Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Just when you thought...

...things couldn't get any wackier, the latest Newsweek poll (question 24) finds that 52% -- over half -- of Republicans think that it's either "probably" or "definitely" true that President Obama sympathizes with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Chicago Tribune...

...high school football poll still lists Wheaton Warrenville South (above) as No.1, but St. Rita has ascended into the No. 2 spot.

Maine South, Fremd, and Providence all still made the top 20 (Nos. 8, 13, and 15, respectively) despite losing this weekend.

And while Loyola and Mt. Carmel are both listed as "On the Verge," it shouldn't be too long before the Ramblers move onto the list. I'm a little surprised they've been overlooked so far given their strong performance against Maine South in the semifinals last year.

The song of the...

...day.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Big day for upsets...

...in Illinois high school football. No. 6 Providence was upended by Morgan Park (above), 16-14, and No. 11 Mt. Carmel was stunned by Simeon, 47-41.

I guess I won't write that post I had in mind about what underachievers the city public schools are. Nor will I write about the Catholic Blue as the best conference in the state. (I might have to rethink a lot of things after this weekend.)

Also, Notre Dame topped Fenwick, 19-13.

The New York Times mentions...

...five players to watch for this year’s Heisman Trophy: Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers, Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore, Alabama running back Mark Ingram, Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, and Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett.

In addition, Pete Thamel takes a look at five players that should have a standout season: North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn, Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich, UCLA free safety Rahim Moore, Boston College offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo, and Nebraska defensive tackle Jared Crick (above).

And my question is, will Kansas offensive tackle Brad Thorson be able to handle Crick in Lincoln on November 13?

The song of the...

...day.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Loyola beats Evanston, 35-0.

From the Trib article (my emphasis):

The Ramblers took advantage of early Evanston turnovers and scored four first-half touchdowns on their way to a resounding 35-0 victory over Evanston on Saturday in Wilmette.

Two early Evanston turnovers resulted in quick Loyola scores in the first quarter.

Dillon Murphy's fumble recovery at the Loyola 8 resulted in a three-play, 92-yard drive, beginning with a 74-yard run from William Palivos (nine carries, 151 yards) and ending with a six-yard scoring strike from [quarterback Malcolm] Weaver (8-for-17, 127 yards, three touchdowns) to Charlie Dowdle.

Also, No. 3 St. Rita beat Portage (Indiana), 22-0. Interestingly,

The offense wasn't as explosive as expected. Jahwon Akui was held to 83 yards on 27 carries. Travis Starks added 52 yards on five carries.

Ken Mehlman, former chairman...

...of the Republican National Committee, is being heralded for his courage in coming out of the closet this week. And to this I say, So what! Is this a big deal in 2010? Besides, Bill Maher outed him way back in 2006 on the Larry King Show. Why did it take Mehlman so long to confirm what everyone else already knew?

Do you know what would have really required courage? If Mehlman had come out in, say, 2004, when the Republican Party was bashing gays in a bid to rally the base:

In 2004, Republicans introduced 11 measures against same-sex marriage in various states, as part of a strategy to attract conservative voters to the polls at a time when President George W. Bush was running for reelection. President Bush himself railed against activist judges and backed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

In fact, some political observers credit the "Defense of Marriage" referendum on the ballot in Ohio for delivering that state -- and the presidential election -- to Bush in 2004.

So where was Mehlman then? He was Bush's campaign manager. Why didn't he speak out against bigotry six years ago? Sorry, Ken, but you don't get a lot of kudos from me.

Oh, and by the way, do you know how many mentions of this were on Fox News this week? Zero.

I find it really discouraging...

...that people like Glenn Beck (above) and Sarah Palin have a following in modern-day America. I guess difficult economic times breed demagogues. During the 1930s, for example, the United States suffered through such luminaries as Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and Charles Lindbergh. Whatever happened to them? They became footnotes in history, as I'm almost sure Beck and Palin will ultimately be.

But in the meantime, we have to put up with them as best we can. Today, Beck is holding a rally at the Lincoln Memorial, on the very spot where Martin Luther King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech exactly 47 years ago. Palin will be a featured speaker.

Bob Herbert's column in the Times today, "America is Better Than This," sums it up much better than I ever could:

America is better than Glenn Beck. For all of his celebrity, Mr. Beck is an ignorant, divisive, pathetic figure...a small man with a mean message.
___

Beck is a provocateur who likes to play with matches in the tinderbox of racial and ethnic confrontation. He seems oblivious to the real danger of his execrable behavior. He famously described President Obama as a man “who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.”

He is an integral part of the vicious effort by the Tea Party and other elements of the right wing to portray Mr. Obama as somehow alien, a strange figure who is separate and apart from — outside of — ordinary American life. As the watchdog group Media Matters for America has noted, Beck said of the president, “He chose to use the name, Barack, for a reason, to identify not with America — you don’t take the name Barack to identify with America. You take the name Barack to identify, with what? Your heritage? The heritage, maybe, of your father in Kenya, who is a radical?”

Facts and reality mean nothing to Beck. And there is no road too low for him to slither upon.
___

In Beck’s view, President Obama is driven by a desire to settle “old racial scores” and his ultimate goal is “reparations” for black Americans. Abe Lincoln and Dr. King could only look on aghast at this clown.

Beck has been advertising his rally as nonpolitical, but its main speaker is Sarah Palin. She had her own low moment recently as a racial provocateur, publicly voicing her support for Laura Schlessinger, radio’s “Dr. Laura,” who went out of her way to humiliate a black caller by continuously using the n-word to make a point, even after the caller had made it clear that she was offended.

Palin’s advice to Schlessinger: “Don’t retreat — reload.”

There is a great deal of hatred and bigotry in this country, but it does not define the country. The daily experience of most Americans is not a bitter experience and for all of our problems we are in a much better place on these matters than we were a half century ago.

