Thursday, December 28, 2006

Cover letter

As I’ve continued slogging through what is becoming an interminable job search, I have written hundreds of cover letters. Each time I’ve patiently explained how my wide array of skills and my towering intellect would make me an ideal fit for their particular company, whether they purvey widgets, financial services, intellectual property or snappy repartee. Some of these letters have merited a response; far too many others have likely never been read by human eyes.

I will continue to keep writing cover letters until I have latched on somewhere, but it won’t be pleasant. I’ve always been more comfortable writing about other people than I am about myself. While I have my introspective moments, I’m a lot more interested in the people in my life than I am in myself. Every day I make it a point to tell my wife and my kids how lucky I am that they are in my life, even if I’m temporarily frustrated or irritated with their behavior. The people in your life and the experiences you share with them are what give life meaning, not the material possessions you happen to acquire as you pass through your limited earthly leasehold. At this late date my wife and I have not acquired a cell phone, or an iPod, or a wireless internet connection, or digital cable television. We don’t have a television in every room. We don’t drive fancy cars. Our kids have plenty of toys, but with the exception of my son’s Game Boy, the toys aren’t especially high tech. But we haven’t really missed these things.

What has mattered this year, and will matter next year and every year thereafter, are the opportunities and experiences we have as a family. I’ll remember the image of Ben standing on the pitcher’s mound, with a facial expression simultaneously exhibiting glee and terror, as he faced other kids wielding baseball bats for the first time. I’ll remember the image of Maria, contorting her face into a mask of determination, letting out a high-pitched yelp as she smacked the baseball from the tee using a bright red metallic baseball bat. I’ll remember the smiles of the kids as they clambered up the model grain elevator at the Minnesota History Center, or gazing in wonder at the enormous, room sized geometric paintings displayed at the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts. I’ll remember the uncontrolled giggles at the breakfast table as Ben and Maria attempted to recreate the repartee of Groucho Marx and Margaret Dumont that they had seen the night before. And I’ll remember the beatific smile of my wonderful wife as she watched our children cavort.

Our current circumstances are temporary. Things will get better. But while it would be easy to see our circumstances as straitened because of our current financial worries, it would be wrong. I remain optimistic precisely because 2006 has been, in its own way, a very good year.

Funky President

Death often comes in odd, random pairings. Elvis Presley and Groucho Marx, two entertainers who changed American popular culture in very different ways, both left this earth the same August week in 1977. Now we have the odd pairing of James Brown and Gerald Ford, who have died on consecutive days this week.

James Brown is a Rosetta Stone for popular culture. His impact, although often unstated, is simply enormous. I have seen it argued that Brown was a more important figure than Presley in understanding the history of rock and roll, and of popular music in the second half of the 20th Century. I think the argument is compelling. From the initial success of his conventional, but remarkable, initial hit “Please, Please, Please” back in 1956, through his string of classics in the 1960s, Brown’s sense of rhythm and his amazing showmanship were used, mimicked and consistently recycled to this day. Brown had a rough-edged singing voice; he was not a smoothie like Nat Cole or Sam Cooke or even Chuck Berry. While he could carry a tune, his raspy, throaty voice was itself a rhythm instrument, often substituting grunts, shouts or chants for words. Every aspiring singer since has probably uttered a resounding “Huh!” or “Good God!” at least once or twice. But it was as a bandleader and arranger that Brown really changed everything. As he famously shouted, he liked to “give the drummer some.” He understood how the beat moved the music and he was a genius at devising rhythm tracks and horn arrangements that could move you. He found incredible players and used them in his various bands, including such giants as bassist Bootsy Collins and horn man Maceo Parker, to name just two. And once James Brown hit the stage, you’d understand why he could accurately claim to be “the hardest working man in show business.” No one could dance and sing like James Brown. His stamina was unbelievable. It is impossible to imagine the glories of 70s R&B, the excesses of the disco era, and the 25+ year phenomenon known as hip hop, without coming to terms with James Brown. His beats, his dance moves and his vision were integral to all of them. Today you see Brown’s influence every time the elderly Mick Jagger mounts the stage, some 40 years after he first watched Brown in admiration from the wings during the T.A.M.I Show. Like many musicians, Brown had a troubled past and he had a tendency to run afoul of the law throughout his life. But if you ask anyone from George Clinton through Prince to Chuck D and Diddy (or whatever the heck he goes by these days), they’ll all tell you the same thing – James Brown made a lot of what they did possible. James Brown is, in many ways, why American music sounds the way it does today.

Then there’s Gerald Ford, our nation’s only unelected president, who died last night at the age of 93. I think the key to understanding President Ford is to understand the role that dignity played in his life. Ford was, above all else, a very dignified man. When an embattled Richard Nixon plucked Ford from the House of Representatives in 1973 to replace Spiro Agnew, it became clear that this man would be a crucial figure in our nation’s history. Nixon had a variety of options available to him, but in picking Ford he found a comforting, establishment figure who had earned the respect and trust of nearly everyone in Washington. It’s easy to forget, more than 30 years on, the nastiness that accompanied our politics in that era. The lingering bitterness in the aftermath of Vietnam and the inconclusive political dénouement of the 1960s meant that, for many citizens, there was a lot of uncertainty. Ford was a solid figure, a moderate Republican who was civil, decent and respected. In short, he was dignified in a way that the brilliant, villainous Nixon could never be. Most Americans were tired of the high drama of the Nixon administration and the ongoing civics seminar that was going on in Washington as Nixon inevitably lost his grip on the office. Ford wasn’t like that; he looked an acted like a President. He was the right man for the times.

But the irony was how his personal dignity worked against him while in office. Ford became a figure of ridicule because of a few clumsy moments and became the butt of jokes because he fell down the stairs, bumped his head, struck a wild golf shot or two. Chevy Chase owes his career to Ford, to name just one example. For some, Ford’s stolid, solid persona became yet another pasteboard mask, easily shattered with all cameras trained on him. It’s also easy to forget that Ford encountered two would-be assassins during his brief tenure. Ford survived the attacks, but he could not survive the challenge of Jimmy Carter, an ambitious former governor of Georgia who narrowly defeated Ford in the 1976 election.

Ford’s greatest controversy was his pardon of Nixon late in 1974. I was a kid at the time, but as the years have progressed it has been pretty obvious that Ford made the right decision. Nixon was in ill health after he left office and was actually near death for a time. As it turned out, by pardoning Nixon Ford likely saved his life. Nixon used his post-presidential years well, writing a variety of magisterial works that have been a valuable addition to the country’s understanding of statecraft. While there was a great desire for vengeance for Nixon among some of the more animated partisans of the American left, it’s difficult to see what criminal trials would have accomplished. Besides which, Ford had a lot of other things to deal with in that momentous era.

There has been a tendency among some ex-presidents to remain in the fray after they left office. Carter and Bill Clinton have been ferocious partisans since they left office. Ford was always available to help, but he did not seek the spotlight. There’s great debate about which approach is better; in many ways, Carter has been a significantly more consequential figure (for good and ill) as an ex-president than he was as a president. Bill Clinton has made a career, and a huge fortune, giving high-dollar speeches to non-threatening (i.e, limousine liberal) audiences. George H.W. Bush has generally followed Ford’s approach and has largely stayed in the shadows. Because Ford and GWHB have reacted this way, the commentariat has tended to look at both of their respective presidencies in a more favorable way. Now that Ford has left the stage, look for his legacy to grow in luster.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


We were back in my hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin for the Christmas weekend. We stayed with my brother Paul and his lovely family. Paul and Heidi moved back to Appleton a little less than two years ago and their home has become the center of family activity for my clan; as most readers of this feature know, my parents are both deceased and the six of us children try to get together at least once each year. We spent most of the time doing family things, including the orgy of present opening that the various children of our clan put on in my brother’s living room, but I want to talk a little bit today about Appleton itself.

When I was growing up, it often seemed like the larger world didn’t have a lot of effect on Appleton. While there have always been people of wit and sophistication in Appleton, it was a typically Midwestern town, more prosperous than many because its major industry, paper making, is essentially recession proof. It was a comforting place to grow up, but I always was quite eager to get out of there as soon as I could. Like many sons of a small town, I saw a big ol’ world out there and I was eager to swim in a bigger pond.

When you enter the city limits of Appleton, the sign tells you that over 72,000 people live there now. That number is deceptive, though – Appleton and the surrounding towns that comprise the Fox Cities are now home to over a half million people. As you swing around the highways on the outskirts of town, the signage of nearly every major retailer is easy to spot. The main streets are filled with small businesses, office parks and sturdy manufacturing plants. The well-kept houses, once confined to small lots in an area about four miles square, now spread out far into Outagamie, Calumet and Winnebago Counties. New highways criss-cross the area, and old highways now have new names. Places that were corn fields less than five years ago are now covered with development of all sorts.

I have lived in a major metropolitan area for most of my adult life now. Jill and I are raising our family in the comfortable suburbs of the Twin Cities. I love where I live and am happy we are here, but when I go back home it becomes increasingly clear that the big ol’ world I sought is now available in the town I left some 25 years ago.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Boring? You call a 9-7 game boring?

If you didn't have a rooting interest in the outcome, it's easy to see how the 9-7 victory of my beloved Packers over the Vikings would seem to have been a boring game. I have a rooting interest, of course, but the game was fascinating for a lot of reasons.

