Monday, May 31, 2010

I made it to the state track meet...

...on Saturday (no thanks to the Illinois state police, who stopped me for speeding just south of the city, even though I was only keeping up with the traffic; and took my license, even though I tried to reason with the #*&! cop and tell him that I might need it in case I had to get on an airplane or something -- even though I don't have any plans to fly in the near future and, even if I did, could use my passport, but still...).

Word to the wise: Be extra careful driving on Memorial Day Weekend.

(My wife struck up a conversation later with a state trooper while waiting in a concession line at the meet. He said they were out in full force for the weekend and told her a story of how he'd stopped earlier in the day to help a stranded motorist. The cop had to take the poor guy in when he found out there was a warrant out for his arrest.)

We arrived in time anyway, only to bake in the unforgiving central Illinois sun.

Another word to the wise: Sunscreen.

The Illinois high school state track meet makes for a fun day; it's only a three hour drive from Chicago to Eastern Illinois University in Charleston (the alma mater, by the way, not only of Tony Romo, but also of Mike Shanahan, Brad Childress, and Sean Payton -- take that Miami of Ohio, Cradle of Coaches) through the flat Illinois countryside (be careful not to speed!). I was looking forward to the "Burma-Shave"-style signs from last year, but saw only two, one on the way down:

IF YOU WANT PEACE

PREPARE FOR WAR

GUNS EVEN THE SCORE

and one on the way back:

YOUNG THUGS

WON'T DARE ATTACK

IF A TEACHER

MIGHT SHOOT BACK

GUNSSAVELIVES.COM

Apparently, central Illinoisans are still gun-happy, but a little less so this year. (They're still convinced, however, that potential invaders are just itching to take over their godforsaken corner of the universe and that teachers in small towns should be armed against menacing farm boys, just in case.)

I guess I expected more signs this year, not fewer, considering that there's a foreign-born socialist in the White House. (Maybe even tea partiers get tired of ranting over nothing.)

The meet was a good showing for the Central Suburban Conference, as representatives took first place in the 100 and 200 Meter Dash and the 4 x 100 and 4 x 200 Meter Relays. Also, Niles West took seventh overall. (Loyola Academy tied for eighth.)

This year's meet was most notable for its balance. Although Hillcrest took first in 2A for the second year in a row (let's bump them up to 3A next year, shall we?) and York took second in 3A, Cahokia only placed third in 2A, and gone from the leader boards were such venerable names as East St. Louis, Springfield Lanphier, and Evanston.

The Worst Name Award for the day went to Marcus Popenfoose, of Huntley, with Second Place going to Wana Wauna, of Oak Forest. Logan Pflibsen, of Streator, received Honorable Mention.

The "song" of the...

...day is for all those who died in the last year.

Friday, May 28, 2010

I'll be at Eastern Illinois University...

...tomorrow, attending my fifth consecutive state high school track meet. The festivities will begin at 10am and Glenbrook South will have participants in five events.

You can watch the races live this year on the IHSA Web site. (Keep your eye on the Titans' 4 x 800-meter relay team.)

I should have a full recap Saturday night.

I didn't make the cut for jury duty...

...today (only last names beginning with the letters "G" through "O" need to show up; the rest of us will be called at a later date). Too bad; I was looking forward to another Attempted Murder trial.

It's Funky Friday...

...at BOWG; so is the song of the day.

Enjoy the long weekend.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dick Cheney has endorsed...

...Gresham Barrett for governor in the South Carolina Republican primary. This comes on the heels of Sarah Palin's endorsement of state Rep. Nikki Haley.

Is there a pattern here? I noticed that while Cheney endorsed Kay Bailey Hutchison for governor of Texas, Palin endorsed Rick Perry. And while Cheney endorsed Trey Grayson for the Senate from Kentucky, Palin endorsed Rand Paul.

Now Palin may or may not be running for president in 2012. We know Cheney isn't. So what's going on here? Is this for control of the Republican Party? Stay tuned.

Art Linkletter died...

...at age 97. Apparently, his early life was not a typical one:

Gordon Arthur Kelly was born on July 17, 1912, in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Before he was a month old he was abandoned by his parents and adopted by Fulton John and Mary Metzler Linkletter, a middle-age couple whose two children had died. It was not until he was 12, while rummaging through his father’s desk, that he discovered he was adopted.