But I worry about the potential for violence that grows out of unrestrained, hostile bombast. We’ve seen it so often. A little more than two weeks after the 1963 March on Washington, the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham was bombed by the Ku Klux Klan and four young black girls were killed. And three months after the march, Jack Kennedy was assassinated.

My sincere advice to Beck, Palin and their followers is chill, baby, chill.

The song of the...

...day is for all you Schaumburg fans out there.

What an opening night...

...for Illinois high school football!

Schaumburg snapped Maine South's 28-game winning streak, 29-17, while Glenbrook South fell to Minooka, 42-14.

The loss was Maine South's first since the Hawks fell 21-14 to Mount Carmel in an 8A quarterfinal in 2007.

In other games, No. 1-ranked Wheaton Warrenville South rolled over Hinsdale Central, 28-17, No. 5 Joliet Catholic had no trouble with No. 19 Montini, 21-7, No. 8 Lake Zurich put away No. 9 Fremd, 20-10, and New Trier edged No. 14 Warren, 10-7.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Who is Minooka?

The Indians are led by senior quarterback Mitch Brozovich (above). The 6' 3'', 180-pound captain scored on a 41-yard keeper against Glenbrook South in last year's opener. Brozovich led Minooka's ground game that night with 89 yards on 12 carries in a 38-14 loss to the Titans.

Minooka's 2009 season ended well, however, as the Indians finished 8-3 overall. After beating Edwardsville, 44-25, in the first round of the playoffs, Minooka fell to East St. Louis, 48-20. The Flyers went on to lose in the semifinals to the eventual class 7A champs, Wheaton-Warrenville South, 34-15.

After the loss to East St. Louis, head coach Bert Kooi (can anyone help me with that pronunciation?) said, "Many people probably thought we would win two or three games this season."

GBS graduated a number of seniors last year and will have to be on their game tonight in Minooka.

The high school football season...

...starts tonight as the Titans from Glenbrook South travel to Minooka. Tomorrow, Loyola Academy will host Evanston.

In other games of note, on Friday, Number 1 Wheaton Warrenville South will play at Hinsdale Central, No. 2 Maine South will be at Schaumburg, No. 9 Fremd at No. 8 Lake Zurich, No. 19 Montini at No. 5 Joliet Catholic, and New Trier will play at No. 14 Warren.

On Saturday, Portage (Indiana) will travel to No. 3 St. Rita.

Sunday will feature three good matchups at Soldier Field: No. 11 Mount Carmel vs. Simeon, No. 6 Providence vs. Morgan Park and Notre Dame vs. Fenwick.

And I, for one, am Ready to Go!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Alex Sink is the Democratic...

...candidate for governor in Florida. In Wikipedia, it says that "she is a descendant of the famous conjoined 'Siamese Twins,' Chang and Eng Bunker." And I thought, No way, that has to be some sort of prank.

But according to the St. Petersburg Times:

Sink is the great-granddaughter of "the twins," as she calls them. She grew up in the house Chang and Eng built, and speaks of them both with unmistakable pride and with a little trepidation. She speaks of their commitment to education, intellectualism and the business savvy for a couple of P.T. Barnum circus attractions to decide to cut out the middleman to make enough money to become farmers. Then she acknowledges the trepidation.

Strangers would come to see her house growing up. On the streets of Mount Airy, people would sometimes stop and ask the little girl with the hint of oriental features, "Are you one of the Bunkers?"

"When I was growing up my grandmother would even refuse to talk about the twins," she said, noting how proud she had always been. "We didn't talk about it a lot. I grew up in a puritan age, and there was always the sex thing," she said, referring to twins' nearly two dozen children. Then there's the pride in community: "Here are these two circus attractions who ended up settling in redneck North Carolina and were accepted in the community."

Sink's father, Kester Sink (a very un-PC pistol we last saw ogling waitresses at a West Tampa campaign event during her husband Bill McBride's gubernatorial campaign in 2002 - precisely why, Sink says, he'll be kept out of sight in this campaign) still lives in the Eng/Chang home and talked to National Geographic.

"Sink, a successful businessman who owns the largest chunk of Bunker land, does not suffer fools and ferociously protects the Bunker legacy. "They were not freaks," he says with a stare that dares you to think otherwise. "They were human beings who had a tremendous physical adversity to overcome. They left their home in Siam, their mother and family, and immediately picked up the language, mores, and manners of their adopted country. They were gutsy, smart, and self-confident."

Wheaton Warrenville South...

...is the Number 1-ranked high school football team in the state of Illinois, according to the Chicago Tribune this morning (and surely the Sun-Times tomorrow).

Senior quarterback Reilly O'Toole (6' 5", 215 pounds) will lead the Tigers in their season opener tomorrow night at Hinsdale Central. O'Toole (above) has already committed to the University of Illinois, while offensive lineman Luke Luhrsen (6' 5", 275) will follow in the footsteps of another great lineman, Brad Thorson, and enroll at Kansas.

Wheaton Warrenville South has been a football power since the days of Red Grange (class of 1922). Other notable alums include Bob Woodward ('61) and John Belushi ('67). The Tigers won their 6th state title last year by defeating Glenbard West, 31-24, in double overtime.

According to the Trib:

Repeating as DuPage Valley Conference and 7A state champions may be the Tigers' ultimate goals, but the game of the year in Illinois will take place in Week 2 when they host defending 8A champion Maine South live on ESPNU. Maine South, which handed Wheaton South its only 2009 loss, figures to carry a 29-game winning streak into the No. 1 vs. 2 showdown at 4 p.m. Sept. 3.

And in the words of Steve Stone, I'll be there.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Happy Birthday Jim!

The song of the day is for you.

Megan McArdle writes...

