Thursday, May 31, 2007

Opening Day Night

There's something about Opening Day. Even if it's at night. And even if it's for a semi-pro team comprised of collegiate players, most of whom will only set foot in a major league stadium if they buy a ticket.

But there's something pure about the game. There's a certain nostalgia embodied in the layers of thick paint that coat the steel railings; a unique odor of brats and ballpark franks that will linger, if only in the mind, long after the fans have gone home.

They conjure a feeling that is as pure as the joy of stopping to watch a father play catch with his son after the game is over and the players have left the field. A son who may be too small to hold the regulation-size bat of his heroes, but who swings just as mightily at his hopeful father's playful toss.

We're lucky in northern Wisconsin. We have the Woodchucks nearby in Wausau. A couple of hours to the east, we can always visit the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, a Class A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. A few hours to the southeast awaits Miller Park, the major league cathedral that houses the Milwaukee Brewers. But we're lucky not because of the easy commutes to "better" baseball. We're lucky for the humble ball diamonds that dot the countryside in between. American Legion, Little League, rec leagues and random gatherings of kids who don't bother with "uniforms" and "rules."

Somewhere there is a son playing catch with his dad. And that's the best game there is.

Friday, May 25, 2007

A Brat Haiku

Must be Wisconsin/
I watch Racing Sausages/
Soon I will eat one

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Reagan Diaries

Just picked up my copy of The Reagan Diaries, Ronald Reagan's personal day-by-day account of his time in office, just released on May 22. At 784 pages, it's pretty thorough, but not nearly thick as it could've been. Apparently the author had to cull from five full 8.5 x 11 bound volumes just to pare it down to this.

I'm looking forward to it, but I'm also looking forward to finishing the book "Silent Wings," about World War II glider warfare, a book I've been working on in fits and starts for several months. Of particular interest to me is the CG-4A, a model that is being restored near my hometown.

Brew Crew *whew*

While the Brewers (28-19) have lost 9 of their last 13, they should offer no apologies for playing in a weak division. They've maintained their 6.5-game lead in the NL Central thanks largely to the second-place Astros and Cubs losing also.

The Crew have seen their team batting average deflate about 10 points, which drops them from third in the NL to sixth, still second in the division behind the Cubs. They're still hitting .242 with runners in scoring position (including stranding 6 in scoring position against Brad Penny in a 5-1 loss to the Dodgers on Wednesday night), which puts them ahead of only Arizona (25-23), Pittsburgh (19-26, -8), Cincinnati (18-29, -10) and Washington (18-29).

That's not good, but at least there's room for improvement.

Meanwhile, the Brewers' team ERA through the first six innings of any game is 3.41 - BEST IN THE NL - while their late-inning ERA bloats to 4.74 - third-WORST in the NL. Here's what I can't figure out; the bullpen has looked solid.

Only Carlos Villanueva has given up one or more earned runs in his last half-dozen appearances. Derrick Turnbow has only been "Turnblow" twice, taking two losses and blowing one save in his last 10 appearances. Francisco Cordero hasn't failed to convert a save opportunity yet and is tied with Arizona's Jose Valverde for the NL lead in saves.
Southpaw sidearmer Brian Shouse gave up two in a loss to the Phillies (which combined with Turnblow's 4 earnies in an 8-6 loss snatched from the jaws of a 6-2 victory) but has been solid this season. (Not bad for a FIB.)
Matt Wise has been money all season as the setup guy for Turnbow, getting one strikeout in four of his last five innings of work, and only giving up a run in Wednesday night's 5-1 loss.
Chris Spurling has been a pleasant surprise. He's given up just 3 runs all season, and none since May 5.
Elmer Dessens could be the missing link to mediocrity, now that I look at it. He hasn't even appeared since last Friday, and the Saturday before that, he gave up 5 runs to the Mets in a 9-1 loss.

