Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Lightning Round -- 123113

It's almost over, this 2013. Good riddance.

  • As expected, the Vikings ash-canned Leslie Frazier yesterday. There really wasn't any chance he would survive this season, but I remain convinced that the real culprit is GM Rick Spielman, who assembled the clown car of quarterbacks that ran the Vikings offense this year. Under the proper circumstances, the job in Minnesota could be an attractive one, but there's much work to be done on the defense, especially if Jared Allen decamps for a new location. As for Frazier, the consensus around town seems to be that while he is a quality human being, he's not much of a head coach. That seems right. I liked Frazier a lot, but that might be for the same reason that Big Ten basketball fans from other schools used to heap praise on Steve Yoder, the thoroughly decent guy who ran the Wisconsin Badger basketball program through a decade of second division finishes back in the 80s.
  • Walter Russell Mead is continuing to keep his eye on the public pension crisis and has another good dispatch on events in Chicago. As Mead notes, Chicagoans are looking at a tough choice -- cut the pensions that were promised to policemen and teachers, or raise property taxes up to 150%. This won't end well.
  • Meanwhile, Obamacare's Minnesota division continues to have troubles. KARE 11 television reports that less than 20,000 people have actually been able to get insurance through the MNsure exchange, although they've managed to steer about 35,000 people into other gubmint programs. Those numbers might sound substantial, but remember that over 5,000,000 people live in Minnesota. This story isn't going away in 2014.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Packers 33, Bears 28

Football remains more interesting than politics. Especially yesterday. A few thoughts on an unlikely result at Soldier Field:

  • For all of Aaron Rodgers's outstanding qualities, he's not been a guy who has lead his team to a lot of comeback victories. In fact, it usually hasn't happened, although in past years it hasn't mattered since the Packers have usually been playing with the lead in most of their games. This time he got it done, but you'd still strongly prefer that the Packers get the lead early and then hold serve, which is the only formula that might give them a chance in the tournament.
  • Benster and I have given Jay Cutler a lot of grief in this feature, but the Bears quarterback was perfectly fine yesterday, throwing only one pick at the end on a desperation heave. He threw some nice deep balls and made no glaring mistakes that I could see. The Bears have a decision to make concerning Cutler's future, but I don't see how they can do anything other than give Cutler a new contract. Josh McCown did a nice job as a backup for the Bears this year, but he's not a long-term solution and if the Bears blow things up and start over, they'll be in the wilderness for a while.
  • Matt Forte is a stud. He is rising quickly on my list of most-admired Packer opponents, all-time division. 
  • As much as the Packers missed Rodgers for most of the season, yesterday also provided a reminder of how valuable Randall Cobb is to the team. Teams can cover Jordy Nelson and James Jones, but they can't cover Jones, Nelson and Cobb when they're all on the field. I suspect that if Cobb had been available all season, Matt Flynn's job would have been significantly easier.
  • On paper, it's difficult to see how the Packers will beat the 49ers next week. The early weather forecast for Green Bay suggests a typical early January day, with a high of about 18 or so. That's cold, but it shouldn't affect either team that much. Colin Kaepernick seems to have regressed this season, but I'm not sure the Packers have enough bullets on defense to handle him. Still, once you're in the tournament, you have a chance.
  • One last thought on the Bears: if they decide to ash can defensive coordinator Mel Tucker as a scapegoat, they might want to call Leslie Frazier, who likely will be looking for work later today. That's a topic that deserves further discussion, but it's another post.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

A New York Headline

Drudge has the headline up on at his place:

Meet the new boss
And it seems to bother Ann Althouse greatly:
The linked article, in the Wall Street Journal, makes no mention of the Clinton impeachment and gives us no reason to associate deBlasio with any of Clinton's misdeeds and lies. Clinton is a former President, and it's a decent honor for deBlasio to have him do the swearing in.

Drudge's highlighting of the impeachment is gratuitous and stupid, and that headline has been at the top of the page since yesterday, so there's been plenty of time for Drudge to realize it's not up to his usual standards (which include lots of room for ridicule and cheap shots).
I'll admit, it's not as good a headline as the all-time classic:

The eternal classic

It's accurate, though. Bill Clinton was impeached and later lost his law license because of his behavior in the Paula Jones case. He's been out of the office for a long time now, but he'll always be a scoundrel. And even Althouse acknowledges this, grudgingly:
Now, if Drudge had phrased the headline to refer to oaths — Clinton lied under oath and now he's administering an oath — I would have approved. Since Clinton was impeached for lying under oath, the appropriate connection was within reach, but Drudge didn't quite get there and ends up looking mean-spirited and flailing.
Mean-spirited and flailing -- always a growth industry. Meanwhile, one of Althouse's commenters asks an excellent question:
Will the former Commander-in-Heat use a bible or a cigar box for the oath?
The French Revolution had its Thermidor. We might as well have a humidor.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- Showdown Edition

Yes indeed, the Packers and da Bearz are going to play one game for all the marbles, the whole enchilada, the entire bowl of Tostitos. Yes, and the Packers have Aaron Rodgers back. And maybe some more help, too.

Is Don Majkowski coming?

Only if he has a ticket for the game, old dude. Did someone spike your Geritol again?

I don't think so.

Maybe they should. It might help you. Anyway, back to the point I was trying to make before Decrepit interrupted me. Da Bearz should be kicking themselves for playing like a bunch of imposters in Philadelphia last week. They had a chance, their best chance, to win the division outright and get a week to rest. Now, not so much. But before we get to that, we have some other business to attend to. Watch me work!

Detroit Motor City Kitties (+3) vs. Minnesota Vikings, at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. Mall of America Field my butt! It will always be the Dome to me and everyone else who had a chance to visit the amazing inflatable stadium and get pushed out the door with 2000 PSI air pressure. The world's largest moonwalk finally comes to an end on Sunday, and while some locals are excited about the new stadium, I'll kinda miss the Dome. Who could forget all its luxuries, like the roof with the inadvertent reminder of something people would rather not notice:

That's unfortunate
It does go a long way towards explaining why Jerry Burns wanted to invade Poland. Actually, that's not true, and Burnsie would like to set the record straight (by the way, this is exceedingly NSFW):

Bob Schnelker really appreciated Burnsie's #@!% support, I might add. So when you think about it, the Dome has been a lot of #@!% fun over the years. And now they finish it up against the Lions, who are #@!% punks. Vikings 27, Lions 20.

This might be the first time you've ever worked blue. 

Well, I'm 18 now. I can work blue if I want to.

That's appropriate, given how much blue there is in the Metrodome. Actually, the people who were most known for working blue in the Metrodome were drunken Iowa fans, but I'll leave that aside. As for the game, I think it would be only appropriate that the big blue balloon finishes up with the career demise of blowhard Lions coach Jim Schwartz. Bye, Dome! Vikings 34, Lions 31.

Philadelphia Iggles (-6.5) vs. Dallas How 'Bout Them Cowboahs. This is the game that got flexed into the Sunday Night slot and I'll bet NBC isn't happy about what has transpired in the last few days. Tony Romo, noted daredevil and new poster boy for first aid classes about choking, will not have the opportunity to play because he had back surgery today. That means the Cowboahs now turn to Kyle Orton, who was last seen sitting on the bench because he'd been beaten out by Tim Tebow. Yes, Tim Tebow. Any comments, Skip?

But we won't be seeing Tim Tebow because, instead, the Cowboahs picked up the guy who is the dictionary definition of journeyman. Kyle Orton is probably most well-known for his stint in Chicago, where he was Rex Grossman without the pained facial expressions. Actually, Orton's facial expressions were worse:

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with me?
Unfortunately, Kyle Orton has no chance to beat the Eagles and to save his coach's job. Eagles 38, Cowboahs 35.

Yeah, I think the Eagles are probably going to be okay this week. Eagles 54, Cowboys 11.

