Saturday, January 31, 2009

Put another Triple D restaurant... the record books. This time it was Cemitas Puebla in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago. Leaving my red convertible in the garage, my son and I set out in our 100,000-mile plus Dodge minivan (so much more fitting for a boring old white guy, don't you think?). Bibliophiles might recognize Humboldt Park as the place where Saul Bellow grew up. Bellow, however, would probably not recognize it as it is predominantly Hispanic today.

A cemita is a sandwich from the Puebla region of Mexico. It's served on sesame seed bread layered with avocado, choice of meat, adobo chipotle peppers, fresh Oaxacan cheese and papalo (whatever that is). Apparently it's the only place in town that serves them. As we walked in we were greeted by the owner's father, who is a natural businessman. He quickly sized me up as a newcomer (uncanny!) and led us to our table. As he was explaining the menu to us I surreptitiously glanced around the room (this is easy to do when you're wearing Ray-Ban wayfarers). Not only was I the only one wearing that brand of sunglasses, but I may also have been the only non-Mexican in the place (go figure).

At the old guy's suggestion, John and I ordered the chalupas for an appetizer. Fortunately each item had an English translation next to it. This one consisted of "five corn tortillas doused in salsa verde and salsa roja topped with onions and aged cheese." Beautiful. And I'll have a Coca Mex (Mexican Coca-Cola) and my son will have a regular Coke (don't want to get too crazy).

When the old guy finally walked off we got down to the serious business of perusing the menu. The first item that caught my attention was the taco arabes, which was featured on Triple D. But the description included the phrase "spit roasted" and I unaccountably lost interest. There were also quesadillas with chicharron (dry pork rind) but again, that didn't grab my imagination. Besides, we came to get cemitas, the Mexican sandwich that gives its name to the place. But which one? There were so many. Pata sounds good, until you find out that means "cow foot." That doesn't sound so appetizing. God knows where those Mexican cows have stepped. So John finally settled on carne asada (steak) and I chose milanese (breaded butterfly pork chop). They were both good but didn't achieve To Die For status. I think I missed the best one, atomica. The name alone suggests it's good, but the description explains that it combines the milanese with the carne enchilada and jamon (ham). Also, it costs nine bucks instead of six so you know it must be at least 50% better. Oh well, now I have an excuse to come back another time.

While we were waiting for our sandwiches, I recognized the owner from the show. He was working behind the counter and I asked him if he was the guy I saw on TV. He acted a little jaded and I wondered if I wasn't the first boring old white guy to ask him that since he appeared on Triple D.

When we left, the owner's father thanked us both profusely and stuffed a bunch of menus and business cards into our hands and told us to tell our friends. I told you he was a good businessman.

Friday, January 30, 2009

If there was ever any doubt...

...that boring old white guys could be trend-setters, let the record show that it was this blog-- written mostly in the wee hours of the morning in a home bedroom/office in a sleepy suburb of Chicago by someone whom some might consider a madman--that inspired four other blogs. The latest of which is called Sprint on Go, written by some college kid in New Hampshire (don't they have anything better to do up there, like make sculptures out of all that snow?). Once again, BOWG has shown he has his fingertips on the pulse of America.

Tom, this means you're next. If I recall, you were the first reader of this blog and expressed an interest in creating one yourself. So where is it? How do you expect me to get my news about the goings on in Minnesota? Do you think I should trust the MSM for the straight dope on high school sports, for example? C'mon! I know you're busy analyzing junk bonds and what not, but the world wants to hear from you.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I was driving in the car yesterday...

...and I turned on the radio and two Doors songs were playing at the same time on two different stations. WDRV was playing "Hello, I Love You" and WXRT was playing "Love Her Madly." The first was released in 1968 and the second in 1971, the year that Jim Morrison died and the Doors disbanded. Even though "Hello, I Love You" climbed to #1 on the charts and "Love Her Madly" was also a commercial success, neither song is one of the Doors' best. But what's fascinating to me is how popular the Doors still are almost 38 years after Morrison's death. Do you think they ever thought back in the sixties when they were doing drugs, chasing women and making records that radio stations would still be playing their music forty years later? And not even their best ones! It reminded me a little of the time I called someone at their office, was put on hold, and listened to Led Zeppelin in the background. I'll bet they never intended for that to happen! What's next, "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" as elevator music?

