americans, especially unmarried women. Yes, social issues like abortion help explain why these voters lean Democratic. But the more important explanation is that single life is generally more insecure and chaotic than married life, and single life with children — which is now commonplace for women under 30 — is almost impossible to navigate without the support the welfare state provides.

Or consider the secular vote, which has been growing swiftly and tilts heavily toward Democrats. The liberal image of a non-churchgoing American is probably the “spiritual but not religious” seeker, or the bright young atheist reading Richard Dawkins. But the typical unchurched American is just as often an underemployed working-class man, whose secularism is less an intellectual choice than a symptom of his disconnection from community in general.

What unites all of these stories is the growing failure of America’s local associations — civic, familial, religious — to foster stability, encourage solidarity and make mobility possible.
And now, courtesy of the Nightwriter, yet another reminder of why Dietrich Bonhoeffer was so important:

“Folly is a more dangerous enemy to the good than evil. One can protest against evil; it can be unmasked and, if need be, prevented by force. Evil always carries the seeds of its own destruction, as it makes people, at the least, uncomfortable. Against folly we have no defence. Neither protests nor force can touch it; reasoning is no use; facts that contradict personal prejudices can simply be disbelieved — indeed, the fool can counter by criticizing them, and if they are undeniable, they can just be pushed aside as trivial exceptions. So the fool, as distinct from the scoundrel, is completely self-satisfied; in fact, he can easily become dangerous, as it does not take much to make him aggressive. A fool must therefore be treated much more cautiously than a scoundrel; we shall never again try to convince a fool by reason, for it is both useless and dangerous…

“…The fact that the fool is often stubborn must not mislead us into thinking that he is independent. One feels in fact, when talking to him, that one is dealing, not with the man himself, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like, which have taken hold of him. He is under the spell, he is blinded, his very nature is being misused and exploited. Having thus become a passive instrument, the fool will be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that is is evil. Here lies the danger of a diabolical exploitation that can do irreparable damage to human beings.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “After 10 Years”)
And lest you think I'm being unfair, I offer this wisdom:

So here are my conclusions for this morning:

  • Triumphalist liberals are fools and should be treated as Bonhoeffer recommends
  • Conservatives who assume that they were simply outbid in this cycle are fools as well
If you think you are exempt from these categories, think carefully.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Here we go again

Fear the turtle
It's time for one of our favorite topics -- potential Big Ten expansion. How do Maryland and Rutgers strike ya? first reported that the Big Ten was looking into expanding to 14 teams by adding Maryland and Rutgers.

The person says Maryland would have to be "the first domino to fall," but added that an agreement could be reached as soon as this week for both schools.

Text messages and phone calls to Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson and Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti were not immediately returned.

Several officials with Big Ten schools, reached at football and basketball games on Saturday, declined to talk about the report.

Playing football since 1869, but not well
Football drives these discussions and neither of these teams has what you might call a glorious football history. At the moment, Rutgers is a pretty good team but historically they aren't too hot. Maryland is a basketball school.

The driver is money, of course, and that both schools have a following in the east. Maryland actually is a higher value target, I think, because they get regular coverage in both Baltimore and Washington DC. Rutgers garners some attention in New York and Philadelphia, but college football isn't the biggest thing in either market.

Eventually I would imagine the Big Ten would be looking at going to 16 teams. So if Maryland and Rutgers are coming, who should the other teams be? Here are a list of potential targets. Which ones make the most sense to you? Vote below -- I've set it up for multiple votes:

Which teams should join the Big Ten? (Vote for more than one, since we'll need four to get to the magic number of 16) free polls 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Funhouse and Lighthouse

I've not seen the Washington Guardian website before, but they claim to be animated by the spirit of Jack Anderson and William Proxmire, names that meant something when I was a kid but not so much now. And they use Split Rock Lighthouse for their logo, so you have to love that.

The Guardian reports the following in re Benghazi:

U.S. intelligence told President Barack Obama and senior administration officials within 72 hours of the Benghazi tragedy that the attack was likely carried out by local militia and other armed extremists sympathetic to al-Qaida in the region, officials directly familiar with the information told the Washington Guardian on Friday.

Based on electronic intercepts and human intelligence on the ground, the early briefings after the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya identified possible organizers and participants. Most were believed to be from a local Libyan militia group called Ansar al-Sharia that is sympathetic to al-Qaida, the official said, while a handful of others was linked to a direct al-Qaida affiliate in North Africa known as AQIM.

Those briefings also raised the possibility that the attackers may have been inspired both by spontaneous protests across the globe on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and by a desire to seek vengeance for the U.S. killing last summer of a Libyan-born leader of al-Qaida named Abu Yaya al-Libi, the officials said, speaking only on condition of anonymity because they were discussing intelligence matters.