Glorious Green Bay Packers (-3) vs. Bear Down Chicago da Bearz. How much is Aaron Rodgers worth to Vegas? Consider this -- before the announcement that he would play on Sunday, da Bearz were a 3-4 point favorite. Now, they are home dogs. If you look at the whole stretch for the Packers since they lost to da Bearz in November, the Packers have hung on and actually improved in some areas. You might have noticed this guy:

There is your dagger!
This Packer team mirrors the 2010 squad in some ways, but in my eyes the better comparison is the 2004 Boston Red Sox. In the book "Faithful," the authors document every single day of that season and the most interesting quote comes from Stephen King, just after Game 3 of the ALCS against the hated Yankees.
No baseball team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a postseason series. But a couple of hockey teams have done it, and we tell ourselves it has to happen sooner or later for a baseball team. It just has to.

We tell ourselves that Derek Lowe has one more chance to turn 2004 from tragickal to magickal.

We tell ourselves it's just one game at a time.

We tell ourselves the impossible can start tonight.
The point I'm making is this: everyone gave up on the Packers after Thanksgiving. You should have heard the old dude moaning about how bad they were. He remembers 1975, and 1977, and all the bad years. However, it's not 1975, or 1977; it's 2013. And the impossible can start at Soldier Field on Sunday afternoon. And da Bearz can be like the 2004 Yankees. Packers 35, da Bearz 31.

Okay, I'll admit I didn't see this coming. The Packers have looked awful at times since Rodgers was slammed to the Lambeau Field turf all those weeks ago. And the young fella is right -- I do remember the bad old days. I remember them well. This team has a chance to win on Sunday; this is not the 1975 Packers coming into Metropolitan Stadium to get their butts handed to them. Rodgers is the best quarterback in football and he should show up well. Still, the Bears are dangerous. The Packers don't have anyone who can match up well with both Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey. This is a big problem. Can the Packers prevail? I sure hope so. Packers 31, Bears 24.

Old dude, it's not 1975. There's no sign of an aging John Hadl around here. And remember this -- da Bearz lost the last game of the season in 2010, when they had a chance to knock the Packers out. They had another chance in the NFC Championship Game that year. They didn't do it then, either. This Bear team may be better offensively, but defensively they are horrible. They gave up 54 points to the Eagles last week. I don't think they'll be pitching a shutout this time. Ben out!

Bring Out Your Dead Pool -- 2014 Edition!

Start thinking about it. If you want in, you have until January 1, 2014 to let me know.

South Sudan Goes South

Things are getting worse in South Sudan -- Walter Russell Mead is watching:
These problems of ethnic identity are not unique to South Sudan. Significant chunks of Africa and the Middle East today are being ripped apart by identity wars—sometimes religious, sometimes ethnic, sometimes a mix. While international peacekeepers can sometimes play a constructive role in stabilizing the situation, the so-called ‘international community’ lacks both the will and the capacity to intervene effectively in the dozens of such conflicts capable of flaring up at any time.
In the case of South Sudan, there are Dinkas and Nuers and it's getting ugly, according to the Financial Times:
“Mass extrajudicial killings, the targeting of individuals on the basis of their ethnicity and arbitrary detentions have been documented in recent days,” Ms Pillay said in a statement. “We have discovered a mass grave in Bentiu, in Unity state, and there are reportedly at least two other mass graves in Juba.”

President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar, his former deputy, have both indicated they were ready to talk to try to end a deepening conflict that has killed hundreds of people since it erupted this month. 
Western powers and east African states, anxious to prevent the fighting from destabilising a particularly fragile region, have tried to mediate between Mr Machar, who hails from the Nuer tribe, and President Kiir, a Dinka.

Spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said that the bodies of 75 soldiers of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army were believed to be in the mass grave in Bentiu visited by UN rights officers.
As Mead rightly notes, these identity wars are endemic and they can happen just about anywhere -- ask anyone who lives in what was once Yugoslavia. The United States could, if it wanted, get involved in dozens of these conflicts. We already have a small contingent of troops in the area. Anyone feel like sorting this one out?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Have a bite

Do you remember the recent push to get restaurants to start paying workers $15 an hour? Didn't work out so well for one eatery in Chicago:
A Chicago sandwich shop has fired all of its 20 staff over email just two days before Christmas.
Staff at Snarf's Sub Shop in River North received the bad news on Sunday night in a group email notifying them that the drastic action was effective immediately.

The company blamed 'increased competition and losses' for the firings.

Director of operations Doug Besant said in the email the restaurant will likely close for a month as they remodel and reconcept the business into a burger joint.
The staff at Snarf's was looking for a raise back earlier in the month:
The River North Snarf's shop was closed for four days, from December 5 until December 8, as employees went on striking for higher wages and better benefits.

They joined workers of fast-food chains like McDonald's, Subway, Potbelly and others in a broader strike orchestrated by the Worker's Organizing Committee of Chicago.

But the restaurant's director of marketing Jill Preston denied the mass firings were linked to the protests. She said it was due to the slow Christmas season.
Well, I'm sure the Worker's Organizing Committee will step in and help these folks get their jobs back.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Animus and the Inland Empire

As he so often does, Joel Kotkin gets to the nub of the matter:
The late comedian Rodney Dangerfield (nee Jacob Cohen), whose signature complaint was that he “can't get no respect,” would have fit right in, in the Inland Empire. The vast expanse east of greater Los Angeles has long been castigated as a sprawling, environmental trash heap by planners and pundits, and its largely blue-collar denizens denigrated by some coast-dwellers, including in Orange County, who fret about “909s” – a reference to the IE's area code – crowding their beaches.

The Urban Dictionary typically defines the region as “a great place to live between Los Angeles and Las Vegas if you don't mind the meth labs, cows and dirt people.” Or, as another entry put it, a collection of “worthless idiots, pure and simple.” Nice.

In reality, the people who live along the coast should appreciate the “909ers” since they constitute the future – if there is much of one – for Southern California's middle class. The region has suffered considerably since the Great Recession, in part because of a high concentration of subprime loans taken out on new houses. Yet, for all its problems, the Inland Empire has remained the one place in Southern California where working-class and middle-class people can afford to own a home. With a median multiple (median house price divided by household income) of roughly 3.7, the area is at least 40 percent less expensive than Los Angeles and Orange County, making it the region's last redoubt for the American dream.
There are Inland Empires in many places, of course. Here, we would call it Anoka County. The gap between what the planners of the world want for us and what people might choose, if left to their own devices, remains large. More, a lot more, at the link.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Absolute Zero

You can measure the NFC North on the Kelvin scale, following perhaps the worst weekend of football that the division has ever had. A few observations:

  • The locals were horrible in Cincinnati and it's too bad, because I suspect it's going to cost Leslie Frazier his job. The game revealed why Matt Cassel hasn't been a consistent starter in the NFL and why he was eventually run out of Kansas City. The Vikings have multiple problems to address in the offseason, especially on defense, but they will need to find a better quarterback than the ones they currently have. Essentially they've given up on Josh Freeman as a possibility and the other two guys are Gus Frerotte, so that means they don't have a quarterback.
  • Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Lions are a punk, gutless team. After demolishing the Packers on Thanksgiving, they've been coughing up hairballs ever since and are now out of it. The Giants came into Detroit with nothing to gain and playing a lot of subs, but still beat the Lions, who couldn't get out of their own way. Jim Schwartz is going to be fired, too, and on merit. The Lions were the only team in the division that didn't get destroyed with injuries and they still couldn't win. It's worth remembering that the last time the Lions won anything they were featuring the quarterback duo of Bobby Layne and Tobin Rote. We're approaching 60 years of futility with this crew.
  • Meanwhile, the Bears got smoked in Philly, with everything in front of them. They can't stop the run and Matt Forte had perhaps his worst game as a pro. Cris Collinsworth was calling him out all night long. I'm not convinced that Jay Cutler is healthy, either. You have to assume the Bears will be favored in their showdown with my Packers on Sunday, but it's difficult to see why.
  • For what it's worth, the Packers were the only team in the division who weren't shameful yesterday, but that's not worth much. The flaws in the team remain obvious; they couldn't stop the run and Matt Flynn, while plucky, would have to improve significantly to be as good as Gus Frerotte. There's a pretty decent chance that the Packers will go into Chicago without the services of Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and Eddie Lacy; merely their three best players. Good luck with that.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