  • First, the progress of the rookie coaches. When the season began, there was considerable skepticism concerning the hiring of Mike McCarthy to be the new coach in Green Bay. Brad Childress, the Viking head coach, was supposed to have interviewed in Green Bay but the Vikings essentially made him a hostage until he signed with them. It's funny how things work out. On paper, it appeared that the Pack, with inferior talent and a publicly diffident icon at the helm of the team, looked like a tough place to be, especially given the expectations that Packer Backers now have. The Vikings were a 9-7 team last year and were showing signs of improvement under Mike Tice, the rambunctious New Yorker who was run out of town in favor of Childress. Now, the Vikes are 6-9, with the worst offense in the history of the franchise. Meanwhile, the young and modestly talented Packers are 7-8 and still have an outside chance of making the playoffs. I publicly questioned the hiring of McCarthy in this space. Looks like I was wrong and I am delighted to be wrong. Advantage, Mike McCarthy.
  • Second, defensive struggles can be fascinating. Since I live in Minnesota, I see a lot of the Purple Helmeted Love Warriors and it has been a treat to watch their defense this year. The two behemoths in the middle of the defensive line, Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, are exceptionally talented players. In Antoine Winfield, they have one of the most fearless football players I have ever seen. Even their linebackers, who were viewed with great suspicion prior to the season, have performed beautifully most of the season. The reason the Packers only scored 9 points last night is that it was damned difficult to move the ball on the Viking defense.
  • Third, there's a good open question regarding the other side of the ball. The Packers defense began the year looking absolutely horrible and have had some really bad games against teams like the Patriots and the Jets. But the defense played magnificently against the Vikes, holding them to only 104 total yards and an astonishing 3 first downs. You can make a good argument that the Packers defense has improved a heck of a lot over the course of the season. Aaron Kampman in particular has made himself into a star and it is clear that A. J. Hawk is going to be very good, maybe even Jack Ham good. But you'd also have to look at how terrible the Vikings offense is. Tarvaris Jackson looks like he has some talent, but he was on an incredibly short leash last night. The days when the Vikings would throw the bomb are long gone now. Their receiving corps has been dismal all season and showed almost nothing against the aggressive Packer defensive backs. Troy Williamson is clearly a bust and the Vikings seem to have no idea what to do with the rest of their wideouts. Marcus Robinson has been a very productive player at times in his career, but he was a spectator yesterday.

Conclusions? I'd say this. The Packers are coming along in their rebuilding. The Vikings didn't think they were rebuilding, but they are now. And it's going to be interesting if they can hold that defense together long enough for the offense to catch up. Some of the key players are getting pretty old. All told, I'd rather be a Packer fan than a Viking fan right now. Luckily, I am.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Basketball Jones

We’re busy as can be these days and so I haven’t had time to post anything for the past few days. Here’s a few updates on matters of concern to this feature:

First, Ben’s mighty Team 4 squad (henceforth known as the Red Scourges) played much better on Saturday, losing to hated rival Team 3 (henceforth known as Purple Haze) by a score of 54-32. Ben did not score in the game but played very good defense, grabbed a few rebounds and had at least two assists that I counted. He also managed to foul a Purple Haze player without causing a bench-clearing brawl (more on that in a moment). More importantly, our mighty Scourges did not fold under full court pressure. You can see that the kids learned something from the fearsome thrashing they took from Team 2 (henceforth known as Yellow Rain) last week. The team is now off for the holidays and will retake the court on January 6 against Team 5 (henceforth known as the St. Anthony B Team).

Second, the college basketball season is off to a rollicking start. We’re seeing some very exciting Division I basketball this season, including excellent performances from my beloved Badgers and my equally beloved Marquette Warriors. I know, they changed their name to Golden Weasels or something like that about a decade ago, but they will always be the Warriors to me. The Badgers had an impressive home victory over Pittsburgh over the weekend and Alando Tucker & co. now have two pretty impressive Big East scalps on the wall. Meanwhile, Marquette has played very well and is the only team to defeat Duke thus far. You have to love Division I basketball. We can only hope that someday we can see Division I basketball here in Minnesota.

Third, since just about every pundit on the planet has weighed in on the Knicks-Nuggets brawl from last weekend, why not add my two cents? I think that the NBA does have an image problem because of things like this, but I think there’s a larger concern that transcends the NBA, which is the boneheaded machismo that surrounds the concept of “respect,” or more importantly, “disrespect.” Too often we see people resort to violence at the slightest perception of an insult, or a “dis.” The Knicks are a terrible team and it was obvious that Isiah Thomas, the NBA great who is incredibly miscast as coach/majordomo of the New Yorkers, ordered a hard foul because of a perceived slight. Thomas is now pushing 50; it’s long past time that he grow up.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Never again?

Anti-Semitism sure seems to be in vogue again. What we're witnessing right now, all over the world, is pretty chilling. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad just finished his Holocaust Denier's Conference in Tehran, featuring the deep thoughts of luminaries like David Duke, while he continues to openly muse about wiping Israel off the map. Jimmy Carter, who at one point apparently was President of the United States, has a book out that compares Israel's attempts at self-defense to apartheid. The instant-classic "Baker Hamilton Report" casts numerous aspersions against Israel.

But of course one can oppose Israel without being an Anti-Semite, right? Maybe. But I doubt it. We have seen many horrible things happen in the previous century. Horrible things are happening now. And you can hear the sounds of knives being sharpened.

Never again may have a shelf life. And it could be soon. Unless we start to pay attention.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Happy Birthday Mr. Dilettante

This blog is now one year old. Funny how quickly a year slips by. According to my records, this post is the 293rd time I've shared my limited wisdom with cyberspace. So, a few quick thoughts and predictions for Mr. Dilettante, Year Deux.

  • I continue to say that I'm going to write less about politics, even as I continue to wade into the cesspool. The good news is that 2007 is an "off year," so there may be less to say. I hope so. But don't count on it.
  • I hope to write more about music in 2007. I don't have a lot to say about the current music scene, since I don't have the patience to sort out Jay-Z from Diddy from Fast Ball from Smash Mouth from Big Fat Something featuring Ludacris and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. But I love music and I can wax nostalgic like the coot I am about past glories. Expect more of that in 2007.
  • I also enjoy chornicling the kids' athletic exploits in this space. Expect to see more of that in 2007.
  • Finally, I want to do more writing about the arts, literature and the like. Some of my favorite posts have been ones where I've tried to do something weird, like linking the death of Kirby Puckett to the poetry of William Butler Yeats. I still don't know why I did that, but it worked. Don't be surprised to see more ricochets of that sort in the coming year.

Thanks to all of you who read and comment on this blog. I'm glad to have the opportunity to write and appreciate your praise and brickbats.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Artose Pinner and Paddlefoot

A few quick thoughts on the sports over the weekend:

  • The Detroit Lions are still chicken soup. It is amazing how a trip to Detroit can cure your ills if you are a National Football League team. The Lions, once an employer of the legendary running back Artose Pinner, allowed ol Artose (pronounced ar-TOOZ) to run wild over Ford Field for well over 100 yards and three touchdowns as the Purple Helmeted Love Warriors won 30-20. Pinner has played in the league three years without doing much other than having the coolest first name since former 70s era Saints Bivian Lee and D'Artagnan Martin. Good for him, though - I didn't catch what Chris Berman called him but I'm hoping it was Artose-Latrec Pinner. That's my humble suggestion.
  • The Pack wasn't on here in Twinstown so I didn't get to see it, but Brett Favre is now an amazing 11-1 against the 49ers after leading the Packers to a 30-19 win. Favre's only loss (in the 1998 playoffs) still should have an asterisk, as Jerry Rice had clearly fumbled the ball on the drive prior to Steve Young's game-winner to Terrell Owens. Under the current rules, the Packers would have won that one. But no worries - the Pack has played very well on the road this year, with a 4-3 record. Now, if they can only figure out what the heck is wrong with them at Lambeau, they may have something. Luckily, the Lions are coming to Green Bay this week. Mmmm, chicken soup.
  • I saw the second half of the Wisconsin-Marquette basketball team and was impressed with both teams. Marquette has some impressive talent on their team, especially their 3-guard attack. It wasn't enough to stop Alando Tucker, who is an amazing player/scorer. His game is very different from Adrian Dantley, but I keep thinking of Dantley when I watch Tucker play. He just knows how to score. I haven't seen Ohio State yet, but it's difficult to imagine that too many other teams in the Big Ten will be able to beat the Badgers this year. And I wouldn't give up on MU, either -- guard-oriented teams often do especially well in the NCAA tournament, and the Warriors will be there. Oops, can't call them that. Old habits die hard....
  • So the rumors keep flying that some combination of Allen Iverson and/or Bob Knight are coming to town to rescue us from our basketball torpor. I hope not, especially AI. Word is that the Woofies would have to give up Randy Foye as part of the deal. That would be a big mistake. If they can ship out Mike James, Troy Hudson and Rashard McCants, do it. But Foye is going to be a very good player in this league and you want to see him do that here. As for Knight, well, let's just say that his act wore thin a long time ago. The Gophs need to do something, but that's not it.

What do you gain when you lose 70-6?

My son’s basketball squad (Team 4, the "Red team") is not exactly tearing it up right now. They are now 0-5, completing a cycle of futility after the dreaded Team 2 (a/k/a the Gold team) edged them by the score of 70-6 on Saturday at lovely Highview Middle School. As the carnage ensued, I was reminded of the scene in Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life” when the teachers at the prep school played rugby against their young students, cheerfully drubbing them and leaving the kids a battered, muddy pulp. It was kinda like that on Saturday.

But what can we learn from losing 70-6? More than a few things, I think.

First, there are times in life where you are going to lose, no matter what you do. We knew as coaches that our team, which features a few kids who have never played organized basketball before (and based on the evidence, still haven’t despite our modest coaching efforts), had no shot. For some reason, the grandees who run the program didn’t consider the wisdom of balancing the teams. Our inexperienced 5th graders were playing a team that was filled with experienced, talented 6th graders. The result was unsurprising. Ben is one of the more experienced kids on our team. He is not a big kid, though – about 4-8 and less than 80 pounds. He knew what was coming but he didn’t have the physical skills to deal with bigger, faster, more aggressive kids. And some of our kids are less physically equipped than Ben.

Second, you can learn from adversity if you are willing to. Our opponents, for whatever reason, did not decide to show our kids any mercy. They sat in a half court trap defense and whenever our kids tried to cross the half court line, simply trapped our kids, overpowered our slightly built guards, stole the ball and drove in for a usually uncontested layup. It happened over and over. We tried the usual coaching techniques – spreading the floor, having different kids bring the ball up, keeping someone back, but none of it seemed to matter. But we’ll be able to use what happened to help the kids understand what happened in the next practice.

