Friday, February 29, 2008

Chris Simon does nothing for Minnesota Wild

The Minnesota sports community hasn’t seen a backlash this bad in quite some time. In the last couple of years, this state has seen Randy Moss, Kevin Garnett, Torii Hunter and Johan Santana leave their respective Minnesota teams for new destinations.

Many people were upset when each player left town, but nothing compared to the outrage displayed when the Wild acquired NHL bad-boy and all-time suspension leader Chris Simon for a 6th round draft pick before Tuesday’s trade deadline. Simon has been suspended eight times throughout his career, most recently for attempting to injure an opponent’s foot with his skate. That suspension cost him 30 games, the longest in NHL history. His previous suspension lasted 25. That one was for whacking the Rangers’ Ryan Hollweg in the face with his stick.

Without a doubt, Simon is a goon. But this isn’t figure skating, folks, it’s hockey. A fair number of hockey players aren’t the type of people you would choose to lead your charity drive or take home to your parents. If a team wants to compete for a Stanley Cup, sometimes it’s forced to sacrifice morals and values for that couple of extra wins.

Unfortunately, Simon is the type of hockey goon that is just that: a goon. Simon’s only scored more than 20 goals once in his 15-year NHL career (29 with the Capitals in 1999-00) and has notched more than 30 points only three times (the last being 2001-02). If Simon was a goon that could also help Minnesota win more faceoffs, provide much-needed scoring consistency or provide additional depth on defense, this move would be a good one. Unfortunately, Simon isn’t that player.

Wild fans and the media have trashed team management for acquiring Simon, and rightfully so. General manager Doug Risebrough expressed surprise at the level of fan outrage and scolded the media for not telling “the complete story.” He also bemoaned the fact that the media hasn’t provided any context to the deal and Simon’s history, pointing out that the second-most suspended NHL player is the Ducks’ Chris Pronger.

If the Wild had acquired Chris Pronger, I don’t think you would’ve heard many people complaining. The core reason for the fan’s outrage is the fact that Simon just isn’t a very good hockey player. Several teams in the ultra-competitive Western Conference made deals to upgrade their teams for the stretch run. The Wild appeared to have a lock on the Northwest Division as recently as two weeks ago, but have free-fallen since and now have to battle to just make the playoffs. The team desperately needed a center and some defensive depth. Instead it got Simon, who gives them neither.

The Wild have been coddled in this market since the beginning. Fans continue to sell out the Xcel Center and the media sticks to praising the team despite its perpetual mediocrity. With one move, Risebrough may have killed most of that goodwill. Unfortunately, what Risebrough fails to see is that fans are not necessarily outraged that the team acquired a complete jackass. That’s the icing on the cake. What fans are most upset about is that another trade deadline has passed and the Wild again failed to do anything that will help them rise above that mediocrity.

Monday, February 25, 2008

I don’t have much time to post today, but wanted to get a few things off my chest. Consider this a grab bag of rants, raves and interesting tidbits.

• Minnesotan’s will soon be socked with even higher taxes. The House just voted to override Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto of a $6.6 billion transportation bill that will raise the gas tax. The funding will go toward improving Minnesota’s transportation infrastructure, including roads, bridges and mass transit routes. If this funding would’ve went strictly toward improving our roads, I would’ve been all for it. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that a good chunk of this money will finance more light rail boondoggles. The light rail does absolutely nothing to unclog our overused and archaic roads in the metro area. I’m not one of these people that automatically is against each and every tax increase. However, this particular increase should’ve focused entirely on roads, and also should’ve included concrete plans on how the state is going to curb spending as well as raise taxes.

• Vikings tackle Bryant McKinnie allegedly beat up a bouncer and was involved in a large brawl outside a Miami nightclub. He’s accused of beating the bouncer with a pole. McKinnie is 6-foot-8 and close to 340 pounds. I wonder why he felt the need to use a pole? If I was 6-8, 340, I’d just beat people up with my bare hands. Using a pole isn’t fair. If the bouncer was so tough that McKinnie needed to use the pole, then the Vikes should invite the bouncer to training camp.