In re Duck Dynasty


  • Not a First Amendment issue
  • A&E has an absolute right to do whatever it wants to Phil Robertson
  • Whether what A&E is choosing to is correct is a different matter
  • Don't worry about Phil Robertson; he likely has more money than you ever will and he'll be just fine
  • GLAAD certainly has the right to affect the marketplace; the marketplace will eventually tell GLAAD to piss up a rope if it gets out of hand
  • Similarly, the marketplace will tell Phil Robertson to piss up a rope if he gets out of hand
  • Believe what you want and allow other people the same thing -- that's tolerance
  • For what it's worth, when it comes to hirsute Southerners, I prefer ZZ Top

Saturday, December 21, 2013


You might not have heard about this, but maybe you might want to know.

Separated at birth

Ubiquitous church-suer Jeff Anderson:

And a certain Irish poet:

But Love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent.

And in related news:
Jeff Anderson, the attorney involved in multiple lawsuits involving abuse by priests of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, released a statement Friday apologizing for wrongly using a photo of the Rev. Patrick J. Ryan.

Anderson's firm used the photo earlier this month in a media kit of the list of 34 priests the Archdiocese said had credible accusations of abuse against them.
A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains
All that man is,
All mere complexities,
The fury and the mire of human veins

Friday, December 20, 2013

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- Bowl Mockery Begins This Week Edition

Yes, it's a cherished holiday tradition, in which I, the Benster, choose to mock and ridicule some crappy bowl games.

What could be more festive?

I've covered the tree with garland and HYYYYYYYPPPPPE! and now it's time to look at a real beauty of a game. Watch me work!

A streetcar nobody desires
R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl -- Tulane Green Wave (-2.5) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns, in New Orleans, apparently. Hey old dude, what's not to love about this classic matchup, sponsored by a long-haul trucking company, in which the opponents are both very short hauls from the bowl site. What is this -- a traditional non-conference game, or worse? It would be like scheduling a bowl game between Bethel and Minnesota-Morris and holding it in the Metrodome, as long as you could get it done before they deflate the thing. I swear, this must be the laziest bowl matchup I have ever seen. It's tougher to set up a neighborhood poker game than to invite these two marginal programs to a bowl game, and they don't even get to travel! Lafayette is 136 miles from New Orleans, more or less, assuming you can avoid the random alligator or enraged East Coast reporters trying to chase down the latest philosophical crap of Duck Dynasty social sage Phil Robertson. As for the game, I've never watched these teams play, although I do know that Tulane once was very good and they get a home game for a bowl game. I guess that means they might win. Tulane 22, Louisiana-Lafayette 21.

Max McGee used to play for Tulane back in the 50s. He wouldn't approve of this game. Tulane 28, UL-L 17.

Idaho Potato Bowl -- Buffalo Bulls (pick) vs. San Diego State Aztecs, on the Smurf Turf, in Boise. Time to cue the Skynyrd, kids:

Actually, the game is at 4:30 in Boise, Idaho, and doesn't likely involve a one-night stand. However, if you decide to tune this one in, you might feel, well, I'll let you supply your own punchline. Once again, I have no knowledge of teams that play in bad bowl games. This game would have a difficult time getting on television in September, but now these ancient rivals (as far as I can tell, they've never met before) tee it up in a classic example of why there are too many bowl games. I'm sorry kids, the game got cancelled.

Actually, they are going to play and you can feel the excitement all the way out to Pocatello.

Okay, I'll pick the score. Buffalo 25, SDSU 0.

There have been times when San Diego State was pretty good in football. They actually have a decent history and gave the Packers one of their best players in the 1970s, cornerback Willie Buchanon. Unfortunately, it's now 2013 and no one cares about this one. I guess it's marginally better programming that having ESPN run Skip Bayless valentines to Tim Tebow on an endless loop. Of course, that might be wrong, too. San Diego State 31, Buffalo 20.

Okay, that's enough of that. On to the pros, where the games actually matter!

Minnesota Vikings (+7) vs. Cincinnati Bengals. The Vikings surprised me last week with the ease in which they dispatched the Eagles, who are supposed to be a playoff team. Now they travel to Cincinnati to play another supposed playoff team, the Bengals, who are stumbling towards the finish line, as always wearing their awful ugly tiger print uniforms. However, even if the Vikings get Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart back this week, it's gonna be difficult. The Bengals need this one, as the Ravens are breathing down their necks, and while the Vikings are definitely showing signs of improvement, this is too big a challenge. Bengals 31, Vikings 24.

Actually, I think the Vikings are going to win. I have no real reason for believing this, but why not? Matt Asiata will score twice and then stroll down to Skyline for a big bowl of chili for the flight home. Vikings 27, Bengals 24.

Bear Down Chicago da Bearz (+3) vs. Philadelphia Eagles. It's once again time for the "desperate team at home" section of our picks. I have trademarked this, because it so often comes true. The Eagles can control their destiny if they beat da Bearz, who have squandered their opportunity to have things locked up in the division. Da Bearz are still in control of things, but the one thing they can't control is the line of scrimmage, especially on defense. Allow me to introduce you to Philadelphia Eagle running back Shady McCoy:

The weather forecast for Philadelphia this weekend does not call for another blizzard, but da Bearz will be preparing for a major winter storm when they hit the field on Sunday. Philly 47, da Bearz 10.

Uh, Benster? Did you see the weather forecast for Philly for Sunday? Check it out!

You cannot be serious!
That's right. Seventy freaking degrees, and rain! I don't think the snow will be much of a factor in this one. Having said that, I do agree that the Eagles are going to win this one. Philadelphia 31, Chicago 27.

Pittsburgh Steelers (+2.5) vs. Glorious Green Bay Packers. No Aaron Rodgers? No problem! The Packers have won two straight games in stirring comeback fashion, with much-maligned Matt Flynn at the helm. I almost gave up on the Packers at halftime last week, when they were down 26-3, but somehow, some way, they rallied and beat the Cowboahs 37-36. Now they return to Lambeau to face the Pittsburgh Steelers for the first time since Super Bowl XLV. Oh, I remember that one a little:

I never get tired of watching that video. Things have changed some since that glorious evening; the Packers are still not able to get Rodgers past the medical staff hurdle, while the Steelers are looking at a rare losing season under coach Mike "Trip" Tomlin, last seen scampering out of the way of Jacoby Jones and opening his wallet for Roger Goodell, who hit him for 100K. The point is, we're again dealing with the Desperate Team at Home theory and, I expect the Packers not to stumble out of the gate this time. Packers 45, Steelers 17.

Oh, I think the Packers can beat the Steelers, who are as injury-ravaged as the Packers are. But it won't be easy. I expect a slugfest. Packers 24, Steelers 21.

I expect to see that Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth will be heading for Chicago next week. Will Aaron Rodgers be playing? Who knows? But once again, the Bears do not want to play this Packer team in a high-pressure game. Ben out!

Merry Christmas, Mr. Steinhafel

It took nearly 14 years, but Target Corporation is having a true Y2K problem:
Anxious consumers besieged Target Corp. on Thursday after the company acknowledged that hackers may have gained access to credit and debit card information from 40 million shoppers.

The swarm of people who tried to access their Target Redcard account information online or who called customer service overwhelmed the company’s systems, piling frustration on top of the questions surrounding the brazen attack.