In his autobiography, “Confessions of a Happy Man,” Mr. Linkletter recalled his adoptive father, a one-legged cobbler and itinerant evangelist, as “a strange, uncompromising man whose main interest in life was the Bible.” The family prayed and performed on street corners, with Art playing the triangle.

I guess it takes all kinds.

Later on, he had a show where he interviewed kids:

After one boy revealed that his father was a policeman who arrested lots of burglars, Mr. Linkletter asked if his mother ever worried about the risks. “Naw, she thinks it’s great,” he answered. “He brings home rings and bracelets and jewelry almost every week.”

The job market is heating up...

...from what I gather. In the New York Times this morning, a story reports that Robert Morgenthau, who recently retired from his job as the district attorney of Manhattan, has been appointed to monitor the fire department's minority hiring.

Is Mr. Morgenthau's career change indicative of a mid-life crisis? Perhaps. After all, he's only 90 years old.

Do you suppose he'll have FICA withheld from his paychecks?

Jamie Dinan is the CEO...

...and Managing Partner of York Capital, a hedge fund with $12 billion under management. He was just interviewed on CNBC; seems like a nice enough man.

But how often do you suppose he gets confused with Jamie Dimon, the CEO and chairman of JPMorgan Chase?

"Excuse me, sir, a Mr. Jamie Dinan is on the phone..."

"Jamie Dimon? Put him through right away!"

"No, no, no. Not Jamie Dimon; Jamie Dinan."

"Who?"

"A Mr. Dinan. Jamie Dinan."

"Oh. Uh, tell him I'm in a meeting or something..."

I went through a period recently...

...when I had three flat tires in the space of about ten days. (Don't ask.) Each time, I went to Just Tires, in Morton Grove, which is an excellent business. (Full disclosure: I don't own any stock in this company, as far as I know.)

I have a couple of observations in regard to my experience. First of all, you don't want the proprietor of Just Tires to know you by name. Having the guy behind the desk light up when you walk through the door and say, "Hey Mr. Tracy! How are you today?" is not necessarily a good thing. It means you are hanging out at the tire store too much. Your life is out of balance.

It reminded me a little of when my next door neighbor had his second fire and he and the fire chief recognized each other.

"Weren't you here for my last fire?" my neighbor asked him.

"I think so, Mr. Wold."

I tried to tell my neighbor that some people might think it's a red flag when the fireman knows your name: it means you're having too many fires.

My other observation is about actually working in the tire business. It's a perfectly respectable profession, and Just Tires does a great job. But once when I was waiting in line, I couldn't help overhearing the conversation between the couple in front of me and the guy behind the counter. He was explaining the various tires that would be appropriate for their car. (The store has dozens of tires mounted on the walls for your perusal. To the uninitiated, like me, they all just look like a bunch of tires with marginally different tread patterns.)

I then heard him say something to the effect of, "Yeah, that one over there is my favorite tire."

And I thought, can you imagine being so immersed in the World of Tires that you have a favorite one?

The song of the...

...day is by Glenn Yarbrough, one of the original Limeliters. It's worth listening to if you can get past the first 40 seconds or so of this video.

While Yarbrough gained fame as a folk singer, this tune made it to No. 2 on the Easy Listening charts back in 1965. (Is that what people mean by the term "backhanded compliment?")

Also, the video provides incontrovertible evidence that folk music is nearly impossible to dance to.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rand Paul is not a racist.

How do I know? Because I used to think just like him.

For many years, not only was I a libertarian, but a Libertarian with a capital "L." That's right; a card-carrying, dues-paying member of the Party. Why? Because I believed in the rights of the individual vs. the rights of the collective. Because I believed in minimal government. Not just small government, but minimal government. You know; courts, national defense, police -- and that's about it. The private sector could take care of the rest; it was more efficient that way. And besides, that's how the Founding Fathers had intended it. It made a lot of sense to me.

Just like Chris Matthews and Hillary Clinton before me, I began my political journey as a Goldwater Republican. I read The Conscience of a Conservative in high school and all of Ayn Rand's novels (and much of her non-fiction), beginning in the 1980s. While working on the trading floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, I internalized Rule Number One: The markets are always right. (Rule Number Two? When in doubt, refer back to Rule Number One.) For example, if you're long and the market drops, then you're wrong, because the market is always right. In fact, the market can't be wrong; it's like a thermometer--it only reflects reality. And when I went to grad school, my thinking was reinforced further; we were taught that the markets were perfectly efficient. (I've often wondered how my old finance professors would explain the all-time high in the stock market that occurred in October, 2007, during the quarter in which the Great Recession began.)

