Eric's Daily Weblog

Politics in a new light

I have been reading some history lateliy, and am struck by how my views of the political world has changed since I ran for office myself. 

President Franklin Roosevelt once said to a person who presented him an idea: "You're absolutely right. Now go out and make me do it."

The statement means more now than it did before. 

Politics is more the art of the possible than the art of the ideal, and it is sheer folly for a politician to offer visionary ideas which are unlikely to be passed into law. A politician only has so much credibility, and has almost no latitude to offer ideas that are ahead of their time unless the whole country is at its wit's end in a major crisis.

People make much of Hillary Clinton and President Obama's "evolution" on gay marriage. "Well, he was was for it all along, he just waited for the polls to come around to his position before announcing it out loud," say the cynics. 

Of course! What else is a politician to do? 

I was told early on to keep my mouth shut and listen. It was good advice, and I adhered to it throughout the campaign––but I was unaware what listening really meant. Rather than merely gathering ideas (and I did gather many), I spent most of the listening time time while knocking doors absorbing frustration and rage––not at myself, but at all kinds of enemies, some real, most imagined. 

Instead of listening to actually learn, I found I was listening without comment in order to allow people to at least imagine I was sympathetic to views which I sometimes found abohorrent. I was not there to soberly discuss policy; I was there to allow people to vent their frustration.

When voters I talked to expressed authentic distress due to policy, such as when nursing home administrators described their difficulties finding help due to lack of funding, or people who work in group homes for the mentally disabled describe their cuts in pay and their struggles to get by on $9 per hour, I felt helpless, knowing what a mountain there was to climb to effect even the slightest change in their plight. 

We expect politicians to hold deep views on almost everything, but the fact is, the fewer views they actually hold, the better politician they will be. And I don't mean just that they will get re-elected––I mean they will actually have the capacity to get more done if they are not committed to a particular path.

The successful legislator, and I know of many, chooses a narrow band of interests. Agriculture, roads, aviation, whatever. In order to forge policy in those areas, he or she says what it takes in other areas to get elected. Eventually, the legislator starts bringing home the bacon for the home district––and although that solidifies them electorally, they still must honor the wishes of their district on other issues such as abortion, gay marriage, gun control and so on. 

A large plurality of politicians are trained lawyers. Lawyers are taught in law school the skill of advocating for any position without regard for their personal belief on the matter. They take pride in being able to argue both sides, of being able to move from the prosecution to the defense and back again. The public finds this sleazy––but they sure want a good lawyer to take their position when they get caught with their pants down. 

It is easy to see a trained lawyer making a further jump: If I am going to be able to do my work getting proper funding for nursing homes, I have to get elected first. To get elected, a politician in northern Minnesota might say, I will do whatever the National Rifle Association says. Or the Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. That is the price of getting something done in your area of expertise: you supress whatever beliefs you hold on the hot button issues. If you have no beliefs in those areas, there is nothing to suppress and life is much easier. 

Such duplicity offends the naive non-lawyers. For its part, the press is constantly on alert for contradictions in a politician's statements. They think it is their duty, not to talk about serious policy issues, but to torment the politicians as they squiggle and squirm on issues the politicians don't care about, won't work on if elected, and likely will not have a chance to vote on. 

The boring but more important issues––such as bank regulation––take a back seat (heck, they aren't even in the back seat, they had to get out and walk) to the silly obsessions of the moment like flags, Ebola and the like. Serious issues go utterly uncovered and completely misunderstood by both the public and the press. That leaves those issues to be decided in back hallways by competing bands of lobbyists. The actual public takes no interest, and thus has no say. 

The daily news––all of it––is a massive distraction machine designed, intentionally or not, to keep the eyes of the public diverted while their pockets are picked. In order for this to change, we don't need different politicians. We need to "go out and make them do it." The public has to lead, and the politicians will follow. Professional politicians have a talent for that, and it is not entirely to their discredit. 




Trip to Target

(Better give Target Corporation their due, since they paid millions to have the new Twins' field named after them. US Bank just paid $220 million for naming rights to the new Vikings Stadium. One wonders how they measure return on their investment.)

On a whim, I drove down to see Byron Buxton's Minnesota debut Wednesday. I found a good seat online, and it was worth the trouble getting the ticket ahead of time rather than depending upon the integrity of a scalper outside the gates.

As I left home at noon, I had a nagging feeling that I was reneging on an obligation of some sort, but I couldn't pinpoint it and my calendar was blank. As I drove through Wadena, the activities director for an area nursing home called and said, are you still coming? Yes, I was scheduled to entertain, and I had failed to transfer the event from one calendar to the other. I hate to disappoint old people. I owe them one! 

