Thursday, December 31, 2009

I keep seeing ads that warn...

...that Time Warner Cable might drop Fox. Is that a bad thing?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The whack jobs are coming... Dartmouth College to protest a hockey game.

Personally, I think the squash team could use a little heckling.

Who is this Lady Gaga...

...anyway, and why does she keep hitting my radar?

Dan Gerstein has a piece... Forbes in which he makes predictions for 2010 a la William Safire. In the executive branch, Gerstein calls for White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to get the axe. On Capitol Hill, he calls for the Republicans to gain back 30 to 54 seats in the House and 3 to 5 in the Senate. (That House call is ballsy; kind of like me saying that the Bears will win anywhere from 5 to 15 games next year.) While he expects Speaker Nancy Pelosi to retain her job, Gerstein predicts that Majority Leader Harry Reid loses his and is replaced by Chuck Schumer of New York. Finally, Gerstein sees former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman returning from China to win the GOP nomination for president in 2012. Interesting stuff, but as always, I have my own take on things.

First of all, Rahm Emanuel isn't going anywhere. He and Nancy Pelosi are two of the most effective people in Washington. As for Janet Napolitano, it wouldn't be hard to see her go, but I like Chris Matthews's prediction more. He thinks Bob Gates will step down from Defense and be replaced by former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel. In the House, I think the Republican gains will be more in the neighborhood of 25-30; Gerstein's 3 to 5 in the Senate sounds about right to me. In any event, the Democrats should retain both houses of Congress. I agree that Harry Reid is vulnerable in the Senate, and I wouldn't have a problem with either Chuck Schumer or Dick Durbin. The Huntsman call is a new one on me; I hadn't read that anywhere. It certainly makes sense, though. Like 2008, the GOP race is wide open, although I still give Sarah Palin a 50/50 chance at securing the nomination.

The Northwestern Wildcats...

...averaged only 24,190 fans at 47,130-seat Ryan Field this season.

Yesterday, the Sun-Times... forecast for the Chicagoland area was "tricky." Today it's "icky."

Which two letters do you suppose they'll drop tomorrow?

Northwestern's defense should have...

...its hands full against Auburn in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day. The Tigers' offense, led by running back Ben Tate,

went from scoring 17.3 points per game in 2008 to 32.9 this season, and their total offense rank went from 104th (302.9 yards per game) to 21st (432.3).

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

When I was in the grocery store today...

...I noticed Mike Ditka wine for the first time. Mike Ditka's is just not a name I would normally associate with wine.

Da' Coach has five different kinds: Pinot Grigio, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and of course, Kick Ass Red.

70% of Iranians...

...are under the age of 30.

According to Leslie Gelb... the Daily Beast today:

U.S. military expenditures neared $750 billion this year—which is more than the total military spending of almost all other countries.

I couldn't agree more...

...with Andrew Sullivan's post in re Obama's first year in office.

The best quote of the decade...

...has to belong to Arnold Schwarzenegger, "I think gay marriage is something that should be between a man and a woman."

A year ago, who woulda thunk...

...that the third-best performing stock in 2009 would be Ford Motor (+ 309%)?

The quote of the day...

...goes to Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, “Nobody's been an obstructionist. All we wanted to do was participate in the process.”


The Chicago Sun-Times...

...describes today's weather as "tricky." Tricky? What the heck does that mean?

When I was a kid...

...and someone pointed out a shortcoming in the Soviet Union or some other Communist country, it seemed always to be met with the response, "But we haven't yet achieved true Communism." Okay, I always thought, let us know when you do. Until then, I'll stick with capitalism.

It reminds me a little of the knee-jerk response I keep hearing to critics of the free-market ideology of the last 30 years or so, "But the markets weren't truly free." Reagan (and Bush) apologists, e. g., The Wall Street Journal, usually go on to explain how it was actually the federal government that was to blame for FILL IN THE BLANK. (The government is always to blame for any and all of society's ills. I'm sure if The Journal thought about it hard enough they could find a reason that the government was behind the lack of Cubs' World Series appearances.)

Okay, for the sake of argument, I'll accept the answer that markets in the last thirty years weren't truly free; libertarians have a legitimate point. But my response would also be to ask, "When have markets in the United States (or anywhere) ever been truly free?" Many libertarians would point to the late 19th Century as a time of great prosperity due to limited government intervention in the economy. I can agree with the first part but not the second.

Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans were the intellectual and political heirs of the Federalists and the Whigs, both of whom were big believers in the power of the federal government to foster economic growth. Unlike Jefferson and the Democrats, the Federalists and Whigs believed in a strong central government and a national bank. Under the Whigs and later the Republicans, roads and canals were built and railroads were encouraged to promote commerce. Lincoln also introduced a national currency and a federal income tax for the first time. And let's not forget the tariffs, which were not only intended to raise revenue but also to protect domestic industries.

So was it actually the government's intervention in the economy that promoted such growth in the late 19th Century? Beats me. But just don't tell me it was a time of laissez-faire capitalism. Oh, and if you ever do find a period that meets that description, please let me know.

The Northwestern Wildcat... team is ranked No. 25 in the AP poll, their first appearance in the rankings since January 1969, when it was still just a Top 20.

Northwestern (10-1) has won nine straight games since a loss to Butler. The Wildcats, one of the few teams from a major conference to never play in the NCAA tournament, were ranked for three weeks during the 1968-69 season. They made the poll only two other times: for one week in 1954-55; and seven weeks in 1958-59.

Monday, December 28, 2009

I'm thinking of suing Urban Meyer...

...for whiplash. Don't be too surprised if you see me wearing one of those soft, cervical collars. What's with this guy? Is he having a nervous breakdown or something? So he lost the SEC championship--big deal! It's not like his dog died or anything.

After shocking the sports world by announcing Saturday that he would be stepping down as Florida’s football coach because of his health, Urban Meyer reversed field Sunday afternoon.

At a Sugar Bowl news conference here, Meyer announced that he would be taking an “indefinite leave of absence” instead of quitting. Meyer made clear that he planned to return to the sideline, saying he believed “in my gut” that will happen this fall.

Meyer will coach in the Sugar Bowl and said the Florida program was rolling “full steam ahead.”

See what I mean?

It sounds like Meyer is a workaholic:

The decision to return leaves Meyer at a critical crossroads in his career and his life. Meyer said in an interview Saturday night that the basis of his problems was “self-destructive” work habits. He said he crammed a 30-year coaching career into nine years, doing everything from e-mailing recruits in church to neglecting his family. Now he will try to compete at the highest level, but also find the balance that has eluded him.

Balance. It's something I've always tried for. There's even a clinical term for people like me: unambitious. But seriously, it doesn't take a Zen master to know that when you're in church, be in church. And even though I've had my share of sleepless nights, I've never woke up with chest pains.

Meyer did not set a timetable for his return. But the tenor of the news conference was that it would be surprising if he did not return by spring and stunning if he was not back by summer camp.

Spring? Summer camp? He already said he'd coach next week in the Sugar Bowl. Doesn't sound like he's taking one day off.

Contrast Meyer with Steve Spurrier, who coached the Gators from 1990-2001. Not exactly known for his work ethic--he was an avid golfer--Spurrier was nonetheless successful as a coach, compiling a record of 122-27-1 (.817) and winning the national championship in 1996. At age 64, Spurrier stays healthy with a daily workout regimen. He also seemed to enjoy the job; his offense was called the "Fun 'n' Gun." (What does Meyer call his, the "You-Play-Even-If-You-Have-a-Concussion" offense?)

