Friday, June 30, 2006

The kids have been blogging again

And it's about time that you checked it out.

Ben's latest stylings are at:

And Maria updates her world at:

Check it out, y'all.


I remember September 10, 2001; it was the a nice, late summer Monday in the Twin Cities. I was working for Target at the time and I remember riding the bus into downtown, thinking about the projects I had to complete that week. My son had begun kindergarten the previous week and my daughter was busily scooting around our house, investigating everything in sight. It was shaping up to be an uneventful week and I remember spending the majority of my bus time reading about the football results from the day before - the Packers had routed the Lions 28-6 at Lambeau Field, a typical result for what was a typical day.

Life was a lot simpler on 9/10. I've been thinking about 9/10 today because of the Supreme Court decision yesterday in the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case. In their ruling, the Supremos decided that President Bush needs to say "Mother, May I" to either Congress, or the Court itself, and probably both, before he can establish a system of military tribunals to deal with suspected terrorists who are captured by U.S. forces. John Paul Stevens and his pals are eager to rein in President Bush. I'm not sure that it's the president who needs reining in.

The good news is that once President Bush does his courtesy bow to the other branches, he'll likely be able to proceed as planned. I don't believe that even some of the loonier members of Congress are likely to want to leverage Hamdan to further hamstring the executive. It will be a difficult sell for anyone to show mercy to the plaintiff in this case, who was once Osama bin Laden's driver.

No matter how low Bush's "approval numbers" get, this president (and his successors) will need to have the power and leverage to deal with the threat of terrorism going forward. Even if it's President Feingold. The executive in our system has the responsibility to wage war. Congress has to declare it first, but Congress and the Court really need to think hard about how much involvement they should have -- no military will long survive with 545 commanders in chief...

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Happy Birthday, I-94

And all the other highways. Today marks the 50th anniversary of the creation of the interstate highway system. It is difficult to imagine any governmental action over the last 50 years that has done more to transform this country.

I was not alive in 1956 and I only remember parts of the 1960s. I grew up in a town that is not served by the interstate highway system. For reasons unknown, the Fox River Valley did not get a branch of the system until the 1970s, when I-43 was completed between Green Bay and Milwaukee. But since I left fair Appleton, I have lived in places where I travel the interstates nearly every day. It's no exaggeration to say that the presence of these highways affects every American. The interstates have provided a reliable system for intercity transportation, shipping of goods and, in a little mentioned but crucial matter, greater ease of transport for our nation's defense. In fact, when President Eisenhower signed the legislation into law 50 years ago, that was a primary consideration.

But more than that, the interstates have changed the landscape in other ways. America was once a provincial place, where regional differences were huge and an overarching model was not seen. There were real differences between the ways that people in different parts of the country lived. Some of the regional differences and preferences were pernicious, especially the Jim Crow laws of the American South, but they were persistent. The growth of national news networks, radio and television were of course instrumental in helping Americans speak a more common cultural language, but the role of the interstate highway system is difficult to overstate. It used to be an all-day trip to get from Minneapolis to Chicago; now, you can get from place to place in about 7 hours, if traffic and the Wisconsin State Patrol are amenable. And because a person can get from one place to another that quickly, people do make the trip.

Of course, this integration has led to a certain amount of homogenization as well. It's a common complaint that the landscape of the interstate highway is littered with fast food restaurants, cookie cutter hotels and unsightly billboards. These complaints arose almost immediately and those who cherish regional differences have continued to nurse these grievances throughout the past half-century. And I don't dismiss these complaints; one of the great benefits of travel is to see things you might not otherwise see, and it's difficult to learn much when you eat at a McDonald's. But the journeys are what matter and because of the interstate highway system, I've been able to make more journeys than I would have otherwise.

Americans love the road - from Jack Kerouac to William Least Heat Moon, from Dennis Hopper to Charles Kuralt, we all tend to look beyond the immediate boundaries and seek adventures in places far from home. And every American has stories to tell about their travels. The interstate highway system is integral to who we are and what we have become in the past 50 years. And even with gas hovering around $3 a gallon these days, the siren song of the road remains.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Beckham shaves with Occam's Razor

Good thing the World Cup is in Germany, where the "beautiful game" gets more respect. Despite a pretty strong public relations offensive (pun intended), people just aren't paying much attention to the World Cup here in the United States. A recent poll I heard about indicated that only 6% of Americans are paying close attention to the tournament, with most of those being expatriates of countries like England, Ghana, etc.

I have been watching soccer acolytes push this sport for over 30 years now. I remember when Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia, Franz Beckenbauer and assorted others were brought to the U.S. with great fanfare and placed among the teams of the North American Soccer League, which eventually withered into oblivion. I've seen Mia Hamm offered as the equivalent of Michael Jordan. I've seen millions of kids play soccer on fields across this great land. But still, no market for the sport. Why is that? Can I offer a three word explanation?

Baseball* is better.

I'm fond of Occam's Razor, which holds that the simplest explanation is usually the best explanation. I say that even though it's likely that William of Occam would be rooting for Manchester United or Real Madrid or some such were he here today.

*Football and basketball, too.

Running strong in place

We are witnessing a fairly amazing stretch for the Twins. They have won 14 of their last 15 games and have essentially laid waste to the National League teams they are currently playing. But they have not gained any appreciable ground in the standings on the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers. Both the Whities and the Tigers have been equally impressive, blowing out their NL opponents night after night. A few things worth noting:

  • Historically, the National League has been stronger than the AL, but it's become quite evident that the AL is much better. The Dodgers have been leading the NL West for most of the season, but have been routed in consecutive games in the Metrodome. This Dodger team includes some ostensibly big names, like Jeff Kent, Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Lowe, but they have been no match for the Twins' collection of emerging stars.
  • Francisco Liriano is a stone killer right now. It will be interesting to see how he does in subsequent trips around the league, but right now he is overpowering just about every batter he faces. He's even more of a power pitcher than Twins stopper Johan Santana, which hardly seems possible.
  • Joe Mauer is becoming an amazingly good hitter. He went 5-5 last night, lashing singles to all parts of the ballpark. He is starting to flirt with .400; it's difficult to imagine that he could maintain this pace all year long, but no one in baseball seems to have found a good way to pitch to him.
  • Some of prospects for the Twins are no longer "suspects." It's been interesting to see the simultaneous blossoming of Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel into solid, resourceful major league hitters. Jason Bartlett is now starting to show some hitting talent as well. Longtime Twin power supplier Torii Hunter is now about the fifth or six best batsman on the team.
  • It's amazing how well the Tigers and White Sox are playing. Jim Leyland came into a team that had as recently as 2003 been one of the worst teams in major league history, but now his Tigers are beating everyone they face. The White Sox continue to be at least as good as they were last year, when they won the World Series. Eventually these teams will play each other again, and maybe then the Twins can make their move. But it's going to be tough.