So what was Susan Rice talking about on the Sunday chat shows? That's the question that no one seems willing to answer. Or ask, for that matter. There's a lot more at the link. I'm not sure it clears much up at this point, however. I will say this, though -- it's always made a lot more sense to me that the attack came as a reprisal for killing al-Libi than for any other reason.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- Finally, A Break in Benster's Active Social Life Edition

Yeah, I'm actually here on a Friday night. No Sadies, no football, no parties. Just a man and his football picks. And his decrepit father.

Sounds like a wonderful opportunity for you.

Actually, you're not that bad as long as you maintain your steady dosage of Geritol. Meanwhile, my picks aren't going to be anemic this week. Watch me work!

Minnesota Golden Gophers (+20) vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers. Hey, there's a vote of confidence in the Gophers! Maybe Vegas remembers past games, particularly the 1983 Gopher/Nebraska game, in which the Gophers were edged 84-13. Good times, good times. This year should not be any different. Nebraska is good and they have a reason to keep their foot on the gas pedal, since if they win out they are guaranteed a date with the Badgers in the Big Ten Championship Game. As for our Gophers, they are bowl eligible and are trying to get a better record so they can avoid being in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. Johnny Rodgers 93, Rick Upchurch 0.

Did you see Mom shaking her head at you, young fella?

I did.

I'll start shaking my head, too. I think Nebraska will win, but this isn't 1983. Nebraska is a good but not dominant team these days and the Gophers are at least competing a little bit. I even think the Gophs will cover the spread. Nebraska 37, Gophers 24.

Ohio State Tattoos (+2.5) vs. Beloved Wisconsin Badgers. You have no idea how much I want the Badgers to beat Ohio State. Have I mentioned lately how much I despise the Buckeyes? Well, let me clue you in. The Buckeyes are evil. They are cheatin' weasels. They have a smug head coach and an overrated quarterback. They are ineligible for a bowl game this year because they were cheatin' weasels in the Jimmy Sweater Vest era, and now they've managed to find a guy who is even more insufferable than Jimmy Sweater Vest. Urban Meyer is a good coach, but you look at the guy and you just want to wipe that smug grin off his face. He knows his Xs and Os, but he doesn't realize that the Badgers have the X Factor -- a running game that is now clicking on all cylinders and 80,000 screaming fans who like to do this:

Word to your moms, Buckeyes. The Badgers came to drop bombs. Wisconsin 28, Ohio State 7.

I'm not sure what to think about this one. The Badgers absolutely destroyed Indiana last week and the Buckeyes barely got out of Bloomington alive earlier in the year. The problem is that Badgers have been inconsistent this year and it's hard to say what will happen. The Bucks are motivated, but I think the Badgers are tough to beat at home. I think Vegas has it about right. Badgers 31, Buckeyes 28.

Glorious Green Bay Packers (-3.5) vs. Detroit Motor City Kitties. Old dude, I saw this on Facebook:

And never will
Yeah. That's about it. The Lions are in trouble yet again. Matthew Stafford is running for his life, Calvin Johnson has a nerve issue that makes it hard for him to catch the ball and their secondary just got lit up by someone named Jarius Wright? If Jarius Wright can torch the Lions, would you like to think about what Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb might do? I think the Lions will score a few points, but they'll give up more. A lot more. Packers 45, Lions 24.

I think the 45 is possible, but I'm a little worried about this one, since Clay Matthews won't be playing. If you give Matthew Stafford time, he's trouble. And the Packers will be bringing a patchwork offensive line to Detroit this week. Still, I think the Pack is better and Aaron Rodgers really loves playing in domed stadiums. I mean, really loves it. Packers 42, Lions 31.

Bear Down Chicago da Bearz (+5) vs. San Francisco Harbaughs. The old dude tells me that, once upon a time, many, many years ago, Jim Harbaugh was the quarterback of the Chicago Bears. I believe that was in between the the illustrious Mike Tomczak Era and the equally illustrious Peter Tom Willis Era. It's hard to be certain, since da Bearz have had many, many quarterback eras. And this week they won't have Jay Cutler available, since he's out with a concussion that he received from the Houston Texans. Now, the Bears get to go to San Francisco, where they will face an equally fierce defense and a hostile crowd. Can Gino's team survive? No. San Francisco 24, da Bearz 0.

I remember the Peter Tom Willis Era. It was a magic time. He would come up to the line of scrimmage and his teammates would say this:

The Bears are offensively challenged most games, but the 49ers aren't exactly a genius-level offensive team, either. I just have a hunch about this one and I think Peanut Tillman is going to make a play. Call me crazy, but I say: Bears 17, 49ers 14.