Target confirmed early in the day that a data breach had potentially exposed card information from shoppers who made purchases in the company’s nearly 1,800 U.S. stores between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15. Online transactions weren’t affected, the company said.
I'm not surprised that this happened; the means available for hackers to cause mischief are always expanding and the resources available to fight them aren't usually commensurate to the threat. What is surprising is Target's ineptitude in responding to the issue. Target usually does a very good job of controlling the narrative surrounding its business; I worked there for nearly a decade and it was always a primary consideration.

It's tough not to be a Target customer ("guest," as they call it) in the Twin Cities, as the company is headquartered here and the stores are ubiquitous. We're starting to see Walmart make inroads in this market; there is a giant new Walmart that will be opening soon in Roseville, about 2 1/2 miles from here. We already have a smaller Walmart nearby in St. Anthony, only about a mile away. The competition only gets tougher and Target's store performance seems a little less, well, robust than it used to. The customer service standards have noticeably decreased in recent years, especially in the number of available cashiers. What set Target apart from its competitors is that the stores seemed organized and that help was readily available. Target is still much better at that than Walmart; the cashier lines at the St. Anthony Walmart are often horrendous. We tend to shop the SuperTarget in Shoreview and while the lines aren't as long, the old standards have certainly been relaxed since the early 2000s. People notice that sort of thing, even if they don't spend a lot of time discussing it. And if you combine the subtle erosion of customer service standards with fear of identity theft, we're talking about a major problem for the ol' Bullseye.

I'm not the only person who has noticed these trends; while I don't spend a lot of time talking to people about Target and its overall performance standards, you do hear a lot people saying that Target seems to have lost its edge in recent years. Target's business model is different from Walmart's, which relies on providing low prices by leveraging (a) unparalleled supply chain management and (b) unremitting ruthlessness with its vendors; while Target rides its vendors hard, there's still a bit of Minnesota nice in the corporate DNA over at 11th and Nicollet.

The lesson in the current predicament seems simple enough; you have to assume the worst case scenario is always imminent and prepare the best you can. There's another lesson out there, however, and it will be interesting to see if the executive team at Target sees it.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

il miglior fabbro

I was going to write about the MNSure debacle and attempt to spell April Todd-Malmlov's name correctly, but my friend Brad Carlson is all over it. So go read what he has to say.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Not a chance

There are a lot of people who hate Archbishop John Nienstedt, so it's not surprising that he'd be accused of something as absurd as trying to cop a feel during a group confirmation photo four years ago:
Archbishop John Nienstedt has been accused of inappropriately touching a boy and has removed himself from public ministry while the matter is investigated, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis announced Tuesday.

The young man has alleged that Nienstedt touched his buttocks during a group photo session following a confirmation ceremony in 2009.

Nienstedt called the account “absolutely and entirely false.”

The incident was reported Monday afternoon to St. Paul police, which immediately began an investigation.
This allegation was inevitable, because the policy that the Archdiocese has adopted essentially means that any allegation essentially takes the priest, or the archbishop, out of circulation. We'll probably never find out the name of the individual who made the allegation, or any of the actual particulars, because it's only the headline that matters. If there were really a case here, we'd have heard about it from Jeff Anderson, complete with poster-sized pictures of Nienstedt placed on easels as a backdrop.

Having said that, the Archdiocese continues to do itself no favors with the way it has handled the continuing problems with priest behavior. They've managed to anger the chief of police in St. Paul:
St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith declined to comment on the allegation against Nienstedt at a Tuesday afternoon news conference. He said the public can rest assured that his department has assigned adequate resources to investigate that case and other allegations of sexual abuse involving clergy members.

But the chief took exception to the archdiocese’s repeated assertions that it has been cooperating fully with police in those investigations. Smith said his investigators have been denied access to certain clergy members.

“We have, through written and verbal request, made clear our desire to speak to individuals connected with the archdiocese, and we’ve been told, ‘No,’ ” Smith said.

He said that the archdiocese’s former vicar general, the Rev. Kevin McDonough, who handled clergy sex abuse cases for the archdiocese starting in the 1980s, declined, through an attorney, to be interviewed by investigators.
There's no point in trying to hide the decisions that have been made in the past concerning how to deal with priests who are accused of misconduct. Those decisions aren't going to pass scrutiny, no matter what the logic was at the time the decisions were made. The Archdiocese is no longer in charge of such things and the sooner they understand it, the better.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A story to watch

As many of you know, the Benster is kicking the tires of colleges right now. He might have a few less tires to kick if certain trends continue:
The softening demand for four-year degrees is prompting schools to rein in tuition increases while increasing scholarships. Those moves are cutting into net tuition revenue—the amount of money a university collects from tuition, minus school aid.

For 44% of public and 42% of private universities included in the survey, net tuition revenue is projected to grow less than the nation's roughly 2% inflation rate this fiscal year, which for most schools ends in June. Net tuition revenue will fall for 28% of public and 19% of private schools.
I've noticed that colleges seem a little more desperate to get the attention of students these days. There's been talk about a higher education bubble for a very long time now and it may be arriving. Based on what we've seen on college visits, it rings true. While that is good news for the Benster -- he'll probably get a better deal than he would have four years ago -- you could see a number of schools get pulled under. Back to the story:
This is the fifth year private schools have endured stagnant net revenue, and the impact has been compounding, as faculty wages are frozen and capital improvements and maintenance are put on hold, said Karen Kedem, the author of the Moody's report that accompanied the survey. The drop is just now hitting public universities, amid falling state aid and research dollars. Public schools are significantly more reliant on tuition revenue than they were a decade ago.

Last year, the same survey found 18% of private schools and 15% of public ones projected a decline in net tuition revenue.

"It's concerning because colleges and universities are mostly dependent on tuition to raise revenue," Ms. Kedem said. "If they're not able to invest in programs, personnel and facilities over time, their ability to attract students, faculty and donors will deteriorate."
And paying the debt service on all the fancy new buildings that so many colleges now have? That could be an issue, too. We're studying it closely, because the last thing you want is to have a degree from Block E University.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Football is dead. Long live football.

There's no way in Hades to explain what happens in the National Football League some seasons, which is the primary reason it remains so compelling. Consider the fate of the two teams that we follow most closely here, the locals and my beloved Packers.

First, we'll talk about the locals. If you were to tell me that the Vikings were going to play without Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, but would still win the game, I could envision it. If you were to tell me they would hang 48 on the Eagles, I wouldn't have believed it. But that's precisely what happened. Matt Cassel may not be the most impressive looking quarterback around, but he's not afraid to make a throw and he seems to have developed a great rapport with Greg Jennings, who has been mostly invisible this season. Jennings was a holy terror, running wild and loose in the Eagles secondary all game long. Every time Jennings got open, Cassel found him. The sense you get is that had the Vikings been playing Cassel all along, the season might look a little different.

And yet, and yet. . . we don't know that. The Vikings have been creative and clever in finding ways to lose all season long; the larger issue has been a defense that has been unable to close the deal. One thing that was evident yesterday is that having safety Harrison Smith playing regularly makes a big difference. The Eagles run a lot of tricky routes and rely on misdirection to get their receivers open and, for the most part, they had trouble finding guys when they needed to. The Vikings have looked very disorganized at times this season and, at least from this perspective, it looked like Smith calmed things down in the secondary quite a lot.

Will the recent improvement be enough to save Leslie Frazier's job? It's hard to say. There are rumors out there that the Vikings would like to talk to Penn State coach Bill O'Brien after the season, but I wonder about that. It's been evident that the players are really fighting to save the current coaching staff and while O'Brien is impressive, I'm not convinced that the Vikings will get appreciably better by hiring a college coach.

