Friday, July 31, 2009

Awesome lunch today...

...grilled chicken breast with fig spread and melted provolone cheese served on whole grain bread. Very heady play!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Kevin from Flossmoor writes in...

...Hey, where'd ya go? Kind of slackin' lately, wouldn't ya say?

Well he's right; I have slowed down a bit. I'm even getting burned out on the health care debate. We're well into the legislative process now, which as they say is like sausage-making. (I'm tempted to look away. Just get it done and wake me when it's over.) In other news, the economy and the financial markets seem to be stabilizing (for now), I've ranted enough about religion, and we're still a month away from the high school football season. I've tried some humor pieces but only with varying success. (You know your tongue-in-cheek posts aren't working when people comment on them as though they were serious.)

I have been getting a little depressed about the right wing lately: the birthers, the whole Sarah Palin phenomenon, Glenn Beck's recent rant about Obama as a racist (huh?), and how the GOP has replaced reasoned discussion with fear-mongering. First it was the Bush-Cheney crowd scaring us about terrorists, Muslims, WMD, and all manner of bogeymen at home and abroad. Now the Republicans are spreading fear about health care reform: "It's a government takeover of the health care system!"; "It's socialized medicine!"; "You don't want a government bureaucrat to come between you and your doctor!" Blah, blah, blah. Have you heard the latest? Chris Matthews had a segment on Hardball last night about their new tactic of telling seniors that the government is going to encourage them to die rather than receive medical care. What?!?

Has this nation lost its #$*%! mind? I can't remember a time when America was so polarized. I wonder if it was this bad during the Red Scare years of the late 1940s and early '50s or the Vietnam War years of the late '60s and early '70s. I worry that it could get worse if the economy doesn't turn around soon. It's a little scary.

Monday, July 27, 2009

I just watched Sarah Palin's...

...farewell speech on YouTube:

I'm left with these impressions: She is really a character; I don't care for the way she uses "the troops"; she's angry; she is quite taken with herself; I still can't tell from listening to her why she stepped down as governor; and I can't tell if she's dangerous or not.

This is the time of year...

...when all of my neighbors seem to get their driveways seal-coated. In the 17 years that I've lived here I think I've only had that done once and my driveway looks just fine. Is it really necessary or does it just look good?

This has been the deadliest month...

...for Western troops in Afghanistan. 31 American combat troops have died so far in July. Did anyone think back in 2002 that the worst month in the war would come seven years later? When and how does this thing end?

This has also been the deadliest month...

...for British World War I veterans in a long time. Harry Patch (which is also how you could describe what's left on the top of my head) died Saturday at the age of 111. The only other living Briton from the war, Henry Allingham, died last week at 113. Patch survived the Battle of Passchendaele in May, 1917, in which nearly half a million Allied soldiers were killed. I wonder if as an 18-year-old suddenly thrust into such a bloody battle, Patch ever thought to himself, "Not only will I get out of this alive, but I bet I'll live another 92 years!"

If you still have doubts about... care reform, you should take a look at this clip of Denis Cortese, President and CEO of the Mayo Clinic, on Charlie Rose:

He explains, very simply, that without reform Medicare will bankrupt the country by 2015 or 2017 (you can fast forward to about 21:00 into the conversation). In other words, the choice between reform and the status quo is a false one, because the looming Medicare crisis will make our current troubles look like a day at the beach.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Is anyone else besides me...

...tired of the term "teachable moment?"

Chanel makes Saks look like...

...pikers today with their ad in the New York Times for a "Quilted calfskin tote, $2,400," which looks oddly like a purse to me. Not to be outdone, however, SFA has an ad on the opposite page for Yves Saint Laurent. The copy says "This platform suede pump ($795) is the most popular shoe from the iconic fashion house." The bold type is in the ad; I didn't add it. If this is the most popular shoe, does that mean it's for the hoi polloi? Is this what the rich give to the "help" on Boxing Day? If so, what do they buy for themselves?