I predict that Nouriel Roubini...

...will be the Elaine Garzarelli of our time. Never heard of her? I didn't think so.

In case your eyes aren't glued to CNBC all day like mine , i.e. you have a life, Nouriel Roubini is the NYU economics professor that correctly "predicted" the current economic downturn. He's sometimes called "Dr. Doom" because he is just about the most pessimistic analyst out there. He is enjoying his fifteen minutes of fame, appearing on CNBC regularly, and being quoted just about everywhere else. He seems to love the attention and hasn't changed his story that things are bad and going to get worse. Give the man his due; he's been right so far. But...

Elaine Garzarelli was the sage of an earlier time. She correctly "predicted" the stock market crash of '87 and received a ton of attention, too. But since then, well, have you heard any of her predictions lately? Just like Norman Greenbaum, who sang "Spirit in the Sky" way back in 1970, she proved to be a one-hit wonder.

As everyone knows, good news gets buried in the inside of the newspaper while bad news makes the front page. When is the last time you read a story about a Boy Scout helping a little old lady across the street? Never? Similarly, optimistic forecasters don't attract as much attention as pessimistic ones. If at least one person is calling for a correction on any given day of the year, then eventually someone is going to get it right. Such was Garzarelli's luck. In the stock market rally from August, 1982 to October, 1987 Cassandras were calling for a correction nearly every day. Bestsellers abounded with the title "The Coming Crash of (fill in the year)." It's kind of like the old adage, "Live each day as if it's your last and one day you'll be right." So Garzarelli "predicted" the Crash of '87 and enjoyed her fifteen minutes of fame before falling back into obscurity.

I believe the same fate awaits Roubini. I don't doubt that he's a brilliant economist, but the fact is, there are a zillion brilliant economists and analysts out there. He was in the right place at the right time. This crisis won't last forever and I'll bet he doesn't forecast the rebound correctly. Remember, there's more fame in doom and gloom than cautious optimism. My guess is that in ten years or so he's only a footnote, just like Garzarelli is today.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Iranian President Ahmadinejad is right...

...when he says the U. S. should apologize. In 1953, the CIA backed a coup that ousted the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh and installed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. Mossadegh had been threatening to nationalize the West's oil interests in Iran and the Shah, it was thought, would make a more reliable ally in the region. The U. S. was engaged in the Cold War with the Soviets and needed to ensure the security of Israel and the free flow of oil through the Gulf. The Shah, however, proved to be a brutal dictator and was ousted in the 1979 Islamic revolution. While most Americans are only vaguely aware of these events, Iranians are profoundly bitter.

With the benefit of hindsight, Americans are now ready to see their mistakes. If the U. S. is really the greatest country in history--and I think it is--then it should surely be big enough to admit when it was wrong and harmed others, no matter how well-intentioned its actions were at the time. Given the terrible state of relations with the Muslim world, an apology would go a long way to easing tensions. The Iranian people, unlike their leaders, find much to admire in the U. S. and the West. Any sign of conciliation on our part might bring them closer to us. Obama has said he wants to reach out to the Muslim world. This would be a good first step.

It's Jackson Pollock's birthday today...

...and Google has a reprint of one of his "drip" paintings in his honor. Some of these are worth millions of dollars. But when you see them--be honest--doesn't it make you wonder, "Couldn't anybody do that?"

At first I thought Obama should...

...just ignore Rush Limbaugh; engaging him would just add to his credibility. After all, he isn't really a serious journalist, he's an entertainer. I've heard him say as much:

“First and foremost I’m a businessman. My first goal is to attract the largest possible audience so I can charge confiscatory ad rates. I happen to have great entertainment skills, but that enables me to sell airtime.”

But Obama doesn't make too many bad moves. Take the Hillary appointment; what seemed questionable to me at first now looks shrewd. And now I'm beginning to wonder if Obama is playing Limbaugh. The Republicans are a party in turmoil. They were crushed in the last election among almost all demographics. After the Bush administration's handling of the financial crisis, they are no longer the party of free markets and small government. There is no obvious leader and it's hard to know what they stand for anymore. I may be reading too much into this, but by making an entertainer the face of the opposition, Obama might diminish their credibility and pave the way for his stimulus package.

While I'm on the subject, let's put Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly in that category of non-serious journalists. Neither one is a seeker of truth; they're just sophists who want to win arguments.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

People talk about the eternal truths...