Meanwhile, my beloved Packers accepted the kindness of Tony Romo and Jason Garrett in storming back from a 26-3 halftime deficit to win an improbable 37-36 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, smack in the middle of JerryWorld. It's been a very rough patch for the Packers with Aaron Rodgers on the sideline, but they've now managed to win two consecutive nailbiters, coming back in both games from big halftime deficits. While the Packers have been offensively challenged without Rodgers, the larger issue has been the defense, which played terribly in the first half against the Cowboys, giving up huge chunks of yardage, much as they had against all their opponents in recent weeks. Yet somehow they managed to right the ship in the second half and started playing much better. Sam Shields and Tramon Williams made huge interceptions of errant Romo passes and the Cowboys, inexplicably, went away from what had been an effective running attack.

Somehow, the Packers are still very much alive for the playoffs. The Lions will have a tough game tonight against the Baltimore Ravens, while the Bears get a date with a desperate Eagles team in Philly next week. A couple of well-placed losses and the Packers will be back in the lead for the division, with a chance to seal the deal against the Bears at Soldier Field in the final week. Aaron Rodgers might return next week, too. While I don't think the Packers would be able to run the table for the Super Bowl this year, stranger things have happened. Strange things happen every week in the National Football League.

Sunday, December 15, 2013


It's tough to come up with much blogging material out of current events these days. Obamacare is still fundamentally broken, Washington politicians are still kicking the can down the road on the budget and the weather still sucks. All true, all not very compelling source material.

Something interesting will happen soon; I promise to blog about it when it happens.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- Pros Only Edition

Yeah, you might have noticed that this was posted a little later than normal, but I've had business to attend to. Yes, the Worldwide Benster College Tour was back in action on Friday, as I graced the campus of Marquette University for a visit.

Will Marquette survive this honor?

They should. Nice place -- maybe I'll go there. Or maybe not. I need to gauge the amount of HYYYYPPPPPPE! they can handle. Will the sheer magnitude of the HYYYYPPPE! be enough? Or will it bounce off of Buzz Williams's shaved head and blind passing aircraft coming into Mitchell Field? I need to be careful of such things.

The FAA would appreciate that, too.

Shouldn't they have more important things to worry about? While they consider that somewhat rhetorical question, watch me work!

Philadelphia Iggles (-5.5) vs. Minnesota Vikings. It's almost the end of the Metrodome and the Vikings have a chance to do some damage to the playoff chances of the Eagles, who have been playing well lately and are coming off a big-time beatdown of the Lions in the snow. Now, there's a lot of snow on the ground here in the Twin Cities, but there's no snow in the Metrodome right now. It's not like this magic moment:

Now, you can't blame that on Christian Ponder, can you? Vikings fans have blamed most everything else on the youthful quarterback with the astonishingly good-looking wife. I think they're jealous. But enough of that. The Vikings are going to have trouble because they may not have Adrian Peterson and they definitely don't have Kyle Rudolph. And let's be honest; the Vikings have a terrible secondary. How terrible?

Ask an expert! Eagles 28, Vikings 10.

I have a funny feeling about this one. It might the effect of too much Sriracha sauce, but I think the Vikings are going to play very well tomorrow. I'm calling the upset, mostly because the Eagles irritate me. Vikings 31, Eagles 28.

Bear Down Chicago da Bearz (-1) vs. Cleveland Browns. Hey kids, Jay Cutler is back and there's gonna be trouble, hey la, hey la, Jay Cutler's back. I don't really know what that was about, but the old dude told me to work it in. Oh wait, here's what it's about:

Now, all those gals are old enough to be Jay Cutler's mom, but we'll leave that aside. Hey la, is there trouble for da Bearz? Yes. Gino is not going to like this, but I think that Josh McCown makes this Bears team better, because he sticks with the program and doesn't try to free-lance, like our guy Jay. Jay la, Jay la. And after Sunday, Bears fans will be kicking themselves for not taking a chance to close the door with McCown. Browns 20, da Bearz 13.

If this is true and Cutler isn't the long-term solution for the Bears, maybe he can come to Minnesota! Now that I've terrified two fan bases, let's see.... I think the Bears will win, but it's going to be tough. It's going to be snowing a little, but it's not likely to be a big factor. The Browns are a tough team and will give Cutler a rude welcome, but I think the Bears will prevail. Chicago 27, Cleveland 24.

Glorious Green Bay Packers (+6.5) vs. Dallas How 'Bout Them Cowboahs. There was no Vegas line on this game until the word came down that Aaron Rodgers is still at least a week away. However, the Packers seemed to have righted the ship last week against the woeful Falcons, and now they come into Dallas to face what might the worst defense in the NFL. Dallas is also a place that the Packers will have fond memories of, because there was this day back in early 2011 when this happened:

I never get tired of that. Yes, the Packers have returned to Jerry World, and while this team isn't as good as that team, the Cowboahs are not nearly as good as that Steeler team, either. Can Matt Flynn get his mojo working again? Well, you might have noticed that I tipped my hand on this one earlier. Packers 31, Cowboys 25.

I have no idea which Packer team will show up and I have no idea which Cowboys team will show up. That makes it very tough to pick. I think the young fella is right that the Packers have righted the ship, but I wonder if it's too late now. Cowboys 41, Packers 38.

Baltimore Ravens (+5.5) vs. Detroit Lions. Last week Baltimore won an amazing game in the snow. Last week, about a hundred miles north of Baltimore, the Lions got their butts handed to them in the snow. No snow this week at Ford Field, but the Lions remain as unpredictable as ever. Who knows which team will show up. Will it be the Thanksgiving Lions, who killed the Packers, or the post-Thanksgiving Lions, who got drilled in Philly? Both teams are fighting for their playoff lives and you would think that I would break out the tried and true "desperate team at home" gambit. However, while math may be on the side of the Lions, never lose sight of this -- we're talking about the Lions. Ravens 31, Lions 0.

Uh, no. The Ravens have a defensive back named Matt Elam who called Calvin "Megatron" Johnson old. That's a mistake. Here was Johnson's reaction:

Matt Elam, you don't want to call Megatron old. Lions 38, Ravens 27.

So, the Geritol Fan and I disagreed every single time. I guess we'll see who's right. And a note to da Bearz and the Motor City Kitties:

When you have a chance to knock the Packers out of the playoffs, you'd better do it. Just ask the rest of the league what happened in 2010. Ben out!

Thursday, December 12, 2013


I have a lot of thoughts about Pope Francis, but I've struggled with sorting them out. He's been getting showered with all manner of media hosannas lately, including being named Person of the Year by Time Magazine. Much of that praise stems from the rhetorical flourishes that Francis has delivered concerning things that the media don't like very much, especially the chimerical scourge of unfettered capitalism, which exists precisely nowhere in the world right now. As I think about Francis and his remarkable first year, here are my tentative conclusions:

  • While the points of emphasis might be different, nothing Francis has said contradicts long-standing Church teachings; Leo XIII was saying essentially the same things in Rerum Novarum, an encyclical that dates back to 1891.
  • Francis is a reformer and some of the most important work he's doing is behind the scenes, including cleaning up the Curia. Walter Russell Mead has noticed and there's more about the particulars here.
  • While stipulating that it's a gross simplification of the larger theological questions involved, Catholics are taught that salvation requires more than faith and that good works are needed as well. From what I can tell, Francis isn't particularly fond of checkbook salvation and that he's particularly concerned about the propensity of some Catholics to eschew the hard work involved in saving souls. Although I'm wrenching it out of context, this concern was well stated by, of all people, the longtime music critic of the Village Voice, Robert Christgau, who once observed that the Police song "Spirits in the Material World" missed the obvious point that we are also matter in the material world. Francis never loses sight of that.
  • While I believe that Francis is a consequential figure, I still think he's a transitional figure. The real story within the Church remains the next generation of leaders, who came of age under John Paul II. The next Pope will be the one to watch.

Value Proposition

Another Obamacare success story:
Oregon, once touted as a model for President Obama's health care law, signed up just 44 people for insurance through November, despite spending more than $300 million on its state-based exchange.

