Friday, June 29, 2007

Friday tracers

Always a few things to make you go hmmm….

  • Not sure what to make of the NBA draft, especially where my two favorite squads are concerned. The Bucks decided to go the international route and drafted Yi Jianlian, a tall, thin, talented fellow from China. The last time the Bucks drafted a fellow with a similar skill set, they immediately traded him for an ostensibly proven commodity. That trade turned out to be one of the stupidest moves in team history, as they sent Dirk Nowitzki away and received the long-forgotten “Tractor” Traylor in return. It appears they will keep Yi, whose representatives made it clear that Milwaukee was not exactly Yi’s preferred destination. Given that the Bucks already have Andrew Bogut and Charlie Villanueva as established “bigs,” I’m not sure what they’ll do with Yi. You could put him at small forward, giving the Bucks a 21-foot tall front line, but then what do you do with Michael Redd? I wonder if there’s more going on here than we know about, although sales of Bucks merchandise should explode in the Pacific Rim. As for the Woofies, they went all Gator on us, drafting Corey Brewer and Chris Richard, teammates on the two-time national championship team. Brewer has a chance to be a Scottie Pippen-type defender and should be able to score as he develops. He’ll be an improvement over Trenton Hassell and I assume that Hassell will be sent away soon. As for Richard, he has a similar game to that of Craig Smith, only not as polished, so I guess I’m not sure what benefit he brings to the team. Still, you have to like Brewer. The big question remains, what happens to KG? That’s still not addressed.
  • Ben’s Brewers saw their playoff hopes come to an end last night with a 9-3 loss to the Rockies (not Maria’s squad) at Wilson Park. The game fit the season-long pattern; the opponent streaks out to an early lead and then coasts to victory. Ben was 0-2 with a walk and was thrown out at home attempting to score on a wild pitch; he did play well defensively. They have one more game tonight, against the league-leading Red Sox, at 6:30 at the evil Southpoint Park in North Oaks. The good news is that Ben should get a chance to pitch tonight – as always, stay tuned to this feature for all your Little League highlights. Meanwhile, Maria’s season will continue on Monday, July 9 with a game against an unknown opponent at Lambert Park in Mounds View. Our tour of the northern suburbs continues.
  • I’m not lining up to get an iPhone yet; I may be the only adult male in North America who still does not own a cell phone and I think my first purchase of one should be one of those brick-sized jobs with the four foot antenna. The iPhone does look like a pretty cool piece of technology, but Apple may have screwed the pooch by aligning this debut with AT&T/Cingular, renowned and reviled for wretched cell phone service. I probably will need a cell phone by the end of the year, but I’m holding out for as long as I can. My opinion of cell phones generally is not good, especially since they are the cause of more rude behavior than just about anything that’s ever been invented. After all, what’s more pleasant than sitting in a public library when someone’s cell phone goes off with a Two Live Crew ringtone at 75dB? And who doesn’t love having a personal, face-to-face conversation that is interrupted for a cell-phone call? It’s like watching an old Bob Newhart routine, except not nearly as funny. I know this is very well-plowed ground, but I’m pleased that I’m not part of this. Yet.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Happiness is a Warm – Yes it is – Gun

Especially one that sends the bullets firing:

  • The immigration bill died in the Senate today and it appears likely that we won’t see any more efforts to revive it for the rest of this Congress. While I continue to believe that we need to figure out a way to help move the 12 million or so illegals who are already here out of the shadows, to use a popular cliché, in the end it was awfully difficult to make the argument that such a plan wasn’t a de facto amnesty for people who had broken the law. What happens next is largely up to W – my hope is that he’ll see the defeat of this bill as an opportunity to rebuild credibility on his right flank by doing the things they’ve asked – completing the border fence that’s already authorized and doing a better job of supporting the agents who have the thankless task of enforcing our southern border. If that were done, my guess is that there would be more support for doing some of the other things, too. The more likely scenario will be that talk radio will get demonized and there will be more calls for muzzling Rush, Sean, Laura, Hugh et al. via the Orwellian “Fairness Doctrine.” I know I’m in the minority of conservatives on this issue – I wanted a bill. But this bill was doomed for a long time and it’s hard to be too angry about its demise.
  • Haven’t updated the baseball for the kids in a few days; it’s been a mixed bag. Both teams are in the playoffs now and Maria’s Rockies have been on fire. They clobbered the Cubs 19-5 on Monday then followed that up with a victory (score not known) over the White Sox on Tuesday. Maria had hits in both games, driving in an RBI against the Cubs and scoring on Tuesday. She has improved tremendously as the season goes on – she has about 7 or 8 hits this season, in a league where there are kids who strike out every time they bat, so she has a lot of reason to be proud. Ben’s Brewers are also now in the playoff pool, having lost to the Athletics 13-4 on Tuesday night. His squad will face the American League Rockies tonight at Wilson Park and will play the Red Sox on Friday at Sitzer. If the Brewers lose those games – unfortunately, a distinct possibility – his season will be over. Maria’s season continues with another playoff game on Monday, July 9 against an unknown opponent. That game will be at Lambert Park.
  • The NBA draft is tonight and, as of this writing, Kevin Garnett is still a Wolf. I blogged about this topics ad nauseum last week. Suffice it to say that Garnett will be leaving eventually. The question is whether the Wolves are compensated or not for his departure.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Budum, Scourge and the Ambivalent Hipster