I've already mentioned...

...that LBJ passed Medicare in 1965 when he had 68 Democrats in the Senate. I just read that FDR passed Social Security in 1935 when the Senate contained 75 Democrats. And he got 16 of the 25 Republicans in the Senate and 81 of the 102 Republicans in the House to vote with him! Puts Obama's task in perspective.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Props to Mark Buehrle...

...for his perfect game this week, only the eighteenth in the history of Major League Baseball. When you consider that at least 16 teams have started at least 154 pitchers for at least a hundred years, that's almost 250,000 starting pitchers, conservatively. (I'm too lazy to do the precise math.) That's a heck of an accomplishment! Even a die-hard Cubs fan like me has to face the South Side and tip his cap.

I like modern art...

...and after taking a class in it last summer, I consider myself an expert. (I'm an expert on lots of things; just ask me.) But much of it still leaves me scratching my head. One of the more perplexing artists I encountered last summer was Jeff Koons, who is the subject of this piece today in the Daily Beast:

Take a look at it and tell me why some of his work is worth millions of dollars. Like I said, I don't get it. And much of his more "idiosyncratic" work, shall we say, was left out of this gallery. Like the photographs he took of his wife, for instance, who was an ex-porn star. If that isn't pornography, then I don't know what is.

Our instructor accompanied us to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago to view many of the works in this article. The first piece we came to was a Plexiglas box with four vacuum cleaners stacked inside and illuminated by fluorescent lighting, which sold for almost $12 million. (How much can a vacuum cleaner cost, a couple hundred bucks? Now that's what I call value added!) It went downhill from there. The next piece consisted of a glass tank which contained three basketballs floating in water. At one point we considered the sculpture, Woman in Tub, which is included in the Daily Beast article. After gazing at it for a few seconds I had to ask, "Why did he cut her head off?" This elicited a few giggles from my more sophisticated classmates. (What a ma-roon!)

"I don't know," he replied. "What do you think?"

How the heck should I know? I'm just a middle-aged jamoke from the suburbs. You're the gay PhD candidate. What am I paying you four hundred dollars for?

"He ran out of porcelain?" (More laughter.)

"Let's move on."

My point here isn't that Koons didn't create artwork of value. He undoubtedly did, even if a Philistine like me can't see it. But could it really be worth millions? Or does the emperor, like Jeff Koons's wife, have no clothes.

Saks Fifth Avenue...

...has an ad in the New York Times today for what I assume is a purse. I assume that because it doesn't actually say what it is. And it looks like a purse to me. The copy above the picture says:

The lambskin Heloise hobo ($995) features hand-twisted leather handles (their emphasis) and is treated to give it a shiny, vintage look.

Imagine, a thousand bucks for a bag to carry your lipstick, comb, and Chiclets.

Friday, July 24, 2009

If the Glenview Police came to my door...

...and told me that there had been a report of a break-in, I would have calmly explained to them what had happened. My front door can be sticky and I needed the cab driver (who also just happened to be a Shanty Irishman) to help me force it open. If they asked to see some identification, I would have gladly shown them my driver's license or even my passport, which would be handy since I would have just gotten back from China. I would have then offered to go with them next door to have one of my neighbors identify me personally. Heck, I would have even offered to buy tickets to the next Policeman's Ball.

"Thank you, Mr. Tracy, but that won't be necessary. Besides, those only exist in Turner Classic Movies."


At that point, they would have thanked me for my cooperation and I would have thanked them for their quick response. End of story.

"Break it up...keep moving...there's nothin' to see here..."

I've actually dealt with the Glenview Police on a few occasions and have been very impressed with their professionalism. I can't believe it wouldn't have ended well.

Once again, the Lewin Group... funded by United Health Care. Here's a good piece on the subject:

My two nominations for... article of the day so far:

Two recent developments...

