Friday, January 29, 2010

Stupid things Canucks say

I don't think I've picked on Satan's Team since they were eliminated from the playoffs last spring, but the Vancouver Canucks are back in the news again.

The Winter Olympics start in Vancouver in a couple of weeks, and the hockey venue, of course, is GM Place, normally the home of the Canucks and their knuckle-dragging, foul-smelling fans. The building has to be extensively remodeled (for example, 14 locker rooms are needed for all of the different teams that will be competing) and then brought back to normal after the games, and all of this entails a lot of work that will keep the Canucks out of the building for an extended period of time.

The Canucks left home Thursday for a 14-game, 13-city road trip that will last 42 days. They will play eight games over the next 14 days, take a two-week Olympic break, then play another six games over nine days until they return home around March 11. Personally, I don't think it couldn't happen to a better team. Enjoy the road, slugs.

I wasn't going to write about it until the Canucks' Rick Rypien gave a reporter one of the dumbest quotes I've ever read. Granted, athletes say a lot of stupid things along the lines of, "Well, if we can score more than they do, we've got a chance to win," but this one really takes the cake. Here's Rypien on the subject of the road trip:

"I don't think people realize, with this road trip there's a lot of traveling, a lot of being on planes, a lot of jumping from one place to another right after you play and getting ready for the next game."

Ah, actually Rick, most people DO realize that road trips involve traveling, flying and playing in different cities. But thanks for the insight. The schoolteachers in your hometown of Coleman, Alberta, must be so proud.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Here's the problem: You're just not smart enough.

I know that when you're in Washington, it's easy to have a little different perspective of the world. During my D.C. years, I would sometimes engage in long, deep discussions about various pieces of legislation or political ideas that those of us on staff were convinced were incredibly important. We thought everyone back in Minnesota must be discussing this.

Then I'd come back to Minnesota and realize that the rest of the country really doesn't pay much attention to the details of government. They go about their lives and when they think about Washington - if at all - they are usually thinking about the broad, general direction of government and how it will impact their lives. This kind of common sense is much more valuable than all of the political philosophy in the world, and it's easy for Washington folks to lose sight of that.

But even by D.C. standards, it's hard to imagine anyone being as disconnected from reality as President Obama was this past week, following the Massachusetts election. He told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that there was really only one major mistake he had made in his first year in office.

"I think the assumption was if I just focus on policy, if I just focus on this provision or that law or if we’re making a good rational decision here, then people will get it,” he said.

In other words, "You stupid voters aren't smart enough to realize how wise I am, and you should just listen to me, follow along and not ask any questions."

And because we just aren't smart enough, he also said that he plans to spend more time "speaking directly to the American people."

Well, in his first year he gave 158 interviews and 411 speeches, more than any first-year president in history. I don't think the problem is that Americans aren't hearing him. The problem is that they're hearing him, and just don't care very much for what he has to say.

But let's hope he keeps right on talking through November.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Tough week to be a lefty

National Review Online notes what a remarkable week it's been for liberals:

1. Ted Kennedy's senate seat goes Republican.
2. Air America declares bankruptcy, plans to go off the air
3. The Supreme Court overturns the McCain-Feingold law censoring political speech
4. We reach the one-year anniversary of the Presidential order to shut down Guantanamo Bay within one year...while it remains open and detaining terrorists.

How's all the Hope and Change working out for you?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Is this guy really considered bright? (Part 3)

There will be so many great memories from the campaign that ended with Scott Brown's win in Massachusetts tonight. His reminder to David Gergen that is was "the people's seat." Patrick Kennedy repeatedly calling Martha Coakley "Marcia." Coakley's staffer pushing a reporter down on the sidewalk. Her assertion that Catholics shouldn't work in emergency rooms. Her calling Red Sox hero Curt Shilling "A Yankees fan."