Not that long ago, the AL Central was known as Comedy Central for the lack of quality teams among its ranks. Things change.

Phillies rout Rockies, prepare for playoffs

The mighty Arden Hills Phillies returned to the scene of one of their worst defeats of the season and played perhaps their best game of the season, defeating the Rockies 11-0 at the mysterious Lily Pond in remote Vadnais Heights last night. The tone was set right away, as the Phillies raced to an early 6-0 lead in the first two innings, adding additional insurance runs later on. Pitching was, in a word, outstanding. All three Phillies pitchers were quite sharp and the Rockies never seriously threatened during the course of the game. This was the same Rockies team that had defeated our Phils 16-5 in the same venue two weeks previously. That’s baseball. My favorite Phillie was 1-4, rapping a sharp single past a diving Rockies second baseman and getting called out on a bang-bang play at first in another at bat.

With the win, the Phillies complete the regular season with a record of 6-8-2; an earlier victory against the Braves was declared a forfeit, costing the team one win and an overall .500 record. Playoffs begin on 7/6, against a yet to be determined opponent (most likely the Angels, Astros or Braves). Further details will be right here.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Time for a Mr. Dilettante Mix

A while back we did a quick survey of bad songs from the 70s, and then guilty pleasure songs. Since my diverse readership (consisting of friends, family, former B of A associates and at least one spammer with a UN fixation) have consistently demonstrated their good taste through their patronage of this feature, I thought it was time for us to put together a Mr. Dilettante mix, i.e., good tunes.

I am asking for your help here. Let's have folks weigh in on some of their favorite tunes. Tell me some of your favorites, and why you like them. Once we've established a formidable enough list, I will then work with my musical director, a/k/a Stinger, to put together a Mr. Dilettante mix. A few ground rules:

Please pick songs you like. No one really likes "We Built This City," "Rock Me Amadeus" or "Having My Baby," and your faithful correspondent knows that his erudite audience is too smart for that crap.

Please pick songs that are generally available. You may love some Bolivian pan flute opus and have excellent reasons for doing so, but we're not going to search all over hell for it.

Please be patient: this could be a long project, but I think a good one.

Okay, I'll prime the pump with three of my favorite tunes:

"Moondance," by Van Morrison. Van has recorded many great things and a lot of really weird stuff, too, but this one is special for a lot of reasons. The eponymous album is also one of the best collections of songs you'll ever find.

"Reach Out I'll Be There," by the Four Tops. Levi Stubbs, the most dramatic singer in the Motown stable, at his peak.

"Ticket to Ride," by the Beatles. Not their most famous song, or even their most popular, but to me a song that packs the essence of what made the Beatles great.

The floor is open.

Bill Keller for President

Bill Keller is the current majordomo at the New York Times. He has also been at the vanguard of the recent spate of stories, driven by leaks, that have revealed secret government programs meant to stop (or at least discourage) terrorism. Some of these stories have provided operational details about how the government is using technologies and partnerships with other entities to gather information about terrorist activities. Today, President Bush condemned the recent disclosure of a program designed to track terrorist financial activity. Bush claims that revealing these methods undercuts the government's efforts to combat terrorism.

Is this a valid charge? Not to Bill Keller. In a series of public pronouncements, Keller has essentially stated that his organization can pretty much publish anything it damn well pleases, consequences be damned, because the public's right to know trumps everything.

If that is the case, then Keller is in the wrong job. He should be president and should make sure that everyone in the federal government, from the most lowly USDA inspector through John Negroponte and even the President, should now start operating at a level of total transparency. By why stop there? I think that we should stand naked in the public square. Let's have the New York Times work in a sheer glass office tower with glass walls, including the bathroom stalls. The public, after all, has a right to know. Besides, considering that two of the largest window makers in the U.S. are located in Minnesota (Andersen Windows and Marvin Windows), it should be a great deal for the local economy here. To hell with bricks and stucco! We've got nothing to hide!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Are we losing perspective?

Two separate events have garnered a lot of attention in the Twin Cities in the past week. In the first, young boys in North Branch (ages 6-8) are accused of beating a puppy to death. In the second, two older youths in South Minneapolis were accused of beating a cat to death. Both stories led local newscasts.

Let's stipulate that killing pets is cruel and that the kids who did it should be punished, counseled or (ideally) both. There is sufficient anecdotal evidence out there that people who treat animals sadistically often turn their cruel ministrations on people later on unless there's some form of intervention. But I have to ask; are these two random events more newsworthy than, say, the torture, murder and defilement of two captured soldiers by terrorists in Iraq? And why did these horrible acts garner a shrug, while the animal stories were given lead story status? And from a local angle, the number of murders this summer in Minneapolis is up sharply, but stories of people gunned down on the north side seem to fall behind the tales of puppycide in Isanti County.

One of the local stations here in Minneapolis has a feature called "Good Question." Here's a question for "Good Question." Why lead a newscast with animal killing, when people are being gunned down in Minneapolis all too frequently? I'm going to ask that question myself and I'll be curious about the answer.