Why are the Democrats even considering nominating Hillary Clinton?

• Amanda Jax recently drank herself to death in a Mankato bar and now the bar is going to be punished for it. If the bar broke the law, it should be punished. However, let’s not forget about personal responsibility here. Punishing bars for patrons that drink themselves to death will not do anything to curb excessive binge drinking. It’s easy to get caught up in the blame game and lawsuits whenever something like this happens. It’s easier to forget who is ultimately responsible in these tragedies: The person that drank him/herself to death.

• The Academy made an excellent choice for Best Picture. No Country for Old Men is a movie that you keep talking about months after seeing it. It’s also disturbingly realistic in a sort of dark way.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The trials and tribulations of becoming a homeowner...eventually

It’s rare, but every now and then I feel a little sorry for myself. Over the last month, I’ve flirted with the idea of buying a house. Ultimately, I’m 99 percent sure I’m going to hold off for a year. It’s not that I can’t afford it, I definitely can. However, I don’t think I’m prepared enough to become a homeowner.

I don’t want to live in a massive suburban town home development and I don’t want a fixer-upper. I’d like an older house in the city, preferably in a neighborhood that doesn’t know the meaning of the word “drive-by.” This goal is without a doubt achievable, but would require a lifestyle change, one I don’t think I’m ready to make. All that disposable income I enjoy in my current situation? Kiss it goodbye. Unless I compromise and join the town home dwellers in the ‘burbs, the vast majority of my funds would be going to Wells Fargo and various bills each month.

My point isn’t to wine and complain. God knows others have much more to complain about. What irritates me is reading editorials like this. Or stories like this. I feel for people that are pinched right now because of the loss of a job or another unforeseen circumstance. I even have some sympathy for people that bought too much house, or are caught in an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM), and now realize they’re screwed.

As much as I’d love to help these people out, why should I? If these struggling homeowners would’ve been more responsible and thought everything through before buying a house, we probably wouldn’t have a mortgage crisis. How many struggling homeowners really took the time to determine if they could afford a house? How many saved enough to give themselves some breathing room if struck by financial hardship? How many did their homework to learn exactly how an ARM works, how much more they will be spending on monthly bills, or really asked themselves if they needed such a big house?

These are all questions I asked myself, and I realized I’m not quite ready to be a homeowner. I’m close, but not there yet. My preparation and careful consideration of the issue seems to be the exception rather than the norm. Obviously, thousands of people didn’t take the time to think everything through. Now their hands are out, and the government is more than willing to try and excuse their irresponsible decisions.

Neal St. Anthony of the Star Tribune recently wrote an excellent column about our “economic woes.” Unfortunately, financially responsible people are not rewarded for their responsibility these days. If you saved for a rainy day, ran the numbers and decided you were able to own a home, and worked to pay off your good debt and keep your bad debt down, your reward is increased taxes to bail out people that did none of that.

This country doesn’t need an economic stimulus package. It needs someone to slap it upside the head to restore responsibility. That way, we won’t have to hear John and Jane Doe in their 2,800 square-foot home with the two new SUVs in the driveway and plasma TVs in the living room and kitchen complain about how they need financial help.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Minnesota Twins Preview: Starting Rotation

Pitchers and catchers report on Sunday, so I thought this would be a good time to start giving my initial impressions on this season’s Twins team. I’ll begin with the starting rotation. Thanks to the trade of Johan Santana, Carlos Silva leaving via free agency and the rotation’s overall youth, the starting five will be the biggest question mark for the team this season. I believe the Twins will break camp with the below pitchers in the rotation. I also believe there is no possible way the same five that start in the rotation, finish there. Look for Nick Blackburn, Glen Perkins, Phil Humber and Kevin Mulvey to make periodic visits throughout the season.