...of religion as if that's something to be admired. Often the same people disdain evolution as just a "theory," subject to change. But that's the whole point. Religious dogma is static and in many cases hasn't changed in a thousand years. When it does, it's often by the vote of a committee. Science, on the other hand, is constantly changing as it is open to new research and information. Anyone can come up with a new scientific finding. That's a strength, not a weakness.

I watch CNBC pretty much all day long...

...or at least from 6am until 11am (explains a lot, huh?). And I have to say that they really put out a good product. I know it's just info-tainment and I wouldn't recommend that anyone actually trade or invest based on something they've heard there. But like Charlie Rose, they get the best guests (in the financial world). Unfortunately, they also interrupt those guests a lot like Charlie Rose. I'm a little flummoxed by the size of their staff (how can they possibly support all those people?), but they really do provide a lot of information on a real-time basis. And it's presented in an interesting way by a colorful cast. I especially like Charlie Gasparino (although he can be a little mean sometimes), the over-caffeinated Dylan Ratigan (I love the way he shouts over people) and Larry Kudlow (what a character!). Even that nut case Jim Cramer has grown on me. A few of them get on my nerves from time to time (you knew that was coming), like Michelle Caruso-Cabrera (needs to read something other than the Wall Street Journal and old Ayn Rand novels) and Joe Kernan (talk about a boring old white guy!). But all in all, I really like the show.

Have you ever seen...

...the cartoon contest on the back page of the New Yorker? It's also on the Web site. You're given a picture and then you have to supply the caption. I can never come up with anything remotely funny but the winning entries are really clever! Check it out.

In case you don't follow the financial world...

...outgoing Merrill CEO John Thain is being criticized for spending $1.22 million of company money to redecorate his office in the midst of the current crisis. Charlie Gasparino itemizes the purchases on the Daily Beast:

1) $2,700 for six wall sconces.
2) $5,000 for a mirror in his private dining room.
3) $11,000 for fabric for a "Roman Shade.”
4) $13,000 for a chandelier in the private dining room.
5) $15,000 for a sofa.
6) $16,000 for a "custom coffee table.”
7) $18,000 for a “George IV Desk.”
8) $25,000 for a "mahogany pedestal table.”
9) $28,000 for four pairs of curtains.
10) $35,000 for something called a "commode on legs.”
11) $37,000 for six chairs in his private dining room.
12) $68,000 for a "19th Century Credenza" in his office.
13) $87,000 for a pair of guest chairs.
14) $87,000 for an area rug in Thain's conference room and another area rug for $44,000.
15) $230,000 to his driver for one year’s work.
16) $800,000 to hire celebrity designer Michael Smith, who is currently redesigning the White House for the Obama family for just $100,000.

Under intense criticism, Thain has agreed to reimburse Merrill.

I must be the only person in America...

...that kind of likes Rod Blagojevich. I know, I know, he's a crook--Pat Fitzgerald said so. But you've got to admit the guy has balls! I never paid that much attention to him before because I really don't follow state and local politics. All I knew was that he had a lower approval rating than George Bush. (I wonder who had the lower rating, Blago or Dick Cheney? Two columnists I read both compared Cheney in his black hat and wheelchair at the inauguration to the evil Mr. Potter in "It's a Wonderful Life.") But guilty or not, you've got to give the guy credit for going down swinging. I like his defiant speeches and the way he thumbed his nose at the establishment with the Burris appointment. Now he's on the talk show circuit with a PR campaign. They say he knows he's toast as governor but is looking ahead to his trial and is trying to shape public opinion.

My guess is that Blago isn't a whole lot different from most other politicians, just not as smooth. Why do you think people make campaign contributions? For services rendered! And unlike his predecessor, George Ryan, no one died. So even though I assume he's headed for the clink, I find myself rooting for him.

David Brooks mentions Ryne Sandberg... his column today. I've always thought of myself as a die-hard Cubs fan, even during those times when I didn't follow the team closely. If you lived through the collapse of '69 or some other such debacle, you are scarred for life. It's like a tattoo.

Having said that, I never knew that much about the individuals that donned the Cubs' uniform. I've followed Ron Santo's frustration with not being admitted into the Hall of Fame. And I was aware of Ernie Banks' sunny disposition and Fergie Jenkins' incredible work ethic (30 complete games in one year! You can look it up.) But beyond that, they were just athletes performing in the Friendly Confines. I thought Ryne Sandberg was particularly colorless; a great player, to be sure, but that was about all I knew of him.