My very favorite six year old has a new post up on her blog. She provides the straight skinny on her new cousin and an update on summer, from her perspective. You won't want to miss out on this -- follow the bouncing link:

My son is considering his next move for his blog - World Cup, Twins or further BALCO bashing? So many choices. He'll weigh in soon and we'll send you there when he does.

Phillies drop two

It's been a tough few days for our Arden Hills Phillies. They have lost two games, first to the Giants 18-12 on Thursday, and to the Twins 11-5 this morning. A few quick notes.

The first loss to the Giants was especially disappointing, as the team struggled throughout against a team they had defeated handily earlier in the year. Pitching and defense were not at the usual level and it was a struggle throughout to catch up. The most interesting development of the game from this correspondent's perspective was that my son made his pitching debut. He came in the 6th inning and allowed one run, while getting 3 batters to ground out in the infield. Ben will not soon be confused with Roger Clemens, but his pitches were accurate and induced the Giant batters to hit routine grounders. Sometimes that works the best.

Today's game was a hard fought one, but a late Twins spurt spelled the difference. The Phillies and Twins had tied earlier in the season and this one was pretty much the same thing. Since the Twins players and the Phillies players are all classmates at Valentine Hills Elementary School, the kids and the parents know each other well and it's always an interesting game.

The two losses put the Phillies back below .500 at 6-7-2. The final game of the regular season takes place on Tuesday, a rematch against the Rockies at the dreaded Lily Pond in far Vadnais Heights. Game time is 6 p.m. Following the 4th of July break, the playoffs begin. Watch this space for updates!

Tick Tock

The clock is ticking. As we complete yet another largely fruitless week of job searching, I am growing increasingly concerned. So far, I've been able to conclude a few things:

I have a lot of talent. Everyone tells me that.
My credentials are impressive.
I've really done a lot of neat things.
I interview well - have heard that several times now.
People mostly like everything about me. I'm a regular Stuart Smalley that way.
I'm on the outside looking in.

So what gives? The last sentence is a classic example of a non-sequitur, since it does not follow that if I am a talented, well credentialed individual who is well liked, it doesn't make sense that corporate America would be turning me away. But that's what's happening.

The inner voice, or maybe my superego (to use a discredited Freudian concept) says... buck up, soldier - it's not as bad as all that. And I know it. I've written in this space in recent days about people I greatly admire who are facing something far worse than financial stress. It could be worse. But bad is still, by definition, bad. Thank you for indulging me on this one. Now back to the news....

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Slices of life

Yesterday was a hell of a day, with a lot of weird resonances. We tend to compartmentalize our experiences - sometimes I'm a father, sometimes I'm an old classmate, or a former co-worker, or a colleague, or a baseball coach. Some days you can be all those things. And sometimes the compartments jumble into each other.

I spent the morning in my usual current way - primarily searching for a new job, but also corresponding with those who are part of my life. I found myself in an extended e-mail conversation with a woman I went to high school with. She is coordinating my 25-year high school reunion and I had to let her know that I wouldn't be attending. I explained our current circumstances, and answered her questions about my perception of her efforts to coordinate the event. Expected attendance for the reunion is way down, apparently, and she is concerned that the event is not appealing to our classmates. She also offered to help me get a job, which I greatly appreciate. I graduated from a small, Catholic high school and my class had only 150 students. As a result, I knew everyone in the class. My correspondent fit into the "sometimes part of our social circle" category. She was bright and accomplished in high school and that has not changed in the succeeding years. Even across the decades, there's a human connection.

Then in the afternoon I drove across town to meet a former co-worker. He is, like me, a blogger and a member of the B of A alumni association, and like me, has not yet found gainful employment. I would hire this gentleman in a New York minute if I were running an enterprise, as he is one of the most smart, gifted and thoroughly decent people I know. You'd think that someone in the world would figure that out and get his services, but it hasn't happened that way. We sat together in front of a Caribou Coffee location in Minnetonka, talking about our recent experiences and the highs and lows we're currently experiencing. I'm hoping that we'll both find a better place soon.

Then I picked up the kids after their summer park program and made dinner, as my wife was at work. As I was reading my son a bedtime story, the phone rang. The call came from my wife's best friend from college, a woman who was the maid of honor at our wedding. She had news for us and when my wife got home, we found out what it was. Another college friend, who has been battling ovarian cancer for a decade now, is losing the fight and will probably pass away in the coming days. She recently had her 40th birthday and will likely not see 41. My memory of this lady is forever young - she is, like most people from Beloit College, exceptionally bright. However, she was well-known for having a bit of a zany streak and a tendency for the malaprop. She would pop her head in the door and would start to say something, then completely get lost in the verbal thicket. She later devoted much of her life to serving those less fortunate, including a stint in India, even as the cancer advanced. She is leaving way too soon.

Sometimes life doesn't lend itself to tidy morals. Sometimes the messages are mixed. But today is a beautiful summer day and the world seems new again. Nothing is promised. But promise remains.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Meanwhile, in T-Ball Action….

My daughter’s crack T-Ball squad, the grey-clad Team 1, took on a formidable Team 3 at Pike Lake School in New Brighton on Monday night. It was an evenly played game between two squads with some surprisingly talented kindergarteners. Team 3’s pitcher made a particularly stellar play, spearing a line drive struck by our best young hitter. This was a catch that’s not often made in Little League, so it was especially impressive. Meanwhile, the enthusiasm and willingness of our team to play is really a great joy. The kids clearly understand what we’re trying to teach them and they are greatly enjoying their experience. I’m also greatly pleased with the support we’re getting from their parents. This is a really great group of kids and we’re enjoying the heck out of coaching them. They will not have another game until July 10, but we’ll pick up the trail from there.

Phillies rally to top Mariners, 9-8

Another strong rally meant another victory for the Arden Hills Phillies, as they topped the Mariners 9-8 at Island Lake School in Shoreview. The Phillies cobbled together a strong four run fourth-inning, overcoming an 8-5 deficit to take the lead. Strong relief pitching then cooled the Mariner bats and the Phillies hung on to win. My favorite Phillie was 0-2, with a walk, stolen base and run scored. He also nearly took this correspondent out with a vicious line drive toward my post in the 1st base coaching box. We’ll have to have a chat with the boy about that….