My politics reflected my belief in the markets. As recently as February, 2008, I voted for Ron Paul for president in the Illinois Republican primary. Call it my last gasp of libertarianism. The following November, I cast my ballot for Barack Obama and haven't looked back. In fact, I think he's on track to becoming one of the best presidents of my lifetime.

Why the sea change? To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, it's been a long, strange trip. Or maybe not so strange. After all, people do change their minds, especially when confronted with new information (like a financial collapse). Or sometimes by just rethinking their ideology. (A great example of this is Witness, the memoirs of Whittaker Chambers, the former Communist.)

At some point, it dawned on me that there were two worlds: the libertarian utopia that existed mostly in my head and the real one that existed everywhere else. Eventually I had to make a decision; I chose reality. The real world has real problems; you can either daydream your life away or try to come up with real solutions.

Or maybe my metamorphosis was just a function of age. After all, when you're 25 anything seems possible; when you're fifty-something, the time for revolution is running out.

Maybe I just grew up.

Libertarianism, like any ideology, is nothing if not consistent. And that's a big part of its appeal. It attempts to simplify a complex universe; everything fits neatly into its framework. I think that's what some people mean when they say that it's "elegant." Libertarians, like all ideologues, have an answer for everything. In their case, it's usually some variation of "government bad; private sector good." In fact, if you listen to these people, it's always the government's fault -- somehow. Just give me some time and I'll find it. The housing bubble? Fannie and Freddie. Jim Crow? Those were state laws. I could go on and on. Just pick up the Wall Street Journal any day and you'll see what I mean. It's always the fault of the government. The world of the ideologue is very simple. Everything is black and white; there are no shades of gray. It's all very straightforward. And lazy.

There's only one problem with ideology: It doesn't always work in the real world.

Take Rand Paul's stance on the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It prohibits, among other things, private businesses from discriminating against certain customers. Libertarians, understandably, were up in arms over this. After all, if a business is privately owned, then the owner should be able to do whatever he wants with it and serve whomever he wants. (Heck, he should be able to blow the darn thing up with dynamite if he so chooses.) And if the community doesn't like the way he runs it, then they can choose not to buy from him. It's very simple; the market will discipline him. Makes perfect sense; again, it's elegant. Except that there's only one small problem. It didn't work that way. The market didn't correct the Jim Crow laws in the South. And the market never would. Why? Because the majority of southerners were quite content with the status quo. Whites weren't the ones pressing for change.

So Americans were faced with a choice: honor the rights of private property owners or correct a profound injustice. Or, put another way, adhere rigidly to a set of abstract principles or do the right thing. Thankfully, LBJ and the Congress did the right thing and America is a better place for it -- for all of us. I'll bet there are southern whites who think to themselves from time to time, How could we have possibly thought that segregation was just? I know Barry Goldwater and William Buckley had regrets.

So is Rand Paul a racist? Again, no. Just a rigid ideologue.

South Carolina politics...

...has a new sex scandal involving State Representative Nikki Haley, who is running for governor. Whatever.

The more interesting story here is that after an endorsement by Sarah Palin, Haley vaulted into the lead for the Republican nomination:

For months, Ms. Haley, who has two children, was regarded as a long-shot candidate opposed by a congressman, the attorney general and the lieutenant governor. But she has won support from the Tea Party camp, and after a visit and endorsement from Ms. Palin on May 14, Ms. Haley’s political fortunes soared.

As Kathleen Parker noted on the Chris Matthews Show, if Palin can have that kind of an impact on a local race, she can win a primary there. And since South Carolina votes shortly after Iowa and New Hampshire in 2012, it could put the former governor into the lead for the nomination.

I still say the race is hers to lose.

The song of the...

...day is about Neil Young's car.

I'm still working on my...

...Rand Paul-1964 Civil Rights Act posting. In the meantime, I think it's appropriate to mention the death of David Ginsburg:

[He] led the presidential commission on race relations whose report, in 1968, warned that the United States was “moving toward two societies — one black, one white, separate and unequal.”

I'd like to ask Rand Paul, is that what you would really want, two societies, separate and unequal? Wouldn't it be better to bend your libertarian principles just a little in the hope of correcting a profound injustice and creating a better America? In the final analysis, isn't that preferable?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The song of the...

