Sunday, December 30, 2007

Fearless Dilettante Football Predictions - Bowl Extravaganza Edition

Okay, lots of picks coming here. A few ground rules/general thoughts.

  1. There are too many #@@@&# bowl games. If you are playing in something called the Meineke Car Care Bowl, you really need something better to do. And given the participants in the game this year (noted football powerhouses Wake Forest and Connecticut), if you actually watch something like that, you definitely need something better to do. A Wake-UConn basketball game would be worth watching. Football, not so much.
  2. Any game that takes place prior to New Year's Day is not worth thinking about. Especially when they are named after muffler shops or websites devoted to pizza delivery. And most of these bowls are.
  3. Games that take place in Boise, Shreveport or Mobile are not worth thinking about. If you wouldn't consider the destination for a vacation, it's not a serious bowl.

Anyway, let's get on with the picks.

OUTBACK BOWL: WISCONSIN BADGERS 31, TENNESSEE 27. Of course I'm going to pick my beloved Badgers, but there's good reason for it. Tennessee is a middling SEC team and the Badgers have shown a propensity to beat even well-regarded SEC teams in recent years. If Bucky's defense holds up and they aren't blinded by the garish orange uniforms of their opponents, the Badgers should be able to wear down the Vols.

COTTON BOWL: MISSOURI 34, ARKANSAS 24. This should be a good game. Mizzou has a good team for the first time in about 40 years and the Razorbacks have probably the best player in college football in Darren "Pimp My Ride" McFadden. Since it's on at the same time as the Badgers, I won't see it, but it should be fun.

CAPITAL ONE BOWL: FLORIDA 31, MEESHEEGAN 27. The Gators should win this pretty easily, but I suspect that Go Blue will have one more good effort left for ol' Lloyd Carr. Despite their stumbles, the Wolverines have a lot of talent. Tim Tebow is a good quarterback, but he got more hype than he deserved.

GATOR BOWL: TEXAS TECH 44, VIRGINIA 37. This one should be fun. The Red Raiders can score, and will. Virginia is a solid team but I suspect the ACC was overrated this year.

ROSE BOWL: USC 34, ILLINOIS 21. The Illini are no fluke - Ron Zook has done a real nice job with this team. But USC might have the best talent in college football. And in the end, talent will out.

SUGAR BOWL: GEORGIA 41, HAWAII 38. Colt Brennan, the Hawaii quarterback, put up comic opera numbers again this year. But he hasn't played anyone like Georgia. The Bulldogs can score and defend. They'll need to to do both, but I suspect they'll be able to do just enough of both to win this one.

FIESTA BOWL: OKLAHOMA 31, WEST VIRGINIA 30. If the Mountaineers hadn't lost their coach, I'd pick them. But they have. By the way, can you think of a potential matchup that has less desirable demographics than this one?

ORANGE BOWL: VIRGINIA TECH 31, KANSAS 21. I'd like to claim this pick is based on sentiment, but it's not. It's based on experience. And in my experience, Virginia Tech is a long-time powerhouse. Kansas is a nice story, but they won't have enough firepower to win this game. And Mark Mangino needs to lose some weight. I do too, but he looks like he's going to keel over every time I see him on television.

BCS CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: LSU 34, OHIO STATE 28. If the game were in Pasadena, or Glendale, AZ, or Miami, or just about anyplace else, I would pick the Buckeyes. But this may as well be an LSU home game.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Old School

My cheesehead brethren will recognize the logo on the left immediately as that of the Appleton Foxes, the minor league

baseball team that is now known as the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, whose logo is represented on the right. The Foxes adopted this logo for the 1978 season, when they had a young general manager named David Hersh. Hersh was only 21 at the time and he was the boy wonder of the minor leagues, turning the Foxes into a promotional extravaganza. The team, which featured several players who would later play in the major leagues, most notably pitchers LaMarr Hoyt and Britt Burns, ended up winning the Midwest League that year and Hersh made quite a name for himself, even though the team didn't draw all that well. He was able to leverage his position to gain a controlling interest in a AAA team the next year, the Portland Beavers, and we never heard from him again. Last I heard he was still running a minor league team in the Tampa area (and no, I don't mean the Devil Rays).

The Foxes logo seemed pretty forward thinking at the time - the team was affiliated with the White Sox in those days and had typically worn hand-me-down White Sox uniforms prior to that point. The idea that a minor league team would try to establish its own identity and marketing image at that point was pretty unusual; while there were a few such examples generally at the higher levels, A ball teams usually operated like the Foxes did. The locals would get a regular dose of the Wausau Mets, the Burlington Brewers and the Quad Cities Angels in those days.

Minor league teams have now pretty much all established their own identities and logos, usually much more flashy than the somewhat prim Foxes logo. The Timber Rattler logo is significantly more attention-getting. It pretty much screams for attention; the Foxes logo, not so much.

My brother got me baseball caps for Christmas this year that feature both these logos (thanks, Pat!). The Foxes hat is very old school indeed; navy blue with the plain logo you see above. The Timber Rattler hat is a plum color a shade or two lighter than the maroon of the University of Minnesota, with a black bill. (I think that Dutch Boy paints offers a similar shade called "Dame Margaret" or some such. The names companies give to paint colors is probably worth another post, although I usually leave that sort of thing to a professional like Dorky Dad.) Having both caps is great; while I like modern images as much as the next guy, old school and retro looks still have their purpose. It's funny now, 30 years on, that the Foxes logo that was at the cutting edge of minor league fashion is now defiantly an old school look.

Friday, December 28, 2007

A cruel, cruel disease

We said goodbye to a woman named Mary Huberty today. Mary and her husband Dick are great friends of my in-laws and their four sons are contemporaries of Mrs. D and her sister. Mary died last week after about a ten-year bout with Alzheimer's. She was only 67.

I met Mary about a year before Mrs. D and I got married. Mary was, to put it mildly, a dynamo. She was smart, organized, extremely gracious and probably could have given Martha Stewart a run for her money when it comes to the domestic arts. Her four sons are all highly accomplished fellows, including one who is a Catholic priest. Mary and Dick did just about everything right in their lives and when Dick was ready to retire about a decade ago, it looked like they would have a wonderful time growing old together. But the diagnosis came.

I didn't see that much of Mary over the last few years; she and Dick spent a lot of their time in Arizona. It was not a lot of fun for them; Alzheimer's essentially strips away those things that make you human, bit by bit. After awhile, the woman who ran one of the most organized kitchens in the St. Paul suburbs would find herself standing there, trying to remember what precisely you do with a saute pan. I cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like and I hope that I never find out.

It's sad in a thousand ways, but one thing is assured: Mary is, most assuredly, in a better place now. It's been said in this space before -- nothing is promised. Still, no matter what, promise remains.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Fearless Dilettante Football Predictions - Snow Emergency Edition

It's been snowing so much lately that ol' Pandora the computer almost got buried under a drift. But it's Thursday, so neither rain, nor sleet, nor any of those other things that bedevil the postal service can stop the blogger from making his picks. Meanwhile, behold one of the 25,000 quarterbacks who have played for the Lions since they last won an NFL championship.

Green Bay Packers 24, Detroit Lions 14. The Packers are in a foul mood after getting beaten by the Bears, with the added bonus of Nick Barnett getting assaulted by an official. The Lions haven't won in Green Bay since 1991. It probably won't be a very interesting game unless you are a relative of Vernand Morency and/or Craig Nall, but there's no reason to believe the Motor City Kitties will win on Sunday. And for those who want to know why, I'd encourage you to visit, a loving compendium of the 50 years of humiliation that is Detroit Lions football.

ACTUAL RESULT: GREEN BAY 34, MOTOR CITY KITTIES 13. Let's reprise the words of the old Paul McCartney song "Rockshow," (from Venus and Mars, by the way) which does as good a job of summing up this game as anything else. Best of all, you don't have to actually hear it:

In my green metal suit I'm preparing to shoot up the city
And the ring at the end of my nose makes me look rather pretty
It's a pity there's nobody here to witness the end
Save for my dear old pal and confidant, Madamoiselle Kitty, Kitty KITTY!

Packers wear green, they tend to shoot up the Lions, many of the Lions probably should be sporting nose rings. Substitute Mike Martz for Madamoiselle Kitty and I think it works pretty darned well. You don't suppose that Sir Paul might have, ahem, ingested something before he wrote those lyrics?

Denver Broncos 23, Purple 16. High altitude, low expectations. On the bright side, the Vikings have a lot of cap money and it's probably an even money bet that Donovan McNabb will be taking up residence here next year. The Vikes have had some success with castoff Eagle quarterbacks, if memory serves.

ACTUAL RESULT: BRONCOS 22, PURPLE 19 (OT). I thought of another song, this one by the late great Warren Zevon, that might fit this game. It's called "Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead." Tarvaris couldn't win it in the end. Troy Williamson continues his Roberto Duran "Hands of Stone" imitation. And the team with 7, count 'em 7 Pro Bowlers finishes 8-8. The good news? We don't have to think about any of these people again until the spring. I would bet that Mr. Williamson may be looking for a new place of employment soon. Based on the available evidence, he might want to try Detroit....

This feature will return over the weekend for the Bowl Extravaganza!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Almost time. . .

to start paying attention to politics again. Iowa and New Hampshire will be doing their ritual vetting in the coming days and once the dust settles, we should have a better idea about who will be the contenders to succeed President Bush. I've really tried not to focus too much on politics lately, because it has been so distasteful. But duty calls. A few quick thoughts:

  • Mike Huckabee does not impress me at all. He's pure Arkansas, almost a doppelganger of Bill and Hill. He's having his moment right now, but my sense is that he's not going to last.
  • I would like to support Mitt Romney, but he hasn't sold me yet. I'm not especially concerned about Romney's Mormon faith; I grew up in a heavily Catholic town that happened to have a Mormon mayor and her faith didn't cause her to do anything goofy. What bugs me about Romney is that he's a little too, shall we say, protean. Since he can be whatever you want him to be, it's like staring at a funhouse mirror. Ever since my surgery, stuff like that makes me dizzy.
  • McCain is still beyond the pale, no matter how reasonable he might look. He's a decent, honorable man who is responsible for one of the worst things that has ever been done legislatively in this country - McCain/Feingold. Free speech is paramount and government should not infringe on it, especially political speech.
  • True confession: I voted for Ron Paul in 1988. I was a young libertarian and George H.W. Bush didn't especially impress me. 20 years on, the world looks very different. Ron Paul is the same: principled, forthright and someone who should never be president.
  • Could I vote for a Democrat? Theoretically, yes. But not for any of the current contenders. Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama and Mr. Edwards are all big-time statists who aren't satisfied with the amount of power the government already has. They are all unserious people. When the most serious person on the port side is Joe Biden, you know that there's a problem.
  • So who does that leave? Rudy? Fred Thompson? Someone else? I don't know. We'll all have to sort it out pretty soon, though.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Togetherness at Christmas

It's Christmas Day and I hope that you are having an enjoyable time with your family. We are having a quiet Christmas but there's a reason for it. One might even call it ironic.

