Monday, December 31, 2018

The joy of a new phone

So I got a new phone yesterday, an iPhone XR. That moves me from the technological hinterlands to the front lines -- it's not the fancy dan, top-of-the-line XS Max, but it's close enough. It's an expensive move -- new phones for the whole family set you back a few thousand dollars these days, especially when you outfit each phone with an Otter Box case. It also means an annoying round of password changes and technological song and dance moves to get everything you need moved over. But the benefits are already obvious, especially since the battery on the new phone is so much better than what I had before with my old Android phone, which could go from a full charge to "Danger Will Robinson" after about a half-hour of use. And although I haven't really tested it yet, the camera on the new phone has a lot more capability than the post-modern Kodak Brownie that my old phone had; with my continuing interest in photography, that's a positive change. And, as you can imagine, the kids are in heaven.

It also means I'm now in Apple world, for better and worse. I don't have any particular allegiance to any technology company; why the hell would anyone feel that way? Apple fanboys have always struck me as weird, but Android essentially shovels every move you make to an algorithm; as we continued to discuss getting new phones within our family, I would see ads on my old phone for new cell phones and cell phone providers. It's long been evident that we are under constant surveillance, not by Big Brother per se, but rather by a set of Silicon Valley frenemies who act like adversaries but aren't, really.

It's tough to stay away from the fray, really. Modern cell phones are ingenious gadgets and capable of doing amazing things. It is a marvelous tool to have in one's hand, but the servant becomes the master if you're not careful.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- Dreams/Nightmares Edition

Old dude, the Vikings are 60 minutes away from the land of dreams, hoping to erase the memory of the Philly fans tormenting them and placing the Iggles into the dustbin of history. Dreams can come true, but dreams can also tatter into nightmares. Should the Vikings lose and the Eagles win, their dreams will be shattered, and the hot takes will be burning.

Souhan already has a sack of Kingsford in his shed for the occasion.

I imagine that these takes will make a certain former sportswriter shudder.

I'm not certain I know which sportswriter, but why choose?

I'm feeling the HYYYYYYYYYPPPPPEEEE!, and am ready to talk both pro and college. Watch me work.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish (+12.5) vs. Clemson Tigers, at Jerry World. Notre Dame feels that they are the underdog. A lot of people will disagree, because the Irish have a sense of entitlement that is hilarious to me. To be fair, they beat everyone they had to this year and belong in the playoffs based on that fact. Clemson has been around forever and are less annoying, but they always seem to win and it would be great to have a little bit of diversity in national title contenders. No team has a divine right to anything in sports. I think the Irish are better equipped to win this game because they don't have to answer questions about drug samples every 10 seconds. Irish 31, Tigers 23.

I think you hit the issue in the last sentence, Seabiscuit. Clemson is going to be missing some key players on defense, especially the mountainous Dexter Lawrence. This is a better Notre Dame team than we've seen in a while, but I'm not convinced they are good enough to beat Clemson. Clemson 28, Notre Dame 21.

Chokelahoma Boomer Sooners (+14) vs. The Crimson Tide Of Alabama. As a Packers fan, I will be watching this game with great interest. I really don't care about either team, but Lincoln Riley and Nick Saban are rumored candidates for the next head coach of the Packers. In the interest of full disclosure, I would prefer Alabama to lose so that Saban can come to Green Bay and start The Process. The Tide have a quarterback controversy again, and were lucky to escape Atlanta with their lives. I know that A School in Columbus is mad that they got screwed out of the playoffs. However, if you lose badly at Purdue, you have zero right to complain. I like Oklahoma in this one, even though Oklahoma historically has their fans down in the really important games. Oklahoma 45, Nick Saban to Green Bay? 21.

I've heard those rumors as well. This is the better of the two playoff games. Alabama is like a monster at the end of a slasher movie -- you swear they're dead, but somehow they survive. I don't think there's a controversy per se, but I wonder if Jalen Hurts doesn't see a grad transfer season in his future. Oklahoma can score. Alabama can stop you from scoring. Something's gotta give. Alabama 31, Oklahoma 28.

Detroit LOLions (+9) vs. Glorious Green Bay Packers. If you call yourself a Packers fan and quit watching in the fourth quarter last week, please hand your fan identification card into your local Packer Fan Club branch. The Packers fought against long odds, and are a lot better than their record says they are. To all the loyal Packers fans who did not quit on the team last week, you are the real fans and should be commended for your loyalty. This team has shown true grit and determination, something that could lead to the start of something better. I think the Packers should win because they are all playing for their jobs. Packers 31, LOLions 0.

So I hear Matt Patricia might be in trouble in Detroit. Seems to show up late for his own meetings. The Lions have deteriorated this season and it's becoming evident that firing Jim Caldwell after last season was a mistake. The Packers had a nice rally last week against a dismal Jets team. Does it mean better days are ahead? I'm skeptical about that. But the Packers will beat the Lions this week. Packers 34, Lions 24.

Bear Down Chicago Da Bearz Still Suck (+5) vs. Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings fan I talked to claims to not be nervous. That's the right take, but I can see why Vikings fans are nervous. They need to win here or have the Eagles lose against the Gridlocks to make the playoffs. Gino would like to remind you that Bears NFC North champions gear is available at a store near you in the Chicago area, though I want to remind you that the Bears did not sweep the Packers despite holding a 20-0 lead in the fourth quarter of the first meeting. Da Bearz are playing for a playoff bye this week, and they won't lie down at all. Should the Vikings lose this game, there is going to be a lot of sniping in the media around here if they miss the playoffs. I want to watch the world burn, and I am a simple man. Da Bearz Still Suck 24, Vikings 10.