...day.

Bill Maher described Rand Paul...

...last week in this way: "Imagine if Sarah Palin made it through medical school."

I'm a big fan of Maher's, but I think that's a little unfair to Paul. I actually think he and his father are two highly intelligent, if misguided, individuals. And even though I disagree with most of their positions, I admire them for their intellectual honesty.

(I'll get to the whole Civil Rights Act controversy in a bit; I'm still sorting out what I want to say.)

But one way in which Rand Paul is like Sarah Palin is his willingness to blame the media for broadcasting what he himself said. And that's discouraging. Because what Paul said is his own responsibility. Period. I watched his appearance on Rachel Maddow and it's what he said (and didn't say) that got him into trouble. Again, period.

Now, after cancelling his appearance on Meet the Press, I'm afraid that Paul's campaign may be toast.

In August of 2008, after introducing Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate, the campaign quickly made it clear that she would not be available for interviews. I remember thinking at the time that this was a red flag. Why can't Governor Palin take a few simple questions from the media? Is she not prepared? Has she not been properly vetted? Something smelled. And we soon found out what it was. She wasn't ready for the Big Time.

And now, after a difficult first week, Paul is also ducking the media. Sorry, but this isn't the old Soviet Union. If you want to hold elective office in this country, you have to be accountable to the public through the media. That's just the way things work. And if you're afraid to answer questions about your beliefs, then you probably aren't ready to serve.

If Paul doesn't change his mind, and soon, I predict his campaign will go down in flames.

What's so special...

...about the number 8,549,176,320? The number is the 10 natural integers arranged in English alphabetical order.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The song of the...

...day is from 1968, the last time a major league pitcher won 30 games in a season. It was Denny McLain (Carmel Guy) and he went on to become the first pitcher in the American League to win the MVP and the Cy Young Award in the same season. His team, the Detroit Tigers, beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, 4 games to 3. (Coincidentally, Bob Gibson, who bested McLain twice in the Series that year, won the MVP and Cy Young Award in the National League. His ERA was a stingy 1.12.)

As a 19-year old in his first outing for the Tigers, McLain beat his hometown Chicago White Sox. He held the South Siders to one earned run on seven hits, picked two runners off base and even hit a home run, the only one he would ever hit in the majors.

The White House took...

...another swipe at Sarah Palin yesterday. From Politico:

Asked about Palin's comments that the Obama administration is too cozy with oil companies because of their campaign contributions to him, Gibbs said, "Sarah Palin was involved in that election but apparently wasn't paying a whole lot of attention."

"My suggestion to Sarah Palin would be to get slightly more informed," Gibbs said.

This came after President Obama said this last month:

"I really have no response. Because last I checked, Sarah Palin's not much of an expert on nuclear issues," he said in an exclusive interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos.

Now Chris Matthews doesn't approve of this. On "Hardball" he said:

Pat Buchanan, at his peak, and Pat's rule, the Nixon rule in the old days—and it's a darn good rule—attack up. Don‘t attack down. Attack up.

And there's the president attacking Sarah Palin, which is attacking down, which gives her a direct shaft of opportunity to go right at him.

Matthews thinks it's unwise of the White House to elevate Palin. But I think that's exactly their strategy: make the weakest candidate possible (Palin) the 2012 Republican nominee. (It's also why the president compared ObamaCare to RomneyCare; it hurts Romney among the GOP.)

Expect to see more of this, not less, in the future.

Two more great obits...

...in the Times today are major league pitcher Jose Lima, who owned more than 2,000 suits:

“I’ve never worn the same one twice,” he said. “I give the old ones to my brothers. They wear the same size that I do.”

And Stan Jones, who played on the 1963 Chicago Bears championship team.

Jones recalled negotiating with Bears' owner and head coach George Halas:

“When we talked contract, he always started with the same question,” Jones told Jeff Davis in the biography “Papa Bear: The Life and Legacy of George Halas” (2005). “ ‘Stan, what can you ask for that I won’t have to say no to?’ I’d say whatever it was, and he’d say, ‘I can’t justify that to the board of directors.’ There was no board of directors. Halas was the board of directors. I could never get any more money out of him.”

Before he played in the NFL, Jones was an All-American tackle at Maryland, where he played both offense and defense.

That reminded me of a time when my father struck up a conversation with someone about his grandson and his high school football season."He goes both ways," my dad bragged to the stranger.

