Thursday, January 31, 2013

Things I learn about from Facebook

So what do you know about Indonesian rock? I'll admit I didn't know much, but apparently there's long been a pretty good rock scene in Indonesia. Here is a representative example:

There's a lot of music out there.

Expect the Unexpected

Apparently we're supposed to be surprised by the news:

The U.S. economy posted a stunning drop of 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter, defying expectations for slow growth and possibly providing incentive for more Federal Reserve stimulus.

The economy shrank from October through December for the first time since the recession ended, hurt by the biggest cut in defense spending in 40 years, fewer exports and sluggish growth in company stockpiles.

Oh, goody -- more Fed stimulus! Oh, and damn that George W. Bush. If he would only stop causing sluggish growth in company stockpiles, all would be better.

People aren't feeling very good about things at all right now. Everyone has noticed that the payroll tax holiday is over and they have less money in their paychecks. Meanwhile, the price for a gallon of gas has gone up over $0.60 here in the Twin Cities in the last three weeks.

It's a gas
If you study the historical pattern, a lot of people were hoping that this year would be like 1997, when things got rolling. There's better reason to think we're going to have a year more like 1937. It will all be quite stunning and unexpected.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

RIP, Patty Andrews

The last of the Andrews Sisters dies at the age of 94. She and her sisters Maxene and LaVerne inspired a lot of the boys in WWII.

I guess at this point I should mention that I have now hit twice in the 2013 Dead Pool. If I were Hugo Chavez, Theodore Hesburgh and/or Pete Seeger, I'd be watching my back.

Hammer of the Gods

Immigration is an issue that I've always struggled to wrap my mind around because it's unlikely there's a good way to handle the issue. I'm especially skeptical about anything that comes out of Washington that is labeled as "comprehensive" because:

a) It won't be; and
b) It can't be.

The way I think about the issue is this:

  • It's highly undesirable to have 11-12 million people in this country who are living in the shadows. Nor is there any practical way to remove these people from the country.
  • It seems likely to me that most immigrants, legal or illegal, are here because of economic opportunity and the freedom that we enjoy, not for nefarious reasons.
  • There are some who are here for nefarious reasons and they need to be dealt with.
  • The War on Drugs complicates everything we do.
  • Mexico, especially northern Mexico, is pretty close to a failed state. In large measure, this is because of the narcotraficantes, who operate with impunity because they have more firepower than Mexican officials. And many of those same officials are bought off, anyway.
  • We'll never really be able to control the border.
  • Living in Minnesota, I have no way of knowing what things are like in California, or Arizona, so my opinions about what Californians and Arizonans should do about border issues aren't worth much.
  • From this distance, it seems like Texas has less trouble with illegal immigration than either Arizona or California. I don't know why that is. I don't know what the situation is in New Mexico, because there's rarely any reporting about it.
  • We aren't asking people to assimilate in the same way we did when my ancestors came over. This is a problem.
  • Whatever might emerge out of Washington is more about gaining political advantage than about solving the problem.
So does that list seem a bit jumbled to you? That's the point. There are so many variables involved that it's well-nigh impossible to account for every issue. I would imagine that a thoughtful reader of this blog could come up with several other factors I've failed to mention here.

So what does it all mean? Beats me. The only thing I can predict with confidence is this -- if we see anything that is labeled "comprehensive" get passed into law, it won't be.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent -- Not that there's anything wrong with that

So the Boy Scouts may be changing their views on gays:

Gay-rights groups were elated Monday after the Boy Scouts of America announced that it was considering dropping its long-standing national policy of disallowing open homosexuals from participating in its activities, but traditional-family groups were quick to condemn the shift.

If adopted next week, the change would permit local BSA organizations to decide “how to address this issue” at their level.
This might seem like a big deal, but there's less here than meets the eye. The key is the second graf -- local BSA organizations get to decide the issue. Each scout troop has a sponsoring organization, usually a local church. That means the church that sponsors the troop gets to decide if they want to open things up to gay scout leaders. A lot of churches, probably most of them, won't do that. The reason for the ban is that the Scouts had a big problem with sexual abuse, similar to what the Catholic Church has gone through. Was that an overreaction? Perhaps, but making the change and instituting exceptionally strict rules about contact between adult leaders and scouts has really cut down on the problem. As a Scout parent and adult leader, I have to retake the training every two years.

As for gay Scouts, well, there have always been gay Scouts. It's likely not going to change the nature of the organization that much if the BSA acknowledges that.

We are a Scouting family. My son started out as a Tiger Cub Scout in the first grade and he's stayed with it ever since; he's been a leader in his troop for the last two years. It's been a great experience for him and he's become a good outdoorsman as a result, which is something that would not have happened otherwise -- my idea of roughing it is a hotel that doesn't offer continental breakfast.

It's been a challenge to keep boys in Scouting, since there are any number of distractions along the way. Of the 15-18 kids who started out in Scouting with my son, maybe 4 of them are still active. I lost interest in Scouting when I was a kid and it's something that I regret today. The lessons and practical skills that young men learn in Scouting are lifelong and utterly useful. The politics surrounding the organization aren't especially useful. This change probably won't end the controversies and criticism that Scouting faces in any event. We'll find out.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Andy Gets to the Nub

Andy Aplikowski, at the beginning of an essay on many topics, makes an important point:

 On this morning’s David & Emmer show, they crossed an intellectual line for me, and exposed one of the major problems facing the Republican Party.

They decided to promote a poll from Public Policy Polling, about who, it says, Republicans prefer to take on Mark Dayton next year. The polling company appears to have been tasked with testing the waters on a host of issues to gauge support for liberal policies and officials in Minnesota. Favorability of Democrats, gun bans, gay marriage, you name it, Democrats had their poll show liberalism rules the day here in Minnesota. The press has been spewing it out religiously.

The poll also showed Norm Coleman as the leading Republican for the 2014 Governor’s race. Davis and Emmer railed on Coleman this morning and the notion of him being the Republican candidate. No solutions, no better alternatives, no suggestions on how maybe a rock solid conservative could beat Dayton (ahem). Instead, mashing of teeth, wailing, moaning, complaining, kicking and screaming, and threats of staying home…..

PPP polling is a Democrat influence poll. Sorry, but its an automated left leaning poll and if a Republican is citing it to tank a candidate they don’t like, they are as intellectually lazy as the biased media in Minnesota who is also using this poll to undermine all center right politicians and thought.

We are well over a year before we'll really know anything about what the 2014 political landscape will be like. We have no idea who will emerge on the Republican side of the aisle to run against Mark Dayton, or Al Franken for that matter. And Andy is correct -- while we might learn something from what PPP tells us, Bob Davis and Tom Emmer really aren't adding anything valuable to the discussion when they trumpet the polling results at this point. Personally, I'd ignore any polling until about this time in 2014.

As I mentioned, Andy's essay touches on a great deal many more topics. It's worth your time to read. While you might not agree with what Andy writes, there aren't many people who care more about the fate of the Republican Party than he does.

Another Day in Paradise

Same as it ever was:

Chicago authorities say seven people were killed and six wounded in gun violence in one day.

Among those killed Saturday was a 34-year-old man whose mother had already lost her three other children to shootings. Police say Ronnie Chambers, who was his mother's youngest child, was shot in the head while sitting in a car.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Sacramento Floating Crap Game

Sometimes it's good to have things boiled down to their essence. You might have heard that the head honcho of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer, has been working to buy the Sacramento Kings of the NBA and move the team to Seattle. Not so fast, sez Sacramento:

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is not backing down from a request for information about Microsoft's dealings with California, a gesture that many interpreted as a warning to prospective Sacramento Kings buyer and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

After reports emerged that Ballmer was one of the investors seeking to purchase the Kings and relocate them to Seattle, Steinberg sent a letter to the Department of General Services asking for data about California's contracts with Microsoft and the monetary value of the state's past purchases from the technology giant.