Third, you can learn sportsmanship. The coaches of the other team are high school kids and I think that’s why they didn’t call off the dogs. They have not learned from Shakespeare that the quality of mercy is not stern. In fact, the most obvious literary comparison would be “Lord of the Flies.” But the kids on Team 2 knew what had happened and they did not celebrate their win. They sensed that what happened was not a happy event. That gives me a lot of hope, because kids can be cruel. These kids were not cruel. They were simply very good.

And our kids can get better. As the game went on, we started to see a little more fight in a number of kids. Even when you are getting beaten badly, we do tend to “play up” to the level of competition. And after a while the kids did. Ben fought hard, got some rebounds and even forced a few turnovers. As a parent, I’m less concerned with the results than I am with the effort. Ben gave a great effort on Saturday.

Meanwhile, we’ll practice on Thursday and the kids will play again on Saturday. My guess is that they will play much better.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Georgie, Talk to Teheran

Back in the early part of Prince's career, he primarily spent his time singing about sex. In fact, his first 3-4 albums are almost encyclopedic on the topic. But, every once in a while, he decided to throw in a ditty about the world. One song he wrote was titled "Ronnie, Talk to Russia." This was an unsolicited opinion directed at the then-occupant of the White House, similar in some respects to the Beat's famous "Stand Down Margaret" ditty, which politely asked Margaret Thatcher to take leave of 10 Downing Street.

As I think about today's release from the Iraq Study Group and the well-trumpeted recommendations contained therein, my mind goes back to those now mostly-forgotten early 80s pronuciamentos. Both were unwelcome, unworkable and ultimately petulant. In some respects, so is the report from the Iraq Study Group.

I'm not sure what good talking to the Iranians and/or the Syrians will do. Words typically do not impress governments that rule by force; they respond much better to action. I can't remember a time in recent history where diplomacy made a difference in the behavior of a country ruled by despots. Yet the recommendations continue to come - we need to talk to them. We need to understand their needs. We need to be open to dialogue.

Hell's bells, people. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad considers you an infidel. There's no room to negotiate on this stuff. The only thing you can negotiate with this man is the terms of your surrender. And the terms will be his terms.

Entrepreneurs take note - the market for burqas should be pretty good. Now is the time to switch to textiles....

Monday, December 04, 2006

Hoops at various levels

Let's talk basketball.

  • First, we'll discuss the mighty Team 4 of the Irondale Basketball Association in-house 5-6 grade program. That would be my son's squad, which now stands at 0-4 following a 40-32 loss to mighty Team 1. The kids played better on Saturday and Ben got on the board, making a free throw. It's fun to watch the kids play, although they continue to struggle. I think we'll see them win at least one game this season, but they need more experience. They are getting it the hard way now. But hope springs eternal.
  • Meanwhile, there's an even more desperate team in the Twin Cities, the not-so-mighty Minnesota Golden Gophers, who have lost to the likes of Marist, Montana and (gulp) Winona State so far this year. These accumulated outrages were enough to cost Dan Monson his job. Monson has been trying to clean the Augean stables for seven years following the academic scandal that chased Clem Haskins out of town. Monson ran a clean program, but he could not effectively recruit the talent necessary to compete in the Big Ten, which has become an even tougher league than it used to be. Jim Molinari, Monson's top assistant, gets to coach the Gophs for the remainder of the season. Molinari was successful at the mid-major level, leading competitive squads at both Northern Illinois and Bradley, but he doesn't have a lot to work with, and he won't get much time either. You can win at Minnesota, but it's going to take better institutional support and someone who can recruit well to do it. I'm not sure Molinari is that guy.
  • Steve Aschburner's Sunday feature in the Star Tribune made note of an interesting phenomenon - the Kevin Garnett sympathy meme. Apparently it's a horrible shame that Kevin Garnett, who has soldiered on for the Timberwolves since 1995, is now in danger of going throughout his career without having a chance to win a championship. This is silly, of course - Garnett has been fabulously well compensated for his labors and while he is probably one of the 50 best players in the history of the NBA, he has not been able to exert enough leadership to get his squads to the top. I appreciate KG and have enjoyed watching him, but I don't think there's any reason to feel sorry for him.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Pabst Blue Ribbon Commission

Dialogue from the movie “Blue Velvet”

Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper): “So, what kind of beer do you like, neighbor?”
Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle Mac Lachlan): “Heineken.”
Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper): “Heineken? #@)% that @(%! Pabst Blue Ribbon!”

When I think about the recommendations that are leaking out from James Baker’s latest blue ribbon commission concerning what to do next in Iraq, I can’t help but think of the above exchange. While I’m not sure that taking the profane advice of the sexually psychopathic character that Dennis Hopper plays in this movie is the right idea, I do admire the plain speaking involved. One of the central conceits currently on display in official Washington is that, because the Iraq War continues to be a slog, the current occupant of the White House needs to call in his father’s old pals to set a new course. Lately any number of old hands has weighed in, including James Baker, Bush family consigliore and majordomo; Lee Hamilton, the face of “moderate Democrats”; and even Henry Kissinger, apostle of Realpolitik and architect of the disastrous foreign policy of the 1970s. They’ve all been in meetings, dusting off the position papers and cranking up their think tanks and armies of acolytes. And now comes the Big Idea. Are you ready?

Phased withdrawal.
Talk to Syria and Iran.
Lather, rinse, repeat.

Just a few questions, before we adopt this bold new strategy:

Does talking to Syria and Iran confer legitimacy on the governments they have?
Absent a threat, what leverage do we have with either country?
If we talk to Syria and Iran, why don’t we talk to Al-Qaida?

The James Bakers and Henry Kissingers of the world put great faith in talking, because that is what they do. Butter churn manufacturers were quite certain of the efficacy of their products as well. Somehow, talking doesn’t seem to do much.

That’s why I am calling on the valiant readership of this blog to join me on the Pabst Blue Ribbon Commission. I am currently soliciting ideas for What We Do Now, in Iraq and elsewhere. I figure that any recommendations we come up with will be at least as good as what the Fabulous Baker Boys have come up with. And if you want to use lively Anglo-Saxon words like Frank Booth, I’ll even let that slide. But if you bring in a tank full of laughing gas, you’re outta here. And stay away from Isabella Rossellini, okay? The floor is open.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


I’ve had to write about death a lot this year. Usually, it has been my experience that I will need to deal with the death of 1 or 2 people that are part of my life in a given year. This year has been different – I’ve seen a lot of people that I know, or who are important to people I know, pass from the scene. I sense that we’ve been at the crossroads a lot this year, watching the hearse go by.

Over the last week we’ve seen two more people leave. I did not know either individual, but both stories deserve a few lines. The first is the death of the grandmother of my daughter’s best friend. This lady, who was 66 at the time of her passing, was a gentle soul who had endured a number of health issues over the past decade. Things have been difficult for the family of my daughter’s friend – they have a severely autistic son who has been increasingly difficult to care for and they have had to deal with a number of other health and family issues prior to this. Jill and the mother of Maria’s friend have become friends as well and I have been impressed with this woman, who is a friendly, smart, organized and sensible soul. They have been through a lot as a family.

Meanwhile, we received news that the infant son of our church’s youth minister died on Sunday. This young couple came to St. John’s a few years ago and they have done a nice job creating a vibrant organization for the kids of the parish. They had struggled to have a child and finally were able to bring home their son earlier this year. He became ill over the weekend and died after only three months of life. Losing a child is probably the toughest thing a couple can go through. Both of these families deserve your prayers.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Eagle sighting

Yesterday was unseasonably warm for Thanksgiving Day; in fact, it was a marvelous day, with a sunny sky and temperatures in the 50s. It was so nice that the kids and I retired to the back yard to play a little football. We were throwing the ball around when suddenly my daughter Maria exclaimed, "Hey Dad! Look! What is that bird? Is that a bald eagle?" High overhead we saw the unmistakable figure of a young American Bald Eagle, probably 175-200 feet overhead, soaring right over my property.

I turned to Maria and said, "Maria, you're right, that's a bald eagle! Ben, look!" Ben looked up and saw it, too. It was pretty neat. I had only seen one once before, soaring over the Mississippi River north of town. Eagles are incredibly majestic in flight and this eagle was no exception.

While you don't expect to see eagles flying over an inner-ring suburb, times are changing and the eagles are making a strong comeback from their status as an endangered species back in the 1970s. I grew up in a place where you rarely see wild animals, excepting the ubiquitous squirrels and chipmunks that live in the city. But in our yard, it is not unusual to see a small flock of ducks waddling around. Nature's creatures have learned to co-exist in the urban environment and that gives me a lot of hope. If ducks and eagles can adapt, we should be able to as well.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Let's hear it for the boy

I can hardly believe it, but today is my son’s eleventh birthday. Back in 1995, we had no idea who we were bringing home with us. Like most babies, ours was able to do only the most rudimentary things. But like a Polaroid picture, Ben began to come into focus. We started to see the bright brown eyes and the ready smile. We saw the enthusiastic temperament. We saw him go from crawling to running in what seemed like a day. And we’ve watched him sort through a thousand things he likes to do, from playing with trucks, to playing sports, to playing his Game Boy, always asking questions, always reading everything he can, always smiling.

So today, Ben is a bright-eyed fifth grader attending Valentine Hills Elementary School. Ben is active in Scouting and sports. He will collect about five merit badges at his Cub Scout meeting tonight, and will collect his Webelos Arrow of Light, the highest honor that a Cub Scout can earn, early in 2007. It is an award his father never won. Ben plays baseball and basketball with great enthusiasm and is a valued teammate who maximizes his talent. As he has been for his entire life, he is a bundle of enthusiasms and a child who brings great joy to every room he enters. His spirit is strong, his mind always active. And his father couldn’t be more proud.