There they were, arrayed around the table at the Edina Fuddruckers - fond friends and co-workers from a life that has been gone for a while now. Back from the wilds of Portland were Budum the Harvest Sprite and my former protege, the Ambivalent Hipster. Also joining us was the Scourge, mellowed just a bit but still possessing a tongue like a lash.

We all worked at Bank of America, which is known for many things, but fun is not one of them. Still, here were some of the most fun people I've ever known. Budum the Harvest Sprite is the nom de guerre of my friend Paul, one of the nicest, most decent human beings I've ever known. Because he is so indefatigably happy-go-lucky, he tends to attract more good natured ribbing than any person might reasonably expect, but because he rarely takes offense, he generates more good will than just about anyone I know. He also married exceptionally well - his wife is a bright, sensible woman of great talent and compassion. A lot like my wife, then. Paul has managed to take his wonderful nature and his native intelligence and has built a fine career at B of A.

The Ambivalent Hipster is Aaron, a bright, inquisitive fellow who worked with me and for me at B of A before moving west with the bank. He ended up replacing me at the Bank and has done well. Aaron is still well short of 30 and has had to do a lot of growing up in the past few years. Like Budum and Mr. D, he is also a liberal arts type (Aaron is a St. Olaf man, while Paul's alma mater is Gustavus) and although he is significantly younger than me, we always got on well because we share a similar worldview and background. Because he is younger, he's still enamored of some things that he'll likely reject as he gets older (mopey hipster bands, leftism, affinity for the French) but he's the kind of guy who gives you hope for the future.

Then there's the Scourge - my friend Julie, who has as much native intelligence as anyone I've ever known. Julie doesn't have the high-priced university background, but she reads people and situations better than people with years of training and experience. Because she's so smart and has such a fine sense of humor and irony, she does not suffer fools gladly. Because she is still young, she will sometimes let fly with comments that she might regret later. But because she is so spot-on about things, she has less to regret than she might think.

We talked for a long time yesterday; reminiscing, talking about what we're doing. I explained at some length about my recent health travails. We worried together about another B of A friend, who has recently suffered tough times and is now seemingly hiding from the world. Eventually I had to leave, even though I didn't want to. There is great comfort spending time with good friends, especially those from a former life. I continue to value each of these friendships in ways that are difficult for me to articulate. But as the restaurant faded in my rear view mirror, I had to look ahead. Every damned day, that's the challenge.

The Joys of Homeownership

There was a famous character in the old Li'l Abner comic strip named Joe Bftsplk. Old Joe never had any luck and was generally portrayed as a fellow with his own personal rain cloud over his head. Lately I've been feeling a bit Bftsplk-esque, especially concerning the ol' manse. In the past two weeks we've had the air conditioning go out, a leaky toilet and now an electrical problem. We're living without the AC for now, but we had to write a big check for the toilet and now we're looking at an electical cost to be determined. As you might imagine, it's not an easy thing to deal with, given our current financial situation.

I'm trying to keep smiling, especially since I do have a few interviews in the next week and I have a good feeling about one of these opportunities, but it's getting tough and we are really tired of this. My health continues to improve, but the tests continue.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Clap for the Wolfman, then send him on his way

So yesterday I was discussing Wolfman Jack and Keats’ poem “Ozymandias.” One of the fun parts of blogging is that you can be as personal, and as incoherent, as you want to be. It’s a good thing too because all that nonsense was a warmup to today’s topic; what to do with Kevin Garnett.

KG is the modern Wolfman; he has been a loyal soldier and the dominant public figure for the Timberwolves since 1995. He has been willing, like the Wolfman, to do whatever is asked of him. He has also been compensated handsomely for his many labors. In his 11-year career he has essentially been the Ozymandias of the organization, the king of kings. But for all his labors, as fans we look upon his works and despair, because he has never been able to take his team to a championship. He is now 31 years old and while still a fine player, it is clear that he needs to go elsewhere if he wants to escape the fate of Reggie Miller and Karl Malone. And since he can leave on his own after next season, the time is now to move him, before the Wolves lose him and gain nothing in return.