It's ultimately an idle threat, since Steinberg has no way to strip Microsoft of its business with the state of California if the deal goes through*, but leave that aside. What's especially asinine is his reasoning:

"There's something that doesn't feel right about making money working directly with the state of California - in fact, having some of their largest contracts with the state of California - and at the same time using at least some of those gains or profits to try to move a major asset out of the state of California in its capital city," Steinberg said after emerging from a closed-door meeting about the Kings with Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson and other lawmakers on Thursday.
Okay, let's get real here. We're talking about the Sacramento Kings, who were previously the Kansas City/Omaha Kings and the Cincinnati Royals before that, and the Rochester (N.Y.) Royals before that. You'd be hard pressed to find a more nomadic franchise in professional sports. We're also talking about the NBA, where teams change names in midseason (The New Orleans Pelicans?) and completely transform their identities all the time. After all the reason that Seattle is out of the NBA is that their previous team, the SuperSonics, miraculously moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. If the Kings leave, all Sacramento needs to do is wait until some other team gets tired of their market and moves away. You could have the Sacramento Raptors or the Sacramento Grizzlies or the Sacramento Bobcats at any moment. And if the Kings were to move to Seattle, I wouldn't be surprised in the least if they'd move again to Des Moines or Macon or somesuch -- that's how the NBA rolls.

*I would love to see California switch over to Ubuntu, although they'd probably have to make sure their software is CARB compliant first.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Ed and Mary Jane's Golden Anniversary


My parents were married 50 years ago today, at St. Therese Catholic Church in Appleton, Wisconsin. It was a cold day -- the story used to go that it was Ice Bowl cold, but from what I can tell from the records it was about -2 for the high temperature in Appleton that day. The picture I'm including here doesn't make it seem especially balmy.

My parents were both 29 years old when they were married. Dad had been in the Army and had done a few other jobs, but by then he was a college student and was finishing his senior year at UW-Madison and would take his first job later that summer with CNA Insurance in Chicago. My mom was an executive secretary for Kimberly-Clark, the huge paper company based in nearby Neenah. I was born at the end of the year.

My parents had a tough marriage - I've chronicled in this space my mother's lifelong challenges with mental illness which were at the root of many of their marital problems. They had seven children together (one daughter died shortly after birth). There was a pattern to how that seemed to happen -- Mom would get ill and would end up hospitalized, then she'd get better, at least for a time. Things would get better and about a year later another sibling would arrive, although the cause and effect wasn't precisely linear. Ultimately, my dad couldn't take the abuse any more and they ended up separating in 1977 and divorcing in 1980. Those three years coincided with the beginning of my high school career, so I was personally able to find plenty of ways to keep myself busy and not think about what was happening.

My siblings, especially the younger ones, really have no memory of my parents living together. We continued to live with my mother, who was somewhat functional during those years, but she had some bad episodes. She had to go back to the hospital in the summer of 1981 and again in 1983. By then, my dad decided that he needed to get custody of my younger siblings and bought a big old house on the outskirts of town. He'd remarried by then and my stepmother ended up doing a lot of child rearing for my younger siblings.

It wouldn't last, though. My father died in 1990 following complications from heart surgery. By then I was long on my own and was already engaged to the future Mrs. D. My mother bounced around for a while and eventually she ended up living in assisted living. That provided the structure she needed and made it a lot better for her. She died in 2000, also following surgical complications, in her case from a mastectomy.

My dad has has been gone for a long time now and my mom has, too. Life didn't turn out the way they would have chosen. But even though their marriage ended in divorce, it does not mean they failed. My dad faced experiences that I cannot even begin to understand, especially as he tried to pull things together in that fateful summer of 1983. I cannot even imagine how he did it -- for a time he was trying to juggle three mortgage payments, since the sales of my childhood home and his small house in Kimberly hadn't gone through by the time we moved into the big house outside of town. This was at a time when interest rates were well over 10% and the experience was close to financially ruinous. He was also trying to provide for six of his own children and, from time to time, 2 or 3 of my stepmother's kids. I'm convinced that the stress of that summer took more than a few years away from his life.

I simply cannot understand, and likely never will understand, what my mom went through. Mental illness, especially profound mental illness, can be chronicled but cannot be explained. Every day was a struggle for her. I always sensed that, even when she was at her worst, she understood the implications of how her behavior would affect the lives of other people, especially her own children. Before her illness took hold, she had moved easily in the corporate world and had no trouble functioning in the executive suite of a major company. She had also been a talented singer who had performed with her female barbershop quartet, traveling for competitions throughout the Midwest and even in Canada. Had she been born in 1973 instead of 1933, her life would have been very different.

Fifty years on, the legacy of Ed and Mary Jane's marriage is still unfolding. My siblings and I are all reasonably successful and those of us who are married (four of six) have fine marriages, indeed. My father did not live long enough to meet any of his eight grandchildren and my mother only lived long enough to meet three of the eight, but my siblings and I have tried to make sure that they are a part of our children's lives. You can't sum up a marriage, or a life, in a blog post. But I am thankful for these two people, who loved each other enough to bring me into this world. Marriages are consequential and there is no question that the vows that were exchanged fifty years ago at St. Therese will continue to resonate.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Linwood Avenue

It was yellow and had a black banana seat and
 Said “Dragster” on the chain guard and it took me places

The quarry was Linwood Avenue, 21 blocks due west, the edge of town
And atop my Dragster I could get there in about 9 minutes if the cars were
  Stopped on Richmond Street
The back side of Linwood Avenue was a bean field and sometimes you’d see a garter snake if you didn’t blink
  But we weren’t looking for garter snakes
 We sought the victims of Biggie Rat

In the summer of 1973 questions arose and jowly old Sam Ervin was interrupting The Secret Storm and Search for Tomorrow, irritating the ladies on Brewster Street and Randall Avenue with his queries

There was a cancer growing but nine year old boys on the hunt for Biggie Rat aren’t troubled by such things

We knew that Biggie Rat hung out on Leminwah Street, fifteen blocks the other way,
 Past the paper mill and the secret trail through the ravines to Peabody Park
  On the way to the cemetery, near where my buddy Pat Kiss lived
  But we weren’t going there. No sir. Nor would we go to Koehnke’s Woods, where the hoboes were and the Adler Brau cans rusting in piles along the Soo Line spur

It’s no damn good to be a nine-year old boy named Pat Kiss, by the way, especially in the summer of 1973
  He could kick the crap out of every kid in the neighborhood, mostly because he had to, except for Kelly Furlow, who had similar issues

Lou Reed could handle androgyny in 1973, but nine-year old Wisconsin boys weren’t Warhol superstars and didn’t have a tenor sax, so you had to be tough, especially if Biggie Rat was coming

  Thirty nine years on, we never once gave it away

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Unified Field Theory

Finally, via Gerard van der Leun, the slogan for our times:

The universal solvent
$16 trillion deficits? What difference does it make?

Ambassador murdered in Benghazi? Eh, what difference does it make?

U.S. border agents murdered by guns that the Justice Department let walk into Mexico? What difference does it make?

The Senate hasn't taken action on a budget in four years? What difference does it make?

Millions out of work, some for years? What difference does it make?

Over 500 murders in Chicago in 2012? What difference does it make?

Change you can believe in? What difference does it make?

A series of good questions

Ed Kohler over at The Deets shares an interesting experience with the 311 service in Minneapolis. His exchange:

From: Ed Kohler
Subject: Lake Street LRT Stop Elevators Smell like urine
They seem overdue for a thorough cleaning.
- Ed Kohler

The response:
Dear Mr. Kohler,
We appreciate your email. Light rail is owned and maintained by Metro Transit. They can be reached at 612-373-3333 or via their webpage at
If there is anything else we can help you with please contact us. Thank you for emailing the City of Minneapolis.
Minneapolis 311
Office 612-673-3000 Hours: 7 am – 7 pm (Monday – Friday)

How would you interpret this response? Ed's interpretation seems pretty reasonable to me:

Interesting, eh?

