Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Poor Norm Coleman...

...first he gets defeated by a professional wrestler for governor and now he gets beat by a professional comedian for the U. S. Senate. What's next, a rock star? Maybe Prince will ride back into Minnesota on his purple motorcycle just in time to prevent Coleman from taking a seat on the local school board. Honestly, the guy has got to be wondering if he was an axe murderer in a previous life.

I went to the Taste of Chicago...

...Sunday night with my son and enjoyed it as always. The weather was beautiful and we sampled all of our favorites (Italian sausage with sweet peppers, deep-fried ravioli, meatball sandwiches, Italian ice, Rainbow ice cream, Eli's turtle cheese cake) and tried some new ones (Taiwanese "shiny" noodles and African jerk chicken with rice and beans). It's amazing how fast you can get filled up! And I didn't even see the Cajun alligator this year. They changed the configuration a little, which made the pedestrian traffic more congested (gotta complain about something). But maybe it's just busier on weekends. I don't know; we've always gone on a weekday in the past.

But what really struck me was when I went to buy tickets at one of the windows. The line for credit card purchases was shorter so I went there. The sign said picture IDs were required. When I handed over my credit card and my driver's license, I was taken back a little when the guy said "Thank you, Mr. Tracy" in a real polite voice. I think I even took off my Ray-Bans and did a double-take. I was that impressed. It made me realize how put out most clerks act nowadays. I think we've lost something as a society when good manners are so uncommon.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad...

...is now attacking President Obama. This has really got to be driving the neocons nuts!

After my three-mile run this morning...

...(okay, walk-and-run; okay, mostly-walk-but-some-run), I came upon the annual Glenview Chamber of Commerce Summer Festival, which is held on the main drag in our town. That's actually a euphemism for "Junky Street Sale," although I have to say that this year's was a little less junky than usual.

It still had all the requisite real estate brokers, insurance agents, chiropractors, orthodontists, nursing homes, martial arts studios, Boy Scout troops, AAA, the American Legion, the Knights of Columbus, the Glenview Art League, and various other service clubs conducting raffles and handing out complimentary Frisbees, back scratchers, and fans (which are no more than circular pieces of cardboard stapled to Popsicle sticks). But I did pick up a nifty fly swatter from Quick Kill Exterminators, whose motto is "We put them on their backs." That's nice, but what I really need is for you to get them out of my house. Quick Kill wasn't the only exterminator this year; must be a bad year for pests in Glenview. There was also an outfit by the name of D.A.M! which stands for Dads Against Mosquitoes (is there an organization called Dads For Mosquitoes?).

There were also all the various booths selling crafts, gifts, and other trinkets. One sold beads, one was called "Sand and Candle Art," one "The Irish Connoisseur" (an oxymoron if there ever was one), some place called "Bad Baby," which sold bibs (not sure about that name), a couple of places selling large gaudy handbags, "Scandinavian Ski Shop," which had racks and racks of fleeces (not very tempting a week before the 4th of July), and several tables of left shoes outside the shoe store. Can you imagine waiting all year just to save a couple of bucks on shoes at the Street Fair?

The Christian Science Reading Room had its usual booth and I have to admit that I was surprised that they were still around. I've only known one Christian Scientist in my whole life and she converted to Catholicism. Choosing not to believe in modern medicine was probably not a good move for the continued growth of the denomination. I think the Mormons had a better idea by letting their men sleep with multiple women. Now that's marketing!

A couple of new groups I noticed this year were the Hands of Peace and their affiliate, Teens for Peace in the Middle East. No one else has been able to come up with a solution for Israel and the Palestinians; maybe the kids at Glenbrook South have some ideas. The other group was also made up of teenagers; they were trying to give me some information on Darfur. Why are people always trying to make me feel guilty about Darfur? I don't know a thing about it and probably couldn't even find it on a map. Why don't they just stop killing each other and leave me out of it?

One thing that seems to get bigger and bigger each year is the classic car show in the church parking lot. I especially liked the antique Thunderbirds and would love to get one of those signs that says T-Bird Parking Only. I struck up a conversation with one of the owners sitting under an umbrella in a lawn chair. He told me that while some of the people there were interested in selling, most of them just go around the classic car circuit and show off their prized possessions. I guess there's no right way to spend your summer weekends.

There's always a live band at the fair, and this year was no exception. The featured artists were the Incognitos, and they played such pop standards as "Surfin' USA," "Secret Agent Man," and "Build Me Up, Buttercup." They looked about as old as their songs, and I swear the bald guy on keyboard had to be pushing 70. If that's not enough, you should have seen the two middle-aged "groupies" that were dancing in front of the band. Let's just say there are times when it's just as well this blog doesn't have pictures.

The food is always good, and several area restaurants are represented, such as Hackney's, Fredhots, and Spiro's Deli. I had an Italian sausage (heavy on the peppers and onions) and a lemonade shake-up from Famous Kal's. I also stopped at the Chinese place, partly because the owner always looks so lonely. I don't know why; maybe people here don't want to stand around under a blazing sun and bite into a piping hot egg roll while standing on the black asphalt. Who knows?

Let's not forget the Fire Station, where kids get to slide down a pole Dean Martin-style, a very respectable magician, a booth for the traveling hockey team (those coaches sure look a lot shorter without their skates) and the Glenview House, which is the local watering hole and does a land-office business on this day. All in all, I guess it's not a bad festival and the town actually looks good for once. As Sinclair Lewis would say, "It's a fine burg."

I just ran into my neighbor...

...who's a rabid White Sox fan. After he made some comment about yesterday's game I asked him if he thought the South Siders would avoid a sweep. And the double-take he gave me was worthy of YouTube. Excellent!