Disclaimer: Many of these opinions will probably change by next week.
Another disclaimer: For some reason, I enjoy projecting player’s stats. I don’t have much of a scientific method for doing this, I just do it. If you want a much more scientific (and probably accurate) projection of player’s statistics from people a helluva lot smarter than me, buy this.

Starting Rotation

1. Livan Hernandez
There’s no question that Livan Hernandez is past his prime. However, if he finds himself in a jam in the middle innings, he could probably just eat the other team. All cheap shots against the 240-pounder aside, I’m not sure why the Twins signed him. Perhaps the team was pressured by recent events? Carl Pohlad saved over $30 million by not signing Torii Hunter and trading Johan Santana, all while the a new taxpayer funded stadium is being built in Minneapolis. Ownership maybe felt that if it didn’t spend money on something, fans would revolt. I would’ve preferred the team saved the $5-7 million it spent on Hernandez for signing future draft choices or signing a diamond in the rough from the Dominican Republic.

AC’s projected stats: W-L: 11-14 ERA: 4:93 IP: 197

2. Scott Baker
Scott Baker has taken his lumps over the past few years, but I expect his third season in the Majors to be a good one. Aaron Gleeman gives an excellent analysis of how players with strong minor league track records usually have a good chance to grow into solid major league players. Gleeman also broke down Baker’s first 30 major league starts and compared him to other great Twins pitchers through 30 starts. He holds up very well. Baker got things rolling in the second half of last year, and narrowly missed throwing a perfect game on Aug. 31 against Kansas City (I covered the game for the Associated Press). He seemed to attack the strike zone more as last season wore on, resulting in a sharper slider and more pop on his fastball. If the Twins want any shot at competing in the AL Central, Baker will have to establish himself as a solid major league starter early in the season.

AC’s projected stats: W-L: 14-10 ERA: 3.87 IP: 205

3. Francisco Liriano
Provided he’s allowed to enter the country, Francisco Liriano is the rotation’s wild card. Will he mow people down like he did in 2006 before blowing out his arm? Will he mow people down and then blow out his arm again? Will he be healthy, but only a shell of his former self? Will Livan Hernandez eat him? He’ll definitely be on a strict pitch count, and may even start the season in Triple-A. I don’t see a need to rush him back. The Twins are notorious for babying their prospects, especially pitchers. If they decide he’d be better off getting back on track in the minors, so be it. I’d rather have a fully healthy Liriano ready to go at the start of next season.

AC’s projected stats (assuming a full year in the majors): W-L: 15-10 ERA: 3.10 IP: 185

4. Boof Bonser
It sounds like Boof has shed about 20-30 pounds this offseason and that is supposed to help him bounce back from a rough 2007. Maybe his gut will no longer block his view of the strike zone. Bonser walked 2.15 hitters per nine innings in 2006. That jumped to 3.38 last season. Look for manager Ron Gardenhire to have a short leash with Bonser this season if he struggles throwing strikes early. It wouldn’t surprise me if Bonser loses his spot in the rotation in late May, but returns in late July.

AC’s projected stats: W-L: 7-7 ERA: 4.46 IP: 121

5. Kevin Slowey
Kevin Slowey falls into a similar category as Scott Baker. Both have enjoyed minor league success, but struggled early in the majors. The difference is that Baker has much more major league experience and is showing signs of reaching the potential he showed in the minors. Look for Slowey to struggle this year, and for fans to unfairly question his long-term future with the club. My guess is he’ll start the season as the team’s No. 5 starter, but eventually lose his spot to Blackburn, Perkins, Humber or Mulvey.

AC’s project stats: W-L: 4-8 ERA: 5.47 IP: 92

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Minnesota Legislature Will Solve All of Our Problems (while creating several more)

Quick, hide your wallets! The Minnesota Legislature reconvened yesterday.

Supposedly, the economy is in pretty bad shape these days. The dollar is weak. Home foreclosures are up. Retail sales are down. Sounds like Minnesota is also running a state budget deficit of almost $375 million, which could reach as much as $800 million in the near future.