Okay, old dude. I'll call you crazy. Yer nuts! Now, I must say that on Wednesday, I will be turning 17. Yes, hold your applause! Ben out!

Worth remembering

Winning a National Book Award tends to give an author quite a lot of credibility. I don't know Andrew Solomon at all; it's entirely possible that most of his writing is backed up through meticulous research and a thoroughgoing desire to ensure that the narrative he presents is accurate in both fact and larger meaning.

I've known Jeff Hansen for nearly 30 years. He was a friend of mine in college and although I'd lost touch with him over the years, we've renewed that friendship in the past few years, once I discovered that he also lives in the Twin Cities. He's a brilliant guy and he's done some substantial work as a writer and educator. So I'll admit up front that I have a dog in the fight. And there is a fight, because Andrew Solomon wrote the following about Jeff:
"In the meanwhile, the family has also had to deal with Jeff's bipolar illness, which manifests itself from time to time in florid psychosis. Betsy has had to warn group-home staff that they can't assume Jeff will be sane at any given time."
This passage appears in Solomon's latest book, Far From the Tree, which has received favorable reviews in, among other places, the New York Times and the New Yorker. The problem is, the passage doesn't square with what I know to be true about Jeff. But we'll let Jeff explain:

National Book Award winner Andrew Solomon writes this about me in Far From the Tree, a book blurbed by Bill Clinton. He is discussing my ex-wife, Elizabeth Burns', and my relationship with our profoundly autistic daughter. Solomon cannot possibly have anything other than an ex-spouse's hearsay evidence for this extreme statement, because I have never been diagnosed as psychotic at all—not even close.

In fact, I almost solely supported my family financially and emotionally for the 20 years of my marriage. If you need evidence, I would be happy to provide it to you. Andrew didn't even bother to ask.

There's more, a lot more, at the link. I suggest you read it all.

I've met Betsy, but I don't know her well. I do know that there was more than a little contentiousness involved in her marriage to Jeff and its subsequent dissolution. And, as I said earlier, Jeff is my friend so I have a dog in this fight. I am not unbiased in this matter. Not in the least.

What I do know is this -- when a writer makes a claim of this importance in a book that is certain to reach a large audience, it would be a very good thing to get the other side. Solomon, for whatever reason, did not choose to do so in this instance. And as a result, he's wronged Jeff in a profound way. And the larger lesson? Do not assume that what you read is accurate, even if the author wins National Book Awards. Most narratives have a counter-narrative.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

They're so perky. I love that.

If you are a fan of the movie "The Princess Bride," you'll love this:

Has it got any sports in it?


Yes, people do respond to incentives. Especially people with the means to respond:

Fearing an increase in capital gains and dividend taxes, many of the rich are unloading stocks, businesses and homes before the end of the year.

Wealth advisors say that with capital-gains taxes potentially going to 25 percent from 15 percent, and other possible increases in the dividend tax, estate tax and other taxes, many clients are selling now to save millions in taxes.

“Under almost any scenario, it makes sense to take the gains this year,” said Gregory Curtis, chairman and managing director of Greycourt & Co. “Clients aren’t selling willy nilly. But if they can and they have a huge gain, they’re selling now.”
You and I can't do that, of course, as the invaluable John Hayward points out:

The great asset sell-off also illustrates a lesson that class warriors have always been slow to learn.  The wealthy are not only different from middle-income Americans in terms of the money in their wallets.  The more dramatic difference is that the wealthy have far more options for responding to government policies, particularly taxes and regulation, than the rest of us do.  Middle-class people cannot dramatically re-arrange their lives in response to tax increases.  They have to make do with less, of course, but that’s not the same thing – it’s a response to changing conditions, not a deliberate strategy chosen from among many options.

But people who own a large amount of tangible assets and stocks can take deliberate steps to minimize their exposure to tax increases.  At the higher levels, and in response to the most dreadful government policies, they have realistic options for leaving the United States altogether, or at least moving their assets overseas.  These avoidance strategies, as you can see right now, are less economically productive than what wealthy investors and their asset managers would prefer to do with their money.  They are far better investors than the architects of the Solyndra debacle.  Their expenses and investments produce more stable, healthy jobs than central government planning does.