But what do you do? The Celtics have called and Garnett has rejected the offer. Word is that he would prefer to go to Phoenix or maybe Los Angeles, but neither team would be willing to offer sufficient value in return. Even a straight KG for Kobe switch would be a bad move, since you’d be receiving a supremely talented but selfish head case in return for a extremely talented good soldier. The Suns will not give up Amare Stoudamire, so you wonder what will happen.

Something is going to happen, because it has to. But like Burton Cummings, I am clapping for the Wolfman. And despite the glittering wreckage of the past 11 years, like most basketball fans I’m going to “dig him ‘til the day you die.” Thanks, KG – good luck.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Clap for the Wolfman

If you are of a certain age you’ll remember that title, which is affixed to one of the most egregious suck-ups in the history of rock and roll. The Guess Who, a Canadian singles band that had a number of hits in the late 60s and early 70s and is best remembered today for their semi-rocking but ham-handed anti-war number “American Woman,” was pretty much circling the bowl by the mid 70s. Randy Bachmann left the band and formed another 70s singles band, Bachmann-Turner Overdrive, leaving former colleague Burton Cummings without much of anything, especially direction. He’d come “undun,” to quote yet another Guess Who song, when he decided to write a paean to a gravel-voiced disc jockey named Wolfman Jack. The Wolfman was a fixture on the radio in Los Angeles and had managed to parlay his shtick into a sizable role in the fine 1973 film “American Graffiti,” which helped launch the careers of Ron Howard, Harrison Ford and Suzanne Somers, among others. The Wolfman was pretty much an omnipresent feature of 1970s popular culture, between his nationally syndicated radio show and his role as host of NBC’s rock music show “The Midnight Special,” which was compelling enough (“Cool! Black Oak Arkansas is on tonight!”) to get me to switch away from “All-Star Wrestling” for my late night 70s weekend viewing. Besides all that, you had a hard time getting away from the Wolfman, because he would do voice work for just about anyone who ponied up the cash; the Wolfman regularly extolled the virtues of Fox Valley businesses and probably did the same for the good people of Scranton or Corpus Christi or Spokane. The Wolfman had a nice run but died of a heart attack in 1995 and I’d guess that most people under the age of 30 have no idea who he is.

Anyway, “Clap for the Wolfman” proved to be the last hit for the Guess Who, who have survived their late 70s oblivion quite nicely because of the prevalence of Classic Hits Radio formats; indeed, several of their songs can be heard regularly on KQRS and similarly themed stations. Meanwhile, the Wolfman is the radio equivalent of Ozymandias. Take it away, Mr. Keats:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Okay, so what the heck is all this about, anyway? You’ll find out soon enough. Tune in tomorrow; same bat time, same bat channel.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Midweek Musings

I’m always trying to keep up with the events – sometimes the only way to keep up is to start firing:

  • Got a note from my brother today that one of my high school classmates, Bridget Wessing, passed away on Monday. Bridget was a good soul who certainly had her struggles in life. She managed to graduate from XHS but she never really made it much further than that. I was never clear what the issue was with her, although I suspect she suffered from some mild mental illness. She became an acquaintance and sometimes a friend of Mom, whose struggles in this arena have been well-discussed in this space. Bridget could be a bit of a pest and she had a propensity to do a few odd things; according to the obituary in the Appleton Post-Crescent, she was a devotee of church picnics, while my brother added that she also was a funeral groupie and that she had become a bit of a town character. Still, there was never any doubt that her heart was in the right place and I don’t doubt that when she met her Maker, her Maker was pleased to welcome her. RIP.
  • One of the more interesting revelations that has come from the financial disclosure statements that the presidential hopefuls have been providing is this: apparently former president Bill Clinton gave a speech to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Los Angeles and received $150,000. I’m not sure what’s worse about this: that this much-beloved scoundrel is such a grifter that he would actually charge a charity six figures to give a speech; or that a charity would give the money to him for something so transitory. This is just another reason why his pieties are so grating. If trade associations and other groups are willing to pony up that kind of money to see the guy, that’s fine. But you would think that he’d speak to a charity for free.
  • After a two-day respite, the kids are back to baseball. Ben’s Brewers have their rematch tonight against the Mariners; game time is 6:30 p.m. at Sitzer Park in Shoreview. Meanwhile, Maria’s Rockies will take on the Dodgers at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow at Veteran’s Park in New Brighton. Be there – aloha!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Reason to believe

It's been a pretty tough month in some respects around here. My interminable job search continues and remains a source of deep frustration. We've had a few other issues to deal with that have been pretty frustrating; the air conditioning went out last week and we continue to have a few other "deferred maintenance" things that cause us inconveniences, but right now the money's pretty tight and we're just trying to limp along. We continue to be incredibly busy, running to baseball games every ten minutes it seems. We're deep into what Freud termed "Civilization and its Discontents."

But like the old song says - still, I look to find a reason to believe. And I have a lot of them.

