Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Meanwhile, in the real world

The famous Chinese curse says, “May you live in interesting times.” We’re cursed, all right.

  • Item: Dick Cheney survives an assassination attempt while visiting the war zone. Not surprising at all that an attempt was made. Not surprising, either, that people would be trying to kill him. What is sad is that a number of people posting to the Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington’s compendium of nonsense, were openly sad that the assassins were unsuccessful. There’s a term for that sort of thinking: sick. Back in the day, Bill Clinton used to drive me absolutely nuts. But I never wanted him dead.
  • Item: Stock market takes a 500 point nosedive on Tuesday. Correction or harbinger? Hard to say. But at this writing the market has recovered over 100 points. That’s because many stocks are available for a sale price today. I am concerned about the default rates in consumer lending, especially since a lot of people who used exotic mortgages to get into a house are going to be very overextended if they don’t refinance. It bears watching, especially since many of these mortgages have been securitized, so the effect of defaults and foreclosures will have larger ripples in the overall economy. I don’t think the bears are appearing yet, though.
  • Item: Joe Lieberman hints he might caucus with the Republicans. There’s a reason why the Democrats have been pushing their agenda like crazy since the beginning of the year; they know their window may be short. Lieberman is probably the most powerful man in Washington. As Glenn Reynolds might say, heh.
  • Item: Badgers lose two games and Brian Butch. Tough week in Madison. Bo Ryan is a resourceful fellow and he does have some other players who can fill in for Butch, who appears to be out for the rest of the season with an elbow injury. If the Badgers can make a run in the conference tournament, I’d say they will be okay. But this dream season may be turning nightmarish.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Mo Phillipo

Okay, back to camp.

After a daring run out to the camp from the pizza guys in Cannon Falls, we enjoyed a good, greasy dinner. Then it was time for tubing. The hill is located about a mile away from the Gwin Center and we trudged through the schmutz and ice to get there. The tubing hill was probably about half the size of the one at Buck Hill, but it is plenty steep and the surface was essentially glaze ice with a fine coating of light snow on top. The landing area for the hill usually serves as the camp's archery range and there is even more space than in the parade grounds. The kids and many of the parents took tubes and headed down, hurtling down the two runs at some pretty fearsome speeds. From the top, the view was magical. It was almost being inside a snow globe, snow lightly falling and a light wind that barely stung the cheeks. The land was silent except for the screams and whoops of delighted children and their equally delighted parents. I did not take a tube myself; for me, simply being an observer was sufficient. The kids made several runs where they placed the tubes together and sent out as a giant rubberized mass, scattering at the bottom of the run like tenpins. After about 90 minutes of this, we headed back to camp for more cards and, eventually, sleep.

SNOWMAGEDDON finally arrived that night; by the time we awoke, about 8 inches were on the ground. We ate our breakfast and cleaned up the cabins. By the time we had packed up, the park rangers had plowed all the roads and we were able to head back to the Twin Cities. The trip was not the least bit harrowing, although the sight of at least 200-250 snowmobilers cruising through the ditches and culverts along Highway 52 was momentarily jarring. Ben and I arrived home to find over a foot of snow in our driveway, which was freshly plowed in with 3-4 feet in the entrance. The kids romped and Jill and I toiled.

Why go into this level of detail? Well,

  • I never had experiences like this in my own childhood. I understand the reasons; with six children, my parents were pulled in more directions than I could ever imagine. I can invest a ton of time on Ben and Maria, an option my parents did not have with me. Because I can do these things, I should.
  • Organizations like the Boy Scouts don't get enough credit for the things they do and the experiences they provide. Ben has greatly enjoyed his Cub Scout experience, which is now drawing to a conclusion. The Phillipo Scout Camp is a marvelous place; it provides kids with an opportunity for adventure, even if the edges are somewhat shaved off. We are suburbanites and we live in a comfortable, exceptionally well-manicured town. It is easy to become soft living in such a place. Kids need adventures. Ben has had plenty of them at Phillipo and he is better for it. Maria, as she pursues similar adventures in Girl Scouting, will have similar opportunities as well. She will be better for the experience, too.
  • Parents of my generation struggle with the role they play. My dad was a wonderful, kind-hearted man, generous to a fault and possessing a gentle sense of humor. I know all this, but I didn't always see understand it when I was young. Because of the circumstances of our lives, Dad was often a distant figure. The distance between us was not intentional, but I suspect it had its uses for him. I've always felt that dads of my generation have been trying to sort all that out. We all remember hearing the gentle admonitions of Harry Chapin's "Cats in the Cradle" when we were young and I have always heard that sing-song voice in my head as I've dealt with Ben and Maria. I think kids now. especially suburban kids, get a lot more attention, which is generally a positive thing. At the same time, I wonder if familiarity will breed contempt.
  • There's an old saying - "God don't make junk." That's a vernacular way of expressing the notion that we all are here for a reason and that God has a plan for all of us. I think that we all feel like junk some times. But we have to keep in mind the greater purpose. It is possible that my reason for being is because Ben and Maria need a father. That I am their father is the evident manifestation of God's plan. Given that, I'd better darned well make sure I do my best for them. I continue to believe that God has other plans for me besides these duties, and that He will make His wishes known in due course.

More tomorrow. And I'll get to the Brewers, too. Really.

Monday, February 26, 2007


Ben and I are back from winter camping. It was a marvelous experience and what follows is a little mental unpacking from the trip. This post will begin a synopsis of what we did; I’ll be mining this event for some other ruminations as the week progresses – believe me, I can easily get a week out of this.

As I mentioned in my Friday post, my son Ben absolutely loves camping and the Phillipo Scout Reserve may be his favorite place in the world. The camp itself is typical of most Boy Scout installation, a sprawling, beautiful site on the south bank of a dammed up section of the Cannon River known as Lake Byllesby. We arrived on Friday night a few hours prior to the onset of SNOWMAGEDDON. We set up in our cabin and then repaired to the Gwin Center, where we visited with our fellow campers. Ben brought his cribbage board along and we played a few games, drawing a steady stream of kibitzing Cub Scouts. Over the course of the weekend, we taught about six kids how to play. After a few hours of this, we scampered back to the cabin to anticipate the transformation of the Camp into something Omar Sharif might be trudging through. The wind was howling that night with the evil sound that anyone who lives in Minnesota recognizes. It was, to paraphrase W. C. Fields, not a fit night out for man nor beast.

When we got up, we girded for the worst. Would the snow be piled up to the door? Nah. There was about a half inch of sleet/shmutz covering the existing glaze ice. It was windy and snow flurries were whipping around, but Phase One of SNOWMAGEDDON seemed like a bit of a cheat. However, a little bit of sleet on top of glaze ice makes for perfect sledding weather. So Ben wolfed down some pancakes and headed for the hill by the main camp mess hall. This is a primo sledding hill, fairly steep but with a lot of room and the bottom of the hillside empties out into an enormous parade ground that is about the size of five football fields. Ben clambered up the hill with “Black Mariah,” his plastic one-seat implement of self-destruction, and let fly. He ended up almost a quarter mile away from the top of the hill, with a wild eyed grin on his face the whole time. Back he came. Down he went. Eventually some other kids asked to try his sled and he traded out with them a few times. All in all, he probably made about 30 runs, despite the long trudge back each time, all the while with Ben’s million-watt smile framed by strawberry-colored cheeks.