...with a libertarian bent for the Atlantic. For all the hand-wringing lately about Obama's approval numbers, I found her blog post today to be refreshingly sensible, particularly this paragraph:

In the world I live in, the administration got as much stimulus as it was going to get, against a population that was tepid and a bunch of senators who were timid. He was limited on housing relief by homeowners and renters who weren't in trouble, and resented giving their money to people who had bought too much house. He in fact scored some major legislative victories, like health care, against fierce headwinds. The only place you could argue that he had more room was on a more bank-punitive bailout, and subsequent financial reform packages--but in those cases, the technocrats at Treasury had reasonable fears that this would have caused credit markets to contract even more severely, with the resulting economic decline making Democratic poll numbers even worse.

Mark Zandi was an economic advisor...

...to John McCain during the 2008 election. Today, when asked about the stimulus package, Zandi responded (my emphasis):

"I think we'd be in a measurably worse place if not for the stimulus," Zandi said at the Christian Science Monitor breakfast this morning. "If we had not had the stimulus...we'd have fewer jobs today than we actually have."
___

"Without the stimulus spending," Zandi insisted, "instead of a 9.5 percent unemployment rate, we'd have an 11.5 percent unemployment rate."
___

"I think that, in totality, the policy response [from Geithner and Summers] has been excellent. That it was very aggressive and ultimately very successful, so I give them high marks. Any individual aspect of the policy response one could debate... broadly speaking I think it was very effective."

Zandi took particular issue with the size of the stimulus. He says it should have been larger, with more money dedicated to tax incentives to small businesses and less to infrastructure spending. More infrastructure spending, he said, "would have enormous productivity benefits," but is necessarily stimulative in the near-term.

"I would have made it larger," Zandi said. "I think we underestimated -- significantly underestimated -- the severity of the situation that we were in and still are in. And that that would have argued for a larger stimulus package."

Chris Cillizza points out...

...that "Sarah Palin had an extremely good night on Tuesday as all five of her endorsed candidates in Florida, Arizona and Alaska appeared to win."

John McCain defeated...

...J. D. Hayworth in the Republican primary in Arizona yesterday.

It only cost him $21 million and his soul -- all so he can continue to appear on Meet the Press every other week.

Maine South is ranked No. 2...

...in the Chicago Tribune high school football poll this morning.

Head coach Dave Inserra will open the season Friday against Schaumburg with two -- count 'em -- two quarterbacks. Sophomore Matt Alviti (6-0,175) will take the first snap but will alternate each series with junior Jimmy Frankos (5-10, 170). Inserra reportedly has no plan to name a permanent starter.

Besides the quarterback controversy, questions abound for the Park Ridge squad. Can the Hawks win a third consecutive 8A championship? Will someone end their winning streak, now at 28 games? And how will the offense fare without the production of last season's Player of the Year, Matt Perez, who scored 36 touchdowns and accounted for 2,687 yards of total offense?

Week 2 will provide an early test for Maine South, when the Hawks visit defending 7A champ Wheaton Warrenville South.

I can think of at least one blogger who will be in attendance at that game.

The Sun-Times also ranks...

...St. Rita number 3 in their pre-season poll. There's nothing in their article that the Tribune didn't mention yesterday, except this quote from head coach Todd Kuska, regarding running back Jahwon Akui's extraordinary weight gain during the off-season:

‘‘He put on some muscle,’’ Kuska said. ‘‘I don’t know how he did. He’s a ‘freak-of-nature’ kind of kid.’’

The 5' 7" senior now tips the scales at 194 -- a gain of 23 pounds!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

There's a genuinely scary article...

...in The New Yorker this week about the money that's behind the tea party movement. "Covert Operations: The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama" is about Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries, the second-largest private company in America.

Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.

But take heart, centrists, because despite all their billions, the Koch brothers have been unable to prevent the passage of the stimulus bill, health care or financial regulatory reform.

The song of the...

...day.

Everyone take a deep breath.

According to Asra Nomani, writing today in the Daily Beast, the "ground zero mosque" has only raised about $9,000 and probably won't even get built.

St. Rita comes in at No. 3...

...in the Chicago Tribune high school football poll. The Mustangs, led by senior running back Jahwon Akui, will try to improve over last year's season which ended with a 23-14 loss to Wheaton Warrenville South in the Class 7A quarterfinal. Akui, who gained over 20 pounds in the off-season on a 5' 7" frame, rushed for 1,396 yards and scored 25 touchdowns last year before injuring his ankle in Week 6. (Akui finished with 1,800 yards rushing and 31 touchdowns.)

Also returning is senior running back Travis Starks, a Division I recruit in his own right after rushing for nearly 900 yards in a reserve role. If Head Coach Todd Kuska can settle on the right quarterback -- between senior Brandon Johnson and junior Scott Thomas -- the Mustangs could have the most potent backfield in the state.

St. Rita will open the 2010 season against two out-of-state opponents, Portage (Indiana) on August 28 at home and Jefferson City (Missouri) in East St. Louis on September 5.

But it's in the month of October that the Mustangs will be truly tested. St. Rita hosts the Caravan of Mt. Carmel on October 1 in the 88th installment of a rivalry that dates back to 1924. And on the following Friday, October 8, the Mustangs will travel to highly-ranked Providence. Finally, the South Siders will finish their regular season on October 22 at Loyola Academy in still another key Catholic Blue matchup.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The song of the...

...day. I guess Terry Sylvester had replaced Graham Nash by this time.

A friend of mine...

...sent me an e-mail with pictures of small sculptures made from pencils. It reminds me of another micro-artist named Willard Wigan, who makes even smaller sculptures. The one above is the Royal Court in the eye of a needle.

Let's talk about high school football...

...for a moment, shall we? The Chicago papers are in the midst of their annual Dance of the Seven Veils -- the Countdown to Number 1 -- and Providence has come in at number 6 in the Tribune and 5 in the Sun-Times. This caught my attention because the Celtics will host the Loyola Academy Ramblers in Week 3 on September 10.