The kids woke us up at a fairly reasonable hour, 7 a.m., and then they opened their presents. The big deal this year is that they both now have their very own Nintendo DS, which they have been coveting for some time now. I think they suspected something was up, because they were making a point of "practicing our celebration when we get the DS," per my son. They didn't suspect that they would both be getting one, but Santa was able to rally this year. So they are both insanely happy.

Here's the ironic part - because they are both playing their games and have both retreated to their respective bedrooms to do it, the house is almost freakishly quiet. You can barely hear the clattering of tinny music from their rooms down the hall, but that's it. Mrs. D received two books for Christmas and is quickly devouring one of them, so she's pretty much silent, too. And I sit in front of Pandora the computer, typing away quietly.

Christmas is a time for togetherness. And we are all together. But it's a strange sort of togetherness. Perhaps once the novelty has worn off, we'll actually resume talking to one another....

Sunday, December 23, 2007


It's been a snowy weekend here and right now it's almost a bit Doctor Zhivagoesque. The wind is really whipping around and it looks like a snow globe placed in a paint shaker. On days like this, it's nice to be home, sitting at my dining room table, safe from the elements.

We tend to view holidays with nostalgia, especially this time of year. We've been dreaming of a White Christmas for a long time and it's been a mixed bet lately; many times we haven't had a lot of snow for the holidays. I remember it being different when I was a kid; it always seemed like there was snow on the ground, but that may be an example of memories playing tricks on us. So far this has been an old fashioned winter, as we like to describe it. The kids were out playing in the snow yesterday and will probably be back out there tomorrow, once the wind dies down a little bit.

We travel every other Christmas and this year is one of the years we've stayed home. It's been a different Christmas season this year; things are changing for our family and the kids are growing up quickly. We've tended to spend Christmas Day either at my in-laws, or with my family back in Wisconsin. Many times we've been forced to travel. Traveling on Christmas Day is no good - most places are closed and the only food on offer is what you can buy in a gas station. Several times we've eaten a picnic lunch at a truck stop in Wausau. That's not a memory you want to cling to. This year, Christmas is at our house. We've been here for over 10 years now and it really is time. Mrs. D and the kids are in the kitchen right now, making fudge. There may be Christmas cookies made later today, or maybe tomorrow. I'm not entirely sure how it will all play out, but it feels right.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Fearless Dilettante Football Predictions - Porn Star Mustache Edition

In our last edition, an anonymous poster helpfully pointed out that Bears quarterback Kyle Orton sports a porn star mustache. Now, Mr. Dilettante wouldn't know anything about that, of course, because good Catholic boys don't watch such things. And while it's possible that Kyle Orton may be trying to affect the look of an, ahem, adult entertainer, it's unlikely that he knows anything about what such individuals do, having attended Purdue, by far the most socially inhibited school in the Big 10. But if Orton sees the field on Sunday, he's quite likely to put on yet another obscene performance at Soldier Field. And that's why you're here, of course. On to the picks:

Green Bay Representatives of All That Is Good, Decent And Wholesome* 34, Team Harry Reems 16. A Packer-Bear game is always a morality play anyway and the Forces of Evil (EVIL!!! I SAID EVIL!!!!! GET THEE BEHIND ME, URLACHER!!!!) managed to steal a game up at Lambeau earlier this year. (Evil people steal, of course). And like all bad guys, da Bearz likely have something up their sleeve. The problem is that they can't score. Odd, isn't it, that people who look like porn stars can't score. But that's the fate of the Chicagoans, who are, as the great Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Verdi said, representatives of the "City of Big Shoulders and Narrow Trophy Cases." 14-2 is looking more likely by the moment for my beloved Packers.

ACTUAL RESULT: EVIL 35, GOODNESS 7. I could extend the metaphor of this particular posting in a number of ways, but in the interest of keeping this a family-friendly feature, let's just say that sometimes Evil triumphs. On the other hand, Evil will be sitting on its couch in two weeks and my beloved Packers will move on. Merry Christmas, Mr. Urlacher.

Washington Politically Incorrect Sources of Great Frustration to Native Americans Everywhere Who Are Not Currently Preoccupied By the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux 24, Purple 21. This is the game that Tarvaris Jackson will need to win. The guess here is that he won't. The Redskins play pretty good defense and will probably keep Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor from running wild. If that happens, Viking fans had better hope that the defense can score a few times.

ACTUAL RESULT: REDSKINS 32, VIKINGS 21. Guess Tarvaris isn't ready. Not sure he ever will be. I think you could make an argument that the best quarterback in Minnesota is Adam Weber.

And since we have to keep our eyes on the scoreboard, and because it will likely annoy Dan S. greatly, I present a Bonus Pick:

Carolina NASCARs 24, Romo Arigato 21. T.O. has instructed Jessica Simpson to stay away this weekend. But what happens if Jessica Biel shows up? Or Jessica Alba? Or Jessica Rabbit, for that matter? Lots of ways to distract the dashing young Cowboys quarterback, I reckon. If I were Tony Romo, the person I'd watch out for this week is Julius Peppers.

ACTUAL RESULT: COWBOAHS 20, PANTHERS 13. Julius Peppers didn't even play and a bunch of fans with Jessica Simpson masks didn't fool fellow cheesehead Romo. Now if they had all been wearing masks depicting a bratwurst on a semmel roll, maybe that might have made a difference, but I suspect the folks in Charlotte don't know about such things. I must also say that I've been very grateful to have the services of Marion Barber III for my fantasy football team this year.

* No, we aren't going to talk about Mossy Cade, or James Lofton, or Mark Chmura, or .....

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ann Marie Talks with the Bishop (apologies to Yeats)

I met the Bishop on the op-ed page
And much said he and I
"Your doctrine's flat and fallen now,
The Vatican I decry;
Speak now of higher values,
Don't make my parents pry."

"So said at St. Joan of Arc,
What's foul is fair," he cried.
"Doctrines denied, but not the truth
Of teachings I've described
Fought in bodily lowliness
And in the heart's pride.

"A woman can be proud and stiff
When on love intent
But love has pitched this mansion in
The place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Understanding your sidebar

As much as a blogger might reveal in postings, I find that sidebars are often a better window into the thinking and the attitude of a blog. I've been working on my sidebar lately and have been adding various elements to it in the past month. It is, I suppose, a form of decorating; some blogs I read regularly have striking visuals - Uncle Ben over at Hammerswing is currently doing some really neat stuff for the holidays. I don't really have the technical chops to do much other than tack stuff up on the side. It was the same approach I took to decorating my dorm room years ago - one year I had vintage travel posters that I stole from my dad, another year I went out and bought Picasso prints, the next I put up a bunch of sports pennants.

Sidebars can be a measure of things, or people, that we value. The bloggers and other links that I've gathered in the "Me Gusta" section are people whose work I admire. We are fortunate in Minnesota to have a strong blogging population and every link that I've posted is someone that I strongly recommend.

I've lately added some images on the sidebar as well; while the images are a bit distorted (again, my technical chops aren't so good), but the three faces you see are all people whom I greatly value. The first image is that of my childhood hero, Roberto Clemente. I was about the age my daughter is now when Clemente dominated the 1971 World Series, the first Series that I remember well. He was a fierce, proud and consistently exciting player and he died a tragic yet utterly noble death, attempting to bring relief to the victims of the earthquake that hit Nicaragua late in 1972.

The second image is that of the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats. Yeats was a force even as he approached the end of his long life; his verse was strong, deceptively plain-spoken yet always brimming with ideas and passion.

The third is. . . Bob Newhart? Doesn't seem to fit, does it? But it does. As much as I admire firebrands like Clemente or Yeats, I've never been one myself. Can't really pull it off. But the gentle smart-aleck thing comes quite naturally. And there's never been anyone better at it than Newhart.

So here's the question. Even if you are not a blogger, you likely have a mental sidebar. Who would be three people that you'd put on your sidebar? And why?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Dorky Dad - Highly Recommended

I found a humor blog that's very good, apparently emanating from a guy who lives in New Brighton. It's called Dorky Dad ( and he's quite good, so good that my son Ben was laughing so hard that he we needed to remind him to breathe. Support your local bloggers and give him a look. He's on my blogroll for easy reference.

Four Guys Named Ben Update 121507

The Gold Standard ran up against a hot shooting St. Anthony squad this morning and lost by a score of 42-30 at the SACC. Ben got on the board, scoring on a short jumper in the first half. The boys played tough but in the end the St. Anthony squad was too deep and too tough.

The team is now 2-2-1 and will be taking a holiday break, returning to action in three weeks. Stay tuned to Mr. Dilettante for continuing coverage of the Irondale/St. Anthony/Mounds View 5-6 League.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Mr. D begins year three

Some people make a big deal about their blog anniversary; I'm so attuned to such milestones that the two year anniversary for Mr. Dilettante passed yesterday and I completely forgot about it. So let the pigeons loose. Thanks to all who have joined me on this journey.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Fearless Dilettante Football Predictions - Overexposure Edition

Suddenly the locals are going to be featured twice on national television in the coming weeks? Is Chilly ready for his closeup, Mr. DeMille? We'll talk about that anon. But first:

Green Bay Packers 34, St. Louis Mutton 14. Not that long ago, a trip to St. Louis meant a lot of dread. Not lately, though; these Rams are decimated with injuries and weren't all that good to begin with. The Packers have been awfully good this year and there's little reason to suspect it will be different this time around. Here's the interesting question for Packer fans; Ryan Grant now has 744 yards and three games to go. Will he get 1,000 yards in essentially half a season? The answer to that question may have a lot to do with whether or not the Packers will be leaving Dallas with smiles on their faces in January. So far he's been doing a very convincing Dorsey Levens imitation.