Something tells me we haven't heard the end of this story.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Who will replace Urban Meyer... the coach of Florida? Pete Thamel, writing in the New York Times says:

The two top candidates will be Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops and Mississippi State Coach Dan Mullen. Both are former Florida assistant coaches: Stoops was the defensive coordinator during Steve Spurrier’s tenure, and Mullen left after last season to take over at Mississippi State. Other names to be considered include Boise State ’s Chris Petersen; Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh; Louisville’s Charlie Strong, who was Florida’s defensive coordinator until this month; and Utah’s Kyle Whittingham.

If experience at Florida is so important, why not just bring back Steve Spurrier?

I had two take aways...

...from watching Meet the Press today. The first was that Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts may be a rising star in the Democratic Party.

Even though President Obama has been in office for only a year (and I expect him to be re-elected in 2012), it's never too early for political junkies like me to think about who might succeed him. Since Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden might be too old (they'll be 69 and 74, respectively, in 2016), I've been looking around for another Democratic candidate for the Oval Office. And Deval Patrick hit my radar today.

Secondly, like many people, I've been trying for the last year or so to get a handle on the whole Sarah Palin phenomenon. For a while I thought she was just a female version of Mike Huckabee and would quickly fade into oblivion. But after her recent book tour, I've decided that she has more staying power than that. On MTP this morning, Andrea Mitchell compared her to George Wallace.

MS. MITCHELL: What I noticed when I was out covering Sarah Palin when she was out on the book tour, at 4 and 5 and 6 in the morning on freezing days, when people had been out for hours, camped out with their kids because they wanted to see her, they are so hungry for a symbol for anyone who can give them answers. And in this case, she was just signing books. But there's an anger out there, and I have not seen it since my very first campaign, which was 1968 and George Wallace. And that is the angry populism which is not fact-based, it's just furious at everybody; angry at Democrats, at Republicans. The tea party has higher numbers in our last NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll than either of the other traditional parties. And that is what I think this news cycle which you referred to is feeding into, and that is what does frighten me. This spirit of America is so large and embracing, but there is an angry subtext because of economic dislocation that is very, very worrisome.

Happy Anniversary...

...Mom and Dad. 66 years is a long date.

Today I heard a wise man say that...

...forgiveness is "removing my plans for improving you."

Kim Peek, the inspiration for "Rain Man,"...

...died at age 58. From the obit in the New York Times:

Mr. Peek was not autistic — not all savants are autistic and not all autistics are savants — but he was born with severe brain abnormalities that impaired his physical coordination and made ordinary reasoning difficult. He could not dress himself or brush his teeth without help. He found metaphoric language incomprehensible and conceptualization baffling.

But with an astonishing skill that allowed him to read facing pages of a book at once — one with each eye — he read as many as 12,000 volumes. Even more remarkable, he could remember what he had read.


Mr. Peek had memorized so many Shakespearean plays and musical compositions and was such a stickler for accuracy, his father said, that they had to stop attending performances because he would stand up and correct the actors or the musicians.

“He’d stand up and say: ‘Wait a minute! The trombone is two notes off,’ ” Fran Peek said.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

I was really surprised...

...when I heard about that Democrat from Alabama with the two last names that switched to the Republican Party.

I had no idea there were still Democrats in Alabama!

As the Senate prepares to pass...

...historic health care legislation, I can't help thinking about the Republicans. And I can't help thinking about all of the ways in which they come away as losers here.

The first, of course, is that by opting out of the process in the first place, the GOP gave the Democrats free reign in writing the bill. Had they taken part, the Republicans could have gotten a bill much more to their liking. Instead, they had virtually no input into the final product.

The second way in which the Republicans lose is by handing the Democrats a huge legislative victory. After a year of tea parties, death panels and other distractions, President Obama gets to claim a big win in his State of the Union Address next month.

And finally, the Republicans lose just by being on the wrong side of history. It's not enough that the GOP will be forever associated with George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Tom DeLay, tax cuts for the rich, turning budget surpluses into deficits, 9/11, two botched wars (one of choice), Katrina, the worst recession in 70 years, a failed attempt to privatize social security, domestic eavesdropping, torture (puff, puff). Am I forgetting anything? Oh yeah, and for neglecting to address health care reform from the time they took control of Congress in 1994 until the election of 2008. And now they get to go down in history as the party that bitterly opposed health care reform.

As Republican David Frum would say, Nice work everybody.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It's been almost a year...

...since Rush Limbaugh famously said of President-elect Obama, "I hope he fails."

I hope he fails.

This was at a time when the world was gazing into the abyss of another Great Depression. And since not one Republican had the guts to stand up to him, Americans could be forgiven for thinking that the GOP's message to the nation was, "We'd rather see Obama fail than see the country succeed." Nice.

So the Republicans closed their eyes, balled up their fists, and prayed that the economy wouldn't recover. That was their response to the national emergency and that was their strategy for returning to power. Their prescription for what ailed the country? Crickets. And thus was born the Party of No.

Since then, the Republicans have voted almost unanimously against the stimulus bill, against cap and trade legislation, and against health care reform. No, No, and Hell No. Where did all this nihilism get them? The stock market bottomed out in March, the economy is once again showing signs of life, and the president is poised to sign a bill into law ensuring universal health care.

I wonder what the Republicans have planned for 2010.

It's December 23rd...

...Happy Festivus!

The Atlantic is currently running a series called...

...The Best Book I Read This Year, by its editors. I've never heard of most of them and certainly don't expect to read War and Peace any time soon. (I read Les Miserables about twenty years ago and one big, scary classic is enough for me.)

But this morning they actually had a book that I'd read in the past year, Losing Mum and Pup, by Christopher Buckley. I would recommend it, too; I couldn't put it down. Buckley may be my favorite writer since Frank McCourt and (dare I say it?) even better than his father. I really enjoy his pieces in the Daily Beast and might even try some of his novels this year.

Howard Dean thinks the Senate health care bill...

...could amount to a massive transfer of wealth from the taxpayers to the private insurance industry. Richard Epstein, writing in The Wall Street Journal today, thinks just the opposite. He thinks the legislation could drive many insurers into bankruptcy.

My guess is that the insurers will ultimately be treated like public utilities as in much of Europe.

Only in Chicago...

...would a mobster under house arrest be allowed to join his extended family for dinner at a downtown restaurant on Christmas Eve. Michael "The Large Guy" Sarno, 51, of Westchester, who also goes by the nickname "Fat Ass" (I am not making this up), is typically allowed outside his home only to go to church, the doctor or court.

Imagine the old lady who gets to sit next to him at Midnight Mass.

On CNBC this morning...

...there was an economist from Nomura who expects China's economy to grow in 2010 by 10.5%!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

You gotta love...

...Tim Pawlenty. In the current Newsweek, TPaw says:

"I believe that God created everything and that he is who he says he was. The Bible says that he created man and woman; it doesn't say that he created an amoeba and then they evolved into man and woman."

The title of the interview is Tim Pawlenty Gets No Respect.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting...

...that Mexico is ramping up its War on Drugs. Has any war on drugs ever worked? Anywhere?

A wise man once told me that people use drugs because they (the drugs) work.

No one will be talking about... care legislation next November. The wars may be a factor in the mid-terms (although I don't know exactly how), but I predict it will be mostly about the economy, stupid.

By the way, in my earlier post...

...concerning the yield curve (stay with me), I originally intended to link to an article in The Wall Street Journal. I couldn't for some reason; it said I had to subscribe, although I am already a subscriber. No matter; I just found another piece on the Internet to link (it took all of about thirty seconds).