Of course, our DFL-controlled legislature has the perfect solution to these problems: Raise taxes and spend more of our money. The DFL hopes to increase license tab fees, raise the gas tax and levy a sales tax in the Twin Cities area to fund an $8.4 billion, 10-year transportation initiative. Supposedly, the money will go to roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure.

Oh, but there’s more. Apparently the environment, the arts and the outdoors are going broke and we need to rescue them (maybe Smokey the Bear defaulted on his dream home or Babe Winkler can’t afford nigh crawlers). The answer to this crisis is to amend the constitution and raise the sales tax to generate about $276 million per year for the aforementioned endeavors.

However, the projects and wonderful improvements that all these new taxes and grandiose visions will bring our great state would be meaningless if everyone dies. The best way to prevent everyone in Minnesota from dying is to make sure everyone has health insurance. The DFL has a plan for that, too. It hopes to wage a three or four year battle to insure over 400,000 Minnesotans without health insurance. No word yet on how they plan on paying for all this. My guess is they’ll ask the middle and upper class to pick up the tab.

I understand taxes are a part of life. Taxes are not all bad. Taxes build roads, support community projects, pay for essential services and help people that cannot help themselves. But when did we decide that taxes are the solution to all of our problems? When did prioritization and fiscal responsibility become a thing of the past? Why can’t our leaders on both sides of the aisle be a little more innovative in their policies instead of simply taking from us to fund each and every pet project and idea that pops in their heads?

State planning estimates show that Minnesota will collect over $9.5 billion in income taxes by 2011 (provided there isn’t an income tax hike). Minnesota’s per person income tax collections are 39 percent over the national average. We get 31 percent of our state revenue from income taxes, compared with the national average of 22. I’m not even taking into consideration sales taxes, levies, fees, and other funding mechanisms.

We collect plenty of taxes to fund transportation, the arts, outdoors and other essential projects and quality of life ventures. There’s no need to collect more. If there’s a budget shortfall, take a closer look at the books and reprioritize. Do we really need government-funded ski jumps, volleyball centers, or steel mills? Isn’t it time to overhaul our vast system of social entitlements? How about we focus our transportation dollars on roads instead of boondoggle mass transit projects that do nothing to relieve traffic congestion or fix failing infrastructure?

Of course, all of this would require a backbone, out-of-the-box thinking and the ability to say “No” every now and then. Unfortunately, our elected leaders think that’s too much work. Raising taxes is much easier.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Rage Aginst the Nugent for Change (aka Politics and Music)

Well, you know, lots of people complainin' that there is no work.
I say, "Why you say that forWhen nothin' you got is U.S.-made?
"They don't make nothin' here no more,You know, capitalism is above the law.
It say, "It don't count 'less it sells."When it costs too much to build it at homeYou just build it cheaper someplace else.
Well, it's sundown on the unionAnd what's made in the U.S.A.Sure was a good idea'Til greed got in the way.

--Bob Dylan, Union Sundown

It's not easy being both conservative and a music fan. Almost every time you fire up the iPod or go to a live show, you're selling a little piece of your soul. Truth is, there aren't many artists or bands out there pushing the conservative platform and singing about the virtues of capitalism, the need for lower taxes or why the United States is the greatest country in the world.

Perhaps it's because being a conservative musician would be boring. Fighting the man and rioting in the streets makes for much better song topics than welfare reform or cutting the size of our government. Or maybe it's because modern liberalism is rooted in emotionalism. Today's liberals are the way they are because they are highly emotional and react accordingly. Isn't a song also a highly emotional reaction to something? It seems only fitting then that most artists are (far) left of center.

Before this turns into a liberal vs. conservative diatribe, let me get to my point. I love music. I'm also conservative. The two shouldn't be mutally exclusive. If I let my politics dictate my CD collection, my shelves would be empty. I shouldn't dislike System of a Down just because they're a bunch of socialists. I enjoy listening to (and looking at) Jewel even though she's a tree hugger. I wonder how many other music fans can say the same thing?