I see my children at play and learning more every day. They keep smiling and coming up with great ideas. Ben is starting to get more interested in writing - he's been posting on his blog again recently ( and he's starting a little side project that keeps him tapping away on the home computer. Meanwhile, Maria continues to be the most prolific artist since Andy Warhol, except without the arch cynicism, the bad haircut and any Edie Sedgwick sightings. Most seven-year-olds don't have an entourage, thankfully. And she records her thoughts on her blog, too (

I see my wife, who does so many things to keep us healthy and happy and sane. She has evolved as we've lived our lives together and has become a formidable person with a great heart and a world-class mind. I am deeply fortunate that she has chosen to share her life with me.

I see a lot of good things happening in the world, despite the constant chatter of death and hatred that flows through my radio and television and computer screen. I see the hand of God everywhere, every day. And I know that no matter how frustrating life can be, I have a purpose and a role to play in this world.

Monday, June 18, 2007


Whizzing by again....

  • Ben's Brewers lost on Sunday to the Mariners, 15-8. Typical game with a typical result; our kids were game but the other team simply had more talent and was able to make more plays as a result. Ben was 1-3 and chipped in with an outfield assist, throwing out a Mariner runner who was trying to stretch a single into a double. Ben almost gunned down another runner at 3rd base later on, but the slide dislodged the ball from the 3rd baseman. Ben and his crew get a rematch against the Mariners on Wednesday at 6:30 at Sitzer Park; following that it will be playoff time.
  • Maria was in the hospital today for a minor revision on previous surgeries for her cleft lip and palate. This one was designed to fix the air ports on her pharengyal flap. We had thought she might need to stay overnight for observation, but she came through it so fast and so well that Mrs. D will be bringing her home from Gillette Children's later today. We continue to be amazed at the facility of the medical organizations and the great skill of the health care industry here in the Twin Cities. If you need medical attention, it's great to be alive in 2007.
  • Was that a cattle stampede, or was that Prince Fielder? If you didn't see the spectacle of Prince Fielder romping through the Metrodome with an inside-the-park home run yesterday on Sports Center, and I'm not sure how you missed it because they pretty much had it running on a continuous loop, it was something to see. You don't usually see anyone that large moving that fast. The Twins ended up winning the game on a walk-off homer by Justin Morneau, but the sight of Our Prince rumbling across the turf was one of the most amusing things I've seen this season.
  • Budum the Harvest Sprite is apparently returning to Minnesota for a visit this week. Sorry to all those who don't catch this reference, but it's good news for all of us who miss his good nature and his uncanny resemblance to a lawn gnome.
  • Time for a periodic Mr. D contest: name your favorite obscure former Brewers and/or Twins players. The floor is open for nominations!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Dome Runs

Maria is with me this afternoon and she's going to help me write this one. First, a little news. Ben and I went to see the Brewers and the Twins at the Dome last night with my brother Mike. It was a fine game if you are a Brewers fan, as the True Blue Brew Crew dominated Scott Baker and the Twins 11-3. Geoff Jenkins and Prince Fielder both hit majestic home runs and Claudio Vargas pitched well enough to win. It's pretty clear that Scott Baker is not, at least at the moment, a major league pitcher. He was terrible and the Brewers made him pay for every mistake. Ben didn't like it one bit....

Now, let's turn it over to Maria, my guest blogger.

Rockies Rockies Rockies! And Brewers Brewers Brewers! So much baseball this year. If you were me, Ben, Dad or Mom, you might be extremely extremely tired of baseball baseball baseball. P.S., sorry I keep writing the same words words words in a row row row. -- Maria

Okay, back to reporting, but thanks, Maria! She's right, by the way - there's been a ton of baseball. In fact, Ben just completed another game, losing to the White Sox 14-5 this afternoon at Wilson Park in Shoreview. Our team competed well, but as has been the case most of this season, the other team was simply better. Ben went 0-2 against some of the better pitching we've seen this season, but his teammates did do some good things. They will play again tomorrow at 6 p.m. against the Mariners, this time at Sitzer, I think. The schedule keeps changing and sometimes we end up wandering from park to park, it seems. In any event, this should be interesting, as the expected high temperature for tomorrow is supposed to be something like 475 degrees Fahrenheit; perhaps we are actually roasting a duck instead of playing ball; we'll see.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday's Grapeshot

More dispatches from Paradise (with air quality warnings):