The Phillies’ record now stands at 6-5-2. This game marks the beginning of a busy baseball week, as the Phils next face the last-place Giants at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday at Cummings Park in Arden Hills, followed by a rematch with the red-hot Twins at 10 a.m. on Saturday at Perry Park. These two contests are especially important for playoff seeding as the tournament nears. Watch this space for updates!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Hermeneutics Munster

What the heck does that mean? Besides further proof that Mr. Dilettante is fond of really obscure puns, that is. Well, first, let's talk about hermeneutics.

The definition of hermeneutics is "the theory and methodology of interpretation." Hermeneutics was, at least initially, a word that connoted interpreting Scripture. These days some of my more unhinged English major colleagues have appropriated the term and use it as part of the impenetrable academic fog that surrounds "texts," i.e., any written thing that they want to interpret. It could be "Hamlet," it could be Che Guevara's 1962 shopping list, it could be the Star Tribune's editorial page. Hell, let's make it the Star Tribune's editorial page.

Yesterday the Strib ran an especially funny editorial entitled "Sack Bolton, Or at Least Muzzle Him." Turns out that they don't like U.N. Ambassador John Bolton's tendency to make intemperate remarks about the U.N. and its inner workings. Bolton had the temerity to suggest that, because the member nations of the U.N. seem unwilling to reform their behaviors within the organization, and feel free to reject Kofi Annan's calls for reform, that the U.S. and others who bankroll the organization should have the right to withhold funds until better behavior is forthcoming. So, how to interpret this? Let's take a shot.

Bolton can be criticized, but Bolton cannot criticize. Stop it, Ambassador Bolton.
The U.S. can ask for reform, but if reform is not forthcoming, it should still pay up.
Bolton should shut up.
Diplomacy means "taking one for the team."
The team is not your employer (the Bush administration), but the U.N.
Shut up, Bolton!

See how easy it is? And anyone can play. Except John Bolton. He can just shut up.

Soldiers murdered; better check those president approval numbers!

If you want to understand what's wrong with the mainstream media in this country, consider most of the commentary this morning. Word came from Iraq that the two soldiers who had been kidnapped by insurgents over the weekend were tortured and murdered, and that their bodies were discovered today. Some reports indicated that Abu al-Bloodthirsty Moron, or whoever the new leader of Al Qaida in Iraq is, personally "butchered" the soldiers. The concern of the reporters and pundits? How will this affect the president's "approval numbers."

Sheesh. George W. Bush will not face the voters again. His approval rating could be -40 gazillion percent, but he would still be president until his replacement is sworn in. That date, by the way, is January 20, 2009. Not 2007, nor 2008, but 2009, people. It is absurd how much time and effort the media seems to spend on polling. The only polls that will matter in 2006 will take place in November. God bless the soldiers and never mind the bollocks.

Phillies set for rematch against Mariners

The mighty Arden Hills Phillies will take the field this evening for a rematch against the Mariners. Game time is 6 p.m. at Island Lake East in Shoreview. Last time the Phillies stormed to an early lead and then coasted to a 11-10 victory. Current standings put the Phillies, Mariners and Rockies in a tight battle for playoff positioning in their division, so this game will be meaningful as the playoffs approach. Details tomorrow.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Let's hear it for the boy

The newest family member, that is. My nephew, Edward Jerome, was born yesterday. He arrived mid-afternoon, weighing in at an impressive 9 lbs, 5 oz. and measuring a towering 21 inches long. Given the size of this youngster, the minute he arrived, it’s likely that a bell rang in Brett Bielema’s offices down in Madison. Congrats to my brother Pat and his wife Jenny!

Baseball Saturday

Since both of my kids are playing ball now, and since I am involved in coaching both teams, you have days like Saturday. We had a practice for Maria’s t-ball squad from 10 – 11 a.m., then had a practice for Ben’s team from 11- noon, then Ben tried out for the 10-year old traveling team in the afternoon.

It was interesting to watch the buildup in intensity of these activities. Maria’s teammates are really nice young kids. It’s been a pleasure to coach them; we have no prima donnas or pouty kids on the team at all. They are eager to learn, take our direction well and they all seem genuinely happy when their teammates succeed. My co-coach and I would love to take credit for that, but we’re wise enough to know that we are not coaching geniuses. We are just lucky enough to have some really good kids to work with, kids with supportive parents and kids from good homes. It’s a luxury.

My son’s teammates have a similar demographic profile – intact middle class families with supportive parents. The kids are generally a polite bunch and will accept coaching. We worked with this group, about half the team, on situational fielding, i.e., when there is a runner on first and two outs, what’s the play if you are the first baseman? My experience this year is that while our kids know what to do, they don’t always do it. They often have to think about what to do, and by the time they come up with the solution, it’s too late. Or, alternatively, they rush the play and then boot the ball or throw wildly. Kids these days only seem to play ball in an organized setting. When I was a kid, we played ball every day during the summer. Often it was Wiffle Ball, and we might only have 5-6 kids who’d play, but we would still play. Now, at least in my neighborhood, it just doesn’t happen. As a result, kids do not get the repetition they need to make standard baseball plays. By organizing it, we lose something. If you’ve ever seen the movie “The Sandlot,” you can understand how this works. The kids who play in pick-up games whip up on the kids in the uniforms. But the pick-up games are disappearing.

Then we went to the tryouts. This is a rarefied atmosphere. Kids are timed with stopwatches, given a set number of balls to field, both infield and outfield, are tested for pitching and batting. The measurements are objective and only some kids will make the team. Typically the Shoreview squads play in tournaments against kids from neighboring suburban areas, such as Roseville, White Bear Lake, Brooklyn Park, etc. These teams then become the genesis of the teams that eventually compete for the Little League World Series. Shoreview has a strong history in this, sending a team to the Little League World Series back in 1997 and to Babe Ruth World Series several other times. It’s odd to be part of this tryout process – the kids are doing baseball activities, but they aren’t really playing baseball. My son may not make his division’s team, but if he does we’ll have a much better look at this highly competitive world. And we’ll share it here.