The 2010 season begins this Friday when the Titans of Glenbrook South travel to Minooka. Other key matchups for the Glenview squad should be against Stevenson at home on September 3, at New Trier on the 24th, and of course, Maine South at home on Friday, October 15.

The Ramblers open their season on Saturday as they play host to Evanston. Loyola has its typical bruising schedule this year, traveling to Montini (number 16 in the Sun-Times poll) on September 4, Providence on the 10th, Mt. Carmel (number 8 in the S-T) on the 18th in Wilmette, and St. Rita on the South Side on October 22.

But the biggest game on the horizon is on September 3, when the defending 8A champs Maine South make their way to Wheaton-Warrenville South for a rematch of last year's game in which the Hawks defeated the 7A champion Tigers, 27-9, in the second week of the season.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I threw a surprise birthday party...

...for my wife last night at the Deer Path Inn in Lake Forest. It was a big success; she was genuinely surprised.

The night didn't go off without a hitch, however.

I'll admit I was a little taken back by a phone call I received on Friday afternoon from the woman who was coordinating our party.

"Hello, Mr. Tracy? Can you talk?"

"Sure, Mary Ellen. How are you?"

"Fine, thank you. I just wanted you to know that we're all set for tomorrow night. There's only one little thing I need to tell you."

That's never a good sign.

"There's going to be a Tracy Memorial at the Inn tomorrow night."

"Huh?"

"A Tracy Memorial, given by a Richard and Estelle Tracy. Do you know them?"

"Uh, no. Wait a minute. That's Dick Tracy!"

"It says here Richard and Estelle Tracy."

"Yeah, but that's Dick -- never mind."

"I just didn't want you to be surprised when you saw the sign. Otherwise we're all set for your party."

Well that's a little odd, I thought. So I went home and e-mailed all the guests to make sure they went to our party and not the Tracy memorial. Ours would be a lot more lively, I assured them.

And, sure enough, when my wife and I arrived at the Deer Path Inn we were met by a large sign, TRACY MEMORIAL WINDSOR HALL.

"What the -- ," my wife said.

"I don't think that's us."

Just then, a guy who looked exactly like Borat showed us to a table in the English Room.

As we made our way, there was no sign anywhere of Pruneface, Mumbles or Flattop. There was one guy, however, who looked suspiciously like the Brow.

"Surprise! Happy Birthday! Surprise!"

And as I said, my wife was truly surprised.

The food at the Deer Path was excellent. The cake, from nearby Gerhard's, was outstanding, and the staff let us linger until 10:30 or so, long after everyone else had cleared out. It was a great evening; my wife really enjoyed seeing all of her old friends and her brother.

And as for me, well, let's just say it was worth putting on long pants for the first time in months.

You gotta love those...

...New York Times obits:

Roy Pinney became a nationally acclaimed baby photographer, wrote two dozen books on subjects like caves and biblical animals, helped create the genre of television nature shows and survived to be one of the last journalists to have covered the Normandy invasion, in which he was wounded.

Other distinctions include making more than 160 expeditions to exotic locales, winning a prize for a short movie at a film festival in Cannes in 1963 and having a photograph exhibited at the Guggenheim in a 2004 show that included images by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Many snakes, including some he took to grandchildren’s birthday parties, may or may not survive him. He gave them away after his first stroke several years ago. Since bagging a venomous snake as a 12-year-old Boy Scout, he caught more than 1,000 — some less than an hour from Times Square and some in the deepest wilderness — and always kept the best for himself.

You can't make this stuff up.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The cover of this week's Economist...

...tempted me with The Republican to beat Obama?

Who? I couldn't wait and quickly flipped to page 21:

Mitch Daniels: The right stuff. Indiana's governor is a likeable wonk. Can he save the Republicans from themselves and provide a pragmatic alternative to Barack Obama?

Mitch Daniels? Really? Is that all you've got? Maybe in 2016, when the party will be ready for a David Cameron-type centrist, but not in 2012, when the GOP will surely nominate someone from the base.

Most Americans know little or nothing of Mr Daniels. He does not tweet. “I’m not an interesting enough person,” he explains.

That's an understatement. Have you seen this guy? It also says he's short and bald. Sarah Palin would crush him.

But he is good at one thing in particular: governing.

Too bad. If there's one thing the Republicans have no interest in it's governing.

Born in Pennsylvania and weaned in the South, he moved to Indiana at the age of ten before a scholarship took him off to Princeton.

Whoops! Fancy Ivy League education -- that's one strike against Daniels. The GOP is looking for "commonsense conservatives." And a scholarship? You mean he earned it? He didn't get in as a legacy like W?

[Daniels] served as Ronald Reagan’s budget director, and, from 2001 to 2003, served as George Bush’s budget director.

Weren't those the two guys that ran up those record deficits? And isn't that what the tea partiers are so upset about?

In his first year [as governor of Indiana] Daniels proposed a tax increase.

Whoops! Strike two.

He privatised the state’s welfare system, an unqualified disaster.

Okay, that's one in his favor.

By the end of his first term he had transformed a $200m deficit into a $1.3 billion surplus and the state had earned its first AAA credit rating.

Surplus? You're a Republican, remember? Foul tip.

He wonders whether America can afford all its military commitments, particularly those only loosely tied to fighting terrorism.

I'll pretend I didn't hear that.

He has derided the federal stimulus but taken its cash—a sign of pragmatism or hypocrisy, depending on the audience.

Shhh! That's okay. It's a dirty little secret that red states live off welfare from Washington.

More problematic, it is unclear that a clever, measured candidate stands a chance within the Republican Party. Social conservatives were rabid after Mr Daniels told the Weekly Standard that he favoured a temporary truce on social issues.

Ouch. Sorry, that's a called strike three. Especially since there's absolutely no mention in the article of Daniels as a Bible-thumping evangelical Christian.