After a hot dog and soup lunch – this is camp, after all, it was time for an afternoon of games – more cribbage, a few rounds of blackjack and poker (no money involved, however), Battleship and a new, fun game called “Apples to Apples” that is pretty amusing. We were cooling our heels a bit waiting for the “Polar Cub” troops that were doing a day-camp version of our event to finish with the tubing hill. Our turn would be after dinner. And we’ll get to that next.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Happy campers

Children, to paraphrase Forrest Gump, are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. Ben and I are going to get something this weekend, that’s for sure.

As you’ve likely heard, we are apparently facing SNOWMAGEDDON this weekend. Everyone from Paul Douglas to Dave Dahl agree we will be looking at a snowstorm that could drop a foot of snow on the state over the weekend. There was a time when we used to shake things like that off. Okay, it’s a pain in the hind quarters, but you just break out the shovel, or the nine-stage snowblower, and you clear the walk. While it snows, it’s a David Lean style weekend, a nice weekend to stay close to home, maybe light a fire in your hearth, and put on Lawrence of Arabia or something similarly epic. Not Doctor Zhivago; if you want to see that, you can look out your window.

Not us. Ben and I are going camping. Okay, it’s not really a true camping, sleep in a tent experience, but it is a weekend at the Phillipo Scout Camp in Cannon Falls, about an hour south of the Twin Cities. Ben and I last went there for summer camp in July, 2005, and the temperature for the entire weekend was about 148 degrees Fahrenheit, if I remember correctly. Okay, maybe 97, but it was July and it was miserable. As I’ve noted in this space before, Jill and I are not outdoorsy types. We are very much into creature comforts and I am the first to admit I’m kinda, well, soft. I like my comfortable, conformist suburban rambler and my conformist sedan. I don’t like to go into the office and play “Can You Top This” with the hockey dads or the Will Steger wannabes. Just doesn’t interest me. But somehow I ended up with a kid who is nuts for camping. So we signed up for “Winter Camp” and will be heading down Highway 52 this evening. Into the snow we go.

Ben loves tromping around in the woods, sitting around campfires, munching s’mores and shooting arrows and BB guns. He can’t get enough of it. We will be staying in some sort of a cabin set up with about 30 other assorted scouts and parents. The kids will have a tremendous time, no doubt, sledding and sliding and trying to roust the deer and whatnot. I expect a lot of snowball fights and probably we’ll end up making some sort of odd leather thing like a key fob. We’ll probably eat some crappy pancakes and maybe work in a little roadkill for seasoning. Ben will have a heck of a time. And that makes it worth it.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

You can observe a lot just by watchin'

One of the many aphorisms attributed to Yogi Berra, and one of my favorites. I've been watchin', now come the observations. Incoming!

  • The true sign when a celebrity's life has hit bottom is when he/she is portrayed by Gerard Mulligan on the David Letterman show. Mulligan was Letterman's chief writer for years and is as funny and shameless a fellow as you will see. Yesterday, he went out on stage ostensibly as Britney Spears, wearing a platinum pageboy wig, a dark gray hoodie (with a menorah hanging out) and blue jeans. The thing is, Mulligan is about 6 feet tall, bearded and probably weighs about 275 pounds. Letterman asked "Britney" what she planned to do about global warming and the answer was "I'm switching to frozen margaritas." The message here is that Britney needs to take the trip up Highway 8, and quick.
  • Yesterday was Ash Wednesday and that means the Lenten season is upon us. For many Christians, especially us Catholics, we tend to associate Lent with giving something up, like smoking, or eating doughnuts. When I was a kid I remember making a joke of it - I think I gave up Brussels sprouts one year, and okra another. But there is a better approach - rather than give something up, Lent is really an excellent time to do something for other people, whether through charitable donations or good works. But here's the key - don't make a big deal of it. In yesterday's Gospel, Jesus speaks about those who are ostentatious in their giving, or obvious in their fasting. There's a pretty large self-congratulatory streak in the American persona; we talk big, act big, think big and we strut, strut, strut. But as Jesus points out, God sees everything we do, big or small, loud or quiet. And my sense is that the quiet moments are the most telling.
  • Barack Obama's campaign took the bait. David Geffen unloaded on Hillary and Bill Clinton to Maureen Dowd. A Clinton operative demanded that Obama denounce Geffen and return any money he'd received. Obama's campaign, touted as not using negative tactics, immediately slammed the Clintons. And thus America's savior is brought into the dirt, on Ash Wednesday to boot. Didn't take long at all, now did it? Now, if we can only get someone to do up a flow chart so we can keep track of who said what to whom.
  • Speaking of things not lasting long; my beloved Badgers made it to Number One in the polls on Monday, then get swatted down by Michigan State the next day. They just can't stand prosperity in the Badger State.
  • I would like to commend to your attention a blogger who has been visiting here from time to time lately. His name is Ben (not my son Ben) and he posts at . Ben is a divinity student and a thoughtful guy who posts regularly on a range of topics that are near and dear to our hearts. He writes well, thinks clearly and has a good sense of humor. There's no gainsaying those qualities, which are often in short supply in Wild West of cyberspace. Go check him out - highly recommended. Here's a sample, in which our hero dispatches Valentine's Day with verve and panache:

So tomorrow is Valentine's Day. Harumph. I don't much care for it. Now that sounds downright dismissive and it would be easy to accuse me of sour grapes. (Go ahead if you want). It's tempting to explain why I don't care for it: idealization of romantic love without giving a bit of glory to its fundamentals, for example. But that's still harumphy. So with a nod to Seinfeld...

I declare tomorrow to be The Ides of February. Give a can of nuts to someone you esteem, who shows positive moral traits and an optimistic outlook on life. Show them some appreciation and let them know how they brighten your day. Why nuts? Because they're salty! So if you prefer give them a bag of potato chips or some soy sauce. Just let them know that they are the salt of the earth.

A Mutual of Omaha moment

If you are above a certain undisclosed age, chances are good that the name Marlin Perkins means something to you. Perkins was the longtime host of one of my favorite television shows, “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.” The avuncular Perkins would regale his audiences with films of various adventures with wild animals, generally with his brawny sidekick, Jim Fowler, in tow. Fowler always seemed to be wearing some version of safari gear and was a real-life version of Race Bannon, or maybe Steve Irwin with an Iowa accent and attitude. Sometimes the film was genuinely thrilling – Jim Outraces a Cheetah! Or, Jim fights an Alligator in His Swampy Lair! In between, Perkins would provide expert narration, along the lines of “while Jim goes out to subdue the Bengal Tiger, I sit in my duck blind and contemplate the Ganges.” Then we would see Marlin in the studio, smoothly suggesting “the tiger is a fierce predator and adversary. Let Mutual of Omaha’s expertise in insurance and annuities help you fight your way through the financial jungles,” followed by a short announcement discussing MofA’s “Pith Helmet Annuity” or some such. Overall, the show was a hoot and you can find lots of “Wild Kingdom” footage on the Internet if you look for it, including on the Mutual of Omaha website.