Everyone knows about...

...the hypocrisy of the Republican Party. The GOP for years has branded itself as the party of "family values" while its members have shown themselves to be no more or less human than the rest of us. Mark Sanford is just the latest example. As a Congressman, Sanford voted to impeach Clinton and was an outspoken critic of Bob Livingston. I could go on and on, but this posting isn't about hypocrisy.

In today's New York Times, Charles M. Blow (not a good name) has a piece on the subject that mentions, among other things, that 8 out of the top 10 states in rates of divorce and teenage births voted Republican in the last presidential race. The accompanying chart makes it look even worse and he talks about the GOP's hypocrisy problem. But again, this post isn't about that.

It's about a book I read called Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream, by Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam. It was recommended by David Brooks in one of his columns. I won't say it was the greatest book I've ever read or that it changed my life or any of that, but it did give me a new perspective on the Republican hypocrisy question. And that is that rather than being hypocritical, the states with the highest divorce and teenage pregnancy rates are actually being perfectly consistent. "Huh?" you might ask. But as Douthat and Salam explain it, it makes sense.

Divorce and teenage births have highly negative impacts on a society. If you live in a state like Massachusetts, say, which ranks 49th and 48th in those two categories, you may not think those are such pressing concerns and you might not understand a candidate who talks about the importance of "family values." But if you lived in a state like Arkansas, for example, which ranks second and fourth, you would know all too well about the dangers of those two social ills. The difference, of course, is in how you tackle those two problems. In the red states, candidates and voters prefer to focus on an individual's behavior. Makes sense; if they could change it, maybe they could lower those rates a little and improve the quality of their lives. Strengthening marriage and delaying childbirth would go a long way to improving those societies. People in places like Massachusetts don't have those concerns and so don't need to focus on them as much.

I don't pretend to have the answers to these questions (shocking!), but after reading this book I understand that the people in red states might not be as hypocritical as some of us in the blue states may have thought. They are just trying to earnestly deal with some real problems in their societies. How to best accomplish that is another question.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Dave Brubeck...

...of "Take Five" and "Blue Rondo a la Turk" fame, will be performing tonight at Symphony Center in Chicago at 8 p. m. Brubeck is eighty-eight years old. How many of his contemporaries will even be up at that hour?

Scottrade is a retail broker...

...with commercials on TV featuring its CEO, Rodger Riney. My only question is, why is he always shown flying in a helicopter? Doesn't he have an office?

This is probably the best article I've read...

...in regard to the public option. It's by Nate Silver from his Web site, fivethirtyeight.com:


(By the way, fivethirtyeight.com is a Web site well worth checking out. Silver is quite adept at math and statistics and his predictions of the 2008 election were considered to be the most accurate of all.)

Mark Sanford's days are numbered...

...as Governor of South Carolina. I expect him to resign in the next week or so now that questions are being raised about how he paid for his trips to Argentina. I think he could have hung on otherwise, but now sentiment in the state seems to be shifting against him. He already had an adversarial relationship with the Republican-controlled legislature and the lieutenant governor, and recent events will make it even harder to accomplish anything. He only has a year and a half left in his term anyway, and any hopes for higher office have been dashed. Not to mention that he needs time to repair his personal life. I think he'll conclude shortly that there's little point in hanging on.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tired of the health care...

...debate? I don't blame you. But here's a scary link that everyone should see:


Now Sarah Palin has picked a fight...

...with a blogger:


How can I get her to pick a fight with me?

I feel bad for Mark Sanford...

...I really do. Life is complicated and marriage is harder than it looks. Let he or she among us without sin throw the first stone. I wish him and his wife well.

With that out of the way, let's get back to handicapping the Republican field for 2012. Sanford and John Ensign are now out, of course. Bobby Jindal is probably being red-shirted for at least 2016, Jon Huntsman has been exiled to China, and I just don't see Mike Huckabee or Sarah Palin as serious contenders. Haley Barbour is starting to get mentioned, although I thought the New Republic put it best when it said:

There are people who think that the solution to the GOP's image problem is to nominate a sleazy, corpulent, cigar-chomping lobbyist from the Deep South? Is Boss Hogg unavailable?

Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney are too boring, too white bread--just the opposite of what the Republicans need right now. Absent a depression, Obama would crush either one of them. So who does that leave? My best bet is that the 2012 nominee is not yet on the radar, much as Obama wasn't at this point in the last cycle. But that sounds like a cop-out, and I've never been one to shy away from having an opinion. So as of today (Intrade changes daily, why can't I?), I'll say Newt Gingrich has the best shot. Despite all his baggage, he probably has more ideas in a day than most other politicians have in a lifetime. He's also an excellent debater and a proven opposition leader. And if the economy doesn't recover by 2012, he can claim to have been against the Bush/Paulson/Bernanke/Geithner/Obama/Summers policies all along.

But four years is a long time, at least in dog and economic years, and I expect the economy will have responded to Obama's stimulus by then, just as the economy responded to Reagan's tax cuts by 1984. And so whoever gets the Republican nod in 2012 could meet a similar fate as that of Walter Mondale--a complete drubbing.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Robert Reich has a good article...

...in The Wall Street Journal today in re the public option. In it he says:

Critics say the public option is really a Trojan horse for a government takeover of all of health insurance. But nothing could be further from the truth. It's an option. No one has to choose it. Individuals and families will merely be invited to compare costs and outcomes. Presumably they will choose the public plan only if it offers them and their families the best deal -- more and better health care for less.