I take Henry Kissinger's stance about this game -- it's a shame they both can't lose. Desperate team at home wins, but the Bears take their revenge in Chicago next week. Vikings 23, Bears 17.

Enjoy your football this weekend. Ben out.

Friday, December 28, 2018

The nub of it

Ann Althouse identifies why it's becoming just about impossible to blog in the age of Bad Orange Man:
I can barely read the news these days (and I absolutely cannot watch it on TV). The negativity toward Trump is so relentless, cluttering up everything. It's crying wolf times a thousand. If anything is worth taking seriously, I'm afraid I won't be able to notice.
That's it. If we're in mortal peril 24/7 and nothing actually happens, why the hell should we take any of the caterwauling seriously? In his always-entertaining year in review opus, Dave Barry notices the same thing:
So when 2018 finally dawned, we were desperately hoping for change. It was a new year, a chance for the nation to break out of the endless, pointless barrage of charges and countercharges, to move past the vicious, hate-filled hyperpartisan spew of name-calling and petty point-scoring, to end the 24/7 cycle of media hysteria, to look forward and begin to tackle the many critical issues facing the nation, the most important of which turned out to be…

…the 2016 election.

Yes. We could not escape it. We were like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, except that when our clock-radio went off, instead of Sonny and Cher singing “I Got You Babe,” we awoke to still MORE talk of Russians and emails; MORE childish semiliterate presidential tweets about FAKE NEWS and Crooked Hillary; MORE freakouts by cable-TV panelists predicting that — forget about the previous 300 times they made the same prediction — THIS time impeachment was IMMINENT, PEOPLE. IMMINENT!!

Meet the new year: same as the old year.
I can't take 99% of what I read in the MSM seriously. It means nothing.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

A few days off

Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas. Ours was pretty good. We spent a few days back in my home town of Appleton, Wisconsin, a prosperous small city of about 75,000 people, not including the sorta suburban areas to the west, north, and southeast of town. Add those in and you get to about 100,000. I took some pictures; here is the doorway of St. Therese, the church where my parents were married in 1963 and I made my First Holy Communion in 1970:

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Doors of my life

We got back to Minnesota on Christmas Eve and went to Midnight Mass (well, it was technically 10 p.m.) at our home parish and then had an uneventful Christmas Day and Boxing Day at home. It's been a busy stretch for us; we were in St. Louis the previous weekend and we've been furiously trying to catch up since Thanksgiving. One of these days I might even write our annual Christmas letter.

Apparently Trump is in trouble again, or maybe after yesterday he isn't. It's tough to know, really. It's becoming increasingly difficult to figure out what's happening, because all news is so heavily encrusted with bias it's tough to sort out what really matters and what is purely invective. Is it more important that Trump didn't visit the troops, or that he did, or that he might have had foot problems 50 years ago? Is it more important that the stock market had a rough patch, or is it more important that it went up 1000 points yesterday? Apparently the government is shut down, although signs of government are everywhere and there's seems to be no trouble with tax withholding, either.

I am going to try to get back to a more normal blogging schedule now that we're back in town. I hope the coming days are joyful and prosperous for you as we approach the coming year.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Benster and D Pick Your Games----Merry Christmas, Mr. Potter Edition

It's Christmas, so hopefully you don't have to have a New Year in jail at the end of the holidays. The good news is that there is football.

Image result for mr. potter it's a wonderful life
It's a bald Robert Mueller!

Merry Christmas, Mr. Benster!

The talk radio anger around here seems to have calmed down on the Vikings, but they still would be facing a difficult road.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep. And they have promises to keep.

Are you plagiarizing Robert Frost again? You're more like Scott Frost.

I'd rather be Faux Pelini.

Lay off the egg nog, old dude! We have work to do! It is time to pick some games. Walk me work.

Minnesota Vikings (-7) vs. Detroit LOLions. The caveat is that I did not see the Vikings game last weekend due to being out on assignment, but they responded to the heat being thrown their way and should be fine getting into the playoffs. The problem is that the Vikings have only beaten 1 team with a winning record, and not beaten a team with a winning record on the road. I know, they technically didn't lose to the Packers at Lambeau, but they didn't win that game, either. The Vikings are likely to slot into playing the Bears or the Rams on the road, potentially on a short week. I think they can beat the LOLions into submission comfortably, but they might not clinch their spot right away. That leads to an interesting scenario, which is what to do with Da Bearz next week, because they could be playing them twice in a week. Vikings 28, LOLions 10.

The Lions are pretty much done at this point. Vikings have motivation. That will be plenty. Vikings 24, Lions 13.

Glorious Green Bay Packers (-2.5) vs. New York J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS! Well, the good news is that the Packers won't have to worry about keeping Philbin around after this year. At least they fought the Bears for a while and did not roll over and die. The biggest thing they need is to get a coach who is a proven winner and someone who can lay into Aaron when he acts like a diva. The man I think is right is Nick Saban. I know that Saban struggled as an NFL head coach, but he is a proven winner and he would jump at a chance to coach the Packers, a team who has arguably the better brand than Alabama and would get to join Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer, and Pete Carroll as coaches who have won a national title and a Super Bowl. In fact, only Switzer can say he won both those titles at teams that are blue bloods of their leagues. The Packers have sucked on the road this year, but they should win with no pressure and trying to get good tape for Saban. Packers 31, J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS! 20.

If the Packers are going to win on the road, this is the place to do it. I think some guys have a chance to make a case for the next coach, whoever he is. Packers 28, Jets 17.