But in Brooks' column today he includes a piece of Sandberg's speech on the day he was inducted into the Hall. Granted, it's taken somewhat out of context, but I found it incredibly refreshing. I didn't know there were professional athletes who actually thought this way:

“I was in awe every time I walked onto the field. That’s respect. I was taught you never, ever disrespect your opponents or your teammates or your organization or your manager and never, ever your uniform. You make a great play, act like you’ve done it before; get a big hit, look for the third base coach and get ready to run the bases.”

Sandberg motioned to those inducted before him, “These guys sitting up here did not pave the way for the rest of us so that players could swing for the fences every time up and forget how to move a runner over to third. It’s disrespectful to them, to you and to the game of baseball that we all played growing up.

“Respect. A lot of people say this honor validates my career, but I didn’t work hard for validation. I didn’t play the game right because I saw a reward at the end of the tunnel. I played it right because that’s what you’re supposed to do, play it right and with respect ... . If this validates anything, it’s that guys who taught me the game ... did what they were supposed to do, and I did what I was supposed to do.”

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Whatever happened to WXRT...

...Chicago's Finest Rock? I feel like every time I turn it on I hear the tail-end of a song and then five minutes of chatter. I can understand the ads, that's what pays the bills. But do the deejays really need to prattle on and on about seeing the BoDeans ten years ago at the Riviera? Who cares! Then there's sports, weather, and blah, blah, blah. And don't even get me started on features like "Goin' to the Show." They should have pulled the plug on that stuff years ago. When I first moved to Chicago almost 30 years ago XRT was a great station in the tradition of free-form FM radio. They played some edgy stuff and introduced me to a lot of good music. Now there are times when I feel like I have more songs on my I-Pod. It makes me wonder, how can satellite radio not be turning a profit?

In case you haven't already noticed...

...there's a small box at the top of this page reserved for ads. I entered into an agreement this week with Google to sell advertising on my blog. I really don't know how it works, exactly; the contract was sooo long, and in Legalese! But I signed up for it, anyway. I think the general idea is that if millions and millions of people click on these ads then Google will write me a check for about ten bucks or so. I figure if I don't like it for whatever reason I can always start a new blog, Really Boring Old White Guy. And if I make any dough I've decided that I'll throw a party at the end of the year for all the Followers of this blog, which now number four. I know what you're thinking: Great. A party thrown by a boring old white guy. I think I have to wash my radio that night. But hey, a free meal is a free meal. So what have you got to lose? Go to the upper right-hand corner and click where it says Follow this blog to get in on this great opportunity. See you in December!

I just read the best article I've read...

...about Caroline Kennedy. It's Ms. Kennedy Regrets, by Larissa MacFarquhar in the New Yorker. I haven't figured out how to link things just yet, but you can find it by clicking on today's (Saturday) web site. Lawrence O'Donnell gushes a little too much for my taste, especially at the end. But other than that, I think it provides a nice coda to the end of this bizarre episode in American politics.

People who know me...

...might describe me as a crusty old curmudgeon. I don't go in much for ceremony or formality. I've often told my sons that if I ever met the Queen of England I would call her "Elizabeth." None of this "Your Majesty" stuff for me! I might even mention that my grandmother was known as "Bess" or that I had an Aunt Betty, too. (Boy, she was the one, let me tell you...) And if I ever get invited to the White House for dinner (I'm talking to my kids, remember), I wouldn't call the president "Mr. President," certainly not George Bush. After all, I'm an American, an egalitarian; no one's better than me and I'm no better than anyone else! For emphasis I poke myself in the chest with my thumb and thrust out my jaw.

And as for ceremony, like an inauguration, who cares? Hurry up, say the oath, and get back to work! We're paying you a lot of money. I went to Jimmy Carter's Inauguration and just stood in the snow and froze my butt off. I couldn't even hear anything I was so far away, and I nearly got trampled afterwards by the unruly crowd. No more inaugurations for this guy! Again with the thumb and jaw.