Would Neil Young's fan base desert him if he did a 180 and aligned himself with the Republican Party? How much hate mail would Bruce Springsteen have received if he headlined the Vote for George W. tour instead of the Vote for Change tour? Would anyone listen to Rage Against the Machine if they sang about the benefits of trickle down economics? I wish I would've thought of this stuff during my 6th grade science fair. It'd be a much more interesting experiment than lighting fabric on fire.

My guess (or hypothesis) is that, yes, some of these artists would see smaller fan bases if they weren't bleeding hearts. But I don't think it would be that signifcant. At least I would hope so. I hope that we're not that uptight and unreasonable of a society that we use politics to determine our musical tastes. But I do have to admit that as a conservative music fan, it does feel good to hear Ted Nugent insult Hillary Clinton. However, Nugent's appeal to me is more as a novelty act. It's so rare to see a loud and proud conservative on stage that I can't help but get a little fired up when I do.

In the end, an artist's political views have no influence as to whether I plunk down my hard earned money to see a show. If I want politics, I'll turn on Fox News, not Johnny Cash.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Can you be conservative and support John McCain?

In the coming years, watch for conservatives falling from the sky. Those on the right will be jumping off tall buildings in record numbers once we inaugurate President Obama, Clinton or McCain. In fact, most on the far right would probably choose splattering on the sidewalk over voting for John McCain, even though the Senator from Arizona has an ‘R’ behind his name. I consider myself a proud and unapologetic member of the vast right wing conspiracy. However, I’m also a McCain supporter. It’s a little like someone cheering for both the Vikings and the Pakcers.

It’s difficult to find a balanced and non knee-jerk analysis of McCain. Those on the right let emotion (and the screaming of Limbaugh, Coulter and Hannity) overtake independent thought, resulting in hatred for McCain usually reserved for anti-war hippies or Ted Kennedy. The media drools over McCain and often labels him a “Maverick.” I don’t think the mainstream media really understands what a maverick is. To them, a maverick is anyone with a left-of-center viewpoint, especially if the person with that viewpoint associates himself with the Republican Party.

Michael D. Tanner has a good analysis of where McCain stands on important issues at his Cato Institute blog. John Podhoretz at Commentary Magazine does a good job breaking down why many of McCain’s tactics and methods rub conservatives the wrong way. John Kass at the Chicago Tribune does a good job showing how so-called conservatives haven’t been very conservative recently.

First, let’s examine Tanner’s analysis. Tanner says that McCain is a “true fiscal conservative” who loathes earmarks and pork-barrel spending, favors cutting entitlements, and advocates for personal social security accounts. McCain also favors reducing the size of government and following that up with tax cuts. Tanner hates McCain’s insistence on staying the course in Iraq and rips him for being a “recipe for perpetual conflict.” He also slams McCain for his unfriendliness toward the 1st Amendment (re: McCain/Feingold) and his wish that people work for a cause greater than self-interest.

Podhoertz looks outside the box even further and paint’s McCain as a “lousy leader of an ideological movement,” but notes that the Republican Party is a “political vehicle for the American right-of-center,” not an ideological movement. He also says that McCain lacks “partisan combativeness” and refuses to “march in lockstep simply because others expect it of him.” Podhoertz was careful to point out that he wasn’t praising or bashing McCain, but rather making objective (as much as possible, anyway) observations.