I disagree with him on one point: it is a Trojan horse. But that's okay, because the only way to insure everyone and hold down the rising cost of health care is a single-payer system. And that's just not politically feasible in this country right now. So a public system has to be put into place as an "option" first. If it provides good coverage to everyone at a lower rate than the private insurers then it will indeed crowd them out. And the U. S. will evolve into a single-payer system with private insurance to augment the public system like in many European and Far Eastern countries.

I predict Mark Sanford's disappearing act...

...will end up being a deal-breaker for 2012. Turns out he went to Argentina at the last minute, by himself. His wife and staff didn't even know where he was. Some enterprising reporter is going to uncover something; I can't believe it doesn't involve another woman or another man. The governor is scheduled to explain his trip this afternoon. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I've been reading a lot lately about...

...why doctors go into medicine in the first place. The Wall Street Journal would have you believe that it's money and that if their incomes were cut by so much as a dollar a year they'd all rip down their shingles, chuck it all, and become bee-keepers. Health care reformers, on the other hand, argue that doctors are more interested in treating their patients. As a group, physicians never struck me as any more or less compassionate than anyone else. I think what motivates them to do a good job is pride in their work, just like everybody else.

When I was in college I'd ask someone why they wanted to be a doctor and they would invariably answer that it was because "they wanted to help people." Uh-huh. Kind of like my reason for going down to the Merc (never mind that I wasn't qualified to do anything else). I desperately wanted to provide much-needed liquidity to the financial markets. And to think that I got paid for doing something I love. What a country!

I would submit that the real reason that people go into medicine is that it's just a logical path for the smartest kids in high school. Especially if they're good at math and science, then every adult they know is telling them "You should be a doctor!" It doesn't hurt that medicine has always been among the most lucrative and prestigious fields, either. In fact, the kids in the neighborhood--if they ever see you--have to call you "Doctor So-and-So" instead of plain ol' "Mister" Gates or "Mister" Buffett. And whenever you walk past a group of people one of them always whispers, "He's a doctor. He has the power to save lives!" (Never mind that you spend most of your time giving nose jobs to insecure college girls.) So off these bright young kids go to college and into pre-Med because it's the most challenging major and on to Medical School and a practice. And only then do they think about money, because when they look around their neighborhood at all the lawyers and investment bankers and entrepreneurs they can't help thinking, "Hey, I'm smarter than all these guys; I work harder; why aren't I paid more? Isn't that how it's supposed to work?" Yes, but...

Just as the Romans woke up one day to find out they were Italians, so did American doctors wake up in the last few decades to find out they were employees of the insurance companies, just a notch above the guy with the plaid sport coat and cigar-breath who comes over to your house to sell you a policy. And they're not always as well-paid!

And just like the title of that famous David Mamet movie, things change. And things could change some more after health care is reformed; doctors may find themselves not as well-compensated as before. Now I don't take pleasure in that--the pre-Meds I knew in college were the smartest and hardest-working of all. But as JFK famously said, life isn't fair. I'll bet that just as doctors won't drop out of medicine, no one will be taking up a collection for them, either. They'll continue to practice medicine--with fewer administrative hassles--and continue to make a good living.

I went to buy shorts this weekend...

...and all I could find at my favorite store were "cargo" shorts. What's up with all those pockets? Do people really need all those? What "cargo" are people transporting, anyway? All I carry is my car keys in my left front pocket, a cell phone in my right front, a handkerchief in my left back, and my wallet in my right back (I guess the secret's out for all you pickpockets). What else is there?

"Cargo" has a vaguely militaristic connotation, like you're in a militia on weekends and wear camouflage out in the woods. Are people carrying bullets? Or worse, guns? It sounds a little nefarious. Are they carrying drugs or drug paraphernalia? Am I about to get caught in the crossfire of some drug deal gone bad? It's like something out of a Quentin Tarantino movie.

I just don't see any valid reason to have all those pockets. And besides, it looks sloppy. Can't I just have a regular pair of shorts? It's getting hot out.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Forty summers ago...

...Buzz Aldrin was the second person to set foot on the moon after Neil Armstrong. His mother's maiden name was Marion Moon.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

When the weather gets hot in Chicago...

...there's only one thing to do: get the convertible out and drive down to Maxwell Street for an authentic Vienna Polish sausage with grilled onions and mustard. John and I went down there for dinner tonight and parked the Sebring across the street from those two venerable Chicago eateries, Jim's Original and the Express Grill on South Union Street. They're both outstanding but the Express Grill had the shorter line and that sealed the deal for us. I have to admit that I wavered for a brief second there and seriously considered the pork chop sandwich at the last minute. But John reminded me of our original mission and we both ordered the Polish, John's first ever.

In case you haven't eaten at the Express Grill, you order your meal at the window from a guy who barely speaks English (it's Chicago, remember?) and then place your money in a small plastic tray. I only figured that out after several uncomfortable moments of trying to hand the guy a ten and having him point to the tray. "Oh, it's kind of like a cab in New York; I get it." The guy behind the counter then takes the tray and gives it back to you with your change. I have no idea what that's all about, but whatever. There's no indoor seating at the Express Grill (or outdoor, for that matter) so after you get your order you sidle over to an aluminum shelf-like structure where you eat your food standing up and facing a wall, Chicago-style. Now I know how Bugs Moran and his gang must have felt just before they were gunned down on St. Valentine's Day all those years ago. I think I even glanced over my shoulder once or twice. I also kept a close eye on the guy behind the counter, just to make sure he didn't duck down when one of the many sinister-looking cars would drive up to the curb for a carry-out order. I figure you can't be too careful when you're only a stone's throw (or a stray bullet) away from Taylor Street, where there are plenty of guys in wife-beaters and two-toned shoes who are only too quick to tell you to "Mind yer own business, if you know what's good for ya."