Bear Down Chicago Da Bearz Still Suck (-4.5) vs. San Francisco 49ers. Gino would like to remind you that the Bears are NFC North champions and that you can get that gear at a retail store near you. I would like to remind you that the Bears still blew a 20-0 lead in a game that will be remembered forever by all football fans, while the rematch will be forgotten. The Niners are a tough nut to crack, especially on a West Coast road trip. My one criticism is that da Bearz have played all their tough games at home, and they need to win a difficult game on the road. The NFL is a copycat league, and I think someone will figure out how to beat da Bearz, who let the Packers hang around last week before winning. They are a good team, but a bit of a front running team. This game will be closer than you think. I'm not a gambler, but keep that in mind at the betting window. Da Bearz Still Suck 24, 49ers 22.

If the 49ers had their regular quarterback, I think this would be interesting. But the Bears have a chance to get a first round bye, so they'll take care of business. Bears 31, 49ers 20.

Enjoy your holiday weekend, and if you don't like your family feel free to watch football or basketball with them to do something that they might like. Ben out!


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St. Anthony, Minnesota

Mind Over Mattis

It's the rarest of all things in modern Washington -- a resignation in protest:
My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.

Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position. 
Those are the words of James Mattis, the current SecDef, who is resigning, most likely, because Donald Trump wants out of Syria. Is this a crisis? No. And Mattis is correct; if he can't get on board with what Trump wants to do, he should resign. In that regard, he's a hell of a lot more honorable than nearly all the major figures in the Department of Justice who have treated their offices as sinecures and sniper's nests.

Is Trump wrong about leaving Syria? I don't personally think so. Trying to discern the good guys in that particular place is a fool's errand. We have been doing the empire thing for over a century and over time I've grown increasingly skeptical about the value of what we do in many parts of the world. Engaging with the world does not mean subsidizing it. And we continue to put many people in harm's way for reasons that are often contradictory.

I'm glad James Mattis served our country. He is an honorable man. I'm sorry he is leaving, because honorable men and women are in short supply within the Beltway. Trump will find another individual to serve in his administration. We'll see how it plays out.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The things in Der Spiegel make me nervous/I don't want to go to Fergus

Small-town Minnesotans in the mist:
In February 2017, my husband and I attended a concert at our local theater, and were sipping some wine in the lobby before the show started. Several people came up to us at separate times excitedly, and asked, “did you meet the German guy yet?!”

I hadn’t, but my spider senses perked up when I heard that he worked for Der Spiegel, a magazine based in Hamburg, and that he was writing about the state of rural America in the wake of Trump’s presidency.

I know I’m not the only rural advocate and citizen that is wary about the anthropological gaze on rural America in the wake of the 2016 elections, and has struggled with how or whether to respond to the sudden attention and questions, when before we really didn’t matter to mass media at all.
The German guy is Claas Relotius, who appears to be a Teutonic Stephen Glass. He tells tales and confirms biases for a living by pretending to be a reporter. And he came to Fergus Falls last year to let his worldwide audience find out what they wanted to believe was true.

As it happens, he made up most of what he claims to have seen. The linked article from Medium is the work of a Fergus Falls resident named Michele Anderson, who wants the world to know Fergus Falls isn't what Relotius related:
Relotius has received accolades for his daring quest to live among us for several weeks. And yet, he reported on very little actual truth about Fergus Falls life. In 7,300 words he really only got our town’s population and average annual temperature correct, and a few other basic things, like the names of businesses and public figures, things that a child could figure out in a Google search. The rest is uninhibited fiction (even as sloppy as citing an incorrect figure of citywide 70.4% electoral support for Trump, when the actual number was 62.6%), which begs the question of why Der Spiegel even invested in Relotius’ three week trip to the U.S., whether they should demand their money back from him, and what kind of institutional breakdown led to the supposedly world-class Der Spiegel fact-checking team completely dropping the ball on this one.
Anderson then goes on to catalog the falsehoods Relotius offered his readers, including a few highly amusing ones:
3. The town obsessed with American Sniper
“There is also a cinema outside of town, where fast food stores are lit up. In this cinema, a flat, rectangular building, there are two films on a Friday evening. The one, “La La Land”, running in empty rows, is a musical, a romance about artists in Los Angeles. The other, “American Sniper”, a war film by Clint Eastwood, is sold out. The film is actually already two years old, almost 40 million Americans have seen it, but it still runs in Fergus Falls.”
True? Of course not:

A source you can't trust
There's more, a lot more, at the link. It's all familiar enough -- I remember when David Broder came to my home town back in the 1990s and told a bunch of lies about what he'd seen. As always, if a story seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Another day, another open thread

I have gone through bouts of writer's block before, but rarely one of this duration. Here's a black and white image for your perusal:

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St. Francis Xavier College Church, St. Louis, MO

And here's another image from nearby, also on the campus of Saint Louis University:
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Busch Student Center
Two very different places, but only one block apart.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

It's the only way to be sure

It's becoming increasingly clear that 2019 is shaping up to be all about getting Trump impeached. He will not be removed from office, though, just as Bill Clinton was not removed. So what's the point?

The always entertaining Kurt Schlichter has the solution:
This is all a lie and a scam. And Donald Trump can and should use his pardon power to highlight this fraud before he drives a stake into the heart of the elite’s soft coup play.

He should pardon everyone.

I mean everyone. 
Pardon Flynn, and Manafort, and Papadopliswhateverhisnameis. Pardon Stone and Corsi. Pardon Don, Jr., Jared, and Ivanka. Pardon Melania and Barron. Pardon Pence, and Pence’s pets. And then he should pardon himself.

