Friday, April 30, 2010

Bruce Bartlett thinks the United States...

...should enact a value-added tax (VAT) as soon as possible. But he also acknowledges that it may take ten years before it's politically feasible:

Personally, I think it's stupid to put up with a decade of unnecessary pain and suffering before we finally bite the bullet and do what has to be done to stabilize our nation's public finances. But I don't see any other path that will get us there. The right-wing, tea party fantasy that we can solve our fiscal problems only by cutting spending has to be proven by experience to be a failure before rational people can finally put real solutions like a VAT on the table without being denounced by Larry Kudlow and the Wall Street Journal editorial page for trying to Europeanize the American economy and turn every American into a tax-slave.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The most important Senate race this year...

...may be in Kentucky, where Republican candidate Rand Paul is threatening to blow a hole right through the Grand O' Party. Currently leading in the polls, Paul is the son of 2008 presidential candidate Ron Paul and a darling of the tea party movement (sort of). I say "sort of" because, as a libertarian, not all of his views line up perfectly with those in the base.

As a libertarian, Paul believes in limited government, less spending and lower taxes. So far, so good. He's earned the endorsements of Sarah Palin, Jim Bunning, Dick Armey, and Steve Forbes.

But because he is a libertarian, Paul also believes that social issues such as gay marriage, abortion and marijuana are best decided at the state level. His opponent, Trey Grayson, has started a Web site called "Rand Paul: Strange Ideas."

And because Paul is a libertarian, he also believes in a less active role for the American military abroad and has thus gained the enmity of such neocons as Dick Cheney, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Bill Kristol. (Kristol, as you may remember, is one of the intellectuals credited with "discovering" Sarah Palin. This could get messy.)

According to Cheney:

"I'm a lifelong conservative, and I can tell the real thing when I see it. I have looked at the records of both candidates in the race, and it is clear to me that Trey Grayson is right on the issues that matter — both on fiscal responsibility and on national security," Cheney said in a statement released this morning.

Cheney's endorsement centered on national security, which was also the topic of Grayson's recent advertisement against Paul.

"The challenges posed by radical Islam and Al Qaeda are real and will be an on-going threat to our domestic security for years to come. We need Senators who truly understand this and who will work to strengthen our commitment to a strong national defense and to whom this is not just a political game," Cheney said.

And from Giuliani:

"Trey Grayson is the candidate in this race who will make the right decisions necessary to keep America safe and prevent more attacks on our homeland. He is not part of the 'blame America first' crowd that wants to bestow the rights of U.S. citizens on terrorists and point fingers at America for somehow causing 9/11," Giuliani said.

He continued, "Kentucky needs a Senator who understands the threat posed by our enemies abroad. I witnessed firsthand the destruction and loss of life our enemies can cause. Like me, Trey Grayson knows we must stay on offense against terrorism, and he supports using all the essential tools we have in that fight, including monitoring the conversations and activities of suspected foreign terrorists as allowed by the Patriot Act. He is a fresh face that Republicans can trust to best represent their values - both on national security and fiscal responsibility - in Washington. Kentuckians could not elect a better Senator than Trey Grayson."

But as it stands now, Rand Paul is expected to be the next Republican Senator from Kentucky (and, some say, a possible presidential candidate in 2016). So, if nothing else, say goodbye to that unified "Party of No" you've become so accustomed to. Henceforth, the GOP will be divided into factions, and that can't be good for a party that's already in the minority.

Charlie Crist is expected to announce today...

...that he is abandoning his quest for the Republican nomination for the U. S. Senate from Florida. Instead, Crist will run in the fall as an independent against GOP (and tea party favorite) Marco Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meek.

Crist was getting crushed in the polls by Rubio but has shown to be competitive in a three-way race. If elected, Crist would be the third independent in the U. S. Senate. (Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont are the other two.)

Could this be the beginning of a trend? After all, it's hard to see many Republicans who are acceptable to the base attracting over 50% in a general election; they're just too extreme. Maybe this is the solution to the partisan battles that have plagued Washington. If five or ten (or more) independents were in the Senate and worked with both parties to pass legislation, more might get accomplished.

Let's put aside health care reform,...

...politics, and even oddball names for a minute. I'd like to recommend a book I've been reading lately. It's called Tom and Jack: The Intertwined Lives of Thomas Hart Benton and Jackson Pollock. I found it in the "new non-fiction" section of my library and so far it passes that first, most crucial test: it's readable.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jeb Bush may be laying the groundwork...

...for a presidential run in 2016. The Republicans in 2012 will be constrained to nominate someone acceptable to the base. Whoever that is (Palin, Huckabee, Rick Perry?) should go down in flames, a la Barry Goldwater. Only then can the GOP begin its move to the responsible center.

With Obama gone in 2016 and the public's memory of W. fading, Jeb Bush may be able to win the Republican nomination and make a credible run for the White House.

I guess I don't follow football... closely as I thought. The Dallas Cowboys just signed a tight end named Scott Sicko?

Melvyn Zerman died on April 19... the age of 79. Now Melvyn is a bad name under the best of circumstances. But really, if your last name is Zerman, couldn't you think of a better first name for your kid than Melvyn? Do you want him to get beat up in the schoolyard? Do you want girls to laugh at him? Come on.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Three of the top four picks... the NFL draft were from Oklahoma (and four altogether in the first round). Does this mean Bob Stoops is a great recruiter but only a so-so coach?

Larry Burton writes:

Sooner fans will point to the loss of Sam Bradford and say that's the reason for the disappointing season, but with all this talent, does that really explain an 8-5 season and not even finishing in the top 25?

Does anybody seriously think that Alabama would have lost five games had they lost Greg McElroy, who was, by the way, a first-year starter?

And what about the Rose Bowl? Texas played pretty well against Alabama without Colt McCoy.

Is this why Stoops didn't want the Notre Dame job?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Alexi Giannoulias is the Democratic...

...nominee for the U. S. Senate from Illinois. He's in a tight race with my Congressman, Rep. Mark Kirk. While Kirk is often described as a moderate Republican, his record betrays him as a Bush lackey and a member-in-good-standing of the Party of No. He'd be a disaster for Illinois.

The problem with Giannoulias is that while Kirk at least looks the part of a U. S. senator, "Lexi" barely looks old enough to vote. And after the failure of his family's bank on Friday, Giannoulias faces an even steeper uphill struggle.

I read a rumor recently that Forrest Claypool may be drafted by the Democrats in a last-ditch effort to retain President Obama's old seat. Might be just the ticket.

After four years without having...

...a player selected in the NFL draft, three Northwestern Wildcats were picked this year, including defensive end Corey Wootton by the Chicago Bears and quarterback Mike Kafka by the Philadelphia Eagles. Kafka is a 2005 graduate of St. Rita in Chicago.

Neel Kashkari, from PIMCO,...