  • Ben’s Brewers lost to the league-leading Red Sox by a final score of 19-11 last night at Wilson Park. Again, it was clear which team was superior, but the Red Sox were also superior sportsmen. After building a large lead on the Brewers’ depleted pitching staff, the Sox did something I haven’t seen before this year; they actually called off the dogs. They gave two of their younger, more inexperienced players a chance to pitch. Not surprisingly, our Brewers actually were able to mount a modest rally against these youngsters, including a rocket that Ben hit to the outfield; only a fine play by their center fielder kept it from being Ben’s first extra-base hit of the year, but Ben greatly enjoyed his powerful single and a 1-2 night overall. This is how the game should be played; the Sox coaches were more interested in having their kids learn new skills (and, by extension, giving our kids a chance to taste some success) than demonstrating their superiority and running up the score. A much better result all the way around and an example that other coaches in the league might consider; it’s still difficult to see what the point was when the Nats pounded our squad 41-4 earlier this week. Ben and company will take the field again twice over the weekend, first against the White Sox on Saturday at 11 a.m. at Wilson; then a Father’s Day tilt against the Mariners, at 3 p.m. and also at Wilson.
  • Mr. Dilettante’s health continues to improve, although I continue to be impatient about it. I’m able to do many of the things I want to do these days, but I still find that I get tired easily and that my internal clock is pretty weird these days. I find myself waking up at 5 a.m. some mornings and then struggling like heck to answer the alarm (set for 6:30) other days. Two and one-half months on, I still don’t quite know for sure what the new normal is. But I do appreciate that my headaches are still pretty much under control; that’s a huge thing.
  • My brother has invited me to the Dome tonight to see the Brewers and the Twins. After the hot start the big-league Brewers had, things have cooled off considerably. Meanwhile, the Twins are coming off a pretty impressive sweep of the Atlanta Braves, who still don’t seem to have mastered winning in Minnesota. This is the time last year when the two teams really started going in opposite directions; the Twins got red-hot and stayed red-hot all season long, while the Brewers faded out of contention with almost shocking speed. I don’t think 2007 is the same as 2006; my sense is that the Brewers are a better team this year and that the Twins will ultimately be short a few players this time around. But this has become a better rivalry now that it is inter-league. And I’m looking forward to seeing the game.
  • You didn’t see a lot about it in the news this morning, but the Supreme Court made an interesting decision in a case involving public employee unions. The Court ruled 9-0 that the state of Washington can require unions to ensure that they receive prior consent from union members before they can spend union dues on political matters. The case applied to public sector unions, which have a propensity to use a lot of their resources for politicking. On a personal level, it’s potentially good news for Mrs. Dilettante, who was essentially compelled to join AFSCME when she took her job with Hennepin County (even if she didn’t join, she’d have been forced to pay dues) and who is routinely annoyed when she receives a steady stream of left-wing political stuff via the mail, e-mail, phone, etc., all the while she watches the intrepid local negotiate wage increases that have not covered inflation in recent years. Mrs. D tends to keep her politics to herself, but she’s certainly not a supporter of all the worthies that her union supports. It will be interesting to see what happens, but this ruling could have a huge impact on the political power of unions going forward, especially in the public sector.
  • For those of you keeping score, this represents the 400th post on Mr. Dilettante since I began this little adventure in late 2005. If you’ve read them all, thank you. If you haven’t, chances are pretty good that you have a life and should be thankful about that, too!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Baseball update

More baseball, same sort of results. Ben's Brewers team lost their game to the Athletics on Tuesday by a score of 13-8. Ben was 1-2 and made a fine play at 3rd base, knocking down a one-hop smash with a diving stop that saved a run. The parents were calling him Brooks Robinson afterward. Meanwhile, Maria's squad lost 15-8 to the hard-hitting Diamondbacks last night. Maria continues to improve her hitting as well, getting another single in the game. Maria now has her first hitting streak of the season. The kids played well but the other team was just too strong.

Lots more baseball, as usual - Ben's Brewers take on the league-leading Red Sox tonight at Wilson Park in Shoreview at 6:30 p.m. Watch this space for comprehensive Little League coverage!

The Walrus was Paul

One way people demonstrate they don’t really care that much about you, or what you’re trying to tell them, is if they get your name wrong.

Readers of this feature likely know that I have a brother named Paul. Paul is a fine fellow and some of his exploits have been chronicled in this space. Paul has a nice job and a nice home in Appleton, Wisconsin. Paul married exceptionally well (a family trait, I might add) and he and his wife Heidi have three fine young children. Paul is an ancillary footsoldier in the Bill Gates army; his company provides corporate training on Microsoft applications to companies needing such expertise. Paul is an excellent teacher, a fine communicator and all in all a pretty good guy. Everyone who knows Paul thinks pretty highly of him. If they don’t, they are clearly mistaken. I would conclude this paragraph of fulsome praise by saying that I admire my brother greatly, especially now that the statute of limitations has long run on some of his more youthful indiscretions.