But ever since, I’ve thought of random experiences with nature as a “Mutual of Omaha Moment.” As a family, we haven’t spent a lot of time outdoors. My father had no use for camping and my mother usually thought “roughing it” meant staying at a Ramada Inn. Jill and I pretty much feel the same way; nature is great, but we’re city kids. The thing is, nature has a way of coming whether you seek it or not. Although we live in an inner-ring suburb, there’s a lot of animal action going on around our house. In the past year we’ve seen ducks, geese and owls in our yard. We’ve seen a red fox, various raccoons and muskrats. My daughter spotted a bald eagle soaring over our yard on Thanksgiving Day. We have seen deer in the neighborhood, including one unfortunate young buck that was serving as a pinball on County Road D. Growing up in Appleton, Wisconsin, I rarely saw anything more exotic than a squirrel in our yard.

Along with the other critters listed, you see lotsa squirrels now. As I was looking out my kitchen window this morning, I noticed a commotion going on about 10 feet past our deck. There I saw about 6-12 crows waiting their turn to eat a dead squirrel that had somehow ended up out there in the snow. Although the scene was somewhat disgusting, it’s probably not that much worse than what you’ll see at the average Old Country Buffet. This murder of crows (yes, that’s the name for a flock of crows) were actually providing a service, of course – by dining on the unfortunate fellow, it means I won’t have to clean it up during the spring. Nature is that way, even in the landscaped environs of the northern suburbs. We can plat the subdivision, put in roads, build houses and even say we own the land. But we kid ourselves if we believe we have much control over our quarter-acre dominions.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Pols and Polls

So what do you make of it?

  • So the AP poll has the Badgers at Number One for the first time ever, right before they have a game at East Lansing, one of the Big Ten's greatest graveyards. If the Badgers go through the rest of the season undefeated (at Michigan State, at Ohio State, home against Michigan State), they should definitely be #1. This is pretty heady stuff for what has been a historically rotten program.
  • As I had feared, voters in my Minnesota House district (50B) decided to send an aging schoolgirl named Kate Knuth to the legislature. Knuth, 25, is the daughter of a long-time lobbyist and her primary claims to fame prior to election were a stint as a Fulbright Scholar and her prominent role in the Irondale High School marching band. Well, Kate has now helped to author what we can only refer to as the "Freedom to Poop Act." The law essentially mandates that public places must provide public restroom facilities to anyone who comes in, even if they aren't a customer. The idea, purportedly, is to ease the concerns of those who suffer gastric distress and chronic diseases, such as Crohn's Disease. I know people who have Crohn's and it is a difficult, nasty thing to deal with. But the problem with this law is pretty easy; there are a lot of activities that one can perform in a bathroom beyond answering the laws of nature. And many businesses have excellent reasons for banning people from their biffs. Kate says no. It didn't take her long to crap things up, now did it?
  • Speaking of excrement, did you hear about John Murtha's new plan? Fund the troops but put such onerous restrictions on the money that the military can't use it. Then watch the troops lose. There is a special place in Hell for the modern Democratic party. Let's just hope they don't all take us there with them.
  • So we got our first look at Sidney Ponson yesterday - he's still rotund, although a bit less so than in previous years. He's not concerned about the excess weight, though - he compared himself to David Wells, the portly portsider who is, at 42, still pitching in the major leagues. Of course, what Ponson doesn't mention is that Wells typically spends about 1/3 of the year on the disabled list. Now given my own lifelong battle with weight, I am sympathetic to Ponson's position. But I don't suspect he'll last long in Minnesota unless he can get his conditioning up to snuff, and quickly.
  • I will get to the Brewers in the next day or two. Really.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Baseball as America - A Must See

If you haven’t been the Minnesota History Center to see the “Baseball as America” exhibit, you’d better get there now and make it snappy. The exhibit will be at the Minnesota History Center, located on Kellogg Boulevard equidistant from the State Capitol and the Cathedral, until March 4. If you care at all about baseball, you should see this. If you are interested at all about the intersection between baseball and the broader culture, you definitely want to see this exhibit as well.

It’s not just the incredible collection of historical items and memorabilia that are there, including historic bats of Babe Ruth, Henry Aaron, and modern stars such as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. It’s not just the chance to see the famous T-206 Honus Wagner card, the Holy Grail of baseball card collectors. It’s not just the chance to see the oversize box seat of William Howard Taft, the rotund president who invented the seventh inning stretch. It’s not just a chance to see Harry Caray’s giant Coke-bottle spectacles. All that stuff is cool, but what is really cool is the context. Baseball as America places the events on the diamond in the context of the world in which we lived. Thus, we not only see a wide range of memorabilia from the great Roberto Clemente, but we also are reminded that this proud man, for much of his career, was known to fans as “Bob” or “Bobby” Clemente, his name and heritage Anglicized for reasons that seem unfathomable today. We see quilts and hand-made items that fans gave to players as tokens of their esteem. We see printed scorecards from a 1960 game at Yankee Stadium, with a reminder to vote a straight Democratic ticket. We see a racist letter sent to Henry Aaron as he challenged the Babe, along with a heartfelt, pleading missive from then Senator John Kennedy to Jackie Robinson, promising Robinson that he did indeed care about civil rights. We see the letter Curt Flood wrote upon his trade to the Philadelphia Phillies, his personal Emancipation Proclamation that in effect ended his career in baseball. What you get is context.

Most of the materials on display are housed at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Cooperstown is a wonderful place to visit, but you have to make an effort to get there and most fans don’t have an opportunity to do so. It’s all here now, in Minnesota. But not for very much longer – don’t blow it.

A tantrum of epic proportions

There are many, many things to say about Friday’s non-binding resolution against the troop surge that the U.S. House passed largely along partisan lines. You don’t even need a thesaurus. I can give you any number of words: gutless, amoral, cowardly, cynical, grandstanding, puffery, perfidious, weasel-like, moronic, short-sighted, odious, slack-jawed. There are a veritable cornucopia of pejorative terms I could use. But you still need to use the proper term for what the vote itself represents – a tantrum.

Parents, of course, recognize tantrums. As my kids get older, Jill and I see a lot fewer of them than we used to; increasing maturity means that children are usually able to get a better handle on their emotions. Some children never are quite able to handle these emotional outbursts. Typically, we call them “problem children.” Of course, sometimes the problem children find a way to get elected to Congress. Those people we call “liberals.”