For everything. Take it all off the table. Strip the elite of its ability to coerce perjury and ruin lives for the sin of dissenting.

Pardon everyone, for everything. 
It’s all a lie and a scam anyway, and there’s no sense pretending this is all some kind of legit truth-seeking exercise in support of lofty and noble principles. It’s a tawdry frame job by a failed elite desperate to hold on to the power that the people revoked in November 2016. We owe the ruling class no respect; there’s no reason to pretend this Mueller farce is anything but a transparent attempt to claw-back the authority the elite forfeited by being terrible.
We have more important things to do than play this game. Time to clear the chessboard.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Back from St. Louis

It's a long drive from the Twin Cities to St. Louis, with a significant chunk of it in Iowa. With stops for gas and a meal, it's typically about a 10-hour trip. I spent most of my usual blogging time this morning trying catch up with the news I'd missed over the weekend, but I'm not convinced anything significant is actually happening.

I do like St. Louis generally and Saint Louis University in particular. It's a pretty campus in the heart of the city and it feels like a refuge from the urban squalor that is often associated with the area. We ate at good restaurants and enjoyed some excellent company. It's been, and will continue to be, a great place for Fearless Maria to attend college.

If you think something else merits discussion, please feel free to have at it in the comments section. I will be back to more regular blogging tomorrow.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Traveling shoes

As Benster noted last night, we're on assignment for the next couple of days. We will return to regular programming next week. Meanwhile, have another open thread!

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- Desperation Edition

Hi everyone! This post is coming out early because we are on assignment this weekend.

Important mission. Very hush-hush.

Speaking of assignments, the Vikings fired John DeFilippo and are facing the reality that a promising season could swirl away from them. I really hope that the Packers do not hire him.

More likely to get a job with the South St. Paul High School Packers at this point, but you never know. 

Meanwhile, Gino is very happy that the Bears are in a good position and have a chance to avenge a loss that is personal to them.

You realize everything is personal with Bears fans, right? 

I do, but I am too busy feeling the HYYYYYYYYYYPPPPPEEE!, so it is time to watch me work.

Miami Tuna Net Victims (+7.5) vs. Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings look listless on Monday against the Seahawks on offense. The Vikings-approved KFAN heads will try and spin this on Kirk Cousins and DeFilippo, but the head coach and the general manager should raked over the coals for this turn of events as well. Mike Zimmer is the head coach, and I wonder if he is spending too much time in the defensive meeting room. The Vikings offense is talented, and the front office agreed to hire DeFilippo and give Kirk Cousins a boatload of money. The Vikings have not beaten a single team that currently has a winning record and has crapped the bed in 2 straight prime time road games. Now, they have to come across the country on the short week and play a Miami team that is more talented than you might think. The Dolphins beat the Bears and are coming off a great win against the Patriots on a miracle finish. This game is not an easy one, and the Dolphins need to be respected as a worthy opponent. Maybe Mike Zimmer should consider giving up calling the defense, and instead spend more time with his offense and call the plays himself on offense. Dolphins 27, All My Zimmers 20.

Well, that's one way to get what he wants. Desperate team at home is very much in effect here, but the Vikings had better step lively. I don't know what to think about the coaching circus, but it is worth noting that DeFilippo is the second offensive coordinator that Zimmer has forced out in his tenure here. I think it might be time to take Jerry Burns's utterly NSFW advice:

Purple coaches like to work blue, apparently. I can only assume Burnsie had watched a VHS tape of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and was inspired by Steve Martin's rant (also NSFW). It's much the same and I assume Sid Hartman and Edie McClurg were kindred spirits. But remember this -- it's not Schnelker's fault. Vikings 24, Dolphins 19.

Glorious Green Bay Packers (+6.5) vs. Bear Down Chicago Da Bearz Still Suck. First of all, Gino would like to remind you that the Chicago Bears are in first place and just came off a dominant performance at home against the Rams. I think most Bears fans would agree that this game is personal to them. The reason? They had a 20 point lead at Lambeau and had Aaron Rodgers knocked out of the game, and it looked like they had shocked the world. Then, Rodgers came back and led one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history against impossible odds. I speak for most Packers fans that this game is our Super Bowl for the year, a chance to say that we beat the Bears twice. The Packers probably are not going to make the playoffs, but looked pretty good against the Falcons last week. The offensive line could be shorthanded, which scares me. I'm also a delusional Packers fan who still believes in the playoffs this year. If you thought I was going to pick against the Packers, you don't know me very well. Packers 31, Da Bearz Still Suck 0.

That's okay, young fella. Picking against the Packers is my job this season. I do think the Bears could be had, but I don't see how the Packers are going to get both Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks blocked effectively. I see a low scoring game, but I don't see a victory. Bears 17, Packers 14.

Enjoy your weekend. You know I will. The Bears still suck, and always will. Ben out.

The value of brevity

Jim Treacher on the potential 2020 Democratic Party field of candidates:
An elderly plagiarist and an elderly communist, narrowly beaten out by a relatively youthful blank slate upon which libs can project all their hopes and dreams. That might be why some have described Beto as "the white Obama." Which is an insult. To Obama.
If the Dems can sell Beto O'Rourke, they can sell anything.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Let them eat climate change

I am still thinking about what's happening in France, which seems more consequential than the kabuki in DC. I have never been to France, but based on what I know, this piece rings true:
Many still understand France through the lens of Vogue magazine covers: a nation of affluent, happy people who live in elegant homes, with endless holidays, wine and food.