But one of the things that will stick with me the longest is further evidence that the President just isn't all that bright. We've touched on this earlier, when he invented the "Austrian" language, and when he said the U.S. was "one of the largest Muslim countries in the world." (See the April 18 and June 4 posts from the 2009 archives.)

Anyway, he went into Massachusetts Sunday to make an appearance for Coakley's doomed campaign, and he chose a very peculiar target to attack. Brown helped create his "average guy" image by featuring his pickup truck, which had almost 200,000 miles on it, as he drove around Massachusetts campaigning. Obama decided that the idea of a guy driving around in his own pickup truck was an image worth ridiculing. Not once, not twice, but SEVEN TIMES. Here are excerpts from the White House transcript:

-- Now, I’ve heard about some of the ads that Martha’s opponent is running. He’s driving his truck around the commonwealth -- (laughter)

-- So I hear her opponent is calling himself an independent. Well, you've got to look under the hood -- (laughter) --

-- So, look, forget the ads. Everybody can run slick ads. Forget the truck. (Laughter.) Everybody can buy a truck. (Laughter.)

-- Now, you better check under the hood...

-- ...he decided to park his truck on Wall Street. (Laughter.)

-- It gives you a sense of who the respective candidates are going to be fighting for, despite the rhetoric, despite the television ads, despite the truck. (Laughter.)

-- So I’d think long and hard about getting in that truck with Martha’s opponent. (Laughter.)

Now I realize that there probably aren't a lot of "community organizers" in Chicago driving pickup trucks, and probably even fewer members of the White House staff, but there are a few million people out here in flyover land that own trucks. Lots of people in places like Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, who don't really think that driving a pickup should open them up to ridicule.

Early prediction: Voters in those swing states are going to see a lot of ads in 2012 showing the president making fun of pickups. And for those UAW workers at the Ford plant in St. Paul, making pickups, it must be nice to know what the President thinks of your handiwork.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Yeah, that NBA is FAN-tastic!

It's long been one of my contentions that the biggest divide among humans is not Black vs. White, Jew vs. Arab or Christian vs. Muslim. It's hockey people vs. basketball people.

As most of you know, I'm firmly on the hockey side of the debate, as are most rational people. Hockey is a beautful combination of excitement, toughness and skill, played out at high speed on a frozen pond. Basketball is group of pituitary cases plodding up and down a court, pausing occasionally to taunt each other and pose for the crowd.

Basketball is such a dainty little sport. People get ejected from basketball games for making the kind of physicial contact that isn't even a penalty in hockey. Ask yourself which would seem to require more skill: Shooting a free throw or trying to score on a breakaway? I just can't imagine why anyone would go to a basketball game, especially if they had the choice to watch a hockey game instead.

Further evidence of the contrast between basketball and hockey comes via a story from Washington, D.C., involving a charming fellow named Gilbert Arenas, who (until recently) played for the NBA's Washington Wizards. Arenas pled guilty to felony gun possession charges today, and is likly to do some jail time for the really brilliant act of storing guns in the Wizards' locker room. Here's the narrative from the courtroom today:

"Prosecutor Chris Kavanaugh, reading in court from a statement of facts that Arenas agreed to, said the charge stemmed from a Dec. 19 dispute with another player over a card game. Kavanaugh did not identify the other player, but authorities have searched the home of teammate Javaris Crittenton for a gun.

"Kavanaugh said the disagreement developed during a team flight back from Phoenix. The other player offered to settle matters with a fist fight, but Arenas, 28, said he was too old for that and suggested he would instead burn the other player's Cadillac Escalade or shoot him in the face. The argument on the plane ended with the other player saying he would shoot Arenas in the knee. Arenas has a history of knee problems."

"Two days later, Kavanaugh said, Arenas brought at least one gun to the Verizon Center in a black backpack. He laid out four guns on a chair in front of the other player's locker with a sign saying, "Pick 1." When the other player asked, "What is this?," Arenas responded with words to the effect of: "You said you were going to shoot me, so pick one."