...was on CNBC this morning. If you remember, he was tasked by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to administer the $700 billion U.S. Government Troubled Asset Relief Program. Kashkari reflected today on how the first TARP bill was only three pages long. That was considered too short and was later revised.

When the Republicans were criticizing the recent health care bill for being too long at 2,700 pages, I often wondered, what exactly would be the optimal length of a bill? (I could write one in three words: Medicare For All. But that, like all the other possibilities in the universe, could never get passed.)

But at least now we know that if the TARP bill was too short and the health care bill was too long, then future bills should fall somewhere between 3 and 2,700 pages long.

Nice to have that settled.

British writer Alan Sillitoe...

...died at the age of 82. His obituary says:

...[he] drew attention to the seething alienation of the postwar working class in England...

...[he] grew up desperately poor...and...spent much of it plumbing the privations of his childhood for material.

...critics group[ed] him with the so-called angry young men...

It doesn't say, but if his name was pronounced "Silly-toe," it's hard to think of him as angry, isn't it?

From an article about Goldman... the Times yesterday:

Goldman on Saturday denied it made a significant profit on mortgage-related products in 2007 and 2008. It said the subcommittee had “cherry-picked” e-mail messages from the nearly 20 million pages of documents it provided. This sets up a showdown between the Senate subcommittee and Goldman, which has aggressively defended itself since theSecurities and Exchange Commission filed a security fraud complaint against it nine days ago. On Tuesday, seven current and former Goldman employees, including Mr. Blankfein, are expected to testify at a Congressional hearing. (My emphasis.)

20 million pages of documents? That sounds like a lot.

Remember when the Republicans were complaining about a 2,700 page health care bill? That was nothing!

(By the way, I heard someone on TV say that a 2,700 page bill is really not that big of a deal. You have ten staffers read 270 pages each. Happens all the time.)

But 20 million pages would mean that ten staffers would have to read two million each. And then, according to Goldman, "cherry-pick" the most incriminating e-mails. How would that work?

Well, it's not hard to picture Lloyd Blankfein and the rest of the Goldman board, smoking cigars and laughing:

"They want e-mails? We'll give 'em e-mails! Send 'em everything we've got..."

Cut to the SEC:

"Hey, we got those e-mails from Goldman. There are three semis downstairs filled with boxes of paper. Hope you guys didn't have any plans for the weekend."

And then what? Now picture a group of staffers sitting around a table with their collars open, ties down and a bunch of those white containers of half-eaten Chinese food.

"Here's an incriminating one we can use. It's on page 14,583,247."

"Yeah, I saw that one. We can't use it. Keep cherry-picking."

And you thought you had a hard job.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats... Britain, is shaking up what began as a very boring election for Prime Minister. I've been scouring the Internet for information on what exactly Clegg and the Lib Dems (as they are affectionately known in Britain) actually stand for. As best I can tell, besides more integration in Europe and immigration reform, the Lib Dems stand for the British equivalent of "Mom, the Flag, and Apple Pie," i. e., reduced budget deficits, fairer taxes, better schools, and blah, blah, blah.

While Clegg has temporarily eclipsed Tory leader David Cameron as the flavor du jour, don't be too surprised if the Brits come home on May 6 to the hopelessly boring Gordon Brown of Labor.

Why? Just check out these soundbites:

"If it is all about style and PR, count me out. If it is about the big decisions, if it is about delivering a better future for this country – I am your man."

"I'm afraid David is anti-European, Nick is anti-American and both are out of touch with reality. These two guys remind me of my two boys at bath time – squabbling."

And my personal favorite,

"David, you're a risk to the economy. Nick, you're a risk to our security."

I don't care what Intrade says. I'm betting on Brown.

Friday, April 23, 2010

In an article in the Times with the title...

..."New Lawsuit Shows Letters to Vatican on Sexual Abuse Earlier Than Previously Thought," it says:

One victim of the priest wrote two letters to the Vatican’s secretary of state in 1995 asking Pope John Paul IIhimself to read his anguished letters and “excommunicate” the priest, the Rev. Lawrence Murphy.

Father Murphy, who died in 1998, admitted to a psychologist hired by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee that he had molested 34 children when he worked at St. John’s School for the Deaf in St. Francis, Wis., from 1952 to 1974. Church officials concluded that there might have been as many as 200 victims.

The Vatican had previously said that the first notice it had about Father Murphy was when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — now Pope Benedict XVI — received a letter about the case in 1996 from Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland of Milwaukee.

The letter writer, whose name was excised, is now the unnamed plaintiff in the latest lawsuit filed by Jeffrey Anderson, a lawyer who has brought hundreds of sexual abuse cases against the Roman Catholic Church.

The victim said he never received a response.

If you were the victim of a crime, would you write a letter to the authorities?

To whom it may concern:

This letter is to inform you of a robbery that took place at my home last night. Since many valuables are missing, I would appreciate it if you could look into it at your earliest convenience.

Thank you,

Mr. So-and-so

What were these people thinking?

The Times has a piece today... its "Chicago" section on how the city is trying to distance itself from Al Capone's legacy. As someone whose great uncle found himself on the wrong end of one of Capone's henchman's guns, I actually think it's kind of cool. Whatever.

But what really caught my attention was this paragraph:

Karen Vaughan, manager of communications for the Chicago Office of Tourism, said the city was not focused so much on negating Capone’s legacy as it was on highlighting Chicago’s other draws. “Chicago has become known as a world-class city,” she said. The city’s bid to host the 2016 Olympics and Mr. Obama’s presidency, she said, “helped to give a positive association to the city around the world.”

First of all, losing a bid for the Olympics is nothing to brag about. Any city can claim that. What's more, President Obama isn't really from Chicago (nor was Al Capone, for that matter).

But what I'd really like to tell Ms. Vaughan is that if you have to tell people that your city is "world-class," then it probably isn't. Do you think anyone in New York or Washington has to convince anyone else that their city is important? (And who uses the term "world-class" anyway? No one that's world-class, that's for sure. I haven't heard that since Ross Perot back in 1992.)

So can't it just be enough to say that Chicago is a very livable big city (with world-class pizza)?

Ron Paul was on "Hardball" last night...

...and Chris Matthews pressed him to name an American president he admired. Paul couldn't think of anyone since Thomas Jefferson. Really, Mr. Paul?

And what do you suppose a modern-day Jeffersonian America would look like?

Well, for starters, there would be no Social Security, no Medicare, no Medicaid. That's obvious. But there wouldn't be any IRS or federal income tax, either. There would also be no Federal Reserve, no U. S. dollar, and no tariffs. How would the federal government raise revenue to defend the country? Beats me. Heck, there might not even be any Department of Defense to fund anyway, just state militias. And how do you suppose individuals would purchase goods and services? By barter or with local bank notes, I guess. Your parents would probably live with you and die much younger. We'd probably all die much younger.

You wouldn't have to mess with that nasty morning commute of yours, either, because there wouldn't be any interstate highways. And forget the railroads and canals while you're at it. I hope you have a green thumb, because you'd need it to grow all the food that wouldn't be transported to your local grocery store.