A 24/7 utopia of chic, elegance and style.

Important to note: that France does exist. It is the world of the French ruling class, less than 1% of the population.

This small group of citizens have dominated the business, banking, legal and political scenes for decades.
So how does the ruling class perpetuate itself?
The ruling class comes from a small group of grandes ecoles, or elite colleges. There are only 3 or 4. The top of the top? L’Ecole d’Administration Nationale (ENA).

Emmanuel Macron’s journey is typical of the ruling class. He completed a Master's of Public Affairs at Institut d'Études Politiques de Paris (called "Sciences Po"), the #2 elite college, before graduating from ENA in 2004, age 27. He then worked as a senior civil servant at the Inspectorate General of Finances (The Treasury), before getting a high paid gig ad an investment banker at Rothschild & Cie Banque.

See how fast Macron worked his way into the senior civil servant position in the Treasury, before flipping into an exclusive investment bank? That is normal in France. It's a never-ending protected cycle of patronage, promotion, favors and cronyism.
A technocratic Ivy League. There's more:
The French elites are young men and women who have been told that they are not just the intellectual creme de la creme, but morally superior. Better human beings than their inferiors.

These people are arrogant. But they are also ignorant. Raised in very wealthy families and cosseted in the networks those families are part of, they have no understanding of ordinary people and their real lives.

Arrogance and ignorance is a very toxic mix. Macron’s tone-deaf appeal to climate change to justify the rise in diesel taxes, as well as his outrageous suggestion that ordinary French folk must drive less, is a classic example of the problem.
Does this sound familiar to you? I'm certain it does. Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Lightning Round -- 121118

A few random thoughts:

  • I don't care what Kyler Murray tweeted when he was 15 years old. I didn't care what Josh Hader tweeted, either. The news outlets that report such things are more vile than anything a 15-year-old boy might be thinking.
  • We had a good discussion yesterday in the comments section concerning the election of Harold Baines and Lee Smith to the Baseball Hall of Fame. I really enjoyed watching Harold Baines throughout his career; he was a rock-solid player and a true gentleman who is a credit to the game. That's not nearly enough to make him a Hall of Fame member, however. Lee Smith was a dominant closer for over a decade, in the transition period between the Goose Gossage-style multi-inning dominators of the 1970s and the one-inning matadors of the current era. Smith is a borderline case in my estimation, but as we start sorting the great from the okay in terms of modern era pitchers, Smith is certainly a defensible choice. I do worry about the various Veterans Committees that the HOF is currently employing becoming similar to the committees of the 1970s, when a lot of dubious guys were honored because, at bottom, they were pals with the committee members.
  • Another question -- is Joe Mauer a Hall of Fame player? Yes, I think so. If you consider him a catcher, which he was for the majority of his career, his overall numbers and defensive effectiveness are clearly above the bar. If you consider him a first baseman, not so much. His career numbers don't rank high on the all-time list, but he was, in many cases, a great player. Kirby Puckett had a similar career arc, although his career was cut short. The numbers are important in considering players, but the eye test still has value. If you watched Mauer and Puckett play, you saw greatness on a regular basis.
  • I'm not going to write about the latest efforts from the Trump Scandal Factory for at least a few days. I remain convinced a counterpunch is in the offing, but it's not yet clear when that will happen.
  • The Packers are pretty much dead for this season and it appears the Vikings are in trouble, too. Somewhere in California, a guy we know is smiling.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Open thread

Started reading things this morning and ran out of time to write anything. So please feel free.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Yes and no

As is typically the case, Andrew Sullivan is on to something:
Seduced by scientism, distracted by materialism, insulated, like no humans before us, from the vicissitudes of sickness and the ubiquity of early death, the post-Christian West believes instead in something we have called progress — a gradual ascent of mankind toward reason, peace, and prosperity — as a substitute in many ways for our previous monotheism. We have constructed a capitalist system that turns individual selfishness into a collective asset and showers us with earthly goods; we have leveraged science for our own health and comfort. Our ability to extend this material bonanza to more and more people is how we define progress; and progress is what we call meaning.
Damn right. But there's more:
For many, especially the young, discovering a new meaning in the midst of the fallen world is thrilling. And social-justice ideology does everything a religion should. It offers an account of the whole: that human life and society and any kind of truth must be seen entirely as a function of social power structures, in which various groups have spent all of human existence oppressing other groups. And it provides a set of practices to resist and reverse this interlocking web of oppression — from regulating the workplace and policing the classroom to checking your own sin and even seeking to control language itself. I think of non-PC gaffes as the equivalent of old swear words. Like the puritans who were agape when someone said “goddamn,” the new faithful are scandalized when someone says something “problematic.” Another commonality of the zealot then and now: humorlessness.
Ask Kevin Hart, just the latest comedian to come a cropper. There's more:
And so the young adherents of the Great Awokening exhibit the zeal of the Great Awakening. Like early modern Christians, they punish heresy by banishing sinners from society or coercing them to public demonstrations of shame, and provide an avenue for redemption in the form of a thorough public confession of sin. “Social justice” theory requires the admission of white privilege in ways that are strikingly like the admission of original sin. A Christian is born again; an activist gets woke. To the belief in human progress unfolding through history — itself a remnant of Christian eschatology — it adds the Leninist twist of a cadre of heroes who jump-start the revolution.
But for a guy who can be as spot-on in his observations as these are, he still misreads other things in the very same essay. He starts out well, to wit:
So what happens when this religious rampart of the entire system is removed? I think what happens is illiberal politics. The need for meaning hasn’t gone away, but without Christianity, this yearning looks to politics for satisfaction. And religious impulses, once anchored in and tamed by Christianity, find expression in various political cults. These political manifestations of religion are new and crude, as all new cults have to be. They haven’t been experienced and refined and modeled by millennia of practice and thought. They are evolving in real time. And like almost all new cultish impulses, they demand a total and immediate commitment to save the world.
Then he gets to Trump and steers into the ditch:
Now look at our politics. We have the cult of Trump on the right, a demigod who, among his worshippers, can do no wrong. 
How is that, Andrew?
Yes, many Evangelicals are among the holiest and most quietly devoted people out there. Some have bravely resisted the cult. But their leaders have turned Christianity into a political and social identity, not a lived faith, and much of their flock — a staggering 81 percent voted for Trump — has signed on. They have tribalized a religion explicitly built by Jesus as anti-tribal. They have turned to idols — including their blasphemous belief in America as God’s chosen country. They have embraced wealth and nationalism as core goods, two ideas utterly anathema to Christ. They are indifferent to the destruction of the creation they say they believe God made. And because their faith is unmoored but their religious impulse is strong, they seek a replacement for religion. This is why they could suddenly rally to a cult called Trump. He may be the least Christian person in America, but his persona met the religious need their own faiths had ceased to provide. The terrible truth of the last three years is that the fresh appeal of a leader-cult has overwhelmed the fading truths of Christianity.