"The other player said he had his own gun, threw one of Arenas' weapons across the room and then displayed what appeared to be a silver-colored firearm, Kavanaugh said."

What a fun story! This wouldn't happen in an NHL lockerroom, because this is how a hockey dispute goes down: You take a guy's skate and scrape it against the wall, so that he'll have to have it sharpened again. Or maybe you put shaving cream in his gloves. That's as bad as it gets, because in hockey, teammates are sacred. They're the guys you go to battle with, you watch each other's back and you take care of each other.

In basketball, teammates are just those other guys on the court who prevent you from being able to score all the points yourself, so a reasonable way to deal with them is to take out your guns and start waving them at each other.

The NBA: It's FAN-tastic!

Is it really possible?

Normally I wouldn't care much about a special election in a deep-blue state like Massachusetts, but next Tuesday has a chance to be a really interesting day.

As you recall, we were recently relieved of the burden of putting up with Ted Kennedy, and on Tuesday an election will be held to select a replacement. When the primary was held a few weeks ago, the Democrats selected as their candidate the state's Attorney General, Martha Coakley. A state senator named Scott Brown won the Republican primary, and it was generally assumed that Coakley would go on to trounce Brown in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3-to-1.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the election. Coakley turned out to be an awful candidate, and Brown turned out to be kind of an inspiring one. Republicans haven't won a U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts since 1972, and Obama carried the state by 26 points in 2008, but suddenly almost every poll shows this race within the margin of error; A Suffolk University poll released tonight actually shows Brown ahead by four points. The Boston Herald has endorsed Brown.

The battle lines are pretty clear: Coakley is in favor of Obamacare, has called for higher taxes and believes captured terrorists should get civilian trials. Brown opposes Obamacare, favors tax cuts and is okay with military tribunals for terrorists.

The real turning point for Brown came in a debate last week, when the moderator asked Brown about the possibility of Brown becoming a vote against Obamacare from "Teddy Kennedy's seat." Brown quickly responded by saying, "With all due respect, it's not the Kennedy seat, it's not the Democrat's seat, it's the people's seat."

It still seems unlikely to me that Brown can win, because in Massachusetts - as in Minnesota - the Democrats just control too much of the apparatus of elections. There is that massive registration disparity, and if it becomes really close, the same sort of fraud and criminality that "elected" Al Franken in Minnesota will kick in out there as well.

But just the fact that it's close at all tells us this: Even folks in the Peoples Republic of Massachusetts are fed up with everything the Obama administration has come to represent. The inattention to national security. Civilian trials for terrorists. The trillion-dollar "stimulus" that raised the unemployment rate. The secret health care bill negotiations. The mushrooming deficits. Less than a year after taking office, Obama has squandered any "mandate" he might have had, and brought the Republican party back to parity.

When Republicans won governor's races in New Jersey and Virginia about eight weeks ago, the White House tried to spin these as just "local" races that didn't reflect any dissatisfaction with Obama. It wasn't particularly believable then, and it will be less so if they lose on Tuesday.

If they lose Massachusetts they haven't just lost a battle. They've lost the war.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A sad ending to a great story

We often hear the phrase, "The American Dream," and while the phrase means different things to different people, whenever I hear it I think of my former boss and still good friend, Rudy Boschwitz (shown here in 1977).

If you grew up in the Twin Cities area in the 1960s, like I did, it was almost impossible not to know who Rudy Boschwitz was, and that he ran something called "Plywood Minnesota." The guy in the plaid shirt was on tv and radio all the time, talking about his chain of home improvement stores, promising low prices where the customer got "our best shot all the time."

(Charles Schulz, the creator of "Peanuts" and a Minnesota native, picked up on the message. There's a strip in which one of the Peanuts characters tells the teacher he is giving it "my best shot" and then explains, "Just a little colloquialism, ma'am." He later signed the original of the strip and gave it to Rudy.)