ACTUAL RESULT: PACKERS 33, ST. LOUIS 14. Now that's pretty good - I was only one point off. Good result and with the Seabags losing in Carolina, the Packers get a bye and their first playoff victim in Lambeau. Hope it's really, really cold. Oh, and the Cowboys lost today, too and have their last two on the road and an injured Tony Romo to boot. This could still break the Packers' way....

Purple Helmeted Love Warriors 17, Spawn of Abe Gibron 14. The choke is coming. Everyone who has ever spent any time observing the locals knows that it's coming, especially fans of the locals. But these Bears are going to have a difficult time scoring with Kyle Orton as their quarterback. But it wouldn't surprise me if Lovie has a few tricks up his sleeve. And Devin Hester is still lurking. I'm still going with the Vikings, but I would not be surprised to see a close game where Tarvaris Jackson has to win the game. And we still don't know if he knows how to do that.

ACTUAL RESULT: SEVEN LAVENDER CLAD PRO BOWLERS 20, KYLE ORTON NATION 13. And after this game, we still don't know whether or not Tarvaris Jackson can win a game if he has to; I think we can all agree that a team quarterbacked by Kyle Orton doesn't count. We may find out as early as Sunday. The Vikings are in the catbird seat, as Red Barber used to say, but they will need to pick it up considerably from what they showed on Monday night.

Curious George Takes a Dump

George as in George Mitchell, that is. The former senator from Maine has now released his report concerning the use of steroids in baseball. Some of the names are headliners - Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite, Miguel Tejada. Some are ghosts - Lenny Dykstra, Mo Vaughn, Chuck Knoblauch. Most are marginal players - Larry Bigbie, Cody McKay, Bart Miadich.

There are around 80 names all told. We know all about Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi. I would claim to be a little surprised about Rondell White and a surprising nest of former Braves pitchers, like Denny Neagle, Kent Mercker and Mike Stanton. We continue to suspect other names not listed here - Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Luis Gonzalez.

So what do we make of it all? Here are a few thoughts:

  • The revelations of the new names may make this news, but it's very old story. This story is simply a variation on the Faust legend that has been told countless times. There have always been people who are willing to sell their soul for transitory glory. Eventually the devil comes to collect. This time, his messenger happens to be a former senator from Maine. (And no, I'm not saying Senator Mitchell is in any way satanic, although he did treat President Bush 41 like hell.) Some 400 years ago, Marlowe wrote the story. Some 175 years ago, Steven Vincent Benet wrote the story. This time, apparently Buster Olney is writing it. But it's the same story.
  • It will be very interesting to see if Roger Clemens garners the same level of oppobrium that Barry Bonds has lived with in the last few years. If what's contained in the Mitchell report is true, their stories are remarkably similar - players who were likely headed for the Hall of Fame on merit, but who wanted to reach further and used artificial means to artificially extend their careers. Bonds may be one of the 10 most hated men in America. Will Clemens face the same wrath? We're about to find out.
  • The question about the Hall of Fame is going to come up, especially since Clemens and Bonds are among the top five players at their positions in the history of the game. I've mentioned Bill James's book The Politics of Glory before, but I would commend it to your attention, because it explains why the Hall of Fame is already a deeply compromised institution. You might think a HOF with Bonds would be tainted. You might even be right. But a HOF that already contains Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Gaylord Perry and many similar rogues is already tainted to some degree. I'm not sure what you do about hygiene at this point.
  • And how do we view this entire era? I would suggest that we view the era in the same way we view the early 1930s, a time of incredible offensive production that has almost no bearing on what happened in the following years. Hack Wilson hit 191 RBIs in 1930. No one has seriously approached that record in many years. The record is on the books, but today we don't look at Hack Wilson in the same way we look at some of his contemporaries, like Gehrig, Ott and Foxx. We'll have to cast a gimlet eye on some of the achievements of the era, but others will likely stand. We might devalue Bonds or Clemens, but we'll likely still be able to sing the praises of Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson. That is, unless Curious George has more names to reveal later on.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


You may have noticed this. After taking a 34-0 thrashing at the hands of my beloved Packers, the local professional football team has suddenly won four consecutive games, many of them by fairly lopsided scores. And just as suddenly, the skeptical fan base is becoming interested in the team again.

This has caused some hooting in certain corners. In today's Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan wrote about the notion of people jumping on the bandwagon. Souhan's take is that using the word bandwagon is a sign of mental weakness. So I'm going to prove his point and use the word extensively. I take great pride in being a slack-jawed moron. Really, who wouldn't?

Souhan's argument is that being a fair-weather fan is rational, especially for Vikings fans. Generally I agree with him; no team has teased its fans more. And given the battle for entertainment dollars in the Twin Cities, it's not surprising that the team has had to rely on corporate largesse to keep their games on television most of this year. The cost of attending an NFL game is pretty outrageous these days; if I were inclined to take my family to the Dome for a game and were to pay face value for the tickets, I would reasonably expect that the total outlay for the day would be approaching $400, once parking and concessions are factored into the equation. I can take the family to a Twins game for a tenth of the cost and, not surprisingly, we go to several Twins games each year. I have only seen the Vikings in the Metrodome once and that was in 1989, I think.

Being a fan isn't about rationality, however. Especially in professional sports, it's about cheering a bunch of mercenaries who happen to be wearing the colors of the team assigned to your market. It's pretty much axiomatic that people who always stay on the bandwagon do so for reasons that have a lot more to do with emotion than intellect. As a Packer fan, I certainly understand the role of emotion in my support of the team. Despite whatever protestations the team might make to the contrary, the Packers don't need my support at all. If I were to switch allegiances tomorrow, it wouldn't make a bit of difference to the Packers. They have every ticket sold in their stadium, essentially forever; thousands of fans sit patiently on the waiting list for season tickets.

But there I sit on the Packer bandwagon, pretty much in the same seat I've held since I first started following the team as a child. I can quote chapter and verse about former Packers and I've watched hundreds of games in my life on television. Only once have I actually seen a game in Lambeau Field (Green Bay 48, Washington 47, a Monday Night game back in 1983). Is it rational that this team has such a purchase on my time and my psyche? Of course not. But it doesn't matter. I stay on the bandwagon. And I don't begrudge those who hop on and off the bandwagon. It doesn't detract from my joy one bit if people who might ordinarily wear purple, or silver and blue, or even navy and orange, keep a Favre jersey deep in their closet.

So if the Vikings lose this weekend and the all the people jump off the purple bandwagon again, that's fine too. And if they decide to join the Packer bandwagon later on, great. There's always room.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Somewhere in the wilds of Fitchburg...

Mills is smiling. MU 81, Bucky 76. But us Beloit College grads wish to thank the University of Wisconsin-Madison for providing us with our new basketball coach, former Badger great Brian Vraney. I can only assume that Duany Duany was otherwise engaged.

Four Guys Named Ben Update - 120807

Our intrepid basketballers, coming off the brutal scrimmage against the girls last night, took the court against one of what appears to be several dozen Mounds View teams this afternoon at Chippewa Middle School. The boys prevailed 20-14, wearing down their undermanned opposition. Since Ben is on the gold team this year, I think we'll call this squad the "Gold Standard."

As for our particular Ben, he did not score, but took two shots and was "ferocious" on defense, according to one of the other dads. And indeed, Ben was; he forced five turnovers that I counted and he shut down the guy he was guarding entirely. Ben also managed an assist and 4 rebounds. All in all, a good showing. And Ben didn't get trampled, unlike what happened the night before.

Anyway, the team is now 2-1-1 and will take the court next week against yet another mysterious Mounds View team at Chippewa. More details anon.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Scrimmaging the Girls

So we just got back from my son's basketball practice. His team was practicing in half of the Highview Middle School gym, while a girls team was practicing on the other side. One of the coaches from the girls team came over to our side of the gym and asked if our guys would be willing to scrimmage the girls. After a little hemming and hawing, the boys agreed and we went over to scrimmage the girls.

At my son's age (he just turned 12), it's not at all uncommon for the girls to be taller than the boys. Girls tend to mature a few years before the boys do and the girls on this team were generally as big, or bigger, than some of the kids on our team, especially the 11-year old boys. And if our guys thought that these girls were going to be shrinking violets, they were quickly disabused of that notion. The girls set up a play and our point guard, who is a thin, quick, talented kid, was attempting to guard the girl playing point guard. As the girl began to drive, another girl came up and set a moving pick that would have gotten a member of the Wild two minutes in the penalty box for roughing. Our guard went flying, knocked almost out of bounds. The pick was most certainly illegal, but in the world of scrimmages no one said a word, although Mrs. D wasn't too pleased about it. Over the course of the 1/2 hour or so that the kids scrimmaged, at least three of our kids were sent sprawling in a similar fashion, including my son.

After it was over, our kids were more than a little surprised that they had been manhandled by a bunch of girls. But I think there are a few lessons here:

First, athletics for girls has changed a lot since the early days after the implementation of Title IX. Girls these days are taught to play the game hard and not to back down.

Second, boys underestimate girls at their peril. Yes, gender roles ultimately remain the same, but this generation of girls is learning to be more aggressive in all sorts of ways. There's been a pretty lively debate about how girls and boys are educated these days. Girls are now overtaking boys in a number of metrics and how this plays out over time will be very interesting to see. It is beyond dispute that there is a major shift underway with implications that we won't understand for some time.

My daughter is now entering this world, too. She will be playing basketball this year in the "Little Dribblers" program, which teaches basic skills and doesn't really involve a lot of scrimmaging or games. My guess is that she and her peers will be taught to be aggressive as well. What will that mean for her? Hard to say. But what she learns on the basketball court will have ramifications for how she sees the larger world. And it's possible that if she decides she wants to stay with basketball, in 3 or 4 years she might be knocking some boy on his butt.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

What did the 60s look like?