And this brings me to my point. How does Rupert Murdoch (and others) intend to make people pay for content on the Internet when there is already so much of it for free? I know Murdoch has been successful so far (due in large part, I think, to The Journal's being treated as a business expense), but I just don't see a trend developing here. You just can't put the toothpaste back in the tube. (Trust me, I tried once; it's almost impossible.)

Michele Bachmann...


Bachmann's family farm received $251,973 in federal subsidies between 1995 and 2006. The farm had been managed by Bachmann's recently deceased father-in-law and took in roughly $20,000 in 2006 and $28,000 in 2005, with the bulk of the subsidies going to dairy and corn. Both dairy and corn are heavily subsidized — or "socialized" — businesses in America (in 2005 alone, Washington spent $4.8 billion propping up corn prices) and are subject to strict government price controls.

Pot, meet kettle.

Voting yes on the health care bill... kind of like the Wall Street bailout. It may not feel good, but it's still the right thing to do.

The Times has a small blurb... about a recent celebration in Russia. It says:

The Communist Party celebrated the 130th birthday of Joseph Stalin on Monday with an appeal for people not to bring up the more unseemly aspects of his record. Stalin is a polarizing figure in Russia, still popular for winning World War II and industrializing the Soviet Union while reviled for the purges that killed or displaced millions of people. On Monday, the Communists sought to focus on the achievements, lining up in Red Square to lay flowers on his grave, above. “We would like very much on this day for the discussion about any mistakes of the Stalin era to stop, so that people can reflect on the personality of Stalin as a creator, thinker and patriot,” said Ivan Melnikov, a senior party official.

"The more unseemly aspects of his record?" You mean the 20 million or so people that Stalin is thought to be responsible for murdering? "Unseemly aspects" sounds like he tended to conduct meetings of the Politburo while belching and wearing a wife beater. I think it was just a little worse than that.

And for those of you under the age of fifty...

...Diane Sawyer made her debut last night as the anchor of ABC's World News. What in God's name is that? It's about twenty minutes or so of old news wedged between commercials for Viagra and Flomax. You see, older people, i. e., your parents, work all day at computers (and surf the net, or Web, I can never remember which), come home, fix themselves a drink and watch the evening news to hear once again what they already read on the Internet and see footage of the latest flood in Missouri. Sounds weird, I know. (Especially when you consider that your parents mostly talk over the broadcast. "What the President should do...")

Over the weekend my sister was lamenting the retirement of Charlie Gibson. Who? You know, that old guy who won't spring for bifocals that interviewed Sarah Palin once. But at least people get to watch Diane Sawyer now make millions reading from a teleprompter.

And at age 64, she's still worth watching.

For those of you not in the financial markets...

...the U. S. Treasury yield curve (stay with me) is now at a record 280 basis points. What on earth does that mean? Simply put, it means that the difference between long-term interest rates and short-term interest rates is at its widest spread ever. Not helping.

Okay, try this. If you're a tea-bagger, the record yield curve means hyper-inflation! Weimar Germany! Buy gold! Buy a gun! (okay, another gun) Buy canned goods for the basement! There's a black guy, er, African-American gentleman in the White House! (See, even the tea-baggers can be politically correct.)

What does it mean for the rest of us? Well, at least some inflation certainly, but also economic growth. It's a green shoot! I don't want to get too carried away here, but it's always worth noting a record anything.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Ross Douthat is one of the New York Times's...

...resident conservatives (no, that is not an oxymoron). I like his take on the health care bill:

In the end, when the history of the health care debate is written, I don’t think any of the choices that G.O.P. lawmakers made this year will loom particularly large. The choices that they made, or didn’t make, across the last fifteen years are what made all the difference. Between the defeat of Clintoncare and the election of Barack Obama, the Republicans had plenty of chances to take ownership of the health care issue and pass a significant reform along more free-market, cost-effective lines. They didn’t. The system deteriorated on their watch instead. And now they’re suffering the consequences.

Keep digging...

...TPaw; the Presidency is overrated.

"So if you are a third-grade teacher and you are a man and you show up on Monday as Mr. Johnson and you show up on Tuesday as Mrs. Johnson, that is a little confusing to the kids. So I don't like that."

Right. What?

I just watched Meet the Press...

...and talk show host Tavis Smiley was one of the guests. I've always thought that Smiley was an odd last name and could make for some uncomfortable situations.

The awkwardness could begin early in school. I can almost hear a nun yelling at him, "Wipe that smirk off your face, Mr. Smiley!"

It would extend to the playground, "I'm gonna kick your butt, Smiley!"

Bad news, of course, would be difficult to convey. "I'm afraid your dog has been run over by a bus, Smiley."

And consoling him would be next to impossible. "There, there now...don't cry, Smiley."

Hard to picture him as a Bond villain. "So that's your little scheme, eh, Mr. Smiley: world domination."

But what if he fell in with a bad crowd? "We, the jury, find the defendant, Mr. Smiley, guilty."

And worst of all, "I sentence you, Mr. Smiley, to ten years at hard labor."

But seriously, could you imagine saying any of those things with a straight face?

Jonathan Chait has a good piece... the New Republic today on what ails the GOP.

Believe it or not...

...The Wall Street Journal is my home page. I won't go into the reason for that, but my first read this morning was "Historic Health Vote Looms," followed by "Change Nobody Believes In," the lead editorial. I really do try to read opposing points of view, and I wanted to see what The Journal had to say about the Senate health care bill.

A couple of paragraphs in, the editorial addressed the issue of cost. It says:

The best and most rigorous cost analysis was recently released by the insurer WellPoint, which mined its actuarial data in various regional markets to model the Senate bill.

Huh? The best and most rigorous cost analysis The Journal could find was by an insurance company? Gee, you don't suppose they have a dog in this fight, do you? And what do you suppose this analysis found? If you guessed that costs would rise then you guessed correctly. (The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office recently found that costs would actually go down.) But really, is that the best The Journal can do?

It kind of reminds me of that famous Lewin Group study cited by The Journal earlier this year. The study concluded that 88 million people would abandon the private insurers in favor of a public option. (The CBO's estimate was closer to five million.) Republicans were all over the airwaves citing the study until it was pointed out that, ahem, the Lewin Group is owned by United Healthcare. Oops.

The Wall Street Journal now has the widest circulation of any newspaper in the U. S. Millions of people are going to read that editorial today and refer to it around water coolers.

"I hear under this new health care bill, costs will go up."

"Really? How do you know?"

"Read it in the paper just this morning."


How long will it be before word gets out that the CBO's findings are that costs will go down under this bill? Do you think people will ever read that in The Journal?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

If it isn't clear who the winners are... health care reform, it should be clear who the losers are: Republicans. Jonathan Chait has an excellent piece on how the GOP shot itself in the foot by withdrawing from the process.

Hey Republicans, how's that "Party of No" working out for you?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Now that Harry Reid...

...has lined up the 60 votes needed for health care reform I have to say kudos to him, Nancy Pelosi, President Obama, and the rest of the Congressional Democrats for a job well done. (Forgive me if I sound a little schizophrenic; it's been a wild ride.)

I'm still not sure if it's a good bill or not, but most of the people I respect--such as Ezra Klein and Jonathan Cohn--seem to think so. We'll just have to wait and see. But in the meantime, congrats are in order for such a Herculean lift.

And the winner is...

...the private insurance companies. Huh? That's right, after almost a year of debate (over a hundred, really, dating all the way back to Theodore Roosevelt--yes, Theodore), and after almost a year of crafting legislation, the big winner in health care reform may turn out to be your private health insurance company.