Monday, November 20, 2006


I saw two beatdowns this weekend, one of which matters more than the other. First, the one that doesn't matter so much. The Packers were clobbered at Lambeau 35-0 by a vastly superior New England Patriot squad. The Pack wasn't likely to win this game anyway, but the magnitude of the loss was pretty depressing. Meanwhile, Brett Favre's streak may finally be coming to an end following an elbow injury he suffered just before halftime. Since backup Aaron Rodgers also was injured, we may be seeing the debut of Ingle Martin the next time the Pack takes the field. Who would have bet on Ingle Martin being the answer to a trivia question?

More important, and much closer to home, my son's basketball squad took a 50-12 thrashing at the hands of a St. Anthony squad in his Irondale Basketball Association game on Saturday. Ben's team is inexperienced and lacks aggressiveness. His mates have suffered through three consecutive beatdowns now, with an average score of about 45-14. Not what you want to experience. But hope arises, as his next game is against a team that is even less experienced than Ben's team. The game will be a week from Saturday at 9:45 a.m. at Highview Middle School in New Brighton. You won't want to miss it. Actually, you probably will want to miss it, but let's keep a brave face on these things. For what it's worth, Ben is playing pretty well, considering he's been mostly up against kids who are about three inches taller than he is, and (more importantly, especially at this level) about 25-30 pounds heavier.

Badgers get the BCS boot

If reports in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel are true, the Badgers could end up accepting a bid to the Capital One Bowl as early as today. That would represent a return to a bowl they were at last year, against a good SEC foe such as Florida, Arkansas or (most likely) LSU. The Badgers, because of a respectable loss to Michigan at Ann Arbor, are on the outside looking in, even though they have not lost another game this season.

The BCS is set up to reward the big conferences, but only up to a point. If a conference has 3 top programs, as the Big 10 does this year, only two can go. Meanwhile, a team like Boise State, which beats up on similarly sized schools on their odd blue field, might get a bid. It doesn't seem right.

The good news for the Badgers is that, if they win their Capital One Bowl game against a strong opponent, should have a chance for a Top 10 or even Top 5 finish in the final standings. But the problem remains - the Badgers won't really know whether this 11-1 team is a great one, or merely one that profited from a favorable schedule. It would take a playoff for that to happen, but there's no evidence that will take place any time soon.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Milt and Bo

There's a certain randomness to death. Famous people in varying roles die regularly, but often you see some interesting juxtapositions. I remember well a week in August, 1977, when we said goodbye to two very different American icons, Elvis Presley and Groucho Marx. Both geniuses, both sui generis.

This week we said goodbye to two very successful, but very different men. Milton Friedman, probably the most influential and consequential economist since Keynes, passed away on Thursday. Yesterday, Bo Schembechler, the longtime face of Michigan football, passed away on the eve of the one of the biggest games in Michigan history, their showdown with hated Ohio State.

What do they have in common? Not much, really, except for excellence. Friedman was the leading voice of free market economic theory during a time when such thinking was generally anathema in academe and in government. He spent most of his career swimming against a seemingly insurmountable tide of Keynesian economic theory. He had his acolytes, but they were generally a lonely bunch. History will record that he had one acolyte who mattered - Ronald Reagan. And Reagan, using Friedman's wisdom to a large degree, changed the way we think about the world. Even as the Democrats prepare to take power, they must account for Friedman's theories on monetary policy and the proper role of government.

Meanwhile, Bo brought Michigan back. It's easy to forget, and I only know this from research as I am too young to remember this, but the Wolverines were a dynasty in ruins in the 1960s, much like the New York Yankees were at that same time. Bo rebuilt the program and Michigan has been a standard for excellence ever since, dominating the Big Ten for most of the past 40 years, generally in tandem with Ohio State. We will celebrate this rivalry again today, but Bo's presence will be stronger in death than it might have been in any other way. Keith Jackson, the famed announcer, called the timing of Schembechler's death "spooky." It may be the hand of Fate. Anyway, it really adds a twist to a game that already had a surfeit of subplots.

RIP, gentlemen.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Doing the math on Minnesota test scores

Interesting headlines in the local papers about test scores. Since the math standards were tightened in the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) tests, scores for many Minnesota schools dropped precipitously, especially at the high school level. There is some cause for alarm, although it's really not fair to make a year-to-year comparison, since the test material changed. What is most alarming, however, is that the poor performance is widespread.

At least in theory, math education should be pretty similar no matter where you are; cultural and language barriers that would clearly affect verbal scores should not be as large a consideration when mathematics are tested. Math scores should be objective. Based on the news reports, many of the scores, especially the alarming high school scores, represent that students are not being taught certain things that appear on the test. Kids must learn math, and learn it well, to compete in the world. And if that means more math instruction, so be it. As an English major who has had to rely on math skills throughout most of my adult life, I understand this problem especially well. Math is not optional.

The Stupid Party

If you ever wondered why the GOP is sometimes referred to as “The Stupid Party,” it provided another example today. For reasons that defy any rational explanation, Republican senators today selected Trent Lott to a leadership position. Lott was sent to the backbench after he made foolish comments at Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday celebration. Was that offense petty? Yes. Should it be a political hanging offense? Probably not. Should he be in the leadership? No. Once he received the reputation as a segregationist, he was permanently tainted. It doesn’t matter whether or not the charges are fair or not. There are other Senators who would be equally effective in a leadership post.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Joe Kobylka, RIP

Sad news from Beloit College today – Joe Kobylka, the long-time director of the Alumni Association, passed away at the age of 77. Many years ago, I worked closely with Joe during my short tenure as sports information director at Beloit College.

Here’s the official announcement from the College:

The only nickname that seemed broad enough to describe Joe Kobylka’s many contributions to the College was “Mr. Beloit.” A journalist who started his career on the staff of the Round Table, he chronicled Beloit’s history as a local reporter before joining Beloit College to direct the Alumni Office in 1966. Over the course of nearly three decades, Joe came to symbolize the friendly face of the College to the alumni community. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of every College event and graduate of most of the last century, and he was singularly adept at making everyone feel welcome. Joe is survived by his wife, Faith Kellogg Kobylka '54, two sons, Joe '78 and Rich '82, and a daughter, Sandy '87, and seven grandchildren.

That’s a brief assessment, but it hardly begins to express how important a figure Joe was. Joe was a leader, an always-approachable figure who always knew the right answer, and a mentor who cared deeply about the College and all who are associated with it. I turned to Joe countless times during my Beloit years, both as a student journalist and as a staff member, and I always knew he would be able to help me get an answer or provide a worthwhile insight. You meet some special people in your life and you have to appreciate them, because they do go away. Thank you, Joe, for your kindness, your wisdom, and your example.

The new leadership, wheeled in on casters

One of the most amusing things about the aftermath of the election is seeing the ancient liberals who are now getting ready to take over leadership on Capitol Hill. One picture I saw featured two fossilized Michiganders, Sen. Carl Levin (b. 1934) and Rep. John Dingell (b. 1926), appearing to hold each other up as they celebrated their great fortune. The ascension of folks like Levin and Dingell may represent many things, but a fresh start is not one of them.

Visuals do matter and the Democrats are going to have a problem with these guys, since a lot of their leadership looks more like Montgomery Burns than fresh-faced reformers. Ex-cellent!

Monday, November 13, 2006

The outlines are forming

We're starting to get a sense of where the much lauded new Democratic congress is headed. Here's what to watch:
  1. You'll know that the lefties are in charge if John Murtha overtakes Steny Hoyer for Majority Leader. Murtha has been front and center in the anti-war wing of the party and he has long coveted a leadership role. If Nancy Pelosi steers it that way, and her comments yesterday indicate that she's thinking that way, it will mean that the House will be pushing hard for a quick surrender. Sorry if you don't like that term, but that's what they want.
  2. The new Donkeys were elected ostensibly for their moderation. There are specific examples of this, including Tim Walz here in Minnesota and Heath Shuler in North Carolina. The districts they represent, while open to the Democratic message, still are generally conservative in outlook. A wise Democratic leadership would find ways to shield such members from having to take controversial stands, at least initially. But I doubt that's going to happen.
  3. Meanwhile, closer to home we can already conclude that the Democrats haven't learned much at the state level. By selecting the bombastic, nasty Larry Pogemiller as the next Senate majority leader, the D's are signaling that a full-scale conflict with Governor Pawlenty is imminent. Dean Johnson, although he was tough, was good at putting on a conciliatory face. Pogemiller doesn't really give a rat's behind what his opponents think. With another lefty, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, set to be the new House Speaker, the D's have announced their intentions to swing hard left. I'll be curious to see how that posture affects such newly minted members as Kate Knuth in 50B and Paul Gardner in 53A, who represent districts that have historically rejected strident leftism.
  4. Finally, the Star Tribune couldn't even wait and began profiling potential opponents for Sen. Norm Coleman, who will be running for re-election in 2008. The names floated in the article include Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak, Rep. Betty McCollum, trial lawyer extraordinaire Mike Ciresi, and reputed comedian Al Franken. If that's the best the DFL has, Norm should be pretty relaxed. My sincere wish would be for McCollum to emerge and for Norm to kick her butt. That way, I'd also get a less absurd representative in Congress.

Football is better

I think football is better than politics, especially when the Badgers and the Packers win in the same weekend. A few thoughts:

Of the two wins, the Badgers’ win over Iowa is much more significant, even though it may not make any difference for their immediate future. No matter how much the geniuses of the BCS play with the controls, teams have a way of upsetting expectations. It is quite possible that, when the regular season is over, that the Badgers will be 11-1, with Michigan 12-0 and Ohio State 11-1. It is also quite possible that most of the teams currently ahead of the Badgers in the BCS standings, such as Southern Cal, Notre Dame, Florida and Arkansas, will all have two losses. The question will then be, why should the Badgers not be in a BCS bowl game?

The answer is simple – one conference cannot have three teams in the BCS. As a result, it is quite likely that some teams will go into the BCS with worse records than the Badgers. Two things leave the Badgers in their current position – losing a game at Ann Arbor, and being lightly regarded at the beginning of the season. It’s difficult to see why the Badgers shouldn’t be ranked in the top 5, but they aren’t, and likely won’t be. They will get a chance to prove their point in the Capital One Bowl against a good SEC team. And if the Badgers end up 12-1, they would have an excellent argument for a top 3 position in the final poll, even if the two teams ahead of them are the boys from Columbus and Ann Arbor.

