Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Déjà vu at the Pinewood Derby

The kids ran their cars at the Pinewood Derby last night at Christ the King and the final results were almost identical to last year. Ben’s car was an also-ran, finishing about in the middle of the pack, while Maria’s car ran last in the “Open Class.” Ben’s car also won “Best Scout Theme” design, mostly because it was painted in Cub Scout colors and Ben painted the BSA version of the fleur-de-lis on the car. Maria now has two trophies that read “Slowest Car” for both 2006 and 2007. Our crack engineering skills strike again.

The Pinewood Derby is a fascinating event. Besides racing the cars, you get a window into the obsessions of the various parents. The idea of the competition is that the kids are supposed to design and build the cars, but it is obvious that many of the scouts are racing cars they’ve never touched. Some of the dads lavish more care on these vehicles than Carroll Shelby did on his Mustangs. One of my neighbors built the winning car and it was painted in a gorgeous dark metallic gray that would have had Earl Scheib calling his office, with a design reminiscent of a Lotus Esprit Turbo, circa 1979 or so. I can only imagine the amount of work that went into this project.

We take a different approach at our house. The kids and I built two cars and we spent a grand total of about 4 hours on the project. Both of the cars were set up to resemble a stagecoach. For horses, we cannibalized a $1 chess set that we had lying around the house and used the knights. One of Maria’s knights fell off the car during the race, but an intrepid scout leader retrieved the piece. The kids do most of the painting and overall design work. Maria’s car generally finishes last because it’s been my practice to put the better wheels and axles on Ben’s car. Even with inferior equipment, Maria’s car was significantly better than some of the other cars in the overall race – as usual, a 1st year scout had a vehicle that was built the wrong way and it could have been timed with a sundial.

Ben now has five of these cars and an armload of trophies. We’re done, since the Pinewood Derby is strictly a Cub Scout activity. The best he ever did was a 2nd place finish in 2005, which was a big a fluke as has ever happened. But I’ll bet Ben and Maria will both have fond memories of these events. I know I do.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A horse is a horse, of course, of course

That is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Barbaro, the star-crossed Kentucky Derby winner that was euthanized yesterday after a long rehabilitation struggle following his disastrous injury at the Preakness Stakes. The horse’s demise led most of the national news casts yesterday, even as other, more consequential events rage around the globe. The cynic asks: why would that be?

I’m guessing that the overwhelming presence of cynics, and cynicism, is why the story gained so much attention. It is easy to argue that Barbaro’s potential value as a stud horse would lead an owner to take the sorts of heroic measures that the horse has endured; there’s no question it’s a lucrative business. But I think it’s something else. We live in a time that seems to have less happy endings than we’d like. No matter whom we are, or where we are, there often seems to be an overarching narrative that someone is framing for us. We receive a lot of stories that fit this narrative and, too often, there aren’t a lot of happy endings. After the initial horror of the injury, we heard periodically about Barbaro’s progress and prospects for recovery and the story continued to maintain a lot of interest. Still, the sad ending contains a few lessons. Barbaro’s owners did not give up. They took extraordinary measures to keep their prized colt alive. They clearly loved the horse as a horse, not as an investment. The genuine affection that the horse’s plight engendered is a reminder that while it is easy to be cynical, sentiment is still powerful and useful.

Monday, January 29, 2007

All sports all the time

It was all sports, all the time this weekend for the Dilettante team. Herewith a quick review and a few observations:

Saturday was as basketball-filled a day as I can remember. We began at the Mounds View Community Center as we watched Maria’s participation in the Little Dribblers program. While the program is open to 1st and 2nd graders, there are significantly fewer 1st graders participating. As a result, Maria is one of the less experienced young athletes participating. But she is making excellent progress – she has improved her dribbling ability and has learned how to shoot a basketball. She is also learning a great deal of related fundamentals – how to jump stop, how to pivot, how to pass, how to move your feet to defend. Basketball, like chess, is a deceptively simple game that actually contains enormous complexity. Maria is barely 7 years old, but she’s getting a very good start in understanding the game.

Meanwhile, young Ben and his ragtag but indefatigable Red Scourge squad took on the lesser of the two St. Anthony teams in the league. This St. Anthony squad had previous dispatched Ben and co. by about 30 points the previous time around, but this time it was different. Ben’s team, even though it was missing 3 of the 9 players on the squad, gave a gallant accounting of itself, losing 40-36. Yes, yes, I know that moral victories are still losses, but seeing the improvement of the team was heartening. Ben played his usual well-rounded game; while he did not score, he contributed solid defense and good team play. Ben’s squad will begin tournament play in two weeks, against an opponent TBD.