Emphasis in original I would differ with Hayward on one point -- class warriors never learn this lesson. While we won't know if tax rates on "the rich" will be going up for a while, the amount of revenue that these tax rates delivers will not be commensurate with what is needed to solve the deficit problems we face. And as always, we'll be told that the results are "unexpected."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Today's Funhouse Update

So far in the l'affaire Petraeus, we have the involvement of two generals and at least three women. Why not add a couple of senators, too:

Both Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. John Allen intervened in the same nasty child custody battle involving Natalie Khawam, the “psychologically unstable” twin sister of Jill Kelley, whose bombshell claims of being threatened by Petraeus' lover led to the top spy’s resignation last week, the Post has learned.

Allen, the four-star general top commander in Afghanistan, was revealed last night to have exchanged thousands of pages of of emails with Kelley, who went to the feds after receiving threatening e-mails from Paula Broadwell, the married mistress of Petraeus.

A judge noted in the file that Khawam "has attached letters from Gen. David H. Petraeus averring to her ability to appropriately parent the child, and is prepared to present corroborating testimony at trial."

And in court documents filed by Kelley's sister Natalie Khawam, she name-drops both Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island -- who both have ties to a Providence, RI, lawyer/Democratic fundraiser who loaned a whopping $300,000 to Khawam.
If some of the underlying issues weren't so serious, the whole thing would be hilarious, so farcical has everything become. To move along the narrative, let's guess who is going to be the next person implicated. Time for a poll:

Who should be the next person implicated in the Petraeus scandal? free polls 

Back to the Vaseline Dome

You might remember the mighty, titanic struggle that Mark Dayton waged on behalf of the People, in order that he might spend at least half a billion dollars we don't have to build Zygmunt Wilf and his associates a new pleasure palace. It was in all the papers.

Now the Governor is apparently upset with the Vikings for acting like all NFL teams act:
Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday threatened to undo the historic and hard-fought deal to build a new Minnesota Vikings stadium if team owners insist on passing on to fans a portion of the team's share of the $975 million cost.

In a sternly worded letter to the team owners, the governor objected to a proposal to charge seat-licensing fees in exchange for premier seating choices, a move that could mean big-spenders boot longtime season-ticket holders to less desirable seats.

Fans of average means supported the stadium, "not just rich Minnesotans, because they believed the Vikings are also their team," Dayton wrote. "If a new stadium were to betray that trust, it would be better that it not be built." Dayton said he could urge lawmakers to open the contract to remove the option of seat licenses.
It's hardly surprising that the Vikings were quick to remind Dayton that he and his legislative pals gave the Vikings Wilf a green light to pursue seat licenses:
The team owners stood their ground on the issue, saying that seat licensing was included in the final agreement passed by the Legislature.

"Stadium builder's licenses were vetted by the Legislature, testified to by Vikings and state of Minnesota negotiators, and most importantly, specifically reflected in the stadium legislation that was passed and signed by the governor," the team said.
How do I put this? I'm going to try to be as delicate as possible. Mark Dayton is a moron. It gets worse, of course:
The stadium financing legislation approved last spring stipulates that revenue generated from the seat licenses would go toward the Vikings' share of the construction cost. The state and city of Minneapolis are contributing $498 million to stadium construction, with the team picking up the remainder through an NFL loan, stadium naming rights, sponsorships and, possibly, licensing fees.
Emphasis mine. A lot of us tried to explain this to anyone who would listen, not that anyone was listening. The game has always been this -- the NFL business model is that the teams get new stadiums without, whenever possible, having skin in the game. And it doesn't matter what Dayton thinks now -- this has always been the deal. If the Vikings Wilfs had any real responsibility for the cost of their new pleasure dome, the deal would not have been done.

What's even more pathetic? Consider this statement from our shrewd negotiator:
Dayton told the Wilfs in his letter that, "I am greatly distressed by these developments and the future they portend. We negotiated in good faith. Not surprisingly, given the project's magnitude and complexity, some details were not fully understood and some differences still remain. They must be resolved consistent with Minnesota standards and values."
Again, emphasis mine. You have to love the passive voice in that statement. "Some details were not fully understood," huh? Not to put too fine a point on it, but it's your responsibility to know what's in an agreement before you sign it, Governor. You were had, huh? Governor Mark is an easy mark, apparently.

Meanwhile, Dayton is back to the one thing that's always been a hallmark of his career -- grandstanding.
"I strongly oppose shifting any part of the team's responsibility for those costs onto Minnesota Vikings fans," Dayton wrote in his letter to Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf. "This private contribution is your responsibility. Not theirs. I said this new stadium would be a 'People's Stadium,' not a 'Rich People's Stadium.' I meant it then, and I mean it now."
Let's cut to the chase here. No one, least of all the Wilfs, gives a flying fig what you meant, then or now. The deal is in place and you signed it into law, Governor. They saw you coming a mile away.