The liberals are in the saddle now and they are quite pleased with what they’ve done. They have expressed their rage at the current babysitter figure in their midst, George W. “Decider” Bush. I don’t wanna fight the bad guys. I don’t. I don’t. Make them go away. You can’t make me do this. No, I won’t eat my spinach.

I can remember, during some of my son’s better tantrums, when he informed me in a tearful, righteous rage that asking him to share something with his sister was “against the law.” We’ve heard that sort of thing out of Betty McCollum and Henry Waxman, to name just a few examples. I also remember a few of my daughter’s rants, where she informed me that I was the naughty one and that I should go to my room for asking her to stop screaming at the dinner table. I believe that’s what John Conyers has suggested as an appropriate remedy for the Decider.

One thing about tantrums is that, generally, they eventually subside if you ignore them. Bush has been trying to do that for the better part of the last four years, but our solons and their media enablers are nothing if not persistent. Now they sense that, because they have managed to win assent temporarily, just as a wearied parent will sometimes give in to a tantrum, that they can start controlling things. A wise parent doesn’t allow this to happen. We’re about to find out if the real parents in this scenario, the American people, can recognize what is happening.

Friday, February 16, 2007

What do you want to hear?

No, not "Freebird." No, what you want to hear are the magic words - pitchers and catchers report. Now that we are past Valentine's Day, the first trickles of news begin to come from Florida and Arizona. And hope continues to spring eternal.

Of course, around here we tend to follow two squads, the Twins and the Brewers. Last year was a magical ride for the TC Men and a disappointment for the True Blue Brew Crew. So where do we stand as we begin the new year? Let's talk first about the Twins.

Terry Ryan is the difference maker for the Twins organization. A proud cheesehead from Janesville, WI, Ryan has quietly proved to be one of the best baseball men in the world. Ten years ago, both the Twins and the Brewers were a mess. Ten years on, the Twins are considered a model franchise with a cavalcade of young stars, while the Brewers are an enigmatic group with a lot of individual talent but little sense of direction. The difference is Ryan. During the offseason Ryan has been quietly locking up some of the key position players for the Twins, with the key signing being the 4 year contract for Joe Mauer, the reigning batting champion. The Twins have kept their core players intact from last season.

The problem is pitching. The Twins have the best starting pitcher in baseball, Johan Santana. After that, not so much. The Twins were hoping that rookie sensation Francisco Liriano would be a second dominant lefty in their rotation, but we won't see Liriano until 2008 following his "Tommy John" surgery. With Brad Radke retired, the remaining pitchers are somewhat less inspiring. The likely number two is Carlos Silva, who had a fine 2005 season but was a bit of a kerosene merchant last year. Silva has good stuff, especially his hard sinking fastball, but he is injury prone and overweight. On the bright side, he's not a drunk and hasn't been in trouble with the law. The Twins apparently decided that they needed someone with that profile, so they are taking a flier on Sidney Ponson, who, like Silva, has been a successful major league pitcher, but whose career has been slowly circling the bowl the last few seasons because of his indifferent conditioning and behavioral issues. If Ponson could straighten up and fly right, he would be a guy who could give you 200+ innings and 12-15 victories. That's exactly what the Twins need, but I wouldn't count on it. The next pitcher in line is Boof Bonser, yet another portly righthander. Bonser pitched extremely well down the stretch for the Twins and would be an ideal number four starter. The problem is, he'll likely have to be the number two or three guy. Bonser throws well enough, but what I especially admired was his tough-minded approach to pitching. He does not back down. The final acquisition was Ramon Ortiz, who comes over from the hapless Washington Nationals. Ortiz has also had success at the major league level, but got cuffed around pretty good last year. If the Twins can get 8-10 wins out of him, that would be plenty. Meanwhile, there is a cavalcade of pitchers waiting in the wings - Matt Garza, Scott Baker, Glen Perkins, Kevin Slowey and J. D. Durbin. All have promise, but none has had more than intermittent success at the major league level. It would be a very good thing if one of these gentlemen emerges in spring training; Garza is the best bet.

Otherwise, the Twins are looking pretty good. They could probably use another power bat, especially from the right side, but the general lineup should be solid. There aren't any real good power prospects in the Twins system right now, so any help they receive will have to come from outside the organization.

Can the Twins win the division again? Sure. Will it be difficult? Oh yeah. The Tigers are the reigning AL Champions and still have better pitching and have added Gary Sheffield to their growing list of high-priced sluggers. The White Sox, only one year removed from winning the World Series, continue to have a potent starting lineup and rock-solid pitching. The Indians have an excellent young team, including a budding superstar in Grady Sizemore, but appear to lack pitching. It is pretty easy to imagine the AL Central having four teams that win 90 games this year. I suspect the Twins will be one of them, but it won't be easy.

We'll talk about that Brew Crew in the coming days.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Pharisee in my mirror

If you're even remotely familiar with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you will know well who the Pharisees are. The Pharisees are, in their own way, stock characters. They are constantly available to test and taunt Jesus, trying to trick Him into saying something that will allow them to put Him down. They are self-righteous and self-congratulatory, always sitting where they can be seen in the Temple, and ostentatious in their public displays of generosity. Because the Pharisees are so transparent in their vices, they are easy to recognize and ridicule. They also make us feel better because we are not like them.

Or so we like to think. I know few people who would recognize themselves as Pharisees. It's always the other guy who is like that. Not me. No, I'm reverent and respectful. In fact, everyone knows that.

I've been thinking about Pharisees lately because of the recent contretemps surrounding Mac Hammond, the pastor of the sprawling Church of the Living Word in Brooklyn Park. Hammond and his congregation largely flew under the radar of the commentariat around here, but that all changed last year when Hammond made public his support for now-Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. Because Hammond dared to tread into the political arena, he and his parish are coming under all manner of scrutiny, especially because Hammond does not exactly come on as a sackcloth and ashes guy. He has clearly made a lot of money and his church has been wildly successful. In fact, the subject of money has been one of the greatest bones of contention. Because Hammond has a lot of money, many of the bien pensants assume he must be some sort of an Elmer Gantry type. The most recent example is in today's Star Tribune, where cartoonist Kirk Anderson renders Mac Hammond as "Hack Mammon." Kirk is subtle that way.

I'm not a member of his congregation - as regular readers know, I'm a cradle Catholic and am steeped, maybe swamped, in Catholic thought. I tend to cast a gimlet eye on Hammond's particular version of Christianity. Having said that, I believe that a lot of the outrage that Hammond has faced since last year is silly at best, pernicious at worst. I have no way of knowing what is inside Pastor Hammond's soul, or his bank account, but I know that his ministry has provided a lot of support to good causes and has provided tangible benefits to many in the Twin Cities and beyond. He shares the Good News with vigor and conviction. And I also sense that much of the opposition to Hammond and his ministry are rooted less in concern for Christian values than in envy. Hammond believes his financial success is intrinsic to the gifts God has given him. And he may be right. What I know is this - Jesus offered a challenge to the Pharisees of his time that still stands; let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone. Every time I feel the urge to pick up a stone, I try to remember that.