How did this happen? Well, in the famous words of Deep Throat, Bob Woodward's source in the Watergate scandal, "Follow the money." Unfortunately, that's usually a good practice in America when trying to get to the bottom of something. In fact, if there's one thing that may have become crystal clear from all of this it's that money runs America. Now that may be a little like saying that the world is round, but it's something that I forget from time to time. And this may be one of those times. Because I'm beginning to wonder if Howard Dean is right. This bill may be nothing more than a gigantic government subsidy to the insurance companies.

Is it? I'm not sure, but consider this: 30 million new customers will be delivered to the insurance companies under this bill. The government will subsidize them to the tune of about $900 billion. There will be no public option or Medicare buy-in and thus no competition. The reforms? No more denial due to pre-existing conditions, no more rescission (dropping clients once they get sick), no more price-gouging, etc. could all get rolled back by an even richer, more powerful insurance industry in the next few years. Oh, and cost controls? Fahgettaboudit!

Last summer I heard rumblings that Max Baucus's Finance Committee bill was actually being written by the insurance industry and was in fact the Industry's Bill. Even though Baucus had been a huge beneficiary of their largesse over the years I tried to stay optimistic. After all, I thought, anything would be better than what we have now. I was optimistic, in fact, all the way up until last week and Joe Lieberman's notorious bait-and-switch. (Any doubt who he represents?) Now after listening to all the criticism from the Left I'm beginning to wonder. There just might not be 60 senators unbeholden to the insurance industry.

Lawrence O'Donnell said yesterday that Dean was probably speaking for at least a dozen Democratic senators who didn't feel they could speak out publicly against the bill. Dean is worth listening to because he is one of the few truly principled figures in public life today. He's also usually right. I'll never forget that he was one of the only Democrats with the cajones to speak out against the Iraq War in 2002. One of the others was a state senator from Illinois named Barack Obama.

It may be time now for him to step up his game.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I enjoyed my trip to the new Merc...

...this week, especially lunch with my old friends Jack, Jose, and Jim. We ate at the Ceres Cafe in the Board of Trade, er, Merc building, or whatever they call it nowadays. (I was especially pleased to see liver sausage on the menu.)

It was great to catch up with everyone and exchange industry gossip. But the highlight of the meal, I think, was when I reached for the check. (This is an event not unlike a one hundred year flood.) Jack feigned a heart attack, Jose almost choked on an ice cube, and Jim could only make a fist as I'm sure he deeply regretted not ordering lunch.

But seriously, it was really good to see old friends. There's something truly warm and special about breaking bread around the holidays with three guys who all have less hair than me.

Mark McKinnon writes interesting pieces...

...for the Daily Beast. His column today is about my favorite spectator sport--presidential politics. McKinnon weighs in on a number of potential nominees for the Republican Party in 2012. Good stuff, but I have my own opinions. Surprised?

(1) Mitt Romney. For a handsome guy with an equally handsome wife and family; the son of a popular Republican governor and presidential candidate; a Harvard-educated, self-made millionaire; a co-founder of Bain Capital; a former Republican governor of the bluest of the blue states; a successful architect of health care reform at the state level; (puff, puff) Romney ran one of the most inept campaigns imaginable in 2008 in a wide-open field. Unless he re-emerges as a completely different candidate, he'll go down in history as 2012's John Connally or Phil Gramm. Who? Translation: forget about him.

(2) Sarah Palin. Train wreck. If the economy goes south and/or unemployment rises to Great Depression Era levels (25%), Palin could get the nomination and become our next president. God help us! Otherwise, she could still get the nomination and pull a Barry Goldwater--win a handful of southern and western states and about 40% or so of the popular vote. This might actually be a good thing for the Republican Party and the nation. The GOP could then get back to the business of being a serious party again.

(3) Tim Pawlenty. Hopelessly charisma-challenged, TPaw makes even Romney seem exciting in comparison. His best course would be to lay the groundwork for 2016 by being someone else's running mate.

(4) John Thune. Even though David Brooks touted him in a recent column, I can't help remembering what Morton Kondracke called him years ago: an empty suit.

(5) Mike Huckabee. Don't count him out and don't underestimate him. I saw him address the Maurice Clemmons issue on Jon Stewart recently and he handled it really well. He's a great talker and will do even better than last time if he decides to run in 2012.

(6) Joe Scarborough. Every liberal's favorite Republican. I agree with McKinnon, however. He seems too content in his new life to run for president any time soon.

(7) Haley Barbour. Boss Hogg? Are you kidding?

(8) Newt Gingrich. My dark horse. The former Speaker is the most intelligent Republican on the scene today and could give Obama a run for his money.

(9) Mitch Daniels. Who?

(10) Rick Perry. Nut job. The Republicans have enough of those already. See Sarah Palin, above.

On McKinnon's watch list are Rick Santorum (too far right for even the Vatican), Mike Pence (again, who?), Ron Paul (too old, but could attract even more attention next time given the current climate), Eric Cantor (seems more interested in being Speaker some day), Jeb Bush (only if he changes his last name), and Jim DeMint (again, God help us).

Who do I think will be the next Republican nominee? Who cares! Obama will win in a walk, a la Ronald Reagan in 1984.

For a young guy, Ezra Klein... good at keeping things in perspective.

Gail Collins beats up...

...Joe Lieberman today.

'Tis the season... buy a Christmas tree, or at least rent one. Rent one? That's what some people are doing in southern California, according to an article in the Times.

Rentable Christmas trees, which have been tried in Oregon and a smattering of other places over the years, are a perfect match for Los Angeles, where Christmas trees have “an image issue,” and escaping a drive through traffic with a tree strapped to a car roof is especially welcome.

To rent a tree, a customer visits Mr. Martin’s Web site,, picks out a tree from among several varieties and then awaits delivery. Delivery days are determined by geography, to save time and gas. Prices range from $50, for a two-to-three-foot number, up to $185 for something bigger.

Fifty bucks to rent a tree that could fit on top of a table? I paid a hundred for my eight-foot Douglas Fir, and I thought I got taken! ("Pssst! Here comes that bald guy from last year...")

While two weeks is the recommended length of stay for a live tree in a house, Mr. Martin lets his customers keep them for three.

What a sport!

The tree is then picked up to join its evergreen cousins; they will summer together on industrial properties where Mr. Martin rents space for pennies on the dollar to house his inventory. People who want the same tree next year ask for it to be tagged with their name, so it might return next December, taller.

Are we talking about a Christmas tree here, or a pet turtle?

Extra-credit points: The delivery trucks run on biodiesel; the trees are cared for by adults with disabilities; the drivers will pick up donations for Goodwill and used wrapping paper for recycling; and the Web site also sells eco-friendly, fair-trade ornaments.

Sheesh! Only in LA...

Okay, I do have something to say...

...about Tiger Woods.

I noticed this morning that Accenture had ended its sponsorship deal with the famous golfer. I was never a big customer of Accenture's anyway so the news didn't really affect me that much. But it got me to thinking: how much of Accenture's business was directly tied to the use of Woods's image in the first place? I'm sure it was worth it or the big shots at Accenture wouldn't have spent so much to have his picture on all those billboards out at the airport. But I wonder.

I was in the consulting business for a year and a half, and one of the things I picked up on was the enormous respect--reverence, even--that so many finance and accounting professionals had for Arthur Andersen, Accenture's original parent. Andersen was clearly considered the Cream of the Accounting World, and the awe in which so many people held it reminded me of the reputation Goldman Sachs enjoyed on Wall Street. Every accountant I knew wished they had worked there and practically idolized anyone who did. Can I touch the hem of your garment? The very mention of Andersen's name, in fact, would often stop conversations in mid-sentence. I half-expected everyone to genuflect or at least bow their heads slightly when its name was uttered, sort of like the way the nuns taught us to bow our heads when Jesus's name was spoken.