My father never did understand why this elicited such an odd look.

What is so special about...

...the number 8,549,176,320?

I'll print the answer tomorrow. Can't wait? Then check out Martin Gardner's obit in the New York Times today.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The song of the...

...day (and its accompanying video) is from 1957, before I was born. I especially like the introduction by Kathryn Murray, whoever she was. (I would have sworn it was Kitty Carlisle.) My only surprise is that Murray didn't put the words "Rock 'n Roll" in air quotes.

I suppose this is how I look to my kids when speaking about "rap" music. "Let's hear some more of that will.i.am..."

(Oh, and check out the kids rockin' out in the background. And who do you suppose dressed them?)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Of all the pictures...

...I could have chosen for a post on Gene & Jude's, I think this one best conveys the ambiance at this classic River Grove eatery. In case you can't read it (and that's as large as I could get it), it says STOP AT THIS POINT...PLACE ORDER...THEN MOVE ON. It even has arrows to guide you, in case you are illiterate or just plain dyslexic. (Or if you're like me and walk right past it. "Hey! What's a guy gotta do around here for a hot dog?") The sign is crucial to understanding your Gene & Jude's experience.

When I arrived promptly at 11:30, my buddy Kevin was waiting patiently in the parking lot.

"Hey! How're you doin'," I said.

"Where do you think you're going?" He replied.

"Inside?"

"Not until I give you some coaching."

Kevin then went on to explain the subtle process of ordering at Gene & Jude's. I felt like George Costanza, preparing to engage the Soup Nazi. The first step is to walk in the right door. "No, not that one! Over here." Then you get in line and make your selection from the extensive menu on the wall behind the counter. Actually, it's not so extensive; the only items are hot dog, double hot dog, corn roll tamale, and fries. The toppings include mustard, relish, onions, and sport peppers. And drinks, of course. That's it.

Behind the counter is a beehive of activity.

"Now whoever you start with, that'll be your guy throughout the whole process."

"Got it."

Since Kevin always orders a double dog, I followed suit. When in Rome, you know? "Everything except sport peppers," I announced to my "guy." (Sport peppers are a funny thing. When you're young, you can't eat them because they're too hot. Then when you get to be my age, you can't eat them because they "don't agree" with you.)

After we got our dogs, we found what we thought was the best seat in the house. (Actually, there are no "seats" per se, just a counter where you stand and eat with everyone else.) The dogs come wrapped with fries in one single piece of wax paper and then shoved into little brown bags with grease stains on them. Beautiful!

In case you haven't picked up on it by now, Gene & Jude's is a license to print money. It's a bare bones operation with just a few offerings, minimal overhead and takes only cash. Good for them; they've hit on a good business model. But I also noticed that they sell T-shirts for good measure--INQUIRE AT THE REGISTER. What could they possibly make on these, an extra five or ten grand a year? They're already making a killing; do they really have to rub our noses in it?

But all in all, it was a great experience. And I have now eaten at ten of the restaurants listed in the Vienna Beef Hall of Fame. One of my life goals is to hit all fifty.

It's back to 1971...

...for the song of the day.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Chris Cillizza has the best blog...

...for political junkies like me. His post today, "Who's the most influential Republican leader?," attempts to:

...rank the 10 Republicans currently exerting the most influence on the party's direction whether from the inside (like Republican Governors Association Chairman Haley Barbour) or from the outside (Kentucky Senate nominee and tea party favorite Rand Paul).

Cillizza's ranking consists of:

1. Sarah Palin
2. Mitt Romney
3. Haley Barbour
4. Tim Pawlenty
5. John Cornyn
6. Rick Perry
7. Chris Christie
8. Mitch Daniels
9. Newt Gingrich
10. Rand Paul

Here's my list (and I'm not kidding):

1. Rush Limbaugh
2. Sarah Palin
3. Glenn Beck
4. Bill O'Reilly
5. Sean Hannity

I just got back from Abt...

...which, by itself, would make for a good blog post. What a place! I can't process it all.

On the way home, I took Lake Avenue in order to avoid downtown Glenview and the risk of having to stop for a train. My strategy backfired, however, as I ended up waiting for a funeral to pass at Waukegan Road. Rats!

The trip wasn't a total loss, though. I saw a red SUV with the license plate, HOW R YA. That's almost as good as another one I'd seen recently, I HEAR YA. But the best license plate I've seen lately was U SPOSE.