...are seen as negatives for the president. The first is that Congress will not meet the August recess deadline for health care reform legislation. The second is this strange rumor being spread by some in the far right that Obama was somehow not born in Hawaii and therefore not an American citizen. (Never mind that if he was actually born in Kenya, as these people maintain, he would still be an American citizen by virtue of his mother's American citizenship.) I think these two unrelated items might actually end up helping the president.

The conventional wisdom is that the delay in health care legislation benefits the opponents of reform. Slowing it down, the argument goes, gives opponents more time to work on legislators and sow further doubts among the public. Maybe so. But I think it gives Obama more time to close the deal. Polls have shown that the public wants reform but is getting cold feet as certain questions, such as costs, have yet to be adequately answered. As these issues get worked out over the next two or three months in Congress and Obama has more time to sell the resulting legislation to the American people, he should be able to win back public opinion and get a bill passed sometime this fall.

As far as the birthers, as they have come to be called, this could also end up working in Obama's favor. (If you're not familiar with this issue, watch this video. Just make sure you're sitting down.)

In the near term it may seem like an annoying distraction, but as time goes on these elements could be associated more and more with the president's opponents and the Republican Party in particular. Hard to believe, but the GOP's image could get even worse. This could only work to Obama's advantage.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

To give you some perspective... took LBJ eighteen months to pass Medicare with 68 Democratic senators.

Obama should get some health care reform passed by the end of the year with only 60 Democratic senators. They may not get all they want but it will be better than what we have now.

Enough about health care...

...for a minute. I'd like to say one last word about Frank McCourt.

The memoir is probably my favorite literary genre. And some of the best memoirs I've read were written by unknown people. In fact, usually the more unknown the author, the better. Conversely, the more famous the author, the less likely I am to even read it. Someone like Bill or Hillary Clinton, for example, are just writing their memoirs to spin the truth in an effort to shape their legacy (and make money). Not interested.

When Frank McCourt came out with Angela's Ashes, it was an immediate sensation. This alone made me suspicious and I was reluctant to read it. As a curmudgeon, I hate following the crowd. Eventually I broke down, however, and I'm glad I did. (I think someone gave it to me as a present. "Read this, you old Mick; you'll enjoy it.") And I did--thoroughly. While many people thought it was terribly depressing, I found it to be positively inspiring. Life threw everything at this guy except the kitchen sink and he still survived. What a great story. And so well-written. (I could also hear a lot of my relatives in the dialogue.)

Shortly after reading AA, I met a priest from Limerick named Paddy Tyrrell. In an effort to ingratiate myself with him, I asked him how many times he'd read the book. His cheerful demeanor changed abruptly and he gave me an icy stare. "Once," he practically spat out. (Sorry I asked.) Apparently more than a few people in Limerick (and the rest of Ireland for that matter) were somewhat less than thrilled with their portrayal in the book. Father Paddy had other reasons. He explained that many of the stories in AA were not only embellished but in some cases outright fiction. For example, take the time McCourt and a friend climbed up a ladder to look through the bedroom window of his friend's sister's as she was getting undressed. Father Paddy claimed to have met the friend once and he told him there was only one problem with the story: he didn't have a sister. (I'll be darned.)

It was with this in mind that I approached 'Tis and Teacher Man. I have to admit that some of the stories in these volumes were hard even for me to believe. But they were so good and so well-written!

And then I noticed this article in the Daily Beast by Lee Siegel, "Did Frank McCourt Invent James Frey?"

Frey, you may remember, wrote a memoir called A Million Little Pieces. He got caught stretching the truth and had to go on Oprah and very publicly apologize for lying. I never got around to reading his book, but I remember thinking if he got in trouble for lying maybe McCourt was vulnerable on the same charge. But then I thought, who cares if they stretched the truth a little as long as the stories and writing were good? These aren't autobiographies, which in my mind are factual accounts of a person's life. They're memoirs, which are by my definition more impressionistic. If you still don't like that explanation, fine; call them first-person novels. Call them whatever you want. Isn't it enough that they're engaging and well-written? I don't care how factual they are.

