Monday, November 30, 2015

Spot the loony

I love me some mug shots. Here's our latest exemplar from Colorado Springs, who killed three people in and around a Planned Parenthood location, though, interestingly enough, not any of the workers at the facility:

I ain't right
And here is the Unabomber, who was fond of blowing up academics he didn't much care for:

I disagree with your thesis. Boom.

And then there was James Holmes, who shot up a movie theater in Colorado. This was taken after he'd had a chance to clean up a bit:

Red isn't my color anyway

Crazy people do crazy things.

Follow the money

Don't you hate it when people buy elections? I always recommend the Open Secrets website, which pays attention to who is giving what, and to whom. And as a reminder, the top donors don't generally give to the party you hear about:

A bridge too Fahr
This list includes total contributions since the 2002 election cycle. The one that got my attention is Fahr LLC. Have you ever heard anything about them on the news? Turns out Fahr LLC is (a) an executive search firm and (b) controlled by Tom Steyer, a heavy hitter for Democrats.

If Steyer and his organizations want to give money to Democrats, that's their business. It is worth noting that 6 of the top 10 are labor unions, and that two of the top 6 are teachers' unions. When you see someone railing against the Koch Brothers (who come in on this list at #49, although they have been giving more lately), remember who gives the most.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- Turkey That Doesn't Bring Down Russian Fighter Planes Edition

Old dude, it's a time filled with traditions. Including one of my personal favorites:

The best part is glob of paprika at the bottom of the taters
Yes, the LOLions get to show why they are so worthy of LOL today. But there's more happening than just the LOLions.

You mean this guy?

Back for a visit
Yes, ol' number 4 is back to get his number retired. And all of the four greatest quarterbacks in Packer history will be on hand -- Aaron Rodgers, Bart Starr, Brett Favre and this guy:

Enjoying a commemorative Newport Light for the occasion
That will be festive.

Yep -- so festive that I barely need to break out the HYYYYPPPPPE! So let's get on with it. Watch me work!

Philadelphia Iggles (pick) vs. Detroit LOLions. As is tradition, the LOLions kick off the turkey day festivities in their well-padded mausoleum in downtown Detroit. Actually, the Lions have been playing a little better lately. Did you notice that they are on a winning streak? That will end pretty soon, but will it be today? The Eagles have been a dumpster fire all year but are still in contention in the pathetic NFC East. They don't trust Sam Bradford at all, but they aren't really ready to concede the need to use Mark (the Sanchize) Sanchez yet again. Eagles 49, LOLions 0.

Using history as a guide, I see. For two bad teams, this could actually be an entertaining game. I don't expect to see much defense and both teams can score, although sometimes they don't. The Eagles are indeed a dumpster fire, but those do provide a bit of warmth. Lions 27, Eagles 24.

Bear Down Chicago da Bearz (+8.5) vs. Glorious Green Bay Packers. So how cool is this -- a Thanksgiving Day game at Lambeau? Against the ancient rivals? With Brett Favre getting his jersey retired? It's pretty cool, Geritol Fan! The Packers won a huge game on Sunday and seem to have righted the ship a bit. However, this game is going to be close because da Bearz have improved and will get Matt Forte back, it appears. John Fox is a doing a good job of restoring fundamentals and competence to the Bears. Will that be enough to win in this game? With all the glories and ghosts coming out? Packers 30, da Bearz 27.

If the Packers play like they did in Minneapolis, this will be easy. If they play like they did against the Lions two weeks ago, look out. The young fella is right -- the Bears are improving. Still, I wonder about their ability to play defense, because I don't see a lot of difference makers on that side of the ball. I think the Packers use the emotion and pull away in the second half. Packers 34, Bears 20.

Minnesota Vikings (+2) vs. Hotlanta Falcons. The Vikings lost last week and this game becomes an interesting test. The Falcons are reeling right now and have not played well for at least a month. Still, they are dangerous and have a lot of weapons. The encouraging thing for the Vikings is that they hung in there last week and have been showing signs that they are catching up offensively. That should be enough. Vikings 27, Falcons 18.

This game is interesting. We have the favorite thing for this feature -- a desperate team at home. The Falcons are in a lot of trouble right now and they have to get things straightened out. The Vikings present a tough challenge, especially on defense. The matchup to watch is Julio Jones vs. Xavier Rhodes. If Julio gets rolling, the Vikings are in trouble. Falcons 31, Vikings 28.