This is why they are so hard to reach or to persuade and why nothing that Trump does or could do changes their minds. You cannot argue logically with a religion — which is why you cannot really argue with social-justice activists either. And what’s interesting is how support for Trump is greater among those who do not regularly attend church than among those who do.
It's important to define who "they" are. The Trump supporters I know don't view him as a demigod at all; his popularity is contingent on his message, which is less about a search for meaning than about calling out the steady, ever-ratcheting imposition of the desires of those in power and trying to reverse the ratcheting. There is no Trump in Europe, but the yellow vests are on the scene for many of the same reasons the MAGA hats are on display in the United States. The Robert Muellers and James Comeys and Amy Klobuchars of the world may not arrive in Washington from the same locales, but they have the same mindset and the same self-appointed sense of being a surety, along with the overweening self-regard of the Pharisees, if you want to take a historical-religious tack on the matter. Macron and Trudeau are of the same caste.

But that last sentence of Sullivan is worth note: And what’s interesting is how support for Trump is greater among those who do not regularly attend church than among those who do. Perhaps those are the cultists Sullivan believes he sees, but that statement suggests he needs to dig a little deeper. Yes, if  you were to survey a regular churchgoer at St. Joan of Arc, or at any number of dessicated mainline Protestant churches in town, it would be difficult to find a Trump supporter. But if you expect fidelity to that ol' time religion in such precincts, you'll not find it. Jesus is just all right with them, but He's not the center of things. And while believers keep their focus on eternal salvation, they aren't necessarily ignoring the world they inhabit right now.

As always, Sullivan can be a fascinating read. He's worth a click. But he's not necessarily the go-to for taxonomy.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

And in Brussels

Sprouts of yellow vests:

The sign on the left says, "Michel Resign"; Michel is the Belgian Prime Minister
It's worth remembering -- yellow hi-vis vests are universal wear in the working class. Every time I stop for coffee in the morning on my way to work, I see people who are landscapers, or electricians, or construction workers, wearing hi-vis. It's worn so that workers who do potentially dangerous work are easily visible. It's the perfect thing for these protesters to wear, especially in Brussels, where such people are supposed to remain invisible while the EU technocrats devise ways to direct their lives. Pay attention.

Meanwhile, in Rotterdam

It's a thing, kids:

These aren't college-age dork anarchists
Paris ain't Rotterdam. We're talking about well-behaved Netherlanders. Pay attention.

Benster and D Pick Your Games---Won't Be Fired Edition

Old dude, I'm pretty sure that we won't be fired after the game like Mike McCarthy.

Well, we're the owners of this enterprise. I could fire you, but you're the only regular contributor we have. It's been a while since we've heard from the others.

That's true. Hey Fearless Maria, where are the Guilty Pleasures?

In St. Louis, apparently. Maybe we can get her to weigh in one of these days.

I'm not sure, Geritol Fan -- can she deliver the HYYYYYYPPPE!

The world does not run on HYYYYYYYYPPE alone, Grasshopper. Sometimes subtlety is needed.

But Fearless Maria is known for her marching band career. Marching bands aren't subtle.

True. But we're losing the post with recriminations.

Good point! We'll save the recriminations for da Bearz! Watch me work!

Minnesota Vikings (+3) vs. Seattle Seabags. We're kinda working backwards this week, since the first game we're considering is the Monday Nighter. The Vikings are suddenly in the same place the Packers were a few weeks ago -- back-to-back road games in incredibly hostile environments. All the loudmouth Vikings fans we had to endure recently now are getting a dose of hell, too. The Seahawks have been playing well lately and they need this game as much as the Vikings do. I wouldn't be surprised if the Vikings win, but this is a good week to bust out the "desperate team at home" theory. Seahawks 28, Vikings 24.

I think you're right this time, young fella. The Seahawks aren't what they were five years ago, but they're better now than they've been earlier in the season. The Vikings may not be. There's something missing this year; I'm not sure what it is, because I'm not prepared to throw Kirk Cousins under the bus just yet. The most obvious problem is a sub-NFL offensive line. And Cousins is going to be under siege this week. Seahawks 27, Vikings 21.

