Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Renaissance Man

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

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

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

His name is Nick Coleman.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Fearless Dilettante Football Predictions - Blind Faith Edition

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

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

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

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

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

The politics of New Brighton

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 25, 2007

30 Hours in Cheeseland

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

A few quick thoughts:

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Fearless Dilettante Football Predictions - Triptophan Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A consequential day

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Your little corner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Four Guys Named Ben Update - 111707

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

Friday, November 16, 2007

500 Posts and Counting

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

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


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

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

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fearless Dilettante Football Predictions - Fun Size Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Who do you love... to hate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 12, 2007

Schadenfreude Waltz

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Four Guys Named Ben

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

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

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Overcoming Longstanding Technical Stupidity

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

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

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

Fearless Dilettante Football Predictions - Dwindling Interest Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus high school coverage:

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

General Wayne

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Battle of Wettengel's Lunch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 05, 2007

Borrowing a Meme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Fearless Dilettante Football Predictions - All Saints Edition

We've been talking about saints all week around here. And, oddly enough, today is All Saints Day. So let's talk about our favorite sainted football teams. Here we go.

Xavier 24, Kettle Moraine Lutheran 20 - I have no information on Kettle Moraine Lutheran except that they are undefeated. So I have no basis for this pick. Not that that has ever stopped me before.

ACTUAL RESULT: KML 35, XAVIER 32. Close but no cigar - Kettle Moraine scores the game winner with less than a minute left. Still, Xavier won more games this season than it did in my entire four years at the school. Can't beat that.

Grinnell 31, Beloit 21 - Time for the final indignity for my beloved Bucs. You may not know this, but there was a time back in the 1920s when Grinnell College played a big-time football schedule. They were in the league that later became the Big XII and regularly played Nebraska, Kansas and similar schools. Nowadays they pretty much stink. But not as bad as my Bucs.

ACTUAL RESULT: BELOIT 16, GRINNELL 13 (OT). Off the schneid, finally. Good thing, too, because the year is over. For what it's worth, only five seniors on the team. Maybe better times are ahead.

Ohio State 34, Wisconsin 24 - The Buckeyes appear to be #1 on merit this year. The Badgers are getting better but they won't win in Columbus with a third string running back, the most likely scenario.

ACTUAL RESULT: OSU 38, BUCKY 17. It looked good for a while, but the Buckeyes are clearly a better team these days. Lookin' like a New Year's Day bowl won't be happening this year.

Green Bay 31, Kansas City 21 - The Packers have never won in Kansas City. But most times when they've been there, the Chiefs had a good team. This year, not so much. Favre continues his retribution tour and my brother will be at Arrowhead to witness it.

ACTUAL RESULT: GB 33, KC 22 - Now that's a pretty good pick, huh? Great win for the Packers - will have to get the report from the Stinger upon his return from KC. Good thing, too, because the Lions are right on our heroes' heels. Thanksgiving could be very interesting, indeed.

Bonus high school picks - mighty Irondale is gone, so we're going to add Mrs. D's alma mater to the rotation.

Mounds View 31, White Bear Lake 24 - Go Bears. Back where you came from. The 'Stangs prevail on their home turf.

ACTUAL RESULT: MOUNDS VIEW 21, WHITE BEAR 14. Good for the 'Stangs. Next it's a tough one against mighty Eastview.

St. Thomas Academy 31, Washburn 24 - Sorry Mrs. D - I'd love to pick the Millers, but St. Thomas Academy is good, as usual, and city schools don't win championships any more.

ACTUAL RESULT: WASHBURN 42, STA 41. After all these years, I really should know better than to doubt Mrs. D. A great win for the Millers, who are proudly flying the banner for the city schools at state for the first time in a number of years. Next up - mysterious Waconia.