Thanks for stopping by, Mitch. Check back with us in 2016; we might be able to use you then.

Franklin Graham, the Christian evangelist...

...and son of Billy Graham, thinks he knows why there's all this confusion over President Obama's religion. It's really very simple:

"I think the president's problem is that he was born a Muslim, his father was a Muslim. The seed of Islam is passed through the father like the seed of Judaism is passed through the mother. He was born a Muslim, his father gave him an Islamic name," Graham told CNN's John King. "Now it's obvious that the president has renounced the prophet Mohammed and he has renounced Islam and he has accepted Jesus Christ. That's what he says he has done, I cannot say that he hasn't. So I just have to believe that the president is what he has said."

For the record, Obama's father was Barack Hussein Obama, who gave the future president his own name. President Obama has written that his father, who he rarely ever saw, was raised a Muslim but was in practice an atheist.

This line of discussion came about due to a Pew national poll showing that 18% of Americans think that Obama is a Muslim -- nearly twice the number from last year.

Graham further explained: "The confusion is, is because his father was a Muslim, he was born a Muslim. The Islamic world sees the president as one of theirs. That's why Gaddafi calls him 'my son.' They see him as a Muslim. But of course the President says he is a Christian, and we just have to accept it as that."

Got all that?

Bill Millin, a Scottish bagpiper...

...who played highland tunes as his fellow commandos landed at Normandy beach on D-Day, died Wednesday at age 88.

Mr. Millin was a 21-year-old private in Britain’s First Special Service Brigade when his unit landed on the strip of coast the Allies code-named Sword Beach, near the French city of Caen at the eastern end of the invasion front chosen by the Allies for the landings on June 6, 1944.

By one estimate, about 4,400 Allied troops died in the first 24 hours of the landings, about two-thirds of them Americans.

The young piper was approached shortly before the landings by the brigade’s commanding officer, Brig. Simon Fraser, who as the 15th Lord Lovat was the hereditary chief of the Clan Fraser and one of Scotland’s most celebrated aristocrats. Against orders from World War I that forbade playing bagpipes on the battlefield because of the high risk of attracting enemy fire, Lord Lovat, then 32, asked Private Millin to play on the beachhead to raise morale.

When Private Millin demurred, citing the regulations, he recalled later, Lord Lovat replied: “Ah, but that’s the English War Office. You and I are both Scottish, and that doesn’t apply.”

Is that really how that conversation took place? Or was it something a little more like this:

"By the by, Millin, we all thought it would be just smashing if you would play the bagpipes when you got ashore."

"Huh? You mean, play the bagpipes instead of shooting at the enemy?"

"Quite right, old man."

"But I didn't bring my bagpipes."

"Oh, no worries. I just happen to have a set right here."

"But how will I carry my rifle and bagpipes?"

"Leave the rifle behind. You won't be needing it."

"Wha-"

After wading ashore in waist-high water that he said caused his kilt to float, Private Millin reached the beach, then marched up and down, unarmed, playing the tunes Lord Lovat had requested, including “Highland Laddie” and “Road to the Isles.”

Caused his kilt to float? This guy didn't wear pants to the Normandy Invasion?

With German troops raking the beach with artillery and machine-gun fire, the young piper played on as his fellow soldiers advanced through smoke and flame on the German positions, or fell on the beach. The scene provided an emotional high point in “The Longest Day.”

In later years Mr. Millin told the BBC he did not regard what he had done as heroic. When Lord Lovat insisted that he play, he said, “I just said ‘O.K.,’ and got on with it.” He added: “I didn’t notice I was being shot at. When you’re young, you do things you wouldn’t dream of doing when you’re older.”

He said he found out later, after meeting Germans who had manned guns above the beach, that they didn’t shoot him “because they thought I was crazy.”

Other British commandos cheered and waved, Mr. Millin recalled, though he said he felt bad as he marched among ranks of wounded soldiers needing medical help.

"Nasty cut you have there. Wish I could help but I've got to keep on playing. Good for morale, you know."

After seeing the opening scene of "Saving Private Ryan," it's hard to believe someone could survive the Normandy Invasion by marching up and down the beach playing bagpipes.

From the beach, Private Millin moved inland with the commandos to relieve British paratroopers who had seized a bridge near the village of Ouistreham that was vital to German attempts to move reinforcements toward the beaches. As the commandos crossed the bridge under German fire, Lord Lovat again asked Private Millin to play his pipes.

"Give us back the rifle, old boy. We're going to need you to play 'Danny Boy' again."

"But we're getting shot at!"

"Come on, now. Don't be a stick in the mud."

Again, somehow Private Millin managed to live through the rest of the war and return to Scotland to live out his life. I'll bet he was relieved never to see that whack-job Lord Lovat again.

After the war, he worked on Lord Lovat’s estate near Inverness...

I watched the last U. S. combat troops...

...leave Iraq on TV the other night:

NBC showed live pictures...as members of the last combat brigade in Iraq drove toward the Kuwait border, symbolizing an end to fighting in the country.

“We are with the last combat troops” in Iraq, the NBC correspondent Richard Engel said at 6:30 p.m. Eastern...

And I remember thinking, "It's about time; that was a long war."

A White House spokesman reiterated Wednesday night that the combat mission in Iraq formally ends on Aug. 31. At that time, Operation Iraqi Freedom becomes Operation New Dawn, with troops serving as trainers for the Iraqi military, much as they have for several months already. More than 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq; they will be reclassified as trainers.

What? Say that again? 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq? The difference is that now they will be reclassified as trainers? So when are we actually leaving?

Don't hold your breath. According to Wikipedia:

As of March 31, 2008, U.S. armed forces were stationed at more than 820 installations in at least 135 countries. Some of the largest contingents are the 50,000 military personnel deployed in Iraq, the 71,000 in Afghanistan, the 52,440 in Germany, the 35,688 in Japan, the 28,500 in Republic of Korea, and the 9,660 in Italy and the 9,015 in the United Kingdom respectively.