So it was with this crabbed outlook that I approached this year's inauguration. Get on with it, already! But a funny thing happened. I started watching it and was taken in by the spectacle. I don't know if it was because it was the first black president, or if it was because the Bush Years were finally coming to an end, or if it was Obama himself. But I was quite moved by the whole thing and actually listened to his speech, another thing I don't usually do. It was quite an event; truly a great day for America and the world. As Chris Matthews observed, a member of Obama's father's tribe was elected President of the United States; that hasn't even happened yet in Kenya! As Jay Black and the Americans would say, or in this case, sing: "Only in America." I asked my mother if this is what it was like when Kennedy was sworn in and she said "Yes, and FDR, too." I think everyone who watched it will remember it as a watershed event in their lives.

And I think if I ever get the privilege of meeting Barack Obama I'll call him...Mr. President.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Some journalists I like...

...are Jonathan Alter, David Brooks, Ron Brownstein, Christopher Buckley, Margaret Carlson, Tucker Carlson, Steve Chapman, Richard Cohen, Gail Collins, E. J. Dionne, Maureen Dowd, Charlie Gasparino, Georgie Anne Geyer, John Heilemann, Christopher Hitchens, Joe Klein, Lawrence Kudlow, Lawrence O'Donnell, Frank Rich, Roger Simon, John Stossel, and Andrew Sullivan.

I'm not crazy about Fred Barnes, Victor Davis Hanson, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Arianna Huffington, Charles Krauthammer, Jon Meacham, William McGurn, Peggy Noonan, or the entire editorial board of the Wall Street Journal.

I have little patience for opinion-makers that see the world through ideological blinders. The Wall Street Journal is particularly guilty of this. If reality doesn't fit their free-market economic or neoconservative foreign policy view of the world, then it's made to fit. I find this to be intellectually lazy and ultimately dishonest.

It's a common human impulse to try to make sense of an otherwise mysterious universe. We will all die knowing only a tiny part of it. The vast majority is unknowable. Most of us will not even understand ourselves, much less anyone or anything else. As a result, most people intuitively construct an ideological framework from which they try to impose order on things. It's comforting to feel like we have some control over our environment, if only intellectually. That's why its tempting to want to see the universe in terms of black and white, but it seems more and more to me that reality is in shades of gray.

I'm still on the fence on Tom Friedman, Bob Herbert, Morton Kondracke, Bill Kristol, Paul Krugman, and George Will.

One of my favorite Web sites is And while I'm on the subject, check out, Tina Brown's new site. Everything she touches turns to gold.

Kuhn' Delicatessen & Cafe in Deerfield... closed. I went there the other day for lunch with my friend Duane and it looks like it's been shut down for a while. Too bad; it was one of my favorite spots in the suburbs for a quick soup and a sandwich. Cheap, too. Oh well. We ducked into the Italian place next door, Ristorante Abruzzo, instead. I had been there once before for my next-door neighbor's surprise 80th birthday party. I had the spaghetti and meatballs and a small salad. A little heavy for lunch, I suppose, but it was good nevertheless. In fact, now that Tonelli's in Northbrook is closed it might be my favorite Italian joint in the area.

I just tried Glenn's Diner and Seafood House...

...on Montrose in Chicago. I heard about it on "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives." My son and I got there at 12pm on a Friday afternoon and it was not crowded! I couldn't believe our luck. It's a good spot, definitely worth a visit. I had pancakes, a side order of bacon and a cup of coffee. My son had the chocolate chip pancakes and a large OJ. Not very imaginative, I suppose, but that's what we were in the mood for. I give it two thumbs up--way up. My son gives it two and a half. I don't know how that's possible but it's his rating system, not mine. I can't wait to go back and try some of the other entrees, especially the fish.

Every Jew I know is wrong...

...about bagels in Chicago. They all seem to like New York Bagel & Bialy but I prefer Kaufman's Bagel and Delicatessen on Dempster in Skokie. Call me a hopeless gentile, but I think the bagels at NYB&B are too small and hard. Kaufman's are a little softer on my sensitive Irish palate and the home-made cream cheese is to die for!

The whole New York senate spectacle...

...turned into a disaster for both Caroline Kennedy and Governor David Paterson. Ms. Kennedy, who I'll bet is a very admirable person in private, came across as entitled, inarticulate, and indecisive. She's got to regret this whole thing. But Paterson came off even worse. He let the process go on way too long, attract too much attention, and in the end lost control. What could have been a great opportunity for him turned into a circus. In contrast, Governor Rod Blagojevich looked professional. How would you like to be the only person in American politics to be unfavorably compared with him?