The Debate Is Over, the People Have Spoken, So Shut Up and Do What We Tell You (In a Non-Binding Way, Of Course)

I really feel like an outlier these days. I find myself on the wrong side of so many Settled Issues that I really am beginning to wonder what the hell is wrong with me. Apparently, at some point, the following things became absolutely bullet-proof and unassailable:

Global Warming is Man Made, Real, and Happening Right Now and We’re Doomed Unless We Drive Priuses and Use Compact Fluorescent Bulbs in Every Possible Orifice, Including Our Mouths If Necessary

The War in Iraq is Unwinnable and If We Really Supported the Troops, We’d Be Calling For an Immediate Phased Withdrawal, Or Something Like That, and It Is a Moral Imperative to Support a Non-Binding Resolution That Affirms This Home Truth

49,000 People Die of Second-Hand Smoke Every Year, Even Though No One Can Name Even Five People Who Did, Unless We Count Some Guy Who Hung Out in a Bar And Also Ate Four Bratwursts a Day, and That’s Just for Breakfast

I’m really wondering – when did all these things get settled? I thought I was paying attention, but clearly I must have missed a memo or something….

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Funny valentines

Here we are on that most successful of Hallmark Holidays. Love is in the air. And yet, the bullets are flying. Let the massacre begin.

  • It appears that the surge is working even before it starts. News reports indicate that our favorite thuggish imam, Moqtada ("Mookie") al Sadr has fled to Iran, rather than facing the wrath of the U.S. Military. He's a brave fella, that Mookie. This does complicate matters, however, as it will be difficult for Jack Murtha to surrender to someone who has fled the country. But I'm sure Murtha will find a way; perhaps a summit meeting on Okinawa could be arranged.
  • The Hill (the Capitol Hill's newspaper) reported that Keith Ellison finked out a colleague because he was smoking a cigar in his office, which adjoins Ellison's office. The congressman in question is Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican who is running for president on a bit of a xenophobic platform. Good to see that Keith is approaching his new job with civility.
  • Speaking of red, Bucky Badger is in town this evening for a contest against those mighty Gophers at Williams Arena. The Badgers are an unimaginable 24-2 at this point in the season and are ranked #3 in the land. The Gophers are, based on all evidence, the second best college basketball team in Minnesota, behind D-II powerhouse Winona State. We're a long way from the days of Mychal Thompson, that's for sure. And the Star Tribune reminds us that Bo Ryan has commitments from three high school stars from Minnesota, one this year and two for next year. Things have sure changed.
  • Just so we are clear on this - I am not the father of Anna Nicole Smith's baby daughter. Since the number of contenders seems to rise every day, it seems like a good idea to disclaim this possibility. The funny part about this is, for most men, the odds of being the father are considerably better than the odds of winning Powerball. However, if Anna Nicole Smith spent any time near Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, then we'd have a conundrum on our hands.
  • And speaking of obscure cheesehead references, I want to add the following word to the Internet -- Hamdingers. I will conduct a Google search in the coming days and I want to be sure that my blog reflects knowledge of this crown jewel of the Patrick Cudahy Company's late 70s marketing efforts. Just heat 'em up in the frying pan, suggested the lysergic housewife and her addled spawn, dancing across the linoleum. Ah, the memories.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

More Adventures with Spin and Marty

As I recall, there wasn’t a lot of gunplay on the old Mickey Mouse Club. But ‘round here, we got bullets.

  • San Diego is a tough room. My son Ben, apparently acting on his sources within the NFL, told me the day after the Chargers lost their playoff match against New England that Marty Schottenheimer was going to lose his job. Well, Ben is right again. Only three years after the Bolts were a 4-12 mess, and after an amazing 14-2 regular season, going with essentially a rookie quarterback, the Chargers ash-canned Schottenheimer yesterday. The stated reason is a dysfunctional relationship between Marty and the Chargers general manager. But I can’t imagine what’s going to happen to this franchise now. If 14-2 isn’t good enough, what is? And is there really anyone who can do better than that?
  • Barack Obama has been on the hustings for less than a week and he’s already stepped in it. He referred to the lives of 3,000 soldiers lost in Iraq as “wasted.” He backtracked almost immediately on this statement, but I suspect he meant it. And that, in a nutshell, is the problem the Democrats have – they are so invested in American defeat that they cannot avoid saying things that will make people cringe.
  • Do you believe public opinion polling? Consider this - there is a poll out, commissioned by the giant oldster lobby AARP, that lists people’s opinions of the greatest presidents. Bill Clinton comes out as number one, ahead of Reagan and JFK, and Abraham Lincoln finishes 4th, apparently. Reminds me of the poll that came out in 1991, where Packer fans selected Lindy Infante as the greatest coach in Packers history. A skillful pollster can demonstrate that 75% of Americans support gargling with bat guano as the best way to cure a sore throat. Try the minty fresh version, by the way - especially good.
  • Congratulations to Joe Mauer on his 4 year, $33M contract. Golly, do I wish I could hit major league pitching!
  • So I got a reminder e-mail today to sign the kids up for baseball. Nice of the solons at SAYB to give us two days off after basketball season.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Basketball Jones

“Got to have a jones for this, a jones for that, but this running with Joneses, boy, just ain’t where it’s at.”
-- Boz Scaggs

Well, they were running, all right. It was more than a full day of basketball at Highview Middle School on Saturday. Ben and his mighty Red Scourges played a tripleheader, losing all three and cementing last place in the tournament and the league.

We arrived at Highview at 8:15 on Saturday morning, preparing for the opener against the St. Anthony Blue squad. Ben and his compadres gave the Blues a good run in an earlier game, losing 40-36 in what was the tightest game of the season. This time, the Blues got off to an early lead and didn’t look back, handing our scourges a 52-31 defeat. Ben played his usual solid game, playing generally good defense and passing and picking with great abandon. He did not score, as he was only able to attempt one shot.

We then waited until 10:40 to play the second game, this time against the eventual champion, the St. Anthony White team. The Whites are an exceptionally well-coached team with about 10 good, unspectacular players on the team. Because of the schedule, the game was the first of the day for the Whites, so they were fresh against our undermanned Scourges. Still, the Scourges held their own for a time, remaining tied throughout the first quarter. But you could see that our kids were gassed (only 7 players showed up) and eventually the Whites wore our kids down, winning 49-16. Ben did not even get a chance to shoot in the game this time and rarely saw the ball.

We had a decision to make at that point – do we stay or do we go? The final game was scheduled for 3:30, this time against the Maroon team, who were twice vanquished in the other bracket. The kids wanted to stay, so we reluctantly ate the terrifying “lunch special” available from the concession stand – hot dog, chips and pop for $2. While not a very satisfying repast, it did take care of the kids. We then went to watch the passion play/game between the Forces of Good and the Forces of Evil.