Next, we packed everyone in the car and headed over to Tartan High School for the first-ever Minnesota-Wisconsin Border Battle basketball tournament. Mark Miller, my best childhood friend and majordomo of Wisconsin high school basketball, set up this tournament with his opposite number here in Minnesota. We had a chance to see parts of three of the five games, including impressive performances by tiny St. Bernard’s and the small but mighty Seymour, Wisconsin squad, which faced down a highly touted Minneapolis Patrick Henry Patriots. Seymour is a small town located about 20 miles from my home town of Appleton that has developed an unbelievably good high school basketball program. Their kids are the sturdy sons of dairy farmers and millwrights and they play with passion and great discipline. St. Bernard’s features the talented Trevor Mbakwe, a tremendous leaper who will play major college basketball at Marquette. Mbakwe threw down some tremendous dunks that thrilled my son and the large crowd that had gathered for the game against perennial Wisconsin small school power Randolph. We also saw La Crosse Aquinas, a small Catholic high school, easily dispatch a game but overmatched Rockford, Minnesota team. Aquinas has a spotty basketball history but they have really made tremendous strides in recent years. Overall, the Wisconsin teams won 3 of the 5 games. That’s about what I would have suspected; while Minnesota high school ball has improved a great deal in the last few years, the level of ball played in the Badger State has long been superior. It will be interesting to see how or if that changes in the coming years.

As if that weren’t enough, we packed up the kids on Sunday and headed over to the dreaded Metrodome for Twins Fest, the annual mid-winter celebration of all things Twin. Ben and Maria love this event, because they have an opportunity to play ball and try a variety of fun activities. This year they both had a chance to bat in the “Home Run Derby” against former Twin Kevin Tapani, rather than the usual anonymous Twins employee. Ben was smiling so much that Tapani feigned anger and threw him a brushback Wiffle Ball pitch. It was pretty neat. Attendance at Twins Fest was way up this year; this is hardly surprising, given the amount of attention the team garnered in their magical run last season. We are only two weeks away from one of the best announcements of the year – i.e., pitchers and catchers are reporting. And we’re still not done – stay tuned this week for all your Pack 412 Pinewood Derby coverage.

Friday, January 26, 2007

I disagree with Peggy Noonan, at my peril

Peggy Noonan, a wonderful writer and thinker, has a post up today in the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal website ( about Chuck Hagel, the tiresome Nebraska senator and Robert Mitchum look-alike who has been providing political cover for the Democrats on the war. Noonan thinks Hagel has been courageous in his stance. I just don't see it - to me, Hagel has been a less graceful version of John McCain for the entirety of his Senate tenure. But read Noonan's piece and see what you think.

I took the pledge

Ordinarily, I'm pretty suspicious of online petitions and anything that might smack of a loyalty oath, but in this case I think it's the right thing to do. Hugh Hewitt and some of the other majordomos in the right wing blogosphere have been championing a petition stating that the National Republican Senatorial Campaign should not provide any support to Republican senators who sign on to either of the "non-binding" resolutions concerning the Iraq War, especially regarding the troop surge that President Bush is currently implementing.

Hewitt's view is that the war trumps party on this issue. I think he's right. No matter how vehement the denials, the Democratic Party clearly stands for retreat and surrender in Iraq. I have tried, honestly I have, to understand how a precipitous, or even gradual, pullout of our forces from Iraq will improve the situation there, let alone how it will benefit the United States generally. It's unfortunate the Democrats feel this way, but their leadership figures are acolytes of the McGovern wing of the party.

Yesterday I posted on the 70s. We still don't learn, it seems to me. If you want to know more about the pledge, go to Hewitt's site at and get the skinny.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

That 70s Show

Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends.

  • It’s funny how perceptions change as you age. I was corresponding with the Red Scourge (my former B of A colleague, not the lovable but loutish fellow in Appleton) and we were talking about music. I mentioned that, of the 70s bands with geographic names, I find that I don’t much like most of them (Kansas, Chicago, Boston, etc.) but the one I do like these days is the Ohio Players. Don’t remember listening to too much funk back when it was recorded, but I sure do now.
  • Can we even escape the 70s, anyway? The music of that decade remains all over the radio. I’m old enough to remember the 70s themselves and we sure didn’t hear a lot of Kay Starr or the Mills Brothers or other 1940s-type artists in those days. In fact, it’s easier to find music from the 1940s now than it was 30 years ago.
  • It makes me wonder – what music from today will still be popular in 30 years? Since I’ve essentially detached myself from pop culture, I don’t even know who’s popular these days, although it seems like most records on the Billboard charts these days are one hip-hopper featuring another hip-hopper, rapping over a sample from a song from 30 years ago.
  • Meanwhile, back in Washington, we see a hostile Congress itching to micromanage a war and undermine the president. This is something we last saw over 30 years ago.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Ben, Maria and mo’ bang bang

Another busy weekend in the Dilettante household – herewith a recap and a few additional thoughts on the passing scene:

  • We sent Ben off to Laurentian Environmental Center this morning. LEC is a facility that the Mounds View School District 621 (ISD 621) operates in lovely Britt, Minnesota, which is about 60 miles northwest of Duluth, past the Iron Range towns of Eveleth and Virginia, smack dab in the middle of the Superior National Forest. ISD 621 sends its 5th grade students up there for a week to learn about nature, the North Woods, and probably some general-issue environmental propaganda. It’s par for the course, but whether I agree with the curriculum, it’s a big adventure for the kids. Ben’s school gets the mid-winter visit; other schools in ISD 621 go at different times of the year. Ben is now 11 years old and he’s never been away from his family for more than an overnight sleepover before, so it will be an interesting experience for him. He will also get a chance to try his hand at playing lacrosse and doing some ice fishing and cross-country skiing, in between bouts of Will Steger and Al Gore. Fortunately, no Arctic blasts are imminent, so he should be able to stay warm while he’s up there. Just another reason to like global warming.
  • Ben’s basketball team was also back in action on Saturday, losing to the hated Maroon team by a final score of 40-20. Ben scored four points, grabbed a few rebounds and set a textbook pick that freed one of his teammates for an uncontested layup. For a kid who weighs less than 80 pounds, it was an excellent impersonation of Karl Malone. While his team continues to suffer from a talent and experience gap, we’re seeing some progress and Ben’s game has improved a lot this year.
  • Maria had her kids’ birthday party on Saturday as well. She invited her Brownie troop buddies over for a Hawaiian-style “hula girl” party, which meant we had a bunch of giggly 7 year old girls running around our house in hula skirts, after they’d removed their winter jackets and snow pants, of course. We even cranked up the furnace to make it warm in the house. Maria and co. had a marvelous time; she has a nice group of friends and we’re delighted about that. And our house is now littered with even more Polly Pockets stuff; I didn’t think that was possible.
  • I need to get out of the prognostication business. I picked the Saints and Patriots to advance to Super Bowl XLI. That worked out well, eh? Okay, I’ll say this much about the SBXLI matchup – the allegiance in our household lies strongly with Tony Dungy. Time for Tony to get his ring. If Rex Grossman becomes a winning Super Bowl quarterback, I’ll be amazed. This should be a fun one, though.
  • It’s been bugging me for months now – every time I see Chuck Hagel on camera, I’m instantly repulsed, but I’ve never been quite able to figure out why, aside from his asinine rhetoric. Then I figured it out – Hagel looks a hell of a lot like Robert Mitchum did in “Night of the Hunter,” one of the most genuinely scary movies ever made. See for yourself:

Friday, January 19, 2007

Random thoughts about Illinois

I had a dream last night about Chicago. I lived there for five years and had a lot of fun. But thinking about it leads to random thoughts:

  • Has anyone on the Democratic side proposed a solution/exit strategy for the Iraq War yet? Are any details on the table? If W has any gumption at all, he should call out the D's on this big time next week. I'm thinking he doesn't. Remember, W - to the Democratic Party, cooperation = capitulation and bipartisanship = capitulation. If any of this means anything, you have to fight, not only in Baghdad, but also on Capitol Hill. The main mastermind behind D strategy these days, Cong. Rahm Emanuel, is a former Clinton operative who now represents a portion of Chicago.
  • The name is Rezko. He is a typical Illinois sleazebag real estate developer/swindler, of the sort that run rampant throughout the Land of Lincoln. You may not have heard of him yet, but you will, because he is a friend of Barack Obama. Watch for it later this year....
  • Someone brought out the name Robert Maynard Hutchens the other day, in connection with the search for the new head football coach for the Gophers. Hutchens was the president of the University of Chicago in the 1930s. Back in those days, the U of C competed in the Big 10 Conference and Hutchens precipitously removed the Maroons, the original Monsters of the Midway, from the league, citing the untoward effects of athletics on the campus. The next prominent use for the U of C's football stadium was as the site of the first controlled nuclear chain reaction. Eventually the Maroons returned to collegiate sports as a Division III school, originally competing in the same conference as my beloved alma mater, Beloit College. It's a different world and the U of C suffered no ill effects from leaving the sports big time. But whenever a football program has issues or scandal, someone always has to bring up Hutchens. Just thought you ought to know who he was.
  • Apparently the family of the Sioux tribe that gave the University of Illinois the Chief Illinewek outfit they use at sporting events wants the outfit back. Apparently these folks now find Chief Illiniwek's antics disrespectful. I guess there's no such thing as respectful antics, so I can understand that. Guess that means that the U of I may need a new mascot. I'd suggest they change their nickname to the "Fighting Aldermen," with a new mascot dressed in a Guys and Dolls suit, sporting a fedora and a diamond pinky ring. Instead of a war dance, the mascot could symbolically shake down a merchant.

And the Bears still suck, too. Can't wait to go back and visit, though....

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Brewster Street

My family’s first home was on the corner of Durkee and Brewster back in lovely Appleton, Wisconsin. Both streets were named after semi-prominent Appletonians who have largely faded from memory. There isn’t a Brewster Street in Minneapolis. One wonders if Tim Brewster, the new Gopher football coach, will be able to get a street, or a building, or something, named after him.