I still think the model going forward should be for a governor to appoint an elder statesman or -woman as caretaker until the next election. It would be a nice ceremonial victory lap and take the politics out of the process. Then let the real contenders jockey for position with the voters making the ultimate decision.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Looking to jazz up...

...those grilled ham-and-cheese sandwiches? Other than the obvious (sliced tomato, red onion, and Italian dressing), I've found two items that I'd like to recommend: DeLallo sun dried tomato bruschetta topping and Vlasic mild pepper rings. They each add a certain something, a--I don't know what--je ne sais quoi. Try 'em.

Attention Loyola grads...

...that would be you, Jim. The Glenview Announcements is reporting that the Rev. Theodore G. Munz is leaving his post as president of Loyola Academy at the end of the year. He led the school for 13 years and is being promoted to treasurer of the Chicago Province of the Society of Jesus. During Munz's tenure, Loyola's tuition assistance program grew from $386,000 to $3.25 million and its endowment increased fivefold. In 2001, the school acquired its 60-acre campus for sports and science in Glenview.

I had the best tuna casserole of my life last night...

...and I'm proud to say that I made it myself. It all started innocently enough: whole wheat pasta (it's good for you); tuna, of course; cream of mushroom soup; sour cream; and a small can of corn. But my tuna casseroles of late have been a little dry and uninspired so I looked in the fridge for a little cheese to put in. I know this isn't exactly like reinventing the wheel, but what happened next made all the difference. After adding the small amount of grated cheddar that we had left, I noticed half a package of grated mozzarella. What the hell, I figured, it's only for my son and me (my more disciplined wife was having a small breast of chicken), and besides, we'll never use it anyway. Viola! It turned out to be the magic ingredient. I then sprinkled the top liberally (in honor of the new Democratic administration) with Parmesan cheese and cooked it hotter and longer than usual. It browned nicely on top and was especially moist and delicious. I can't wait to finish the rest of it for lunch!

I guess the moral of the story is to throw caution to the wind once in a while, veer from your prepared text, and let the chips fall where they may. (And see how many cliches you can fit into one sentence.) Just as necessity is the mother of invention, so can serendipity lead you to new culinary adventures.

"Obama to Close Foreign Prisons and Guantanamo"... the lead headline in today's New York Times. Did you ever think you'd live in a United States that tortured people?

My new favorite TV show... "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives." At least until "Real Time with Bill Maher" or "Curb Your Enthusiasm" comes back.

If you haven't seen it, "Triple D" as it's also known, is on the Food Network and is hosted by a character named Guy Fieri. He's a bit of an acquired taste (typical California Dude: spiked, bleached-blond hairdo, goatee, lots of tattoos and jewelry, and the requisite Valley-speak), but he grows on you. First of all, he's a cheerful, pleasant man and makes a good host. Also, as I have come to find out, he really knows food. He has at least one other show on the Network where he actually does the cooking.

But on "Triple D" Mr. Fieri is more of a travel guide as he scours the countryside in his vintage red convertible looking for cheap restaurants that serve good food. That alone makes him my idol. The show usually visits three spots on-a-theme per episode. They start out by giving a quick thumbnail sketch of each place and a rundown of the menu. They show the various dishes and interview the patrons (who all look like they could be on "America's Most Wanted"), but my favorite part is when Guy actually goes back into the kitchen to visit with the cook. This behind-the-scenes look is fascinating to me. I'm often struck by how much trouble these people go to for their customers; many of these dishes are made from scratch! Fieri gets to sample a few of these wares and for junk-food junkies like me, well, I can't imagine a better job on the planet.

There's a list on the Web site of all the spots he's visited and I'd like to get a road trip together some day to sample a few. I have a red convertible myself that is rapidly approaching vintage status although my hair now is pretty much limited to a Number Two buzz-cut. Oh well, let me know if you'd ever be game.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Some key phrases I took away...

...from Obama's Inauguration speech yesterday:

...America has carried on...because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents...
We will once again honor our Constitution.

...On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord...

...We will restore science to its rightful place...

...The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works...
The end of ideology.

...As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers...drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man... Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake...
I wonder what Bush and Cheney were thinking when they heard this. By the way, did anyone notice that Cheney was wearing a black hat? Perfect.