I didn't know the story behind the stores, and it would be years before I learned about what really made Plywood Minnesota special.

In 1978, Rudy turned his business fame into a U.S. Senate seat, and in 1987 I became his Press Secretary, and during our thousands of hours traveling together, I learned the history of the entire enterprise.

Rudy came to America in the 1930s, his family fleeing Nazi Germany, and it appeared Rudy was destined for corporate law. He was an exceptionally bright kid, who graduated high school at 16, went to Johns Hopkins and graduated college by age 19, then got his law degree from NYU at age 22. By 1956 he was in and out of the U.S. Army, passed the New York bar and was practicing law on Wall Street. His future looked assured.

Except that business law bored him, and he had the soul of an entrepreneur. He moved to Wisconsin, where his brother ran a plywood factory, and then on to Minneapolis, with the dream of selling plywood. He told me how he and Ellen doubled up on their mortgage payments in order to build a little equity and get some cash to start the business.

When he opened in Fridley in the early '60s, it wasn't very fancy. Sheets of plywood stacked against the wall, buckets of nails on the floor. But it quickly developed a reputation for quality and low prices, and fueled by Rudy's on-air persona, the business grew quickly. By the '70s he had 70 stores in 11 states and had made himself a millionaire. It truly was the American Dream in action, and the entire Boschwitz family - Rudy, wife Ellen and the four boys - all worked together in the business.

In the 1990s, Rudy hired me to help with a name change for the stores. "Plywood Minnesota" no longer really represented the kind of upscale remodeling centers the stores had becomes, selling high-end carpets, window treatments, cabinets and such. They came up with the name Home Valu, and have operated under that name since.

Earlier this week the family announced that they were shutting the business down for good after 46 years. The soft economy - and in particular the decimated housing market - took too big a toll on them. The poor credit market made it tougher for homeowners to get equity lines of credit, one of the more common ways of paying for Home Valu's remodeling projects.

Closing the stores means about 130 employees will lose jobs, which I know must trouble Rudy greatly, because he took great pride in treating his employees well. It was always impressive to talk to some of the staff and find out how many years they had spent with the company. News reports said the company waited too long to try to downsize, and I'm certain that was, in part, because it would have been difficult for Rudy to lay off people.

Of course, business start-ups and business failures are part of the free enterprise system that Rudy - and I - believed in so strongly. It's the circle of life, and it would hypocritical of me to say that a business should remain around when the marketplace has said it should vanish, but the headlines in this instance really make me sad. The Boschwitz family is made up of very good people, and Rudy's story remains an inspiration, despite the final chapter.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Blyleven for the Hall of Fame?

With the snow piling up outside, I thought maybe a little baseball talk would put me in a better mood.

Yesterday the Baseball Hall of Fame voting was announced, and once again former Twin - and current Twins announcer - Bert Blyleven came up a few votes short. Five votes, to be exact, the closest he has come.

Bert's been on the HOF ballot for 13 years now, and no other player seems to be create the kind of passionate arguments that surround the question of whether or not he belongs in the Hall. One side is a vocal group of supporters that trumpet his 3,000+ strikeouts, 287 wins and his all-time ranking in various pitching stats.

The other side points out that he only won 20 games once, he didn't reach 300 career wins and that during his career no one really considered him a dominant pitcher, as represented by his bleak record in Cy Young Award voting.

I don't know which side is correct, although the more I read, the more I tend to believe he should be in. But there's one thing that bugs me about the whole controversy, and that is the fact that Blyleven himself campaigns so relentlessly for the recognition.

After his first couple years on the ballot, when he was coming up way short, he sort of pouted about it, at one point saying that he wanted to tell all of the voters, "Don't vote for me at all." Over the next few years, he became sort of the self-appointed chairman of the "Blyleven for the Hall of Fame Committee," regularly giving interviews explaining why he felt he belonged.