The state’s exchange had the fewest sign-ups in the nation, according to a new report today by the Department of Health and Human Services.
That's about $6.8 million per signup. For the same price, you could get two Nick Puntos. One could argue that the success rate in Oregon is a little bit below the Mendoza Line.

Kinda like a 360 Interview, Except More Expensive

Kathleen Sebelius demands an investigation:
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a blog post early Wednesday that she is asking the department's inspector general to investigate the contracting process, management and performance and payment issues that may have contributed to the flawed launch.
We could save a lot of time and effort by sending Sebelius to this website, which works, by the way.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Cool stuff on the side

While I recommend a number of blogs and other websites, sometimes it's easy to forget the amount of cool stuff that they can provide. Even if you're not a Packers fan, I really want to call your attention to the Packerville U.S.A. blog, which has some amazing things to see, and some only tangentially related to the Packers. The proprietor of the blog, who uses the nom de blog "Mr. Lambeau," finds some really neat old memorabilia and posts it there. A few examples:

I love this old ad from a Boys' Life magazine in 1966:

Stock up now!
While some of these logos are still in use, including the fearsome Bear and the stoic Viking, you don't see much of the cartoon Cowboy and the mighty Cardinal framed with the Gateway Arch. I don't see Jerry Jones resurrecting that image any time soon.

Mr. Lambeau also finds and reproduces the images from old game programs, including this one from 1947. Here's an example of midcentury marketing of a local company that has long been a nationwide brand:

That ain't Mr. Whipple
And in addition, here's a rogue's gallery of players who were set to visit the old City Stadium for the 1947 season:

Sid Luckman!
It's easy to forget, but the mighty National Football League wasn't necessarily that mighty back in '47 and we've come a very long way from those days.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Get Your MoJo Workin'

We don't call out the august work of Mother Jones very much around here, but I find it difficult to argue with anything Chase Madar says in this piece:
By now, the militarization of the police has advanced to the point where "the War on Crime" and "the War on Drugs" are no longer metaphors but bland understatements. There is the proliferation of heavily armed SWAT teams, even in small towns; the use of shock-and-awe tactics to bust small-time bookies; the no-knock raids to recover trace amounts of drugs that often result in the killing of family dogs, if not family members; and in communities where drug treatment programs once were key, the waging of a drug version of counterinsurgency war. (All of this is ably reported on journalist Radley Balko's blog and in his book, The Rise of the Warrior Cop.) But American over-policing involves far more than the widely reported up-armoring of your local precinct. It's also the way police power has entered the DNA of social policy, turning just about every sphere of American life into a police matter.
We talked about St. Cloud's implement of mass destruction last month. While it's easy to downplay the notion of finding common ground with the modern Left, concern about the power of the police is a legitimate issue across the political spectrum. Anyone who thinks the matter through understands that a government with too much police power can turn on its citizenry at any time, and for what are often arbitrary reasons. There's ample room for common ground on this issue.

The Faces of Diversity

Scroll away.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Football Roundup

Football this weekend was a lot more interesting than politics. It often is. So let's talk football.

  • While readers of this blog know that I am a Packers fan, the Vikings/Ravens game yesterday was something to behold and deserves first mention. I don't know that I've ever seen more exciting plays happen in such a compressed time frame before. I have to say that Cordarrelle Patterson is pretty astonishing; he seems to be a hybrid of Percy Harvin and Randy Moss, but he's bigger and stronger than both of them. The dump pass he caught in the last minute, which should have been the game winning score, was something to see. He's like a runaway antelope when he gets going. It's taken the Vikings all season to figure out how to use Patterson; now that they have, he's going to be an issue for every opponent the Vikings face, likely for a long time.
  • I'm always happy when the Packers win, but I almost wonder if yesterday's 22-21 victory over Atlanta isn't a glittering lump of pyrite. The Packers started out the season well, but following the injury to Aaron Rodgers they've been a train wreck, culminating in the Thanksgiving Day beatdown they suffered in Detroit that was the worst Packers game since 61-7, back in 1980. This is a deeply flawed team that has trouble playing defense. Rodgers solves many, many problems, but it's difficult to see the Packers doing much if they were somehow able to find their way into the playoffs. Still, it's going to be tempting for the Packers to try, especially since Rodgers is itching to get back in there. The opportunity for the Packers remains, because the three remaining games (at Dallas, home to Pittsburgh and at Chicago) are all theoretically winnable, especially if Rodgers it at the helm. Still, you have to think that the Packers might be better served to let Rodgers heal properly, take the lumps that will knock them out of the playoffs and then reload for next season. I'll bet they go for it, though -- the Lions are eternally the Lions and if the Packers win out, there's an excellent chance that the Packers would sneak in as the division champions. While the 2010 season indicates that once you get in, you have a puncher's chance, I don't think this team is nearly as good as the 2010 squad was.
  • Meanwhile, the Badgers and the Gophers are going bowling. Bucky draws South Carolina in the Capitol One Bowl, a tough assignment but not an impossible one, as the Gamecocks aren't the most talented offensive squad around, despite having noted offensive genius (just ask him!) Steve Spurrier calling plays for the Garnet and Black. Meanwhile, the Gophers return to Houston, this time for a game against a pretty ordinary Syracuse team that snuck into the festivities at 6-6. I suspect that the Gophers will be able to dispatch the Orange with little difficulty. Both the Gophers and Badgers open as slight favorites in Vegas, but that might change. The larger question for the Bucky in particular, and the Big Ten generally, is whether or not the league can stand up to the bullies of the SEC. Three teams get a chance: Bucky against South Carolina; Iowa against LSU, and Nebraska against Georgia. On paper, all would be winnable games for the B1G, but all are difficult matchups. While I think the gap is closing a little bit, this could be another disappointing year for the league.

Get Your Filner

Justice served:
Bob Filner has almost vanished from public view since a defiant resignation speech as San Diego mayor amid widespread allegations that he sexually harassed women. He returns to the spotlight at least once more.

The former 10-term congressman will be sentenced Monday for one felony and two misdemeanors for placing a woman in a headlock, kissing another woman and grabbing the buttocks of a third. He pleaded guilty in October in an agreement with prosecutors, who will recommend that he get three months of home confinement and three years of probation.
In case you were wondering, you can find out what party Filner belongs to if you read the article. Just be prepared to wade through nine paragraphs to find out.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Read of the day

Joel Kotkin, on the demise of Bloomberg and the implications for the urban gentry. An excerpt:
Becoming the ultimate playground to the rich made things worse for most middle class New Yorkers by imposing higher costs, particularly for rents. In fact, controlling for costs the average New York paycheck (costs) is among the lowest in the nation’s 51 largest metro areas, behind not only San Jose, but Houston, Raleigh, and a host of less celebrated burgs. A big part of this is the cost of rents. According to the Center for Housing Policy and National Housing Conference , 31 percent of New York’s working families pay over 50% of their income in rent, well above the national rate of 24 percent, which itself is far from tolerable.

Conditions for those further down the economic scale, of course, are even worse. The urban poor in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or Philadelphia , notes analyst Sam Hersh, find their meager resources strained by high prices not common in less fashionable cities like Buffalo or Dallas. “In some ways,” he notes, “ the low cost of living in “unsuccessful” legacy cities means that quality of life is in many cases better than in those cities widely regarded as a success.”

The dirty little secret here is the persistence of urban poverty. Despite the hype over gentrification, urban economies—including that of New York—still underperform their periphery. Nearly half of New York’s residents, notes the Nation are either below the poverty line or just above it. Just look at the penultimate symbol of urban renaissance, Brooklyn. The county (home to most of my family till the 1950s) suffers a median per capita income in 2009 of just under $23,000, almost $10,000 below the national average.