Beloved Wisconsin Badgers (-2.5) vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Axe is on the line, but that's not all. The Gophers have to win to secure a bowl bid. Things have gone wrong for both of these programs this year and injuries are the primary reason. The Badgers can't run the ball that well, which has not been the case for nearly 25 years, while the Gophers have been hit with injuries on offense, defense, special teams and even in Pioneer Hall on campus. It's been bizarre, actually. Thankfully, whoever wins the Axe can forget about that. Badgers 21, Gophers 20.

If the Gophers are going to win the Axe, this is the year. The Badgers got absolutely jobbed last week and they will be an angry bunch. The Gophers really need this game, though, so I think this one goes the other way. Gophers 21, Badgers 20.

The Ohio State University Buckeyes (+2) vs. Meeeshegan Figthin' Harbaughs. So the Buckeyes soiled the bed last week against Sparty and now their glittering season could go up in smoke. Jim Harbaugh is no stranger to this game and he knows how to get his game up for a big game. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes are trying to sort out a lot of dissension in the ranks. You have drunk quarterbacks and bitter running backs and star defenders who get too many penalties. It's not a good formula for winning the one game that Ohio State fans want to win every single year. Michigan 35, Oh No 7.

Oh no? Uh, no. While Michigan has improved, there's still a talent gap involved and the Buckeyes really have to have this game. They'll find a way, despite it all. Ohio State 27, Michigan 21.

Happy thanksgiving, everyone! And, as God is my witness, I though turkeys could fly. But that's because I've seen too many LOLions games on Thanksgiving. Ben out!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Stuffing seminar

If we took a holiday
Took some time to celebrate
Just one day out of life
It would be
It would be so nice

They ain't gonna listen to Madonna. No such luck -- we need to gather the clans and provide moral instruction along with the cranberries. This time, the Democrats offer a website called "Your Republican Uncle," which purports to be a one-stop shop for all your lefty talking point needs. Allahpundit applies the proper ridicule with the headline shown in this screen shot:

It's an exciting development that's reminiscent of this previous attempt at crafting the proper narrative through infantilism, back in 2013:


The world is filled with problems. It always is, because life is problematic. Do everyone a favor and forget about the damned politics for a day. Have a nice dinner and talk about something else.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Mr. D's Quick and Dirty Baseball Hall of Fame Synopsis

I have done more detailed Hall of Fame posts in recent years, but this year I'm going to be a little more, shall we say, impressionistic. So here we are. A quick comment on every player on this year's ballot -- sorry, Juan Rincon -- you didn't make the ballot, despite offering one of the best quotes in baseball history:

You are correct, sir!

Garrett Anderson — nice player, nice career, mostly with the Angels. Similar player to Ellis Burks. No chance.

Brad Ausmus — Currently, the manager of the Detroit Tigers. He had a good, long career as a catcher. No chance.

Jeff Bagwell — Bagwell has HOF-quality numbers for sure, but he's in the unfortunate space of being suspected (by some) but never formally accused of using performance enhancing drugs (PED). He should make it, eventually, and has a decent chance of getting in either this year or next.

Barry Bonds — One of the all time greats, but clearly a PED user. He’ll be waiting a while longer, but some day he will be in, once the great minds of baseball figure out how to handle cases like his.

Luis Castillo — A good player who spent time with the Twins in the mid-2000s. No chance.

Roger Clemens — see Bonds. One of the all-time greats, perhaps the best modern right-handed starter of all. Still, almost certainly was a PED user, and a bit of a jackass to boot. He might get in before Bonds because he won his court case, but it will be a while.

David Eckstein — to paraphrase Paul Simon, every generation throws a Freddie Patek up the pop charts. Nice player, but no chance.

Jim Edmonds — I like him, but I wonder. A serious question; was Edmonds better than Bernie Williams, who was summarily (and unfairly) dismissed? It will be interesting to see how his candidacy is viewed. I think he has a chance, but not this year.

Nomar Garciaparra — back for another round. Seems like a “Hall of the Very Good” guy to me. Won't make it this time.

Troy Glaus — Third baseman with serious power, which gives him a chance, but to me, not a HOF player.

Ken Griffey Jr. — An all-time great, no doubt about it, first ballot Hall of Famer. The only question is will he get 90% of the voters on his side, or will it be more than that?

Mark Grudzialanek — A well-traveled middle infielder with some power. Nice player, nice career. No chance.

Mike Hampton — I think pitching at Coors Field wrecked his career. A contemporary of Brad Radke and a comparable player with similar career numbers. Like Radke, he won't make it.