Anyway, John gave it a big thumbs up and we both agreed that it hit the spot. You can't go wrong with a Polish, fries and an ice-cold lemonade served al fresco on a summer night in Chicago. Somebody should put a call out to Guy Fieri.

I wonder if Bill Maher is right...

...when he says that Obama may be "too worried about being popular" and that the "Democrats are the new Republicans." I wonder if he's also right that Obama isn't enough of a fighter and if the U. S. hasn't already moved to a one-party system. Last night Maher said that America has a center-right party, which is the Democrats, and a "crazy party," which is the Republicans, filled with "religious lunatics, flat-earthers, and Civil War re-enacters." He sure got that last part right. Maher went on to say:

...Speaking of the Republicans, if you can't shove some real reform down their throats now, then when? Folks, Barack Obama needs to start putting it on the line in fights against the banks, the energy companies and the health care industry...

...I'm glad Obama is president, but the "audacity of hope" part is over. Right now, I'm hoping for a little more audacity.

I hope Maher is wrong about Obama. The One has certainly been underestimated many times before. And every time the doubters (including me) have been proven wrong. But I'll be watching him closely during the health care debate to see if he's really willing to fight for what he believes in or if he's content to just accept cosmetic changes.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Here's two more things...

...I don't get (there's a long list). The first is those pants that you see on some (usually young) men that are not-quite shorts and not-quite long pants, but some strange hybrid of the two. You've seen them; they fall just below the knee to about mid-calf. They look like baggy clam-diggers. What's up with those? Unless you're in a gang they look ridiculous (and even then) and they can't possibly be comfortable. I would think they'd be hot in the summer and cold during the rest of the year.

The second thing are Crocs. It's bad enough when you see them on women and children. But the other night I was out at the store and an otherwise normal-looking middle-aged man was standing next to me in line with bright red Crocs! I was really tempted to ask him what he was thinking but I didn't want to embarrass him in front of his kids. Besides, I thought that silly trend had already played itself out. And then I saw another man wearing bright yellow ones! Really, if you must fall victim to this fad do the rest of us a favor and at least wear dark ones so we don't have to cringe so much. Thanks.

By the way, Father's Day is this Sunday. In case you're wondering what to get me, a card would be just fine.

I violated one of my personal rules...

...of thumb this morning. I put two berries of the same color on my cereal, in this instance blueberries and blackberries. (That's all we had in the house.) I usually try to mix colors; for example, combining blueberries with raspberries or blackberries with strawberries. As a friend of mine, Kevin, used to say, "It's all in the presentation, Mike..."

Here's another name...

...for my collection, Sheldon Whitehouse. He's a Democratic senator from Rhode Island. I wonder what his ultimate ambition in politics is.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A recent Lewin Group study...

...is often cited to make the argument that a "public option" would crowd out the private health insurers. The Lewin Group is part of a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, which owns the private insurer United Healthcare. It says it operates with "editorial independence," and maybe it does. But I had a smart boss once who told me that no one commissions a study without knowing the findings in advance. Remember that next time you hear the Lewin Group mentioned and ask yourself, "Are they a truly disinterested party, or do they have an agenda?"

If there was ever any doubt...

...that Sarah Palin wasn't using this controversy with David Letterman to further her own political ambitions, take note of what she said yesterday in accepting Letterman's latest apology:

“Letterman certainly has the right to ‘joke’ about whatever he wants to, and thankfully we have the right to express our reaction. And this is all thanks to our U.S. military women and men putting their lives on the line for us to secure America’s right to free speech—in this case, may that right be used to promote equality and respect.”


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Anyone still interested...

...in the Palin-Letterman controversy should read "Top 10 Reasons Sarah Palin's 'Outrage' is Misplaced and a Little Late..." by Shannyn Moore in the Huffington Post:


You'll have to copy and paste; I don't know how to link. Sorry.

The Cubs host the White Sox today...

...in the first game of the Crosstown Series. And my question is always the same: Can the South Siders avoid a sweep?

Happy Bloomsday...

...to all of you who, like me, never got past page 3 of Ulysses. Don't feel too bad; it's a daunting monstrosity and there are plenty of other good books to keep you occupied. And besides, you'll never read all of the classics anyway. As a friend of mine once said, "Life is short and art is long." So relax; read something you enjoy.

If you insist on tackling James Joyce, however, here's a tip from someone who hasn't gotten very far with any of his work: read it as part of a class. Joyce was a Modernist, which is code for "impenetrable." I learned this last summer when I took a class in Modern Art. It was a great course and I learned a few other things as well. The first is that Modernism wasn't created for people like you and me; it was created for the cognoscenti. And secondly, you need an interpreter.

After 8 or 10 sessions and two trips to local museums, I now hope to someday know about one-tenth of one percent about Modern Art. But having a teacher explain what exactly it was we were looking at (and some of it was really Modern; see Koons, Jeff) made me realize the futility of trying it on my own. I decided that going to a museum by yourself is like walking down a street in a foreign country and thinking you can understand what is being said around you. (Although I do remember a time once in Garmisch-Partenkirchen when I recalled just enough of my high school German to understand one of the locals. He appeared to be pointing in my direction and, while nudging his friend with his elbow, said something to the effect of "Check out that #&$%!" I never did find out who he was talking about.) So go ahead and read Ulysses if you must, but do yourself a favor and do it in the context of a class.

Oh, and as for those famous (and valuable) drip paintings by Jackson Pollock, I finally summoned the courage to ask the instructor, "Couldn't anybody do that?" His response, "Yeah, but they didn't!"

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Kevin Slowey of the Minnesota Twins...