The challenge is daunting. The Gophers haven’t won a Big 10 title since 1967 and they haven’t been to Pasadena since 1960. In those 47 years, the Gophers have rarely been in the first division of the Big 10. The days when the Gophers owned Iowa and Wisconsin, their two largest, most natural rivals, are long past. Meanwhile, the league has become a tougher neighborhood since eastern power Penn State joined in 1993. A parade of coaches have come to town promising to return the Gophers to glory. It hasn’t happened.

Can Brewster be the guy who does it? Who knows – his resume lists positions with successful football organizations, but never a leadership role. He understands the Big 10 well, having competed on a Rose Bowl team as a player at Illinois. He’s clearly a high-energy guy and he seems to understand that public relations will be a big part of his job, especially in repairing the frayed relationships between his new employer and the network of high school coaches throughout the state. It galls many Minnesotans to see kids like John Stocco (of Holy Angels) leading the Badgers to 29 career wins and James Laurinaitis (of Wayzata) earning All-America status for Ohio State. Neither kid seriously considered staying home. And there are others.

I’m a Badger fan, so having the Gophers in a submissive position is fine with me. But as a long-time Minnesota resident, I recognize it’s not in the university’s interest to have a mediocre football program. I remember well the dread I would feel as the Badgers lined up to take their annual drubbings from the Buckeyes, Wolverines, Spartans, etc. back in the day. I hope Tim Brewster gets a street named after him someday. It wouldn’t necessarily make Minnesota a better place, but it would be a lot of fun for the long-suffering Gopher fans to have a chance to go someplace warm and westerly on New Year’s Day.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


The name is fabled in song and story. Sometimes it is preceded by “Ave.” Sometimes she is asked to take a letter. A group of Austrian nuns ask how to solve a problem involving her. She is serenaded on fire escapes. There are countless associations and images associated with the name. How do you think of Maria?

I think of my daughter, who bears the name and who turned seven on Monday. Maria is, like many children, a bundle of contradictions. She is boundlessly, prodigiously creative. She is an incredible stickler for rules, insisting that her daily homework of reading 10 minutes per day be verified, even to the point of timing it. She loves to dress up and regularly emerges from her room with an array of items, including tiaras, feather boas and about a dozen hats, sometimes simultaneously. She is a princess, a superhero, an artist, an expert on dogs and cats, a brilliant deflator of egos, especially that of her brother. She loves to dance and sing, making up songs as she goes along. She is graceful one moment, clumsy the next. She figured out how to play Clue before she could read. She is learning how to play cribbage even before she has the math skills. To her father, she is a puzzle, a challenge and most of all a source of unending joy.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Out of the doorway, the bullets scream

Here they come:

  • So Barack Obama is going to run for president after all. Good - now he may even see some legitimate scrutiny. It will be well nigh impossible for him to skate all the way down Pennsylvania Avenue without answering some tough questions. His name ultimately is not tabula rasa.
  • The problem with making your fearless predictions public is that you when you get them wrong, you can get called on it. I picked Baltimore, Seattle and San Diego to win over the weekend. Didn't happen. So we are left with New England at Indy, and New Orleans at Chicago. Let's try this again. New England 27, Indianapolis 24; and New Orleans 31, Chicago 23. I won't believe Rex Grossman can get anyone into the Super Bowl until he shows me. As for Peyton Manning, he's unfortunately becoming the Wilt Chamberlain of football - a towering talent who never has enough of a supporting cast to get past the competition. A Bears loss also means we would be spared the inevitable comparisions to Super Bowl XX, including sending reporters with wide-angle lenses down to find the 400+ pound William "Refrigerator" Perry, or a touching story on the sensitive side of Otis Wilson.
  • The Gophers have named Tim Brewster to be their new head football coach, leading to widespread shrugs. From what I can tell, they may have made a good hire. I dimly remember Brewster as a versatile tight end catching touchdown passes from Jack Trudeau down in Champaign back in the 1980s. He apparently is a good football mind and an excellent promoter/recruiter. Given Glen Mason's general disdain for promotion, I can see why the majordomos at the U wanted to get someone who doesn't mind undertaking a few promotional efforts. It will take a significant amount of marketing to bring the median age of the Gopher fan base back down below, say, 79. Bernie Bierman ain't coming back, folks. And the U has plenty of things going for it; if you were a potential recruit, would you rather spend 4-5 years in Minneapolis or Iowa City? I know what I'd answer. And best of all, they can save the money they'd had to have spent on a big name football coach to continue wooing Flip Saunders back to Dinkytown. Given the way things are going in Detroit, Flip may be more amenable to returing here than he's let on....
  • Bucky is now #2 in the AP basketball poll. Bo Ryan has had a lot of good teams since he's been in Madison, but this one could be special. Could they beat the Florida Gators and win the first NCAA trophy since distant 1941? We'll be interested to see. Alando Tucker is a great player - that much is certain.