If there is graffiti on my house, or my property wreaked of urine, would the city take the same approach? Would they tell people to call me to solve their problem? I doubt it.

If graffiti was reported on the Target store 50 yards from the stinky LRT elevators, wouldn’t 311 hold Target responsible for maintaining their property?

Why is Metro Transit, who owns property in the City of Minneapolis, treated differently than individual property owners?
This last question deserves a response. I could guess why, but my guess wouldn't be particularly charitable. Good on Ed for asking these questions.


I'm not going to spend too much time on yesterday's Benghazi hearings with Hillary Clinton, because I've been told in no uncertain terms that It's Not That Important and By The Way, Shut Up.

Still, I do think the exchange between Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) and SecState Clinton was revealing:

"What difference does it make," Clinton asks, concerning the question of what happened.

It made a difference, Madam Secretary of State, because it's actually a matter of good public policy that government officials tell the truth. Based on what we know now, Susan Rice went on a half dozen Sunday chat shows with a series of talking points that were at variance with the facts. There was a time when holding people accountable for such things was standard procedure in Washington.

I miss those days.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Alliance for a More Expensive Minnesota

When we ponder the machinations in St. Paul, it's good to remember what Mencken said:

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard. 

Back in November, the good people of Minnesota accepted the notion that DFL governance would lead to, as we've heard, a "better Minnesota." So yesterday we got a look at how it's gonna be now that we have a Better Minnesota. And it won't be cheap:

[Governor] Dayton, who campaigned in 2010 calling for the state to "tax the rich," would create a new tax rate of 9.85 percent, to be paid on taxable income above $250,000 for joint filers and above $150,000 for single filers. That would net about $1 billion from 53,000 returns and give the state one of the top five top rates in the country.

For the first time, Minnesotans would pay sales tax on clothing -- items above $100 -- and on services like haircuts, auto repairs and legal fees.
Cheap? No. Good and hard? Mais oui. And if you're lucky enough to live in the metro area, there's more, because we hafta pay for the choo-choos:
The seven-county metro area would pay an extra 0.25 percent sales tax for improved transit -- a measure local business groups have supported. He also would increase spending on economic development by $86 million.
Presumably, the "local business groups" aren't located along University Avenue.

There's a boatload of tinkering involved in this proposal, which raises taxes in some places and supposedly lowers them in others. The big savings, supposedly, is in property taxes, where a $500 rebate is in the offing. Notice, however, that it's a rebate, not a permanent reduction in the rates. Rebates can be taken away at any time. And don't be surprised when the solons say, oh, darn the luck, we have a budget deficit, so we'll need to suspend that rebate.

Not surprisingly, the Republicans in St. Paul pointed out that the increased taxes are going to get passed on:
"I don't know how you can say you're going to collect $2 billion more in sales tax and not have the people of the state pay that," said Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie. "If you go out and get an oil change on your car, you're going to pay a sales tax on it. If you go out and get a haircut, you're going to pay a sales tax. If you join a health club. Those are things you are not paying sales tax on now."
All true. And there's this important point:
“We are going to raise two billion dollars in sales taxes but nobody’s going to pay them?” he asked. “How does that work? So the businesses are going to be absorbing these taxes and what is going to happen? It’s not going to pass them to ordinary people and consumers?  So, of course, people are going to pay.”
Yep. Enjoy your Better Minnesota, people.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


The president, making a promise he cannot keep:
Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.
Cared for and cherished? Maybe. Always safe from harm? Impossible. It would also be nice if the kids on the streets of Chicago were part of the equation, but that's not happening, either.

You can argue that, well, it's just an aspiration and not an actual, achievable goal. But the real problem with it is that it's crap. You cannot keep anyone always safe from harm, although in your ministrations to do so you can harm them a hell of a lot, by taking away their ability to make decisions.

And then there was this:
A decade of war is now ending.
Uh, I don't think so. We may be about to stop fighting in Afghanistan, but there's little reason to expect that we won't have to defend our interests in the next four years. I would certainly support taking a hard look at where our interests precisely lie (Mali might not be one of those places, to use a recent example), but wars don't end just because you say they do in a speech.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Same as the old boss

I've read Joel Kotkin for years and his latest post is a tidy summation of what Obama is all about:

Contrary to the conservative claims of Obama’s “socialist” tendencies, the administration is quite comfortable with such capitalist sectors as entertainment, the news media and the software side of the technology industry, particularly social media. The big difference is these firms derive their fortunes not from the soil and locally crafted manufacturers, but from the manipulation of ideas, concepts and images.

Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft are far from “the workers of the world,” but closer to modern-day robber barons. Through their own ingenuity, access to capital and often oligopolistic hold on lucrative markets, they have enjoyed one of the greatest accumulations of wealth in recent economic history, even amidst generally declining earnings, rising poverty and inequality among their fellow Americans.

Nice work if you can get it. And how do make it happen? You get help.
An even greater beneficiary of the second term will be the administrative class, who by their nature live largely outside the market system. This group, which I call the new clerisy, is based largely in academia and the federal bureaucracy, whose numbers and distinct privileges have grown throughout the past half century.

Even in tough times, high-level academics enjoy tenure and have been largely spared from job cuts. Between late 2007 and mid-2009, the number of U.S. federal workers earning more than $150,000 more than doubled, even as the economy fell into a deep recession. Even as the private sector, and state government employment has fallen, the ranks of federal nomenklatura have swelled so much that Washington, D.C., has replaced New York as the wealthiest region in the country.

There are myriad problems with this arrangement. Power that is wielded from a great distance away is always going to be more arbitrary and likely to be wrong about conditions on the ground. Unless you are part of the system, your chances of moving the needle in Washington are very, very small.

I know the mayor of my town personally. If I had a grievance, he'd take my call. I don't know the governor of Minnesota, but it's easy to find the governor's mansion on Summit Avenue and stage a protest in front of the gate. I might not get his attention, but there would be a chance. Trying to get the attention of the federal leviathan? Good luck with that. Back to Kotkin:

Let’s be clear — this new ascendant class is no threat to either the “one percent,”  or even the much smaller decimal groups. Historically, the already rich and large economic interests often profit in a hyper-regulated state; the clerisy’s actions can often stifle competition by increasing the cost of entry for unwelcome new players. Like Cardinal Richelieu or Louis XIV’s finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, our modern-day dirigistes favor state-directed capital that has benefited, among others, “green” capitalists, Wall Street “too big to fail” firms and, of course, General Motors.
This is a crucial point and one that's been obvious for years. For all the railing one hears about Republicans being the party of Big Business, it's not really the case. Big Businesses love the regulatory state, because it creates barriers to entry into the marketplace. Regulatory compliance kills a lot of businesses because it keeps the entrepreneur from doing the work he/she loves. This is why the Republican Party's real constituency are smaller businesses and why you heard so much about that topic from Mitt Romney and others in 2012.

The larger issue is something else, however. Kotkin:
More disturbing still may be the clerisy’s regal disregard for democratic give and take. Both traditional hierarchies, or new ones like the Bolsheviks after the 1917 revolution, disdain popular will as intrinsically lacking in scientific judgment and societal wisdom. Some leading figures in the clerisy, such as former Obama budget advisor Peter Orszag, openly argue for shifting power from naturally contentious elected bodies to credentialed “experts” operating in places Washington, Brussels or the United Nations.

Such experts, of course, see little need for give and take with their intellectual inferiors, in Congress or elsewhere. This attitude is expressed in the administration’s increasing use of executive orders to promote policy goals such as better gun control, reduced greenhouse emissions or reform of immigration. Whatever one’s views on these issues, that they are increasingly settled outside Congress represents a troublesome notion.
What's more troublesome is that so many people seem unconcerned that the folks in Washington are able to get by with it. There's more at the link and I'd encourage you to read it all.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- Benster Calls Out Harbaugh Edition

So I've been thinking about it all day long and I've built up a full head of steam and HYYYYYYYPPPPPPPE!