Who were the Forces of Good? That would be the Purple Team (referred to previously as the Purple Haze), a good team coached by a really good guy, whose son (an equally good guy) is the star of the team and is a former teammate of Ben’s; while the Forces of Evil were the dreaded Yellow Team (a/k/a Yellow Rain), the merciless squad that had handed our charges a 70-6 thrashing earlier in the year. The Haze got off to a good start as the Rain, missing one of their two rapacious point guards, was unable to set up the full court press that was so effective against our gallant youngsters. The guard who was available (coincidentally, also a former teammate of Ben’s) played valiantly but was clearly gassed at times during the game. Meanwhile, the Haze, which had improved steadily throughout the year, continued to make key baskets and defensive stops, forcing the Rain to play a half-court game. It went down to the wire, but the Forces of Good prevailed, 40-37, setting up a championship match between the Purple and St. Anthony White. St. Anthony White prevailed, by the way.

Okay, are you getting confused? Good – so were we at this point. By this time, it was getting close to game time for the final game. The Maroon team had twice vanquished our boys, both times by comfortable margins. Ben has a lot of friends on the Maroon team – kids he’s known for years from Bel Air and even pre-school, so we were familiar with the opposition. We were now down to six kids for the finale and we saw a very unimpressive performance, unfortunately, with the Maroons whipping Ben & co. 50-20. One bright spot for Ben, though – after Ben did not see the ball much during the game, I (in my role as assistant coach) called out to our kids to “get some of the other kids involved – let them have a shot.” I meant Ben and another kid. Well, amazingly, the ball came to Ben with about one minute remaining. Ben stood open, about even with the foul line but to the right, and he fired. The ball bounced high off the back rim, kissed the top of the backboard, then dropped through. Ben was on the board with the last points of the season.

So what do we learn from all this?

It’s asking a lot to have a bunch of 10-12 year olds play three games of basketball in one day. The kids were very tired and the level of play really declined as the day went on.

One of the hardest things to teach these kids is how to play unselfishly. Of the nine boys we had on our squad, about 3-4 were good ball handlers. These kids tended to dominate the games. Ben is a not a confident dribbler, but he keeps his head up and is very unselfish. As a result, he was the kid who ended up setting a lot of picks and having to stay back to stop the fast break, while the ball handlers tended to bull toward the basket without paying much attention. Ben is, like his dad, not a great athlete, but he understands his limitations and plays good fundamental basketball. Every coach Ben has had has praised him for these traits. We are pleased and proud that he has them – such behaviors will benefit him greatly later in life.

Coaching at this level is highly variable, but everyone who does it seriously deserves a lot of respect. Ben’s head coach is an excellent human being – he understands the game and spent a lot of time teaching a group of inexperienced kids some very basic fundamentals. It was painful at times, especially since some of the kids lacked the maturity to understand the team concept, but despite all the losing, his coach never once lost his cool and consistently treated all the kids with dignity and respect. As Ben (and now Maria) have pursued youth sports, I have, in the main, seen dedicated and sincere individuals who really care about teaching kids how to play the game the right way. Ben has benefited from the experience and I think Maria will, too.

Finally, I have benefited from the experience, too. I have mostly been a loudmouthed, enthusiastic assistant on these teams – while I know the games well, I have no coaching experience and my own youthful athletic exploits were largely confined to wiffle ball games with the neighborhood kids. You hear a lot of horror stories about over-competitive parents and spoiled, tired kids in youth sports; I don’t doubt that many of these stories are true, especially at the traveling team level. But what I’ve seen is kids being treated with respect, learning from adults who are caring and decent. I have had to fight a lifelong battle against cynicism, but I’m not cynical at all about these experiences; the youth sports programs our kids participate in have been worthwhile.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Air Pelosi and other random bullets

Let's get out to the shooting gallery.

  • The hoo-hah over Nancy Pelosi's plane is silly, but I'm having a hard time feeling bad for her about it. Everyone in Washington treats our tax dollars like bathroom tissue and no one seems to bat an eye when the solons spend the money on stuff like this. What I'd prefer is that she and everyone else in Congress fly commercial. In coach. Then they could see how the rest of us live. And for Jack Murtha, since his district is close to Washington, he should take the Greyhound Bus.
  • John Edwards is allegedly in the top tier of Democratic candidates for president, but between the contretemp over his 28,000 square foot house and his hiring of two Kos-esque mouth breathers as his staff bloggers, it's becoming difficult to see how he's going to survive. The ambulance chaser lobby tends to do better when they are able to work behind the scenes. Edwards' ego may be short-circuiting his candidacy. Darn shame, huh?
  • The Vikings made a good hire in bringing Leslie Frazier to be their defensive coordinator. Frazier was always a smart player and he has been pretty successful in his career, save for a struggle as the coordinator in Cincinnati a few years back. It is difficult to be the defensive coordinator when the head coach is a defensive guy, and Marvin Lewis (the Bengals coach) is precisely that. Any difference in philosophy tends to get magnified. If Brad Childress keeps his word and allows Frazier to do his thing, the Vikings should continue to build on the improvements that Mike Tomlin started.
  • Meanwhile, all is quiet in Green Bay. Too quiet.
  • I didn't get much of a response on the obscure Packers challenge issued earlier this month, so let's prime the pump a bit. Here are a few beauts from the past: Jim Culbreath, Leotis Harris, Estus Hood, Tom Perko, Carl Barzilauskas, Leland Glass, Len Garrett, Jon Staggers, Bill Hayhoe, Carlton Oats, Harlan Huckleby, Larry Hefner. C'mon, guys, bring 'em on! These guys probably want to Google themselves and you could actually give them something to look at!

Hoop de doo

So tomorrow is going to be chock full o' hoops. It is time for the 5th/6th grade Irondale In-House basketball tournament at Highview. That means three (count 'em, three) games for young Ben, at 8:30, 10:40 and 4. He will face the lesser St. Anthony squad, the evil Gold team, and then someone else in the nightcap. All the games will be at Highview Middle School and they are apparently offering concessions, too.

It's a veritable cornucopia of hooping. And I wonder whether some of Ben's teammates will even bother showing up, so I fully suspect we'll have one exhausted 11 year old on our hands by days' end. No doubt we'll have stories to tell afterward. Stay tuned for more details.

Goodbye Anna Nicole

Talk about low hanging fruit – how can you not discuss the demise of Anna Nicole Smith, who died yesterday under mysterious circumstances at the age of 39? When you have a piñata of this size, you gotta take a few swings. Here goes.