Roger Dvorak, RIP

Yesterday was my daughter’s seventh birthday. We celebrated by going to a funeral. No, really. As mentioned in this space, Roger Dvorak, my wife’s uncle, passed away last week and his funeral was yesterday. Roger was truly a wonderful guy. The son of a dentist and Minnesota’s first female parole officer, Roger and his older brother David grew up during the war years. Roger graduated from Minnehaha Academy and then earned a degree in hospital administration from the U. of Minnesota. Roger had a long, successful career as a hospital administrator, including a 20+ year stint at Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville, New York. He and his wife Gail raised their family in the East, returning to their beloved Minnesota following Roger’s retirement. Sadly, Roger didn’t have a long retirement, even though he had richly earned one.

There have been a few versions of Roger’s obituary printed in the last few days; all reference his generosity, compassion and sense of fun. All of these traits were on display consistently during Roger’s life. There are a lot of stories about this guy – the time he presented a pair of Size 52 swimming trunks to a friend on his way to a tropical vacation, with the presentation taking place on the plane. He once offered a live mouse in a paper bag at a family white elephant gift exchange, to the horror of every recipient. He was generous with his time, traveling to Europe, Central America, Africa and Asia to help with Habitat for Humanity projects. He worked on a house in Budapest with Jimmy Carter. He served as a mentor for two young men from the New York area. He and Gail funded a scholarship at Minnehaha Academy. He always had time for you, no matter the circumstance.

I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with Roger, but the few opportunities we had were all very special. A few days before I married my wife, he took me aside and told me, totally deadpan, that I still had to pass a “family entrance exam and review.” He assured me that the committee would be fair in considering my application and that the application would not be especially difficult; no harder than getting into Princeton, he assured me. When Jill and I greeted Roger and Gail on our wedding day, he softly said, “I’ve been waiting for your call.” He finally betrayed a small grin as I burst out laughing. No one was ever more welcoming than Roger Dvorak. And you didn’t need to take any exams to know that.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Bang Bang

Back to the shooting gallery – here come the bullets.

  • I haven’t written about the Duke lacrosse team case previously but as the case continues to implode, there are a few things worth saying. First, few things are more dangerous than a prosecutor with a political agenda. Second, it should give those who live in academia pause that their devotion to the narrative of oppression and to viewing events through the prisms of race, class and gender can lead to monstrous results. Third, don’t bet on anyone who is hooked on prisms understanding any of that. Fourth, the prejudices you obtain in academia cost a lot of money and are not easily shed; I’m reminded of that every time I go back to visit my alma mater. Finally, it’s always crucial to remember the distinction between the lessons that you are taught and the lessons that you learn.
  • Rumors keep flying around Dinkytown about the next football coach. There’s a certain amount of huffing and puffing today because the U has spent 80K on an Atlanta search firm to help them winnow down candidates. Well, it costs money and somehow I don’t think Dolphin Temp was going to be able to get it done. The larger problem remains – the Big 10 is a tough neighborhood and the rise of Bucky and Iowa in the last 25 years has really complicated things for the Gophers.
  • Fearless predictions for the NFL playoffs, as follows: Baltimore 21, Indy 14; San Diego 24, New England 19; New Orleans 31, Philadelphia 21; and Seattle 16, Chicago 10. Mamas, don’t let yer quarterbacks grow up to be Rex Grossman.
  • I’ve given up even trying to keep track of technology. I guess I have to buy an HDTV of some sort in two years, but I have no idea when it comes to cell phones, BlackBerrys, iPhones and the like. I did see a gadget that I understood yesterday, and it’s only 20 bucks. Who needs a RAZR or BLACKJACK when you can get a Vidalia onion slicer? It’s just that simple….

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The $1.98 Beauty Show

Time to date myself again. Those of you who were around in the 1970s may remember the empire of oddball game shows that Chuck Barris oversaw. Barris was responsible for such cultural milestones as The Newlywed Game, The Dating Game and the eternal classic The Gong Show. All of these shows were festivals of thinly-disguised sexual chortling and gentle prurience. One of his shows was a spoof of beauty contests called The $1.98 Beauty Show, which featured the mincing, rotund Rip Taylor as master of ceremonies. Taylor would bring out women (and a few men) of questionable ability and taste and parade them around for a howling audience. Winners would receive some questionable prizes, but always $1.98.

As I was driving home for lunch today, I noticed that gas prices had dipped below $2 for the first time in about a year and I was able to purchase some petrol at a SuperAmerica for the magical price of $1.98 a gallon. I thought about Rip Taylor and how, back in the late 70s, $1.98 would have seemed like an outrageous amount to spend for a gallon of gasoline. But here I was, grateful as I could be that I finally was able to gas up for less than $2/gallon. A number is rarely a thing of beauty, but there it was.