But it all comes back to driving in those runners once they've reached second or third. In the Brewers' 9-of-13 skid, they're 2-3 in one-run games, and they've scored 3 or fewer runs in 8 of their last 11.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

About those 'high' gas prices

Loathe as I am to even address "high" gas prices, the stories just don't seem to go away.
Yes, it sucks paying $3.45/$3.55/$3.65/Diesel $2.99 a gallon, but it's like when your cable bill goes up. It only sucks because it's an additional expenditure compared to what we're used to.

Found an interesting article, written by the Cato Institute, that ran in Investor's Business Daily in May 2006 and does a pretty good - though slightly eye-glazing - job of putting current gas prices into perspective.

Its basic point is that prices, as a percentage of disposable income, are actually lower today than in 1981, and at other times in the last 50 years when we might have thought gas was so much "cheaper."

Meanwhile, the media keep trotting out stories about how gas prices are "at an all-time high," without telling us that gas prices have almost ALWAYS been at an "all-time high." The Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration (EIA) has an interesting table of statistics tracking gas prices since 1992. Note the peaks and valleys regardless of administration, with the final spike above $3/gallon really only coming in May 2007.

Interesting to bear in mind for those accusing President Bush of being too dumb to tie his own shoes but yet somehow behind this massive collusion in the oil industry. I'll believe gas prices are too high when people stop buying premium.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Pols don't disappoint on illegal immigration

Well, the pols - of both parties - have proven me right once again. I've been saying for years that we'd never see any meaningful reform of immigration that would punish those who stormed our borders and are occupying our country illegally. That's because the Republicans don't want to alienate business, which relies on the cheap labor, and the Democrats don't want to alienate what they see as a potential voting base of minorities.

Today we get this garbage legislation from Congress, which plays paddycake with the 12 million or so illegal aliens currently in America. ("Oh, we can't deport them all," say the enablers. Yeah? We don't seem to have a problem going after the millions of drug users in this country.)

So I Googled illegal immigration in Wisconsin, just to see how the issue affects my home state. I shouldn't have been surprised to find that Gov. Jim Doyle is behind yet another program to reward illegal immigrants. The Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) apparently uses Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (I-TINs), issued by the IRS, as acceptable ID for obtaining a first mortgage. And just so I'm not singling out our lying, criminal governor (more on that later), it's the IRS, according to a WHEDA's executive director, that won't even allow WHEDA to ask about a mortgage applicant's legal status. Wonderful.

That on top of Doyle's proposal to allow children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state college tuition:

Journal-Sentinel, O. Ricardo Pimentel, 5-31-05:

State Rep. Pedro Coln (D-Milwaukee) estimates that we're likely talking about fewer than 100 students paying $5,831 a year rather than $18,583 to attend a University of Wisconsin System school.

OK, so if it's only a few people, then it's OK to break our laws. Tell that to the drug users and dealers. Pimentel is a big lib and makes a typically bleeding-heart case for these children - that they didn't ask to be brought here, this is the only country they've known, they shouldn't be used as pawns, etc. He's right; they shouldn't be used as pawns. But seeing as they're now young adults capable of choosing a college, they also are perfectly capable of choosing a legal path to citizenship.

It used to be that American citizenship meant something other than money and votes to those we choose to represent us.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

True Blew Brew Crew ... renewed?

At long last, my Milwaukee Brewers may have returned to prominence!
Note the "may". After snapping their four-game skid and finally closing the deal against the Phillies today, they're still holding a 5-game lead (on Houston) and have shrunk their magic number to 116.

OK, maybe that's pushing the optimism envelope a bit far. But the Crew has either had - or been within about a game of - the best record in MLB all season. And if the Journal-Sentinel's story on the rising demand for Brewer merchandise is any indication, it's time for fans to start tuning in. And in this season that the team is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its World Series appearance and only postseason date, is there any baseball city in America that celebrates a team that LOST the World Series like Milwaukee and Wisconsin? ... I don't think so.