So that's what was going on this afternoon. I had thought the sump pump had backed up.

Nice try, old dude. Almost funny. Really, fairly close to amusing. But not quite. Look, people don't come here for your lame attempts at humor, they come to see my brilliant observations.

Remind me -- what was your record last week?

That would be 0-4. But so what? I'm back and I'll demonstrate. Watch me work!

Complaining, as usual
San Francisco Kaepernicks (-4) vs. Hotlanta Dirty Birds. Okay, so Colin Kaepernick proved me wrong last week. He looked like a runaway dump truck going through the Packer defense. But now he's in Atlanta, where the results will not be as good. Why, you might ask? Well, let the Benster 'splain it to you. Atlanta this year has played the Panthers twice, the Seahawks and the Redskins. They have won 3 of those 4 games. All those teams had a running quarterback -- Scam Newton, Russell Wilson and RGIII. All of those gentlemen do the same things that young Kaepernick does, although with less tattoos. Unless you think that Atlanta has forgotten what they've learned from playing those guys, it stands to reason that they will have a good game plan for dealing with the magical, fabulous, unstoppable, Big XII throwback read-option play, which supposedly is absolutely unstoppable. Do you really believe that? No. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, the Falcons will send out Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez. All three are really big, really strong and matchup nightmares. The 49ers think they've earned a trip to New Orleans. The truth is, Colin Kaepernick will have less than 50 yards rushing and Frank Gore will have 25 yards rushing. And San Francisco will only gain 100 yards or so on the ground. In fact, they will only have 200 yards total for the game. The Atlanta Falcons will show the world that even though the read-option is a deadly killer if you're Dom Capers, the NFL is a passing league and the read-option will be a passing phase. Atlanta 35, Fire Jim Harbaugh 7.

Really? No, really? Hmmm. Benster assures me that he's made a completely serious pick. I'm beginning to wonder if he's getting freaked out about the ACT test or something. Let's just say that I disagree with his learned analysis. I think Atlanta, having had a week to prepare, will have a better plan for Kaepernick than Green Bay did. I'm sure that the experience that Benster ably documents will make a difference in defending Kaepernick. But I also think San Francisco is a better team overall. It's going to be close, because I think Atlanta matches up better with the 49ers than the Packers did, but I'm going to disagree. San Francisco 31, Atlanta 27.

Baltimore Ravens (+8) vs. New England Patriots. Okay, we've dispensed with one member of the Harbaugh family. What about John Harbaugh, the kinder, gentler Harbaugh who runs the Ravens? Well, let's go back to 2009. The Patriots were hosting the Ravens in the playoffs that year and most experts said that Patriots were going to win. Well, the Ravens won. Meanwhile, last year the Ravens also showed up in Foxborough and lost, even though they had the winning touchdown pass in the grasp of Lee Evans, who apparently forgot that Badgers need to make such catches. Anyway, the point is that the Ravens are a lot closer to the level of the Patriots than they get credit for. In fact, the Ravens are this year's team of destiny. And it would be interesting to see Ray Lewis play his final game in the stage in which he had his highest of highs, against the team that represents where he had the lowest of lows. Ravens 21, Patriots 17.

Okay, I get this pick. I can see it, because I'm not especially convinced that the Patriots are really that good. I see them as flawed. Joe Flacco showed me something last week, too -- winning in Denver was a pretty impressive thing, because I thought the Broncos were the best team in the AFC by a lot. Didn't turn out that way, though. Still, I'm going to go with the Patriots. But it's going to be close. New England 31, Baltimore 30.

Meanwhile, a word about Jim Harbaugh. The guy is an excellent coach, but man, he's irritating. The rah rah crap that he throws out there might work for a while, but it's going to get old in a hurry. The 49ers had better win it this year, because they made a huge mistake in benching Alex Smith. Kaepernick is a nice player who had a game for the ages last week, but as we all know, running quarterbacks don't last in this league. In fact, if you look at Kaepernick's style, he's a lot like Randall Cunningham, who had a few amazing years here and there but never got it done when it mattered. Just ask Vikings fans about that part. If the 49ers were smart, they'd play Alex Smith. Ben out!

Stan Musial, RIP

The Greatest Cardinal of the them all
A tremendous ballplayer and a better human being. RIP, Stan the Man.

Bierce and the Wisdom of G-Money


Hey, at least there's no halo -- that's something
Best summation comes from the Ambrose Bierce of Facebook, my pal Gary "G-Money" Miller:
He's the Second Coming and we've, like, totally got it coming.
No kidding. Or, as Bierce put it in the timeless The Devil's Dictionary:

Vote: the instrument and symbol of a freeman's power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country. 
And don't forget to pull my finger for content. Newsweek is depending on you.


I've done a little pruning of the sidebar, trying to add a few sites that I like and moving some sites that seem to have gone cold to the archival section, now known as "Moribund Burgermeisters." As always, if a site is on the sidebar it doesn't necessarily mean a full-throated endorsement from the entire Neighborhood staff, but it does mean that it's worth a look, at least in my view. Sometimes it's worth much, much more.

I'll probably make a few more tweaks to the site in the coming days. There might even be new content, too, assuming we can get past the imaginary girlfriends and cyclists on the juice. Benster and D picks will come today at some point as well, but word on the street is that the Benster is cultivating a new crop of HYYYPPPPE! or somesuch and you can't rush these things.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Daylight come and me wanna go home

Our friend First Ringer takes a shot at explaining the Manti Te'o story over at Shot in the Dark. And as usual he's spot-on about the larger meaning:
Sports ”journalism”, like most reporting, has little connection to facts and almost everything to do with emotionalism.  Actions don’t count – narrative does and the anger being expressed by reporters against Te’o today is less for his lies than for what they reveal about the motivations of journalists.  As one sportswriter remarked, even the man who beat Te’o for the Heisman, Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel, won in part on his ability to manipulate the media.  After all, there was no “Johnny Football”, as Manziel is known, on the Heisman ballot.
Or, to quote the increasingly prescient song "Crosseyed and Painless" by Talking Heads:

Facts are simple and facts are straight
Facts are lazy and facts are late
Facts all come with points of view
Facts don't do what I want them to
Facts just twist the truth around
Facts are living turned inside out
Facts are getting the best of them
Facts are nothing on the face of things
Facts don't stain the furniture
Facts go out and slam the door
Facts are written all over your face
Facts continue to change their shape

We like a good story, but most stories need a little embellishment. ESPN and the other nets are happy to build up a guy like Te'o, because narrative delivers eyeballs and truck ads. But we're not supposed to look behind the curtain.

And you know something is a big story if the Taiwanese animators are on it. So here you go:

Thursday, January 17, 2013

il miglior fabbro

As a public service, we link to this outstanding synopsis of President Obama's 23 Executive Orders issued yesterday. A little flavor:

7. Launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.
Do the same thing the NRA already does, only half as well at twice the cost.
8. Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission).
Do what Underwriters Laboratories already does, only half as well at twice the cost.
9. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.
Tell the Feds to do their jobs.
10. Release a DOJ report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and make it widely available to law enforcement.
Tell the DOJ to do its job.
11. Nominate an ATF director.
Tell myself to do my job.