I am not Paul. But you would have a hard time convincing some people I’ve dealt with in recent weeks. On three separate occasions someone I’m in communication with has addressed me as Paul. I’m not sure if somehow I give off some essence of Paulness, whatever that might be, but the frequency of it makes me wonder. I’ve also been called Mike more than a few times; as it happens I also have a brother named Mike, who is a fine fellow in his own right. This is understandable, as Mark and Mike are fairly similar names and the woods are full of 40ish dudes named Mike (and Mark for that matter). But there aren’t that many Pauls.

The one person who always seemed to get names mixed up was my dad. But his tendency was to call out everyone’s name until he got to the kid whose attention he wanted. Sometimes he really wanted the dog, but the roll call would go out anyway – “MarkPatPaulCarolMargaretMichael… no, Peaches, I want you, dawg!” Since I’m the oldest, at least my name always got mentioned; that’s something, I suppose.

I’m not sure what it all means – it may not mean anything. But it’s not exactly an ego boost to have someone address you by your brother’s name. At least no one is calling me Peaches. Not yet, anyway.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Odds and sods

Uh-oh, here come those bullets again:

  • After a nice start to the month, the kids' baseball teams have come back to earth with a thud. Maria's Rockies played hard but lost a 21-10 decision to a hard-hitting Mets team at a sun-baked Pike Lake. Maria had her best game yet, getting two hits and scoring her first run of the season, while also having her first chance to play catcher. She has wanted to do that for a long time; too bad her first chance came on a day when it was about 89 degrees and humid. She will take the field again on Wednesday against the mysterious Padres; game time will be 6:30 at Floral Park in Arden Hills. As for Ben's Brewers, the word on the street is that they took a horrific thrashing from the Nationals, losing something like 41-4, or maybe 45-4, at the evil Southpoint Park in North Oaks. I don't know the score for sure because I didn't see the thrashing; since Maria's head coach was traveling on business, I had to step in and coach Maria's team last night. Ben's league does not have a mercy rule and it's pretty clear that the Nats showed no mercy. After a while, you would think the other team would call off the dogs, but it didn't happen. The weird thing is, the Brewers beat the Nats during the mid-season tournament. Go figure. Ben and his pals will try again tonight, this time against the Athletics, at Wilson Park in Shoreview. Game time is 6:30.
  • I've been trying to put a longer piece together on the immigration issue, but I'm finding it difficult to express my views properly. There is so much mendacity afoot on all sides of this issue that it's tempting to simply walk away from it all. We need to figure out how to solve this problem, but I don't sense there's much good will left. I do plan to revisit the issue, but I'm going to let it percolate for a while.
  • Meanwhile, I read that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's job approval rating is something like 19%. Looks like the word is getting out about the D's, doncha think? I also hear that Chuck Hagel, the self-righteous Robert Mitchum look-alike who masquerades as a Republican senator, now has a credible challenger in next year's Republican primary in Nebraska. It would not break my heart to see Hagel go down, that's for sure.
  • Both the pro baseball teams that garner allegiance in this outpost are really scuffling right now. The Twins had a dismal weekend against the lowly Washington Nationals, dropping games to the immortal Jason Simontacchi and Lavale Speigner, both washouts from the Twins farm system. I do sense that the Nats may have a potential solution for the Twins' woes at DH, however; they may want to take a flyer on Dmitri Young, the hulking switch-hitter who doesn't really have a position with the Nats but who sports a .350 batting average and demonstrated power. The Nats like reject Twins pitchers; maybe they'd take Scott Baker or something for him. Young would fit quite nicely in the six hole for the TC Men. As for the Milwaukee Brewers, they seem lost right now. Prince Fielder and J.J. Hardy continue to have remarkable seasons, but the clutch hits are not happening and the pitching has been pretty spotty. I don't think a visit to Detroit is the cure, but we'll see what happens. Thankfully the rest of the NL Central is even more wretched than the Brew Crew has been lately.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Playing the dozens on Oakcrest Drive

Had a correspondence with Mr. Miller last week and he reminded me of one of the many strange rituals of our childhood; back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, while we attended lovely Xavier High School, we would generally walk home together along with another friend, the lovely and talented fellow known to one and all as Goose. We would walk together down Oakcrest Drive, a pleasant residential street in our neighborhood, and we would spend the entire time ripping each other with less-than-loving cheap shots. Our banter generally didn't rise to the level of brilliance; no one would confuse it with dialogue from a Judd Apatow movie. It often went something like this:

Mr. D: "So Goose, did you manage to go a whole day without drooling on yourself?"
Goose: "Shut up, you buck-toothed varmint!"
Mr. M: "C'mon Goose, he's got braces now. He's not so buck-toothed, but he's still pretty ugly."
Mr. D and Goose (in unison): "Who asked you, Snoot?"