Through six full weeks of the still-young season, they've proven they can dominate a suddenly mediocre-at-best NL Central (going 17-6 in a 23-game stretch through April). I have a feeling they're in for a shootout with the Cubs at some point, though, who virtually match their team batting average (about .270) and team ERA (both around 3.70). Given the way they play against each other and fill each other's stadiums, this could be good.

The Crew's starting rotation - Ben Sheets, Chris Capuano, Dave Bush, Claudio Vargas, Jeff Suppan - is as solid front-to-back as anyone's in the league. Interestingly, Sheets has been the weakest of the bunch.

The one thing the Brewers need to shore up - and the one area where the Cubs dominate them - is their hitting with runners in scoring position. Last season, when they won just 75 games, they batted around .240 with RISP, which put them in the bottom third of the league. Well, they're not much better this year, hovering between .240 and .250 again, which again puts them in the bottom third of the league. They'll need to raise that about 30 points to really start putting teams away.

And, perhaps most importantly, more Brewer wins might mean more exposure for these guys.

On a completely unrelated note, is there any cooler song, right now, tonight, than "Gone Away" by The Offspring?

The Office finale: What the hell!?

All right, so how the hell did Ryan Howard get the job at corporate and not Jim or Karen? (Michael bowing out and returning to semi-permanence in Scranton only to once again crush Dwight's tyrannical dreams was a given.)

I guess that's what I get for missing a few weeks. (Damn broken DVD recorder and ever-lengthening days of impending summer.)

I'm glad they haven't gotten Jim and Pam together, as they will have completely jumped the shark once they do. Hopefully they'll learn something from 'Moonlighting's mistake. Sometimes it's better to dream than to realize it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Fight Night II recap

Well, the GOP debate is over, and Carl Cameron is already predicting that the field will start to narrow a bit. There are sure enough guys getting 1% in polls that would seem to justify their stepping aside. Some thoughts:

Fox News' moderators - Brit Hume, Chris Wallace and Wendell Goler - did an excellent job asking serious, well-researched questions, as well as maintaining a crisp pace. They didn't waste time with silly questions that are beneath a presidential candidate like Chris Matthews did two weeks ago.

Nice exchange between Ron Paul and Rudy Giuliani about what brought about 9/11. Paul asserted that it was America's foreign policy - particularly in the Middle East - that led to al Qaeda's wanting to hit us in the first place. Giuliani was having none of that, demanding that Paul retract his statement, countering that al Qaeda is simply an evil organization that hates us for our freedoms, etc. The funny thing? They're both right.

Paul would eliminate the Department of Education!? Oooh, you just lost the WEAC vote and the teachers unions (who I'm sure were considering you in the first place).

Line of the night goes to Mike Huckabee, who assailed the former Congress for "spending money like John Edwards at a beauty shop." Awesome!

Gas today: $3.29/$3.39/$3.49/Diesel $2.99

Fight Night II

Well, here they go again.
Ten GOP hopefuls will bare their knuckles with all the ferocity of a declawed kitten as they embark on another edition of "Who will escape without sticking their foot in their mouth?"
In other words, the Republican presidential candidates debate begins in about an hour and a half on Fox News Channel. Too bad the Democrats pussed out on their FNC debate. So much for getting their message out and reconciling the "two Americas."

Anyway, we'll see if our former Badgerland governor, my boy from Elroy, Tommy Thompson, can get through without advocating workplace discrimination, unlike the GOPs' first debate, on April 26 at the Ronald Reagan Library. (I'm coming prepared for this round. This time, I'm going to take a drink everytime someone invokes the Gipper's name. If they match the 19 times they mentioned Reagan in Round 1, I'll give new meaning to the Spin Room.)

We'll be fielding an impressive mixture of leadership (Rudy Giuliani), executive office-holders (Thompson, Jim Gilmore, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee), and lawmakers (John McCain, Sam Brownback, Ron Paul, Tom Tancredo, Duncan Hunter). But one name is most conspicuous by its absence; Fred Thompson.