One other thing – as good as the Ron Dayne-era Badgers teams were, I think this squad may be better. John Stocco as a senior is a better quarterback than Mike Samuel ever was, or Brooks Bollinger became. While Dayne is an all-time great, P. J. Hill is an excellent young runner. The offensive line is better now than it was in 1998-1999 and the defense is better, too. Barry Alvarez set things up beautifully for Bret Bielema and, so far, the transition has been smooth.

As for the Packers, I’ll say two things. First, I was wrong about this team, thinking that they would be contending for the number one draft pick. They’re doing much better than that. I’ll also say this: they are showing progress every week. Number 4 is having a much better year this year than last, even though he has arguably less talent around him. This coaching staff seems to have gotten through to Brett about what happens when you take foolish chances. Meanwhile, Donald Driver is one of my all-time favorite Packers, because he comes ready to play every game. Yesterday he was huge, with his 82-yard touchdown only the most dramatic of several fine plays. While the high-risk, high reward Packer defense continues to get burned for long plays with alarming frequency, you can see that the Packer coaching staff is starting to make adjustments. The Vikings sent Bethel Johnson downfield successfully twice in the first half. When they went back to a similar play in the 4th quarter, the Packers were ready and Patrick Dendy made a key interception. Even though the Packers blew the game in Buffalo last week, they showed flashes of improvement. That continued yesterday. Young Mike McCarthy and his staff seem to have righted the ship after last year’s disaster. It would asking a lot for the Packers to get a playoff spot, but the 2-14 I envisioned before is now looking more like 7-9 perhaps even 8-8. And that would be major progress.

Meanwhile, the Purple continues to be a mystifying bunch. I sense that Chester Taylor, who has been very good this year, is starting to wear down. Brad Johnson looks very old now and I wonder if he’ll be able to hold up much longer. He took some ferocious shots yesterday, especially when he was sandwiched by A. J. Hawk and Nick Barnett. Johnson cannot throw the deep ball consistently any more and teams are sitting on the shorter routes the Vikings prefer to run. The natives are already getting restless about Brad Childress. If Johnson goes down and the team has to go with Brooks Bollinger, the Badger reunion will be complete. Perhaps the Vikings can get into the BCS….

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Statler and Waldorf mount the stage

Jim Henson was the comedic genius behind the Muppets, the whimsical puppets that have charmed and educated audiences for over 40 years. Henson and his crew created an indelible cast of characters, many of whom are featured in The Muppet Show, a syndicated television program that initially ran in the United States in the late 1970s and has been around ever since.

Two characters that fans of the show will remember are Statler and Waldorf. Statler and Waldorf are presumably wealthy, elderly gentlemen who sit high above the stage, heckling the performers below. They are amusing and often insightful, but like most hecklers, they have it easy. They are quick to criticize but they rarely offer anything that might improve the show they watch. Interestingly enough, they look a bit like George Soros.

For most of this decade, the Democrats have been playing the part of Statler and Waldorf. Republicans have essentially dominated the federal government apparatus, with firm control of the presidency and House of Representatives and tenuous control of the Senate. That appears to have changed yesterday. Meanwhile, the Democrats have been on the outside, shouting imprecations and maintaining a constant drumbeat of complaint through their allies in the mainstream news media. In this campaign, the Democratic message has been essentially this:

Republicans suck
Republicans suck
Republicans suck
Democrats are not Republicans
Vote for Democrats because Republicans suck
We told you that Republicans suck, remember?
Had you heard that Republicans suck? I thought so. Vote Democrat

The message seems to have worked. Democrats defeated enough Republicans to take control of the House and it appears possible that they may ultimately control the Senate, although we won’t know that for up to a month because of a recount in the Virginia race. The margins of control will be narrow, but the Democrats will be in control.

So what does that mean? It means a few things, not all of which are bad:

First, the Democrats will set the national agenda. Some priorities of theirs will likely pass quickly, including an increase in the minimum wage. While raising the minimum wage is a foolish idea for a number of reasons, it will happen. Fighting the war will become much more difficult, as the Democrats will be able to put significant roadblocks in front of the President, especially since they will control the purse. Finally, conservatives can probably kiss their hopes of having a truly conservative Supreme Court goodbye. Bush could nominate the most luminous conservative he could find, and he wouldn’t be able to get that individual past Pat Leahy and Dick Durbin. If John Paul Stevens or Ruth Bader Ginsburg retire in the next two years, you won’t see anyone from the Federalist Society replacing them.

Second, because the Democrats will be setting the agenda, their agenda setting will start to attract some scrutiny. They’ll have to explain why they want to raise the minimum wage, or hurt the president’s ability to wage the war. They’ll have to explain why they need to block qualified judges. They’ll need to explain why, darn the luck, Americans can’t have the “middle class tax cut” that so many of these freshly minted Congresscritters claimed they would provide. They’ll also need to explain why the tax increases they have in mind for the “top 1%” of income earners seem to be affecting well over 50% of the population.

Finally, being in opposition will allow the Republicans to climb into the theater box where Statler and Waldorf usually sit. There are smart, telegenic leaders in the Republican party who will be able to offer the sorts of pithy soundbites that play well on the news. George Bush will actually be free to swing from the heels now. Open conflict tends to clarify matters. The voters have ordered up open conflict; soon they will have a choice to make. It’s quite possible they’ll order up some more in 2008, by the way.

2008 just got a heck of a lot more interesting. Have the Democrats turned the tide? Or is this, to use a historical analogy, the Battle of the Bulge? We’ll find out soon.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day Shavings - with Occam's Razor

Now that election day is finally here, we're supposed to believe that there's been some great trend or rally that will stanch Republican losses, perhaps even to allow the GOP to fend off a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. I'm pretty skeptical about all this.

Regular readers of this feature know that I am fond of what is known as Occam's Razor, or the principle of parsimony. Occam's Razor, named after a medieval cleric named William of Occam, holds that the simplest explanation is usually the best explanation. When faced with the avalanche of nonsense that has been this political season, I think we should take the word of the Ocmeister on this.

We could believe that people have been waiting to take out their frustrations about the war on the Republicans, but that they are getting cold feet now that the election is nigh. Or, we can pick up the razor and conclude something more simple: most people don't have time to pay attention to politics until they have to. Once they do, they make their choices based on common sense. Since it is common sense not to surrender in a war, the Democrats won't do as well as they'd hoped in this election.

We can also conclude that the polling has been mostly nonsense, too. Every reputable pollster admits that it is becoming more difficult each year to reach a representative sampling. Many people screen their calls, or no longer have land line phones, or both. As a result, samples are increasingly contrivances. What would fair Occam say? Unless you can get a representative sample, polls are crap. And since you can't, polls are crap.

Will these observations prove out? We'll find out tomorrow. If I'm wrong, you can safely conclude that Mr. Dilettante is full of crap, just like the polls.

Senator Hotdish

I wanted to stake a claim to this, which I think should be the new nickname of our about-to-be Senator-elect for Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar. Just as Jesse Ventura earned the nickname Governor Turnbuckle, I think Senator Hotdish sums up, in a slightly pejorative way, who our future senator is and why she is cruising to election today. She comes across as pleasant, non-threatening and wholesome, if somewhat bland and indistinct. Her campaign has been political comfort food and Minnesotans have eaten it up, just as they would eat a good hotdish.

The indigestion will come later, of course.

Senator Hotdish – remember, you heard it here first. And good luck getting that middle-class tax cut, everyone!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Basketball Jones

Ben's basketball season began yesterday. Ben is a member of the fearsome Team 4 in the Irondale Basketball League 5/6 grade division. His squad played the hated Team 3 in their opener and were soundly thrashed, 57-11. It was not the beginning Ben was hoping for, but what can you do? Ben's team is wearing red shirts this year and Ben sports uniform number 3. He is playing hard, but it will be a struggle. It appears that there are two very good teams, two not so good teams, and two mysterious St. Anthony squads who are participating. St. Anthony, for those readers who are not familiar with local geography, is a small community adjacent to New Brighton and it has its own school district. Because the area in question is so small, it is unable to field full-fledged leagues for most youth sports, so it tends to partner with neighboring school districts (Mounds View, Spring Lake Park, Columbia Heights) to place its teams.

Anyway, Ben is improving, despite the drubbing he received Saturday. Ben is now in his third year of basketball and he has a very good understanding of the game and what he needs to do. His team is not bereft of talent, but it is very inexperienced and Saturday's opponents were much more polished players. I think Ben will have an opportunity to improve a lot this season, since he'll get a lot of playing time. And he'll likely top last year's output of six points, assuming he gets a chance to shoot. Watch this space for further updates on this compelling squad and its progress.

Badgers in the BCS?

The Wisconsin Badgers are now 9-1 and have a good chance to finish the season 11-1, with a tough game in Iowa City and what should be a walkoever at Camp Randall on 11/18 against hated Buffalo. If the Badgers run the table, they would have defeated all teams except for Michigan, which is currently the number two team in the country. If the Badgers win out, and Michigan knocks off Ohio State, would the Badgers have a good argument for a BCS bowl game?

Yes, they would. But will they get there? No. The reason is simple; it is impossible to be considered a top 10 team when you start out as low as the Badgers did in the preseason pecking order. Too many teams with similar credentials started out ahead of the Badgers. There are a gaggle of other teams that will finish with outstanding records, including Auburn, West Virginia, Texas, Florida, Boise State, Rutgers, Cal, USC, Notre Dame and Arkansas. It's difficult to say whether the Badgers will finish ahead of any of these teams in the end, but the one way to climb would be to win out, including their likely bowl game (Capital One Bowl, in Orlando, Jan. 1, against some SEC foe). The BCS requires that various conferences have representatives and the championship game is likely going to feature the winner of the Ohio State/Michigan game against Louisville, which is on track to finish with an undefeated record.

