Thursday, December 25, 2008

One of my favorite Christmas songs is...

..."The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by Andy Williams. I really like the big instrumental lead-in, the melody, and his voice. I probably heard it so much as a kid that it just wouldn't feel like Christmas without it. I always turn up the radio when it comes on. But lately I've been paying more attention to the lyrics and I find it a little puzzling. It starts out predictably enough:

"It's the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle belling and everyone telling you be of good cheer
It's the most wonderful time of the year

"It's the hap- happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings
And gay happy meetings when friends come to call
It's the hap- happiest season of all..."

So far, so good. But then in the third stanza it goes on to say:

"There'll be parties for hosting
Marshmallows for toasting
And caroling out in the snow..."

Wait a minute. Marshmallows for toasting? Is that Christmassy? Isn't that something you do on a camping trip with the Boy Scouts? In August?

The song continues:

"There'll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases
Long long ago..."

Scary ghost stories? Again, isn't that something you do on that camping trip with the Scouts? We never told ghost stories on Christmas. And what about the tales of the glories of Christmases long long ago? Did you do that at your house on Christmas? What tales did you tell? I have some image in my mind of a medieval battle between knights in shining armor. But that's not very Christmassy. What on earth did the songwriter have in mind? Does anyone out there know?

After that it's pretty much boilerplate Christmas stuff. I still like it but it's got me scratching my head a little.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

E-books are catching on...

...according to an article in today's New York Times. I've had a Kindle from Amazon for about a year now and I haven't looked at it in months. I thought it would be great: small and lightweight, perfect for reading in bed or traveling. No more balancing huge books while lying down and no more thought before heading to the airport; just throw the Kindle in a carry-on and off you go. With over 10,000 book titles and several newspapers, magazines, and blogs, it sounds perfect. So why don't I use it?

First of all, I don't like to buy books. It's a dirty little secret of mine. I have trouble parting with even the $10 it costs to buy a book on Kindle. I feel too committed to read it and too committed to finish it before I start another one. (This is after paying $359 for the device; you can buy a lot of books for that price. How many will you actually read in a year, anyway? It's kind of like paying $40 for a Costco membership so you can save a few cents on a loaf of bread. But that's another subject for another time.) That's just not how I like to read. I much prefer going to the library and checking out two or three books and seeing which one, if any, that I like. It's not unusual for me to start a book, put it down, and return it to the library unfinished. No investment, no big deal. Sometimes I'll take out a book several times before I actually read it. Most of them I never read at all. So what? Unlike Art Garfunkle, I don't keep track.

Another great thing about libraries is the ability to browse and discover new books. This is like the difference between radio and an I-pod. With an I-pod, you will always be limited to music that you're already familiar with. Radio, even terrestrial, has the potential to introduce you to new music that you've never heard before. Same with a library. Even though you can "browse" through new titles on Kindle and actually read samples before you buy, it's just not the same as browsing through the stacks at the library. You can pull books down if you like, read a sample of your choosing, and even take them home if you like. No obligation on your part.

Kindle boasts of over 10,000 book titles. That sounds like a lot, certainly enough to satisfy anyone. But I found that more often than not, I couldn't find a particular book that I wanted. To give just one example, there were tons of bestsellers but not one book by William Faulkner. I'll admit that some of the stuff I was looking for was off the beaten path, but Faulkner is hardly an obscure writer.

There's also the matter of not being able to use my Kindle in Mexico. I guess it was outside the wireless range or something. I could read what I had previously downloaded, but no more. That was disappointing; I was hoping to read a lot next to the pool. But that brings up another problem: there's a lot of water around pools and boring old white guys use a lot of sunscreen, neither of which go well with expensive electronic devices. There's also the matter of who's going to watch it while I take my occasional dip. I can't exactly fit it in my shoe like I do my wallet and keys. (By the way, Jerry Seinfeld pointed out the brilliance of that practice; who would ever think to look there?)

But the Kindle is a nifty little device and I don't want to knock it too much. After all, I'm not crabby old white guy, not yet at least. And I'm sure I'll use it more in the future. But for now, I'll continue to get my books at the library and my magazines and blogs on the Internet. (And the Crossword puzzle on good old-fashioned newsprint.) Besides, they just broke ground on a new library in our town!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I find Charlie Rose frustrating...