Friday, June 16, 2006

This ain't Havana

So said the Ramones. They weren’t talking about the Twins, of course, but given the sudden departures of Batista and Castro, it’s hard not to think a little of Havana this week. Not Fulgencio and Fidel, of course, but Tony Batista and Juan Castro, who have served as the left side (more irony) of the Twins infield for most of the season. Now both are gone in a week’s time. Jason Bartlett and Nick Punto are their putative replacements, but that may change, too. One thing has become apparent this week; Terry Ryan and the Twins front office are not afraid to make mid-course corrections. Meanwhile, the Twins swept the Red Sox and now are on their way to Pittsburgh and a look at a new ballpark that may give them a few ideas for their new digs. The Pirates are not that great, but PNC Park is gorgeous.

Phillies rally to defeat Astros, 13-11

The mighty Arden Hills Phillies mounted a strong late innings rally, overcoming a 9-4 deficit to defeat a scrappy Astros team 13-11 last night at Hillview Park in Mounds View. Phillie hitters were on fire, banging out a home run and two triples over the course of the game. My favorite Phillie had a rough outing, arriving late (more on that in a moment) and going 0-3. Still, a fine win for the crew, bringing their overall record back to .500 at 5-5-2. The next game, a rematch against the Mariners, is tentatively set for Tuesday, with a location TBD.

An aside: you have to be flexible in this life. That was our lesson last night as we didn’t receive a late breaking e-mail indicating a field change until after we’d gone to the wrong park. Thus, we were almost an hour late for the game. Turns out the Astros coaching staff disliked the scheduled field and moved the game, but we didn’t get word until late. Oh, well.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The meaning of Roberto Clemente

Roberto Clemente was my boyhood hero and I vividly remember crying when news reports came in that he had died in a plane crash on New Year's Eve 1972. Clemente's plane, loaded with relief supplies, was en route to Managua, Nicaragua, where a devastating earthquake had taken place about a week earlier.

A recent issue of Sports Illustrated featured an excerpt from a forthcoming Clemente biography, written by David Maraniss, author of two fascinating biographical portraits of Vince Lombardi and Bill Clinton. The excerpt detailed the fateful hours prior to the crash, when an unscrupulous gentleman who owned a broken down DC-7 airliner buttonholed Clemente and offered his plane for the relief effort. Clemente took him up on it, boarded the plane and met his fate. It's a horrible tale, well told, and I am looking forward to reading Mr. Maraniss's full treatment of Clemente's life. Charles Barkley famously said that he was not a role model. But Roberto Clemente saw it differently. In this ever more cynical world, I miss my boyhood hero more than ever.

Whatever Budum wants, Budum gets

Response is in from my Twins post yesterday and faithful reader Budum asks that we discuss an "additional J"; i.e., Johan Santana. Okay, why not. Let's say that Santana has been nothing short of masterful this season and that his performance against Boston on Tuesday was one of his greatest ever. Striking out 13 Red Sox is quite an accomplishment, as they remain one of the best hitting teams around. And Mr. Santana has already recorded 1,000 strikeouts in his career, which is pretty astonishing when you consider that he didn't officially join the Twins starting rotation until 2003. He is indeed a huge part of the Twins future, as our transplanted Harvest Sprite pal suggests. So, herewith a tip of the Dilettante cap to Johan Santana. Now back to our regular programming.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

It's not supposed to matter

One of the silliest parts of a job search is that you have to answer the same question over and over and over again. Although it's not supposed to matter, the federal government continues to ask potential employers to obtain racial, ethnic and gender information on all applicants. I'm not sure what the numbers really mean, since the documents requesting this information state repeatedly that the information has nothing to do with a prospective job application. But every time I submit an application, I get asked the question. Although it's not supposed to matter.

Since it's not supposed to matter, I have no incentive to hide my racial/gender characteristics. But since it's not supposed to matter, it's a little disconcerting to keep answering the same question. Especially since it's not supposed to matter.

Kubel takes a bow

Another day, another walk off home run for the Twins, as Jason Kubel hit a 12th inning, game winning grand slam home run off Red Sox reliever Julian Tavarez last evening, providing the Twins with a 6-2 margin of victory. Kubel's clout barely cleared the baggie in right field, but it was enough to get the job done and end a thrilling night of baseball at the Dome.

The season itself is shaping up as a transition year for the Twins, but there are some positive signs. Yesterday we talked about the rapid progress of Joe Mauer, who has quickly turned himself into the best overall catcher in the American League. But there's more going on. Kubel is a good story; he looked to be a top prospect in 2004, but tore up his knee at the beginning of that season, costing him nearly two years as he had to rehab from the injury. He finally is back to the parent club now, and has been slowly building his batting average. He has also been effective enough to displace Lew Ford from the everyday lineup. Kubel has a quick bat and has a chance to be a high average hitter with decent power, if he can stay healthy. That's a big if, but yesterday's result should continue to boost his confidence.

Meanwhile, Justin Morneau has been quietly building up his numbers as well. Morneau was the walk-off winner in last Friday's 12-inning win over the Orioles, blasting a Bruce Chen pitch off the facing of the football press box in right field. Morneau is now on a 30-35 home run pace, which is the level of production that Twins fans are expecting. Meanwhile, Michael Cuddyer continues to show marked improvement in his offensive game.

But as these younger players begin to step up, it means that some of the warhorses the Twins have stocked this season need to go. The first casaulty is Tony Batista, the slow-moving, itinerant third baseman, who has been designated for assignment. Batista has not been nearly as productive as the Twins would have hoped, and it's clear that he wasn't going to be part of the Twins' long-term plans. Better to cut ties now and give him a chance to catch on elsewhere. Meanwhile, it's highly likely that Rondell White will be given his walking papers once Shannon Stewart returns from the disabled list later this month. Both Batista and White are fine gentlemen, but they are fading quickly and the Twins can't afford to keep them around.