If there was snow on the ground, and there often was, a common tactic would be take a hunk of snow and throw at someone's feet and shout "Dance!" Occasionally tempers might flare and a half-hearted punch might be thrown, but generally it was pretty tame. It was a version of what used to be called "the dozens," an inner-city, generally African-American tradition of ritualized cheap shots that lives on in such forms as "your Mama's so fat" jokes and this classic couplet from War's 1975 classic "Why Can't We Be Friends"

I hear you're working for the CIA
They would not have you in the Maf-I-Ay

Adolescent boys like insults, for whatever reason. My son Ben continues to flash a sharper wit as he gets older, although he's still at the age where he often blows the punchline because he starts laughing at his own joke before he gets it told (a tendency that did not derail the career of Johnny Carson, so he has hope). I always try to keep my perspective on this sort of thing, even when Ben is attempting to zing his sister, who at the age of 7 already has a tongue like a lash. As a parent, there are a lot of things you are officially supposed to disapprove of, but it's hard not to remember playing the dozens on Oakcrest Drive and simultaneously maintain a stern visage when your kids are playing their own game 30 years later.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Giving Justice the Heffelfinger

Like a bad Mexican dinner, the U.S. attorney kerfuffle continues to come back up again and again. For reasons that baffle those of us who don’t suffer from Bush Derangement Syndrome, various Lefties continue to hammer on the case of Thomas Heffelfinger, the former U.S. Attorney from Minneapolis, who doesn’t happen to be one of the 8 US-A’s that was fired. Because someone, somewhere put his name on a list of potential fire-ees, various people have decided to use him as a human brickbat with which to beat the administration.

This is about the silliest thing I’ve seen. Heffelfinger resigned his position nearly a year before AG Alberto Gonzales moved to fire some of his US-A’s. Trying to conflate the issues is like blaming Daunte Culpepper for the bad quarterbacking the Vikings had in the 2006 season. But logic has never been a Leftie strong suit, of course.

There are plenty of things to beat up the Bushies about – the conduct of the war, the way they refuse to defend themselves against the scurrilities of the Lefties, their occasionally pie-eyed assumptions about human nature. But this is just silly.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Updates from the diamond

We are in a stretch with a lot of baseball. All told, our kids will participate in 10 games over a six day period. Good thing we like baseball at our house….

Maria’s Rockies are suddenly on a tear. After winning their first game on Friday, the Rock Stars have won twice more, again defeating the Cubs 13-8 on Monday night at Sunnyside and then outlasting the Cardinals 5-3 on Tuesday at Bel Air. The kids have really been playing very well and they are now consistently making fine plays in the field. On a personal note, Maria got her first hit on Monday, beating out a grounder to the pitcher. She was delighted and so is this correspondent.

Continuing what has been a relentless stretch of action, the Rockies take the field again tonight, this time against the Reds. Game time is 6:30 p.m. at Sunnyside School in New Brighton.

As for Ben’s Brewers, they had a rematch against the Dodgers last night and lost 19-8. The Dodgers are a very good hitting team; their best hitter hit a long home run, the first over-the-fence job we’ve seen all year. I was not at the game but my trusted correspondent (a/k/a/ Mrs. Dilettante) tells me that the Brew Crew rallied late and made it a little more interesting. Ben singled in the game as well. The Brewers get another shot against the Dodgers on Thursday at 6:30 at Sitzer Park. The Brewers will have their better pitchers going in this game, so we’ll see if they can make some progress.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Off the schneid

As readers of this feature know, my kids love to play baseball, but that hasn’t always meant success on the field. After Ben’s Brewers suffered a 14-5 loss to the league-leading Nationals on Thursday, the kids’ respective teams were a combined 0-14. Now it’s June and apparently things have changed. And how.

First, Maria’s Rockies got off the schneid, defeating the Cubs 6-3 on Friday night under a light mist at Lambert Park in Mounds View. The Cubs had previously mopped the floor with our Rockies in the season opener, something like 12-0, so the progress our charges have made are nothing short of phenomenal. Maria made a nice play at 3rd base and hit a few loud foul balls, which represents personal progress, while some of her teammates made some really nice plays, especially for a bunch of 7 year olds. Maria’s squad has a marathon of baseball ahead this week, with games on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at various ballparks in the north metro.

Then we have the Brewers. It was AL Classic weekend, the annual mid-season tournament in which all 12 squads play in a double-elimination format that means the kids can play up to four games in one day, assuming they keep winning. Since Ben’s team was winless entering the tournament, I assumed I would be home early in the afternoon and would spend the rest of the day mowing the lawn. Nope. Something changed on Saturday and our winless lads suddenly became world-beaters. The first game started out in typical fashion, with the Brew Crew losing a tough game to the Mariners, 4-2, at Wilson Park in Shoreview. Our pitching held up well but the kids were not able to eke out enough runs. That sent the kids into the losers’ bracket. We packed up the car and went over to Sitzer Park, where we faced the Nationals, who had somehow managed to get beaten earlier. With the recent loss to the Nats fresh in their minds, the kids jumped out to an early 4-0 lead and then held on to win their first game of the season, 4-2. The win knocked the Nats out of the tournament, much to their shock. That meant another game quickly thereafter, again at Sitzer, against the Rangers, the team that we’d lost a heartbreaker to earlier in the season. The pitching again was superb and the suddenly red-hot Brew Crew won again, this time 2-1.