...became the majors' second nine-game winner on Friday with a 7-4 victory over the Chicago Cubs. I don't follow baseball as closely as I used to, so I was only vaguely aware of this guy until now. Apparently he's off to a good start. And I have an idea why: it's his name, Slowey. His opponents are having a hard time taking him seriously.

I had a friend at the Merc named Kevin and he and I used to talk about people's names a lot. (And you thought I had a lot of time on my hands now.) He had a little problem with off-beat names or ones that were hard to pronounce. I, on the other hand, was always fascinated by how some people's names fit their choice of a career. For example, James Steele was the name of a metals analyst at Refco. I see that kind of thing all the time.

As far as this Slowey guy is concerned, I think his name is lulling the opposition into a false sense of security. Just imagine the Cubs' clubhouse on Friday morning. A bunch of the players are sitting around a card table playing Texas Hold 'Em. One of the coaches pokes his head in the room.

"Hey, anybody want to take some extra batting practice?"

One of the players looks up from the game. "Who's pitching today?"

The coach looks at his clipboard. "Uh, some guy named Slowey."

The player gazes up at the ceiling. "Slowey, huh? Never heard of him. Hmmm. No thanks. We got a real good game going here."

"Suit yerself."

It's hard to be intimidated by a pitcher named Slowey. Your unconscious just can't picture him as overpowering on the mound. It would be kind of like going to the Kentucky Derby and betting on a horse named Earthworm. As a result, his opponents are underestimating him and batters are just not preparing themselves. I think he may have a big career ahead of him.

I think it was Jerry Seinfeld...

...that first called my attention to the custom of saying "God bless you!" after someone sneezes. He wondered if a better response wouldn't be "You are so good looking!" instead.

I've never been one to say "God bless you!" after someone sneezes because I never saw the point in it. What effect could my saying that possibly have on someone else? But I've noticed that when I don't say anything after someone sneezes I often get a dirty look from the person who sneezed. If two or more people are present who both say "God bless you!" everyone then looks at me as if it's now my turn. If I don't say anything I get three dirty looks. How dare you just sit there and not say "God bless you!"

I refuse to be bullied, however, and came up with my own solution to the problem. I now say "God bless you!" but only when someone coughs, not when they sneeze. This drives people crazy! It usually stops them dead in their tracks:

"I didn't sneeze; I coughed," they'll say.

"I know."

"So why did you say 'God bless you?' "

"I don't know; I thought it would be a nice thing to say, I guess." Now the other person starts getting mad. Inside, I'm starting to chuckle.

"But I coughed! I didn't sneeze!" they bark.


"So you're supposed to say 'God bless you!' after someone sneezes, not coughs!"

"I know, but I do it a little differently."

"You can't do that!"

"Why not?"


"Do you want me to take it back?"

It usually continues on in this vein until the other person gets completely frustrated and walks away. I then take mental notes as to what worked and what didn't.

Look, I know I'm being a bit of a jerk, but I figure that coughing is probably more indicative of a life-threatening disease than sneezing, anyway, so maybe I have the more appropriate response. It could be the first sign of the Swine Flu! At any rate, if saying "God bless you!" doesn't help at all when you sneeze, it sure can't hurt when you cough.

This David Letterman-Sarah Palin...

...controversy has more legs than I would have thought. But I guess it's understandable; it's in both their interests to keep it alive. Letterman needs the ratings boost just as Conan O'Brien is getting started and Palin needs a straw man to maintain her visibility. Everyone else seems to be weighing in on it, with most people agreeing that Letterman's jokes crossed a line but at the same time that Palin needs to move on.

I'll concede that the jokes were in questionable taste, but so what! David Letterman is a comedian who tells jokes for a living. He hosts a late-night talk show that is hardly known for serious conversation. People watch it just before they go to bed at night to get a few laughs and ogle the latest starlets. It's not exactly Bill Moyers. And I don't think he should apologize for it, either, except to keep the controversy alive. Let's face it, he could have worse enemies than Sarah Palin.

I much prefer how Bill Maher handled a recent audience reaction. When interviewing Richard Haas of the Council on Foreign Relations, he inquired as to what exactly the Council was. When Haas answered him, Maher responded, "Oh, a bunch of Jews." The audience groaned and Maher (who's mother is Jewish) turned to them and reminded them that "it's comedy."

Palin, for her part, needs to get a thicker skin if she is serious about the national stage. Just think about how many jokes--in good taste and bad--that have been told about W. and the Clintons. If they responded to a fraction of them they wouldn't have time to do anything else. Palin, and everyone else for that matter, needs to get over this. It's just not that big a deal. In a time of economic crisis, two wars, pending energy and health care legislation, Palin needs to get serious if she wants us to get serious about her. I agree with Chris Matthews when he said that she needs to stop going to all these dinners and "hit the books." After eight years of George Bush, the last thing we need is another mediocrity in the White House.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Back in 1988, I was one of those...

...purists (cranks) who were opposed to installing lights in Wrigley Field. I still have a T-shirt that says No Lights in Wrigley Field. (Some day I'll sell it on eBay.) I was convinced that it was the end of Cubs baseball as we knew it. Heck, you might as well stick a fork in Western Civilization! "Those greedy #$%*s! at the Tribune," I growled. Even though the Cubs only scheduled 12 night games per season, I could clearly see a "slippery slope" to I-don't-know-what-exactly, but it couldn't be good! And don't even get me started on what it would do to the neighborhood...

Fast-forward 21 years, and I'd have to say that short of a World Series or a pennant or something, anything, throw us a bone for God's sake, night baseball is just about the best thing that could ever happen to the Cubs in my lifetime. If anything, the neighborhood has improved, night games are a blast to go to, and working stiffs like me can watch the Cubbies in real time. Oh, and there's still plenty of day games if that's your preference.