Altogether, 77,917 military personnel are located in Europe, 141 in the former Soviet Union, 47,236 in East Asia and the Pacific, 3,362 in North Africa, the Near East, and South Asia, 1,355 are in sub-Saharan Africa with 1,941 in the Western Hemisphere excepting the United States itself.

The United States has over 130,000 troops stationed in at least 135 countries? And over 9,000 in Italy and Britain, almost 20 years after the end of the Cold War and 65 years after the end of World War II?

I remember hearing Richard Clarke (above), the chief counter-terrorism adviser under President Bush, say once that the real reason we invaded Iraq was to establish bases there. If he's right, we're never leaving.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The song of the...

...day.

According to an article...

...in Reuters:

President Barack Obama said on Wednesday he had "no regrets" about taking a controversial position on whether a Muslim community center and mosque is built near the site of the September 11 attacks in New York.

Obama, a Democrat, said last week he supported the right of Muslims to build the center near the site known as "Ground Zero."

And in the Times this morning:

...a new poll by the Pew Research Center finds a substantial rise in the percentage of Americans who believe, incorrectly, that Mr. Obama is Muslim. The president is Christian, but 18 percent now believe he is Muslim, up from 12 percent when he ran for the presidency and 11 percent after he was inaugurated.

And then there's that whole birther thing:

...a CNN poll released this month when the president turned 49 found that 27 percent of Americans doubted he was born in the United States. A New York Times/ CBS News poll in April put the figure at 20 percent.
___

...Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, said aides did work hard to push back against misinformation...

Or do they?

Dick Armey (above), who could be considered the leader of the Tea Party movement, was on CNBC this morning. He said that the number one issue for the tea partiers was TARP -- you know, the program that almost all mainstream economists agree was necessary to save the financial system from Armageddon? Then he started rambling on about Sarah Palin and Ayn Rand and all I could do was turn the channel to Bloomberg. What a kook!

And that's my point. Maybe Obama spoke out on the Ground Zero mosque for the same reason that the White House might not be altogether unhappy with all this looney birther and Obama-is-a-Muslim nonsense: it makes the Republicans look crazy. Maybe the president is just trying to use it as a wedge issue to pry independents away from the GOP. Then if the Republicans nominate someone from the base in 2012, they'll get shellacked.

President Obama has been giving...

...a variation of this speech lately at Democratic fundraisers:

They spent almost a decade driving the economy into a ditch. I mean, think about it, if this -- if the economy was a car and they drove it into the ditch. (Laughter.) And so me and a bunch of others, we go down there and we put on our boots and we’re pushing and shoving. And it’s muddy and there are bugs and we’re sweating -- (laughter) -- and shoving, pushing hard. And they’re all standing there sipping Slurpees -- (laughter) -- and watching and -- “you’re not pushing hard enough.” “That’s not the right way to push.” (Pretends to sip a Slurpee.) (Laughter and applause.)

So finally, finally, we finally get the car up on level ground. We’re about to go forward. And these guys come and tap us on the shoulder, and they say, “We want the keys back.” (Laughter.)

You can’t have the keys back. You don’t know how to drive. (Applause.) You don’t know how to drive. (Applause.) You can’t have them back. (Applause.) Can’t have them back. You can’t have them back. We are trying to go forward. We do not want to go backwards -- into the ditch again.

You notice, when you want to move forward in your car, what do you do? You put your car in “D.” (Applause.) When you want to go backwards, you put it in “R” -- (applause) -- back into the ditch. Keep that in mind in November. (Applause.) That’s not a coincidence. (Laughter.)

What bothers me about this speech is the president's image of Republicans sipping on Slurpees. I know it's a minor point, but FDR would be talking about Republicans in top hats sipping champagne.

It would be easier for the president if he could be seen as running against "economic royalists" rather than populists.

Ben Quayle, son of former Vice President...

...Dan Quayle, is running for Congress from Arizona. Quayle has an ad in which he calls President Obama "the worst president in history."

This is from a guy whose father said, among other things:

"If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure."

"What a waste it is to lose one's mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is."

"Welcome to President Bush, Mrs. Bush, and my fellow astronauts."

"The Holocaust was an obscene period in our nation's history. I mean in this century's history. But we all lived in this century. I didn't live in this century."

"I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy -- but that could change."

"We have a firm commitment to NATO, we are a part of NATO. We have a firm commitment to Europe. We are a part of Europe."

"I love California, I practically grew up in Phoenix."

"It's wonderful to be here in the great state of Chicago."

"A low voter turnout is an indication of fewer people going to the polls."

"[It's] time for the human race to enter the solar system."

"I stand by all the misstatements that I've made."

Take a wild guess...

...as to the Catholic Church's position on the ground zero mosque:

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in New York, suggested Wednesday that he would support finding a new location for an Islamic center and mosque planned for a site two blocks from ground zero.

Now take a wild guess as to why:

Archbishop Dolan declined a request from The New York Times on Wednesday to explain his position and his thinking more fully.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cigary International is...

...a cigar store on Skokie Boulevard in Wilmette. Its owners are the Ashe brothers, Robert and Aaron.

Prediction...

...Marco Rubio (R) will win the Florida senate race in November with Kendrick Meek (D) coming in second and Charlie Crist (I) fading in the home stretch and finishing third.

The song of the...

...day.

This could be my favorite...

...Sarah Palin quote, from her book, Going Rogue:

I didn’t believe the theory that human beings – thinking, loving beings – originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea. Or that human beings began as single-celled organisms that developed into monkeys who eventually swung down from the trees.

This woman could be the next President of the United States.

Kathleen Parker...

...says:

The mosque should be built precisely because we don't like the idea very much.
___

That it hurts some people's feelings is, well, irrelevant in a nation of laws. And, really, don't we want to keep it that way?