Trevor Hoffman — the most interesting candidate on the ballot. Great career numbers, but not necessarily a dominant player. How much value do you place on the work of a modern closer? He could get you one inning, usually about 40-50 times a season, for nearly two decades. He won't make it this year, but he could in the next few. If he doesn't get in the HOF before Mariano Rivera gets on the ballot, he might have to wait a while.

Jason Kendall — A good catcher, but not one that people are going to remember. Maybe he and Ausmus can have dinner after the results are announced. Kendall was a better hitter than Ausmus and perhaps a better overall player, but he's not HOF.

Jeff Kent — Another guy with great offensive numbers but he did not offer much in the field. He played most of his career at second base, so his numbers really stand out in that context, but his career was largely in the Steroid Era. He has a chance; it will be interesting to see if his vote total begins to rise.

Mike Lowell — nice player, nice career. No chance.

Edgar Martinez — one of the best hitters of his generation, but being a DH hurts him. If he’s going to get in the HOF, he’d better do it before David Ortiz hits the ballot.

Fred McGriff — No taint of steroids, which helps, but not a clutch player, so he's a bit of a borderline case. I like him, but I’m not sure he’s done enough. If given a choice, I would definitely take Bagwell first.

Mark McGwire — PEDs killed his candidacy. Maybe the Veterans’ Committee will give him a sniff down the line.

Mike Mussina — A consistently outstanding starting pitcher with a long career. I think he’s HOF worthy; he compares favorably to Bert Blyleven, who is in. Maybe not this year, but he will get there eventually.

Mike Piazza — He just missed last year, so I think he’ll get in this year. I still like Bagwell better, but Piazza is the best hitting catcher of all time, so it’s tough to see a reason to deny him. PED suspicions but nothing definitive.

Tim Raines — I've argued for him before; to me, he's a no doubt about it HOF guy. Not sure the BBWAA agrees. Has made progress, but he’d better see a jump this year or he's going to fall short.

Curt Schilling — Realy a big game pitcher, dominant at times. Also a controversial character; not sure if that hurts his candidacy. He has a chance in the next year or two, but I wonder why he’s a better candidate than Jack Morris, who is now on the outside looking in.

Gary Sheffield — PED user and a complete jackass. Also hit 500 home runs. He may get enough votes to stay on the ballot, but in the end I don’t think he’ll make it.

Lee Smith — A dominant closer whose career straddles the old school, Goose Gossage era and the modern, Mariano Rivera era. His career makes an interesting comparison with Hoffman's. He has not made much progress in getting votes and he's running out of time; I could make an argument for him, though.

Sammy Sosa — over 600 home runs, but a huge PED taint. He’ll be waiting a while.

Mike Sweeney — the best player on a lot of bad Royals teams. Honorable career, but not a HOF player.

Alan Trammell — This is his last year on the ballot and he’s not going to make it. That’s a travesty. I think the Veterans’ Committee will eventually rectify the error. He was a great player. I hope his old partner Lou Whitaker gets a sniff from the Veterans’ Committee some time, too.

Billy Wagner — A dominant closer, but not as long a career as Hoffman. Poor man’s Goose Gossage. I don’t personally think he’s HOF, but he has his advocates.

Larry Walker — how much do you value his numbers given his long stint in Coors Field? I’m on the fence about him. Some legitimately great seasons, including a few in a terrible hitting par in Montreal, which somewhat mitigates the inflation built into his Coors Field numbers. I think he's a borderline case.

Randy Winn — nice that he got on the ballot. No chance.

So, to sum up -- I think Griffey and Piazza make it this year, and perhaps Mussina and/or Bagwell. Place your bets.

Huge story if true

Given that we now have a worldwide terrorism alert in effect, this little tidbit seems, well, huge:
Analysts at U.S. Central Command were pressured to ease off negative assessments about the Islamic State threat and were even told in an email to “cut it out,” Fox News has learned – as an investigation expands into whether intelligence reports were altered to present a more positive picture.

Fox News is told by a source close to the CENTCOM analysts that the pressure on them included at least two emails saying they needed to “cut it out” and “toe the line.”

Separately, a former Pentagon official told Fox News there apparently was an attempt to destroy the communications. The Pentagon official said the email warnings were "not well received" by the analysts.
As the Bush administration found out to its great pain, it's never a good idea to piss off the analysts, because they will make their displeasure public, just as has happened here. But there's more to the story, especially this:
The former Pentagon official said there were “multiple assessments” from military intelligence and the CIA regarding the “rapid rise” of ISIS in Iraq and North Africa in the year leading up to the group’s territory grab in 2014.