The point of all this is that when I read I want to be entertained. If not, I'd read a text book or something clearly labeled "non-fiction." And for sheer entertainment, Frank McCourt was a great writer.

Speaking of bad names...'s one for a whole people: the Kurds. It just doesn't roll off the tongue well. It sounds too much like the "Turds," which is not a good mental image, or it just makes me think of cottage cheese. Shouldn't a name be more dignified than that? I wonder if it would be too late to change. I'd recommend at least two syllables.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I hate to give John McCain credit...

...but he was right about at least one thing during the 2008 campaign, and that is the need to change the tax exemption for employer-provided health care benefits. Obama is being stubborn, and wrong, in his refusal to go along with the idea.

Health care reform looks like it's going to cost about $1 trillion over the next decade. Taxing employer-provided health care benefits could yield as much as $250 billion a year, depending on how it's structured. Since unions negotiated generous health care packages in recent years in lieu of pay raises, and because the tax would include the middle class as well as the rich, Obama is reluctant to consider the idea. But math is math, and the foregone revenue could go a long way to financing reform.

It's also fairer. When I was working for large banks I had gold-plated health insurance. I knew it was tax-free but didn't think about it too much. But at one point I reflected on the irony that the truly high earners at these firms were also getting Cadillac health insurance for free while one out of every six Americans didn't have any. That didn't seem right to me then and it doesn't seem right to me now. Employees should at least pay taxes on this benefit since it's really a form of compensation.

Another reason Obama is loathe to accept the idea is that he criticized McCain for supporting it during the campaign. But Obama also rejected Hillary's call for mandatory coverage and has since reversed himself on that. Now that it's getting close to the August recess, everyone may have to give a little to meet Obama's deadline. And that includes the president.

Monday, July 20, 2009

You gotta love...

...Tom Watson, especially if you're an old geezer like me. Just a few months shy of his 60th birthday and he almost wins the British Open. But it has to be tough to go head-to-head against an opponent who's name is pronounced "sink."

In case you missed it...

...Henry Allingham, Britain's oldest man, died on Saturday at the age of 113. He was one of the U. K.'s last three surviving veterans of World War I. Allingham saw combat on land, in the air, and at sea in a war that claimed almost a million British lives. When World War II broke out he was judged to be too old at age 43 to serve in combat but was "assigned to a project that sought to neutralize German magnetic mines."

Let's see. Survived three forms of combat in two world wars and lived to be 113. I think I'd leave that coffin unlocked for at least a day or so just to be on the safe side.

I can't help myself...

...but I'll try to move on after today. Page A3 of the New York Times has an ad from Saks (who else?) for high-top canvas sneakers (like the old Converse All-Stars) made by Burberry for only $275.

Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin...

...was on CNBC this morning talking about, among other things, health care reform. He seems like a very reasonable, intelligent man and is probably the future of the Republican Party. At one point he outlined his own plan for health care reform, which was not surprisingly free market-oriented. And it was actually a good, workable plan. The only problem is that it takes a Democratic plan to get the Republicans to put forth a plan of their own. And if the Republicans ever retook Congress you can be sure that Ryan's plan would never be heard from again. And that is because at the end of the day, the Republicans don't want health care reform. They are most interested in protecting the status quo. No less than John McCain himself once said that health care reform will never happen as long as the Republican Party is owned by the private insurance companies.

Frank McCourt, 1930-2009...

...R. I. P.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The people on the Upper East Side...

...of Manhattan must have so much money that they look for things to spend it on. I have to think that's who buys the stuff that's advertised on pages A2 and A3 of the New York Times. Today there's an ad for Saks Fifth Avenue that says:

Since 1897, luggage handmade (does that really matter?) from lightweight Vulcan fiber (whatever that is; sounds like something out of Star Trek) has traveled with British royalty and luxury-seekers worldwide. The tradition continues with these orange (orange?) suitcases ($875 to $2135).

