Thursday, January 27, 2011

An important moment

For years, the Middle East has been largely run by dictators. Oh, you might hear about an Egyptian election, or voters going to the polls in Jordan, but the vast majority were sham elections, with only one candidate to vote for, or with the outcome predetermined. From Syria to Algeria to Morocco, "elections" were held to help the dictators cement their power.

Real democracy has proven very difficult to establish in the Middle East - an interesting 2007 New York Times article is here - but what is happening right now in Egypt may turn out to be of extreme importance.

Just last month, protestors in Tunisia forced their dictator from office. Now, Egyptian youth are rioting against the three-decade rule of Hosni Mubarak. Much of Mubarak's family has fled the country, and it seems unlikely he can prevail against the public sentiment.

When the Soviet Union began to crumble, the dictators in the outlying countries - Romania, Czechoslovakia, Poland - found it difficult to stay in power, and real reforms came to a large part of the world.

If Mubarak can be forced from Egypt, who is next? And they are asking that question in Saudi Arabia as well, a place where democratic government and free elections could make a huge difference.

We don't always recognize history when it is being made, but January, 2011 could turn out to be a much-studied period in history.

Scummiest man in America?

Racing to the top (bottom?) of the list is Rep. Jim Moran, Democrat of Virginia.

He was recently asked on an Arab television network about the Republican success in last November's election. Here's the answer he gave:

It [the Republican successes in the 2010 elections] happened for the same reason the Civil War happened in the United States. It happened because the Southern states, the slaveholding states, didn't want to see a president who was opposed to slavery.

In this case, I believe, a lot of people in the United States don't want to be governed by an African-American, particularly one who is liberal, who wants to spend money and who wants to reach out to include everyone in our society....

Talk about playing the race card! Here's the video, and it's nice to know what liberals really think.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Warning: Boring hockey talk...unless you're a goalie

I'm a long way from being an expert on goaltending, but I did play the position for about 30 years and then helped my son William learn to play it well enough that he was an all-conference goalie in high school. And it's that generational difference that I want to focus on a bit.

I'm bringing this up because the Wild are currently without their top two goaltenders - Niklas Backstrom and Jose Theodore - because both are having soreness in their hips. Two years ago Backstrom had surgery to repair a torn labrum (the cartilage in the hip joint), and this week the Gophers also saw goalie Alex Kangas have his collegiate career ended by labrum surgery.

Hip problems are becoming a bit of an epidemic among goaltenders, and what was originally thought to simply be a lack of stretching and conditioning among goalies now appears to be something entirely different: A certain style of goaltending appears to be causing the problem. To learn more, let's go down memory lane a bit.

For most of the modern hockey era, goalies were told it was best to stay on their feet. Dropping to your knees to make a save was considered bad form. An old-time coach - I believe it was Emile Francis of the Rangers, but I'm not sure - would even have his goalies practice with a rope that was tied to the cross bar on one end, and to the goalie's neck on the other - to keep his goalies from "going down." That was the style, and we tended to look like this:

If a shot was on the ice, goalies were expected to turn their skates out and deflect the puck away from the net, looking like Ken Dryden here:

or Doug Favell here:

We moved side to side - sort of like those little goalies on table hockey games - always expected to be on our feet.

Sometime in the 1970s, that began to change. It's unclear who really started it - some people credit Chicago Blackhawks goalie Tony Esposito, others give credit to the Soviet great Vladislav Tretiak - but gradually a number of goalies began using something called the "butterfly" to stop pucks.

The butterfly involved dropping to your knees while letting your pads spread out on the ice, creating a wall to stop the puck. It looks like this:

Or this:

Regardless of who started it, the "butterfly style" style really came into prominence with the arrival of Patrick Roy. Playing first for Montreal, and later for Colorado (winning Stanley Cups in both places) Roy was able to drop into his butterfly, make a save and pop right back up. Roy had been coached at a young age by another French-Canadien, Francois Allaire, and Roy's success turned Allaire into a goaltending guru. He opened goalie camps and taught an entire generation of young goalies to makes saves from the butterfly position.

The butterfly drop itself is kind of an unnatural motion; Try dropping to your knees and having your legs spread out in different directions and see how it feels. In the early 1980s, when I was a sportswriter as well as an amateur goalie, I was invited to spend an afternoon on the ice with Ladislav Horsky, the godfather of Czechoslovakian hockey, who was working at a camp in River Falls, Wisc. He was teaching the butterfly style to a group of goalies. I was on the ice in my pads, and couldn't figure out how to make my legs move that way

(Side note: Horsky returned to Europe a few weeks later, and died the next year. I think I was the last North American journalist to interview him.)