As for the game, Buxton made a nice catch in center field, but was otherwise quiet. Milone pitched well, as did Fien and Perkins. Hitting was sparse, as it has been for most of the season.  

Despite the June swoon, the Twins have been playing a good brand of baseball. The starting pitching has been consistent. They continue to make the best of the other teams' mistakes. Every game seems to come down to the wire, which is good training for the young guys. 

Torii Hunter's "leadership" act wore thin for me a long time ago. Now, of course, he is saying his explosion at the umpires was to motivate the team. Oh, great leader, please realize that real leaders don't brag about their leadership after the fact. It ruins the effect.

TV announcer Dick Bremer contributes to the nausea-inducing psycho-spectacle by prattling on about the "mentorship" Hunter provides to Buxton, Hicks and others. Hunter reminds me of Chris Carter late in his career, when he viewed himself as a co-head coach of the Vikings. Just play, Torii. 

Announcers have absorbed just enough of the new baseball dogmas to sound really goofy. Yesterday, the radio guy--I am not going to look up his name because the fact that I don't know it says something right there--said that Byron Buxton "had a good at bat." That after Buxton struck out. 

A good at bat? Well, nowadays you are supposed to tire the opposing pitcher out. So, getting a hit after you run the count to full and foul off three pitches is a better that getting a hit on the first pitch, or so goes the argument. Also, apparently, if you use up eight pitches but still strike out, you have had a "good at bat." 

Silliness. The strikeout to which the announcer referred was earned by a reliever. Whether that reliever threw eight pitches or one pitch didn't make a bit of a difference. He was gone a few batters later. 

There's something wrong with Mauer--although just as I approached despair, he hits a game-tying home run. Only Bert Blyleven had the guts to point out that Mauer blew the game on Tuesday by fielding a hard grounder and not trying for a double play. Instead, Mauer plodded over to the first base bag and allowed the two base runners to advance to second and third. They scored on a single, giving the Cardinals a 3-2 win. Blyleven called it a mental error, but Bremer avoided criticizing St. Joe, as did everybody else. 

At the game Wednesday, I was the one you heard booing Mauer after he took two pitches down the middle and struck out swinging at the third. 

Thousands of Cardinal fans attended the series. I was surrounded by them. They were well-behaved and nicely-groomed. 


The first shipment of my new book A Treasury of Old Souls arrived yesterday. It looks great. I will be promoting the book in about three weeks.

After the book arrived, I read it again. I think it makes sense, but I am not an impartial observer.

Once finished reading, I had a sense of dread. It took me a while to figure out from where it arose. I eventually figured out that promoting the book will be the first time I have submitted myself to public scrutiny of any sort since the election last fall. 

I'll get over it, but not without a fight. 

Those who used to check this weblog daily might wonder why I have been almost completely silent. I simply have no desire to make   pronouncements on the passing scene, save for a few commentaries on the Twins. I am not ill, or depressed.

However, I am more circumspect about putting anything out there. When you run for office, even an office as minor as a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives, you put yourself out there. You cannot control what happens to your reputation, and you can be sure that whatever you say will be twisted. To withstand attacks on your character, motives and reputation takes a thicker skin, and perhaps a thicker head, than I wish to develop. 

The question becomes: of what use is it to throw my opinions and thoughts around when peoples' minds are already made up? Is it not an exercise in meglomania, or at least futility, to keep prattling on? Why needlessly inflame minds incapable of change? Why feed raw meat to the already rabid and angry? Alternately, what good is it to preach to the choir? 

My ten-year-old niece Champoo has provided our family with endless fun, and I have written about her on here a couple of times. But, she has made it clear she does not like being a source of entertainment for the general public, even the tiny slice of it reading this blog--and when Champoo makes something clear, she makes it clear!

And that is her right. I am proud of her, so I love to tell stories about her, but I can understand not wanting to have her valiant (and very successful) efforts to learn English exposed, even if I think I am merely showing off her brilliance.

Aunt Olla's passing at age 103 last February changed things, too. Unlike Champoo, Olla relished her celebrity status on this blog. No more Olla stories to tell now, however. 

Something new will arise--eventually. 






Small town doctor

 Here is a great story about a doctor who came to North Dakota after the war. 


I have always liked Randy Moss, even his bad boy act, and this makes me like him more. His unwillingness to pander to the sports press, which insists every sports figure should take their ridiculous questions seriously, and which encourages sports figures to be hypocrites, was fun to watch. "No, I don't play as hard on every play," Moss said, to the outrage of all. His honesty and brashness was too much for the press to bear. 