Why do we have lawns?...

...asks Laura Vanderkam:

Historians aren't exactly sure why lawns became as closely tied to the American dream as homeownership itself. Perhaps early suburban sorts wished to mimic the look of British castle grounds (minus the sheep that were responsible for the close cropping). The fad spread, the lawn care industry grew, and now 21 million acres of the USA are covered with grasses that wouldn't grow well here if left to their own devices.

The fight to maintain this unnatural state exacts a toll. "It's essentially like pushing a boulder up a hill," notes Ted Steinberg, an environmental historian at Case Western Reserve University and author of American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn.

According to Stephen Kress of the National Audubon Society, homeowners apply 78 million pounds of pesticides a year to lawns, often to kill "weeds" such as dandelions and clover, perhaps not noticing that these plants look just as green as grass when you mow them.

Mowing itself requires fuel, just like our cars, with a similar impact on the environment. And all these woes are before you even get to the issue of water. According to Kress, maintaining non-native plants requires 10,000 gallons of water per year per lawn, over and above rainwater. That water doesn't just show up by itself; it requires energy to get to your hose. In California, for example, the energy required to treat and move water amounts to 19% of total electricity use in the state.

In short, lawns are incredibly inefficient, and not just from an environmental perspective. Maintenance requires time and money, which people usually claim are in short supply. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' American Time Use Survey, the average father of school-aged kids spends 1.6 hours a week on lawn and garden care — more time than he spends on reading, talking, playing or doing educational activities with his kids combined.

Could New Jersey Governor...

...Chris Christie be the American David Cameron that the GOP so desperately needs? (My emphasis.)

The Republican governor of New Jersey chastised Democrats and Republicans for using the proposed Islamic center near the site of the 9/11 terror attack as a "political football," in a sharp departure from members of his own party who are intent on making the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" an issue in fall election campaigns.
___

He included Obama as among the politicians who he scolded for playing politics with the emotional issue and called for tolerance for Muslims.

"We cannot paint all of Islam with that brush. We have to bring people together. And what offends me the most about all this is that it's being used as a political football by both parties. And what disturbs me about the president's remarks is that he is now using it as a political football as well. I think the president of the United States should rise above that."

Shocker alert!

Rupert Murdoch is donating $1 million to the Republican Governors Association. (All emphasis mine.)

The contribution from Mr. Murdoch’s News Corporation, which owns Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post and other news outlets, is one of the biggest ever given by a media organization, campaign finance experts said.

Democrats seized on the donation as evidence of the News Corporation’s conservative leanings, with Media Matters for America, a liberal group that has tangled often with the company, calling it “an appendage of the Republican Party.”
___

The donation generated significant buzz in Washington on Tuesday. Much of it focused on Fox News, whose stable of highly rated, conservative hosts have made it the frequent target of liberals, who accuse the network of blurring the line between news and opinion.

In an e-mail to reporters, the Democratic National Committee said the donation showed that Fox News’ well-known mantra, “Fair and Balanced,” had been “rendered utterly meaningless.” Hari Sevugan, a D.N.C. spokesman, added that Fox News’ political coverage “should have a disclaimer for what it truly is — partisan propaganda.”

I like what Maureen Dowd...

...has to say about the Ground Zero mosque:

Some critics have said the ultimate victory for Osama and the 9/11 hijackers would be to allow a mosque to be built near ground zero.

Actually, the ultimate victory for Osama and the 9/11 hijackers is the moral timidity that would ban a mosque from that neighborhood.

Our enemies struck at our heart, but did they also warp our identity?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Katha Pollitt weighs in on...

...the Ground Zero mosque (my emphasis):

Park51, a k a Cordoba House, won't be a mosque; it will be a $100 million, thirteen-story cultural center with a pool, gym, auditorium and prayer room. It won't be at Ground Zero; it will be two blocks away. (By the way, two mosques have existed in the neighborhood for years.) It won't be a shadowy storefront where radical clerics recruit young suicide bombers; it will be a showplace of moderate Islam, an Islam for the pluralist West—the very thing wise heads in the United States and Europe agree is essential to integrate Muslim immigrants and prevent them from becoming fundamentalists and even terrorists. "It's a shame we even have to talk about this," says Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a longtime supporter of the project.

The song of the...

...day.

Why do people watch Fox News?

Again, from Purdum's piece in Vanity Fair:

At least one news organization—Fox News—is waging a fiercely partisan war against the administration. When Obama flew to Prague this spring to sign the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, continuing a process put in place by Ronald Reagan, the Fox News midday anchor, Megyn Kelly, took note of the trip as she cut to a commercial break, then added, “Now critics are asking, Will the new deal leave the U.S. defenseless until it’s too late?” Kelly’s face disappeared from the screen and was replaced by grainy black-and-white footage of an exploding nuclear bomb.

Anyone who watches Fox deserves to.

The second paragraph...

...of Purdum's piece is just as good as the first:

After breakfast and a quick read of the papers, the president sees his daughters, Sasha and Malia, off to school. Then he enters the private, wood-paneled family elevator—installed in the same shaft used by Theodore Roosevelt’s son Quentin to bring his pet pony upstairs—perhaps taking a moment to straighten his tie in the mirrored back wall of the cab.

Quentin? Pet pony? You've got to be kidding me!

"I'll be bringing my pet pony upstairs now, father."

"Splendid! Don't forget your shovel."

I just started Todd Purdum's...

...must-read piece in Vanity Fair, "Washington, We Have a Problem," and I have to share with you the last sentence of the very first paragraph:

Obama may be surrounded by servants morning till night, but not for him the daily drill of Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was dressed by a valet, John Moaney, from inside out—underwear, socks, pants, shirt, tie, shoes, jacket—every morning.