Go read the rest. That's your job.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Photo Ops and the Real Gun Culture

I need a photo-opportunity
I want a shot at redemption

If you're the President of the United States, you can get a photo opportunity pretty much any time you want, and today he took one, posing for the trades with a backdrop of children and a laundry list of largely ineffectual executive orders. What he signed today really won't do anything to change the already slim likelihood that a child will get gunned down in a school. Here is the tableaux:

There were hints and allegations
Obama explained why he was taking action thus:
“If there’s even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if even one life we can save, we have an obligation to try it,” Obama said, speaking to an audience that included family members of the 20 first graders and six adults killed at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Well, one way we could cut down on school shootings would be to make everyone home school their kids. That would certainly do the trick, but somehow I don't see that in the offing. Mitch Berg has the full list of executive orders over at his place, should you care. The ones to watch concern the reporting of gun use under the guise of healthcare as part of the overall Obamacare scheme, with potential requirements that doctors ask patients about whether or not they use a gun. Since "none of your freakin' business" apparently won't be an acceptable answer, you'll have to let your conscience be your guide on how you respond.

As Orwell said:
We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.
So let's get to the obvious first.
  • It's possible that Barack Obama and his minions would like to grab the guns, but it's not going to happen. While no one knows the exact total, there are something north of 300 million guns currently in the United States. Even confiscating 10% of that total would be impossible.
  • While we are able to see the results of mass shootings almost in real time thanks to the 24/7/365 news cycle, the actual number of gun deaths is down, pretty significantly. In 1993, over 17,000 people were murdered with a gun as the weapon of choice. In 2011, the figure had dropped to 9,903.
  • If you're going to be a gun murder victim, chances are pretty good that the weapon that will do you in will not be an "assault rifle." It's far more likely that you'll meet your maker via a handgun or a sawed-off shotgun.
One of the things that's most maddening about the debate over guns is that it's so easy to resort to caricature. In the past month, I've probably heard two dozen references to "America's gun culture" or "America's culture of gun violence" or somesuch. And I've been able to rack up that total without ever watching Piers Morgan's show on CNN. So what is the gun culture. Does it look like this?

Don't want to end up in a cartoon graveyard

This, of course, is Elmer Fudd, the dim cartoon character nemesis of Bugs Bunny. Elmer is somewhat lovable but really isn't smart enough to have all that firepower. Of course, since he's a cartoon, it doesn't really matter very much whether he blows off the beak of Daffy Duck a half-dozen times over the course of a six-minute short.

Or, does it look like this?

This, of course, is the character Floyd R. Turbo, one of the recurring cast of characters that Johnny Carson invented during his 30-year run at the helm of the Tonight Show. Turbo's a combination of Elmer Fudd and Archie Bunker. He's not very bright, either, and he likes his guns, but he's also a bit of a bigot. Here's a sample quote from one of the bits:

"This station wants no draft. They want to deprive a boy of the Army. The Army is educational. The Army teaches you how to do dental work with the butt of a to tell what time it is by making a sundial out of a dead to make beer out of bird droppings and also how to make a rubber girl out of an inner tube...In conclusion, I say we should not end the draft. We should increase it. We have a moral obligation to give Bob Hope soldiers to entertain. Fellow Americans, it is an honor to be drafted and to serve your country. Thank you, bye-bye, and buy bonds."

Or, does it look like this?

The bogeyman in the 1980s
This is the wanted poster for Gordon Kahl, who led a group called the Posse Comitatus in the 1980s. They ended up getting into shootouts in North Dakota and Arkansas, where he finally met his maker in 1983. Kahl's movement had supporters in the town of Tigerton, Wisconsin, which was about 40 miles north of where I grew up, so they were much in the news during my youth. A more recent example was that of David Koresh, who was at the helm of the Branch Davidian sect, which met a fiery end in a battle with various federal gendarmes outside of Waco, Texas, in 1993, following a monthlong siege of their compound. Oddly enough, the children who lived there didn't get a photo opportunity with the President.

There are people that I know who are generally sensible on many topics, but feel that there's just a thin veneer that separates most gun owners from becoming like Gordon Kahl or David Koresh. You cannot convince them otherwise. And that's a problem, because most people I know who would be part of the "gun culture" aren't like that at all. When I think of someone who was integral to the "gun culture" here in the Twin Cities, this is the image that comes to mind:

A serious man, much missed
This is Joel Rosenberg, who unfortunately left this world in 2011. Joel was an accomplished science fiction writer and thinker. He was also one of the best gun safety instructors around. If you want to know who actually wrote the book concerning gun safety and 2nd Amendment rights in Minnesota, Joel was the guy. I got to know Joel a little bit, mostly from visiting with him at blogging events. He was a great guy and while he knew all about guns, there was never a scintilla of threat about him. Many of my friends in the blogging community were his students and I had often contemplated taking his course one day.

What Joel knew and taught was this -- while having a gun is an absolute right under the 2nd Amendment, actually using a gun was about the most serious thing a person could do. A lot of people who took Joel's course might have initially thought it would be about marksmanship and/or choosing the right weapon. That really wasn't what the course was about, though. It was about making sure that people understood the stakes involved in using a gun and the implications of what will likely happen to you if you pull the trigger and the bullet you fire strikes another human being. Much of the course content concerned understanding the law, but the overarching theme was about something much more than that.

When I think of gun culture, I think of Joel Rosenberg. If we could get more people to understand that Joel and the others who carry on his work and legacy are serious people, it might make a difference.

Hawaiian Punch

So it appears that the oft-reported human interest story concerning the tragic death of the girlfriend of Manti Te'o, Notre Dame's highly decorated linebacker, was an elaborate hoax.

Perhaps this is news, or maybe it's just a tradition among Hawaiian dudes.

For now, this

We'll get back to the specifics of President Obama's exercise in kabuki later, perhaps this evening, but for now I'm going to quote Brian, who makes a salient point over at his place (and you should read the rest):
If we're serious about reducing total homicides via reducing the number and/or types of weapons in general circulation, it makes a great deal more sense to go after handguns. Given the number of people that own handguns in this country, that is naturally a much more difficult proposition.
Of course, we're not particularly serious about it.

Needs to be said

Bo Ryan is a hell of a coach. I thought the Badgers were in trouble, but winning at Indiana, especially this season, is pretty impressive. The Badgers have beaten Indiana 11 consecutive times. There were entire decades that went by when the Badgers couldn't beat Indiana, especially when Bob Knight was around.

Just a reminder

They might leave office for a time, but they never really go away:
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has appointed Kate Knuth to a two-year term as a citizen member of the state’s Environmental Quality Board, effective Jan. 14.
You might remember Knuth, who until recently was a state representative known mostly for (a) wearing orange and (b) jetting off to climate conferences in Copenhagen and such. So what is Citizen Knuth gonna do?

The EQB is composed of the governor’s office, the heads of nine state agencies, and five citizen members. It develops plans and policies and reviews projects that have potential for impacting the quality of Minnesota’s environment.
In other words, busybodies with state funding.
"I’m excited to serve the people of Minnesota in a new way on the Environmental Quality Board, Knuth said. "Minnesota is home to engaged citizens, amazing natural resources and diverse economic opportunities. It’s an honor to have the opportunity to continue working for these important interests in Minnesota state government."

Amazing! Engaged! Diverse! All that and more, no doubt. So what is Knuth's day job?
Knuth, director of the Boreas Leadership Program at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and a graduate student in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, brings a wealth of experience in environmental protection, state government and leadership to the position. She recently completed three terms of service in the Minnesota House of Representatives, where she worked on numerous environment, energy and commerce issues. In her work at the Institute on the Environment, she creates opportunities for University students to develop leadership skills to take on environmental challenges.
You might also remember recent articles about administrative bloat at the University of Minnesota and thought, gosh, what do they spend all this money on? Well, there's your answer.

Keep your powder dry

Word is that President Obama is going to start a gun control offensive today. I'm going to see what he says before I say anything further about his agenda.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

In our village

I woke up this morning with the lyrics to a song running through my head.  We heard the song last night at our school district's West Side Choir Concert.  The 7th and 8th grade choirs from the two middle schools located on the west side of the school district performed as well as the concert choir from the high school that is located on the west side of the school district.