No fun at the Lily Pond

It was a tough evening for our mighty Arden Hills Phillies, who fell behind early against the Rockies and struggled enroute to a 16-5 loss at a sun-drenched Lily Pond Park in Vadnais Heights. Not much went right for our heroes, who struggled with pitching problems and a lack of clutch hitting. To add to the pain, one of our kids had to leave the game with a bloody nose after losing a fly ball in the sun. My favorite Phillie was 0-1, reaching base twice with a walk and after suffering a second inning beaning (no harm done, that's why they wear helmets). The Phillies' record falls to 4-5-2, with a Thursday contest against the Astros scheduled for 6:15 p.m. at Emmett Williams Elementary School in Roseville.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Budum requests

One of the most faithful readers of this feature is a former B of A colleague who I greatly admire for his fine wit, affable personality, business acumen and unparalleled ability to consume sandwiches that are generally available only in gas stations. He is also known as Budum the Harvest Sprite, thanks to the ministrations of my fellow blogger and confrere Red Scourge.

Herr Budum has requested that we profile the recent exploits of Joe Mauer and the failure of the United States in the World Cup. Asked and answered, good sir!

First, Joe Mauer. Since his emergence from the Cretin Derham Hall athletic factory in the late 1990s, Joe Mauer has been a local legend for his multi-sport exploits. He had an opportunity to lead a big-time college football program as a quarterback, but instead signed a contract with the Minnesota Twins in 2001. Mauer is now 23 years old and is already in his third major league season. His batting average currently sits at .384, following a torrid hitting stretch this past week. He has a ton of talent - no doubt about that. He hits line drives to all fields, has exceptional plate discipline and one of the best hitting eyes in the major leagues. He will eventually hit for power, probably 25-30 home runs a season. In many ways, he reminds me of a hybrid between George Brett, the great Royals 3rd baseman, and Ted Williams, the legendary Red Sox slugger. Both Brett and Williams are among the greatest hitters of all time and both are members of the Hall of Fame. Will Mauer get there, too? It's awfully early, but based on his hitting alone, he should have a chance.

Now, the World Cup. My son will be writing about this over the weekend on his blog, so I don't want to steal his thunder. But as a baseball man, I have a hard time mustering a lot of interest in the events in Germany. It appears that, after 30 years of build-up and countless attempts to hype the sport, that the U.S. is approaching competence in this sport, but the national team was no match for the Czechs yesterday. Our best athletes do not play soccer; if that changes, I would expect the U.S. to contend for the championship. That's not the case now, so it's pretty easy to see why the U.S. team would struggle against top-notch competition. The soccer cognoscenti continue to hype and market the sport here, but they haven't made a lot of progress yet. And that doesn't seem likely to change in the near future. I'll always put a ball game on first.

Road Trip

The mighty Arden Hills Phillies again take the field tonight, traveling to far Vadnais Heights for a game against the Rockies. Game time is 6 p.m. at the Lily Pond, located at County Road F and McMenemy. This is by far the longest road trip of the season, as the park is about 7 miles from our New Brighton home. We'll have to see how the kids do in a field they've not seen before; we'll give you a full report on the game (and a critique of the Vadnais Heights Park Department) tomorrow.

Team One has a splendid evening

The mighty mites of New Brighton Park Department T-Ball Team One, who desperately need a shorter name, played a spirited contest against Team Two last evening at Pike Lake #2. Our kids did a splendid job, knocking down Team Two's grounders with aplomb and recording 12 total putouts. Our bats were alive as well, as several of the gray-clad sluggers were able to muscle the ball out of the Pike Lake infield. We don't keep score in t-ball, of course, but our kids certainly played like winners. My daughter made significant contributions, with three mighty base hits and a putout at second base.

Team One takes the field again this coming Monday, against the mysterious Team Three. Game time is again 6:15 p.m. at Pike Lake #2. Come and enjoy the fun.

Monday, June 12, 2006

My daughter takes the field

So it begins today - my daughter begins her formal athletic career as she and her pint-sized pals on "Team 1" take on the dreaded "Team 2" in the New Brighton Park Department t-ball league. Game time is 6:15 p.m. at Pike Lake #2.

T-ball is a hoot. The kids really want to make plays, but they have only limited know-how. I fully expect to see pileups on the basepaths and a few kids holding the ball without any concept of what to do with it. I also expect that at least one player will cry. But it's going to be great. Our kids are enthusiastic and are cute as can be. It's going to be a lot of fun and the best part will be watching their improvement as the season goes on.

A campaign is Hatched

So the battle is joined. The Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party has now endorsed Mike Hatch, current attorney general and public relations machine, to be its candidate for governor against the incumbent, Tim Pawlenty. This is the battle that everyone has anticipated and it's going to be really interesting.

Hatch defeated two other candidates at the DFL convention in Rochester. One was Steve Kelley, a state senator from Hopkins who is the very model of a modern DFL candidate, i.e., palatable to suburbanites. The other was another state senator, Becky Lourey, a redolent lefty from remote Kerrick, Minnesota who pinch hit for Cindy Sheehan last fall, among other stunts. Lourey is vowing to run in the primary but is currently being worked over by the DFL establishment.

Hatch is an interesting case. He's combative as hell and intensely partisan, but he has been known to buck his party's establishment from time to time. He's originally from the Duluth area and has a lot of the old time Iron Ranger in him. As a gadfly, he's been occasionally useful, but it's difficult to see how he would be able to handle the horse trading and coalition building that is part of the job. One thing I sense is that he is quite honest - about his policy views and (more importantly) his ambitions. And that will help him as he tries to sell himself to the voters.