Most analysts have conjectured that the Arthur Branch himself is waiting in the wings - all 6-foot-6 of him - for just the right time to enter the race. I heard on the radio today that he's likely looking at June. So this could be the last chance for the Big Ten to get their messages out and kickstart their White House bid.

They'd better hope they're not going up against "Law & Order."

Monday, May 14, 2007

Favre ... Shut UP!

So Brett Favre was all pissed off because Ted Thompson didn't pull off the trade Favre had been predicting to the media all off-season, which would've brought Randy Moss from the Oakland Raiders to the Green Bay Packers. Something not-so-funny happened on the way to Lambeau, and Moss will be wearing the silver-and-blue of the New England Patriots in 2007 instead.

Um, what?

Brett, didn't you learn from the ordeal that led to the team dumping Javon Walker last year? Remember when you opened up about Walker's impending holdout? You spouted off about something that was none of your business then (even if you were just answering a question honestly), and you sounded off about front-office dealings of which you couldn't have known the intricate details now. Sure, Moss was once represented by your current agent, James "Bus" Cook. But you know as well as anyone that these contracts always come down to duration and dollars, and the Packers' wishes apparently didn't match up with Moss'. It sucks, but that's life in the NFL.

If you want to come across as something other than a whiner, Brett, why don't you mention that you would've been willing to rework your contract to go even leaner than Tom Brady did to accommodate Moss' salary demands. Maybe that would salvage some credibility for you.

Now, having said that, I wish I knew what the hell Thompson was thinking. He must have a vision for the Packers, but it isn't terribly clear what that is at the moment. They had a number of options available to them at No. 16 in the April draft, and they took ... a defensive tackle who's coming off an injury. Was that a panic pick reacting to the Minnesota Vikings having taken Adrian Peterson? If so, then just say so. But when Greg Olsen is on the board there - a deep-threat tight end the Packers haven't had since Keith Jackson and Mark Chmura in the late '90s - you'd better have a damn good reason.

In Ted we trust. ... We have to. Good thing it's Brewer season.

Michael Moore: Parasite Lost?

I see Michael Moore is coming out with a new movie, 'Sicko', for which he took some workers injured during the cleanup at Ground Zero in New York City and flew them down to Cuba for medical treatment. This is apparently to contrast Cuba's health-care system with ours.
Yes, this is the same Cuba that proclaims the "improving" health of leader Fidel Castro despite his likely being dead since last summer.

Now, I'm going to try to spell out my feelings about Moore without using the word "fat," or make any cracks about using the difference between "celluloid" and "cellulite" to spell the word "idiot." Although, I unfortunately won't be able to use the word "un-American." If his effort in 'Fahrenheit 9/11' is any indication, I'm guessing he didn't undertake this endeavor to showcase how smoothly and seamlessly the capitalistic American health-care system operates.

Instead, I'll sum up my feelings about Moore much in the same way I can summarize my thoughts about President Bill Clinton; opportunity lost.

You see, there is no question in my mind that Moore is a talented filmmaker. Even in F9/11, he accessed documents that fell outside the realm of public record. He needed connections for some of that shit. Yet what did he do with it all? According to 'FahrenHYPE 9/11' (which never was widely challenged), he doctored headlines to make it look as if Al Gore actually did win Florida in the 2000 presidential election. And that's just the start.

"So what? That doesn't mean what he's telling us isn't true!" No, but it might. How can you trust someone who is so brazenly guilty of such a misrepresentation of facts? Liberals certainly don't want to give George W. Bush the benefit of a doubt about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, yet they're willing to put all of their eggs into the basket of a guy who owns stock in Halliburton, a company he has publicly pilloried for years as being a tool of Bush's evil plans.

My point is, Moore has an opportunity to put forth some really powerful images and ideas of what America is capable of. Stories of, in this case, the medical miracles American doctors, surgeons and researchers have accomplished. But instead, he'll undoubtedly inject, one more time, his skewed liberal worldview into his work of semi-fiction.