I'm guessing the Badgers will see either Arkansas, LSU or maybe Florida as a bowl opponent this time around. If they win that, you may see the Badgers finish in the Top 5. And that would be a heck of an accomplishment for Bret Bielema in his first year.

Manure with free gift wrap

We go to the polls tomorrow and finally, all the clanging and nonsense will be off our television screens for at least a short while. So what are we likely to get? Here’s my fearless, last-minute predictions:

First, four more years of T-Paw. It will be close, but there’s never really been a compelling reason to remove Pawlenty for Mike Hatch. Hatch’s recent outbursts, including calling a reporter a “Republican whore,” will likely be the mortal blow to his campaign. There is no doubt that, because of Pawlenty’s efforts, various taxes and fees have gone up. There is also no doubt that, as a result, some in the middle class have had to pay more. But there’s a reason for that, and it’s not Tim Pawlenty. The reason is that local governmental agencies do spend too much money. They’ve long been able to hide their spending priorities because they’ve been subsidized by the state through income taxes. Those days are gone, at least for now. And it is a good change, because it is easier for me to hold the mayor of New Brighton accountable, or the Mounds View School District for that matter, than it is to hold the governor of Minnesota accountable, to say nothing of the mob in Washington.

Second, we get a cliché for a Senator. Amy Klobuchar is not a breath of fresh air at all. She is a carbon copy of several other female Senators already in Washington. There’s no difference between her and Debbie Stabenow, Maria Cantwell, Patty Murray, Diane Feinstein or Mary Landrieu. She’ll fit right in, just another member of the herd of independent minds up there. Oh, and good luck getting that “middle-class tax cut” that she’s touting in her ads. And I’ll be curious to see who she’s going to negotiate with to get us out of Iraq. It’s too bad Mark Kennedy ran such a horrible campaign. The only benefit of sending Klobuchar to Washington is that she is a mediocrity replacing a loon (Mark Dayton). That’s progress, of a sort.

Third, we get a property tax increase because of the levy. It’s going to pass, but I think it will be close. The school district is getting increasing scrutiny over their practices, and that is a positive by-product of the changes that I discussed above. The dirty little secret of school budgeting is that teachers get almost all the money and that the teachers’ unions have become a very powerful force in Minnesota. The day of reckoning is coming, but it won’t be this time. And, to be fair, the Mounds View district does have some structural and demographic issues that have made it difficult to hold the line on spending. But when it comes time to negotiate new contracts with the teachers and the other unionized employees, they’ll have some difficult decisions to make.

Fourth, all this won’t matter that much, but the next election cycle will. 2008 will be momentous and we’ll see some interesting new players upon the stage. A bold prediction: Barack Obama is the Comet Kahoutek of politics. There’s a reference that dates me!

Friday, November 03, 2006


I was beginning to wonder. We’d gone through an entire campaign involving Mike Hatch and we hadn’t seen one intemperate remark. Perhaps he’d finally acquired the discipline necessary to ignore the taunts, to stay focused on the task at hand, to finally reach the goal he had sought for nearly 20 years. And then:

Article speaks for itself, I think, but let’s consider a few things.

First, the Duluth News-Tribune is hardly a Republican organ. The Duluth paper is as liberal as the Star Tribune, perhaps even more so. This is hardly surprising, considering that the Iron Range and the North Shore are among the most liberal places in the country outside the coasts. So for Hatch to even think that any reporter for the Duluth paper is a Republican operative/hack/whore, or any other pejorative term you’d prefer, borders on the preposterous.

Second, I think this reflects something about the danger the Democratic Party currently has. There is so much rage in so many places in the Democratic realm, but most people simply aren’t that angry about the world. I suspect that a lot of people are tired of the war, and that others are simply tired of George W. Bush in general, and Republicans in particular. But I don’t think there’s a lot of rage. The palpable anger that you get from so many Democrats tends to frighten off people who don’t care as much. I think that Amy Klobuchar’s calm persona has been her greatest asset in her Senate run. She’s downright soothing, compared to the antsy, nerdy Mark Kennedy. And because Klobuchar is so soothing, people haven’t really thought through the absurdities she’s been spouting. But she comes across as a cool customer and I think a lot of people are looking for that temperament in their leaders these days.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

What about the Woofies?

The Twin Cities are one of the few places that have teams in all four of the major sports; of comparably sized places, only Denver also claim this distinction. Typically the Vikings command the majority of the attention around here, while the Twins and the Wild lately have been dominating the sports pages through their successes. But the Timberwolves have been largely ignored lately.

Interest in the local NBA franchise has dwindled in the face of two consecutive disappointing seasons. It's was less than three years ago that the Wolves came within a few games of winning their first conference championship, but since that time they have seen little but misery. First the two talented mercenaries who teamed with the iconic Kevin Garnett, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell, decided to become disruptive forces and both quickly disappeared. Then Michael Olowakandi, a talented but indifferent big man, and the photogenic Wally Sczezerbiak, or however the hell you spell that, were unceremoniously traded off to Boston for a collection of players that no one had ever heard of before. Interest faded and by the end of last season, the Wolves finished with a road-kill record of 33-49. Attendance many nights would be announced at 15,000, but it was likely the Wolves were counting legs.

Things were so bad that I was able to get two free nosebleed tickets to see the Wolves' opener on Wednesday night, simply by sauntering into the new Fridley SuperTarget at 8 a.m. and asking a security guard holding 50 pairs of tickets. He was not mobbed. So Ben and I hired a sherpa and climbed to the very top of Target Center last night to watch Dwane Casey's troops battle the Scarmento Kings, who have concurrently fallen on hard times. The Wolves were alternately sleepy and lively, but managed to play well enough down the stretch to win the game, 92-83. So what did we see?

  • We saw that Kevin Garnett is, eternally, Kevin Garnett. The Big Ticket is still a dazzling player with astonishing body control and the ability to score and rebound at will. Garnett may not possess a killer mentality, but he's always a treat to watch.
  • It appears that, for now, Troy Hudson has returned from the dead. The dreadlocked guard had been a key contributor to the Wolves during their successful 2003-04 season, but had contributed almost nothing since. On Wednesday he essentially took over the game during the 4th quarter, scoring and defending with vigor.
  • Randy Foye, the 1st round draft pick, is definitely a work in progress. He seemed tentative and only played briefly. He was a fine player in college at Villanova, but he didn't show us much yesterday.
  • On the other hand, Craig Smith, the 2nd round pick, was pretty good. Smith is a bruiser, a 6-7, 275 pound space eater with a nice shot and a mean streak. He played fairly extensively until he fouled out. Smith reminds me a little of Lonnie Shelton, a former NBA star from the 1970s whose son is now an NFL lineman. The Kings were not taking liberties in the lane when Smith was in the game.
  • Marko Jaric, who failed as the Wolves' point guard last year, looked significantly more comfortable, and useful, as a wing player. He was able to use his height and wingspan effectively on the perimeter. Jaric is not an exciting player, but he played very well yesterday.
  • Mike James, the new point guard acquired in the offseason as a free agent from Toronto, showed almost nothing. It's only one game and he had to deal with Sacramento's Mike Bibby, one of the best in the league, but he'll need to do a lot more to earn the handsome salary he'll receive this year.

I don't know if the Wolves will win the fans back, especially with the Wild's strong start this year. But as they showed last night, failure will not come from a lack of effort.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

It is the silly season and of course that means that people are saying silly things. John Kerry's now famous faux pas has morphed into a mini-scandal today, even though the MSM do not want to talk about it. For evidence, consider the treatment that Kerry's comments received in this morning's editions of the Star Tribune, where a one paragraph blurb appeared under a "Developments" headline on page A-6. Of course, insulting soldiers is far less important than calling someone a "macaca." Most of our soldiers are pretty well mannered; even if they are well-armed, they won't likely do anything rash when insulted.

And the more I've thought about it, I think Kerry did insult the troops. I say that even though I suspect he is telling the truth when he insists he meant the comment as a slap at President Bush. Words matter and the words he spoke were easy to interpret as a slam on the intelligence of those who serve in the military generally, and in Iraq in particular.

It's easy to say that you support the troops but not the mission. But it's also wrong. The mission that U.S. forces are currently undertaking in Iraq is a difficult one and many of our soldiers and sailors have paid a terrible price in the course of that duty. The Democratic party generally, and John Kerry in particular, have an almost visceral disdain for military matters, which has been part of the Democratic Party DNA since the Vietnam era. Kerry has struggled with this issue his entire career and it is the reason why the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign so bothers him. He has invested a lot of his personal narrative, in believing that he was a truth-teller, that he was a valiant hero and that he has been a friend of the military. He often seems genuinely surprised at the equally visceral reaction he gets from his opponents within the military structure. And since a big part of Kerry's personal narrative is that people recognize his moral goodness, anything that would undermine his own view is not tolerable.

Kerry cannot apologize. Kerry is too proud of himself to accept any self-abasement, any shame for his statement. He will likely back off his statement in stages, blaming Republican operatives all the way. But he has a blind spot about how he comes off in this debate. We all have our blind spots, but few of us actually put ourselves out in the public arena and have to endure such personal dramas in the public eye. His choice? Absolutely. And the results are before us.

The Democrats are smart enough to recognize how toxic this really is and they are trying hard to change the subject. I 'll bet that John McCain (who is very much like Kerry) is having a lot of fun with this today as he campaigns through Minnesota.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

John Kerry, Super Genius

This is something I've noticed for a long time, but it's even more amusing today. If you could go back to October 31, 2004, and drive around the Twin Cities, you would see various versions of John Kerry for President bumper stickers on a limited number of cars. But you would not have seen dozens of them on a typical drive through town. Today, two years later, I see more John Kerry bumper stickers on cars than I did during the 2004 election. I have seen Kerry stickers on cars that are 2006 or 2007 models, including a silver Honda Fit and a black Buick Lacrosse I saw driving down 35W in recent days.