Pawlenty will be tough to beat, however. He's done a pretty good job of cleaning up the mess that Jesse Ventura left behind, despite the rancor he's faced from the legislature. He's a very deft politician and has been able to package and repackage himself a number of times during the past four years. He's also very ambitious and re-election in 2006 will put him on the short list of potential Vice Presidential candidates for 2008. We'll be watching this campaign closely here.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Phillies fall to first place Royals, 8-2

Our Arden Hills Phillies struggled throughout their game on Thursday, losing 8-2 to the Royals, who remain alone in first place in the Junior Minor League with a glittering 11-0 record. There were opportunities to win the game throughout, but the steady Royals made key plays at key moments, while our heroes continued to struggle with piecing a rally together. My favorite Phillie was 1-1, ripping a hot shot through the Royal infield for a base hit in the 4th inning, along with drawing a walk in the 2nd. He also stole 3 bases. The loss brings the Phillies back to .500 for the season, with an overall record of 4-4-2. Next on the agenda is the Rockies, who will face our Phils at 6 p.m. on Tuesday at the Lilly Pond in remote and mysterious Vadnais Heights.

Ding Dong

It's bad form to gloat over the death of another human being, but this Catholic boy is willing to risk some Karmic payback when I consider the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the horrifically evil thug who used jihad as a pretext for committing gruesome crimes against anyone who crossed his path. So, let's get this ecumenical parlay out of our system.

Knock knock!
Who's There?

Ding Dong, Zarqawi's dead
Took a missile in the head
Ding Dong, al Qaida's in the red

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee
That's not Muhammad, it's the U.S. Army!

We've got a million of 'em. But the main point is this -- an evil man who caused great harm to many people, both in Iraq and elsewhere, can no longer hurt anyone else. Will his acolytes continue the jihad? Of course. But this guy won't, and that's a victory no matter how you slice it.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Ballad of Bilbo Bilbray

It's a beautiful day here in Twinstown. The sun always seems to shine a little brighter when conventional wisdom goes down the crapper. For the last few weeks, various media cheerleaders have been breathlessly anticipating a big victory for the Democratic candidate for California's 50th congressional district. The seat was the subject of a special election because the incumbent, Republican "Duke" Cunningham, has pleaded guilty to accepting bribes and assorted other corruption charges. The 50th District is in the San Diego area, which is fairly conservative by California standards, but there was much barely disguised hope that the seat would flip to the Democrats and candidate Francine Busby. The articles about how the race was a "harbinger" of the coming Republican collapse were likely already written, just waiting for the final numbers. Oh, happy days are here again!

Guess not, dudes. The Republican candidate, Brian Bilbray, won the election with just under 50% of the vote, to only 45% for Busby. What to make of all this?

  1. It may not be as easy to nationalize this election as the D's think. Elections are still decided in large measure by local issues, and when Busby was caught on tape telling someone who may have been an "undocumented worker" that "you don't need papers to vote," that likely doomed her candidacy. San Diego is awfully close to the border and the people there aren't all that fond of aliens participating in elections.
  2. Corruption per se won't be enough to push the D's across. We have all heard the mantra of Abramoff, Delay, etc., and in this case you had an actual incumbent with his hands in the cookie jar. My guess is that while Republicans control Congress today, many voters fully understand that Congressional corruption is not confined to one side of the aisle. Or one section of the freezer, for that matter.
  3. Immigration will be an issue in 2006, but it's difficult to say how. Bilbray quickly pounced on Busby's remark and used it to leverage a victory. Still, it's not yet clear that there's a lot of support for a big fence at the border, or for trying to deport everyone who is here illegally.

Will 2006 turn out to be like 1994, where one party sweeps the other from power in Congress? Maybe, but I wouldn't count on it yet. I still say the Democrats need to have a coherent, saleable message to get over. And there's no evidence that they will be able to develop one in time. Not being Republicans won't likely be enough.

Phillies rally to tip Braves, 8-6

The fighting Arden Hills Phillies used a late five-run rally to defeat a fine Braves team 8-6 Tuesday evening at Sunnyside School in New Brighton. Things looked bleak for our heroes as the Braves pitcher recorded two quick outs in the fifth inning, with the Phillies down 6-3. But eight consecutive batters reached base for the Phils to turn the situation around completely. My son was the eighth of this group, and the bases-loaded walk he coaxed led to the final run of the inning.

The game featured a number of outstanding defensive plays, including two sensational plays by the catcher for the Braves in the first inning. In the first play, the young catcher held on as the ball and a large Phillie baserunner arrived just about simultaneously at home plate. The Braves catcher tagged our runner out, despite an impressive collision and giving up about 25 pounds. The Braves catcher then dusted himself off and made an outstanding play on a pop up from the next batter, catching the ball just outside the dugout. This is a play that may be routine for major leaguers, but one you almost never see at this level. In addition, my son was robbed of a base hit when the Braves shortstop made a diving stop in the hole, then got up and fired a strike to the first baseman, beating my son by a half-step.

Despite all that, the Phillies prevailed and their record now stands at 4-3-2. They take the field tomorrow against a league-leading Royals team that sports a 9-0 record. Game time is 6 p.m. at Island Lake School in Shoreview. It should be a dandy.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Get Your Kicks On 6-6-06

Today is 6-6-06, which has led to all manner of speculation, some of it tongue-in-cheek, about bad omens (including a remake of The Omen), the Mark of the Beast and other spooky stuff ordinarily relegated to Halloween. For what appears to be the 14,605th time in my life, a prediction of imminent doom does not seem to be coming to pass. Odd.

On the other hand, if you want some bracing commentary, check out the latest at:

As always, the Red Scourge demolishes fools even better than Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. At a minimum, Gwynneth Paltrow might be feeling the Mark of the Beast after dealing with the demolition that our friend Scourge provides. Check it out, brothers and sisters.

The Coach With the Bugs Bunny Hat

The sky threatened, but the rain held off until later, so we were able to get the first practice for my daughter's t-ball team in last night. We met the kids for the first time and I was reminded of how cute and unpredictable 6 year old kids can be. My co-coach and I lined the kids up and gave them a chance to field some grounders, then we let them bat. Then I explained my philosophy of coaching to the parents, which consists of the following:

We're here to have fun. If your kid is not having fun, that's a problem.
We will teach them the basics.
We will not waste your time with numerous practices.
If you want to help your kids get better, play catch with them.
We will have fun.