Here's what they looked like sometime in 1968 or so. The blogger is on the far right, sporting a smokin' polyester Beatles-style Edwardian suit, while his younger brothers feature shorts and black knee socks. All are wearing Buster Brown shoes. And if isn't obvious, my dad was trying to save money in those days by cutting our hair. And there's no easier haircut to administer than a buzz cut.

This picture was taken at our maternal grandmother's house - I am not sure of the occasion; might have been Easter or something, or maybe one of my dozens of cousins (I have over 60 of them on my mother's side - like I've said, I'm pretty Catholic) was getting married. This image was taken with my father's early Polaroid camera, which was a complicated contraption that led him to bat about .500 on getting good pictures; that's one reason why it's all wrinkled and gooey, besides the usual ravages of time that have caused it to fade. A lot of images that we see from that era are similarly distorted, of course, but not simply because of the technological limitations of film in that era. There are any number of people who want to believe things about the 1960s that simply aren't true. These days you are much more likely to see pictures of flowing-haired hippies and psychedelic outfits whenever this era is mentioned. It's worth remembering that a lot of people looked like my brothers and I did then. It may be a crinkled picture, but it's a more accurate one.

Fearless Dilettante Football Predictions - Bay Area Edition

As it turns out, the remaining teams on the Dilettante radar are both playing Bay Area teams this week. So what will happen?

Packers 34, Raiduhs 13. I haven't heard if ol' number 4 is going to play or not. But I'd be shocked if he didn't. Don't doubt that Aaron Rodgers could beat the Raiders, though. Or newly re-acquired Craig Nall. Or probably even former Packer great Jim Del Gaizo. At one time the Raiders had a team full of stars. These days, their best player is probably Huggy Bear's kid. No worries this week.

ACTUAL RESULT: GREEN BAY PACKAHS 38, RAIDUHS 7. Last time the Raiders lost a game this badly? When Favre carved them up in Oakland the day after his father died in 2003. Too bad the Lions couldn't have helped out, but as we all know, you can't count on the Lions for anything.

Purple Helmeted Steroid Warriors 31, San Francisco Homeless People 17. I still think the Purple is headed for a stumble, but based on the available evidence it's hard to see how it could happen this week. The 49ers are surprisingly wretched this year and what looked like a challenging game earlier in the year should be pretty easy for the locals. But let's give a shout out to Ray Edwards, busted 4 games for steroid use. Edwards went to Purdue, which is primarily an engineering school. Must have taken that "Better Living Through Chemistry" course.

ACTUAL RESULT: PURPLE HAZE 27, PELOSI NATION 7. Too bad Alan Page retired 30 years ago; he could have gotten an interception like all the other Viking D-lineman, too. I think the Chilly Death Watch is officially over, by the way.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

What's in a bandolier?

Bullets, of course. Lots and lots of bullets.

  • Sports Illustrated named ol' number 4 as its 2007 Sportsman of the Year. SI is funny about the people it picks and the reasons; sometimes they reward people for performance, other times for good intentions. Back in 1987, they named a bunch of non-entities (including the immortal Rory Sparrow) under the rubric of "Athletes Who Care." The problem for SI was that the readership didn't care. Favre is a good pick because he is having a fine, record-breaking season. Beyond that, he is personally popular (especially among the jock-sniffers on ESPN) and you can bet that SI could sell upwards of a million copies in Wisconsin alone. And, this Packer fan thinks he's actually deserving.
  • Politics keep creeping in; the Iowa caucuses are now set for January 3, with the New Hampshire Primary soon thereafter. Many of the other states are jockeying for position to have a say in who gets the nomination. I don't have any idea who is going to be the GOP standard-bearer and at this point I'm not overly concerned about it. Based on the roster of worthies on the port side of the ledger, the GOP could nominate just about any party regular who can fog a mirror and that individual would be preferable. Except maybe Larry Craig.
  • Like a lot of people my age, I was politically liberal for a time in my youth. When I was in my 20s I read The New Republic regularly. In those days TNR was a lively, center-left publication that was truly a big tent. They had conservatives like Fred Barnes, libertarians like Charles Paul Freund and idiosyncratic liberals like Mickey Kaus on their masthead. It was a fun, quarrelsome operation even under the aegis of the annoying Michael Kinsley. Things have changed. The current majordomo is a young guy named Franklin Foer and Mr. Foer is in a lot of trouble. You've likely read plenty about the case of the "Baghdad Diarist," a Kurt Vonnegut wannabe named Scott Thomas Beauchamp, who sent in some dubious dispatches detailing a number of grotesqueries supposedly committed by U.S. soldiers. The stories, it turns out, were just that. After nearly five months of stonewalling, Foer and his buddies at TNR now are backing away from what they published, although it took Foer a few thousand words to fess up. It's sad because we need responsible voices on the Left. Increasingly I doubt that there are any.
  • I've been remiss in mentioning it, but there is an excellent new group blog that began operations back in September, named True North ( A goodly number of the best local bloggers post regularly there. While I always recommend that the best place to read local bloggers is at their respective blogs, you can get a good flavor of what's out there by checking out True North. If you are at all concerned about what's happening in Minnesota, True North should be a regular read.
  • A quick update on the health of the blogger - I was in for some more blood work and an MRI last week. The early news is encouraging; my endocrine levels continue to be where they are supposed to be. I'll continue to keep you posted and will be updating the Caringbridge site once I have the MRI results. I appreciate your continued support and most of all, your prayers. They have made a huge difference!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

It was 44 years ago today with BREAKING NEWS from today

That I made my debut on a cold, snowy morning, just after midnight, at Macneal Memorial Hospital in Berwyn, Illinois. The nation was still reeling from the assassination of John Kennedy 10 days before. The Warren Commission was already at work, interviewing witnesses. I was the first child born to Ed and Mary Jane, a young couple from Wisconsin who had married in January and had come to Chicago to seek a new life. It didn't work out too well and they ended up back in Appleton, where I grew up.
44 is kind of an odd birthday. It's not a milestone, but there's an obvious symmetry to the number. It occurs to me that, based on the average life expectancy in the United States, I'm probably playing the back nine. Demographically, I'm considered a Baby Boomer, but I don't really fit with that generation. My siblings are all younger and they are considered Gen X. Those of us who were born between 1960 and 1964 are in a sort of demographic limbo. I can only dimly remember the 1960s; I remember weird things, like watching the 1968 election returns with my dad, or seeing the weekly body counts from Vietnam, which in those days included the numbers of opposing soldiers killed, something we don't get in the current war. I remember the astronauts; I sort of remember Woodstock, or more to the point, my dad's disgusted reaction to the news reports he was seeing on the television. This larger world was out there; one of my uncles was a POW and I remember my cousin wearing a bracelet with my uncle's name on it. But my experiences aren't the same as most Boomers. And that's okay.
This has been an eventful year and despite some of the setbacks and struggles we've faced I'm grateful for a lot of things. I suspect that my 45th year will be better than this one has been. And that's the best birthday present a person can have.
UPDATE: So, turning 44 has already paid immediate dividends. My family and I went to the Culvers in St. Anthony tonight to get an ice cream treat for my birthday. I ordered the items and then paid for them. After we left the counter, Mrs. D said "did you notice that they gave you the senior citizen discount?" I hadn't. Glad to see that I'm aging well! Some people get really offended by stuff like that. I think it's hilarious. See you tomorrow afternoon around 3:30 for the early bird special!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Grab a Tray, Archbishop

I'm a Catholic boy - says so right under the name on the blog. I understand that there are people who are Catholics in name only, or in a cultural sense. There are plenty of "EC" Catholics - the ones who show up for Mass on Easter and Christmas only. They are usually easy to spot, because they are dressed to the nines and look nervous upon entering. We live in a secular society and I prefer it that way. No one other than my kids has to answer to me for how they live their lives. If someone wants to be an EC Catholic, that's fine.

I have more of a problem with "Cafeteria Catholics," however. A Cafeteria Catholic is someone who picks and chooses which parts of Church doctrine he chooses to believe and ignores the others. I wrote a tongue-in-cheek piece the other day about Nick Coleman, the annoying Star Tribune columnist who fanices himself an expert on all things. I don't know if Coleman is actually Catholic or not, but he decided to take the incoming Archbishop, John Nienstedt, to task for having the effrontery to actually offer Church teaching on homosexuality. The Archbishop responded to Coleman's column in Friday's Star Tribune and his response speaks for itself. Today, of course, the responses to the response came in. And that's what I'm going to write about today.

The Star Tribune letters section is usually a Greek chorus of leftist magpies - often the complaints aired there are Daily Kos boilerplate or variations on the emanations that issue from college campuses these days. Although it's usually not said explicitly, the primary purpose of these pronouncements is to ensure that those who are not in favor on the Left are punished for their sins. Because the Church has stood foursquare on the wrong side of the abortion debate, and has not endorsed whatever lifestyle a liberal might want to live at any given time, any churchman will automatically face suspicion. And a fellow like Archbishop Nienstedt, who came of age under John Paul II and who has evidently taken what JPII's teachings to heart, is an enemy to be confronted.

Typical is this letter, written by a gentleman in Minnesota Lake, who thinks he's found a hole in the Archbishop's armor:

Did any other reader notice that in Archbishop Nienstedt's response to Nick Coleman's Nov. 28 column regarding the church's and archbishop's lack of compassion toward gays, none of Nienstedt's biblical references included a direct statement by Jesus?

Oddly enough, Jesus never addressed racism or envirnomental degradation either. So are we to assume that it's okay to be racist, or to trash the planet? After all, Jesus never addressed the matter, so it must be okay, right? But the writer goes on.

There of course is a reason for that, [which is what?-Ed] leaving open the question: What would Jesus say? Many of us Christians faithfully believe that Jesus would be open, and, yes, compassionate and accepting toward his homosexual brethren.

Jesus did address the subject of adultery, of course. He told the rock-toting Pharisees, "whoever among you is without sin may cast the first stone." But he also told the woman who was to be stoned this: "Go and sin no more."