Similar intelligence was included in the President’s Daily Brief, or PDB – the intelligence community’s most authoritative product -- during the same time period. Yet the official, who was part of the White House discussions, said the administration kept "kicking the can down the road." The official said there was no discussion of the military involvement needed to make a difference.

The IG probe started earlier this year amid complaints that information was changed to make ISIS look more degraded than it really was.
Are we ready to start the "Obama lied, people died" chants yet?

Change you can believe in

Remember how we heard earlier this month that ISIL was contained? Good times:
The U.S. State Department issued a rare worldwide travel alert on Monday, warning American travelers about the widespread threats posed by members of the Islamic State or copycat bombers.

The alert said that there were increased terror threats from al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and ISIL, the term used by the federal government for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, which has claimed responsibility for the Paris terrorist attacks. The alert also said people unaffiliated with the groups may be inspired by recent terrorist attacks in France, Nigeria, Denmark, Turkey and Mali.

The alert comes as millions of Americans prepare to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, and organizers of major events like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade bolster their security preparations.
To underscore, this is a worldwide alert. I don't expect Boko Haram to show up in my living room, but apparently, you never know.


What the hell is wrong with people?
Five protesters were shot late Monday night near the Black Lives Matter encampment at the Fourth Precinct police station in north Minneapolis, according to police.

Those who were shot sustained non-life-threatening injuries, said police spokesman John Elder in a statement.

Miski Noor, a media contact for Black Lives Matter, said “a group of white supremacists showed up at the protest, as they have done most nights.”

One of the three counterdemonstrators wore a mask, said Dana Jaehnert, who had been at the protest site since early evening.

When about a dozen protesters attempted to herd the group away from the area, Noor said, they “opened fire on about six protesters,” hitting five of them. Jaehnert said she heard four gunshots.
I do hope the police find the perps and that the criminal justice system deals with the shooter(s) expeditiously. We'll keep following the story.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Packers win

No gloating today, but a few thoughts about how my beloved Packers beat the Vikings 30-13 yesterday at TCF Bank Stadium:

  • It looked like the Vikings were so amped up that they lost their composure and were not able to maintain the level of intensity they brought early on. I've seen a fair amount of the Vikings this season and they have, in most games, been focused and disciplined in their approach. They took way too many penalties, especially early on.
  • The Packers haven't solved their problems, but running the ball effectively made a big difference. Going into the game, I thought the Corey Linsley vs. Linal Joseph matchup would be key, but Linsley was injured early on and the Packers brought in their backup center, J.C. Tretter, in his stead. Tretter played very well; many of the best runs in the game were up the middle. Because the Packers were not predictable offensively, Mike Zimmer's defense was not able to key on Aaron Rodgers. When Rodgers has reliable options, he generally wins.
  • Teddy Bridgewater played pretty well. He's tougher than he looks, too. I thought he had a broken collarbone for sure when they took him out of the game late in the first half, but he was able to play through whatever injuries he suffered, even though he was getting his butt kicked early and often. One thing that became clear as the game went on -- the Vikings are not very good on the offensive line, especially if they are forced to pass block.
  • Cordarrelle Patterson is a bonehead. It's easy to see why he rarely sees the field.
  • It's taken a while, but the Packers are finally starting to see some dividends from defensive players Nick Perry and Datone Jones, two first round draft picks who have been disappointing early in their careers. They both had a big impact on the course of the game. 
  • It doesn't get any easier for the Vikings -- their schedule is tough over the rest of the season, including trips to Atlanta, Arizona and a return match at Lambeau, along with tough home dates against the Seahawks and Giants. The Packers have a few games left that will be difficult, especially their trip to Arizona, but they should be favored against all their other remaining opponents. Advantage, Pack.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- Back from Galesburg, Baby! Edition

You might have noticed that the HYYYYYYPPPPPPPE! levels in Minnesota have increased in recent days. It seemed like a disturbance in the Force happened. Well, I'm the disturbance, baby!

The Benster's back and there's gonna be trouble. Hey la, hey la, the Benster's back!

Is it always necessary for you to break out into song every time I come back to town?

Ben, the two of us need look no more,
We both found what we were looking for

C'mon, old dude -- that song is an ode to a cinematic rat! You really need to do better than that!

Hey kids, plug into the faithless
Maybe they're blinded
But Bennie makes them ageless

That's a little better, but you're still 40 years in the rear view mirror, Geritol Fan! And let's face it, no one is here to see you quote ancient song lyrics! They're here to see my brilliance. So watch me work!