Here's and even better article

3rd Spring

Looks like we're on our way to the third spring this spring as temperatures look good into the indefinite future after these past couple of cold days. Business has been good at the nursery this spring, and I think the repeated ups and downs get people antsy several times over, which can only encourage repeated trips to the nursery. 

Brother Joe and sister-in-law Kae are doing a great job of whipping the business into shape. I have been helping as needed. 

The Twins have cooled a bit since the hot streak which pushed them above .500 for the first time in a few years. I continue to be impressed by the quality of Molitor's managing, and am starting to appreciate what Neil Allen is doing with the pitching staff.  

In other news, the Minnesota Legislature once again is making sure the end-of-session repeats its annual chaos. Even in a non-budget year, lawmakers seem determined to go to the last minute with big issues unresolved. At that point, sweeping compromises are made which could have been worked out long before and merely tweaked in conference committee. The time for additional scrutiny would make for better laws. However, the prime interest in St. Paul seems to be winning the next election. Legislators are convinced (accurately, sadly) that voters don't watch them that closely and are more interested in handouts in the form of tax breaks than in good long-term policy. It looks like the nursing home funding increase will go through, however. 

I remain convinced that the people get exactly the government they deserve, both nationally and locally. 

Gov. Dayton is insisting upon his universal pre-K education measure. If so many children weren't neglected due in part to their parents having to hold a whole lot of jobs just to pay the bills, I would say they should stay home until they are five. However, when you see what many kids go through at that age nowadays, it might be good for them to have some structure earlier on. Government has to deal with reality, not the 1950s ideals of one-income happy families people cling to out of nostalgia. 










Molitor's impact

Paul Molitor's managing style is becoming more evident as we finish the first month of the baseball season. One completely underrated aspect of the game (mainly because you don't often see it on TV) is defensive positioning. Molitor is a student of statistics, and if an opposing batter hits the ball to the right side 90% of the time, he moves his defenders to the right side. What's more, he moves the defenders during the at-bat according to the count. Hesitant to shift defenders early in the count due to the threat of a bunt to an empty spot at third base, Molitor sometimes shifts them only after the batter has two strikes, at which time a bunt isn't a safe play (if you bunt a ball foul with two strikes, you are out). 

Last night against the White Sox, a right-handed batter hit a ball hard up the middle. Brian Dozier, who was shifted to the left, snagged the ball behind second base and recorded the out. In a traditionally-aligned infield, the ball would have been a hit.

At the plate, the Twins are absorbing Molitor's approach as well. Two days ago, Arcia, seeing Detroit's extreme shift to the right, tapped a little dribbler to the empty spot at third base. What would have been an out turned into a hit that barely reached the outfield. A hit is a hit, and three other Twins players bunted for hits that day, and even though the Twins eventually lost, they scored more runs than they would have if they had continued to slash the ball towards the concentration of fielders. 

Statistics show that the most important aspect of winning baseball is simply getting on base. It doesn't matter how you do it. Walks, errors, bunt singles, dribblers, bloopers--all are equal to line drives if you get on base. 

Back to defense: Although there have been too many dropped balls in the outfield, at least the outfielders are throwing the ball back to the infield properly. Robinson has three assists already. You can lead the league with 12 in a season. The Twins have nailed several runners at the plate this season. If that keeps up, opposing third base coaches will stop sending the runners, which is the whole idea. However, if there is a good chance the outfielders are going to let fly an ill-advised throw, the runners will try to score every time. 

On the Twins' side, Tony Glynn has a reputation as an aggressive third base coach. Last night, when the defense of the White Sox let up as if the play was over before the ball was safely in the inner infield, Glynn sent Danny Santana home for an important score. 

Another welcome change: Twins pitchers are being told to make the batters dance a bit. In other words, throw the ball low and inside and let them jump rope. The batter will have that pitch in their mind for the rest of the at bat and won't dig in with such confidence. 

The Twins are still a leaky ship. Their outfielders have to hit. Torii Hunter is in the lineup only for his bat and if that doesn't come to life, his tenure in right field should be short. He is giving up runs with his glove, and that is not enough to make up for his generally smart throws from the outfield.

It is possible that by the end of the season, the Twins will have three new starting outfielders. 

Kurt Suzuki's play behind the plate has been great. He, more than Torii Hunter, is the team leader on the field. 

DH/first baseman Kennys Vargas needs to go to the minor leagues to get his batting stroke back. They have a first baseman named Hicks down at AAA who is batting .360. I hope they swap the two within the next few days. 


Good Minnesotans know that to have hope is to open one's self up for eventual despair. However, the recent play of the Twins has been encouraging.