Is homosexuality a sin? That's a subject for debate in the overall secular society, as it should be. But within the Church, it's a matter of doctrine. And the Archbishop's primary charge is to teach and, when necessary, enforce Church doctrine. One can be compassionate and even accepting of homosexuals and homosexuality, while still decrying homosexual behavior. That's been the Church's stance for many, many years now. But that's not what this letter writer, and the Rainbow Sash people, and Nick Coleman want. They want an endorsement of homosexual behavior from the Church. Harry Flynn has been finessing the matter, tolerating the antics of places like St. Joan of Arc (Minneapolis's finest pagan Catholic church) but banning the Rainbow Sash people at the Cathedral. Nienstedt won't play that game. So the game is on.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Renaissance Man

Expertise is a hard-got thing. Engineers generally must spend years learning the principles of their respective discipline, along with the habits of mind needed to be an engineer. There's also a lot of science and advanced mathematics. It takes an especially disciplined person to be an engineer.

Similarly, the life of a theologian requires years of study and a deep, abiding understanding of religious history and of the philosophical constructs developed by some of the greatest thinkers of human history. Most theologians are well acquainted with the ideas of thinkers from Aquinas to Zwingli. The best theologians spend most of their lives grappling with the implications of faith and the challenges of understanding not only the staggering record left behind by their predecessors but also understanding God in the modern context.

These things are hard work and I admire those who devote their lives to such disciplines. But every once in a while someone comes along who doesn't need that sort of background. A person appears in the public prints who can get beyond the challenges of gaining and maintaining expertise, a person who knows better and can correct those who don't understand. We are fortunate to have someone like that in our midst.

His name is Nick Coleman.

I've been enjoying Mr. Coleman's expertise in the local press for years now, first with the St. Paul Pioneer Press and for the last several with the Star Tribune. Coleman has the unique ability to cut through the distractions that cause people like engineers and theologians to proceed with caution before making pronouncements about the nature of things. Mr. Coleman simply knows better. And he has been willing to share his erudition with the rest of us, to our great fortune.

You might recall that a major bridge over the Mississippi River fell at the beginning of August. There is a small army of engineers, scientists and academic experts who have spent the last few months trying to understand what happened and why. It's been clear to those of us who read Mr. Coleman that these people are engaged in folly. Mr. Coleman figured out who was responsible for this event early on, even before authorities had been able to identify the victims. He has been tirelessly reminding us ever since.

In today's column Mr. Coleman was kind enough to set straight the incoming archbishop. John Nienstedt, who will take over responsibility for the flock currently ministered by Archbishop Harry Flynn next year, was clearly errant in relying on scriptural analysis, or the words of St Paul, or many centuries of church teaching on the subject of homosexuality. Instead, Nienstedt should be listening to Mr. Coleman and "Catholic friends and relatives of gay and lesbian people in the Twin Cities," per Mr. Coleman's column. These individuals, which today's Star Tribune describes as Nienstedt's "peers" in the jump for Mr. Coleman's column from the front page of the Metro section, have a deeper understanding of Catholic theology than Bishop Nienstedt.

I'm glad that Mr. Coleman pointed that out today. Bishop Nienstedt will be taking over in a year and he clearly needs to get his mind right about this, and many other things, before he can effectively lead his flock. Perhaps if Bishop Nienstedt pays closer attention to the teachings of Mr. Coleman, he might also discover who was responsible for causing the bridge to collapse. A fellow in Nienstedt's position needs to know such things and thank goodness Mr. Coleman is available to provide his patient, reasoned instruction. It's hard to gain such an understanding when you're only the Bishop of New Ulm.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Fearless Dilettante Football Predictions - Blind Faith Edition

So my beloved Packers are returning to Golgotha on Thursday, to once again face the dread Cowboys in a game that most of America won't get to see. What else can you do but make the picks:

Packers 34, Cowboys 31. This is a different era and this is a different Cowboys team than the ones that made ol' number 4's life so miserable a decade or so ago. Terrell Owens is an annoying prima donna but he's about the only guy on America's Team who is worthy of scorn. It's hard not to admire Tony Romo, Marion Barber and most of the others on this team. They are a worthy opponent and realistically should be favored to win. But there's something ineffable, maybe even magical, about what's been happening this year in Green Bay. Our man Brett has been exorcising his demons in unfriendly stadia all season long. The Packers had never won in Denver or Kansas City before this year. They have now. The Packers haven't won a game in Dallas since 1989. I think there's a little more magic in this season. And if the Packers win, all roads lead to Lambeau.

ACTUAL RESULT: HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOAHS 37, PACKERS 27. Didn't see the game, but saw enough of the highlights and heard enough commentary from people who know what they are talking about to know a few things: it could have been a lot worse and it wasn't all bad. Nothing has changed, really - if my beloved Packers want to get to the Super Bowl, they have to win a game in Dallas. That is still true. And even though ol' number 4 went down with an injury, the Pack did not fold. Aaron Rodgers apparently played pretty well - this was no T. J. Rubley situation. The Packers really needed to see what would happen to Rodgers when the lights were on, and he did just fine. In fact, I heard from a number of jealous/quizzical Vikings fans today who were wondering why Rodgers knew what he was doing, when the current incumbent at Winter Park clearly does not. So we'll see what happens the rest of the way and perhaps it will be back to Dallas in January.

Motor City Kitties 31, Purple Helmeted Love Warriors 21. There's no disputing that the Vikings won in impressive fashion over the weekend. And the Lions are not playing very well right now, following a good start, and historically there's no reason to expect the Lions to win here, since they never do. But these Vikings are almost as fickle as their long-suffering fan base and this is precisely the kind of game that the Vikings have shown a propensity to lose over the years. I can see Adrian Peterson returning to the lineup, having a huge day, and still seeing the Vikings lose in some bizarre way. The guess here is that Roy Williams goes off after being a non-factor on Turkey Day.

ACTUAL RESULT: VIKINGS 42, TABBY CATS 10. Guess my prediction wasn't very good. Congrats to the purplish fellows, who have to their credit made a nice rebound following the debacle at Lambeau.

The politics of New Brighton

I haven't been writing much about politics lately, in large measure because I've grown weary of the cynicism of those in the arena. There are a number of bloggers who write regularly about politics and they do a better job of it than I do. One blog in particular that I've recently discovered is Boots On (, which has been covering events in my hometown in New Brighton with passion and a gimlet eye. Boots On is a group blog and has a number of contributors, who all share significant and warranted concerns about our local municipal government.

I've lived in New Brighton for 10 years now and generally I enjoy it here. I like my house, my neighbors and my neighborhood very well. Still, there are things about this city that leave me shaking my head. One of the main entry points to my neighborhood is Old Highway 8, which is one of the ugliest thoroughfares in the Twin Cities. The city has spent millions on developing the area of Old Highway 8 north of I-694, an area known as the Northwest Quadrant. This area is strategically located, near the junction of 694 and 35W, and land this close to the central cities and blessed with easy access should be hugely valued. But development in the Northwest Quadrant has been desultory at best. Some of the reasons are beyond the control of local government; the site has been used for a number of environmentally parlous enterprises over the years, including slag heaps and rendering plants. Abatement of the environmental goodies left behind by these long-gone enterprises has been a significant problem for the city.

But you get the sense that the city has never really understood what to do with the Northwest Quadrant and as a result development has been allowed to drift. Things have been taking shape in the past year or two, after a long delay, and the results look patchy at best. The residential developments have been tied heavily to hoary New Urbanist notions of the sort I saw during my visit to Portland two years ago. I'm not sure that people really want to live the way the New Urbanists want us to live, which is why places like Portland are so coercive with their land use restrictions. Now, with the added whammy of the declining housing market, the plans for the Northwest Quadrant are in disarray. The lead builder, Rottlund Homes, has bailed on the project and litigation is coming. It's not going to be pretty and it's evident that the city fathers have no Plan B. I'm guessing that whatever Plan B they ultimately pull out of their posteriors, it will mean that my property taxes will be going up.

The local politics are problematic and distasteful. I've met the mayor, Steve Larson, a number of times and he's not the most impressive guy around. Like most liberals, he theoretically means well. But whatever his intentions, he and the rest of the city government have made a hash of what should be a centerpiece of our town. He won reelection with a plurality earlier this month and he'll have another chance to get it right. But I don't think he will. The Boots On team will stay on the case; my guess is that they'll have plenty to write about in the coming years.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

30 Hours in Cheeseland

We made a very quick trip over the weekend to Wisconsin; left Friday morning, arrived on the west side of Madison mid afternoon, saw the relatives, then had a quick lunch and returned home the next afternoon. It was great to see the family but it was unfortunate that we didn't have more time, because we have some great friends in Madison that we didn't have time to see.

A few quick thoughts:

  • Traveling mostly on 94 and U.S. 12, we saw something like 50 dead deer on the side of the road. I know that it's hunting season and that the deer are somewhat more active right now because the bucks are in rut and looking for some action, but it's also clear that Wisconsin has a deer population problem. I'm not a hunter but I'm definitely rooting for the hunters on this one. It doesn't matter how noble Bambi is, he doesn't look good on anyone's fender. And when dead deer sightings outnumber Wisconsin State Patrol sightings by a factor of about ten, you know there's a problem.
  • Maybe I just noticed it more this time around, but Madison appears to be obsessed with all things Badger. My great friend Mark Miller, Wisconsin basketball guru and rabid MU fan, lives in Madison. I have even more sympathy for him now. I watched a half-hour local newscast and I'd say that half the time was spent on things happening at the university. I heard the Badger fight song used as background music on at least a half-dozen radio ads in the short time I was there. I am a big Badger fan, but this is overkill.
  • There are some culinary delicacies that are still best found in Wisconsin. My sister's in-laws, who hosted, are lovely people and they put on a nice spread that included the most potent horseradish I've had in a long time. I think this stuff was used as a defoliant in Vietnam. Needless to say, I loved it. And my sinuses haven't been this clear in years.
  • One thing that's significantly more expensive in Wisconsin is gasoline. Those who want to raise the gas tax here ought to spend some time across the border. I paid $2.89/gallon here and $3.11/gallon in Madison and I saw prices as high as $3.19 in the Mauston/New Lisbon area. Same gas, but more for Jim Doyle. From what I've seen of Doyle, I don't suspect he's worth the premium involved.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Fearless Dilettante Football Predictions - Triptophan Edition

Not much to pick this week, since many of the seasons are ending. Here's a few:

Packers 31, Lions 17. I'm less optimistic than my son about this (see for his take), but I think the Packers are the better team. John Kitna is a brave dude, but in the end I don't see his side winning this one. The showdown against the Cowboys awaits....