Piñatas and kendo sticks

A few years ago I received an alumni reunion directory for my alma mater, Beloit College. The directory contained one page updates on alums who bothered to complete the form. This being Beloit College, the number of entries was small. But one the alums who responded had a great line that I’ve been waiting to use. When asked what he was doing with his life, ol’ Paschal Sciarra (Class of 1986) said:

“Lately I’ve been serving as a conservative piñata for kendo stick-armed liberals. Oh, and loving the WWF.”

Paschal has a lot in common with George W. Bush, it seems, although I don’t know about Bush’s WWF patronage. Every public utterance from Mr. Bush gets excoriation, ridicule and a fine coating of spittle. It’s really something, the level of vitriol directed at the Leader of the Free World. Back in the day, I used to stick my nose in at the temple of Clinton bashing,; the Freepers are world-class invective-hurlers but they are pikers compared to some of the stuff you see said about George W. Bush these days.

Put it this way – when it comes to liberal anger about W, we get it. You could bring the average computer to a halt simply by trying to capture even a tiny portion of the invective Bush faces every day, especially concerning the war. Bush tried a major speech last night that was dismissed before he even gave it. No one is listening, apparently.

But I think that may yet change. Here’s why.

We’ve been waiting, waiting, waiting for something that we just don’t see, which is an actual plan for dealing with the Middle East situation offered by anyone on the left. You’d like to think that someone would put something forward, but there has been nothing. Barack Obama writes about “audacity,” but hasn’t been audacious enough to propose anything. Hillary is still waiting to hear from the focus group. Joe Biden is too busy preening. Meanwhile, the war continues.

Eventually, unless someone on the Left comes up with a plan, people are going to begin to realize that all the Left has to offer on the subject is carping. It is human nature to listen to complaining for a time, but those who spend their days complaining about things eventually lose favor and get tuned out. The Democrats need a positive idea or they will lose their audience.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

That smell

Word was that the air in Manhattan had a sulfurous smell on Monday. If we are to believe Hugo Chavez, that must mean that President Bush was in the area. Best to ignore Hugo Chavez entirely, of course; still, that means there was a smell on the island on Monday. But that wasn’t the only unpleasant odor. Let’s do a quick aroma roundup.

  • The smell in New York could have been a number of things – swamp gas from Jersey, sewage from somewhere. No one was harmed by it, so it will likely be forgotten. But you wonder if it’s a test run for something else. Hope that’s simply paranoia.
  • The smell in Glendale, Arizona came from the Ohio State Buckeyes, who got their well-praised butts handed to them by a nasty bunch of Florida Gators on Monday night. There was no question that Florida was a better team on the field; I do wonder, however, how Florida would have done if they’d played OSU during the season. One of the problems with the bowl season is that many teams don’t play for a month or more between the end of the season and the game. Ohio State’s regular season ended in November, as is typical of all Big Ten schools, while the Gators played on into December. I’m not sure if that makes a difference, but I suspect it does. The Big Ten could mimic the other conferences by adding a 12th team, dividing into divisions and having a championship game. The question is, as it has been forever, is which team would you invite? As a matter of geography, you could suggest Iowa State, or perhaps Missouri, from the Big XII. Over the years another eastern school has also been suggested, such as Pittsburgh or Syracuse. Notre Dame won’t join the Big 10 because it wants to keep its football money. I’d like to humbly suggest Kansas, probably the best academic university in the Big XII and a school with a tremendous basketball tradition. No matter what, it’s time to make the offer to some school.
  • More undetermined smells emanate in the final AP poll results for college football. Because the top two Big 10 schools, Ohio State and Michigan, both flopped, there seems to be a consensus that the Big 10 is overrated. The SEC acolytes especially like to play this card. But remember that on New Year’s Day, the winners of the two Big Ten-SEC matchups were Penn State and my beloved Wisconsin Badgers, over SEC worthies Tennessee and Arkansas, respectively. The Badgers may be the only team I’ve ever heard of that went 12-1, won its bowl game and lost ground in the final poll, falling from 6 to 7 in the AP poll. Do you think the Badgers were punished for their Big 10 membership? I sure do.
  • Another undetermined smell comes from the Baseball Writers of America. These press-box solons have decided that Mark McGwire does not belong in the Hall of Fame, despite career home run totals that rival the all-time greats. Big Mac is a big man and he must have used steroids, the reasoning goes. Here’s the question: even if McGwire did use steroids, how many of his home runs would have been routine fly balls had he not done so? No one knows, of course. McGwire was a great power hitter because he could time the baseball and bring his tremendous size and strength to bear on a baseball. Are the writers arguing that McGwire is really Ted Kluszewski or Frank Howard, or Greg Luzinski, sluggers of previous eras whose credentials fall short of Cooperstown? How can you know? In this case, the only thing we know is what we see; what I saw when I watched Mark McGwire was a tremendous, consistent power hitter who was one of the most feared batters of his generation. McGwire is certainly a more worthy candidate than Jim Rice, to use one example of a player receiving more votes. So how do you explain this? I’m genuinely curious to find out the rationale of these baseball writers – I’ll be watching these explanations closely.