That fancy college degree that your son or daughter just received from Michigan State or one of the other land-grant colleges? Forget about it. They wouldn't exist. (Would any public education exist at any level?)

The good news is there probably wouldn't have been an American Civil War or any American involvement in World Wars I and II (not to mention Korea, Vietnam, etc.). The bad news is that slavery would probably still exist (and not just in the South) and German would probably be the most widely spoken language in the world.

So what exactly would America look like, if Jefferson had had his way? Probably a bunch of states that barely talked to each other. The women's suffrage movement would still be active, because Jefferson wasn't a big fan of giving women the right to vote. Blacks, of course, not only wouldn't have the right to vote, they wouldn't even be considered citizens. The United States would probably be a decent enough place for rich, white farmers, but that's about it.

It reminds me of that famous quote by Thomas Hobbes. Without government, he wrote in Leviathan, life would be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

Thanks anyway, Mr. Paul; I think I'll pass.

In regard to the NFL draft...

...last night, I saw Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh play only once last season. But not since Texas quarterback Vince Young's performance in the Longhorns' 41-38 victory over USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl have I seen a single individual so dominate a game.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A neighbor of mine has a license plate...

...that reads DFY GRV T. Can you imagine going to the trouble of getting a license plate that says, "defy gravity?" And what sort of message do you suppose they are trying to convey? Do they have wings or something?

In the last month or so, I spent a lot of time... Minnesota with my mother and the rest of my family of origin (as therapists are fond of calling it). While most of it was sad, of course, some of it was quite special. I especially cherished the time I got to spend alone with my mom. She's really a wonderful lady.

When we weren't visiting my dad in the hospital (and later the hospice), my mother took me to her hospital where she has a procedure done a few times a week. (You know you're getting old when you have His and Hers hospitals.) As I pushed her in the wheelchair, I marveled at how many people seemed to know her. It was like she was the mayor of that place or something.

"Good morning, Mrs. Tracy!"

"Hi, Nancy."

"Hello, Mrs. T."

"Ma, is there anyone in this building that you don't know?"

It was a nice hospital (as hospitals go), with a woman in the lobby who played the piano like in a department store. My mother told me that my father used to wait for her there while she was seeing the doctor. One time she came out and found the pianist sitting idly at the piano. It turned out that my father had told her to stop playing; it was keeping him awake. (You had to know my dad.)

We visited all the sights in Edina while I was there, including the spontaneously exploding house (I'm not kidding), my mother's hairdresser (where a woman crashed her car right through the wall within inches of where my mom was sitting under the hair dryer), and of course, the local DQ. (My attitude has always been: When life gives you lemons, go get a chocolate malt.)

The exploding house was chronicled in the Minneapolis StarTribune:

No one was hurt in the blast, which was heard and felt six blocks away. Insulation from the house was found as far as a mile away, Scheerer said.

Scheerer also said it appeared that the Augustsons' nine-year-old dog Grete had been blown straight into the air by the explosion. She was found with burned toes on three feet and the fur burned off beneath her chin. "She's a black Lab and looks like a chocolate Lab," Jen Augustson said.

Jen Augustson was at work at the time of the explosion. Their two kids, ages 5 and 2, weren't home, either.

Up to 60 homes in the area were evacuated. By late Tuesday, most evacuees had returned to their homes. Many, including children, had spent several hours at the nearby Edina Country Club, where clubhouse director Carl Granberg had told authorities to spread the word: Neighbors were welcome.

This last piece of information was further evidence for my mother (not that she needed any) that only in Minnesota are people actually nice to each other.

"You'd never see that in Chicago!"

"You're right, ma. We're too busy dodging bullets from the likes of Al Capone."

(In case you've never been to Minnesota, I can tell you that a bigger bunch of Kool-Aid drinkers has never existed. I don't know what it is about the place, exactly, but the people there never, and I mean never, stop telling you how great it is.)

The beauty salon story was a little curious to me on one level. While my mother has opined to me (more than once) that she has difficulty believing that airplanes wouldn't bounce off the World Trade Center on 9/11, she has no trouble at all understanding how a 91-year-old woman could drive her car right through the brick wall of a suburban office building.

But the most important place we went in Minnesota was a place my parents consider "sacred" and "holy"; I don't. On our way home from the hospital one day, my mother insisted that we "pay a little visit." Now those of you who know me know it's a place I never go anymore. I'll admit I went there when I lived with my parents, but ever since I moved out on my own I've just avoided it. I don't know what it is about it exactly; I guess I just don't feel comfortable there. Maybe it's because it just seems overdone to me. Maybe it's the way people seem to go there in order to "see and be seen." Maybe the reason I don't like it is because it just seems to always be about Money, Money, Money. And while most people are content to go but once a week, my parents are there practically every day!

I'm referring, of course, to Jerry's Foods in Edina.

At least I didn't have to push my mother in a wheelchair at Jerry's; she got around in one of those little motorized carts with the basket in front. Instead of a mayor, she reminded me this time more of the pope, riding in her own little popemobile. Like the hospital, though, she seemed to know everyone. And everyone seemed to practically want to kiss her ring. (I half-expected her, at one point, to bless some old guy by making the sign of the cross in the air.) She definitely seemed to be the most important person in the store--until we got to the fish counter.

There, behind the glass case, was The Most Intelligent-Looking Man in the state of Minnesota. (Think of Dr. Clayton Forrester, the world renowned physicist played by Gene Barry in the 1953 movie "The War of the Worlds.") Bespectacled and clad in what appeared to be a long white lab coat, the Fish Guy ruled his little world kind of like the Soup Nazi in Seinfeld. Everyone, except my mom, seemed to walk on eggshells around this guy. (He, like everyone else, seemed to love my mom.)

"Hello, Mrs. Tracy. How are you today?"

"How's the Walleye, Frank?" (This is a question you would only hear in Minnesota.)

"I just got some fresh ones in this morning." The Fish Guy then launched into his familiar yarn of how sometimes the Walleye come to the surface and sometimes they don't. Apparently they are crafty little critters. That day, however, we were in luck. (In other words, the plane from Canada arrived on time.)

The Fish Guy then strode out in front of the case like a professor about to hand out the final exams. Everyone scurried out of his way. He turned his back to the crowd that had assembled and looked over his shoulder to make sure no one was too close. For a second there, I thought he was going to say, "Stand back, everyone, I'm handling fish."

After my mother stabbed the air with her index finger a few times, the Fish Guy selected only the finest fillets for our dinner that night. Everyone else around us seemed envious of the hold my mother had over him.

We went home that night and had broiled Walleye for dinner followed by cake-and-ice cream for dessert (of course). I got to spend some quality time alone with my mother, and we talked a lot about my dad. It was a special time.

The debate on "Nature vs. Nurture"...