Before the concert started, Mr. D. and I talked about this week's events.  We were at the choir concert because Fearless Maria volunteered to play percussion for one of the songs.  Tonight, Benster is going to help out a Cub Scout pack with their Pinewood Derby.

Mr. D. and I enjoyed hearing all of the choirs.  Even though Benster and Fearless Maria were not singing, we do know quite of few of the kids in the various choirs because some of them have been involved with the Girl Scout troop that I lead.  Many of the kids attend or attended the middle school where I volunteer.  Some of the kids have been in the religious education classes that Mr. D. taught.  Some of the kids have been on sports teams that Mr. D. coached.

The concert ended with all of the choirs singing one song together.

It takes a whole village to raise our children
It takes a whole village to raise one child
We all, everyone, must share the burden
We all, everyone, must share the joy

 It's a responsibility we take seriously in this neighborhood.

Mali Coddle

Something to watch:
More than 400 French troops have been deployed to [Mali] in the all-out effort to win back the territory from the well-armed rebels, who seized control of an area larger than France nine months ago. What began as a French offensive has now grown to include seven other countries, including logistical support from the U.S. and Europe. The United States is providing communications and transport help, while Britain is sending C17 aircrafts to help Mali's allies transport troops to the frontlines.
We may or may not be getting out of Afghanistan, but there's always trouble.


Today is Fearless Maria's birthday. I wrote the following five years ago:

The first call came at 3:00 in the morning. My wife, already in the hospital on bed rest, was on the line. I was home with my son. She told me that I should be ready; the doctors were trying to slow things down, but it was possible that the baby was coming.

The next call came at 3:30. This time it was a nurse; she told me that I should get over to the hospital, because the baby was coming. I called my mother-in-law and told her to come over to watch my son. I got in the shower and started thinking about how my life was about to change.

About 4, my mother-in-law arrived. I was already dressed and we barely spoke as I headed for my car. It was snowing moderately - all told about 3 inches would fall that morning - as I slowly made my way down 694 to St. John's Hospital. I strolled in about 4:20, told the lady at the desk that my wife was in labor, and I headed for her room. It was strangely quiet. I walked right past the bassinet, not even realizing that my second child had already arrived. The doctor was cleaning up and my wife was lying in her bed, tired but happy. "It's Maria," she said. "She's right behind you - you walked right past her."

Then I looked and realized that indeed, there was a baby in the bassinet. My daughter had arrived at 3:50 in the morning. I missed the moment, but immediately went over to see her. A nurse had her bundled and told me that I could pick her up and hold her. I did.

For the next hour and a half, I held my daughter and tried to imagine what she would turn out to be. I talked to her and told her many things - how much I loved her, how happy we were, what a nice brother she had. I told her many things that morning. But mostly I wondered; who was this little girl?

Today Maria is 13 years old. I know many more things about Maria than I did that day, and she knows many more things about her father. When I wrote my essay initially, on the occasion of Maria's 8th birthday, I described her as follows:

Maria is sweet, silly, funny and amazingly smart. She has moments of amazing insight and some days she has a tongue like a lash. She's a good portion of the way through her childhood already. It goes by fast. She will change and grow in countless ways in the next 8 years, in ways I can hardly imagine. The one thing I know most of all; I am fortunate to be her father.

Five years on, much of that is still true. Some things have changed -- with increased maturity, she's less likely to let fly with a cutting remark than she was then. She's tried her hand at being a musician and a writer and has demonstrated significant talent in both. She's become an outstanding student. And her work ethic is top-notch, far better than mine.

You only get one shot at a childhood and Maria is making the most of hers. Things get more complicated as the years go on, but I'm confident she'll navigate it well. There's a song in The Sound of Music called "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria." While Maria is decidedly not a problem, at one point the following musical question is posed:

Many a thing you know you'd like to tell her
Many a thing she ought to understand
But how do you make her stay
And listen to all you say
How do you keep a wave upon the sand

As far as I can tell, you can't keep a wave upon the sand. But you can appreciate the majesty of it and the power it possesses. We can be borne back ceaselessly into the past, as Fitzgerald suggests at the end of The Great Gatsby, or we can be the wave. I suspect Maria will know which is the better course.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

San Francisco 45, Green Bay 31

Not much to say about the game, really. The 49ers were the better team last night. If the Packers want to win the Super Bowl next year, they need to get better. All you can do is tip your cap to the 49ers this time.

I will say this about the read-option, which quarterback Colin Kaepernick ran to perfection last night. NFL defensive coordinators will have an offseason to figure out the best way to handle it. Defensive coordinators figured out how to deal with the Wildcat and they will adjust. And the experience of Robert Griffin III will give teams pause as well. The Packers never really laid a glove on Kaepernick last night, but some other team will. And if Kaepernick is going to have a long career in the league, he'll need to avoid getting hit.

Before I Forget

Can we all agree that Michael Bloomberg is one of the most odious people in public life? His latest pronouncement might be his worst yet:
“The city hospitals we control, so … we’re going to do it and we’re urging all of the other hospitals to do it, voluntary guidelines. Somebody said, oh, somebody wrote, ‘Oh then maybe there won’t be enough painkillers for the poor who use the emergency rooms as their primary care doctor,’” the mayor said on his weekly radio show with John Gambling. “Number one, there’s no evidence of that. Number two, supposing it is really true, so you didn’t get enough painkillers and you did have to suffer a little bit. The other side of the coin is people are dying and there’s nothing perfect … There’s nothing that you can possibly do where somebody isn’t going to suffer, and it’s always the same group [claiming], ‘Everybody is heartless.’ Come on, this is a very big problem.”
Bloomberg is talking about his dictate concerning limiting the use of painkillers in the emergency rooms of hospitals in New York City. As a rule, I don't wish ill on anyone, but it would be interesting to see how Bloomberg would react if he were on the business end of this particular dictate.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

This morning's Drudgeposition and related news

Less Godwin than earlier in the week, but on point (h/t Professor Reynolds):

Me, not thee

Meanwhile, we learn this morning that the law is open to interpretation if you have enough juice:

NBC’s David Gregory is off the hook for showing a high-capacity gun magazine on “Meet the Press” and will not be prosecuted, D.C.’s attorney general announced on Friday.

D.C. attorney general Irvin Nathan on Friday said he would decline to prosecute in the case involving the Sunday show host and any NBC staffers. In a letter to NBC’s attorney Lee Levine, Nathan wrote that after reviewing the matter, his office “has determined to exercise its prosecutorial discretion to decline to bring criminal charges against Mr. Gregory, who has no criminal record, or any other NBC employee based on the events associated” with the broadcast.

This development got Ann Althouse's attention:
Why is the law important? If Gregory clearly violated the law, but there is no interest to be served in prosecuting him, doesn't that prove that the law is not important? If the precise thing that he did — which is clearly what is defined as a crime — raises no interest in prosecution, how can we be satisfied by letting this one nice famous man go? Rewrite the law so that it only covers the activity that the government believes deserves prosecution, so there is equal justice under the law.
Emphasis in original. I don't have a problem with prosecutorial discretion per se, but there's a pattern here and it's unsavory. And Althouse's question is the right one -- for laws to have respect, they need have a rational basis and ought to have universal application. That's clearly not the case in Washington, D.C.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- Divisional Round, Baby!

Okay, now that we have the college football out of the way, it's NFL all the way, baby! And that means it's time for me to unleash the HYYYYYYYPPPPPPPE!

You unleash the HYYYYYYPPPPPE! at the drop of a hat, of course.

That's part of my charm, Geritol Fan!

Oh, so that's what they're calling it these days. Good to know!

Look, I've had quite enough of your elderly snarkiness. Watch me work!