Illinois Cheating Illini (+5) vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Gophers can still get a bowl bid if they win out. It has to start tomorrow and, thankfully, Illinois is a beatable opponent. They have some talent, but they invariably fail to utilize it. Thankfully, the Gophers have talent and have an experienced staff. It's time for the Gophers to make sure they take care of business, because next week is going to be a challenge. But for now, I like the Gophers. Gophers 38, Illinois 10.

I agree -- if the Gophers are going to make their push for the Tidy Bowl, or whatever silly lower-tier bowl they might get for a 6-6 record, the push had better come right now. They've been close against superior competition, so playing the undermanned Illini will seem like a relief. Time for Tracy Claes to get off the schneid. Gophers 31, Illinois 22.

Northwestern Wildcats (+10) vs. Beloved Wisconsin Badgers. So, old dude, have you checked the rankings? It seems that Northwestern is ranked higher than Wisconsin. So, why are the Badgers a 10 point favorite? Well, let me explain it to you. You might have noticed that tomorrow is November 21. That date has significance to me. And I'm putting Paul Chryst on notice -- you better win this one, pal. I could use a good birthday present! I think Northwestern is starting to fall to earth a little, but they still will give Wisconsin all they want. This time, I don't expect there to be a lot of purple in Madison. Once again, Wisconsin, you'd better win. Badgers 67, Wildcats 0.

Wait, tomorrow is your birthday? You mean, 20 years ago you looked like this?

Just born and already bringing the HYYYYYPPPPPPE!
That was a long time ago and many things have changed over the years. One thing hasn't, though -- Northwestern remains a tough out, especially for the Badgers. However, the last few times the Cats have come to Madison it's gotten pretty ugly for them. I think this one will be closer, but I like the Badgers to win a close defensive struggle. Badgers 21, Northwestern 16.

Michigan State Sparty the Spartan (+14) vs. The Ohio State University Buckeyes. Lots of folks have questioned how good Ohio State is this year, but they keep on rolling. Now comes a test. The Spartans should be undefeated, but they got hosed on a bizarre play in Lincoln a few weeks back and so they are looking to give Urban Meyer his first regular season Big Ten loss. One thing all the experts forget is that the senior class of Michigan State has beaten Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game two years ago. So, remind me again, why is Ohio State a two touchdown favorite? Michigan State 19, Ohio State 12.

Uh, no. Sparty did get hosed in Lincoln, but they also stole one against Big Brother Blue, so their karmic bank account is in balance. In the end, it comes down to talent and the home field. Ohio State has been improving of late and I suspect they are about to get into Playoff mode. Ohio State 34, Michigan State 26.

Denver Broncos (+1) vs. Bear Down Chicago da Bearz. So last weekend, Peyton Manning kinda, well, sucked. I realize that's not the nicest way to describe it, but his stat line was bad. Awful. Even unsightly. Perhaps, dare I say, atrocious? That is why you will not be seeing Peyton Manning playing against his old coach, John Fox. Instead, you will see Brock Osweiler, who is best known for being the tallest dude ever to appear on a milk carton, because he's been missing ever since he left Arizona State. The Bears would know something about quarterbacks on milk cartons, because they've been missing one for nearly 70 years now. Jay Cutler is, as always, smokin'. See for yourself:

I like Newports
There is no denying that da Bearz have improved, but this a little much. Denver 45, da Bearz 2.

Oy. Gino's not gonna like that one bit. And I think you're being a bit unfair to Peter Tom Willis, but I digress. This is going to be a low-scoring game, I suspect. Denver's defense is ferocious and the Bears are still having some trouble along the offensive line. Cutler has improved his happy feet problem this year, but he hasn't seen a pass rush like the one that's coming to Chicago on Sunday. That will be the difference. Broncos 20, Bears 14.

Glorious Green Bay Packers (+1) vs. Minnesota Vikings. Lots of people have been suggesting that the torch has been passed in the NFC North and that the Vikings are ready to take over. Well, they could be right. The Vikings have played very well this year, while the Packers have hit a very tough patch as of late. Losing to the Broncos and Panthers is one thing, but losing to the LOLions at home? That's quite another. So what happens this week? This is the first difficult game for the Vikings since they played at Denver several weeks ago. Give the Purple credit for hanging in there and winning the games they would expect to win. It gets harder the rest of the way, starting on Sunday in Minneapolis. As for the Packers, the sky may be falling, but inside, they're just fine. Packers 27, Vikings 20.