So it was with this knowledge that I wondered, did Accenture really need to pay Tiger Woods all that money to get people to use its consulting services? Consulting is very expensive, and only the highest muckety-mucks at a company get to decide whether or not to use it. Surely the Andersen pedigree would have been enough to convince them of Accenture's reputation. Did they really need to see pictures of Tiger Woods swinging a golf club? After all, how much did he know about Accenture's services? Anything?

I can just picture some CEO getting off an airplane at O'Hare and trudging to the baggage claim area. (Actually, I can't. Don't they all take private jets in and out of small airports?) He's mulling over some potential project in his head when all of a sudden he looks up and sees an Accenture billboard with Tiger Woods on it and the caption, "Go on. Be a Tiger." It stops him dead in his tracks. His jaw drops. He's having an epiphany! Immediately he whips out his BlackBerry and calls his assistant.

"That's it; I've decided. We're going ahead with that project we talked about. Call Accenture right away!"


Is that how these things work in the real world? Must be, or else companies wouldn't pay Tiger Woods so much. After all, doesn't Woods's endorsement make you want to just run out and buy a Buick? (Is there anything that could make you want to buy a Buick?)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Time Magazine names Ben Bernanke...

...its Person of the Year for 2009. That's great. I have only one question: does anyone still read Time Magazine?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Paul Waldman, writing about health care reform... the American Prospect today, puts it in perspective:

In the course of this process, we've discovered -- if there was any doubt before -- just how deep conservatives' hatred of government runs, from the grass roots all the way to members of Congress. It's not just that right-wingers are suspicious of government or that they prefer the free market whenever possible. Their antipathy to government is so intense that they would rather see some of their fellow citizens die for lack of health insurance than see those citizens get government coverage. That may sound like a harsh assessment, but it is no exaggeration. In the system as it is today, 45,000 people die each year because they don't have health insurance. If you believe the status quo is preferable to an expansion of government's role in health care, you're supporting that.

Imagine being that blinded by ideology.

When I first saw that Ashley Dupre...

...was to write an advice column for the New York Post I thought it might put a crimp in Eliot Spitzer's political rehabilitation. It didn't occur to me that Rupert Murdoch had that in mind all along.

The NCAA men's basketball tournament...

...began in 1939 with 8 teams. It was last expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Apparently there's a movement afoot to expand it even further, to 96 teams.

There's even a feeling in some corners that 96 teams isn't enough. "I think we should expand even more," says Baylor coach Scott Drew. "Go up to 128. I've thought that for several years."

Northwestern coach Bill Carmody, who opposes expansion, [thinks it would make] each game a little less meaningful. "If you expand it this much, it seems like you'd dilute it a little bit."

I agree. What's next, starting the tournament on the first day of the season? I think one of the reasons I don't follow college basketball is that every team seems to make the playoffs anyway. Why would anyone other than a die-hard fan watch a regular season game? There's just not that much at stake. In college football, on the other hand, every game counts.

Matt Welch is the editor in chief...

...of Reason magazine, the libertarian publication. Reason's motto is "Free Minds and Free Markets." (I used to be a subscriber.) Welch has an interesting piece in the upcoming January issue with the title, "Why I Prefer French Health Care: The U.S. system’s deep flaws make socialism more tempting." Say what?

Here are some of the more interesting tidbits:

To put it plainly, when free marketers warn that Democratic health care initiatives will make us more “like France,” a big part of me says, “I wish.”

For a dozen years now I’ve led a dual life, spending more than 90 percent of my time and money in the U.S. while receiving 90 percent of my health care in my wife’s native France. On a personal level the comparison is no contest: I’ll take the French experience any day. ObamaCare opponents often warn that a new system will lead to long waiting times, mountains of paperwork, and less choice among doctors. Yet on all three of those counts the French system is significantly better, not worse, than what the U.S. has now.

And it’s not like the medical professionals in France are chopped liver. In the U.S., my wife had some lumps in her breast dismissed as harmless by a hurried, indifferent doctor at Kaiser Permanente. Eight months later, during our annual Christmas visit in Lyon, one of the best breast surgeons in the country detected that the lumps were growing and removed them.

What’s more, none of these anecdotes scratches the surface of France’s chief advantage, and the main reason socialized medicine remains a perennial temptation in this country: In France, you are covered, period. It doesn’t depend on your job, it doesn’t depend on a health maintenance organization, and it doesn’t depend on whether you filled out the paperwork right. Those who (like me) oppose ObamaCare, need to understand (also like me, unfortunately) what it’s like to be serially rejected by insurance companies even though you’re perfectly healthy. It’s an enraging, anxiety-inducing, indelible experience, one that both softens the intellectual ground for increased government intervention and produces active resentment toward anyone who argues that the U.S. has “the best health care in the world.”

But as you look at the health care solutions discussed in this issue, ask yourself an honest question: Are we better off today, in terms of health policy, than we would have been had we acknowledged more loudly 15 years ago that the status quo is quite awful for a large number of Americans? Would we have been better off focusing less on waiting times in Britain, and more on waiting times in the USA? It’s a question I plan to ask my doctor this Christmas. In French.

Just in case you thought...

...this was an urban myth...

Monday, December 14, 2009

If you had any doubt...

...that Rupert Murdoch would turn The Wall Street Journal into a print version of Fox News, read this.

The Northwestern Wildcats...

...will take on the Auburn Tigers in the Outback Bowl on January 1. It will be the first ever meeting of the two feline squads and the eighth bowl appearance for Northwestern. The 'Cats last and only post-season victory was a 20-14 decision over California in the 1949 Rose Bowl.

A cursory glance at Auburn's schedule is not encouraging, however. In their last game, the Tigers lost to No. 1-ranked Alabama by a score of only 26-21. That was a better showing than Tim Tebow and Florida. Yikes! (Maybe the Crimson Tide was looking ahead to the conference showdown with the Gators. That'll be my spin.)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I had my own personal Larry David moment...

...last night at a Sushi Bar, of all places.

My wife and I planned to take our two sons out to dinner after dragging them to a grown up Christmas party. If you come with us we'll buy you some raw fish!

But seriously, what could be more Christmas-y than a Sushi Bar, especially when you are the only Westerners in the place?

We'd been to a Sushi Bar as a family only once before, in Mexico. (Don't ask.) So we may not be the most knowledgeable people in the world when it comes to ordering Japanese food. (Get us out of a Vienna hot dog stand and we get real confused, real fast.) Fortunately, there was a nice young waitress to assist us. The only problem was, she couldn't answer any of our questions.

"We're not very experienced at ordering Sushi. Could you make some recommendations?"


"Well, do you have some sort of 'variety plate?' " That's generally how we do things in the West.

"No." I could see she wasn't going to make this easy.

"Well, what about this item here?" I pointed to the menu.

"I don't know."

"What about this one? Would this be enough for the whole table?"

"I don't know. Let me go ask the chef." Now we're getting somewhere.

She wasn't being difficult on purpose; she was really very sweet. I think she just wasn't used to waiting on June and Ward Cleaver, Wally and the Beav. As she walked away I was half-tempted to yell after her, "Can't you just bring us the Gaijin Platter?"

It was at about this time that the rest of the table all looked at me as if to say, "Whose brilliant idea was this?"

Before I could plead my case, a nice young Asian man magically appeared at our table.

This must be the chef, come to answer any and all of our questions about the menu. But wait a minute, it appears that he knows my older boy. They shook hands. Was this guy one of my son's friends from high school? Does his family own this place? What's going on here?

My family quickly recognized my confusion. (It's sort of my default mode.)