Kass’s columns always leave me scratching my head. His most recent McCain piece was no different, but I’m pretty sure I got the gist of it and it helped re-enforce why I’m supporting McCain. This excerpt about our recent years of “conservatives” in Congress covers it: "And all that Republican spending on pork projects wasn't conservative. It was as if Chicago's City Hall ran federal public works, which Mayor Daley will do soon enough, once he and Obama get that Olympics 2016 business figured out.During the Republican primacy, spending was controlled by Illinois' own Dennis Hastert, who as speaker of the House spent like a drunken sailor. The other day, Hastert accused McCain of not being conservative enough, as if Hastert would know.Under Bush-Hastert, Republicans didn't stop the spending. Instead, they became enablers of the big-government machine. They became what they once opposed. They liked power. "

Republicans, or so-called conservatives, haven’t been very conservative lately. They’ve talked about shrinking government, reforming immigration and overhauling entitlements. But when push comes to shove, handouts, pork and bigger government wins over sound public policy and having the backbone to say no to people with their hands out. All true conservatives see this. It pisses them off, and rightfully so. Yet all true conservatives want to still flock to a traditional conservative candidate. Being duped over and over again doesn’t phase them. They keep banging their heads against the wall, hoping that this time the candidate that spews the traditional conservative rhetoric will be the one to finally step up and be their guy.

This dream candidate hasn’t existed during my lifetime. I hold little hope that he or she ever will. That’s why true conservatives need to turn off Limbaugh and his immitators and give McCain a shot. Tanner highlighted how McCain is a true conservative when it comes to spending and eventually tax cuts. There’s little doubt that he will be strong on national defense and terrorism issues. Combine these core conservative values with McCain’s willingness to tick off members of both parties an you have a very unique candidate. You have someone that is believable when he says he will shrink government and deal with the issues in Iran. On the flip side, you also have someone who is believable when he says he will grant amnesty to illegal aliens and work on legislation to address global warming.

I never said you wouldn’t have to compromise some to support McCain. Welcome to the real world. But if you look outside the traditional conservative box, you’ll see a solid candidate. Most importantly, you’ll see a candidate that has a much better shot of actually following through on his proposed conservative policies, unlike the cookie-cutter conservatives that have been failing us for so long.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Me? Immature? Really?

Katherin Kersten had an interesting post at her Star Tribune blog today. Kersten thinks they don't make young males like they did in the good old days.

Instead of getting a blue-collar job, we play video games. Instead of turning 21 and marrying our high school sweetheart, we do keg stands. Instead of going to church, we watch football and listen to Howard Stern.

Kersten doesn't see an end in sight to this madness. She writes: The prospects for restoring adult norms seem dubious. Affluence and the extension of higher education are facts of life. So are proliferating media that cater to the lowest common denominator. Moreover, it’s hard to imagine that we’ll regain our cultural confidence in the language of virtue, which spoke to young men about their duties to women and children, and the need for deferral of pleasure.

Despite coming across a little like an out of touch nursing home resdient, Kersten makes some good points. However, she needs to look outside the box a bit. What are the "adult norms" that Kersten seems to want restored? It seems like she would prefer young men to get married young, start a family soon after and dedicate most of their time and energy to the nuances of raising said family.

There's nothing wrong with choosing that path in life. But I don't think it occured to Kersten that there's probably a reason most young men are shunning this path. My guess is a lot of them saw their father's choose Kersten's preferred path for young males and swore that they would try something else. They didn't want to spend their entire adult life at a job they hated. They wanted to be 100 percent sure they were making the right decision before getting married. And, thankfully, they wanted to be absolutely certain they were 100 percent ready before having a child. Most young men these days want to be sure they are happy in life so they can in turn do a better job at bringing joy to the live's of others.

I'm a 26-year-old male that Kersten would probably roll her eyes at. I blow money on beer, gambling and electronic gadgets. I spend many evenings and weekend afternoons watching sports. I enjoy video games and watching old videos of 1980s professional wrestling. While I'm doing all of this, I'm also maturing, and that's what Kersten seems to have a hard time grasping.

Just because I enjoy many of the same things I enjoyed while still in high school, it doesn't make me a dredge on society. I've got two great jobs and I place a lot of emphasis on my faith, family and friends. Eventually, I'm sure I'll meet Kersten's definition of a solid young man. Until then, I'm going to enjoy meeting my own definition of what makes a solid young man. In the long run, it'll help me do a better job of meeting hers.