I dunno. The Vikings are pretty good and I wonder who is going to play for the Packers. The good news is that Eddie Lacy apparently will be available, but the Packers are down several receivers now, as it appears that both Ty Montgomery and Jared Abbrederis are unavailable. Mind you, these were guys the Packers never expected to need this season, but here we are. The secret problem the Packers are having is that their offensive line is not playing well and that has caused Aaron Rodgers a lot of grief. The Vikings like to get up the field on defense, so the Packers need to find a way to get them back on their heels a bit. Watch the battle between Linval Joseph of the Vikings and Corey Linsley of the Packers. The winner of that matchup will likely indicate the winner of the game. Packers 23, Vikings 21.

Any last words, Geritol Fan?

Glad to have you back, young fella! It's a lot easier to keep the house warm when you have HYYYYYYPPPPE! to burn.

Always glad to be of service. Ben out!

A big tree totters in the Obamacare forest

Things aren't going well for Obamacare, nor for the companies who are part of it. And now the biggest one of all is making noises:
The biggest U.S. health insurer said it has suffered major losses on policies sold on the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges and will consider withdrawing from them, adding to worries about the future of the marketplaces at the heart of the Obama administration’s signature health law.

The disclosure by UnitedHealth Group Inc., which had just last month sounded optimistic notes about the segment’s prospects, is the latest sign that many insurers are finding the new business unprofitable, despite an influx of customers that has helped swell revenues.
It's big news if UHG is thinking about getting out, but the key player to watch is Blue Cross/Blue Shield. UHG's primary business involves group plans for employers and while they are a significant player in the market, BC/BS is much more important. Having said that, these comments should cause you to raise your eyebrows:
UnitedHealth Group Chief Executive Stephen J. Hemsley said the company isn’t willing to continue its losses into 2017. UnitedHealth has already locked in its exchange offerings for 2016, but it is pulling back on marketing them during the current open-enrollment period to limit membership, which it said last month totaled around 550,000.

The company will make market-by-market determinations in the first half of next year about whether it will continue selling products on the exchanges.

“We can’t sustain these losses,” he said. “We can’t subsidize a market that doesn’t appear at this point to be sustaining itself.”
And the reason it's not sustaining itself? Don't tell me, lemme guess:
Mr. Hemsley emphasized problems with consumers “coming in and out of the exchange system to use medical services,” or essentially signing up for health plans when they need to cover health expenses—an issue also highlighted by other insurers.
If it's possible to game the system, people will do it. And why wouldn't they? The law makes it possible, which is why, for some people, it makes more sense to pay the individual mandate fine and sign up for insurance only when you need it. Heckuva plan, folks.

Meanwhile, in Bamako

Another terror event is unfolding, this time in Mali:
Men shouting "God is great" and armed with guns and throwing grenades stormed into the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali's capital Friday morning and seized 170 hostages.

The U.S. Embassy in Mali asked citizens to shelter in place amid reports of an "ongoing active shooter operation" at the hotel in Bamako. People in the area ran for their lives along a dirt road as a soldier in full combat gear them to safety.

Malian army commander Modibo Nama Traore said 10 gunmen stormed the hotel shouting "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great," in Arabic before firing on the guards and taking hostages. The Brussels-based Rezidor Hotel group that operates the hotel said the assailants have "locked in" 140 guests and 30 employees.
We haven't given Mali much thought over the past few years. I remember Mitt Romney talking about the country in the 2012 presidential debates and earning a fair amount of derision as a result; then again, everything Romney said seemed to earn derision. And, as usual, Romney was correct, because the northern part of Mali has been a stronghold for terrorists, despite the intervention of -- wait for it -- the French in 2013.

This is an active event, so we can only speculate about the endgame. We'll have our answer soon, though, and history suggests it won't be a happy ending.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Do you believe your eyes?

So, who are the Syrian refugees, anyway? We get a lot of visuals but they aren't helpful. The first image that most of us saw was this heartbreaking image of a drowned boy:

A horrifying fate
Who wouldn't want to help prevent that? Once the Syrian refugees started to arrive, however, the images changed substantially:

So where are the women and children?
These guys were waiting to board a boat bound for Athens. Not a child or woman in sight. Or is this image a more accurate depiction of the crisis?

Women and children galore
That's a much more traditional scene. And what do you make of the following image?

Lemme get in on this selfie
If you do a Google image search, all of these images come up on the first page or two, depending on the terms you use. And isn't that the point? How do you even know what's real?