...And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more...

...We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people...

...To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect...

...a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The long, cold, dark night...

...that was the Bush presidency is finally over. To borrow a phrase from the Reagan years, "It's morning in America."

Why do people keep saying...

...that Bill Clinton and George Bush were this country's two Baby Boom presidents? If the Baby Boom is generally thought to have lasted from 1946 to 1964, then Barack Obama is a Boomer, too. He's 47, born in 1961.

Just as Richard Nixon "created" Jimmy Carter...

...and Jimmy Carter "created" Ronald Reagan, so has George Bush "created" Barack Obama. By this I mean that the three most unpopular presidents of my lifetime each created a climate that demanded the opposite traits in his successor. Or, as Jerry Seinfeld might put it, Barack Obama is "Bizarro George Bush."

For those of you too young to remember, Richard Nixon was one of the most divisive politicians of modern times. I think the shortest and best description of Nixon can be found in this quote by Adlai Stevenson:

Our nation stands at a fork in the political road. In one direction lies a land of slander and scare; the land of sly innuendo, the poison pen, the anonymous phone call and hustling, pushing, shoving; the land of smash and grab and anything to win. This is Nixonland. But I say to you that it is not America.

Well, it was America. Or at least a piece of it from his first run for Congress in 1946 to his resignation of the presidency in 1974. And the American people were sick of it.

Then along came Jimmy Carter. One-term governor of Georgia, Washington outsider, born-again Christian. His signature line was "I will never lie to you." In short, the Bizarro Nixon.

But things didn't work out so well for Jimmy Carter. The economy suffered as unemployment and inflation rose and interest rates soared to historic levels. Abroad, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and Iranian "students" stormed the American embassy and held 52 hostages for over a year. Carter was seen as ineffectual and incompetent. The nation hungered for Bizarro Carter, which turned out to be Ronald Reagan.

Reagan had been on the national political stage since his famous speech endorsing Barry Goldwater for president in 1964. He represented the right wing of the Republican Party that was for small government, low taxes, a strong defense, and traditional values. Nuance was not one of Reagan's long suits, however. He saw the universe in black and white: the American people were good and the Soviet Union was the "Evil Empire." While much of the Washington establishment dismissed him (Clark Clifford famously called him an "amiable dunce"), the American public ate it up.

Which brings us to George Bush. I think in many ways Bush combined the divisiveness and mean-spiritedness of Nixon with the ineptitude of Carter.

Although he came to Washington as a "uniter, not a divider," Bush used wedge issues to divide the electorate and demonize his opponents. One of the great ironies of his tenure is how he and Karl Rove set out to create an enduring Republican majority and instead presided over a dramatic contraction of the party.

And as despicable as the Nixon administration was, I don't think they had anything over the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld legacy of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and torture.

As for examples of Bush's incompetence, the list is long: 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Katrina, the financial meltdown...take your pick. It would make Jimmy Carter blush.

So the country welcomes Barack Obama today, the Bizarro George Bush. This is the guy who first attracted attention by speaking at the Democratic convention in 2004:

Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters, the negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes.

Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.

The pundits, the pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too:
We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States.

We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States.
There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.

We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America. In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or do we participate in a politics of hope?

Hope. Change. Competence. That's what America is yearning for in the wake of George Bush.

Friday, January 16, 2009

In an effort to spin their legacy...

...the Bushies keep saying that they have kept America safe since 9/11. I guess that's true, strictly speaking, as there haven't been any other terrorist attacks on United States soil since then. But what of the Iraq War? More Americans have died there than on 9/11 (not to mention tens of thousands of Iraqis). Don't they bear the responsibility for that? After all, it was a war of choice, not necessity. And the president has the duty not only to protect the citizenry but also the lives of our servicemen and women.

Even on his way out...

...George Bush is maddening. In his last press conference this week, he talked about some "disappointments" in his presidency. Helen Thomas said it best:

Here's a bizarre Bushism. In one of his strangest statements as president, Bush said that Iraq's "not having weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment."

Wait a minute. The absence of those weapons should have been good news.

But it was a huge disappointment for Bush because he had staked his public rationale for attacking Iraq on the existence of those alleged weapons. When none were found, it became a disappointment for Bush because it meant that he had committed U.S. military forces to invade Iraq in 2003 on either erroneous information or a lie.