It took maybe 45 seconds for various media outlets to compare Smith, a troubled blond bombshell, to Marilyn Monroe. Nope. Monroe was, in her own sad way, vastly more consequential than Smith. Monroe starred in some outstanding movies in the 1950s, including one all time great film, Billy Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot.” Monroe had short-lived but memorable marriages to Joe DiMaggio, an equally iconic mid-century American hero, and Arthur Miller, the great dramatic voice of mid-century verities. Monroe was a talented singer, dancer, actress and comedienne. She may have been romantically involved with the Kennedy brothers. That’s a hell of a life. Forty-five years after her death, Marilyn Monroe is still a household name. That’s saying something.

Anna Nicole Smith’s path is very different. Like Monroe, she posed nude for Playboy magazine. But Smith was something different; I think the term I’m looking for is “sexual entrepreneur/venture capitalist.” She was able to parlay her somewhat cartoonish good looks into a romance with a nonagenarian plutocrat, J. Howard Marshall, and fought Marshall’s family for many years for a share of his estate. The camera, as it often does, found her as she lived a dissolute jet-set lifestyle. Her weight waxed and waned. She was involved in a bizarre “reality” series on television. Her last months were tumultuous, as she lost her 20 year old son while awaiting the birth of another child. Even in death, her sexual proclivities are part of the conversation, as two men claim paternity of Smith’s five month old daughter.

I know all these things about her, even though I studiously avoided paying any attention to her life. I didn’t even need to refer to Google; it’s all common knowledge. Those who are part of the popular culture firmament are really ubiquitous. If you are even marginally engaged in the world, it would be well-nigh impossible not to have seen and learned things about someone like Smith. Sometimes I wonder why Smith and others similarly situated (Paris Hilton is the obvious example) are famous. But the reasons don’t particularly matter. It’s like talking about the weather.

Smith now takes her place with Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and Princess Di in the Famous Ladies Who Died Too Soon wing of celebrity Valhalla. While I doubt Elton John will rewrite his song “Candle in the Wind” for the unfortunate Miss Smith, perhaps someone else could do the honors. Maybe Kid Rock would be up for it.

When John Lennon was murdered, Mick Jagger infamously remarked that it was a “good career move” for Lennon. So it appears to be for Anna Nicole Smith as well. RIP.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Mercury Blues

So the wife and I were settling in for our usual 10 p.m. session with DFL Don Shelby and his cast of telegenic enablers, when lo and behold, we find out about breaking news from New Brighton. It’s a mercury spill at the parish school of St. John the Baptist, our parish. Crack reporter Jason DeRusha stands in a darkened parking lot, interviewing a well-bundled Catholic schoolgirl about the mortal peril she encountered. She has to get new boots, we learn. Her well-bundled friend or sister, we never learn which, does not get her chance to talk to the reporter. She is there merely to shiver and look forlorn, apparently. Nor is it explained why these students are still standing there, in their school uniforms, more than seven hours after the incident occurred. Back to you, Don.

Meanwhile, we learn today that all activities at the parish are cancelled for the next three days while hazmat crews comb the parish to ensure that no one suffers any effects from the small amount of mercury that apparently fell to the ground someplace in the downstairs hallway, near the science laboratories.

Meanwhile, this morning the Star Tribune website reports:

The New Brighton Fire Department, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the state Department of Health and the North Suburban Hazmat (hazardous materials) Team were at the school to assess the leak and work on cleanup.

What, no Department of Homeland Security? Where’s Jack Bauer? Why isn’t he on this?

I am amazed at how alarmed we get about things like this. I do not propose that anyone go wading in a pool of mercury, but the precautions that are taking place in this case are an extreme case of overkill. What likely happened is that a broken thermometer leaked a small quantity of mercury and some of it got tracked around. Not a good scenario, but the chances that anyone will suffer any long-term consequences from this are essentially nil. I remember sitting in a high school chemistry class, almost thirty years ago, watching the teacher demonstrate how mercury moved in a sealed plastic container. To my knowledge, no one in my class suffered any long-term effects from the demonstration, although many of us were singularly adept at self-inflicted brain damage in other social settings. Now, the teacher who did that would probably get carted off.

Are we better off? Who knows? Are we safer? Arguably we are. But I wonder.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Getting herded

It's not especially surprising that a blogger using the name "Mr. Dilettante" would be especially skeptical of herd mentality. Right now I get the sense we're all being herded hard on global warming/climate change/Sky Is Falling version 9.4 or whatever we're calling it.

It seems like there's a new, conclusive report coming out every day. It seems like we are being told over and over again that the overwhelming consensus is that global warming is happening right now, dammit, never mind what your thermometer might say at the moment. And it looks like we're being put into a giant holding pen illuminated with compact fluorescent bulbs.

I dunno. I have noticed that the winters have been warmer lately and that my shovel isn't wearing out from overuse this winter. I have noticed that the hot streaks are a little hotter in July the last few years. But the descriptions of how the climate change will supposedly affect Minnesota simply aren't particularly alarming. Summers like Kansas! Winters like Illinois! This is horrible and beyond comprehension?

I lived in Chicago for five years. The winters in Illinois are plenty cold. In fact, I would submit that the coldest place I've ever been is standing on an El platform on a windy, wintry day in Chicago. There is no escape from the cold there. Kansas, of course, has the reputation of being a horrible, uninhabitable place in the summertime, filled with sand dunes, tumbleweeds and the bleached bones of tenant farmers scattered on the parched ground. Actually, none of that is true, but if we're going to be scary, we probably need to punch it up a little.

Truth is, life wouldn't change that much. Maybe we'd be fishing for bass instead of walleye. Maybe we'd find a greater affinity for NASCAR. Or maybe it won't be that big a deal at all. No one knows. What we do know is that we can make changes to our heart's content, cramming ourselves into clown cars, I mean Priuses, and paying 20 large for the privilege of having no room for your luggage. We can put in all the compact fluorescent bulbs we can find. We can affix as many bumper stickers to our clown cars as we want. But all of it will be, to use the words of our beloved Vice President, Evil Dick, a "private virtue," because there are no plans afoot to change the polluting behaviors of India, China, etc.

I will say this, though -- the solar powered cattle prods are a nice touch.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Après le deluge

A sporadically exciting Super Bowl with an ultimately satisfying result. And of course, a few thoughts:

  • It’s funny how teams reach a point in their season where victory doesn’t seem possible, but then things change. When my beloved Packers lost in humiliating fashion on a Monday night in Dallas in 1996, it looked like that season, which had begun with such promise, was lost. But then the Packers started to win, then dominate. And they were not stopped. Same thing happened to the Colts this year – there was a game in December where the Colts were absolutely trampled by the Jacksonville Jaguars, giving up over 300 yards rushing including some great touchdown runs for my Fantasy Football secret weapon, Maurice Jones-Drew. I remember watching the chorus of talking heads on ESPN as they rained all manner of ridicule down on the Colts after that performance; and it’s really gotta hurt if you are getting the needle from Sean Salisbury. But the Colts figured out a way.
  • So the trick is, keep betting against Rex Grossman and eventually it’s gonna work. The Bears were game, but they were, as Denny Green so memorably put it, what we thought they were. That is, not good enough to win. Next job for Lovie Smith – get a quarterback. And good luck with that.
  • As for the game, a middle-of-the-road contest, I’d say. Because so many recent Super Bowls have been close, this game seemed worse than it was. The steady rain that fell throughout the game made things sloppy, which is great. Football alone among the major sports allows weather to be a factor in the outcome and I enjoy games in the slop. Corporate America has rarely seemed more, well, damp. Peyton Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time and this victory will provide him with yet another credential. And don’t you wonder why we hear so little about Marvin Harrison, instead of the boring collection of prima donna wideouts that are always on our screen, e.g., T.O., Ocho Cinco, Superfreak, etc. Marvin Harrison has to be one of the most underappreciated superstars in the history of the sport. I just hope the NFL treats his legacy better than it has treated the legacy of Art Monk, left on the outside of Canton yet again while Michael (Push Off) Irvin waltzes into the Hall, trailing white powdery residue in his wake.
  • The ads are always a big topic of conversation, but I wasn’t particularly impressed by any of them this year. A lot of them were neat and a few prompted a chuckle, but there wasn’t the memorable image this time around. Bring back the cat herders! In fact, I’d argue that the best ad I saw was one of the simplest – Coke’s dialogue free ad featuring iconic bottles from Coke’s past as a counterpoint to a timeline of black history. I thought it was fascinating, but mostly as a reminder that disparate events can occur simultaneously – I don’t recall Coke showing a lot of commitment to black history issues when they were giving us the hippies singing on the mountain 35-40 years ago.
  • Now that the season is over, the hot stove stuff can begin again. Apparently Chris Mortenson has been retailing the rumor that Randy Moss, of all people, might be joining the Packers next season, with Al Davis asking for only a 3rd round draft pick in exchange. If Jim McMahon or Steve McMichael or Keith Millard can be a Packer, no reason why Randy Moss can’t be one. But it sure is difficult to wrap your mind around it….

Friday, February 02, 2007

Number 4 comes back for more

Brett Favre announced this morning that he will be returning for another season as quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. Favre has publicly hinted at retirement numerous times over the past few years, often making his deliberations public. But he put the question to rest early this time. A few thoughts.

  • First, I was wrong when I wrote about this topic last year. I thought that Favre was slowing down and that playing with what looked to be a woefully outmanned Packer squad would mean that his career would end not with a bang, but a whimper. In some respects, what Favre accomplished last season was perhaps his most impressive performance yet. He played under control almost the entire season, not trying to make the riverboat gambler plays that had plagued his 2004 and 2005 seasons. Even though he had only one reliable receiver, he was able to put up pretty good numbers and lead the Packers to an 8-8 record, including an impressive 5-1 mark against divisional opponents. Favre showed the skeptics something that we should have known all along - you underestimate Mr. Favre at your peril.
  • The NFL still needs Brett Favre. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have long eclipsed Favre as the best quarterbacks in the league, but they do not provide the persona or image that Favre has. The NFL tends to look askance at displays of personality, but Favre has been able to establish an indelible image through his play on the field, not through the machinations of marketers. He is still one of the best public faces the NFL has to offer and will be until he decides it is time to leave.
  • As a fan, I'm simply delighted that I get to see Favre play some more. It's easy to forget how boring the Packers were for the quarter century between the end of the Lombardi era and the arrival of ol' number 4. I've long delighted in dredging up the names of the obscurities who wore the Green and Gold during that long drought (Terdell Middleton! Ron Acks! Tiger Greene! Paul Ott Carruth!), but let's face it, the Packers were not all that entertaining in that era. With Brett Favre at the helm, every Packer game has held at least some residual interest, and not only for Packer Backers.
  • Can Favre get the Packers back to the Super Bowl? Maybe. The NFC does not have a dominant team right now. The Bears are in the Super Bowl on the strength of a very good defense, but Rex Grossman may be one of the worst quarterbacks to ever take the field in a Super Bowl. The Saints were a great story this year, but a lot of things broke right for them. The Eagles, Seahawks, Cowboys, etc. are solid teams that don't scare you. If the Packers can find a few more weapons for Favre, it's easy to imagine them being right back in the hunt next year. If the Packers were in the AFC, they'd have no shot. But they aren't. So why not?
  • Mr. Dilettante challenge: submit your favorite obscure Packer in the comments section, and say why.

Groundhog Day

By now, most people have seen the movie, from distant 1993, in which Bill Murray utilizes the smarmy portion of his persona and lives through the same day every day, trapped in Punxsutawney, PA, slowly but surely meeting and wooing Andie McDowell, taking the lessons he’d learned each day and refining his approach. It’s a fine film and an interesting meditation on the nature of time and of the developments of human relationships. Only by overcoming his arrogance can Bill Murray’s character win the girl and move on with his life.

We all get trapped in a personal Punxsutawney at times. As I have been stuck in what has been an interminable transition period, I’ve had more time than I’d like to engage in self-analysis. Honest self-analysis is difficult; we simultaneously filter out some of our faults while obsessing over other faults. We often don’t have the luxury of examining our underlying motivations, or understanding the context in which we operate. We often feel we have to react, rather than think.

The problem is, that’s not so. You do have time to think in most cases. But we don’t. Why? Guess that’s something to think about….

Thursday, February 01, 2007

February comes in with a bullet

Maybe even more than one. Ready, aim….

  • We have reached the point of the permanent election campaign. We are still 22 long months away from the 2008 election, but we’re already hearing about candidates galore, for president, senator and down the line. There are already an astonishingly large number of candidates for president who have declared, with everyone from Hillary to Barack on the D side (c’mon, they are big stars, no surnames needed) and a motley group of candidates for the R side, including some dude who goes by the name “Mitt.” I have no favorites at this point, nor would I want to – it’s too damned soon to decide. The upcoming election is the most wide open contest since probably 1928. And it will be hugely consequential. I could sure use a respite, though.
  • Molly Ivins died yesterday, succumbing to breast cancer at the age of 62. Ivins was a lively leftist, an unapologetic liberal who delighted in the stylish cheap shot. She was a regular scourge of Texas politicians and wrote frequently, and with great disdain, about President Bush. While I found her views to be completely ridiculous, she was a tremendous stylist. You have to appreciate talent, even if it is in the employ of wrongheaded thinking. It’s the rare talent that can combine a sneer and a smirk. Ivins could do it. RIP.
  • Happy birthday to my kid sister, the attorney. I’m not sure what is more disconcerting – having a kid sister who has passed the Wisconsin Bar, or having a kid sister who goes by the name of “Marge,” who is coincidentally is married to guy who answers to “Butcher.” I mean, how the hell old does that make me? No, don’t answer that. Anyway, happy birthday, Marge – I’m proud of you!
  • The Badgers had their 17 game winning streak snapped last night at Indiana. It was probably too much to ask them to go undefeated in the Big Ten, but it’s been a heck of a run so far. And a 21-2 record is pretty darned good.