That seems a little strange to me. Can you imagine requiring help dressing yourself? Gives you a little window into the world of a five-star general, I suppose. What would be next?

"I'm going to need you to carry me downstairs now, Moaney."

"Very good, sir."

Monday, August 16, 2010

Japan may not have...

...the second largest economy anymore, but it can still brag about having the world’s highest life expectancy. Or can it?

In an article in yesterday's Times, "Japan, Checking on Its Oldest, Finds Many Gone":

To date, the authorities have been unable to find more than 281 Japanese who had been listed in records as 100 years old or older. Facing a growing public outcry, the country’s health minister, Akira Nagatsuma, said officials would meet with every person listed as 110 or older to verify that they are alive; Tokyo officials made the same promise for the 3,000 or so residents listed as 100 and up.
___

For the moment, there are no clear answers about what happened to most of the missing centenarians. Is the country witnessing the results of pension fraud on a large scale, or, as most officials maintain, was most of the problem a result of sloppy record keeping?
___

In a typical case, relatives of a man listed as 103 years old said he had left home 38 years ago and never returned. The man’s son, now 73, told officials that he continued to collect his father’s pension “in case he returned one day.”

“No one really suspects foul play in these cases,” said Manabu Hajikano, director of Adachi’s resident registration section.

Of course not.

The song of the...

...day. Is that Andy Williams again? That guy's like Zelig!

The Craigslist killer died...

...this weekend of an apparent suicide.

Philip Markoff, 24, a former Boston University student, pleaded not guilty in the fatal shooting of Julissa Brisman, of New York City, and the armed robbery of a Las Vegas woman. Both crimes happened at Boston hotels within the span of four days in April 2009. Rhode Island prosecutors also accused him of attacking a stripper that week.
___

Markoff was engaged at the time of his arrest. His fiancee, Megan McAllister, ended the relationship with Markoff after visiting him in jail, and their wedding, scheduled for Aug. 14, 2009, was canceled.

The whole thing is a tragedy. But what I want to know is, what must his fiancee be thinking today? I almost married this guy?

The bakery at Rikers Island jail...

...in New York "turns out 11,500 loaves of whole wheat bread a day to feed its 13,000 inmates," according to an article in today's Times.

If my math is correct, that works out to about 88 percent of a loaf per person. That sounds like a lot of bread, doesn't it?

Ross Douthat's column...

...in the Times today, "Islam in Two Americas," is one of the best I've read so far on the controversy surrounding the mosque at ground zero.

But near the end of the piece, Douthat refers to 9/11 as "a mass murder committed in the name of Islam." And my response is, Really? Is that what happened?

And the reason I ask is that not only has the most important question about 9/11 never been answered, it's never even been asked. And it's a simple one: Why did the terrorists attack us on 9/11?

That should have been the first question anyone -- particularly President Bush -- should have asked. (If someone walked up to you and punched you in the face, wouldn't you ask yourself -- at some point -- why did he do that?)

The question as to why we were attacked on 9/11 could have initiated a nationwide discussion and its answer could have served as a guide for our actions going forward. But Bush -- as was his wont -- flubbed it and I think it was at that point that I gave up on him as a serious leader; he never recovered in my eyes.

9/11 and its aftermath could have been George Bush's one chance at Greatness. (And most presidents never get that opportunity.) Picture the president standing in the end zone -- all alone -- and having a pass hit him in the numbers and dropping it. That's about what happened -- only worse, much worse.

Until we can come to grips with the question of why we were attacked, we'll never get past 9/11. We'll just continue to flail about in places like Iraq and Afghanistan -- and be unable to deal with things like a mosque at ground zero.

Oh, and my answer to The Question? It's complicated; more complicated than "a mass murder committed in the name of Islam." Sorry if it sounds like I'm punting, but it's the subject of another post -- a much longer post. But I'll give you a hint: it's not "They hate us for our freedoms."

China is now the world's...

...second-largest economy, having surpassed Japan in the second quarter, according to Bloomberg. Experts expect China to overtake the United States as the world's largest sometime after 2020.

How will that make Americans feel?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

William Kristol's career includes...

...serving as campaign manager for (the truly wacky) Alan Keyes in his unsuccessful bid for the United States Senate in 1988 and as Chief of Staff for Vice President Dan Quayle during the first Bush administration. More recently, Kristol was one of the "discoverers" of Sarah Palin. (Think about all that next time you get depressed about your career.) Oh, and I almost forgot, Kristol still thinks the Iraq War was a good idea.

The son of the legendary Irving Kristol and Gertrude Himmelfarb (more about that name another time), Bill Kristol is also the editor of The Weekly Standard, which is part of the Rupert Murdoch empire. (Need I say more?)

As one of Palin's biggest cheerleaders, Kristol has created a line of merchandise such as t-shirts and coffee mugs with the word "refudiate" in it, such as the one above. Clever, huh? Take one of Palin's many shortcomings, in this case her weak command of the English language, and turn it into a positive. Brilliant!

As an Obama supporter, and Democratic-leaning independent, I almost hope that Palin wins the Republican nomination. But as a patriotic American who loves his country, I really hope she doesn't; because the thought of her having even a remote chance of sitting in the Oval Office scares the daylights out of me. America has already had one president who was completely out of his depth; we don't need another one. Besides, a more appropriate career path for Palin might be to return to high school and pay attention this time.

By the way, when I finished writing this post and hit "spellcheck," refudiate was highlighted. Couldn't Palin even figure out how to do that?

The song of the...

...day.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Leon Breeden, director of jazz studies...

...at the University of North Texas, died on Wednesday at age 88.

Harold Leon Breeden was born on Oct. 3, 1921, in Guthrie, Okla., and reared in Wichita Falls, Tex., where his parents owned a service station. (As a youth, he enjoyed recounting afterward, he once served a Coke to a handsome young couple who had pulled into the station. Their names, he later learned, were Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.)