In recent years, researchers have posed a series of hot-button political questions to pairs of identical and fraternal twins. The first major study (PDF) of this kind, published in 2005, asked twins for their positions on issues like foreign aid, death penalty, and abortion. Responses from identical twins were more correlated than those from fraternal twins on every issue. School prayer and property taxes were singled out by the researchers as being the most strongly influenced by genetics. When responses were aggregated and reduced to either a conservative or liberal worldview, the authors concluded that genetics could explain 43 percent of someone's political outlook.

While most observers agree that identical twins are more likely to share a political identity, many have contested the notion that genetics are the cause. Studies of this kind are based on the assumption that monozygotic (identical) twins share the same genes and the same environment, while dizygotic (fraternal) twins have only the latter in common. But identical twins are not always treated the same way as dizygotic twins. They may be dressed the same way by their parents, made to sleep in the same bedroom, or given rhyming names. They're also likely to spend more time together and to be confused for each other by family and friends. At the same time, monozygotic twins aren't really genetically identical (PDF) in the first place. So their convergent worldviews might be due to environmental, and not genetic, factors.

Here's a piece...

...I wish I had written.

Michele Bachmann is standing by...

...her recent charge that the U. S. is being led by a "gangster government." At a Tea Party rally last week, for example, Bachmann said:

...the "gangster government" has instituted a "takeover of one private industry after another," again making her questionable claim that "the federal government owns or controls 51 percent of the private economy."

And in an interview with The Hill,

Bachmann cited the Obama administration’s actions on rescuing automakers as a type of gangster government.

“When government comes in and decides who the winners are, who the losers are and there’s no recourse, that’s what happened to 3,400 dealerships across the country. That’s one example of gangster government,” Bachmann said.

It's this kind of talk that has driven independents (like me) into the waiting arms of the Democratic Party. What was once the party of "amnesty, abortion and acid" has now become the party of grown-ups. The Hill piece goes on:

[Bachmann] calls herself Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) No. 1 target this November. While that claim is open to debate, she is clearly reviled by many on the left.

In the last cycle, liberals in Hollywood and New York made political donations to Bachmann's opponent, including actress Jessica Lange, film producer Jeffrey Soros and writer/director Nora Ephron.

Bachmann won her 2008 reelection race by three percentage points, attracting only 46 percent of the vote. Her district is a swing district; Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won it by 8 points in 2008.

But the fact Bachmann was elected, and then reelected, in two cycles that were dominated by Democrats could mean she will be in the House for years to come.

Discouraged? Don't be.

It reminds me of a conversation I once had with a friend of mine from the UK. He was well-versed in the sectarian animosity that was then gripping Northern Ireland. I asked him why someone in the IRA didn't take a pot shot at Ian Paisley (the fiery Protestant leader).

"Are you kidding? He's the best recruitment tool the IRA has!"

So don't lose heart, Democrats. This is actually a good thing. Having the Republican Party dominated by wing-nuts like Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Jim DeMint and others will only cause them to lose credibility.

America is increasingly looking like a country with a centrist party (the Democrats) and a far-right crazy party (the Republicans).

In which one would you rather be?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Everyone knows that Al Gore...

...invented the Internet, but do you know why? Joshua Green, at the Atlantic, thinks he has the answer.

Ralph Snodsmith, gardening expert,...

...died on Saturday at the age of 70. If you think that's a bad name, just wait; it gets worse. His father's name was Elmer Snodsmith.

Imagine going through life with a name like Elmer Snodsmith.

"Hi. I'm Elmer Snodsmith. Nice to meet you." How could you not burst out laughing if you heard someone say that?

What do you suppose his parents were thinking?

"I've got it! If it's a boy we should name him Elmer. What do you think?"

"Elmer Snodsmith...I love it!"

(What were the choices in case it was a girl? Clara? Zoe? Blanche?)

"Come on, let me fix you up with my girlfriend's roommate. She's really nice."

"What's she like?"

"You'll love her! Great cook, wonderful dancer--"

"What's her name?"

"Blanche Snodsmith..."


And what about his poor wife?

"Mother, I want you to know that I just met the most wonderful man. His name is Elmer Snodsmith."

It may have even been hazardous to be his friend. Picture some hapless guy coming home late one night and being met at the door by his frying pan-wielding wife.

"Where've you been all this time?"

"I was out with a friend."

"Oh yeah? WHO?"

"Uh, Elmer Snodsmith..."


There's just no upside to a name like Elmer Snodsmith.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Jon Stewart must be getting... them. Check out the video, "Fox News Hits Back at Jon Stewart."

"The rich are different from you and me,"...

...or so said F. Scott Fitzgerald. Besides having more money, of course, they also have more things to worry about. Take the possible strike this week by New York City's doormen. According to the Times,

The strike would involve 30,000 doormen, porters, superintendents, elevator operators, handymen and janitors.

The situation sounds really tense:

If negotiations with the city’s apartment building owners fail and the doormen walk off their jobs, residents of about 3,200 co-ops, condominiums and rental buildings will be called on to share the burdens of taking out the trash, sorting mail, operating elevators — even cleaning out lint filters in dryers. Contract talks between representatives of the owners and the workers continued Monday as a strike deadline of midnight Tuesday loomed.

I can just see Jamie Dimon taking out his building's trash.

"Hey A*****E! Shouldn't this bottle be in the recycling bin? What the f***'s the matter with you!"

Or Lloyd Blankfein sorting the mail.

"Why hello, Mrs. Prendergast! Beautiful day, today, isn't it? Say, I see that your social security check has arrived. Tell me, have you ever considered opening a derivatives account with Goldman Sachs?"

And then there's the matter of operating the elevators. Operating the elevators? I know that some of these buildings are "pre-World War II," but haven't they upgraded the elevators?

As the negotiations wore on, residents of buildings whose lobbies might be unmanned during a strike tried to rally their neighbors to pitch in. In the 15-story, brick-and-limestone building at 322 West 72nd Street in Manhattan, only a few tenants had signed up to operate the wood-paneled elevator if its operator goes on strike. One who did, Eve Evans, 47, said she had received a lesson from a professional but doubted she was suited for the job.

“I won’t do it very well,” Ms. Evans predicted. “It’s really going to be a problem. I’m just crossing my fingers, hoping it doesn’t happen.”

Relax, Ms. Evans, you'll do just fine.

"Good morning, Mr. Pandit! And how might you be today? Uh huh. And Mrs. Pandit? Splendid!

"Stand back. Let me get that nasty grate for you."

In the evening, it's just the opposite.

"Why Mr. Pandit! So good to see you! Good day today, I trust? Make a lot of money for your clients?

"(I'll have to ask you to put out that cigar. Rules, you know.)

"You look a little tired. Did those pesky regulators in Washington have a go at you again? I'd wager Mrs. Pandit is preparing a good meal for you as we speak.

"Seventh floor, right?"

I'm sure it will all be okay. In the meantime, though, let's just hope those irresponsible doormen don't go through with that crazy strike idea of theirs. (Those lint filters can be tricky.)