More than 4,000 Americans have been killed in Iraq since then. Imagine the disappointment of their families and loved ones.

To this day, Bush has not given a credible explanation for his war that also has killed tens of thousands of Iraqis.

I think Bush's entire presidency has been a "disappointment." Hurry, January 20th.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Here's a scary thought... if you needed one. The Labor Department releases its employment numbers for the month of December on Friday. The consensus among economists is for the number of unemployed to climb from 6.7% in November to 7.0%. A bad statistic to be sure, but nothing like the 25% that was the case during the Great Depression. This is one of the reasons people cite for not comparing our current slowdown with that of the 1930s.

But Henry Blodget, of dot-com fame, wrote an article on December 5 that throws a little cold water on this notion. He explains that first of all, the government calculates unemployment differently today. If anything, our current numbers would be higher if we used the same methodology as in the 30s. Secondly, that notorious 25% number was not reached until 1933. In 1929, the year of the stock market crash, unemployment was just under 5%. At the end of 1930, it was just under 10%. It climbed to 16% in 1931, 24% in 1932, and topped out at 25% in 1933. It then took 19 years to go back down to pre-crash levels.

Everybody knocks Big Ten football...

...and I'll admit it's hard to defend, especially after going 1-6 in the bowls this year. But I took a closer look at all the results, and concluded that the problem is with all the schools in the northern and midwestern parts of the country. By my count, the northern/midwestern schools went 8-15. This includes three intrasectional games: Connecticut-Buffalo, Missouri-Northwestern, and Kansas-Minnesota. If you exclude these, the northern/midwestern schools won only five games.

Let's recap the winners: as already mentioned, Connecticut, Missouri, and Kansas. Two of these teams are in the Big 12, but I'll consider them midwestern. Also victorious were Rutgers, Maryland (Northern? They were part of the union in the Civil War), Notre Dame (we all know what's happened to that program in recent years), Iowa (the lone Big Ten winner), and Nebraska (another Big 12 team).

Now for the losers, beginning with the Big Ten: Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Minnesota, and Michigan State. The other northern/midwestern teams to go down in defeat were Ball State, Cincinnati, Central Michigan, Northern Illinois, Western Michigan, Pittsburgh, Navy, Boston College, and Buffalo. The Michigan Wolverines, one of the most successful programs in history, didn't even make it to a bowl this year.

Now what conclusions are to be drawn from this? I'm not sure, but I'll take a stab at it. The population growth in this country over the last few decades has steadily been shifting south and west. How many good athletes must come out of Florida, Texas, and California alone? And how difficult must it be to persuade them to play in Ohio or Michigan? Is this reversible? Ask yourself, if your primary goal was to play in the NFL, would you be willing to leave a warm climate to go up to Indiana to play football and be expected to graduate? That's got to be a tough sell for any coach.

So I say don't single out the Big Ten for ridicule. They're just the most visible sign of a huge shift underway in college football.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Now that I've trashed Charlie Rose...

...let me recommend a show he did with two evolutionary biologists, Edward O. Wilson and James Watson (one of the two discoverers of DNA). I just found out that it's available on You Tube. Even the scientifically-challenged like me can appreciate it.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Stanley Fish beat me to it... today's New York Times. He reveals his list of the Top Ten movies of all time and includes "The Best Years of Our Lives" as number one. I had been meaning to recommend this movie as part of a diatribe against movies in general. Although I didn't have a top ten list per se, I was going to mention this movie and Woody Allen's "Another Woman" as antidotes to the mediocrity I find rampant on the Big Screen.

"The Best Years of Our Lives" is about three returning servicemen from World War II and the challenges they face re-entering civilian life. The actor that played the double amputee actually did lose his two hands in the war and this was the only movie he ever made. "Another Woman" is about a 50-ish woman played by Gina Rowlands who examines her life for the first time and doesn't necessarily like everything she sees.

I realize that a lot of the people I know would rather not watch a Woody Allen movie. He drives a lot of people nuts and I won't go into the reasons why. But Allen is not even in this movie and it occurred to me that he doesn't appear in two other excellent, but often overlooked movies of his, "Interiors" and "The Purple Rose of Cairo." The first is serious and the second is a really clever comedy. If you think you know Woody Allen and don't like him, you may want to see these three movies anyway.