But Patrick Roy - as you can learn in this Sports Illustrated piece from 2009 - had no trouble learning how to splay his legs out. His mother was a swim coach who taught him to swim the breaststroke, and the frog-kick motion came naturally to him. Under Allaire's guidance, Roy figured out how to cover the ice with his pads (where most goals were being scored) while leaving his torso and gloves to stop the higher shots.

Roy became a revolutionary figure in goaltending. Watch film in slow motion, and you can see him dropping into his butterfly even as the shooter was still winding up. It became the most efficient way to cover the majority of the 4 x 6-foot goal opening.

Almost overnight, goalies were dropping into the butterfly all the time, for most of the shots in practice and most of the shots in games. For even a high school goalie that up-and-down motion coule be repeated thousands of times in a single season

What we're now learning is that the butterfly motion is particularly hard on the hips. The medical stuff is way above my pay grade, but boils down to something like this: The femur - the big bone between the knee and hip - has a ball-shaped joint at the top, which connects to the cup-shaped joint at the hip bone. Every time a goalie drops into a butterfly, the ball rotates in the cup, and can begin to wear away the cartilage - known as the labrum - that protects the joint. The joint looks like this:
It doesn't hurt at first because there are no nerves in the joint. The pain only begins after the repetitive motion gradually wears away the cartilage and leads to a tear in the labrum. Then burden of protecting the joint then falls to the muscles around the area, and that increased strain leads to chronic groin pulls.

Performing the butterfly isn't the only thing that causes the problem. In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of athletes from all sports who have required hip surgery - Alex Rodriguez, Michelle Kwan, Greg Norman, just to name a few - and some medical experts now think that overtraining of the legs leads to increased stress on the hips and labrum problems.

It seems unlikely that goalie coaches are going to stop teaching the butterfly technique, but it now comes with a warning that all of those spectacular saves are likely to come with a price further down the road.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Calm down, everyone

A southern state with a history of intense politics. A politician shot in the head in an outdoor public setting. A rush to blame right-wing politics and a "climate of hate."

It's all been done before, people, and those rushing to judgment were wrong then, just as they are wrong now.

In Dallas, 1963, in the immediate aftermath of John F. Kennedy's assassination, there was also a quick condemnation of the political right. Texas, we were told the evening of the shooting, was full of crazies, John Birchers and hate-mongers. It's no wonder, Walter Cronkite and the other media elites told us, that such a poisonous atmosphere of conservative politics would produce someone capable of shooting the president.

Except, of course, it turned out that Lee Harvey Oswald wasn't driven by a dislike of taxes, socialism or intrusive government. Turned out he was a Commie. Turned out that he loved the Soviet Union enough to have defected, lived there and married a Russian woman. Turned out he was active in the "Fair Play for Cuba" committee, which was mad at Kennedy for his allegedy being too tough on Castro and his communist regime. Turned out he loved Karl Marx and The Communist Manifesto. Turned out he was a lefty, through and through, and that the media's knee-jerk attacks on the political right had no basis in reality.

For nearly 50 years we've had to put up with crackpot "conspiracy" theories about JFK's demise, in part because the political left had a hard time dealing with the fact that one of their own had shot the President.

Saturday, history repeated itself in the aftermath of the tragic shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona. Within hours, a former state senate colleague was on the airwaves, denouncing the Tea Party and laying the blame at their feet. The idiotic sheriff of Pima County jumped right up to lay the shooting at the feet of conservative political commentators, blaming "the rhetoric about hatred, about mistrust of government, about paranoia of how government operates."

The New York Times surrendered its right to ever be taken seriously again when it editorialized " is legitimate to hold Republicans and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media responsible for the gale of anger that has produced the vast majority of these threats, setting the nation on edge..."

The usual gang of idiots - Keith Olbermann, Paul Krugman, Eugene Robinson, Roger Simon and other lefties - immediately piled on, blaming conservative politics for the shooting.

But it turns out that the shooter, Jared Loughner, was another lover of The Communist Manifesto. A classmate described him as a "left-wing pothead." The weight of the evidence we have seen so far would seem to indicate that Loughner is simply a mentally ill loner with delusions of grandeur, not driven by any political ideology.

The left's history of reactions to violence is illustrative. When a Muslim fanatic shoots 13 people at Ft. Hood while screaming "Allah Akbar," we're told not to "jump to conclusions" about his ideology. When a lefty filmmaker creates a hate-filled movie about shooting George W. Bush, we're told it's just "artistic license." When another jihadist tries to explode a bomb in Times Square, Mayor Bloomberg says, "Maybe he was just mad about health care." When John Hinckley shot Reagan, no one on the left decried the biter, hateful rhetoric that was common in the first months of Reagan's presidency.