Monday, April 19, 2010

I just found out that the volcano...

...that erupted in Iceland was from "the Eyjafjallajokull glacier on the island’s southern coast."

Am I the only person in America that doesn't know how to pronounce that?

Is Mitch McConnell right...

...when he says that the financial regulatory reform bill provides for "endless taxpayer-funded bailouts for big Wall Street banks?" On McConnell's own Web site, he is quoted as saying:

“...But if there’s one thing Americans agree on when it comes to financial reform, it’s this: never again should taxpayers be expected to bail out Wall Street from its own mistakes. We cannot allow endless taxpayer-funded bailouts for big Wall Street banks. And that’s why we must not pass the financial reform bill that’s about to hit the floor. The fact is, this bill wouldn’t solve the problems that led to the financial crisis. It would make them worse.

“The American people have been telling us for nearly two years that any solution must do one thing — it must put an end to taxpayer funded bailouts for Wall Street banks. This bill not only allows for taxpayer-funded bailouts of Wall Street banks; it institutionalizes them.”

After watching McConnell and the Republicans in the debate over health care reform, I decided to consult with one of my favorite "fair and balanced" sources, Fox News (yes, Fox!):

The fight over financial regulatory reform is heating up, with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, taking center stage. After meeting with Wall Street execs last week to seek their support in this Fall's midterms, and hearing the execs' concerns about the upcoming regulatory reform debate (as first reported by Fox Business News), McConnell has come out swinging on this bill, declaring it a "bailout."

He gave a floor speech this morning to keep up the drumbeat that began earlier this week: the Dodd bill is a "bailout." This is a similar strategy the leader employed during the health care debate, during which the leader gave more than 100 floor speeches, sometimes one on every day of the week, hammering, hammering, hammering away at the bill.

So what is the casual observer (like me) supposed to think?

Well, according to Senator Mark Warner who, with Senator Bob Corker, was tasked with handling the problem of endless bailouts:

"It appears that the Republican leader either doesn't understand or chooses not to understand the basic underlying premise of what this bill puts in place."

"Resolution," Warner continued, "will be so painful for any company. No rational management team would ever choose resolution. It means shareholders wiped out. Management wiped out. Your firm is going away. At least in bankruptcy, there was some chance that some of your equity would've been retained and you could come out in some form on the other side of the process. The resolution that Corker and I have tried to create means the death of the company. The institution is gone."

Could that be any clearer?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Health care reform is still not popular...

...almost a month after the bill was signed into law. It's hard for me to understand. But just as today's Tea Partiers take social security and Medicare for granted (and send their children to public schools), so will tomorrow's angry white geezers consider universal health care a part of their birthright.

In the meantime, I thought I'd dig up one of my favorite pieces on the subject. It wasn't written by Jonathan Cohn or Jonathan Chait of the left-leaning New Republic, nor by Ezra Klein of the Washington Post (Isn't that the same paper that brought down Nixon?), nor even by Paul Krugman of that socialistic, Communistic, atheistic New York Times.

No, one of the more interesting pieces I read in the last year or so was actually written by a guy named Matt Welch, the editor in chief of Reason magazine, a libertarian publication. Its title is "Why I Prefer French Health Care: The U. S. system's deep flaws make socialism more tempting." Huh?

Since nobody ever clicks on these links, I'll just reprint some of the best parts.

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

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

What’s more, none of these anecdotes scratches the surface of France’s chief advantage, and the main reason socialized medicine remains a perennial temptation in this country: In France, you are covered, period. It doesn’t depend on your job, it doesn’t depend on a health maintenance organization, and it doesn’t depend on whether you filled out the paperwork right.

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

The lawsuit being brought against Goldman... the SEC reminds me of the Treasury note scandal back in 1991 that brought down Salomon Brothers and its CEO, John Gutfreund. Salomon, like Goldman today, was the premier investment bank at the time and Gutfreund a legend on Wall Street. (You know the two were the "Best in Show" because Warren Buffett was a big investor in both.)

Goldman's troubles may or may not bring down the venerable securities firm, but CEO Lloyd Blankfein will probably go the way of Chuck Prince, Ken Lewis, John Thain, and Dick Fuld. (Am I leaving anyone out?) Even if they beat the rap, Goldman's reputation of "putting clients first" has been horribly tarnished. Someone will have to go in order to rebuild the brand.

Blankfein, get your hat and coat.

In Nicholas Kristof's column... the Times today, he argues that there are really "two Catholic Churches."

One is the rigid all-male Vatican hierarchy that seems out of touch when it bans condoms even among married couples where one partner is H.I.V.-positive. To me at least, this church — obsessed with dogma and rules and distracted from social justice — is a modern echo of the Pharisees whom Jesus criticized.

Yet there’s another Catholic Church as well, one I admire intensely. This is the grass-roots Catholic Church that does far more good in the world than it ever gets credit for. This is the church that supports extraordinary aid organizations like Catholic Relief Services andCaritas, saving lives every day, and that operates superb schools that provide needy children an escalator out of poverty.

This is the church of the nuns and priests in Congo, toiling in obscurity to feed and educate children. This is the church of the Brazilian priest fighting AIDS who told me that if he were pope, he would build a condom factory in the Vatican to save lives.

This is the church of the Maryknoll Sisters in Central America and the Cabrini Sisters in Africa. There’s a stereotype of nuns as stodgy Victorian traditionalists. I learned otherwise while hanging on for my life in a passenger seat as an American nun with a lead foot drove her jeep over ruts and through a creek in Swaziland to visit AIDS orphans. After a number of encounters like that, I’ve come to believe that the very coolest people in the world today may be nuns.

Fair enough; a lot of Catholics do a lot of good works in the world. I don't think there's ever been much argument about that. But my question is this: given all that, why do Catholics need the Vatican and the church hierarchy at all?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Wally Pipp was a first baseman...

...for the New York Yankees from 1915 to 1925. He retired with a lifetime batting average of .281 and led the American League in home runs with 12 in 1916 and 9 in 1917. (It was the "Dead Ball Era," remember?) On June 2, 1925, Pipp--suffering from an acute case of the "brown bottle flu"--was benched in favor of some young guy named Lou Gehrig. The 21-year-old Columbia University drop-out then went on to play for another 2,130 consecutive games, a record that lasted for 56 years. Pipp? He found work as a writer for Sports Illustrated. (Not a bad gig.)

I know what you're thinking: Fascinating! Who cares?

Bear with me; I have a point to make. Or a story to tell. Or something. Remember how I said I'd tell more stories about my father as I remembered them?

When we were in Minnesota last week, my mother told us how she and my father first met. It seems that a few years after Pipp's benching, in 1934, my mother was scheduled to go roller skating with a friend of my father's. When my dad's friend got grounded for some minor infraction, he asked my father to take his place. And like Gehrig before him, my dad stepped in and didn't relinquish the position for another 76 years.

Beat that, Cal Ripken, Jr.!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Excellent video...