The lawn was now going to wait. Amazingly, our kids would play their fourth game of the day, this time against the Athletics, one of the better teams on the eastern side of the league. Our kids, suddenly filled with success, immediately jumped out to a 7-3 lead after one inning. Then the rain came; lots and lots of rain, with a spectacular lightning show and even a few blasts of the weather siren. The game was suspended until the next day and we sought shelter from the storm.

Sunday arrived, cloudy and drizzly, but it usually takes a lot more than drizzle to stop Little League baseball in my area, so we returned to Sitzer Park at 10:30 a.m. The kids continued to play well, eventually defeating the Athletics 9-6. Ben managed to steal home in the final inning, which proved to be a key insurance run. This was the first time he had ever stolen home and he did it with a dramatic slide that got his foot on the plate just a moment before the catcher could apply the tag.

Next were the Dodgers. It may have been only 1 p.m. in the Central time zone, but it was midnight for our lads, as the Dodgers overpowered our game but tired kids, 9-3. We had used up all of our regular pitchers on Saturday and because Little League sensibly enforces a mandatory pitch count, we had to use a kid with limited experience and we got a not-too-surprising result. But by winning 3 games in the tournament, the kids finished in 4th place, which meant they all earned trophies. You will rarely see a prouder group of boys than these blue-clad Brewers.

When I was a kid, I was pretty lucky –every baseball team I played with was successful. Three times I played on teams that won championships. I didn’t have a lot to do with their success, but I always played with talented teammates. So far, Ben and Maria haven’t had that experience. The cliché is that the game is the most important thing, and that winning and losing shouldn’t matter that much, but every kid I’ve ever known strongly prefers winning, even the kids in Maria’s age group. You can see a lot of ugliness in youth sports, especially from parents and coaches who value winning too much and cut ethical corners to achieve success. Both Ben and Maria’s coaches refuse to do that and I admire both of them for their stance. Still, you like to see the kids learn how to compete successfully. You cannot avoid competition in this world. And this weekend, both kids tasted success. My suspicion is they’ll like it.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Cheap labor and cheap emotions - part one

My own experience as a cheap laborer, which I discussed in Wednesday’s post, is a good starting point for talking about the increasingly nasty immigration debate. As an admitted troglodyte, I do listen to a number of the AM radio shouters when I’m tooling around town during the day, and it’s been amazing to hear some of the things that are being said. The opposition to this bill is sincere, heartfelt and passionate. What you don’t get are any workable alternatives.

My own view on immigration is that immigrants are on balance a positive for this country. It’s become a cliché to point out that we are a nation of immigrants, but it is true. My ancestors came to the United States for a better life. Almost certainly yours did too. Not surprisingly people are still coming for the same reason. Additionally, since immigrants don’t take this better life for granted, they often are willing to work harder and better than native-born U.S. citizens. People don’t like to hear that or say it publicly, but it’s true.

This leads to one of the biggest arguments you’ll get on this issue; the notion put forth by immigration proponents that illegals tend to do work that Americans won’t do. This notion is hotly disputed but there’s not a lot of evidence to indicate the contrary. It often happens that the jobs are not necessarily convenient for unemployed or underemployed American citizens; if you are unemployed and live in Minneapolis, an available job at the turkey plant in Willmar is a tough commute. But it’s a lot tougher commute to Willmar from Jalisco, Mexico, or Chichicastenango, Guatemala, yet the workers who show up in Willmar tend to be from such places, rather than from Minneapolis. Perhaps that has meaning, perhaps it doesn’t, but you can certainly draw your own conclusions.

The problem remains – what do you do with all the people who are already here? You simply can’t deport 12 million people without causing tremendous problems, and not just on the border. In places like Willmar and Worthington, the immigrants are a key part of the local economy and have already transformed the communities in question. Growing up in Appleton, Wisconsin, the influx of Hmong refugees in the 1970s changed Appleton fundamentally as well. I’m not qualified to say if Appleton is a better place now than it was before 1975, but it is a different place and there have been a lot of benefits. I also know Appleton was a far different place before my ancestors arrived in the 1850s. And I also know that there were a lot people in the 1850s who were arguing against immigration in similar terms and with similar emotions to what you hear now. Some of them even formed their own political party, which has come down through history to be known as the “Know-Nothings.” Again, you can draw your own conclusions.

Here’s my other conclusion – we don’t have an immigration problem; we have an assimilation problem. More on that anon.