Atlanta Falcons (+4.5) vs. Glorious Green Bay Packers. The Packers played one of the worst games I've ever seen last week, and it was the final straw for Mike McCarthy. I think it was the right move, but Mark Murphy needs to get this hire right. Meanwhile, Atlanta comes to town and, if anything, they've been more disappointing than the Packers. The Falcons have talent galore, but they've never seemed to click this season. The Packers players are playing for the tape, as they say, because everyone's job is on the line, with the notable exception of 12. Packers 17, Falcons 9.

Uh, no. I can see the Packers winning; I'm going to pick them to win. But there's no way this game has only 26 total points scored. You could see the teams combine for 26 points in one quarter. Bombs away, kids! Packers 34, Falcons 31.

Los Angeles Rams (-2.5) vs. Bear Down Chicago Da Bearz Still Suck. First of all, our obligatory public service annoucement. Gino would like to remind you that da Bearz are in first place. And, interestingly enough, they are likely to stay there. However, the test has arrived. You probably noticed that da Bearz crapped the bed against the Giants last week, which I predicted. The Rams are looking to consolidate their position as the number one seed and avoid another trip to New Orleans. Da Bearz will get Mitchell Trubisky back, which helps, but it won't be enough to stop the Rams. Rams 42, da Bearz 31.

Hmmm. That seems like a lot of points to me, but maybe. The Bears are certainly good enough to win against their sad sack divisional brethren and the other dogs they've seen this season, but this is by far the toughest game left for those ursine wretches from McFetridge Boulevard. Trubisky is elusive, which is a good thing, because Aaron Donald is a bad man. Can the Bears o-line hold up? If so, they can keep this interesting. Otherwise, watch out. Rams 34, Bears 24.

Enjoy your football this weekend. Ben out! 

Friday, December 07, 2018

Wisconsin politics, yet again

The Wisconsin legislature and outgoing governor Scott Walker are busy at the moment and his successor doesn't like it one bit:
The new legislation tries to protect some of the GOP's achievements in recent years, including a work requirement for some people receiving state health care and the state's role in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act. The bill could also make it harder for Gov.-elect Tony Evers to renegotiate a $3 billion subsidy for a Foxconn electronics manufacturing facility, a deal spearheaded by Walker.

"Wisconsin has never seen anything like this," Evers said in a statement. "Power-hungry politicians rushed through sweeping changes to our laws to expand their own power and override the will of the people of Wisconsin who asked for change on November 6th."
 In other words, the moment the election results were posted, Evers should immediately have power. That's not how it works. Evers knows that, of course.

Evers also knows he's going to be governor because he ran up incredibly lopsided vote totals in Milwaukee and Madison, while in other parts of the state he and his party have significantly less popular support. There's a reason why the Republicans will still control the legislature in 2019 and, contrary to the bleatings of the left, it's not because of gerrymandering. You can't simply import the votes of Milwaukeeans and apply them to a Fond du Lac district.

We don't have a pure democracy and it's a good thing. Walker did not demand that his predecessor, Jim Doyle, immediately cease and desist when he was elected in 2010. Walker had to wait until he was actually in the office before he set out to change things. We all remember how that went. I don't know how it's going to go for Evers once he's in office, although I suspect he's going to be a very weak governor regardless of what Walker and the current legislature do. Voters in Wisconsin might have been tired of Walker, but there's little evidence the voters want public employee union hegemony to return, either, to say nothing of untrammeled bureaucracy. And when Evers attempts to raise taxes next year, he'll find that out.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Way of life

J. E. Dyer, getting to the nub of  the riots in France:
In the town of Cholet, in western France near Nantes, members of the fire brigade were caught on video turning their backs on local officials and silently walking out on them — another aspect of the same deepening division between government authorities and the working-class backbone of France. In Cholet, reporting indicated the firefighters were protesting force cuts that bite especially hard when extraordinary requirements arise, such as dealing with mass protests.  Like other Frenchmen and women, the fire brigades are having to live the distorted priorities that see France cutting the main public services governments are expected to provide, while raising taxes in fanciful efforts to address “climate change.”
It's one anecdote, but it's where we could be headed. The people running France these days look at the world the same way Jacob Frey and Tim Walz do. Back to Dyer:
This isn’t 1968.  This is no ordinary development.  Reportedly, 84% of French people in the latest poll support the protests, and their top concerns are the burdensome “climate” regulations, which are undermining every aspect of their economic lives, and the uncontrollable social impacts of mass migration into their country.  As Alain said to Rebel media in the video, they’ve simply had enough.

Notably, their country is seen as a refuge for others.  But for the French, there is no refuge from policies that are destroying their way of life – because the EU idea is designed to deny them any such shelter.  That is its very purpose.

In fact, the political idea to which the UN migration compact bears the most resemblance is the EU’s.  Both are about a systematic undoing of borders and denial of local discretion over boundaries and standards.
Climate change regulations and taxes are a manifestation of a larger impulse -- the desire to control others. And it's awfully easy to be dismissive of someone else's way of life. I saw this sentiment on social media just yesterday -- I'll not name the individual in question, but suffice it to say it's the voice of an academic I know:
One enduring mystery is why Trump's supporters don't view him as a man of questionable character. Maybe they do. A friend of mine, now retired in Waco, TX, sent me an interview with some Trump supporters in Central TX. One of them said, "I'd like to support decency. But we can't afford decency when our way of life is under threat." And who told them their way of life is under siege? Fox of course. It's on all day.
So can we assume the Trump supporters of central Texas, and the firefighters of Cholet, France, do not know their own minds? Should we? Those who would be minders assume as much.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Meta Friends

I didn't bother with the television show "Friends" during its initial run, which mostly coincided with the birth and early childhood of Benster. Fearless Maria likes the show and will watch it on Netflix when she has time; as a result of hanging out with her while she's watching, I've seen a few episodes. It's a comfortable enough show, with some wit, and with generally amusing characters played by attractive people. 