...because I think he has the best guests on television but is a terrible interviewer. Am I alone in this? I TiVo his show regularly but have trouble watching it. First of all, he's a shameless brown nose and asks a lot of softball questions. (I think that's one of the reasons he gets such great people to appear on his show; it's not too demanding.) When he's not doing that, he asks long three- and four-part questions that he thinks are really insightful. Often the guest seems a little confused as to which part to answer first. No matter, because the minute he starts to answer, Charlie interrupts him by telling him what he thinks. He seems really quite impressed with himself sometimes. He's also a horrible listener. Many times I've heard a guest go off on a tangent only to have Charlie bring him back to his prepared list of questions. God forbid the conversation should take an unexpected turn! During the election season, he often had the annoying habit of having too many guests on. This allowed for each of them to speak for about 10 or 15 seconds at a crack, just enough to begin but not finish an interesting thought. And please, enough Doris Kearns Goodwin!

The best interviewer in recent memory was Tim Russert. What a shame that he died in the middle of this election season. Like Dick Cavett before him, he could have almost anyone on and it would prove to be interesting. One of my favorite Tim Russertisms was when he would read a passage from someone's book and then say to his guest, "talk about that." Then he would let the person speak and really listen. It showed respect for his guest and his audience. I really miss him.

The best talk show host left on television that I know of is Bill Moyers. He has a liberal bias but doesn't hide it. I respect that. He asks intelligent questions, lets his guests speak, and listens to their answers. Regardless of the topic, his show is usually very interesting.

Am I missing anything? Is there anyone else I should be watching?

P. S. Although I'm okay with David Gregory getting the Meet the Press job, I would have taken a chance on Joe Scarborough. And I like Mike Barnicle as a fill-in for Chris Matthews on Hardball.

I predict that Barack Obama...

...will be considered the first "gay" president in much the same way that Bill Clinton was often called the first "black" president. That's why I think that everyone should just take a deep breath and stop worrying about his choice of Rick Warren to deliver the Inaugural Invocation.

It's a good move to reach out to one of the country's most popular evangelicals. Warren is from a newer generation, not like Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson, and embraces a more holistic view of Christianity. He seems less angry, less divisive, and less focused on the Culture Wars of the '80s and '90s. He also seems less partisan and provides an opportunity for Obama to make inroads among this group. If nothing else, it's a politically shrewd maneuver.

Although Warren was a vocal supporter of Proposition 8 in California, which banned same-sex marriage, it's hard to imagine Obama as sympathetic to that view. He seems so progressive, so open-minded, so inclusive. I also think he would be loathe to deny gays the same civil rights that blacks fought so hard for during his lifetime. I think if anything, his relationship with Warren might persuade the high-profile minister and author to take another look at his feelings toward the gay community. It's hard to change people's minds without having a dialogue first.

And I think that's Obama's long-term strategy with the evangelical community. First, have a relationship, then talk, and then maybe find some common ground. What a refreshing change from the politics of division that we've become so used to. This is what I think Obama meant by bringing change to Washington, and by extension, the nation.

At the end of the day, let's judge Obama by his actions toward the gay community. I predict we'll all be pleased, including gays and maybe even some evangelicals.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Put me in the camp...

...that doesn't want to see Caroline Kennedy get appointed to fill Hillary Clinton's Senate seat. She seems like a nice person, and everyone says she's intelligent and has done a lot of good work in New York, but it just seems a little too much like she's being rewarded for being a Kennedy. I know she was the president's daughter, and she came out for Obama at a crucial time, and her Uncle Ted is dying and everyone seems to want to keep a Kennedy in the Senate, and there's also the Andrew Cuomo drama, but it just doesn't seem right to me. Better to appoint some elder statesman, like Ed Koch or Felix Rohatyn, with the understanding that he'll only serve until the special election in 2010. Then if Caroline wants to run then, God bless her. Let her run and win an election, like everyone else. This would also give New Yorkers the benefit of finding out where she stands on the great issues of the day: the economic meltdown, the auto bailout, the two wars we're engaged in, etc. The voters have a right to know who Caroline Kennedy really is. I think that was the primary objection to Sarah Palin in the last election. It wasn't so much that she was inexperienced as that she was unknown. Voters want their candidates publicly vetted.