That means that, at least in some cases, people are putting bumper stickers for a defunct political campaign on their cars. I can only guess at the intent of these drivers; I'm guessing that they view the Kerry sticker as some sort of talisman that tells other drivers that they didn't support George Bush in 2004. This is silly, but one of the beauties of free speech is that allows people to speak foolishly.

But I wonder how many of these folks are proud of John Kerry today, after his revealing comments of yesterday. Kerry, appearing at a campaign event for Phil Angelides in California, said that people who don't get education (as he understands it) "end up in Iraq." There are a few ways to parse this - the most charitable is that he is taking a shot at George W. Bush, his fellow Yalie. But a less charitable sort might see this as the same old condescending shot at the soldiers that liberals like Kerry like to imagine they are defending. If so, it's a decided insult to many men and women who have served with distinction in this war. And my guess is that the second interpretation is the one that is going to stick. And it could bite Kerry and the Democrats in the ass with a week to go in this election cycle.

I'm always struck by the arrogance of the left. Thomas Sowell has written extensively about this topic and one of his books is titled "The Vision of the Anointed." Kerry is a classic example of this sort of thing - he is a bright fellow and he is a polished if pompous public speaker. Still, he seems to say these arrogant things at inopportune moments. We tend to call this sort of thing a "gaffe," which denotes a mistake, but which really means "a moment of unguarded truth." The real John Kerry believes that soldiers are generally suckers and that he must support the troops by removing them from combat missions and redeploying them to do armed social work, perhaps in Darfur or East Timor. But Kerry can't say that openly. Unless he slips, like he did yesterday.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Over the weekend recap

It’s all moving quickly now, so let’s take a quick review.

Dilettante Family Football was a decidedly mixed bag over the weekend. Both the mighty Xavier Hawks and the redoubtable Washburn Millers were unceremoniously dumped in their respect state high school playoffs, with the Hawks getting a 41-7 dismissal by Wrightstown and the Millers falling to Holy Angels, 21-14. So it goes, I guess. Meanwhile, as expected, the Beloit Buccaneers suffered a 37-7 thrashing at the hands of St. Norbert, while the Badgers escaped with a 30-24 win over upset-minded Illinois. Meanwhile, the Packers continued their convalescence in style, scoring an easy 31-14 win over the eternally hapless Arizona Cardinals. Denny Green’s Desert Redbirds are who we thought they were – a very poor team.

It’s status quo on the election front with only 8 days left. Karl Rove is confident and everyone else is confident that Karl Rove is wrong. So, who do you believe?

I caught a little of the latest appearance of Bill O’Reilly on David Letterman’s show on Friday night. The last time O’Reilly was on, he got his butt handed to him, but not this time. Letterman seemed cranky and out of sorts, unable to answer the questions that O’Reilly posed about the war and his understanding of things. One of the biggest problems that a lot of lefties (and Dave, God love him, is a lefty) have is that they aren’t used to being challenged on their beliefs. Most of what passes for good conversation in a cocktail party doesn’t necessarily hold up under scrutiny. When Letterman said “you’re putting words in my mouth, just like you put artificial facts in your head” to O’Reilly, you could tell that Dave didn’t have an answer and you got a glimpse of the intellectual laziness involved. Bill O’Reilly has, for better or worse, thought hard about a lot of topics. While a wise ruler keeps a jester around, the jester is usually not put in charge of foreign policy. We got an excellent glimpse of why on Friday night.

The Cardinals finished off the Tigers with relative ease on Friday night, too, adding an appropriate end to a strange but wondrous baseball season. The Cardinals really struggled down the stretch, almost missing out of the playoffs entirely with an 83-79 record. But they got hot in the playoffs and dispatched the Padres, Mets and Tigers. Tony LaRussa’s squad hit well, pitched great and gave the world a great role model in David Eckstein, the Series MVP. Eckstein is a tiny fellow, but he is a gamer. I have been involved in coaching Little League baseball ever since my son started playing and all the coaches who have been stressing fundamentals and how talent alone will not get you there now have Exhibit A, driving around in a brand new yellow Corvette (the MVP prize Eckstein received).

Friday, October 27, 2006

Dilettante Football Update

Games we care about 'round here:

Appleton Xavier at Wrightstown: will the mighty Hawks meet their maker? I understand from my cheesehead spies that Wrightstown is loaded.

Holy Angels at Minneapolis Washburn: the fearsome Millers step up in class against the alma mater of Larry Fitzgerald and John Stocco. Should be fun. A win would likely mean a grudge match against Benilde-St. Margaret.

Illinois at Wisconsin: Ron Zook is starting to see some progress down in Champaign, but the Badgers should win this easily if they aren't looking ahead.

Cardinals at Packers: More chicken soup for the Pack, after a nice soothing bowl in South Florida. The Cards have talent but they are the Cards. Could this be the game that gets Denny Green fired? Stay tuned.

Patriots at Vikings: Mrs. Dilettante is thinking this will be a lot of fun. I'm thinking she's right, as usual. The win at Seattle was impressive, but this should be more telling.

I don't know who Beloit College is playing this weekend, but I don't think it matters much - they have been roadkill all season and there's no reason to think they won't hold serve.

Enjoy your football, y'all!

Still measuring the drapes

Another day, another round of stories about how the Democrats are destined to sweep those nasty Republicans out of their sinecures on Capitol Hill. Now we're hearing that this could be a bigger sweep than 1994 and that those Republicans had better watch out because they'll find their belongings floating in the Potomac, the voters are so intent on punishing their bad sins. I can almost hear the band cueing up "Happy Days are Here Again," not heard much in the past 15 years.

Oh, glorious victory! Oh, excitement! Oh, bliss! Cue the Star Tribune Minnesota Poll, showing Amy Klobuchar leading Mark Kennedy 62-34! Throw a bucket of water on Michele Bachmann, the Wicked Witch of the East! It's over, I tell you! It's over! Don't bother voting, you silly Republicans, your masters have betrayed you and you'll only be crushed by the Juggernaut that's coming down the path! These are the days of miracle and wonder - don't cry baby, don't cry, don't cry.

It had better happen. If it doesn't, I'll need a canoe to ford the streets of Minneapolis, to escape the torrent of tears emanating from the Star Tribune building, and WCCO-TV, and every place else. Is it time to place a discreet call to FEMA for flood insurance? Naaahhh. It's in the bag. Don't worry, y'all. Happy Days Are Here Again! Keep telling yourself and it has to come true.

Motor City Kitties Throwing It Away

First it was Joel Zumaya, then it was Fernando Rodney. Twice now Detroit Tiger relief pitchers have made plays that would have earned the scorn of any coach in Shoreview Area Youth Baseball. I should know, since I've been one. If you saw last night's game, you are aware that Fernando Rodney fielded a routine ground ball, threw to first and launched the ball about 20 feet over the first baseman's head, setting up a Cardinal rally that turned a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 lead, as the Cardinals eventually went on to win by the score of 5-4. Previously, Zumaya made a bizarre decision, fielding an attempted sacrifice bunt and trying to pick off the lead runner at 3rd base. Problem was, the third baseman wasn't there yet, since he wasn't expecting the throw.

So now the Cardinals, who staggered into the playoffs with an 83-79 record, are one win away from winning the 2006 World Series. In fairness, the Cardinals are a far better team than their record would indicate, but the playoffs this year have been full of surprises. Unless the Tigers figure out basic baseball, it looks like the most unlikely result of all will happen.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Had an interesting e-mail exchange with a former colleague of mine today. He told me that, as a United Way fundraiser, some of his co-workers were planning to deliver Candygrams. My former colleague asked what I thought was a sensible question - whether or not the candygram would be delivered by a landshark*. He received "a sea of blank faces" as a resposne, along with the sneaking suspicion that he's getting old. For the record, I believe my former colleague is about the same age as I am. So he can rest assured that he is old.

Hey nineteen, that's (A)retha Frankin/She don't remember the Queen of Soul/Hard Times befalling Soul Survivors/She thinks I'm crazy, but I'm just growing old.

Thus sang Donald Fagen, way back in 1980, about a similar dilemma. Popular culture being what it is now, I'd guess that a nineteen year old woman of today would have a better chance of knowing Aretha Franklin than the love/lust interest that Fagen chronicled. People do get second chances now - I even saw Sam Moore is out performing again, 40 years after his glory years as the front half of Sam and Dave. But it is unnerving to think that something you remember well is falling down the memory hole.

This sensation, noticing your own obsolescence, is part of why the Beloit College Mindset List is always such a crowd pleaser when my alma mater trots it out each August. We have an older population now and one that is especially insistent in clinging to its own nostalgia. Living in the age of MP3s and DVDs also means that we can have our memories pretty much on demand. Back in 1980, it would have been quite possible for a young woman not to know who Aretha Franklin was. Aretha wasn't on the radio much then. Today, you can hear her by accident a half-dozen times during the course of a day. True story - in 1980, I didn't know who Marvin Gaye was. I only discovered him once I went to college, even though he was still actively recording throughout his life. Today, I own several albums with Marvin's music and can get anything he ever recorded with just a few keystrokes.

So we are getting older, but we can shape our experiences in ways that were unimaginable in 1980. Even if our experience doesn't include a landshark.

*If you still don't know what a landshark is, it refers to a bit on the original Saturday Night Live program, where a "landshark" attacked various victims by pretending to be a messenger, or plumber, or by delivering "candygrams." I still smile when I think about the bit, even if no one else remembers it. Who knows, maybe in 2035 no one will understand why "I need more cowbell" is so funny, either.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Dilettante Family Football Scoreboard

Results from yesterday's playoff games:

In Minnesota:

Minneapolis Washburn 54, Minneapolis Edison 12

The Millers roll on as the top seed in 4A Section 5.

In Wisconsin:

Appleton Xavier 35, Park Falls/Butternut/Glidden/Mercer 14

In the Xavier game, it appears that its opponent was stymied by a surfeit of slash marks. Next assignment is hated Wrightstown.

Watch this space for further updates!