Friends isn't especially PC, though, and the cultural minders don't like the show very much. Ann Althouse has an interesting thread going about the show and its critics, but I wanted to endorse the views of a regular commenter on her blog, who goes by the name of  Laslo Spatula:
My suggestion for the show’s popularity today (which ties in with what the show is often criticized for now) follows…

Yes, it reflects what seems to be a less “intense” time. As someone mentioned above, “Happy Days” did this in the 70s.

However, I will posit that this was the cultural sweet-spot where a person could be young and painfully self-aware, but with the absence of the hair-shirt Maoism that has come along since its original run.

Are the characters of ‘Friends’ less self-absorbed than millennials are now? I would say (with a broad brush) not really — but they are self-absorbed in a way that does not involve constant ritual self-castigation — and the fear of others’ shunning — for our’s society’s new thought crimes.

They could be gay-positive, but not have to maneuver through the minefield of today’s ‘fluidity’ and gender-norm fear.

They could be non-racist, but not spend hours self-critiquing why all of their friends were white.

While all were no doubt liberal, politics did not consume their lives: the ‘friends’ were pretty much live-and-let-live — something today’s kids have probably never even experienced.

Today’s young audience can see an America that is not so rawly split in half: again, something today’s kids have never experienced.
I think this is right. And it's really sad, too. "Hair-shirt Maoism" is exactly what we have in 2018 and it's hardly been a Great Leap Forward, either. Live-and-let-live is, increasingly, a dead letter. I see how politics has poisoned people every time I venture into social media. If you watch Friends, you don't see a bunch of people sitting in the same room, staring into their phones. You see people talking to one another. It's certainly a fake world — the characters never seem to have to work much and they have wonderful apartments that they couldn't possibly afford — but it looks even more appealing in retrospect than it likely did at the time.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Triomphe the Insult Comic French Politician

The thing speaks for itself:

So why the riots in Paris?
Paris police said Sunday that 133 people had been injured and 412 had been arrested as protesters trashed the streets of the capital during a demonstration Saturday against rising taxes and the high cost of living.

Charred cars, broken windows and downed fences from the riot littered many of the city's most popular tourist areas on Sunday, including major avenues near the Arc de Triomphe, streets around the famed Champs-Elysees Avenue, and the Tuileries garden. Graffiti was also sprayed on many stores and buildings.

Activists wearing yellow jackets had torched cars, smashed windows, looted stores, threw rocks at police and tagged the Arc de Triomphe with multi-colored graffiti. French police responded with tear gas and water cannon, closing down dozens of streets and Metro stations as they tried to contain the riot.
Even in France, there are limits to what people will tolerate. Will politicians elsewhere draw the proper conclusions? Not a chance.

Monday, December 03, 2018

McCarthy gets the pipe

No one paying attention is particularly surprised Mike McCarthy got fired yesterday. The timing was certainly surprising, though.

The Packers have been on a slide ever since they left the field in Seattle in the 2014 playoffs. They had some good moments and even made a run to the NFC Championship game in 2016, but this hasn't been a particularly good team for a while now. Some of it you can put on McCarthy, of course -- he seemed to lose the team this year. Some of the blame goes to Aaron Rodgers, an amazing talent but a diva of the first rank. A lot of the blame goes to former GM Ted Thompson, whose magic touch ran out years ago.

The NFL is designed to punish the best teams and elevate the worst teams. It's the way to keep interest in the league going. Some teams have good fortune and can avoid the canyons; the Patriots are a great example of that, but the greatest example would be the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have been contenders consistently for nearly 50 years. The Steelers started climbing the mountain way back in 1972. I remember 1972 well, as it was the only post-Lombardi year that the Packers would win their division until Brett Favre arrived. 1972, as it happened, was a false hope for the Packers, and as someone who lived with false hope for the better part of 25 years, it's easy to recognize.

Aaron Rodgers is the same age now that Bart Starr was in 1968. Nothing is guaranteed going forward and the Packers and their fans should not assume the good times are returning just because Mike McCarthy is leaving. There are some good players in Green Bay, but not enough of them. If I could trade rosters with the Chicago Bears, I would. If I could trade the immediate future of the Packers for the Bears, I would do that, too. I expect it will all turn to ashes in Chicago soon enough, because it usually does, but perhaps it won't this time. If you are a Packers fan, you have to assume your rivals are intelligent and competent. In many cases over the last 25 years, that has not been the case. But those days are gone. The Packers need to take the time to get this right, because it's just as easy to hire another Dan Devine as it is to hire a Mike Holmgren.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

George H. W. Bush, RIP

Time waits for no one
We're all a mixed bag, I guess. George H. W. Bush certainly was one. He served his country in a variety of ways. We read his lips. He lost the presidency to an outright scoundrel. I always had a tough time getting the stench of his time at CIA out of my nose. Thousand points of light. Voodoo Economics. The Wall came down on his watch, but his predecessor was largely responsible for that. He was personally as gracious a man as ever occupied the Oval Office, but he could be a vicious politician when he had to be. His son became president and was even more of a muddle than he was.

Sorting out 41's legacy will be a challenge for historians. I think we're still too close. My sense right now -- his time was a wasted opportunity, but there's this -- of the presidents in my lifetime (Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43, Obama, Trump), he's clearly the second best one. That's damning with faint praise, I guess.