ACTUAL RESULT: PACKERS 37, LIONS 26. Calvin Johnson would be dangerous if he actually caught the ball. Nice win if a little sloppy at the end. Now it's time for yet another daunting trip to Irving, Texas.

New York Football Giants 24, Purple Helmeted Love Warriors 17. The Vikes won't win, but at least it won't be 41-Donut. I hope, at least.

ACTUAL RESULT: SEA-FARING MIDNIGHT SHADE OF LAVENDER DUDES 41, NEW JERSEY DWARFS 17. Didn't see that one coming; did you? Nice game for the locals, who improbably are back in the playoff hunt. Next week's game against the Lions will likely tell the tale.

Bonus Minnesota High School Football Game of the Century, 2007 Edition:

Eden Prairie 31, Cretin-Derham Hall 20. Which would you rather have - half a dozen Div-I prospects (like Cretin) or the high school football equivalent of the Russian Army? Eden Prairie has about 4,725 kids on their team and they will eventually wear down the Raiders, just like they have done to everyone else.

ACTUAL RESULT: EP 50, CDH 21. What a rout. Cretin has been laying waste to everyone in its path, but they get crushed. An astonishing result that really calls into question the priorites of those who live in Eden Prairie.

A consequential day

Every day can be consequential, but most aren't especially so. For me, September 21 is the most important day of the year, because that is my anniversary day. But today, November 21, is probably the most consequential day of the year, because 12 years ago today my son Ben was born at United Hospital in St. Paul.

There's little point in dwelling on the obvious - your life is changed utterly once you bring a child into the world. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people never really grasp this. If you are going to be an effective parent at all, it means you have to get over yourself. It's inevitable that you are going to lose your dignity from time to time - it's hard to cut a dashing figure when you are spattered with baby urp. Later on, as your child starts to grow and learn, he starts to discover what an moron you really are.

I'm entering that stage with Ben right now. A 12-year old boy is starting to understand the world, but that understanding is usually fragmentary at best. Meanwhile, Ben's body is starting to play the cruel tricks of pre-adolescence on him. He's growing taller, stronger and more assertive each day. He's gradually becoming the person he will be for the rest of his life. It's fascinating to watch, but observation isn't enough.

I don't think Ben really thinks I'm a moron, but at times I'm guessing he does. And at this age, he should. The toughest part of parenting is coming now. I am looking forward to it, but there's a certain amount of dread. In the end, it should work out well. Ben is a great kid and I'm confident that he'll grow into a fine adult. But it won't be easy. It never is.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Your little corner

One of the benefits of maintaining a blog is that it gives you an outpost, a place to hang your hat, a place where people can find you. I've been spending a fair amount of time lately talking about events that happened a very long time ago. But something interesting has been happening lately in my little corner of the blogosphere - a number of people who were very important people in my life, especially during my younger years, have been finding this space. One of these people is a woman named Laura. I first met Laura over 25 years ago. The context of how we met, and where Laura is now, is the subject I'd like to discuss today.

During my high school years I was the majordomo of my school's Key Club. For those of you who don't know, Key Club is a high school service organization that is sponsored by Kiwanis International, which is itself a service organization. The Xavier Key Club was a fairly active group and we had fairly regular involvement in charitable activities and public service in the Appleton area; I remember well organizing relief walks, serving pancakes at the Columbus Club and providing whatever help we could. When I was going to school, there were active clubs at about 75-100 high schools throughout the Wisconsin-Upper Michigan district. I ended up getting elected to serve as a division Lt. Governor, which in the Key Club governing structure meant that I was responsible for representing my high school and about five others in the Fox Valley area. Laura was a student at Wausau East High School and held a similar position. All told, there were about 15 high school students who were members of the governing board for our district. There are a number of Key Clubs in Minnesota as well, including a very good and active one at Fridley High School.

The fifteen of us on the governing board shared a similar profile - we were all good students, we were all civic-minded, we were all pretty clean-cut kids by the somewhat scruffy standards of early-80s Wisconsin. We all became good friends, but I always thought that Laura was special. She was a live wire - funny, unpredictable, passionate about her beliefs and relentlessly optimistic. At the same time, she had something that anyone who is serious about public service really needs - a working b.s. detector. She always seemed to understand that while all of us were doing nice projects at our own schools, there was a bigger world out there, beyond our little corner.

After we graduated from our respective high schools, we saw each other from time to time but eventually we drifted off to the lives that awaited us. I ended up in Minnesota and Laura ended up in Arizona. She married young and had two children, but the relationship didn't last. Eventually she ended up going back to school and completing her degree, then went on to earn an MBA from Thunderbird, a well-regarded business school in Arizona known for its emphasis on international business. Such credentials could have led Laura down any number of paths, most of which would have been lucrative. But Laura remembered her childhood trips to Mexico and she knew that there was an opportunity to use her skills and her passion for something beyond providing financial modeling for a multinational. There were people she could help.

Laura founded the Tia Foundation, which is in the business of providing health assistance to the poor of Mexico. We tend to think of assistance in terms of helping after a hurricane hits the Yucatan, but that's not what the Tia Foundation is about. Tia's mission is not to provide relief so much as to provide the know-how so that those who are living in poverty can take care of themselves. From their website:

Tia offers a different health solution than many NGOs, because we seek to create independence in the communities where we work rather than dependence. We teach communities “how to fish, rather than giving them fish” in the realm of physical wellbeing. Instead of making the villages reliant on constant outside intervention, we teach them how to take care of themselves and plug them into a permanent supply line of local resources. Favoring local resources ensures that the local economy is stimulated and that resources are tailored more specifically to each community's needs.

You often hear the word "sustainable" in this context. Too often those who use the word are thinking in reductionist terms -- it's been my experience that people who are talking about "sustainable resources" tend to see the world as a zero-sum game. That's never made a lot of sense, because it presupposes that are limits to natural resources, but also limits to human ingenuity. In the 25+ years since I first met Laura, we've seen enormous changes in the world that have made it a better place. The advances have been uneven, as they always are, but one thing I've always believed is that people can come up with solutions to problems if they are given the knowledge they need to understand the nature and scope of the problem. That's what Laura's organization is doing and it fits well with something else I've always believed; you can't solve all the world's problems, but you can make a difference in your own little corner of the world if you choose to. Laura is finding neglected corners and making a difference. And what I learned about Laura 25+ years ago remains true - she is special and her organization is doing wonderful things.

If you are interested in learning more, please visit the Tia Foundation website at:

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Four Guys Named Ben Update - 111707

Young Ben and his like-named teammates lost their game this morning to St. Anthony #2 by a final count of 30-20 at the SACC. This is the "traveling" St. Anthony team and they had a definite talent advantage, but our guys played hard and hung in there. Ben did not score but he came close and he also got two steals and at least three rebounds that I counted. No game next week, but then they return to action on Dec. 1 against one of the mysterious Mounds View squads over at Chippewa Middle School. Stay tuned to Mr. Dilettante for exciting, continuing coverage of the Irondale Basketball League.

Friday, November 16, 2007

500 Posts and Counting

According to my Blogger dashboard, this is my 500th post on Mr. Dilettante. There are a couple of posts that I started that remained in permanent draft limbo, but I've managed to get this far in slightly less than two years.

We all blog for different reasons. Jeff Kouba of Truth Vs. the Machine provides a nice treatment of why some people blog; go ahead and hit the link: I'll wait.


For me, blogging is like dropping a penny in a well. Sometimes you hear a splash, other times you don't. It's been my experience that certain posts that I dashed off without much thought have garnered a lot of attention, while pieces that I thought were well-reasoned don't get any response at all. There is an element of performance to blogging, too -- can you say what you want to say in a compelling enough manner that you can find and maintain an audience? And facing the blank page (or, in this case, the blank computer screen) is a challenge that many people don't relish; I want the challenge, for reasons that still aren't entirely clear to me even after nearly 44 years of living.

You should do some things because they matter to you. We all spend a lot of time doing things we have to do, or things that we aren't sure we want to do. There's a tendency in our time to treat everything as an obligation, even the things we ostensibly do for leisure. I've come to the computer 500 times now; when you write that many posts, the process can take on a whiff of obligation. It's not an obligation; it's a joy.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fearless Dilettante Football Predictions - Fun Size Edition

As the season moves on, we're running out of teams. Pretty soon I'll be down to picking the Packer game and that's about it. But here we go.

Kimberly Papermakers 34, DeForest Kellys 17. Actually, I think DeForest's nickname is the Norskies, making this contest a dorky nickname match for the ages. I think the only way it could be worse is if you scheduled a game between the Amherst College Lord Jeffs and the Heidelberg College Student Princes. But the mighty Papermakers will vanquish the Norskie Nooks, get the hardware and claim the Wisconsin D-2 championship.

ACTUAL RESULT: KIMBERLY 20, DEFOREST 7. Congratulations to the Papermakers, who are the little team that could. It's difficult to argue with 14-0. And congrats to Coco, Marge and the Stinger on your alma mater's victory!

Badgers 41, Punky Brewster 17. Go go Gophers, watch 'em go go go. Go 1-11, that is. After the Badgers get done wiping the Metrodome floor with the adorable maroon-clad rodents, it's on to some second-tier bowl or another the Badgers.

ACTUAL RESULT: BADGERS 41, PESKY GOPHERS 34. Give the boys in maroon credit for playing well and not giving up. But the Ax goes back to Madison and there's no reason to believe it will reside here any time soon.

Packers 28, Panthers 21. This one makes me verrrrrrry nervous. The Packers played beautifully last week and you always worry about a young team believing all the hosannas that shower down on them once success comes. And with the Lions and the Cowboys straight ahead, this is the sort of game that could go very badly. I'm guessing that Favre won't let the unthinkable happen, but it's going to be tough. The good news is that Vinny Testaverde has played the Packers a bajillion times and hasn't won too often, and now that he has his AARP card, it's difficult to see that changing this time around. Vinny would like to recommend the early-bird special at the Charlotte Waffle House, by the way - truly tasty.

ACTUAL RESULT: PACKERS 31, PANTHERS 17. You have to like the result, but Mason Crosby missed field goals again. It didn't matter against the Panthers, but it might matter a lot in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, the Lions lost again so now the Packers have a little breathing room heading into the Turkey Day showdown.