...about Fox News.

This Goldman news...

...has to grease the wheels for the financial regulatory reform bill.

David Cameron, the Conservative leader... Britain, is beginning to remind me of Thomas Dewey.

I maintain that the health care reform bill...

...that passed recently is a centrist, even Republican plan. It's very similar to the one the Republicans proposed as an alternative to HillaryCare back in 1993 and to the one Republican Governor (and 2012 presidential hopeful) Mitt Romney passed in Massachusetts in 2005. (It's also to the right of President Nixon's plan back in 1971.)

Now the Cato Institute, the libertarian think tank, has a video comparing ObamaCare to RomneyCare.

Nick Clegg is the leader...

...of the Liberal Democratic Party in Britain. Bad name.

Turns out he's a Golden Gopher, though.

I've been burned too many times...

...from relying on Intrade, but I can't help it. The "smart" money has Elena Kagan as President Obama's choice to replace Justice Stevens on the Supreme Court and the Tories winning the British election on May 6.

I still think the Labor Party will exceed expectations.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

In the debate about Sarah Palin...

...between David Brooks and Andrew Sullivan, I have to side with the Brit. The woman is dangerous.

I just found a new blog...

...that you might find interesting, Check it out.

If you don't read Ezra Klein's blog... the Washington Post, you really should. Here's another reason why (and it's not even about health care).

From another article... today's Times:

...Pope Benedict XVI, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in 1986 wrote the document presenting the Vatican’s most recent stance (my emphasis) condemning homosexuality, which determined that it was “not a sin” but “a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil,” and thus “an objective disorder.”

How could anyone--in this day and age--with a gay friend, relative, or co-worker be a member of a church that treats homosexuality like that?

It's college admissions time...

...for America's high school seniors, and much is being made this year of the increased waiting lists at some schools. From yesterday's Times:

Ashley Koski, ranked third in the senior class at Thomas Dale High School in Chester, Va., has wanted to attend Duke University since she was 12.

Late last month, she learned that Dukehad neither accepted nor rejected her. It had offered her a spot on the waiting list — along with 3,382 other applicants. That is almost twice the size of the incoming freshman class.

“I kind of just went quiet the rest of the day,” Ms. Koski said. “I’d rather have a yes or no. I can’t make plans and be excited like the rest of my friends.”

If Duke’s best guess holds, no more than 60 will be admitted through the narrow gate of what is essentially a giant holding pen.

60 out of 3,382? That's less than 2%.

In today's paper, a high school senior writes:

AFTER nearly 12 years of school, hours of SAT prep and tutoring and $70 per college application, I thought I would finally get some relief this month. I thought I’d get a straight answer from colleges at least — a yes or no. But instead I got on the wait list. In fact, I landed on four wait lists.

I’m far from alone. Universities are increasingly using wait lists to cope with the growing number of applicants, and the resulting uncertainty about how many will accept their offers of admission. The number of students placed on the Yale wait list rose 21 percent this year, even though last year, the school admitted only seven applicants out of 769 on the list. I’m one of the nearly 3,400 students on Duke University’s wait list, meaning that of its 27,000 applicants, about 12 percent are in suspense.

Yale's list is even worse than Duke's. They accept fewer than 1%.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you've been placed on one of these lists you've essentially been rejected. The chances of getting in at this point are very remote. The good news is, if you've been put on one of these lists, you're probably a very good student and should do well wherever you go.

So deal with it. Get on with your life. There are hundreds of good schools out there. Pick one of them; you'll be okay.

Remember, Bill Gates didn't even graduate from college and he seems to be doing just fine.

The lead story in the Times today... about the Tea Party (it's April 15, remember?). I was surprised by some of the findings in the article (all emphasis mine):

Tea Party supporters are wealthier and more well-educated than the general public.

Most describe the amount they paid in taxes this year as “fair.” A plurality do not think Sarah Palin is qualified to be president, and, despite their push for smaller government, they think thatSocial Security and Medicare are worth the cost to taxpayers.

Tea Party supporters over all are more likely than the general public to say their personal financial situation is fairly good or very good.

Some of the article's other findings were not so surprising:

Tea Party supporters tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45. (Who would have guessed?)

And while most Republicans say they are “dissatisfied” with Washington, Tea Party supporters are more likely to classify themselves as “angry.”

They are more likely than the general public, and Republicans, to say that too much has been made of the problems facing black people.

They are far more pessimistic than Americans in general about the economy. More than 90 percent of Tea Party supporters think the country is headed in the wrong direction, compared with about 60 percent of the general public. About 6 in 10 say “America’s best years are behind us” when it comes to the availability of good jobs for American workers.

Nearly 9 in 10 disapprove of the job Mr. Obama is doing over all, and about the same percentage fault his handling of major issues: health care, the economy and the federal budget deficit. Ninety-two percent believe Mr. Obama is moving the country toward socialism, an opinion shared by more than half of the general public.

But in follow-up interviews, Tea Party supporters said they did not want to cut Medicare or Social Security — the biggest domestic programs, suggesting instead a focus on “waste.”

But the most telling piece of information for me was:

The percentage holding a favorable opinion of former President George W. Bush, at 57 percent, almost exactly matches the percentage in the general public that holds an unfavorable view of him.

57%? When during his presidency did George W. Bush ever have a 57% approval rating? And what exactly do these people approve of? The tax cuts for the rich that squandered the Clinton surplus? Maybe it was that unfunded Medicare drug benefit. Both were budget busting. How about the worst terrorist attack in American history? Was it those two (again unfunded) wars we're still fighting (with no end in sight)? Torture? His handling of Katrina? The Great Recession?

I'd really like one of these Tea Partiers to point out just one thing that President Bush did to deserve a 57% approval rating.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bob Feller was at the White Sox... on Opening Day last week:

At 91, the Cleveland Indians Hall of Famer has a remarkable memory and plenty of opinions on pitch counts and other trappings of modern pitching. Mark Buehrle, who left his Opening Day start on Monday with a three-hit shutout after seven innings, is a sign of the times, Feller said. "If they'd lifted me after 95 pitches," he said, "lots of times I'd have been gone by the third inning."

Feller said his best year was 1946, when he won 27 games, including 36 complete games. (My emphasis.)

David Frum's blog, rapidly rising on my list of daily must-reads. Frum is what used to be called a "moderate Republican," or what I would now call a "Democrat."

Frum had a post a few days ago with the title, "Healthcare in Freedom Land," in which he reports that:

The new Heritage Freedom Index ranks Hong Kong #1 in the world for economic freedom.


The world’s freest economy has universal, mandatory, single-payer health insurance, cushioned by flexible and widely available private insurance. It’s not a perfect system, but it does deliver the 5th longest life-expectancy on earth (almost 3 more years of life expectancy than the U.S. system), and significantly superior infant mortality. And I think we can safely acquit the people of Hong Kong of any interest in socialism whatsoever.

I'm back at my desk again...