What happens if

  1. Those Democrats win the House? The republic will not collapse. In some respects, having a defined adversary in one or more branches of Congress would probably work to the GOP advantage in some respects. One of the reason that the Democrats have been able to gain ground, at least rhetorically, in this election cycle is that they can plausibly claim that they don't have any say in what is going on in the government. Putting Nancy Pelosi's face on the Congress would probably help George Bush, because I believe that the Democratic party has been essentially laying in the weeds. They don't have to push a specific agenda right now; all they have to do is ostentatiously point out "we're not responsible." And they don't have to explain what their solution is. And not surprisingly, they haven't. A lot of people have decided they aren't going to listen to George Bush any more. But they will listen to Pelosi if she becomes Speaker. And that might be the worst result for the Democrats.
  2. The Democrats fail to win? That's actually a more interesting question, since it would represent something approaching an existential crisis for the Party of Government. Things will never be more advantageous than now and the Democrats continue to benefit from an incredible MSM echo chamber and the enconia of the people who buy their ink by the barrel. For the past six years, there has been a relentless drumbeat of bad news that various people have tied, to varying degrees, around the neck of George W. Bush. Bush's approval rating, as we are reminded daily, is something like -3000%. In fact, dead people, animals and most plants hate George W. Bush, too. Yet, somehow, his political party may still end up pulling this out. If your opponent is as universally hated as George W. Bush is purported to be, and you still lose, what does that say about you? If I were a Democrat, I sure wouldn't want to answer that question.

Patty doubles down on dishonesty

If Patty Wetterling ends up in Washington, I sincerely hope she’ll take a deep look at what she did to get there. If she wins her contest against Michele Bachmann, her victory will come with the unmistakable patina of shame. I have been observing politics for a long time now and I’ve never seen a politician cling to a specific, demonstrable lie harder than Patty Wetterling. And that includes Bill Clinton.

The lie in this case is the claim that she has made about her opponent, Michele Bachmann. Wetterling claimed that Bachmann supports the imposition of a 23% national sales tax. Bachmann has never said that she would impose such a tax. The idea of a national sales tax is something that hasn’t gotten much past the theory stage, but in every version I’ve seen it would work like this. A 23% tax would indeed be imposed on most purchases, but (crucially) not food. The tax would replace the federal income tax entirely. And in most versions I’ve seen, each taxpayer would get a rebate check from Uncle Sam equal to 23% of the first $35,000 of income earned, or about $8,050. You will get serious debate whether it would work, but it would likely mean that most people would pay less taxes than they do now. And it would also mean that the cost of the federal government would be pretty easy to calculate. But at this point it’s an idea and I strongly suspect we’ll never see this implemented in our lifetimes. There are too many people who benefit from the current tax system and such people have a lot of power. Complexity is a boon to tax lawyers, accountants and IRS agents, to say nothing of those in government who prefer that the true cost of government be hidden in an incomprehensible thicket of laws and regulations.

Bachmann, like a lot of people who think about these things, would be interested in looking at whether or not such a taxing regime would work. But no one, including Bachmann, would ever impose such a tax in addition to the current tax structure. When Wetterling ran her first ad on this topic, she claimed that Bachmann wanted to impose a 23% sales tax immediately. That is a lie, because it not only misstates the truth, but it also a deliberate misstatement. Most commentators, including those who would prefer that Wetterling win, pointed out that the ad was, at minimum, misleading, but Wetterling has continued to run the ad despite nearly universal condemnation.

But now Wetterling has doubled down. She has started running a new ad, which repeats the same lie. Featuring the usual attack ad elements (spooky music, a picture of Bachmann that makes her look like a fugitive from Madame Tussaud’s), there’s the lie, repeated again. And she continues to beat the dead horse that is Mark Foley, even though she has been called out on national television about the dishonesty of another ad on that topic that stated that a half dozen representatives had covered up for Foley, none of which she could or would name. That is a tactic that I, as the son of a town that sent Joe McCarthy to Washington, can recognize.

Bachmann is hardly the ideal candidate. She is a Holy Roller type and her ambition is palpable. There's a faint whiff of the Stepford Wife in her. And as a Catholic, I have mild concern about her membership in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, whose members tend to be polite but virulently anti-Catholic. I would have strongly preferred that Phil Krinkie (a hard-nosed, notoriously green eyeshade Republican) or Jim Knoblach (a bright if vanilla Republican) had been the Republican candidate in the 6th CD. But Wetterling has run a disgraceful campaign and it would be a bad thing if the voters would reward her mendacity with a seat in Congress. Patty Wetterling has made enormous contributions to the public discussion as a child safety advocate, and she has faced the loss of her son Jacob with grace and dignity. But she’s throwing that legacy away right now. It is a sad, almost tragic spectacle.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Scenes from a weekend

An interesting weekend with lots of things happening. Here are a few of them:

  • I first learned how to play cribbage when my dad taught me the game in the early 70s. I've probably played the game for about 35 years now, but I never played in a game with a perfect hand before. Until Saturday, that is, when I dealt my son a perfect hand. He got three fives and the Jack of clubs, then the five of clubs was cut. A perfect hand in cribbage is a lot like a hole in one in golf. You have to have enough skill to make the play, but there's a lot of luck involved. The odds of a perfect hand are about 2.85 million to one and Ben got it. Pretty neat and, needless to say, he's absolutely thrilled about it.
  • I think you can make the argument that the Badgers are good. Bucky put together another impressive Big Ten beatdown on Saturday, strolling into West Lafayette and giving the home-standing Purdue Boilermakers a pretty thorough 24-3 thrashing. This Badgers team is smart and resourceful, and their latest running back, P. J. Hill, looks like a cross between Ron Dayne and Greg Pruitt. The Badgers have one tough road trip left, to Iowa City, but otherwise they have winnable games. An 11-1 record and a return trip to Orlando look like a pretty good bet right now.
  • Did you notice that the Packers actually won yesterday? Yep, it was in all the papers. The Pack finally got off the schneid in Miami, beating the Dolphins 34-24. I think that the Packers should make arrangements to have all their opponents start Joey Harrington, by the way. Nice win and it takes some of the gloom and stench off the precedings. Now, the Pack has to win one at Lambeau. And, just in time, arrive the perennially lousy Arizona Cardinals, who have not won in Green Bay since the probably the Eisenhower administration. Can you say winning streak? In 2006, yet? Maybe.
  • Two games into World Series now, it looks like a good one is brewing. The Cardinals probably have their best chance on Tuesday, when they put their ace (Chris Carpenter) up against Nate Robertson, the most pedestrian of the Tiger starters. Robertson is pretty good, mind you - he'd be in the starting rotation of any team in the league and might even be a number one in a few places, but he doesn't have the intimidation factor that some of his colleagues do. One thing we've learned, however - the Cardinals aren't intimidated by anyone. When you have Albert Pujols on your side, you have a chance. But I still like the Tigers in six.
  • Can I get through an entire post without mentioning politics? Yes - if I stop now. So I will.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The levy was dry

Along with everything else we've had to endure during this seemingly endless political season, we are also having to deal with yet another levy vote in the Mounds View School District. This is the fourth time the district has gone to the voters for more money in the last decade. They have been successful twice, once for a capital expenditure levy, another time for an operating levy. Another time, they were shot down. Now they're back, again, asking for more money.

I'm torn about this. Of course we have two children who are currently attending schools in the district and the extra money will help. But, at the same time, there is no question that the impact of teachers' union contracts and some questionable spending choices has made the financial situation of the district than it might be otherwise. As usual, the school district has released a list of especially draconian cuts should the levy not pass (CLOSE THE POOLS! NO BAND FOR YOU! CLASS SIZES AVERAGING 3,455!). And they would probably make those cuts, too, because between 70-80% of available monies are tied to salaries.

But at the same time, I have neighbors who live on fixed incomes. They have paid for their homes and supported the school district with their property taxes for up to 40 years now. And some of them may be forced from these modest homes if property taxes continue to rise. And when they are forced from these homes, there's not been much evidence that families with children are moving into these houses. Instead, young families seem to be moving further out, to places like Lino Lakes, Andover, Hugo, etc.

So what do we do? If the levy pases, it will mean that our property taxes will go up about $200-250 next year. But it will likely be more than that, as the city and the county will be increasing their levies as well. It's getting to be a squeeze, but it's a necessary one. Everyone loves lots of government services, but people love to have someone else pay for them even more. And the days when Wayzata and North Oaks residents would subsidize the rest of us through draconian state income taxes are gone.

My guess is that the levy will pass, but it will be close. And, truth be told, I hope the vote is really close. The district, the unions, and those who have driven up costs with an endless ratchet need to understand that the day of reckoning is coming. It may even arrive this election cycle.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A few sports thoughts

Random observations:

  • The Badgers have an opportunity this weekend to make a big statement. They are off to West Lafayette to play the Purdue Boilermakers, who have been a pretty solid program since the arrival of Joe Tiller ten years ago. The Badgers have won a few times down there, but generally it's been a challenge. If the Badgers can beat Purdue, they have only one more tough road test left, at Iowa City, with three winnable home games against Illinois, Penn State and hated Buffalo. Could this be an 11-win season? It's possible.
  • Koren Robinson finally ran out of appeals and he is now out of the NFL for at least one year. It's a sad story and I hope he can get the help he needs. I still wonder if Green Bay is a good place for a recovering alcoholic, though.
  • The NLCS has been pretty darned good and the performance of the St. Louis Cardinals surely indicates that getting to the playoffs may be all you need. The Cards really stumbled down the stretch and looked like a barely competent squad, but they've played quite well and if they win tonight, will be in the World Series. Way back at the beginning of the season, I suggested that Albert Pujols might be the best player in baseball. I'm standing by that assertion. As long as he remains in the St. Louis, the Redbirds will be a contender.
  • Let's give a cheer to Mrs. Dilettante's alma mater, mighty Washburn High School. The Millers took the City Championship with a convincing 42-13 thrashing of St. Paul Johnson yesterday. Although the balance of power in high school sports has swung decisively to the suburbs, the kids who play sports in the city schools work hard and produce some good results.