Other people seem a lot more certain of what's happening than I am. Here's a typical social media meme, which has appeared at least 4 times on my feed in the past few days:

So there!
That's a bit, ahem, categorical. On the other hand, from a right wing friend, I see this:

Clothes make the man
We have more information than ever. And we have more propaganda than ever. Someone is lying. Do you know who it is? Do you really?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Quote of the day

“We just want some answers,” said Draper Larkins. “The federal investigation might get answers. But we want the correct answers.”
I'm not sure who Draper Larkins is. The Star Tribune article, written by Erin Golden, really doesn't tell us. The topic at hand is the shooting of Jamar Clark in North Minneapolis over the weekend. A member of the police shot Clark. Clark was, depending on whose version of events you believe, either a bad dude who was interfering with first responders who were attending to his girlfriend, or a guy who was executed in cold blood. At last report, Clark was on life support, but some reports indicate the family is taking him off life support. We don't really know.

A lot hangs on the notion of what the "correct answers" are. Are established facts the correct answers? Or is there an overarching narrative at play here? Who knows? Increasingly, I feel lost in the funhouse on these questions. I sent an email to Ms. Golden asking about the identity of Larkins. I'll let you know what I find out.


We're hearing quite a bit about refugees from Syria at the moment. Were you aware of this refugee wave?
Nicaragua dispatched its military and police to help close its southern border in a dispute with Costa Rica over the passage of Cuban migrants on their way to the U.S.

Costa Rica’s decision on Saturday to grant seven-day transit visas to 1,200 Cuban migrants who entered the country through Panama “violated national sovereignty,” Nicaragua’s government said in a statement over the weekend. Nicaraguan troops and riot police fired tear gas at people attempting to enter on Sunday in what Costa Rica called a "humanitarian crisis."

Authorities re-opened the border Monday morning to tourists and merchants. Some 450 Cuban migrants were transferred to shelters in Costa Rica while the rest remained at the border checkpoint. Nicaragua’s ambassador to the United Nations, Maria Rubiales, said Monday that Costa Rica had violated the UN Charter and international law by not consulting Nicaragua over the passage of the migrants.
Wait -- why would we need to take on more Cubans? I thought we'd reestablished diplomatic relations with Cuba and all that was better now. Weird.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Lightning Round -- 111615

Haven't done one of these in a while. Shake down the thunder from the sky:

  • We may be on the verge of our own Ferguson. A man was shot by police early Sunday morning in North Minneapolis. That much we know. The actual sequence of events seems to be in dispute, as is the condition of the man in question. The response is not. “We’ve been saying for a long time that Minneapolis was one bullet away from Ferguson. Well, that bullet was fired last night,” said Jason Sole, an associate professor at Metropolitan State University and a member of the local NAACP chapter. That's the quote from the Star Tribune. I have no idea what really happened. I'm pretty sure Sole doesn't, either. It may not matter.
  • It's easy to make fun of the French, but it's never a good idea to mess with them, as ISIS/ISIL/Daesh is finding out. The French military dropped bombs on Raqqa, the city in Syria where ISIS maintains a stronghold. I would assume there will be more bombs coming. The French always, always act in their own interest, and they aren't hesitant to use force as they see fit. You doubt that? Ask Greepeace some time.
  • Are you an obscure local politician in Burnsville? Would you like to have fifteen minutes of fame that is fully wrapped in ridicule? Would you like to be denounced by every member of your own political party within shouting distance of a microphone? Well, here's how you do it.
  • So, apparently the reason Hillary Clinton has taken a metric ton of money from Wall Street fat cats is because of 9/11 or something. That's amusing. Fortunately for Clinton, not too many people were watching.
  • Another of the old time wrasslers is gone -- Wicked Nick Bockwinkel died the other day, at the age of 80. Not many of those guys left any more.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Benster and D Pick Your Games--Objects In Your Mirror Edition

The question facing a couple teams is this -- can they finish the job as we start to get to the business end of the season?

An eternal question. And one that usually doesn't end well, young fella. Kinda like your picks.

Yeah, yeah. Take shots at me for being a bit of an optimist.

No, seriously, I appreciate your optimism. One day you'll be old and cynical like me.

Gee, I hope not. I always am an optimist. Somebody has to have a little faith around here. But more than that, I believe in HYYYYYPPPPE! So let me provide some. Watch me work!

Minnesota Golden Gophers (+10) vs. Iowa Hawkeyes. It is the first time ever that the Pig is being contested under the lights, and Iowa is a heavy favorite. I have been giving Iowa a lot of praise and credit, considering that they have gotten no respect from any of the members on the committee and they have the same quality win that Alabama has. Iowa has a simple path to Indy, which is just win, and nobody in the West can catch you. The problem is that this game is a rivalry game, and in recent years the Gophers have been a tough out. Minnesota is a team that gave Michigan and Ohio State all they wanted earlier in the year, and the players have some stability in knowing that the coaching staff is going to be sticking around. It's time to see if Iowa is for real, or if they have ran out of magic. Minnesota 19, Iowa 8.