...and I just want to thank everyone for all of the support you've given my family and me these last three weeks.

The funeral for my father was held yesterday in Minneapolis and was followed by a veterans' burial at Fort Snelling Cemetery.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

My father passed away yesterday... the age of 90. A resident of Edina, Minnesota, he died of natural causes, following a fall in his home two weeks ago. Survivors include his wife Nancy (nee Crawford) Tracy; a daughter, Joanne (Ed) Marsh, of Naperville, Illinois; four sons, Jim (Mary) of Newton, Massachusetts; Peter, also of Edina; Tom (Louise) of Bloomington, Minnesota; and me, Michael (Julie), of Glenview, Illinois; twelve grandchildren (one of which, David Marsh, preceded him in death) and two great-grandchildren.

My father underwent emergency brain surgery on the night of March 24; he never regained consciousness. He died after spending almost a week in a hospice. A funeral mass will be said on Tuesday morning.

James Francis Tracy was born on August 21, 1919, in Chicago, Illinois, and grew up in nearby Oak Park, the second child of Charles and Anna (nee Coughlin) Tracy. His older brother Chuck and younger siblings Virginia and Ed also survive him.

My dad was a graduate of Ascension Catholic School and Fenwick High School (class of 1937), both of Oak Park, and St. Benedict's College (class of '41) in Atchison, Kansas. A lifelong sports fan, he was an All-Conference guard in basketball at Fenwick and went on to play for the Ravens in college. I'd be willing to bet that if he had one regret at the end of his life it was that he didn't live long enough to see a game in the Twins' new stadium. (Don't feel too bad, though; he saw the inside of a lot of stadiums. One time we were on vacation in Florida and wandered onto the field in the Orange Bowl--don't ask me how. "So this is what artificial turf looks like...")

On December 27, 1943, my father married his high school sweetheart, Nancy Crawford, when he was on leave from the army. (He was married in his uniform.) Shortly after, the newlyweds traveled to Apalachicola, Florida, where my father was stationed before he was shipped overseas to fight in the Pacific Theater of Operations (the "Japs"). While in Apalachicola, my mother took a short-lived job as a file clerk in a VD clinic--until she found out what VD was. She also drank Coca-Cola out of a bottle for the first time in Florida. (What will they think of next, Coke in a can?) What an exotic place the "Redneck Riviera" must have seemed to an Irish Catholic girl from the West Side of Chicago.

My father saw some pretty serious "action" in the Far East and was resigned to never coming home again. I've been thinking about him a lot while watching the HBO series, "The Pacific." That must have been terrifying! One thing I remember him telling me was that the Australian soldiers, in particular, were nuts. They were all about 6' 5", 275 pounds, drank beer by the gallon, and thought wearing a helmet into battle was strictly for wimps.

I asked him once what he thought of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan.

"Great! I was scheduled to be in the seventh wave of the invasion of the home islands. We would have all been slaughtered."

I had never thought of it like that before.

But my father did survive the war, somehow, and returned to my mom and his job at Montgomery Ward, the retail giant. The young couple rented an apartment in Oak Park and my mother promptly gave birth to my sister, Joanne, in 1947, and my brother, Jim, in 1948. My father once told me that he decided then to "cool it," and practice the only acceptable Catholic method of birth control at the time, "I turned over." Not for long, however, as Peter was born in 1953, Tom in 1955, and me, the baby, in 1958. (My mother once confided to me that when she was having me at age 39 she looked around at all the other twenty-somethings in the maternity ward and said to herself, "I'm done!" I wonder how long it took my dad to figure that out.)

Shortly after returning from the war, my dad moved over to rival Sears, Roebuck, and remained there until 1974. He was the quintessential "company man" of the 1950s and '60s, moving his family to Philadelphia, back to Chicago, and on to New Jersey. He made one last move in 1974, to Minneapolis, and remained there for the rest of his life.

My father was not a complicated man. His persona was the sum of his Irish heritage, his strong Catholic faith, his love for sports (or should I say LOVE for sports), and his devotion to his wife and family. (If nothing else can be said with any certainty in this life, my father loved my mother.)

While he didn't talk much about being Irish (unlike some of the Professional Irish that can be found in places like Chicago), his heritage was a big part of his identity. I remember looking at the program my parents brought home from my eighth grade graduation. I asked my mother why there were check marks next to some of the names. "Oh, your father was just counting all the Irish names while we were waiting for it to begin."

My father's father used to get a big kick out of sitting me on his knee and asking me if I thought I "would ever go back." I always found this puzzling.

"Go back where, Grampa?" Everyone would laugh at my expense.

One time I turned the tables on him.

"Grampa, do you think you'll ever go back?"

"If they build a bridge." Again everyone laughed. What on earth is he talking about? It wasn't until I was much older that I realized he was talking about the Old Sod (not that he'd ever set foot outside of Illinois).

As for my dad's Catholicism, well, I guess sometimes I wish I could be as certain of something as he was of the One True Faith. He was a true Pillar of the Church, wherever we lived. For years he was proud to recount that he was among that hardy band at Divine Infant in Westchester: "We built that church!"

Sports was a lifelong passion for my dad. He followed baseball, football, and basketball mostly, but people may forget how much he liked boxing, too. I remember him watching "the fights" on our black-and-white TV on Friday nights when I was very young. He also went to the first Ali-Frazier fight in Madison Square Garden in the early '70s, which was a very big deal at the time.

But probably his biggest thrill in sports was watching his oldest son play in the City Championship football game in Soldier Field in Chicago in 1965. My brother always seemed a little embarrassed when we brought it up (which was as often as possible), but it was a big deal, too (especially since they won).

Although my father took me to three All-Star games and a World Series game (courtesy of Gillette), I think my fondest sports memory that involved him was when I actually got to run with the ball in a grade school football game. It was a sweep or a reverse or something (probably a broken play), but I just remember feeling so proud when he told me afterward that I "turned that corner and ran like a deer." (I always wondered why I never got to carry the ball again. After all, Irish kids are known for their speed.)

Lastly, my dad was hopelessly in love with my mother. He pretty much adored her all the days they were together. He was definitely one of those guys who thought he had "married up."

This is hardly a complete picture of my dad. I guess it's impossible to sum up a person's life in a blog post. Even a good New York Times obit wouldn't be sufficient. But this is what bloggers do; we blog. If journalism is the first draft of history, then maybe a blog post like this is the first draft of memoir.

In the days and weeks to come, I'm sure I'll remember more about my father. I'll try to share His Life with you in this space.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Atlantic debates...

...the Iraq surge. All I know is, we're still there--and there's no end in sight. John McCain may actually be right about this one. Like Germany and Japan, American troops may end up staying there for fifty or a hundred years.

The Republicans are having second thoughts...

...about their "repeal and replace" message for health care. Maybe someone told them they need a policy to "replace" it with. After all, "No" is not a health care plan.

Be afraid... very, very afraid.