Baltimore Ravens (+9.5) vs. Denver Broncos. Well, a lot of people think that Denver's going to win. It's not surprising that they feel this way, since the Broncos haven't lost since October, or something like that. I think the last time the Broncos were losing, we even were paying attention to Mitt Romney. Does anybody remember Mitt Romney? I remember Mitt Romney! But if you want to know about politics, check with Captain Ed or Brad. Or maybe even the old dude once in a while. The Broncos have just too good of a passing game -- in fact, Peyton Manning and Eric Decker led my fantasy team to many, many victories. Broncos 38, Ravens 17.

Wow, 38 points? In what could be the last game for Ray Lewis? Hmmm. I think Denver's gonna win, too, but they won't get 38 points. As for Ray Lewis -- nice career. Stay away from the knife fights, okay? Denver 31, Baltimore 20.

Glorious Green Bay Packers (+3) vs. San Francisco 49ers. Well, we get a rematch with our old friend Jim Harbaugh, who won't get the benefit of the replacement refs this time. No, I'm not talking about anything involving Golden Taint -- that's a different matter. I'm sure that the Vikings fans who regularly read this feature remember that the replacement refs gave Harbaugh about 34 challenges and 192 timeouts when they came to the Metrodome. And the 49ers still couldn't beat the Vikings! One thing I've noticed is that teams are struggling to counter DuJuan Harris, the pint-sized Packer running back sensation who they pulled off a car lot. He gets better mileage than anything he was attempting to sell. One good thing that is going the Packers' way is that stopping Joe Webb was good practice for dealing with Colin Kaepernick, the 49er quarterback with the Bible verses tattooed all over his arms. This guy can really run and has a decent arm, but teams have now had a chance to study his tricks and it seems like he's been getting less and less out of his runs in recent games. The Seahawks stopped him completely, and even the woeful Arizona Cardinals did fairly well against him. Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers returns to his home state and his healthy grudge against the 49ers, who blew him off in the draft back in 2005. Here's a tip, guys -- don't make Aaron Rodgers want to beat you. Also, Jerry Rice still fumbled the football. Packers 28, 49ers 26.

First, let's remind everyone what the Benster is talking about:

This was the 1998 playoffs and there's no question that Jerry Rice fumbled that day. No replay in those days, though, so the Packers ended up losing the game, which ended the Mike Holmgren era. We're now a long ways away from those days, but back in San Francisco. These teams have played a lot over the years and the games have generally been very good. This one will be, too. I think Aaron Rodgers is going to be very good tomorrow. But I'm afraid that the 49ers are a bad matchup, given their physicality. I hope I'm wrong, but: 49ers 28, Packers 26.

Old dude, hang your head in shame! Meanwhile, back to work.

Seattle Seabags (+2.5) vs. Hotlanta Dirty Birds. Well, this one is interesting. The Falcons are again the #1 seed and again, they get less respect than this guy:

No, that's not actually Falcons coach Mike Smith, although it's possible to be confused by it. Look, the Falcons have a good team but the problem they have is that they are not a good playoff team. They were the #1 seed two years ago and my Packers went into the Georgia Dome and hung 48 points on them. The Seahawks are not intimidated. That's a scary thing. Seahawks 48, Falcons 21.

You're not gonna get a lot of love in the Buckhead with that pick, Grasshopper. I dunno -- the Falcons played very well at times this year, but they were kinda iffy down the stretch. The Seahawks are on a mission and that's a problem for Atlanta. Defense is the key and the Seahawks are better at it. Seattle 24, Atlanta 17.

Houston Texans (+9.5) vs. New England Belichicks. Houston, we have a problem. You were just up in New England a few weeks ago and you got crushed. Destroyed. Annihilated. Dominated. You know what -- it doesn't matter! The Patriots have not played for a week. And Houston played well last week in dispatching the Bengals. Now the Patriots in recent years have struggled to win playoff games at home, which is a bit odd, but there's a history and they have to be aware of it. Houston is also a dangerous team and they won't be happy about what happened to them last time. Houston 42, New England 17.

Didn't see that one coming. And you know what? I still don't see it. New England 34, Houston 24.

I'd like to give a shout-out to Fearless Maria -- her birthday is coming up on Tuesday and as annoying little sisters go, she's all right. Ben out!

Back to the Hall -- the steroid thang

As he usually does, Gino gets to the nub of the matter:
I'm just going to go on record that I find it a hypocrisy that sports writers who spent years reporting and cheering for the Home Runs and expanded stats of The Roid Era (even when it was not-too-unclear that there was some steroid abuse or something... going on) and now it appears they can't seem to find anybody worthy from The Roid Era for the Hall Of Fame.
The key word in that paragraph? Cheering. And that's what I think we need to remember. Here's a little taste of the conventional wisdom of 1998:
McGwire and Sosa gave America a summer that won't be forgotten: a summer of stroke and counterstroke, of packed houses and curtain calls, of rivals embracing and gloves in the bleachers and adults turned into kids -- the Summer of Long Balls and Love. It wasn't just the lengths they went to with bats in their hands. It was also that they went to such lengths to conduct the great home run race with dignity and sportsmanship, with a sense of joy and openness. Never have two men chased legends and each other that hard and that long or invited so much of America onto their backs for the ride.
That's Gary Smith of Sports Illustrated, explaining why Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were both named Sportsman of the Year for 1998. The cover is a riot, too:

Can't even see the back acne
I don't mean to pick on Smith -- there was a lot of this sort of purple prose back then. And when it all turned out to be a facade, that really angered a lot of people. There's a tendency in sports writing, and sports writers, to either hype or deflate. It's baked in, going all the way back to Grantland Rice:
"Outlined against a blue, gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again.

"In dramatic lore they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction and death. These are only aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below." 
In other words, we've been dealing with fanboys since at least 1922. And when you let fanboys run your club, emotions can rule the day.

We're not close to sussing out the real meaning of the Steroid Era yet, because we are still way too close to it. It's going to take another 10-20 years before we have sufficient perspective. I would guess that, at some point, we'll have to take what happened in the 1990s and early 2000s and assign it a context of strangeness, just as baseball historians have come to understand that baseball in the 1920s was a significantly different game than it was in the 1960s.

Home Truth

Mitch Berg, discussing some of the (ahem) machinations within the Minnesota GOP in the past year or so, says what needs to be said:

And in the GOP right now there are a slew of factions:  the Ronulans, the Tea Partiers, Fiscalcons, Socialcons, “Moderates”, pragmatists, Security Republicans and a few others.  And none of them – not even the Ron Paul faction – are strong enough to both change the party and win elections.  None.

One way or another, this party is going to be run – and this state is going to be saved – by a coalition of people from any and all of those factions who are focused on getting stuff done.

Or, y’know, not; it’s entirely possible the GOP will be taken over by people who argue to the death over the inconsequential as the state follows Greece and Portugal and California straight to hell.

Emphasis in original, both in typeface and insight.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Did You Want a Better Minnesota?

Whether you wanted a "Better Minnesota" or not, you're gonna get one. And it's gonna cost you:
While Smith didn't offer specifics, Dayton has said he will propose an income tax increase on the top 2 percent of earners. She noted that the highest earners pay about 9.7 percent of their incomes to state and local taxes, while middle-class earners pay about 12.3 percent.
The Smith in question is Tina Smith, Gov. Dayton's chief of staff. And she's got the usual false narrative set up as well:
"And to those who think cuts are the only answer, we challenge you -- with sincerity -- to tell us what exactly you believe government can stop doing."
It's not beyond the pale to ask if government can do things more efficiently, of course, but this is a version of the old "fire the firemen" routine you always get from folks like Smith. It's designed to cut off debate and there's no "sincerity" involved whatsoever.

Watch your wallets, folks.