I'm reminded of all this as I watch the health care debate move forward. Chicken Littles everywhere are warning about "socialized medicine" and saying things like "you don't want government bureaucrats to come between you and your doctor." (Somehow insurance company bureaucrats are okay, though.) And "slippery slopes" are cropping up everywhere it seems, leading to--are you ready for this?--European-style health care (which the Europeans seem happy with, by the way). I'll almost bet The Wall Street Journal is planning an editorial about how we'll all have to wear berets!

Nay-sayers, get a grip. Almost 50 million Americans are without health insurance. What's your answer, let them eat cake? (That's not very healthy.) Face it, the market has failed to serve the consumer in this particular instance. The Democrats now control both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. They've been pushing for health care reform since the last time the Cubs played in October. Now it looks like it's finally going to happen. And you know what? Just like lights in Wrigley Field, it will be okay. Maybe it will even be better...

What the Republicans need...

...above all else, is a sunny, optimistic, attractive leader in the tradition of Franklin Roosevelt, Jack Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, or Barack Obama--someone who can inspire the nation in a positive way.

Let's look at some of the current voices of the party: Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and Newt Gingrich (three journalists, two actual officeholders, a couple of Bush administration dead-enders, and a political has-been who's trying to stage a Nixon-like comeback). And what do they all have in common? They're all angry white people.

Let's see, Rove just called Maureen Dowd a "bitter, twisted, deranged columnist for the New York Times," and a "dour, downbeat liberal." (My emphasis added in both.) Bachmann, who just might be the biggest gaffe machine in politics today, said recently that "we've moved into the realm of gangster government." Cheney has become the party's foremost champion of torture (nice touch). And Palin's latest embarrassment is a public feud with a late-night talk show host. I could go on but I think you get the idea.

There are other leaders in the party, of course: John McCain, Mitt Romney, Mark Sanford, Tim Pawlenty, and Tom Ridge (my personal favorite) to name just a few. But they are all colorless or keeping a low profile for now. I can't see any of them seriously challenging Obama in 2012.

The next election will be decided, like most elections, on the public's perception of the economy. If it's seen as improving, Obama will win in a landslide. If not, the Republicans will have a chance. But in the meantime, not only do they need to decide on their message (move to the right or move to the center), but they need to find a messenger who can deliver it. So far I can't see anyone out there who fits that description.

Jose from Glenview writes in...

..."Wolfy's" hot dogs opens on Shermer Road in Northbrook.

That's excellent news!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I just got back from my trip...

...to New Hampshire, and 2,000 miles never went past my windshield so fast. Combined with the 1,200 other miles that I logged going up to Minnesota and down to Charleston, Illinois in the last month, and I think I've had enough driving for a while. The old Dodge Caravan performed well, even if the radio did conk out on the last leg.

I started out bright and early Saturday morning, at 5:30, and made good time throughout. I saw some construction, but not as much as I expected. Where are all those shovel-ready, stimulus-related projects that we've heard so much about? The one or two that I did see had those signs that say Hit a worker, $10,000 fine, 14 years in jail. That always makes me wonder, do people really need to be reminded not to do that? Is that a big problem? Would more workers be hit without that warning? "Whoa! I'd be more careless if the fine were only $5,000, but $10,000 is steep! I'd better pay attention."

I've decided that the key to making good time is to bring your own food. I recommend sandwiches. I've tried fried chicken and ribs in the past, but find that the barbecue sauce gets the steering wheel too messy. Also, you get the strangest looks from people when you throw the bones out the window going 80 miles an hour.

I pulled into Rochester, New York at about five in the afternoon on Saturday. I stayed with some old friends, Mark and Lizanne. They actually live in the country, in a huge house on two acres. I not only had my own floor, I had my own wing. They're empty-nesters now, which seems a little weird to me as Mark and I went to high school together. The three of us sat outside on their deck and had a few beers while we caught up. Later, we went into this charming old town nearby and had burgers outside next to a little waterfall. They live in a beautiful area, with lots of horse farms. And on the drive home we saw a bunch of deer. It was a really nice visit.

Sunday morning found me back on the road again (and lost) on the way to Hanover. I stopped in Saratoga Springs, New York, for about an hour or so and just walked around. It's a really neat town and they had an art fair going on that day. I drove on to Woodstock, Vermont (another really neat town) but couldn't stop as time was becoming a factor (I told my son that I'd be on campus by five). On through the mountains of southern Vermont I drove, listening to Phish on my I-Pod and eating Ben & Jerry's ice cream. (I have to say, Vermonters seemed a little uptight to me. Some of the locals even appeared to shake their fists at me when I threw the empty cartons and plastic spoons out the window. I thought those people were supposed to be mellow!)

Joe and I met up at the appointed time and packed the van. He gave me a tour of the campus and then we grabbed a bite before heading home. Joe took me to the "Hop" where he introduced me to a "Billy Bob," which is a steak, egg, and cheese burrito. Very tasty; next time I'll try it with peppers and onions. Once in the car, we must have gotten pretty absorbed in conversation, because we ended up going a little out of our way. "Look at that billboard. Connecticut is advertising its lottery in Massachu--Hey! Where the hell are we?" But we righted the ship and got on the correct road for home. We even considered going all night and stopped into a Dunkin' Donuts for coffee around midnight. (Since when do they sell blueberry-flavored coffee?) But after a while we both faded and checked into a hotel around four. Good move.