Apparently, there's been a revolution... Kyrgyzstan. Which begs the question: where the heck is Kyrgyzstan?

According to the Huffington Post, Kyrgyzstan borders Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Does that help?

I watched some of the Sarah Palin-Michele...

...Bachmann rally yesterday (with the hapless Tim Pawlenty), and all I could think was, "Is this really the future of the Republican Party? Really?"

This may be the first piece...

...I've ever read on quantum mechanics (and it's from Fox News!). Spoiler alert: scientists think time travel may be possible. Seriously.

And here's a good math blog (honest!).

I'm not a golfer (or even a fan),...

...but I have to weigh in on the whole Tiger Woods thing from time to time. (I can't help it.) In today's Times, it says that:

[Billy] Payne, [the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club], launched into a prepared statement at his annual pretournament news conference, saying Woods had “disappointed all of us, and more importantly, our kids and our grandkids.”

He added: “Our hero did not live up to the expectations of the role model we saw for our children.”

Come on. Children and grandchildren? Who is he kidding? The average Tiger Woods fan is a middle-aged white guy--with the mentality of a 14-year-old--who struggles to break a hundred on weekends.

The piece also makes reference to Woods's "addiction." What addiction? You mean "sex addiction?" Let me clue you in on a little secret: all men "suffer" from "sex addiction." (Women, too.) And it's a good thing. Because if we didn't, the species would have died out a long time ago.

The only difference between Tiger Woods and every other male is that he has more opportunities. Which probably explains all the outrage. Because under truth serum, there isn't a man in America who wouldn't trade places with him. (Have you seen the pictures of those women?)

Think Americans are gun happy?

According to a piece in the Times this morning, members of the African National Congress have been known to sing such charming ditties as "Shoot the Boer" and "Bring Me My Machine Gun."

Makes the tea partiers look positively genteel in comparison.

Coots Matthews, Cantankerous Hellfighter,...

...Dies at 86. It's hard to improve on that headline in today's Times. But there's more, much more:

A joke has it that St. Peter was showing a Texan around heaven, with the Texan claiming that everything he saw was better in Texas. St. Peter tired of the routine and pointed to the fire of hell. “Do you have anything like that in Texas?” he asked. The Texan said no, then added, “But there are a couple good old boys in Houston who can put it out for you.”

Those good old boys would have been Boots Hansen and Coots Matthews, who worked with the celebrated oilfield firefighter Red Adair, then started their own company, Boots & Coots, to become legends themselves in the business of fighting oil well fires. All three were technical advisers and inspirations for characters in the 1968 movie “Hellfighters.”John Wayne portrayed Mr. Adair.

Mr. Matthews, like his colleagues, was an expert in the perilous art of detonating dynamite in oil well infernos to starve the fire of oxygen, thereby killing it. Real hellfighters insist on the word “kill” over wimpier alternatives like “extinguish.”


Among thousands of calamities, Mr. Matthews survived the simultaneous blowout of 14 wells in the North Sea; 700 oil well fires in Iraq in 1991; and a broken leg, which made him an inch shorter on the left side. He and Boots, or Asger Hansen, helped Mr. Adair put out one of the most famous oil well fires in history. The blaze, in Algeria in 1962, came to be called the Devil’s Cigarette Lighter.


Mr. Matthews’s daughter said her father had never denied fear.

“You respect the things you fear,” he would say, “and that respect can save your life.”

But fear was not something Coots Matthews often displayed. His daughter characterized him as a “barroom brawler” and “hell on wheels,” who “too often let his fists do the talking.”

That's probably how people will describe me after I die.

In 1942, he joined the Army Air Forces and became a tail gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress. His plane was shot down on his first mission, but he went on to fly many more.

Of course he did!

After the war, Mr. Matthews opened a beer joint in Houston called Cabin in the Pines. It was fun, but not profitable. So he took a job working in oil field services for Halliburton, an industry giant. After 10 years, he was fired for crashing seven company cars.

Seven? Wouldn't you say something to him after two or three?

Mr. Matthews was married four times to two women. “I’ll let you figure it out,” his daughter said with a laugh.

And finally,

Perhaps Mr. Matthews’s most harrowing experience was when a piece of a crane fell on his leg, pinning him, while a poisonous gas well was spewing, his daughter recalled. Mr. Adair grabbed an ax to whack off Mr. Matthews’s leg. At the last moment, though, Mr. Matthews summoned his strength and jerked his leg free.

He later asked Mr. Adair if he would really have done it. Mr. Adair replied, “A one-legged Coots is better than no Coots at all.”

I used to be a big fan of George Will's,...

...but I think he's lost a step in recent years. On This Week, the Sunday morning show, he keeps saying the same tired things over and over again. In regard to health care reform, for example, Will is fond of pointing out that 85% of Americans are happy with their health care. (Health care? Yes. Health insurance? No.) So what does that mean? Let the other 15% eat cake?

I'd be willing to bet that 90% of American workers are happy they have a job. Does that mean we should ignore the 10% who are out of work? Will doesn't think so, apparently, because he--like all Republicans--is constantly hammering President Obama on jobs, jobs, jobs. (What does he think that record stimulus was for?)

And what about slavery? (Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia has just proclaimed April Confederate History Month.) I'll bet most southern whites were just fine, thank you very much, with that whole slavery arrangement prior to the Civil War. Maybe Will thinks we should have just left that alone. Why rock the boat?

Come on, George; come up with some new arguments.

The commander of the Virginia Division...

...of the Sons of Confederate Veterans is named Brag Bowling.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I guess the Unitarians aren't the only...

...denomination that handles clergy problems well. This is from Andrew Sullivan's blog in the Atlantic today:

The Roman Church is very quick to protest that clergy sex abuse is not limited to their domain, and this is true, but when one compares the way that it has handled the issue to the way it is handled by other denominations, their protestations ring mighty hollow.

A singular case in point happened a number of years ago in a small town in Massachusetts. The rector of the Episcopal Church was accused of having had a sexual relationship with a 14 year old boy more than thirty years prior when the priest was serving at another parish in another state. The relationship appears to have been at least quasi-consensual (although one could argue, convincingly in my view, that a fully consensual relationship between a grown man, particularly one as influential as a priest, and an adolescent is not possible).

The priest, when confronted with the accusation, admitted that the relationship had taken place, and the Diocese of Massachusetts removed him, not only from his position as parish rector, but also from the Episcopal priesthood, THAT VERY DAY.

Even though the relationship had taken place a long time before, and even though the priest was almost universally beloved in his community and very effective at his calling, the church, understanding that in cases like these the issue is not sex but abuse of power, determined quite rightly that there should be no statute of limitations and that zero tolerance must be demonstrated.

I always think of this when I read about clergy sex abuse cases going on for five, ten, a dozen years. With regard to the people who exist within its hierarchy, the Roman church’s power is absolute. It could remove these men with the same dispatch that the Episcopal church showed if it wanted to. It doesn’t want to.