Just this week, he penned a column for headlined "Why I Should Get That Hall Call Today" which you can read here.

Look, I like Bert. He's a fun and knowledgeable broadcaster, seems like a good guy and I always kind of rooted for him because we share that Dutch heritage. I've had friends bump into him on Twins road trips who said he was charming and gracious in chatting with them. But there is something so completely off-putting about campaigning for your own Hall of Fame election. He even has a web site,, with links to his stats and a series of articles promoting his HOF candidacy. Bert leaves no doubt in anyone's mind that he thinks he has earned a place in the Hall.

In my mind, when someone is asked about their chances of being in the Hall of Fame the answer should be something like, "It's really an honor to even be considered. To be mentioned in the same context as Walter Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan and people like that is very satisfying. I don't know if I belong because that's for others to decide, and I can't control what the voters do, but if they see fit to put me in, I would be thrilled and honored."

One of the lessons I've learned in life - and I would have been better off if I had learned it earlier - is that a little bit of humility goes a long way. Maybe if Bert could stop coming off like a bitter old man who "wants what's his", and be quiet for awhile, this story might have a happy ending.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Just a nice little moment.

On Wild game days I generally get to downtown St. Paul between 4:00 and 4:30, and circle Rice Park and the adjacent streets waiting for a parking spot to open. Today I was a little early, a few minutes before 4:00, and someone pulled away just as I pulled up, so I got the easy, early parking spot.

Which is why I was wandering into the X a couple minutes after 4:00, when I don't need to be there until about 5:15. As I walked past the Herb Brooks statue and towards the building, I noticed two men to my left, standing in the cold, chatting. I did a double take when I realized the men were Jacques Lemaire and Mario Tremblay!

Lemaire, of course, was the coach of the Wild for the first eight seasons, and Tremblay was his assistant. They now have the same jobs with the New Jersey Devils, and tonight was their first time back in St. Paul since leaving the Wild.

My respect for Lemaire is well documented - see the April 11 and April 13 posts of last year - and he's now doing a fantastic job with the Devils, leading them to the top of the Eastern Conference. I kept on walking into the building, but stopped after a moment and realized this was a chance I might never get again: The chance to say thank you.

So I went back into the cold, approached them and said, "Hi fellows. I don't want to bother you, but I just wanted to say welcome back, and thank you for everything you did for us."

They both smiled, shook my hand, and then Jacques noticed my name badge and said, "Thank you, Tim," in that funny little clipped French accent of his. I turned and walked away, because I didn't want to intrude on the conversation, but that was enough. It just really felt really good to say thank you to someone to whom I feel indebted. Merci beaucoup, coach.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

I think the best part of the Costanza family's observation of the Festivus holiday was the "airing of grievances." In that Festivus spirit, I'm going to get just a few things off my chest.

1. When you stand up in an arena, cell phone to your ear, waving at a friend who is somewhere else in the arena, you look like a total doofus. Sit down and shut up.

2. Speaking of cell phones: No matter how good a driver you are, you should NOT be texting while you're driving. It's stupid, and if you do it you deserve to be in an accident, and the innocent person you hit earns the right to repeatedly hit you in the mouth. Really, you shouldn't even be talking without a headset that allows you to keep your hands on the wheel. I mean, come on, a headset is like $4.99 at Wal-Mart. Isn't your life worth that?

3. Why are you complaining that a beer is $7 or $8 at a Twins, Vikings or Wild game? Someone has to pay for Joe Mauer/Brett Favre/Mikko Koivu. If you don't want it to be you, then don't buy the beer. If you buy the beer, drink it, enjoy it and shut up about how much it cost.

That's pretty much it, which I think is actually a pretty short list of grievances. My favorite line of 2009 came from a Dilbert cartoon, in which Dogbert hands out some pretty good advice when he says, "There's really no point in talking to other people. They're either agreeing with you, or saying stupid stuff."

Words to remember.