After a quick four or five hours sleep it was back on the road. We stopped at a Cracker Barrel for a hearty breakfast and I highly recommend it if you're not in too big a hurry. Joe gave me a hard time for having the waitress wrap the two pieces of bacon that he didn't eat, but it was perfect on my grilled cheese sandwich today (with Dalmatia fig spread, of course). Okay, so I extended grilled cheese season for one more day--sue me.

The rest of the drive was uneventful, except the part about the radio. But that turned out to be fortuitous, however, as it gave me more time to impart even more fatherly wisdom to my son. (It was right about then that I noticed he'd developed a peculiar eye-rolling tic since he'd been at college. I think I'll have the doctor look at that while we're home.) We finally pulled into the driveway around seven and had a group hug with his mom and brother. It should be a great summer!

My latest practical joke...

...works best when I'm invited over to someone's house for a backyard barbecue. Just as the host approaches the dinner table with a large platter of some grilled animal flesh, I take my cue to deadpan, "Oh by the way, did I forget to mention that I've turned vegan?" This usually stops him dead in his tracks and the room falls silent. After quickly glancing around at everyone's dropped jaws, I turn around, bend my knees, and point my index finger at the host. "Gottcha!" I say, and the group erupts in uncontrollable laughter. We all sit down then and sink our teeth into the dead beast in the best tradition of our prehistoric ancestors.

I first thought of this last winter when I was invited over to a friend's house for chili. I noticed that there were two different kinds and the host told me that one was vegetarian, because one of the couples, William and his wife, were vegans. (First of all, what's up with "William?" Shouldn't it be Will or Willie or Bill? Who does this guy think he is, royalty?) "So what's a vegan?" I asked. Apparently it's a vegetarian that's so strict that they don't even eat dairy products. They are usually slim and very healthy. "You don't say," I thought. It was then that the two of them walked through the front door and they must have weighed five hundred pounds combined! I couldn't believe it. These two are vegans? They were huge! As I was shaking William's hand all I could think was, "When did you become a vegan, yesterday?" It turns out they've been vegans for years. So now all I could think was, "You two must cheat like crazy!" But then they turned down dessert (which I never do), and I just stared at them in puzzlement. Then I thought, "Vegan, huh? What would you look like if you ate like me?"

Friday, June 5, 2009

Just like Jack Kerouac...

...I'll be On the Road for the next three days and won't be able to update this blog. (The earth will just have to continue to turn on its axis somehow.) Actually, my road trip won't bear any resemblance at all to Kerouac or his book. Not unless you pictured him as some balding middle-aged suburban guy munching on ham and cheese sandwiches while tooling down the Interstate in a minivan with 110,000 miles on it. And that's not how I remember it.

No, I plan on backing out of my driveway tomorrow morning at about seven o'clock with the two back seats taken out and replaced by three large empty boxes, one of which is the one my new electric lawn mower came in. (Thought you were done hearing about my lawn mower, eh?) And I should have plenty of food for the ride. (Shocker!)

My odyssey will start out with a ten hour drive on Saturday to meet up with an old friend who is now living in Rochester, New York. Once there I'll crack open a non-alcoholic beer (or two) and catch up with him and his wife. Sunday morning it's off to Hanover, New Hampshire with possible stops in between at Saratoga Springs, New York and/or Woodstock, Vermont. Gotta check out the local scene. (Actually, I'll have some time to kill.) After a quick dinner with my son and an insider's tour of the campus, it's back in the car for the return trip. We'll try to get a few hours in on Sunday night and then, in the immortal words of Dean Moriarty, we'll be "Ballin' the Jack" all the way back on Monday.

Sound like fun? Hey, the name of this blog isn't Cool Young Biracial Dude From California, No Less. (I just learned how to use the bold type feature today; I won't abuse it.)

I'll try to make the recap more interesting.

In health care reform...

...I'd love to see a public option to keep the private insurance companies honest, but I'm not holding my breath. I wonder if it isn't just a bargaining chip that Obama and the Democrats are prepared to give up on to get what they want. I'm beginning to think that health care reform is going to involve keeping the private insurers but treating them more like utilities. Everyone will be required to have insurance, rates and practices will be more strictly regulated, and excessive profits will be reigned in. It may not work as well as a single-payer system but it's probably the best we can hope for right now.

Why shouldn't the private insurers be treated like utilities? They take about 30 cents out of every health care dollar spent while Medicare only takes about 10. And what value do they provide for this? They get to cherry-pick their customers and leave the higher-risk patients for the government (translation: you and me) to cover. What a deal! That's like me betting on all the favorites in the NFL each week while you take all the underdogs--and I get odds! No wonder that business is a cash cow.

So why shouldn't health care be treated like a utility? Can you imagine if 47 million Americans were without heat, water, or electricity? Or access to public education or police and fire protection? That would be an outrage. It would be as if the U. S. was a developing country. I can just imagine how The Wall Street Journal would spin that: "You don't want the government to control..."

Obama's speech in Cairo yesterday...

...was outstanding for so many reasons. If nothing else, the image of an African-American president with the middle name "Hussein," who spent part of his upbringing in a Muslim country, who's father came from a Muslim background in Kenya, who's married to a woman who is the descendant of slaves, speaking to the Muslim world from an Arab capital, was truly historic. He also tried to

"...speak the truth as best I can..." and said,

"...I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly to each other the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors."


And yet (you knew there had to be an "and yet"), there was one truth that he and everyone else seems to be unable to face up to (at least in public). And that is that Iran is going to get nuclear weapons, there's nothing that we or anyone else can do about it, and furthermore, it's unrealistic to think otherwise.