"This is Mr. Yoon, my math teacher the last two years."

"Oh yes, of course. Mr. Yoon, nice to see you!" We shook hands.

Who the heck is Mr. Yoon? Does his family own this place? Can he help us with the menu?

"Do you work here?" I asked, as my family all cringed. Apparently, he'd been sitting at the table behind us and recognized my son.

"No. I was Joe's math teacher." Well why did the waitress send you over here?

"Can you help us with the menu?"

"Haven't you ever been to a Sushi place before?"

"Well, yes, but we could still use some help." Just then the waitress returned and Mr. Yoon took his leave, nodding at Joe and the rest of us. Wait, Mr. Yoon! Don't go!

"Have you decided yet?" I thought you were going to bring back the boss? I looked all around for him. No luck.

"Just bring us two of the Number Twos. Huh? Not enough for four people? Then bring us three." Just bring us something! Surprise us!

Everyone looked at me as if I had two heads.

Next time I think we'll just go to Hackney's.

I've heard of Your Highness...

...and even Your Excellency, but Your Tremendousness? This guy, Giorgio Carbone, had the right idea:

But the true miracle of Seborga may have been the 46-year reign of Prince Giorgio I, the constitutionally elected royal ruler of its five square miles and 2,000 people, about 350 of whom are enfranchised citizens.

Prince Giorgio, a bewhiskered grower of mimosa flowers from a family of mimosa growers, was seized by a glorious vision: that Seborga was not part of the surrounding Italian nation. It was an ancient principality, cruelly robbed of its sovereignty.

After convincing his Seborgan neighbors of their true significance, Giorgio Carbone was elected prince in 1963. He gracefully accepted the informal title of His Tremendousness, and was elected prince for life in 1995 by a vote of 304 to 4. Voters then ratified Seborga’s independence, which, by the prince’s interpretation, it already had.

Prince Giorgio established a palace, wrote a Constitution, and set up a cabinet and a parliament. He chose a coat of arms, minted money (with his picture), issued stamps (with his picture) and license plates, selected a national anthem and mobilized a standing army, consisting of Lt. Antonello Lacala. He adopted a motto: Sub umbra sede (Sit in the shade).

Sit in the shade. Awesome!

There's more:

In 2005, he made a rare television appearance on the BBC program “How to Start Your Own Country.”

Double awesome!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Keep an eye...

...on Kyle Prater. He's the wide receiver from Proviso West who just committed (again) to USC.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dartmouth College made the Sports section...

...of the New York Times today:

The president of Dartmouth College has apologized to his counterpart at Harvard University over profanity-laden taunts made by Big Green athletes to Harvard players during a squash match.

A group of about 10 Dartmouth students, including members of the school's soccer team, heckled Crimson players during the Dec. 2 match.

Shameful. But this raises a question in my mind: Who the heck goes to watch a squash match?

Timothy Egan has an interesting piece... the Times today regarding Patrick Kennedy and the Catholic Church. Egan says:

In a terse exchange of letters, the bishop said it was “inappropriate” for Kennedy to receive communion. Kennedy responded: “The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy of the church on some issue does not make me any less Catholic.”

I would maintain that Kennedy is wrong on this point; it is exactly in complying with the hierarchy of the church that makes one a Catholic.

He said later he would have no further comment; that it was “an issue of faith,” between himself and God.

There's a term for those who believe in the disintermediation that Kennedy is describing. They are called Protestants.

There are 65 million Catholics in the United States — 22 percent of the population. And a slim majority of them, 51 percent, believe abortion should be legal in most circumstances, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. A full 60 percent support the death penalty, which the church has long opposed.

So what? What if the majority of American Catholics didn't accept transubstantiation? Would they still be Catholic? If so, then what exactly does it mean to be Catholic? Is it cultural, like being Jewish? Or is it passed down from one's ancestors, like ethnicity? Or is it just something anyone can claim to be, like Republican or Democrat? If that's the case, then I could call myself a Muslim.

Egan concludes by saying:

This time of year, many cultural Catholics — call them seasonal, the less-than-perfect, less frequent church-goers — feel a need to worship. They may be drawn to the ritual, the community, the music, a bright, hopeful message in the season of darkness. Would the bishop turn them away?

Of course not. But should the bishop feel compelled to offer communion to just anyone who shows up for Mass? Isn't it a sacrament? I thought it was just for those Catholics who were prepared to receive the Body of Christ. Isn't that why people used to go to confession on Saturday afternoons?

I agree with Egan that practically anyone should be allowed to attend Mass--the fallen-away, non-Catholics, whatever. But don't call yourself a Catholic or participate in the sacraments unless you are willing to be a Catholic. And that means adhering to the church's teachings and rules. Otherwise, you're not a Catholic. You're something else.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Now that's what I'm talkin'...


Pedigreed Dinner
A five-course hot dog dinner, with sparkling wine, will be served on Dec. 14 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Bark Hot Dogs, 474 Bergen Street (Fifth Avenue), Brooklyn, $30 with tax but not tip: (718) 789-1939,

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Here's a funny piece...

...on the ND job. Oh, and does that picture of Brian Kelly remind you of a certain alum who lives in Naperville?

Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate...

...are leaving Notre Dame early to enter the NFL draft. They both claim to want to earn their degrees at some point, but Clausen isn't even returning next semester. (I wonder if he'll even finish out this term.) Whatever happened to that whole student-athlete thing?

People used to go to college to improve their earning potential, but it's hard to stick around and finish that degree in communications when someone is offering you millions of dollars to leave.

Is there any doubt that Division I football is the NFL's minor league? The sooner that Domers face up to that the better.

Monday, December 7, 2009

I do have one thing to say...

...about that White House party-crashing couple after all. Suppose they had done some harm to the president; would anyone believe that it wasn't a conspiracy? Would anyone believe that a couple could just waltz right into the White House without some help from the inside? No way.

I only bring this up to cast doubt on conspiracy theories in general.

For example, I've always assumed that Oswald was part of a larger plot to assassinate President Kennedy. Given the facts of the case, the notion that he acted alone was always just too far-fetched for me.

Then 9/11 happened. I've often said that if I were a Hollywood producer I would have had to tell the screenwriter to go back and rework it. Come on, Muslim terrorists flying planes into the World Trade Center? And no one from the government knew anything? It's just not plausible.

But now, the more I go along in life, the more I think: maybe truth is stranger than fiction. Or at least it can be.

Meanwhile, the Northwestern Wildcats (8-4)...

...will face Auburn (7-5) in the Outback Bowl and Stanford (8-4) will take on Oklahoma (7-5) in the Brut Sun Bowl.

After watching Cincinnati's dramatic...

...comeback against Pittsburgh on Saturday, I couldn't help wondering: does Notre Dame really want another round, emotional coach who places so much emphasis on offense and takes until the final seconds to beat an underdog? (Besides the 44 points the Bearcats gave up against Pitt, they allowed 36 against Illinois and 45 against UConn.)

Or will the Irish turn their attention to UConn coach Randy Edsall? He sure looks the part.

(I can just see the headlines: Will New ND Coach be a Cadillac, or an Edsel?)

The Chicago Tribune selects its own...

...high school football Player of the Year.

Meanwhile, Loyola has three players on the Trib's All-State team: defensive tackle Chance Carter, punter Paul Delaney, and linebacker Pat Dougherty. Kicker Leo Sheridan made the Second team and quarterback Will Forsyth received Special Mention. Also receiving Special Mention were Glenbrook South quarterback Mike Pullano and running back Michael Hirsch.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

There's an ad on page 17...