Last night's 3-2 victory over the Tigers was an example: Strong starting pitching from the wierdest of quarters, namely Mike Pelfrey, a strong bullpen performance and some timely hitting from those whose bats have thus far been largely dormant. 

So far, I am impressed with Paul Molitor as manager. He is not afraid to experiment with the lineup, which has so far been dreadful but which is showing signs of waking up. He stretches out the starting pitcher instead of coddling them as if they are going to blow a gasket if they throw over 100 pitches. He is working to get those who are hitting into the lineup (namely Nunez and Robinson) even if they weren't part of the team's plans coming out of spring training. 

The players clearly respect Molitor, and if his approach continues to show improved results, their confidence in him will only grow. He shows Earl Weaver and Tom Kelly's willingness to accept the flaws of each player (as exposed by statistics) and use players only where they are most likely to succeed. 


Big spending

With my car falling apart in more ways than I cared to repair, I traded it in on Friday for a new Honda Accord. Wow, is it nice. It drives like a dream. So quiet. 

Little did I know that some of the quiet might be an illusion. Lance informs me that the car has "noise canceling" technology, which means the speakers emit frequencies which actually cancel out the road noise. Bizarre! In any case, I enjoy floating along at sixty and feeling like it is forty. 

Yesterday morning, I went out to find niece Champoo in the greenhouse. I told her I had something to show her. Since she notices everything right away, I thought she would squeal with delight at my new car as soon as it came into view. 


"You buy new car?" she said to me, concerned. 

"Yup," I said, proud as a peacock. 

She scowled. 

"How much?"

I told her. 

"Lots of money!" she said, obviously disapproving. 

Nine-year-olds aren't supposed to be like that. 


Twins update

Last night's game featured a pleasant surprise: my least favorite pitcher on the team, Mike Pelfrey, threw harder than he has in years and showed the development of a split-finger fastball, which, when he used it, was unhittable. In the past, the split finger has resurrected many careers and given some mediocre careers a flash of glory--for instance, Mike Scott of the Astros in 1986. The success is usually short-lived, as the split finger places undue stress on the arm, but in Mike Pelfrey's case he had nothing to lose. 

Last night, Pelfrey threw seven shutout innings for his first win since 2013. 

The Twins, along with several other teams, continue to struggle at bat. The team we are watching right now is likely to change in a hurry after May 1 when the young kids down in the minor leagues can be brought up without the team losing a year of control. Byron Buxton isn't hitting at Chattanooga, but Adam Brett Walker is pounding the ball. The present mediocrity in center and left field will not last. Arcia has to learn to hit (or lay off) high fastballs or his promise will fade. Robinson and Schaeffer in center field aren't of major league calibre. 

I am enjoying Paul Molitor's management style. He is more flexible than Gardenhire, changing up the lineup, platooning when needed (that is, inserting right-handed hitters against left-handed starters and visa versa), going with his gut at times, employing drastic shifts in defense, making sensible, if unconventional moves. I agreed with his decision to bring Glen Perkins in to a tie game in the eighth inning against Kansas City the other night, even if it failed. Gardenhire would never have considered such a move until the playoffs, by which time the players were so used to his conservative approach that his sudden unconventionality appeared more as panic.

The Twins will eventually hit the ball, but Molitor is right to keep shaking up the lineup. In time, Terry Ryan will move and this lineup could change.

The bullpen isn't as bad as forecast, with Aaron Thompson, J. R. Graham and Casey Fien showing promise and, more importantly, velocity. Perkins is overrated, but closers can muddle through when they only work a few outs every few days. Eddie Guardado kept us on edge for years with mediocre stuff, but in the end, he got the job done. If Perkins does the same, that's fine. 

Torii Hunter is trying to inspire the younger players. Last night's attempted steal of home was a noble failure. At age 40, you don't try to steal home. I think Hunter's act will wear thin by the end of the year and he should then retire with grace.  

Mauer still isn't what he was. He strikes out too much and his habit of taking strikes right down the middle is getting tiresome, especially with his batting average in decline. When he was a superstar, commentators interpreted his fussiness as genius. No longer. 

Phil Hughes had a good year last year, but that doesn't mean he's the best pitcher of the bunch this year. Somebody else will likely become the ace. Gibson's sinker ball isn't good enough for him to get by with throwing it six inches too high. Trevor May has pitched better than his number show. 

So far, the Twins are a dud up the middle, an area I thought was a strength. Santana and Dozier aren't hitting. Neither is Suzuki, nor whatever short-little-white-guy-with a beard centerfielder they put out there. 

That brings up this whole matter of beards: It is time for them to go. Shave, you guys. HD TV is unforgiving. Casey Fein's attempt at a beard is particularly pitiful. The urban lumberjack trend needs to end.