To illustrate the point, I wore my beloved Looney Tunes baseball cap to practice. A coach with Bugs Bunny on his baseball cap can't possibly act like Vince Lombardi. I remain amazed at how competitive some of the other coaches I've encountered are. There is no need to fill a kid's life with pressure.

As for the team, we have some surprisingly good kids on the team. One child is about four inches taller than the rest and can already hit a ball out of the infield. He's got star written all over him. Funny thing is, he'll probably be the most difficult player to coach, because he's so good he wants to do everything and he just about trampled some of the other kids trying to make a play. If we can teach him to play a position and stick to what he does, this kid has a chance to be a special ballplayer. It will be fun to watch these kids play. Our first game is at 6:15 next Monday, at Pike Lake School Field #2. See for yourself, and watch for the coach with the Bugs Bunny hat.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Worthwhile Canadian Initiative Redux

A number of years ago, The New Republic had a "boring headline" contest and the winner was "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative." Outside of Ottawa and maybe Moose Jaw, it would be very difficult to find anyone who'd want to read an article with that headline.

But yesterday's news brings something different - a genuinely worthwhile Canadian initiative. The Canadian government has apparently stopped an Al-Qaida wannabe terrorist cell that had acquired a whole lot of ammonium nitrate, Timothy McVeigh's weapon of choice, and was planning to use same at government targets in Toronto and elsewhere. As it turns out, these would-be terrorists were in contact with radicals overseas and in the U.S.

What we don't know yet is whether or not the NSA and its ILLEGAL WIRETAPPING PROGRAM were in any way involved. We don't know if we should be OUTRAGED or not, just yet. But we can surmise that a whole lot of Canadian citizens are safer now that these fellows are in custody. If you see a mountie, make sure to give him a Tim Horton's gift certificate or something....

I know, I'm supposed to be talking about Haditha now. Shouldn't be bringing things like this up. My apologies.


Some guys blog about their kids. Some guys have kids that blog. 'Round here, we do both.

Introducing two new blogs from Mr. Dilettante Industries:

Ben's Sportsblog ( features the thoughts of my son, Ben, about sports and other issues, from his 10-year old perspective. He begins with a hard-hitting piece on Barry Bonds and will be writing about the World Cup in a future post.

About me ( is your go-to site for finding out the latest news and views of my daughter, Maria, 6-year old Renaissance girl. She will be posting as she sees fit. And when she sees fit, it will be something to see.

Meanwhile, we'll continue to plow our fields here at Mr. Dilettante. Will there be a wifeblog? So far, no indication.

Friday, June 02, 2006

On the fly

Only have a minute, so here's a few very quick thoughts:

Our Phillies lost to the Cubs 4-3 on Thursday. My son was 1-2 and stole two bases. Cubs coaches showed their commitment to letting the kids play by intentionally walking our best hitter twice when he had a chance to drive in runners in scoring position. Guy thinks he's Billy Martin or something. Let the kids play, for God's sake!

Is it just me, or is the MSM rooting for the Haditha story to be murder/genocide? Sure seems that way. Events are much more congenial when they conform to your template.

Thought experiment - what would happen if the U.S. pulled out of Iraq immediately. Would we be safer? Do you really want to find out?

The funniest meme/trope going around these days is the notion that Bush is the worst president in history. I can think of three who were demonstrably worse in my lifetime, and I'm only in my early forties. What would make Bush worse than the 70s parlay of Nixon, Ford and Carter? Just wondering.

Peace out - more next week.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Talk to Ahmedinejad?

Yesterday the Bush administration reversed course and offered to negotiate directly with the Iranian government. After nearly 30 years of isolation, and with the Iranian regime closer than ever to deploying nuclear weaponry, it is time to negotiate.

I think there's a better course. There's no purpose in talking to someone like Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, whose most recent effort at communication was a 18 page letter/manifesto that was an Islamic version of a Unabomber treatise. I think that the conversation needs to be with the Iranian people. It's difficult to remember, but prior to the arrival of Ayatollah Khomeini and his fellow 13th century aficianados, Iran was the most cosmopolitan (read: Western) nation in the Middle East. The Shah was a despot and did not tolerate challenge to his rule, but he was quite willing to allow Western thinking and influences into his nation. And while nearly three decades have passed, the mullahs have been unable to eradicate the West in their sprawling theocracy. Those who study that matter have long contended that there are the makings of an effective opposition to the mullahs, but they are not well organized and have been put under the thumb of the theocrats. I think that we should be talking to the Iranian people, not the thuggish government that oppresses them. A better world is possible if the mullahs are toppled, and talking to Ahmedinejad confers legitimacy that is undeserved.

Give the Iranian people the voice of America. I don't mean the U.S. Government agency broadcasts. I mean the full measure of our nation, warts and all. Show the people that there is a better world beyond the black-clad bullies that use faith as a truncheon. Show them freedom. Show them George Bush, and John Wayne, and Kanye West, and Madonna, and whoever else you want. Hell, show them Noam Chomsky. But the conversation should be with the Iranian people who yearn for a return to the world, if not the Shah.

None of the above

It's often the answer, but it's not the answer you want in a job search. Yesterday I had a difficult conversation with the president of a small financial concern that had interviewed me for an open position. I learned from this conversation that I was the number one candidate, that my interview was great and that I had everything they were looking for, but that the current employees had convinced the bosses that the job I had coveted should be outsourced to 3rd parties and otherwise split among them. The manager suggested that he knew this would be a disastrous course and that he hoped I would be willing to take his call in six months once the disaster became evident to everyone else.

Of course, I cannot wait six months and if his call arrives, I will almost certainly have accepted a job elsewhere. So what do we make of this? I think that while the economy is strong, many employers continue to be wary of adding headcount, even for existing positions. The imperative to save money and keep things lean is still quite strong. And for those of us still on the outside looking in, the challenge continues.