...of The New York Times Magazine today for a product called the Violight Zapi toothbrush sanitizer, which claims to "keep your toothbrush 99.9% germ free, including the H1N1 swine flu virus." At the bottom of the page it says in fine print that it's also "clinically proven to kill 99.99% of...e. coli, salmonella, strep, staph, pseudomonas, and listeria on toothbrushes." (If you don't have the magazine, the ad can be found at It says "Click here to Order Today. Just $29.95." (I guess it must be this year's gift for the man, or woman, who has everything. And I mean everything.)

I can tell you one person who will not be needing one of these gadgets this Christmas: me. Or you. Or anyone else for that matter. Have you ever seen such a ridiculous product before? I think the Pet Rock of the 1970s had more value. Quick: when was the last time anyone in your house had one of those ailments listed above? And if so, do you really think it was due to an infected toothbrush? I've been leaving mine sitting on the sink for over five decades now and I don't think I've ever had any of those problems. Okay, maybe strep once. And frankly, I don't know what pseudomonas or listeria is and can't be bothered to even Google them. But I think it's safe to say that I can live without the Violight Zapi toothbrush sanitizer. And so can you.

If you really feel like buying one, why don't you just give the $29.95 in cash to a homeless guy instead? Even if he blows it on rotgut it would be money better spent.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

I knew there was an abortion litmus test...

...for the Republican presidential nominee, but I didn't know there was one for the football coach at Notre Dame! According to Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times:

Then there's the latest controversy that's lighting up the message boards of what might be the most plugged-in fan base in the nation: Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly is said to be pro-choice.

Where precisely Kelly stands on what should be a private issue is uncertain, and frankly nobody's business, but if true it could be a deal-breaker for many on the Catholic university's campus. Considering the highly charged controversy and subsequent protests over President Obama's commencement speech last spring, Kelly's stance on abortion could factor into Swarbrick's decision.

What do you suppose Kelly thinks of the health care bill?

Cincy's game against Pittsburgh today... Brian Kelly's interview for the Notre Dame job.

Friday, December 4, 2009

I'm a horrible gambler...

...(one of the worst you'll ever meet), but that doesn't stop me from making predictions. And if I had to guess who would be the Republican nominee in 2012 I'd be tempted to say Newt Gingrich. I'm reminded of this by something Tom Schaller wrote yesterday in

Finally, I have to say something about Gingrich. Though my politics don’t much line up with his, I like Gingrich. You may think his big ideas are kooky, and some are, but at least he has big ideas. He’s a thinker. He also knows something how the government in Washington actually runs (and not to foolishly shut it down)--unlike the rest of the field, including Romney. And the fact that a politician who lost his last substantive electoral job over a decade ago can still register 4 percent—a small share until you consider that Huckabee and Romney, who were in the national spotlight just a year or so ago, got little more—says something about his staying power. The other thing about Gingrich: He personally went down in flames, but unlike GWBush, who ruined the modern GOP’s brand and destroyed its majorities, the congressional majorities Gingrich, more than any other Republican brought to Washington, were still intact when he exited political stage right. Also, and despite his potentially backfiring move of supporting Dede Scozzafava over Doug Hoffman in the GOP’s moment-of-truth NY23 House special election, Gingrich is the one guy in the field who has sufficient legitimacy among both the Washington/policy/insider wing of the party and the base/cultural/heartland conservative wing to unify the Republicans. Something in my gut says he’s a guy not to ignore.

Absent some economic calamity, I think Gingrich is the only Republican on the scene today who would have even an outside chance of beating Obama in 2012.

Robert Degen, who co-wrote...

..."The Hokey Pokey Dance," died at age 104. But there's quite a bit more to the story than that.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Oh, no...

...not him again.

Could we please stop talking about...

...Tiger Woods and that White House party crashing couple?

At long last...

...the Supreme Court of the United States is taking up issues of import to the average citizen.

Here's an interesting fact...

...from Nicholas Kristof:

America’s military spending in Afghanistan alone next year will now exceed the entire official military budget of every other country in the world.

Still not sure if the Republicans...

...are the party of No?

Gail Collins writes in the New York Times today:

Meanwhile, in Washington, the U.S. Senate began its groundbreaking debate over a national health care plan. In honor of this historic event, the Republican Judd Gregg of New Hampshire — who you will remember was so bipartisan a while back that President Obama wanted to make him the secretary of commerce — passed out a list of tips on how to best stall any conceivable progress with meaningless points of order.


A friend of mine was called home recently... be with his sick and aging father. He told me he was prepared to say goodbye to him.

Coincidentally, I heard a really good sermon this past weekend (yes, I go to church, and yes, I even pay attention sometimes). The minister had just gotten back from Ohio where she had been with her own dying mother. She related to us the five things to say to someone who's dying:

(1) I love you;

(2) Thank you;

(3) Forgive me;

(4) I forgive you; and

(5) We'll be okay.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Maureen Dowd's column today... called "Who's Sari Now?" It reminds me of my old friend at the Merc, Joe J., who used to talk about opening a used Indian clothing store some day. The name? Whose Sari Now.

A reader writes in to Andrew Sullivan... The Daily Dish:

The only honorable position for a man like McCain who unleashed Palin on the country is to resign. Someone who was prepared to see her as commander-in-chief at a moment's notice, after no vetting of her past or character, has no business being on television discussing foreign policy let alone the Senate. He's a deeply unserious man.

How about at least an apology?

President Obama's speech last night...

...was a lot to take in. John Judis, writing in the New Republic says:

Obama...said repeatedly that the U.S. had no designs on Afghanistan. “We have no interest in occupying your country,” he declared. I believe him, but the question is whether the Afghan people--faced with what will near 200,000 American military and civilian forces--will do so.

How credible is the president on that one? Where, besides Vietnam, have American troops ever withdrawn? It's been almost 65 years since the Allies defeated the Nazis and the U. S. still has almost 70,000 troops in Germany.

Andrew Sullivan is a famous conservative...

...who has left the "movement." He writes about it in his blog in the Atlantic:

I cannot support a movement that claims to believe in limited government but backed an unlimited domestic and foreign policy presidency that assumed illegal, extra-constitutional dictatorial powers until forced by the system to return to the rule of law.

I cannot support a movement that exploded spending and borrowing and blames its successor for the debt.

I cannot support a movement that so abandoned government's minimal and vital role to police markets and address natural disasters that it gave us Katrina and the financial meltdown of 2008.

I cannot support a movement that holds torture as a core value.

I cannot support a movement that holds that purely religious doctrine should govern civil political decisions and that uses the sacredness of religious faith for the pursuit of worldly power.

I cannot support a movement that is deeply homophobic, cynically deploys fear of homosexuals to win votes, and gives off such a racist vibe that its share of the minority vote remains pitiful.

I cannot support a movement which has no real respect for the institutions of government and is prepared to use any tactic and any means to fight political warfare rather than conduct a political conversation.

I cannot support a movement that sees permanent war as compatible with liberal democratic norms and limited government.

I cannot support a movement that criminalizes private behavior in the war on drugs.

I cannot support a movement that would back a vice-presidential candidate manifestly unqualified and duplicitous because of identity politics and electoral cynicism.

I cannot support a movement that regards gay people as threats to their own families.

I cannot support a movement that does not accept evolution as a fact.

I cannot support a movement that sees climate change as a hoax and offers domestic oil exploration as the core plank of an energy policy.

I cannot support a movement that refuses ever to raise taxes, while proposing no meaningful reductions in government spending.

I cannot support a movement that refuses to distance itself from a demagogue like Rush Limbaugh or a nutjob like Glenn Beck.

I cannot support a movement that believes that the United States should be the sole global power, should sustain a permanent war machine to police the entire planet, and sees violence as the core tool for international relations.