Marquee cities haven’t “cured poverty” or exported it largely to the suburbs, as is regularly claimed. Cities still suffer a poverty rate twice as high as in the suburbs. Demographer Wendell Cox notes that some 80% of the population growth over the past decade in the nation’s 51 largest cities came from the ranks of those with lower incomes, most likely the children of the entrenched poor as well as immigrants.
As always, a lot more at the link. This won't end well.

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- No Cinderellas This Time Edition

Old dude, say goodbye to NIU!

I don't even greet NIU, usually.

I understand that. Here's the thing -- NIU is not going to the BCS, which means that the final BCS as we know it will be entirely the playground of the big boys. That's all right with me; the Boise States were cute, but that day is dead now. They aren't likely to get a fair shot any time soon. But we concentrate on the world the way it is, not how it could be, or maybe should be.

That's a surprisingly sensible view coming from the guy who is concerned with HYYYYYYPPPPPE!

I'm maturing here. Well, maybe not quite entirely. I'm still capable of HYYYYYYYYPPPPPPPE!!!! Watch me work!

Aw-Barn Tiger/War Eagle! (-1) vs. Mizzou Tigers, in Atlanta. Ooh, it's the alma mater of Night Writer, the mighty Missouri Tigers, who this year have proven that they can hang with the big, bad boys of the SEC, at least for one year. I know a lot of people were thinking that Alabama would be here, but they lost last week in amazing fashion to their bitter rival Auburn, which begs the question -- is Nick Saban headed for Texas? Or is he going to replace Chris Peterson at Boise State? It's good to have options here. But that's not for me to decide. Anyway, Auburn always gets lucky in these big games. They wouldn't even be here, if not for a tipped pass that got them past Georgia a few weeks back, to say nothing of returning a missed field goal for about 172 yards for a touchdown last week. I know, the field is only 110 yards, but remember, I'm all about the HYYYYYYYPPPPPPPE! It's real simple -- Mizzou has the better offense and Auburn expended too many bullets to get to Atlanta. Mizzou 42, Auburn 21.

Hmmm. Maybe. I think Mizzou is very good and I'm especially impressed with their wide receivers, who are Calvin Johnson-like at the collegiate level. Since we were at Camp Randall last week being bitterly disappointed, I didn't get to see the Auburn game, but I would remind you of Branch Rickey's famous observation concerning luck: luck is the residue of design. You get lucky if you are in a position to be lucky, which Auburn has been all season long. I think that continues for one more week. Auburn 24, Mizzou 21.

Michigan State Sparty the Spartan (+5.5) vs. The Ohio State University, in Indianapolis. I'm willing to bet that Sparty wants this game badly, but there's a catch. The reason I brought up the NIU game at the beginning of this post is because NIU's loss opens up that last BCS spot for the Spartans, pretty much regardless of what happens tonight in Indy. I don't think the Spartans will lose their focus, but they now know they have a ticket to Pasadena in their pocket. As it happens, Ohio State is going to Pasadena either way, but they'd prefer to wait until a little later in 2014 before they travel. OSU has been good all year, but there's a catch -- this is the best defense they've seen yet. Last week Ohio State got ambushed in the Big House and barely lived to tell the tale. Ohio State has also been ambushed in Columbus by Iowa and Wisconsin, but they've survived. Now, they're facing a Spartan team that might finally break its curse of choking in big games. I hate to do this, but self-interest is on the line. Ohio State 42, Michigan State 39.

That might be the first time you've actually picked Ohio State in a game. Putting your hatred for all things Buckeye aside is a sign of maturity, I think. It's going to be a lot of fun; I think the Spartans are a tough-minded team. But the prize is in sight for the Buckeyes and they won't falter. Ohio State 24, Michigan State 17.

Minnesota Vikings (+6.5) vs. Baltimore Ravens. It's an all-purple showdown in Charm City, baby! The Vikings have been playing a little better lately and are doing their level best to (a) save Leslie Frazier's job and (b) royally screw up their draft position. Will the trend continue in Baltimore? Well, considering that the Packers struggled in Baltimore earlier this season, and that the Ravens are still in the hunt, one would think that the Vikes would have a tough assignment this week. Baltimore 19, Minnesota 6.

I think you've hit on the dynamic here, Seabiscuit. The Ravens are as mediocre as their record would indicate, but they do have incentive, given the general crappiness of the AFC this year. If this game is in Minnesota, I think the Vikes win. It's not. Ravens 27, Vikings 20.

Hotlanta Falcons (NL) vs. Glorious Green Bay Packers. If ever NBC had a reason to flex out a game, this would be the one. Both teams were considered Super Bowl contenders when the season began, but now, they both kinda suck. I love my Packers to death, but, seriously, what happened in Detroit? That was the worst Packer game I have ever seen in my lifetime. It kinda looked like this:

It's interesting -- I hadn't realized that Mike Tomlin appeared in a Monty Python movie before! Bottom line is this; Atlanta is facing a very angry team just looking to save their season, while the Falcons are trying get on the bus to leave 2013 behind. Packers 45, Atlanta 17.

Have the Packers even scored 45 points since Rodgers got injured? Insane as it might seem, if the Packers could win this game and get Rodgers back, they might still be able to sneak into the playoffs, because the Lions are quite capable of choking it up. But I kinda wish they wouldn't; I'd keep Rodgers on the sideline and reload for 2014. Packers 21, Falcons 14.

Dallas How 'Bout Them Cowboahs (Pick) vs. Bear Down Chicago da Bearz. No Jay Cutler again for da Bearz, who ought to consider dumping Cutler, quite frankly. Josh McCown has played well enough to keep his job as a backup, and at this point the Bears should continue to play the hot hand anyway. Alshon Jeffrey is now getting scary and when combined with Brandon Marshall, da Bearz have something going on offensively. The problem is that their defense is about out of bullets. As far as the Cowboys, who knows? Either they show up, or they are like the kids in the rugby video. You never know. Da Bearz 28, Cowboahs 17.

Good point. The Cowboahs are showing up this week. Dallas 27, Bears 24.

Time for another Very Special Comment from the Benster. There will be no SEC teams in the BCS National Championship Game this year. That is a good thing, because the SEC is a very top-heavy conference. In a given year, they might have three very good teams, but then they have a bunch of teams that are average, at best. Tell me -- aren't the best conferences supposed to be balanced? Take a look at the Big Ten. Ohio State is a very good team. Michigan State is a good team as well. Wisconsin and Iowa have shown they can play. Nebraska and Minnesota have all had very fine seasons. Penn State, had they been eligible for a bowl, would represent the conference well. So to all those Big Ten haters, let me ask you this -- is your conference really balanced? Or do you mindlessly believe what other people tell you?

Ben out!

Friday, December 06, 2013

The List

As some day it may happen that a victim must be found,
     I've got a little list--I've got a little list
Of society offenders who might well be underground,
     And who never would be missed--who never would be missed!

-- W. S. Gilbert

So the Archdiocese coughed up a list of priests who have been credibly accused of abuse of minors. There weren't any real surprises on the list, and all of the priests in question are no longer active. Some are dead.

I've only met one of the priests on the list, Mike Stevens, who the Archdiocese had stashed away at my old parish (St. Adalbert) after he'd been criminally convicted of abuse back in the 1980s -- his case is one that did go through the legal system. I'm pretty sure that most parishioners at St. Adalbert didn't even realize that Stevens was living in the rectory; the only reason I knew he was there is that I served on the parish's finance committee and had regular visits with the pastor, Fr. Tim Kernan. Stevens ended up becoming an IT guy for the Archdiocese, but he never had any role in the ministry at St. Ad's. The only time I ever saw Stevens wear vestments was when he attended Fr. Kernan's funeral in 2001. Stevens is no longer a priest and is "believed to be residing in St. Paul, Minnesota," according to the information on the list.

There are other cases and other priests who aren't part of this list; another list is supposedly forthcoming. I know two of the priests who have been accused of misconduct recently. One does seem to be guilty, since he has resigned; the other, I'm not so sure about. Releasing the list won't change much. The problem will continue.