Put yourself in Iran's place for a minute. First of all, they live in a dangerous neighborhood. America invaded and has troops in the two countries immediately to the east and west. India, Pakistan, Russia, and Israel all have nuclear weapons, and Turkey is probably not too far behind. How could they not want nuclear weapons? And what's more, how could we prevent them from getting them? From everything I've read it would be extremely difficult to take out all the sites, not to mention the collateral damage to civilians and the opinion in the Arab street.

Why not just admit the truth? Just as we couldn't prevent the Soviets or the Chinese from getting nuclear weapons during the Cold War, we probably can't prevent the Iranians from getting them now. And just as we learned to live with the Soviets and the Chinese having nuclear weapons, we can probably survive having Iran as a nuclear power. Who knows? Maybe it will make them a more responsible actor on the world stage, not less.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A recent CNN poll...

...had three Republicans in a virtual tie for the 2012 nomination. (It's never too early for political junkies to start thinking about this stuff.) The survey had Mike Huckabee with 22%, and Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin tied at 21%.

I'll bet that none of them comes close.

Romney is great at fund-raising but that's about it. Considering how much money he raised last time around, he ran one of the worst presidential campaigns in recent memory. Given all his pandering and flip-flops, it's hard to know where he stands on anything. He had a wide open field in 2008 and failed miserably. Write him off.

If Huckabee and Palin both run in 2012 they are sure to divide the base. Even if one of them were to drop out and allow the other a clear path to the nomination, I don't think the party is in the mood for a landslide defeat on the order of Goldwater or McGovern. And I just don't see how either one of them could poll over 50% of the general electorate.

So who does that leave? Plenty of people that I think are better bets: Mark Sanford, Bobby Jindal, Jon Huntsman, Mitch Daniels, and yes, even Newt Gingrich and--gulp!--Jeb Bush. I've heard other names mentioned and it wouldn't surprise me if the eventual nominee isn't even on the radar screen yet. (How many people were touting Obama in 2005?) But the one thing that these individuals have in common is gravitas. And whoever runs against Obama is going to have to have plenty of intellectual heft to make a credible showing in 2012.

The employment picture may be grim...

...but Bollywood Salon is hiring! Its sign now says SALON HELP WANTED. So if you have any experience with eyebrow threading, or if you just want to perfect your arm-waxing technique, this could be a great opportunity.

I think future historians will look back on...

...Dick Cheney and his Reign of Torture much as people today look back at Richard Nixon's and Joe McCarthy's Red Scare of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Obama, like Eisenhower before him, could be the antidote to this ugly chapter in American history.

I am watching Obama's speech...

...in Cairo and, as usual, he is knocking it out of the park. He is without a doubt the best speaker I have ever heard.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Everyone's talking about GM...

...and I'm sure volumes will be written on the subject. Although I know next to nothing about the auto industry, ignorance has never prevented me from having an opinion before. And one of the things that struck me was that as recently as the early 1960s, GM had a 52% share of the domestic market. The question I would ask is, how realistic is it to think that GM or anyone else could maintain that kind of dominance indefinitely? Isn't it almost inevitable that competitors would chip away at that? Especially something as lucrative as the U. S. auto market?

Yesterday it was announced that GM and Citi would be replaced in the Dow Jones Industrial Average by Cisco Systems and Travelers. Only GE survives from the original Dow Dozen compiled back in 1896. Maybe that's what people should be talking about.

Monday, June 1, 2009

I was thinking over the weekend...

...about my own personal political evolution from Libertarian to Whatever-it-is-I-am-Now (I spent a lot of time alone in the car). I tried to determine the exact point at which I first began to have doubts about my small government, free-market philosophy, but evolution is a murky thing. I think I was still completely on board as recently as 1994 and the Contract With America. When Newt Gingrich & Company shut down the Federal government in 1995, I felt like our time had finally arrived. The Revolution was imminent! But the maneuver proved to be hugely unpopular and backfired. Gingrich never really regained his footing and the Movement was fatally wounded. In hindsight, I think that was the beginning of the end for the Reagan Years. The Bush administration was just the Gotterdammerung. I also think it was at about this time that I realized on some level, maybe from reading David Stockman's book, The Triumph of Politics, that Americans want a certain amount of government in their lives and it's unrealistic to think otherwise. Stockman's book was published in 1986 and, whatever else you may think of him, he realized that "starving the beast" was a fallacy; America was incapable or just unwilling to cut spending. His conclusion was that people should at least pay for their services with taxes. It took twenty more years, but Americans (including many Republicans) decided that they want to keep Social Security and Medicare. After all, how many Republicans would really like to see their elderly parents show up at their front door with nowhere else to go?

Stephen Jay Gould, the famous evolutionary biologist, said that people are naturally uncomfortable with evolution. It's messy; they want to know when things began. Thus the whole myth of how Abner Doubleday invented baseball. Gould wrote a great piece once on how baseball didn't just begin one day, but actually evolved from English games such as cricket.

And so do we as people also evolve, in our thinking and otherwise. I was still rereading Ayn Rand well into the 1990s and voted Libertarian up until 2006, although by 2004 I was rooting for John Kerry after rooting for Bush in 2000. In 2008 I voted for Obama, the first time I voted for a Democrat since 1987, when I voted for Harold Washington for mayor of Chicago. After the disastrous Bush years and the economic crisis of 2008, I'm rethinking a lot of my views on the proper role for government. I guess evolution is an ongoing process.

Timothy Geithner's trip to China...

...makes me think we could be at the dawn of a new era of Pax Sino-Americana. The Chinese seem most interested in dragging their populace up into the middle class and unrest is, as a mobster would say, "bad for bissness." So it wouldn't surprise me to see the Chinese do some serious leaning on the Koreans and Iranians and others to knock off all the mischief and get with the program. If the U. S. and China can get together on this, they could pretty much rule the world.