Death comes again

I’ve been writing way too much about death lately, but again I must. Roger Dvorak, my wife’s uncle and a man of significant accomplishment, died yesterday after suffering a massive stroke over the weekend. I’ll have more to say about Roger in the coming days; for now let’s just say that he was a wonderful guy who left huge footprints.

Monday, January 08, 2007


A great word. Here’s the definition from the American Heritage Dictionary:

scru·ti·ny (skrōōt'n-ē)
A close, careful examination or study.
Close observation; surveillance.

Scrutiny is what is on offer from the new Congress, especially where the war is concerned. Nancy Pelosi is promising that whatever else happens, George W. Bush’s conduct of the war will get scrutiny. I couldn’t be happier about that. And I’ll bet George W. Bush couldn’t be happier, too. No, seriously.

One of the dirtiest secrets of our politics is how little scrutiny both parties get for their political views. Most of what we know consists of the “he said, she said” banter that gets passed on through the mainstream media. There are strong and fundamental intellectual reasons for the stances of both political parties; however, typically those long-standing debates don’t fit well into a 30 second soundbite.

If Pelosi and her friends in Congress really start asking hard questions, it should become clear to more Americans how difficult the decisions are. Bush has not done well in explaining things, primarily because he is a shaky communicator generally. But the D’s haven’t done much but heckle, a point I made in my post-election post “Statler and Waldorf Mount the Stage.” Pelosi is very much on the stage and she’s strode there in full Gloria Swanson mode. I’m betting that she’s going to be get a little scrutiny for how she scrutinizes. That will be good for the debate and good for the President.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Free fire zone

And here we were looking for peace in the New Year. No such luck. Time to pull out the blunderbuss again:

  • Nancy Pelosi’s big debut was pretty amusing. She’s coming on like Helen Reddy did back in ’72 and her heartwarming story about going from being a housewife to Speaker of the House would be genuinely inspiring if not for the inconvenient detail that she is one of the richest people in Washington. She rose in Congress because her vineyard-owning husband was able to pay the entry fee. I think the narrative stuff is overrated, anyway. Pelosi will succeed or fail based on her ability to control the cranks in her party. Having Cindy Sheehan shout down one of Pelosi’s top lieutenants and then commandeer his microphone is a bad, bad sign.
  • I’ve talked about Don Shelby’s dumb-ass commentaries on the local news before. Shelby has been a Minnesota institution in his perch at WCCO-TV for nearly 30 years now, but his pomposity has been growing exponentially lately. He’s lately taken up the cudgels for Keith Ellison, our shiny new Muslim congressman, giving Ellison plenty of air time to espouse his nonsensical views. Shelby yesterday was waxing eloquent on the lingering protests about Ellison’s symbolic use of the Koran for taking the oath of office. Shelby asked why people weren’t protesting the two Buddhists who were elected to Congress. Well Don, there haven’t been any Buddhists who have flown airliners into the World Trade Center. There’s one reason. Nor have any Buddhists planted IEDs lately, nor have any Buddhists beheaded anyone and distributed the video. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Buddhists aren’t a threat to our way of life. Some Muslims are.
  • If I recall correctly, one of Rosie O’Donnell’s original claims to fame was how nice she was. Guess we were mistaken, eh?
  • A little Hot Stove League – word is that elderly southpaw Randy Johnson is headed back to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Phoeniz is a popular retirement area, so it seems fitting. Johnson apparently still thinks he can pitch effectively in the majors, but he’s now 43 and it’s probably about time to go. Amazing that the guy will get $16 million this year. I’m 43 and lefthanded, too. Sure wish I could throw 95 miles an hour….

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Things that make you go hmmm

Lots of interesting things going on. Let's start firing the bullets:

  • Did you see the video of Rahm Emanuel, the Illinois congressman and former Clinton operative, getting shouted down by Cindy Sheehan and a bunch of other lefties? I think the D's may have a problem on their hands. The hardcore left in this country is as incoherent as ever, but they feel emboldened because they helped elect a lot of Democrats last year. The Democrats they elected are often a lot like Mr. Emanuel, i.e., a wee bit more sensible than the wild-eyed pamphleteers who gather under the banners of Sheehan, Kos, etc. They want their place at the table, but they don't have sufficient table manners and deal cutters like Mr. Emanuel will have to find a way to keep them offstage. Good luck with that....
  • I'm beginning to suspect the Ohio State/Florida national championship game is going to be anti-climactic. I publicly trashed Boise State in this space, but their wonderful performance in defeating a worthy Oklahoma team in the Fiesta Bowl will be the game that people remember. Having tailback Ian Johnson score the winning points, then propose marriage to his cheerleader girlfriend on national television, was great stuff. You couldn't script it any better. Meanwhile, shouldn't someone tell the BCS honchos that Notre Dame is not a great team? Wait a minute, LSU just did. Nine bowl losses in a row for the Domers now. Maybe someone else should get a chance to play in these games, doncha think? Maybe like the Badgers, who finished the season 12-1?
  • Did you notice that Michael Jackson resurfaced briefly during the mourning period for James Brown? Jacko said something to the effect that James Brown was his primary inspiration. Bet that was news to Berry Gordy and Quincy Jones.
  • Apparently Mike Tice is interested in coaching at the U. Someone really needs to tell him that there's not a lot of money to be made in scalping Gophers tickets. Memo to Joel Maturi - call Boise State. Ask for a fella named Peterson.
  • My daughter starts basketball this weekend. It should be a lot of fun for her and I'll see if I can prevail upon her to give you an update on her blog. Meanwhile, the Red Scourges return to action on Saturday as well, facing the lesser of the two St. Anthony squads. We've been working with the boys on a few things in practice; perhaps things will get better. Watch this space for updates!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

2007 arrives quickly

So you go away for a few days and all heck breaks loose. Lotsa things happening worth commenting on, so let’s get out the bullets.

  • Item: Glen Mason fired after Insight Bowl debacle. Not surprising, except for the timing. I think that if Iowa had beaten the Gophers and left a trophy case bereft of the Jug, the Axe and the Pig, and no bowl to boot, Mason would have been gone right there. Mason did not have a reservoir of good will among Gopher fans, given his public habit of lusting after other jobs (cf. Michigan State, Ohio State, LSU, etc.) and it was pretty clear that his program had hit a plateau. I still think the biggest problem in Dinkytown is not Mason, nor Dan Monson, but rather their former boss, Joel Maturi. Maturi was a fine high school basketball coach back at Madison Edgewood High School, but he’s way out in the deep water now. Meanwhile, the challenge for the Gophers is putting together a compensation package that will be attractive enough to snag a good coach. The U has essentially lost a generation of football fans among its alumni base and cannot reasonably rely on Pinky McNamara and his 50s era pals to continue to finance things there. They need a coach who will put fans in the stands, but they don’t have the conventional means to bring it about. I’m guessing that they look at a talented young assistant coach from somewhere else who might be willing to take a shot at what still is a premium job – this is the Big Ten, after all.
  • Item: Badgers outlast Arkansas and win Capital One Bowl. Just like always, the Badgers were the tougher team in the end. Twice now the Badgers have entered Orlando as an underdog to a hyped SEC team; twice the Badgers have won. Maybe now the commentariat will start to take Bucky a wee bit more seriously. I’m especially interested in Jason “The Badgers Are a Fraud” Whitlock’s take on things. Eric Hoffer, in his classic book “The True Believer,” discussed at length the difference between “Men of Words” and “Men of Action.” The Badgers are always Men of Action. And in the end, Men of Action are the ones who win.
  • Item: Favre and Packers give Bears the red-headed stepchild treatment for old times’ sake; Favre retirement soap opera resumes. Darling, you’ve got to let me know: should he stay or should he go? Who knows? Based on the available evidence, ol’ number 4 still has life left, but it’s worth remembering that he has taken a horrific beating over the past 15 years. The Packers played very well down the stretch, but the open secret is that Favre really didn’t have a lot to do with their success; rather, it was improvement on defense and the array of cupcakes the Packers faced. And yes, I’m including the 13-3 Bears as one of the cupcakes. Still, it’s been a lot of fun to watch the Pack in the last few weeks and the 8-8 record they posted was very encouraging. As a fan, I hope Favre will come back for at least one more year, but he’s certainly earned his retirement. Heck, Favre beat the Bears over 20 times; that itself is enough to earn my eternal gratitude. And, as always, it’s a great pleasure to see the boys spank the Bears, especially in Soldier Field. The Bears are probably the shakiest 13-3 team I’ve ever seen; I think the Saints can beat them.
  • Item: Saddam Hussein wears the noose. Given the enormity of the crimes Saddam committed, and the incredible cruelty he used in dispatching his victims, it’s been a little bit amusing to hear people complaining about the hooded mob that dispatched this unremorseful tyrant. Saddam killed thousands of Shiites without a second thought; it’s hardly surprising that Shiites were lining up to do the deed. There’s a case to be made for opposing capital punishment and I have always been troubled by the death penalty, but if the death penalty has any purpose at all, it is for people like Saddam. I will say this, though: I really wish there was less enthusiasm among Iraqi security forces for the thuggish Moqtada al Sadr; this thuggish, petulant mullah wannabe is causing real problems. Perhaps some day he might try on the hemp-based neckwear, too….
  • Item: Mr. Dilettante puts up his 300th post. And you’ve just read it. Thank you to everyone who reads my blog. Your support means a lot to me.