You can read many things about Nelson Mandela on the internet today. Two points I'd make:

  • He managed the transition from apartheid about as well as he could; he could have been Robert Mugabe on steroids, but he chose a different path. As a result, South Africa is one of the few countries on the African continent that isn't being run by an autocrat. That counts for a lot.
  • He wasn't a saint, but he was wise enough to see the long-term implications of the path that the African National Congress could have taken. He got rid of his wife Winnie, who was a nasty piece of work, and while he did include his ANC colleague Joe Slovo (a full-on Communist) in his initial government, he didn't let Slovo run rampant. As it happened, Slovo died early on, but while he was alive he could have done a lot of damage. He didn't. More importantly, since Nelson Mandela left office at the appointed time, with an orderly transition of power, he set a precedent that has served his country well. 
Things could change for South Africa, of course, and there have been some troubling signs in recent years, but at the time of his death, it's tough to dispute that Nelson Mandela left the world a better place than he found it. RIP.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

The next problem for Obamacare

So, you need to see a specialist? Well, maybe you can't. The invaluable Walter Russell Mead explains:
The discrepancy between policy and the problems it is supposed to address has never been clearer than in the health care debate. The Seattle Times reports on the network restrictions that are increasingly limiting Washingtonians’ ability to see key doctors and hospitals without incurring major financial risk. The plans offered in the Affordable Care Act exchanges, it turns out, keep premiums low by drastically reducing the number of providers covered. 
My personal brush with the health care system happened nearly seven years ago, when I was diagnosed with a pituitary tumor and had surgery to remove it. I wrote about the process at the time it happened; it was an amazing thing to watch the system leap into action. From the moment of diagnosis to the end of the first day, I was able to see the clinic doctor, a neurosurgeon, a neurologist, an otolarynlogist and an endocrinologist. The next day, I would see an ophthalmologist as well. That's five specialists. The endocrinologist remains my principal doctor to this day. In a drastically reduced network, I might have had access to these people, but chances are good it would have wiped us out financially.

There's a lesson in this -- keeping the costs down might be important, but it's going to have implications that we aren't yet prepared to handle. And as always, I must caution those who are gung-ho for single payer to consider the obvious question: what is your recourse if the single payer doesn't pay?

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

More Manure in Gift Wrap

Peggy Noonan tells tales out of school:
It’s a shock for most people that it’s a shambles. A fellow very friendly to the administration, a longtime supporter, cornered me at a holiday party recently to ask, with true perplexity: “How could any president put his entire reputation on the line with a program and not be on the phone every day pushing people and making sure it will work? Do you know of any president who wouldn’t do that?” I couldn’t think of one, and it’s the same question I’d been asking myself. The questioner had been the manager of a great institution, a high stakes 24/7 operation with a lot of moving parts. He knew Murphy’s law—if it can go wrong, it will. Managers—presidents—have to obsess, have to put the fear of God, as Mr. Obama says, into those below them in the line of authority. They don’t have to get down in the weeds every day but they have to know there are weeds, and that things get caught in them.
The it in question is Obamacare, of course. And, as his wont, the Leader of the Free World is lying about the state of play:
White House officials say that with the worst of the website problems behind them, the president will return to a familiar political argument: criticizing Republicans for opposing the "Obamacare" law without providing their own ideas for solving national health care woes.

"They sure haven't presented an alternative," Obama said. "You've got to tell us specifically what you'd do."
Is that so? Of course it isn't:
But the claim that Republicans have offered no specifics about how to improve the health care system is patently untrue. To date, Republicans have introduced at least four comprehensive bills to address health care as alternatives to Obamacare.
You can read about all four at the link; the sponsors of these alternatives, which have gone nowhere because they haven't been getting a hearing, include Sen. Tom Coburn, Rep. Tom Price, Rep. Paul Broun, and Rep. Phil Roe. What do all these solons have in common? They are all Republicans, all southerners and, most importantly, all doctors.

The key thing to understand isn't that this president and his administration are willing to lie to your face; rather, the key thing is that most of this president's supporters are lying to themselves. Back to Noonan, sharing her cocktail party chatter:
For four years I have been told, by those who’ve worked in the administration and those who’ve visited it as volunteers or contractors, that the Obama White House isn’t organized. It’s just full of chatter. Meetings don’t begin on time, there’s no agenda, the list of those invited seems to expand and contract at somebody’s whim. There is a tendency to speak of how a problem will look and how its appearance should be handled, as opposed to what the problem is and should be done about it. People speak airily, without point. They scroll down, see a call that has to be returned, pop out and then in again.

It does not sound like a professional operation. And this is both typical of White Houses and yet on some level extreme. People have always had meetings to arrange meetings, but the lack of focus, the lack of point, the sense that they are operating within accepted levels of incoherence—this all sounds, actually, peculiar.

And when you apply this to the ObamaCare debacle, suddenly it seems to make sense. The White House is so unformed and chaotic that they probably didn’t ignore the problem, they probably held a million meetings on it. People probably said things like, “We’re experiencing some technological challenges but we’re sure we’ll be up by October,” and other people said, “Yes, it’s important we launch strong,” and others said, “The Republicans will have a field day if we’re not.” And then everyone went to their next meeting. And no one did anything. And the president went off and made speeches.
It's what he does. The notion that this president is smart and competent has never made much sense. He's very good at running a campaign, but like most sales guys he doesn't really give a damn about what happens in the back office. The problem is that Americans are dealing with the back office now and it's not been properly staffed for a very long time.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

1000 Words

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with these people?

Billion Dollar Babies
Update: My friend Brad Carlson provides a succinct explanation of what the hell is wrong with these people.

A Ringing Endorsement

The punchlines pretty much write themselves:
President Barack Obama has at least one segment of America behind his health care law: the legalized prostitutes at the Moonlight Bunny Ranch.

The girls who work at the Bunny Ranch tell KRNV-TV that it was nearly impossible for them to get health insurance before because of their profession.

“Having this profession, we aren’t exactly offered group health insurance,” Taylor Lee said. “It’s hard because I do have a pre-existing condition so I really support Obamacare. I’m excited.”
I would imagine that Lee and her colleagues have all manner of pre-existing conditions, but let's not prejudge the pre-existing. A colleague of Lee's warns against such assumptions:
Caressa Kisses said that insurance providers equated them to illegal prostitutes who have sexually transmitted diseases.

“We’re independent contractors. We have to get our own insurance but this is truly a blessing,” Kisses told KRNV. “I hope they work the kinks out and that affordable health care happens for all because it is really needed.”
Independent contractors -- so that's what the kids are calling it these days. And working the kinks out is a specialty of the house, one would imagine.


Well, this is a promising development:
It could take a year to secure the risk of "high exposures" of personal information on the federal Obamacare online exchange, a cybersecurity expert told CNBC on Monday.

"When you develop a website, you develop it with security in mind. And it doesn't appear to have happened this time," said David Kennedy, a so-called "white hat" hacker who tests online security by breaching websites. He testified on Capitol Hill about the flaws of HealthCare.gov last week.

"It's really hard to go back and fix the security around it because security wasn't built into it," said Kennedy, chief executive of TrustedSec. "We're talking multiple months to over a year to at least address some of the critical-to-high exposures on the website itself."
Yeah, I want to sign up for that.

Monday, December 02, 2013


I am 50 years old today. It's astonishing how quickly this milestone arrived. As I recall, 1975 lasted longer than the current decade, and time is only picking up speed.

Although navel gazing and thumb sucking are evergreen blogging topics, it's not cool. Instead, here's a window into what the world looked like on December 2, 1963:

A few months later, the Beatles would appear on a very different variety show and everything would change. It was a time when a few jokes certainly didn't hurt, considering what had happened only 10 days before:

And the day I arrived, this guy died:

And this was the #1 song on the pop charts:

Yeah. It was a long damned time ago.