Does this make me a "radical leftist" as Michelle Malkin would say? Emphatically not. But it sure disqualifies me from the current American right.

To paraphrase Reagan, I didn't leave the conservative movement. It left me.

And increasingly, I'm not alone.

I couldn't agree more.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I liked this piece on... care reform from The New Yorker.

If you're a candidate...

...for the head coaching job at Notre Dame and Jack Swarbrick pulls out the standard five-year contract for you to sign, remember this: Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz all won the national championship in their third year. That will be your benchmark. It's the year when the clock starts ticking and the long knives begin to appear.

So understand what you're getting yourself into. Oh, and even if you win the national championship, your job may not be safe. Devine was run out of town three years after he won in 1977.

Why do I get the feeling...

...this was written with me in mind?

If a friend is someone who laughs at our stories, then a good friend is one who enjoys them even the second time around. But anyone who gasps with delight on hearing a story for the third time is faking it. Or, it’s a relative: some poor nephew Will or aunt Emily, sitting captive at the holiday table, being polite, perhaps covering a shudder of dread that life is caught in some endless loop where the punch lines never change.

Money sure has ruined...


In The Journal today... says that:

The Senate's health bill will keep insurance premiums roughly the same for most Americans and may raise them for some people who buy coverage on their own...

While in the Times it says:

...the Senate health bill could significantly reduce costs for many people who buy health insurance on their own, and that it would not substantially change premiums for the vast numbers of Americans who receive coverage from large employers.


You've got to be kidding..., Caswell Holloway IV? What, was Thurston Howell III not available? I wonder if he, too, speaks with that Locust Valley Lockjaw.

A good perspective...

...on the public option.

Bob Herbert has the best column...

...on Afghanistan today.

Senator Jim DeMint...

...of South Carolina famously said that health care reform will be Obama's "Waterloo." I think he's wrong; I think health care reform will pass, Obama will win reelection in 2012, and DeMint will go down in history as a footnote.

But I do worry that Afghanistan could turn out to be Obama's "Waterloo." Shortly after the election, Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post said that instead of Obama changing Afghanistan, Afghanistan may change Obama.

I saw this piece in Politico...

...yesterday, "7 stories Barack Obama doesn't want told." I was going to write about it and say "Is that all you've got?" but I didn't think it was worth it. Now I find out that the White House was reading it, too. I guess it has legs.

Here's a good piece...

...on the current Notre Dame dilemma. I've been wondering for a long time now, when will Notre Dame be mature enough, secure enough, and academically strong enough to let this whole national championship thing go? They are certainly strong enough academically, but I'm not sure about the other two. Compare Notre Dame with the Ivy League, the University of Chicago (which dropped out of the Big Ten decades ago), and even Stanford and Northwestern.

As all sports trivia buffs know, the first Heisman Trophy was awarded in 1935 to Jay Berwanger, a running back from the University of Chicago. Selected first in the NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, Berwanger chose not to play professional football and used the trophy as a doorstop in his home. How many U of C students or faculty do you think know that bit of campus lore?

Or take Harvard, for example. At one time, football was very, very important at Harvard. They even have a nickname for the annual contest with Yale. It's called simply The Game. How many of today's students or faculty do you think attend The Game? How many are aware that it's even being played?

Or go to a Northwestern game sometime. If the Wildcats win, everybody's happy. But if they lose, you can just tell that it hasn't ruined anyone's day. The fans simply go home and get on with their lives. They know that football is just one small piece of a premier institution. (A piece that had eight victories, knocked off undefeated Iowa, and will play in a respectable bowl game this year.)

So why can't Domers adopt this attitude? Why are they so personally invested in the football team? I have my thoughts on the matter, but that's for another post. In the meantime, suffice it to say that they are just not ready as an institution to move on.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The University of St. Thomas...

...beat the Coe College Kohawks, 34-7, in the second round of the Division III playoffs. The Kohawks?

One final thought...

...on the 2009 Illinois high school football season (I promise). Is it really necessary to have all those different classes? Couldn't the IHSA just combine 6A, 7A, and 8A into one big class?

Take Providence, for example. They won the Catholic Blue (arguably the state's best conference) by beating St. Rita, Mt. Carmel, and Loyola. St. Rita competed in 7A in the post-season after beating Mt. Carmel in the regular season, 54-26. Mt. Carmel, which competes in 8A, handed Stevenson their first loss of the season in the playoffs, 23-16. And Loyola almost beat Maine South in the semifinals. So where does Providence end up competing in the postseason? 6A. And they get handled fairly easily by Cary-Grove. Now why the heck aren't those schools in 8A? And why can't they have a shot at Maine South? Personally, I'd love to see Cary-Grove play Maine South.

And what about Wheaton Warrenville South? After they got over the shock of the first five minutes, they settled down and played Maine South evenly. (The Tigers went on to win the 7A title.) But who knows how that game or the Maine South-Loyola game would have turned out on a neutral field?

I could go on and on but I think I've made my point. So what's the deal, IHSA? Would it kill you to have to exclude all those mediocre 5-4 teams from the playoffs if you combined these three classes? So what! I don't care if you have to exclude some 6-3 teams. I just want to see the best teams play each other. And I'll bet they do, too.

President Obama will address...

...the nation tomorrow night in prime time. He's expected to announce an increase in troop levels in Afghanistan by about 30,000.

I'll try to reserve judgement until after I hear the speech, but in the meantime, I can't help thinking of Jerry Seinfeld. (Everything comes back to "Seinfeld.")

Every so often, one of Jerry's pals, Kramer or George, would come up with some cockamamie scheme that would cause Jerry to shake his head and say to himself, "This isn't going to end well."

And that's how I feel about Afghanistan. Is there anyone in America--left, right, or center--who really thinks this is going to end well?

Now that Jack Swarbrick... taking center stage in the drama that is Notre Dame football, it's worth noting what Charlie Weis had to say about him:

“First of all, he’s a Notre Dame guy, which is always a good start, because he understands the place.”

He understands the place. What does that mean, he understands the place, he drinks the Kool-Aid? Because that's how I would interpret it. In other words, he's stuck in the 1970s. If I were to advise Notre Dame (and they haven't called me just yet), I would tell them to find a head coach who doesn't understand the place. Find someone who understands the real world, someone firmly grounded in reality. And that means understanding that national championships are just not that easy to come by. If you don't believe me, ask Pete Carroll, Bob Stoops, Jim Tressel, Joe Paterno, or Bobby Bowden. Even really, really good coaches aren't in the hunt every year.

The Notre Dame community seems to think they are just a head coach away from competing for the BCS title every year. Like a lot of people, I expect them to hire Brian Kelly of Cincinnati and I expect him to work out well. But I thought the same thing about Charlie Weis. If Kelly coaches the Irish for eleven years and wins one national championship then he'll equal Lou Holtz's record and be mentioned in the same breath as Rockne, Leahy, and Parseghian. But don't tell Domers that he'll only win one title in the next eleven years or he won't get the job. And that's because they don't understand that the world has changed since 1988, the last time they won a national championship.

Just take a look at today's BCS standings. TCU, Cincinnati, and Boise State are ranked 4th, 5th, and 6th, respectively. To paraphrase Tom Friedman, the college football world is flat. And it may get even flatter.

I know that Notre Dame sees itself as unique--and it is--but would it really be so terrible to have a program like Northwestern's or Stanford's? They both field competitive teams while maintaining academic excellence. Is it really necessary to compete for the national championship every year? I'm afraid the answer for most Domers is "yes." In that case, good luck to Brian Kelly. And check back with us in five years.