Purple Helmeted Love Warriors 17, The Raiduhs 14. I suspect that if the Vikings lose this one, the Chilly Death Watch will be on. But even without Adrian Peterson, the Vikings should be good enough to avoid the Revenge of Daunte Culpepper.

ACTUAL RESULT: VIKINGS 29, RAIDUHS 22. Maybe the Packers could borrow Sebastian Janikowski for the rest of the season. Nice job by Chester Taylor and Tarvaris Jackson didn't blow it, so that's something.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Who do you love... to hate

As usual, I get some of my best ideas from the comments section of this blog. In the wake of the game on Sunday, I was musing on the notion of schadenfreude. But there's another side to it.

We all have something, or someone, that drives us around the bend. Something or someone that stirs up emotions, visceral reactions, atavisms - pick your term for it. Something or someone that you love to hate.

As it was said in Renoir's "Rules of the Game," everyone has their reasons. Maybe it's because you resent success, or you sense a snooty attitude. Maybe it's even a whiff of evil. Or maybe the reasons are completely removed from rationality. The reasons are as varied as the villains. But it's a useful exercise to give your betes noir a name. And that's what this post is about.

So, who makes the Dilettante hit list? Who's in my personal rogue's gallery? Here they come, in no particular order.

Da Bearz. The old Saturday Night Live "Superfans" skit wasn't really a skit, it was a documentary. I lived in Chicago during the dark days of Ditka and the team and its fans were particularly obnoxious. I have often admired individual members of the Bears organization, especially the late great Walter Payton, but the heck with the rest of them.

Red Sawx Nation. I can remember, back in 1986, when I found myself rooting for the Red Sox in the World Series. Now that the Curse of the Bambino has been lifted, the odiousness and provinciality of this organization and its obnoxious fans has been on display for all to see. They may not be as objectively evil as the New York Yankees, but my goodness, they are tiresome.

Notre Dame. The Irish and all that they stand for are a true test for Catholics. Generally if you are Catholic, you either love Notre Dame and everything about it, or you're agin' it. I am in the latter camp. I can still remember how astonished my high school guidance counselor was when I told him I had no interest in going to Notre Dame. "But you have the grades and the background to go there," he fairly shrieked at me. "Why wouldn't you take advantage of the opportunity?" In those days, the accurate answer would have been, "because I'm a contrary bastard, Mr. Nass," but I let it pass. I've been there once and it was interesting to walk the campus, but I don't feel like I missed much by going elsewhere for college.

Bill Clinton. It continues to amaze me that this obvious rogue is so beloved by so many people. He lied, he cheated, he made a shambles of everything that is good and decent, and he was the most transparently phony person to ever occupy the Oval Office. But he is more popular now than ever. People have short memories, I guess.

There are more, of course. How about you? Who drives you around the bend?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Schadenfreude Waltz

German is a complicated language but it has its uses, especially as a repository of useful words that don't exactly have a counterpart in English. Some of the words are just fun to say, like Weltanschauung. But one of my favorite words is Schadenfreude. A good working definition of schadenfreude is "joy at the misery of others." It's the very human feeling you get when someone who you find problematic is brought low. You tend to see a lot of schadenfreude among sports fans and political opponents. It is, as I said, very human. I think it's also very corrosive and it's something that I really try not to indulge in too much.

Today was a day where it would have been very easy to indulge in schadenfreude. I live in Minnesota but I grew up in Wisconsin. More to the point, I grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin, a small city that is situated about 30 miles southwest of Green Bay. Like many Wisconsinites, I grew up as a fan of the Packers. It's not always easy being a Packer fan. I came of age in the 1970s, a dismal time for the Green and Gold. Lombardi was gone and the glory years had long since faded. The Packers of the 1970s were generally a fourth-rate operation; they were never the worst team in the league, but they weren't very good and autumn Sundays were usually a time of great ambivalence. It seemed like the Packers were constantly chasing the Vikings during that era. No matter what happened, the Vikings had the better players. The Vikings would find Chuck Foreman; the Packers would draft Barty Smith. The Vikings would get Sammie White; the Packers would get Kenny Payne. It didn't seem to matter how hard the Packers tried in that era; they just didn't get it done.

It hasn't been that way for a long time now, mostly because fate finally smiled on the Packers in the form of Ol' Number 4. For the last 16 seasons, the Packers have been generally successful and always entertaining. Even when Brett Favre was being horrifically stupid, the games were fun to watch. And generally during this era, the Vikings have been the most consistent nemesis the Packers have had. Some amazingly talented and entertaining football players have worn purple - Cris Carter, Randy Moss, John Randle, Robert Smith, Daunte Culpepper and many others have been worthy opponents. I have lived in Minnesota throughout the Favre era and it's been a fascinating experience to watch the often kaleidoscopic reactions of Minnesotans to Favre and the Packers. My heroes are the team they love to hate around here and the rivalry between the teams has been close, hard-fought and passionate. It's really been a lot of fun.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but yesterday the Packers essentially beat the Vikings like a rented mule. Watching my boys play at a high level was hugely entertaining. I always enjoy seeing Favre operate, especially at the high level he's been playing at this season. But the results weren't really as enjoyable as they should have been. The Vikings, worthy opponents that they have always been, were terrible. Their one source of hope, the hugely talented rookie running back Adrian Peterson, went down in a heap and is now out for at least one game, maybe more. And my fellow Minnesotans, who love their Vikings more than any other team, were simply down all day today. I wore my Packers jacket and heard a few rueful comments, but there wasn't the usual vinegar that I get when I go strolling around in it.

There's great joy in watching your team win. But I don't really get much enjoyment out of watching the opponents' fans suffer. In the 15 years I've lived here, the local sports scene has never been worse. And that's too bad, because sports are part of what makes life fun. Don't get me wrong - I hope the Packers keep beating the Vikings every time. But I also hope the Vikings don't end up 3-13. In the end, there isn't any real joy in the misery of others.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Four Guys Named Ben

We've been so busy that my son Ben's basketball season is already upon us. This year Ben is a member of Team 2, a/k/a the Gold Team. Unlike last year's dismal squad, this team has some talent. It also has four kids named Ben on the team, including my son. They made their debut against Irondale Team 3, a/k/a the Black Team this morning, winning the lid lifter 27-21 at the St. Anthony Community Center (a/k/a the "SACC"). We have ten kids this year, but only 6 were there, so our kids were running hard all day. But despite that, our Ben-heavy squad was able to prevail. My Ben did not score in the game, but he had at least two assists and four rebounds, including a key one down the stretch.

It will be an interesting schedule this season, as our lads will be playing not only Irondale teams but also St. Anthony and Mounds View teams. In fact, the majority of the games will be against Mounds View squads, which will represent a step up in competition. It's hard to say what will happen, but this much is certain - this team is highly unlikely to lose any games 70-6 like last year's squad did. And by winning the opener, they are already more successful than last year's squad. Next week it's St. Anthony #2; game time is 10 a.m. at the SACC.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Overcoming Longstanding Technical Stupidity

You'll notice that my blog now has a blogroll, placed more or less where it should be. The blogroll, which I promised months ago, contains the august membership of the Minnesota Organization of Bloggers. You'll find a lot of good blogs on this list, including several that I highly recommend. Go read some of these - there's a lot of good stuff out there beyond my little corner.

The next step will be adding other blogs and links that I think merit your attention. I'll get to that one of these days. Really.

UPDATE: I have updated further - the "Me gusta" section consists of some stuff I like. A few favored blogs, a few weird things and a worthy enterprise or two. Give 'em a poke and see what you find....

Fearless Dilettante Football Predictions - Dwindling Interest Edition

So, lots of teams that I care about are now done with their seasons. What's a fella to do? Go ahead and keep pickin', I guess. Here you go.

Kimberly 41, Menomonie 21 - Three of my siblings are proud graduates of KHS. And they're good, too. I'm assuming there's plenty of room on the Papermaker bandwagon.

ACTUAL RESULT: KIMBERLY 35, MENOMONIE 14. The Darboy Vanguard rolls on to the championship game.

Badgers 31, Meeesheeegan 27 - No real reason for this, but why not. Personally, I think Mario Manningham would look real nice in Green and Gold next year or sometime thereafter.

ACTUAL RESULT: BUCKY 37, GO BLUE 21. If you can't beat Appalachian Freaking State, are you really going to win at Camp Randall? I mean, really. Nice win for the Badgers - next stop, the Dome and date with Punky Brewster.

Packers 31, Purple Helmeted Love Warriors 24 - the always schizophrenic Viking fandom is ON this week, thanks to the record-shattering performance of Adrian Peterson against the Bolts last week. He can't do it every week, though. He'll get some yards, but ol' number 4 will get more.

ACTUAL RESULT: GB 34, VIKINGS BUPKIS. A thoroughly enjoyable result. And you know what makes it extra special? Listening to the worthies on KFAN's "Viking Fan Line" afterwards. Okay, I know, schadenfreude isn't nice. Here's a hint, Vikings fans - getting rid of Chilly isn't the answer. Look down the hallway at Winter Park a bit, too.

Bonus high school coverage:

Eastview 31, Mounds View 27 - If it weren't for mighty Eden Prairie, you'd hear a lot more about Eastview. They are very tough and the Lake is better, top to bottom, than the Suburban East.

ACTUAL RESULT: EASTVIEW 21, MOUNDS VIEW 13. Close but the kids from Apple Valley had a little too much in the end. Another fine year for the Mustangs, though.

Washburn 31, Waconia 24 - Always, always go with Mrs. D. She's a very smart gal.

ACTUAL RESULT: WACONIA 28, WASHBURN 0. The dream is over - what can I say. Nice year for the Millers, who have a D-1 prospect coming back next year.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

General Wayne

I think most guys have a friend growing up that they are ambivalent about. My dad's best friend was a guy named Ben Boogaard, who is about as ornery a cuss as I've ever met. Wally Cleaver had Eddie Haskell. And I had Wayne Oenes, who figured prominently in yesterday's post.