By the way, when she was asked outside Sylvia's Restaurant why she wanted to be the Senator from New York, was I the only person who was reminded of the famous Ted Kennedy interview with Roger Mudd when he couldn't articulate why he wanted to be President?

But everything I hear and read points to her getting the job. People say Governor Paterson is still undecided, but getting steamrolled and will almost certainly appoint her. Apparently her main qualification for the job is her ability to raise money. The talking heads say only she could raise the $70 million or so it takes to run in 2010 and 2012. That and Paterson would benefit from having a Kennedy alongside his name on the ballot.

So I'll bet she gets the job, although I'm reading a lot of columns like what I just wrote. But I don't think she'll like it and won't last too long. She's been such a private, normal person for so long that I don't think she's got the stomach for it. If she did, she would have shown an interest in public life a long time ago. There's also the matter of spending so much time in Washington and doing the actual work of a senator. I just don't see it.

So stay tuned. Governor Paterson has said he's going to wait until Hillary is actually confirmed as Secretary of State before he acts. A lot can happen between now and then.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Okay, okay, so I was wrong...

...about Oklahoma. They definitely deserve to play in the championship with that high-octane offense of theirs. As much as I like Tim Tebow, I don't see how Florida can prevent them from scoring. Maybe it will be a shoot-out like the famous Miami-Boston College game where Bernie Kosar and Doug Flutie traded touchdowns. What I'd really like to see is how Southern Cal's defense would do against the Sooners.

In other Bowl news, Yahoo! has Notre Dame playing Hawaii on Christmas Eve and Northwestern squaring off against Missouri. The Wildcats should have their hands full.

I guess I'm not finished...

...talking about high school football. The Chicago Tribune published its 2008 All-State Football Team today and I thought you might be interested in some of the highlights.

First of all, it should come as no surprise that Maine South's Charlie Goro is first-team quarterback. The Vanderbilt-bound senior completed 74 percent of his passes for 3,171 yards and 38 touchdowns and rushed for 665 yards and 12 touchdowns. Others deserving mention are running back Michael Ratay of Geneva, who scored 47 touchdowns this season, and wide receiver Terry Hawthorne of East St. Louis, who has committed to Illinois. Of local note, Sean Cascarano of Glenbrook South was named first-team offensive lineman and will suit up with the University of Virginia next year. Others to watch include first-team offensive linemen Chris Watt of Glenbard West (Notre Dame) and Providence's Patrick Ward (Northwestern); defensive lineman Zach Timm of Maine South, who is expected to play in the Ivy League; linebacker Marty Hopkins of St. Rita (Iowa); defensive backs Corey Cooper of Proviso East (Illinois) and Tim Riley of Oswego (Northwestern); and punter Dan Orseske of Brother Rice (Minnesota).

Notable second-teamers were running back Matt Perez of Maine South; linebacker Dimitrius Carr and defensive back Dan Coci of Mt. Carmel.

Receiving special mention were Loyola's quarterback Lucas Ruske and defensive lineman Chance Carter; Mt. Carmel's quarterback Jordan Lynch and linebacker Jeremy Johnson; Maine South's wide receiver Joey Orlando and linebacker Corby Ryan; Leo's offensive lineman Leon Hill and defensive lineman Lendell Buckner; New Trier's offensive lineman Mark Zielinski; Fenwick's defensive lineman Jack Dittmer; and St. Rita's defensive back Dave Marciano.

I'll try to keep you posted on where the other seniors are planning to play next year. It should be fun to watch their careers progress.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I liked George Bush until 9/11...

...I really did. I liked that he cut taxes (I would have preferred that he cut taxes on everyone, not just the rich, but I figured it was a start). I liked that he intended to limit the size and scale of government and that he intended to conduct a more "humble" foreign policy. Those things all spoke to my libertarian leanings. (Actually, they were more than just "leanings"; I was a card-carrying, dues-paying member of the Libertarian Party and had voted for its candidates since1992. I even collected signatures once to get candidates on the ballot, but that's a subject for another posting.) I also thought Al Gore was incredibly annoying and the ultimate Washington phony (another subject for another time.) And, even though neither one of us drank beer anymore, if I did I would have rather had one with Bush than Gore or most anyone else in public life. He really did seem like a regular guy.