If this game were taking place in Minneapolis, I would pick the Gophers. But the contest will take place in Kinnick Stadium and things haven't gone well for the Gophers there in recent years. I do think hiring Tracy Claes for real was the smart move, but this Iowa team looks like it's going to the Big Ten championship game. Iowa 31, Gophers 20.

Oklahoma Sooners (+2) vs. Baylor Bears. You might be asking yourself why I would choose to pick a game from the Big XII? The reason is that the conference has the motto "One True Champion," because every team will play each other, so there should be no debate at all over who is the champion. Of course, last year Baylor and TCU were co-champs, so what does the Big XII know? Baylor has to win this game at home in Waco, and then win on the road in Fort Worth against TCU in order to be called the "One True Champion," and then they would have a great argument to get into the playoff. Art Briles is a miracle worker for what he has done to make Baylor a name program, but Bob Stoops is experienced and can put up a lot of points too. Oklahoma 56, Baylor 49.

It'll be fun. No one seems to play defense in the Big XII. I'll go with the homestanding Bears. Baylor 45, Oklahoma 38.

Knox College Prairie Fire (NL) vs. Beloit College Bucs. Once again, it is time for some cross-divisional action in the Midwest Conference, and this game will be much discussed among our household. I have much respect for Beloit, and I did almost go there. However, Knox is an amazing place and I love it here. So sorry if I do this, but then again I always pick my school, even if they are playing against Decrepit's school. Knox 17, Belwah 0.

No need to apologize, Seabiscuit. Be true to your school! And, truth be told, Knox is getting better. Beloit can score, though. And they will. Game is at Beloit and I expect my beloved Bucs to get the job done. Beloit 34, Knox 24.

Minnesota Vikings (+3) vs. Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders. The Vikings are quietly sneaking up in the playoff picture, and control their own destiny in the NFC North, because they still get the Packers twice. Mike Zimmer has done a great job and deserves a lot of credit for winning with players he might not have picked himself. Oakland has also played well, and they have a realistic shot at a wild card spot over in the AFC. Heck, it is possible that Minnesota might not be done traveling to the Bay Area this year, if you understand my thought process. That being said, West Coast road trips are often difficult and Derrick Carr has been playing amazing lately, and I highly suggest that you add him to your fantasy roster if you don't like your quarterback. Raiders 24, Vikings 21 in overtime.

If the Vikings are going to slip up, this would be the game. The Raiders are getting better and they can come at you with multiple offensive talents. I'll be curious to see how Teddy Bridgewater plays after coming off a concussion. Raiders 27, Vikings 20.

Detroit LOLions (+10.5) vs. Glorious Green Bay Packers. It is getting a little tough to not want to panic, since the Packers have looked not good against Denver and Carolina. The good news is that they return home and get to play the LOLions, who have looked terrible all year. The Lions have not won a game in Wisconsin since 1991. To put that in perspective, George H.W. Bush was president, Mr and Mrs. D had just got married, though not at St. Ignatius Church of Christ, and I would not be born for another few years. Jason Hanson, who played for about 20 years in the Motor City, never won a game in Green Bay. Just a reminder for all those who are pushing the panic button. The last time the Packers lost two straight, they went on to win the next 17 or so, including 4 road playoff games in a row. Packers 35, Lions 0.

The St. Ignatius Church of Christ reference is an old family inside joke. Trust me, it's hilarious. As for the Packers, they get to enjoy a big ol' bowl of chicken soup in Honolulu Blue. The Lions still have talent, but they seem to be in disarray right now and are going to have to start over, yet again. If the Packers get any pass rush going, this is going to be a very long day for Matthew Stafford. He's become used to it. Packers 45, Lions 17.

And now, time for a Special Comment. I am not the first person to offer thoughts about Greg Hardy, nor will I be the last. The fact that he is still in the league is upsetting to me. I do not give a hoot if the man can toss a quarterback to the ground with consistency, but what he did in hitting a woman and getting off on a technicality of the law is an absolute joke, and I do not believe he should be allowed anywhere near a team. How can mothers and daughters hold him up as an example of a player to respect, and buy his jersey, when he has demonstrated that he will lie without conscience. And how he can be welcomed back into the league when it is facing an image problem of domestic violence is beyond me. I don't say this much, but Greg Hardy would never be welcome in my home, or on any team I support. The NFL should be better than that, and Jerry Jones should be better than that as well. It just makes me sick. Ben out.