Below is a picture of four suitcases that look like something out of a Hope and Crosby movie. (The only things missing are those stickers from faraway places.) Do people on Park Avenue in New York wake up on Saturdays, pour a cup of coffee, open up the newspaper, see that ad, and think that that's what's missing from their lives? Don't they already own suitcases? So what do they do, jump in a cab and rush down to Saks to buy this luggage? I guess that's silly. They send someone down to Saks to buy it for them. Or maybe they just go online and order it themselves (it is 2009, after all). Then what? Do they throw their old luggage away? Do they give it away? There's only so much room in even the nicest pre-War buildings in Manhattan.

So the luggage finally arrives and then what, look for the next crazy thing in the NYT to buy? I guess Fitzgerald was right; the rich really are different from you and me.

There's nothing like...

...a Reuben sandwich on dark rye with fries and an iced tea for lunch outside on a beautiful Friday afternoon in the summer at Hackney's on Harms with lively conversation. You can't beat it.

Before I bite into a piece of fruit... an apple or a peach, I always wash it at the kitchen sink. By washing it, I mean I rinse it under cold water for about two or three seconds and dry it with a paper towel. I've read that you're supposed to wash fruits and vegetables before eating them but I've often wondered, does it do any good? Does that simple ritual really wash away some dangerous chemical or protect me from some dreaded bacteria, like E-coli? And if so, how bad can that thing be if it can be washed away so easily? Can't my fifty-year old body fight off something that can be rinsed off in a few seconds with tap water? But maybe I'm not doing it right. Recently at the grocery store I saw a brush for "washing fruits and vegetables" and even a liquid soap you can use with it. Is everyone else in America but me standing at their sinks for twenty minutes or so furiously scrubbing their apples? What if you drop one on the floor? Do you have to start the process all over again? If so, you may want to reconsider what you're doing because I don't think I've ever gotten food poisoning with my method. Heck, I may even stop washing fruits and veggies altogether.

There's a realtor in our town...

...named Judy Huske. I see her name on the For Sale signs all the time. I don't know the woman, but I always assumed her last name was pronounced "Husky." When I was a kid that was a euphemism for "overweight" or just plain "fat." As in "husky jeans," as if the kid was really muscular. Or, "Your son is really husky!" The mom or dad was supposed to smile at that, but was never quite sure.

At any rate, it's an unfortunate name for a woman, unless of course it's pronounced "Husk." But even then she must have to constantly correct people. Kind of like the old Saturday Night Live skit, "No, it's pronounced Azz-Weep-A." I've often wondered if it's her married name. Imagine growing up with a name like Judy Smith or even Judy Kowalski. Then you go and meet a guy named Joe Huske or Bob Huske and he turns out to be the man of your dreams. Next thing you know you fall hopelessly in love with him, get married, and live out your life in some suburb with a name like Judy Huske. After staying home with the kids for a few years you get restless and go into residential real estate. And then you have to make cold calls with a name like Judy Huske. "Hello, this is Judy Huske." "Judy Huske speaking." "Yes, this is Judy Huske; what can I do for you?" And all people on the other end of the phone can think of is how big you must be. Let's face it, a name like "Judy Huske" doesn't exactly conjure up images of Gisele Bundchen. Maybe she's of average weight. I don't know; I've never seen her. But what if she isn't? What if she's huge? And what if when she meets a couple for the first time, one of them turns to the other and says, "See, I told you so."

Actually, I guess it could be worse. Huske could be her maiden name and she chooses to use it professionally. Maybe the Huske family was a prominent one in the town in which she grew up. I've seen that before. I once heard of someone who was described to me as a "Ga-loon." I started to say I was sorry to hear that until it was explained to me that Galun was a prestigious family name in that area. Oh. So maybe her married name is actually Judy Smith or Judy Kowalski and she prefers to be called Judy Huske, even with the bad pronunciation. "No, it's Judy Husky." Whatever you say, lady.