One of the commenters mentioned some pretty salient points about my boyhood friend. Wayne is, to my knowledge, still living in the Appleton area, although I haven't spoken with him in probably 30 years. After my brief exile to public school, I went back into the Catholic schools in the 7th grade and was back with my old buddies, many of whom remain among my most cherished friends today. Wayne went on in the public schools, where I lost track of him. I've heard rumors about him from time to time since then - he was in trouble for this or that, maybe he'd done time. I don't really know for sure. If you do a Google search on his name, it appears that he has a Facebook page, so I could probably find out more if I was really inclined. Don't know if I will. Maybe someday.

It was a lot of fun to hang with Wayne. He was very funny and had a quick, nasty wit. He always seemed to know a lot of stuff that the rest of us didn't, especially about some of the darker corners of the adult world we saw ahead. Wayne was the one who was talking about girls before the rest of us understood why girls were worth talking about. He always knew where to find the dirty magazines that the older kids had discarded. He had the best stamp collection, the best comic book collection, the best beer can collection. His parents were wealthy and saw to it that Wayne had all those things.

But there was always something missing. My dad took a strong dislike to Wayne. He sensed from the get-go that this was a troubled kid and, after awhile, Dad pretty much banned Wayne from coming over. He told me more than once, "when you're older you'll understand why I don't like this kid." And, sure enough, I do understand it now.

My son is about the same age now that I was when I was hanging around with Wayne. My son doesn't have any friends like Wayne - the kids he spends time with are, almost uniformly, nice young men who are either teammates on sports teams or fellow Boy Scouts or both. I really don't worry that much about the kids Ben hangs out with. But sometimes I wonder if it he's missing out on something. My generation spends a lot of time and energy shielding our offspring from things that are even theoretically harmful. And I wonder sometimes about that. Does hanging around with a ne'er do well like my friend Wayne help you later on, in the same way that a neutralized virus can serve as a vaccine against greater maladies?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Battle of Wettengel's Lunch

The Saturday morning dawned clear and cold. November, 1974, I think, but it's been a long time now and I can't be sure. The war had been scheduled for some time now, plotted on the playground of Jefferson Elementary School. The young men of the neighborhood were ready to battle through the ravines and open fields that were on the southern fringes of Pierce Park. The generals were ready, foot soldiers at the ready. It was time to settle this thing. Who had the better army? Was it the forces of light and goodness, or was it the infidels from the other side of the park, led by the ruthless and mysterious Frank Wettengel?

I was a bit young for a soldier, of course - my 11th birthday was coming up, but by now I was a wizened veteran of battles against the heathen Ebben boys, the scourges of Douglas Street. I had been pelted with apples from the tree in their back yard for the crime of simply walking in front of their house. Even though one of my beloved aunts was an Ebben, it hadn't protected us from the wrath of these apple chucking weasels. But we'd survived the attack and now it was time to face the beast that lurked beyond the park, the forces of evil on the other side of Prospect Avenue.

Our leader was General Wayne Oenes. For a period of a few years, Wayne was one of my best friends, even though my father didn't approve of him and for good reason. Wayne was smart, daring and a punk. He was generally in the middle of all the trouble in the neighborhood, but he had taken me under his wing when I moved across town the previous year. And I was his lieutenant. In the Oenes Army, we were pretty generous with handing out ranks. I was promoted on nearly a daily basis and as the battle against the dread Wettengel approached, I was a five-star general in the army. My younger brothers were enlisted men. In fact, the four of us were pretty much the entirety of the Oenes Army, although there were a few other kids who would periodically join our crusade, as long as it didn't conflict with the Sid and Marty Krofft Supershow or whatever else was on television in those days. Wayne and the hated Frank Wettengel had been jawing on the playground for weeks now. Both had promised that they would kick each other's butts. And on this cold, clear November morning, it was time.

We assembled in Alicia Park, near the field where we played wiffle ball. We would go down the hill toward the river, to Lutz Park, then slowly climb up through the ravines and over Pea Creek until we approached the southern ramparts of Pierce Park. From there, we would find Wettengel and give him what for. It was a brilliant plan and we all gave ourselves promotions. We had more brass than the UCLA marching band as we climbed the hill.

But where was our quarry, the fearsome Wettengel Army? This was the appointed hour but the enemy was nowhere to be found. Could he be hiding in the woods? Might he have fashioned a pillbox in the hillside? We were ready for battle, but the battle was nowhere to be found. Since it was November, the swingsets were bereft of swings and the slides were cold. We couldn't amuse ourselves in the normal way. It was time for the war. But where was the war?

General Oenes and I, his trusted lieutenant/six star general, had to confer. How would we fight this Wettengel menace? What would we do? "I know, General Mark," Field Marshal and Supreme Allied Commander Wayne said. "Let us go to his headquarters."

"You mean, attack his home base," I asked, incredulously.
"That's right. Are you ready to fight?"
"Of course I am. What do you say, soldiers?"

My brothers, 9 and 8, looked at us with a combination of dread and excitement. "Yes, generals, we are ready," Sergeant Patrick said.

So we crossed Prospect Avenue, avoiding the steady parade of Buicks that filled the avenue on Saturday mornings. We would walk up Summit Street and face the monster in his lair.

We approached the entrance of Wettengel's house with dread. What would happen? A woman answered.

"Where's Frank?" we demanded.
"He's eating his lunch right now. Did you want to play with him later?" the woman replied.

Play? This wasn't play! This was war. And the leader of the Wettengel Army was more interested in tucking into a bowl of mac and cheese than in fighting the battle that had been planned for months?

"Nah," Field Marshal Wayne replied. "Maybe some other time."
"I'll tell him you stopped by," the woman replied.

Sometimes in life, you have to pick your battles. But all these years later, I think I'd rather have lunch, too.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Borrowing a Meme

Actually, I'm not sure you can borrow a meme, since it is something that's transmitted. And what I'm actually doing is probably closer to outright thievery, but here goes. The intrepid Uncle Ben of Hammerswing75 fame ( covered an idea a few days back - go read his treatment of it first by hitting the link I provided. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Okay, so now that you've done that, we can begin. The idea is to talk about what you were doing 10, 20 and 30 years ago. For a younger guy like Ben, the 30 year question doesn't necessarily have a lot of detail; in fact, he's young enough that probably a fair amount of what he was doing 30 years ago may have involved copious use of Fischer-Price gear. But not me; since I'm a bit (ahem) older than Ben, I have an answer for what was shaking in 1977. So here goes.

Ten years ago: Mrs. D and I were living in Shoreview. Our son had turned 1 at the end of 1996 and we were house-sitting for a guy who was, at the time he left, engaged to Mrs. D's sister. The guy worked for a large construction company based in Minneapolis and was working on a long term job in Anchorage, so we got to live in his townhouse for about 2 1/2 years. During the course of that time, Mrs. D's sister broke off the engagement with this guy, which made things a smidge uncomfortable for us, but we'll let that pass. The thing was, the job in Anchorage was ending, so we needed to move. We decided to buy a house, which we found here in lovely New Brighton. And we've been here ever since. That was a pretty big transition.

Twenty years ago: I was on the move then, too. I began the year working for my alma mater, sainted Beloit College, as the sports information director (or, as one of my friends put it, the Minister of Sports Propaganda). This was a cool job, but in those days the college paid you in dryer lint, so there wasn't much point in staying. Like a lot of young guys, I decided it was time to move to the big city to seek my fame and fortune. The City of the Big Shoulders, that is. So like so many other small town boys of the sort that Sandburg referenced, I moved to Chicago. Once there, I moved in with a couple of my college buddies who were living in an apartment in Oak Park, a suburb best known for being the home of Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway. Papa referred to Oak Park as a "city of wide lawns and narrow minds," but it was a fairly congenial place and I ended up living there for five years. As the year went on, I went from having two roommates to none, as my buddies left for other places. Somehow, three months after I'd moved there, I was in possession of an apartment all by myself, with only a temp job and a $500 phone bill that one of my roommates had left behind. Illinois Bell did not take kindly to this and cut off the phone service, so I lived there without a phone. But eventually I found a better job. And the next year Mrs. D came into my life.

Thirty years ago: another year of transition. I graduated from the eighth grade and became a 13-year old high school freshman. 13 is a strange enough age under any circumstances, but because I was already in high school, it was tough. Intellectually it was no issue, but socially and emotionally it was a mess. I had figured out that I liked girls; in fact, by then I'd figured out that I liked them a lot. But when you're 13, sporting a pretty good case of acne, bad horn-rimmed glasses and thousands of crazed, hormone-fueled emotional outbursts, you don't exactly cut a dashing figure with the ladies. And being in a Catholic high school in the 1970s was enough to cause anyone to have a severe case of cognitive dissonance. A quick sketch: I was sitting in Sister Renita's Honors English class. Sister Renita was the best teacher I ever had, bar none. But she was also the most intimidating teacher I ever had, too. We used to say she ran her class the way Mao ruled China. One of the students in the class was a cheerleader and she was wearing her cheerleading outfit on this day. I was half daydreaming, half admiring this cheerleader's budding feminine form from across the room when suddenly Sister Renita pounced on the cheerleader, who was staring somewhat absent-mindedly at the blackboard. Sister Renita asked the cheerleader her opinion about something we read - the Odyssey, I think - and the cheerleader started to answer in a very soft voice. Sister Renita shot a withering glance at the cheerleader and thus began the following exchange:

"Miss, what are you wearing?"
"My cheerleading outfit, Sister."
"You are a cheerleader, but you can't speak up in my class? How are you able to lead the cheers, miss?"
"I can, Sister."
"But in here, you're a mouse?"
"But Sister--"
"You know, I ought to lock you in that broom closet and see if you can scream your way out. Maybe that will teach you how to speak up in class."

The rest of the class stared at Sister Renita, mouths agape. I was amazed and almost wanted to go over and offer comfort to the cheerleader, maybe give her a big hug. Not that I had any ulterior motive beyond the milk of human decency, of course. But Sister had her reasons for this exchange - she wanted the girls to be strong in their opinions, to not be mousy, to share their thoughts with the same enthusiasm that the boys did. And it worked. The cheerleader in question did very well in Sister Renita's class. And the demanding standards that Sister Renita maintained benefited everyone who was in that room. The tough teachers are the ones you remember, because they are the ones who care.

So what were you doing 10, 20 and 30 years ago? Go ahead, take the meme out for a spin.