The world is full of crazies, and the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords is a senseless tragedy. But just as the left brought shame upon itself in the aftermath of JFK's shooting, it has done so again in the past two days. It's an old cliche to say "Those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it," but that appears to be the case for people like Olbermann and others who want to try to turn tragedy into political gains for themselves.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Photo essay

A little family update from the Holidays:

The Smartest Little Girl in the Universe, 3-year-old Annie, got to come over and help with the cookie baking

Santa also brought Annie a new desk, since she outgrew her previous one, allowing her to continued doing her serious coloring in my office.

Little brother Sambo shows off his own photogenic good looks with Aunt Erin.

And here's what the entire clan looks like now: Sons-in-law next to me, sons on the end, and the two cookie-fueled hyperactive grandchildren in the front.
(Click on the photo to see a bigger version.)

Monday, January 3, 2011

He's back!

So you're probably thinking to yourself, "Why would Droogs just stop blogging for nearly three months? I love his witty, insightful comments and my life just isn't the same without access to all of Tim's thoughts."

Okay, you probably didn't think that second part, but the first part is a valid question, and so here's the explanation: As some of you know, I was involved with the State Senate campaign of Red Wing's Mayor, John Howe. We had a great time on the campaign, resulting in a 55%-45% victory. Frankly, the margin probably should have been more, given the goofball we ran against (more about him later), but a win's a win, and tomorrow John will be sworn in as part of the first-ever Republican majority in the Minnesota Senate.

As you know, I can be somewhat opinionated in this blog. I often write things that offend people, or are a little controversial. (Like repeatedly calling Obama a "diversity hire." Which he is.) Sometimes I feel bad about that later, but not often, and even if I do feel bad, I rarely - if ever - apologize.

Given the current political atmosphere, and the way every bed-wetting liberal runs around looking for ways to be "offended," I thought it was probably best to stop writing during the final weeks of the campaign. For all I knew, I could make some harmless little innocent comment like, say, pointing out the similarities between Nancy Pelosi and the beast described in Revelations, and some nutjob would come out of the woodwork and accuse Mayor Howe of being "insensitive" because of something I wrote.

Not wanting anything I might write to interfere with the campaign, I decided I had better just shut it down until Mayor Howe was sworn in as Senator Howe. That happens tomorrow, so I feel free to start writing again.

So, just to get you caught up.....

The campaign was fun. As you'll recall from this previous post, we were running against a kid named Joe "Joey" Fricke. Little Joey got out of law school this past spring - it only took him 10 years to get through college and law school - and when the local DFLers couldn't find anyone to run against Mayor Howe, Joey decided he'd try to fast-track his career by starting out as a state Senator.

The only flaw in the plan was that he had no discernible experience that would qualify him to be a lawmaker. Between various stints at college, he used to spend summers working for the City of Red Wing because, as he said, he had "a heart for public service." One of the great moments of the campaign came in a debate at Winona, when John had finally heard Joey say "public service" enough times. John opened his closing statement by turning to Joe and saying "Getting paid to mow lawns ISN'T public service." Watching Joe kind of crumble was almost enough to make me feel sorry for him. Almost.

Come election night, he couldn't even make the customary concession call to John, and did some whining in the paper about John's "leadership style," proving once again that no matter how many years you spend at St. Thomas, there's no guarantee that you'll develop any class.

Shortly after the election came another birthday. I turned 54, and the highlight of the day was having the grandkids come over in their special "Opa's Girl" and "Opa's Guy" t-shirts, custom-made by daughter Corrie.

Annie turned 3 in October, and Sambo had his first birthday in August. If you ask him "Who's the man?" he'll thump himself in the chest to show you. He's got hockey player written all over him.

Last night was a bit of a landmark as I worked my 400th Minnesota Wild game. It was a crazy night that ended with a 6-5 overtime win, and it turned out that it was also Mikko Koivu's 400th game. Of course, all I get are home games, so he's going to race past me.

It's been an inconsistent season for the Wild, and while they are just four points out of the last playoff spot, I don't see them making the playoffs. I hope I'm wrong, but the club just doesn't seem to show up on a night-to-night basis often enough to run off the six- or eight-game winning streak they're going to need to make the playoffs. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think so.

A couple weeks ago marked the 75th anniversary of the arrival of my former boss, Rudy Boschwitz, in the United States. He came here as a 5-year-old, fleeing Nazi Germany with his parents and siblings; Much of their family was lost in the Holocaust. A Jewish newspaper recently took note of Rudy's story here, and it's a great read.

I've written before about what a remarkable life story Rudy has, and I'm extremely proud of my association with him. On a shelf in my office is a picture of the two of us at the Berlin Wall in January, 1990, just as communism was nearing its collapse. The picture is encased in a shadow box, along with a piece of the Wall itself. It's among my most cherished possessions.

So, we're about all caught up, and my New Year's resolution is to get something up on the blog at least every other day. Hold me to it!