Allahpundit has it right, I think:
 I do think Weigel’s right that people are overreacting to the prospect of The One issuing some sort of executive order on guns. For one thing, it’d be uncharacteristic of him to risk his own political capital by acting unilaterally on something as controversial as that. He wants Congress to take the lead on this (as usual) so that he bears as little responsibility as possible if it fails or even if it succeeds and there’s a major backlash. He may issue an order but it’ll deal with marginal stuff. If he did issue one that was more ambitious, there’d be so much outcry and so many lawsuits that his second term would be tangled up in this for months or years. And he doesn’t want that. When push comes to shove, I don’t think he cares much about guns. He’d be happy to ban them, I’m sure, but my sense is that it’s not the sort of thing that drives him. What drives him is the “fairness” that comes with raising taxes by four or five percent on rich people and then doing jack about entitlements while the treasury slowly melts down from unfunded obligations. That’s the sort of thing of which great presidential legacies are made.
More at the link.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Hall is Closed This Year

No one outside of really old dead guys gets in the HOF this year:

On Wednesday, the BBWAA announced its 2013 results live on MLB Network, and not one of the 37 candidates eligible for election was named to the necessary 75% of ballots. First-time candidate Craig Biggio came closest, as he was named on 68.2% of ballots (39 votes short of election). In his 14th and penultimate year on the ballot, Jack Morris checked in at 67.7% (up just 1.0% from last year).

As for the elephants in the room, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, in their first appearances on the BBWAA ballot, notched, respectively, 37.6% and 36.2%.

As a consequence, no living inductee will be present at the ceremonies in Cooperstown for the first time since 1960. The Veterans' Committee previously voted in 19th-century star Deacon White, former Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert and umpire Hank O'Day, all deceased.
Hey, don't knock that Jacob Ruppert. He was a beermakin' son of a gun.

I'm torn about this result. If I'd had a ballot, I'd have voted for Biggio, Morris, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell and Dale Murphy. I think the two players most wronged by this result are Morris and Murphy, who are coming to the end of their eligibility period. Morris remains a controversial pick, because the stat heads have largely deemed him unworthy because of his somewhat unsightly 3.90 career ERA. My view has always been that you have to look at more than the stats and what I remember about Morris is that he was probably the best starting pitcher in the American League for most of the 1980s. He won a lot of games for the Detroit Tigers in that era. The stat heads argue that guys like Dave Stieb were better, but I don't think so.

Maybe next year, dude
As for Biggio, he's almost a certain Hall of Famer eventually. It would have been nice to have him make it on the first ballot, but since contemporaries Roberto Alomar and Barry Larkin both had to wait a while, I don't feel horrible for Biggio. I think Biggio, Alomar and Larkin were comparable players.

Raines and Trammell both deserve to be in the Hall. I think Raines will make it, since he got 52% of the vote this time and his percentage has been climbing every year. Trammell's candidacy is in trouble, because he's sitting at 36% and he only has 3 years of eligibility left. I suspect the Veteran's Committee will rectify the error, but their ministrations didn't do much for Ron Santo. If you were watching baseball in the 1980s, you know that Trammell was a tremendous player -- smart, excellent fielder and a very, very good hitter. His problem is that he was a contemporary of Robin Yount and Cal Ripken, who were better. But that doesn't mean Trammell isn't HOF worthy, in my view.

We'll get back to this topic again in the coming days, I think, since there are a lot of other stories involved in today's vote.

The value of subtlety

Matt Drudge's website, at about 12:30 p.m. CST today:

Wouldn't you like to be a Godwin, too?
I guess the stock photos of Pol Pot are harder to find.

Open thread

I overslept this morning and so I don't have time to post anything. Open thread time!

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Lightning Round - 010813

Go fast or go home.

  • It's easy to be tired of the SEC and their imperious brand of football, but unless and until someone else beats their teams, and Alabama in particular, they will continue to hold hegemony in the sport. Notre Dame had a nice season but they weren't even close to the second-best team in the country. And while I posted the Monty Python video last night in jest, it was actually a pretty apt summation of what happened in Florida yesterday. Notre Dame isn't ready for prime time yet.
  • President Obama nominated Chuck Hagel and John Brennan for key spots in his administration yesterday -- Hagel to run Defense and Brennan to run the CIA. There are a lot of people squawking that the two gentlemen in question tend to be, at best, skeptical about Israel. In the case of Hagel, there's a record of open hostility. For what it's worth, it might be better for Israel to know that the current U.S. administration is actively hostile to its government. If you know something up front, you can chart your course accordingly. And whatever you think of Hagel and Brennan, the president should get a certain amount of deference in choosing his team. Not that such deference happens very often.
  • The new DFL lege arrives today. The DFL has been waiting for this moment for 20 years -- total control of state government. It may not go well, though, since all the goodies they'd like to disburse will require raising taxes and the feds got there first. As I've mentioned before, we're going to see a very interesting study in contrasts on either side of the St. Croix this year, with Wisconsin now being in Republican hands. Let's see which state does better in the next two years.

Monday, January 07, 2013

In case you missed it

As a public service, allow me to present the highlights of the BCS National Championship Game between Alabama (in the reddish uniforms) and Notre Dame (resplendent, as always, in their traditional Blue and Gold):

Rule of thumb

I wrote briefly last week about a somewhat intemperate screed by one Donald Kaul, an apparently dyspeptic Iowan who offered this charming suggestion for resolving the gun control debate in a way that might be somewhat persuasive:
I would tie Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, our esteemed Republican leaders, to the back of a Chevy pickup truck and drag them around a parking lot until they saw the light on gun control.
Not surprisingly, that approach didn't go over so well with the readership at the Des Moines Register, so this week Kaul is back to patiently explain how he was just kidding:

Gun owners seemed particularly upset at the suggestion that Boehner and McConnell be dragged. The tactic, which dates back to the days of lynch mobs, became a more modern nightmare in the wake of the 1998 dragging murder of James Byrd by white supremacists in Texas. Many of the people I heard from said I should be arrested for threatening federal officials, and one said he had personally reported me to the FBI.

Let me say this about that: That wasn’t a suggestion to be taken literally. I don’t believe Boehner and McConnell should be dragged. I was using it as a metaphor for making politicians pay a price for their inability to confront the gun lobby. It’s a literary device.

Think of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” written 200 years ago, in which he suggested that the Irish famine could be relieved if babies of poor families were confiscated at 12 months and sold to rich people, who could eat them.

Swift, an Irishman, didn’t mean that literally. It was a satiric device to underline the misery that had been visited on the Irish by their English landlords.

So too with my dragging of the Republican leaders.
I think there's a rule of thumb here -- able satirists have other people who compare their work to Swift. Crappy satirists compare their own work to Swift.

I've often suggested in this space that particularly excitable people ought to try the decaf. Perhaps Mr. Kaul might want to consider trying the Kaopectate.

Drive my car

The Christian Science Monitor tells us something we all knew:
It was always a big question whether Americans would buy very, very small cars.

When the Smart ForTwo launched in 2008, right into the teeth of gas prices that soared to $4 a gallon, it looked as if the answer might be yes.

But now it seems the longer-term answer is, "No, not really."

Sales of the Smart ForTwo minicar have remained at low levels--10,009 in 2012, after totals of 5,348 in 2011, 5,927 in 2010, and 14,600 in 2009.

In fact, they never again reached the lofty heights of 2008, the ForTwo's first year on sale, when it sold 24,622 units--far higher than the annual goal of 16,000.

By comparison, the sales figures of Chevy Suburban and GMC Yukon XL (essentially the same vehicle) have never been less than 57,000/year in the same period. None of which should be surprising.

Driving a small car is fine if you like small cars, but most people, if given a preference, won't buy a tiny car like a Smart car, because, well, buying one isn't very smart. You can do a lot of things in a Toyota Corolla that you can't do with a Smart car -- carry more than one passenger, carry gear, etc. You can do even more of the same with a larger vehicle.

I suspect the Smart car would be a useful conveyance in a place like Wrigleyville in Chicago, where parking is at a premium. But out in suburbia, it doesn't make a lot of sense. And while we are always treated to disquisitions about how urban living is making a comeback, there are still a lot more suburbanites and small-town folks who need to haul stuff out in the marketplace.