So what happened on 9/11? Well we all know what happened on 9/11. A bunch of fanatical Muslims hijacked four jets and flew three of them into buildings killing themselves and thousands of other people. Unbelievable. But it happened. And if I were a Hollywood producer and someone came to me with a script like that I would have turned it down as too implausible. But after the initial shock and after dealing with the immediate effects of the crisis, the first and most important question anyone should have asked is simply, "Why did this happen?" And to Bush's credit, he did ask this question. Actually he asked the corollary question, "Why do they hate us?" And he flubbed it. In what could have served as a "teachable moment," as they say nowadays, he totally flubbed it and began the process of throwing his whole presidency away. 9/11 was his opportunity for greatness. Most presidents don't get them. Clinton, for example, never had a great event like the Civil War or Pearl Harbor to allow him to achieve greatness. He is destined to be a footnote in history, probably the worst fate a president can suffer. But Bush was given this opportunity, and like Charlie Brown, he backed up to catch the fly ball hit to him and watched it go in and out of his mitt. Ugh!

After asking the question that should have become the subject of a national conversation, Bush instead muttered some drivel about how they "hate us for our freedoms...blah, blah, blah..."

What if Bush had been honest and said "They hate us at least in part because of our actions?" He would have been tarred and feathered, that's what. Understandably, the country was hurting and in no mood for introspection, much less the truth. If someone punches you in the face, you don't ask why, you punch him back. Only after a little time has passed do you ask why he did that and did your actions contribute at all. But the President shouldn't be an average person, despite what Sarah Palin thinks. The President is the Commander-in-Chief and the leader of the free world. In short, it's a big job that requires a big person. And a big person would have the courage (and intellectual curiosity) to ask such a question and begin a national conversation so that we could assess exactly where we were and where we intended to go.

U. S. foreign policy in the Middle East revolves around two things: Israel and oil. Everything else is just a distraction. The Cold War used to be a factor, but only in so far as it related to Israel and oil. And the Muslim world hates us for the way we've acted to support Israel and maintain our access to Middle Eastern oil. What actions are those, exactly? Well for starters, we support autocratic regimes that oppress and torture their own people, like Egypt and Saudi Arabia (where most of the hijackers came from), and Iran under the Shah. The Iranian "students" didn't seize the U. S. embassy out of the blue, they seized it after decades of resentment toward the U. S. for backing the Shah, a brutal dictator (not unlike Saddam Hussein). This included putting the Shah in power after the CIA-engineered coup that deposed the democratically-elected Mohammed Mosaddeq.

There's a lot more to say on this subject and I want to be very careful how I say it because I think it's a very important topic. But I don't know how to save pieces without posting them so I'll have to continue this later. Sorry, readers.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Some random thoughts...

...on an early Tuesday morning...Oil has dropped almost a hundred dollars a barrel since the Fourth of July! Who woulda thunk it?...According to Barron's, fund tracker Morningstar follows 11,585 U. S. and international equity mutual funds. How many are up on the year? Zero. Not even one out of almost 12,000!...I think yesterday's steep sell-off in the stock market following the light-volume rallies of last week could indicate that a bottom is forming. In bull markets slow gains are punctuated by sharp but short declines. And how about those bond yields?...The St. Francis Spartans won the Illinois 5A championship after finishing 3-6 last year and 0-9 the year before!...In college football, how can Oklahoma be ranked ahead of Texas when the Longhorns beat the Sooners on a neutral field?...And whither Notre Dame? Putting aside for a moment the fate of Charlie Weis, what is the future of football at ND? Can they regain the glory of yesteryear, or will their program more and more resemble those at places like Stanford and Northwestern? What should they do?...What do you think, readers? And there's more than three of you, Tom.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A thin blanket of white snow... covering the ground in Glenview this morning. The pumpkins and hay are gone from the front step; it's officially winter here. I know what you're thinking, Joe, I really didn't need to say the snow was white. But I wanted to convey a vivid image for you. Gotta get photos on this blog. And about that semicolon...