This morning, S&P futures...

...dipped briefly below the low made on May 6 in what has since become known as the "flash crash." Speculation on the "culprit" for the crash has centered on Kansas-based Waddell & Reed. It's been reported that on that day, Waddell sold 75,000 e-mini futures contracts in an effort to hedge against the risks stemming from the European sovereign debt crisis. That equates to 15,000 "big" contracts (for you old-timers), and in my days on the CME trading floor that would have been considered a sizable order. The big firms down there--like Goldman or Morgan Stanley--in an effort to minimize market impact, would have taken all day to fill an order like that. But times have changed, apparently, as 5.7 million e-minis traded that day. That means that Waddell's order was only a little over 1 percent of the day's overall trading volume. In a letter to its advisers, Waddell said:

“We believe that trades of the size we initiated normally are absorbed easily in the market,” estimating it was one of 250 firms engaging in e-mini trading during the market selloff.

The Chicago Mercantile Exchange has said all Waddell’s e-mini sales took place between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., the period of the flash crash when 1.6 million total e-mini sales occurred.

Waddell said the behavior of both the e-mini’s price and bid/ask spread “do not suggest that our trades had a disruptive effect.” The bid/ask spread widened during the firm’s trading for less than one second, the firm said.

“The e-mini rallied during our trade, suggesting it was not causing the price movement,” the firm said.


So what happened on that day? I'm not sure anyone knows just yet, but my hunch is that the electronic market makers--or high frequency traders--took the other side of Waddell's order and then went about hedging their risk. And then it sounds like what happened was that the NYSE's computers were overwhelmed and the high frequency traders' orders had to be rerouted to less liquid exchanges where the stock price of companies like Accenture fell briefly below a dollar a share. Once this selling pressure abated, the market drifted back to a more reasonable level.

So who is to blame for the flash crash on May 6? Waddell? Not after reading their explanation of what happened. I would have thought that they had acted recklessly for sending such a large order, but I guess it wasn't so large after all. The high frequency traders? Not really. They were just hedging their risk; that's what they do. The NYSE, for having computers that were ill-equipped to handle the volume? No. The investing public should know by now that the NYSE is a technological backwater. The secondary exchanges, for their lack of liquidity? Again, no. Everyone should know that.

So who, then, is at fault? Nobody? Perhaps. Given this morning's price action, maybe Waddell wasn't wrong after all, just early. Maybe the market makers got run over. It happens sometimes; trading isn't a risk-free endeavor. (Just ask anyone who's ever scalped a Cubs ticket. The ones for games in September don't always hold their face value.)

So what should happen to all those crazy prices that traded that day? I say: leave 'em. Again, Waddell wasn't wrong, just early. If the market-makers got beat up, oh well. But won't that cause investors to lose confidence in the market? Not if they have a long-term perspective, and by long-term I mean more than a few minutes. Because by the time the typical investor even heard about the flash crash, it was over and the price of his stocks had returned to levels more in keeping with the fundamentals.

So hats off to Waddell, I say. You guys called this break pretty well.

I'm sure you've heard "Wooden Ships..."

...by Crosby, Stills & Nash, from their eponymous album released in 1969. But did you know that it was written and composed in collaboration with Paul Kantner from the Jefferson Airplane? The Airplane also released a version on their "Volunteers" album in the same year.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

This is the most damning piece...

...I've read on Rand Paul and the 1964 Civil Rights Act:

Paul would never face the actual “hard part” of his vision of freedom, because it would never interfere with his own life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness. Rand Paul would not have been turned away from a lunch counter, be refused a home, a job, or denied a loan, or told to sit in the black car of a train because of his skin color, or because of the skin color of his spouse. Paul thinks there is something “hard” about defending the kind of discrimination he would have never, ever faced. Paul’s free market fundamentalism is being expressed after decades of social transformation that the Civil Rights Act helped create, and so the hell of segregation is but a mere abstraction, difficult to remember and easy to dismiss as belonging only to its time. It’s much easier now to say that “the market would handle it.” But it didn’t, and it wouldn’t.

In this context, it’s worth recalling that Paul isn’t actually a 100 percent consistent opponent of government activity. He’s a medical doctor. And he opposes reductions in Medicare’s payments to medical doctors. Saying “the Civil Rights Act was morally wrong” might be the hard part of freedom for a black libertarian but it’s not the hard part of freedom for Ron Paul. For Paul, the hard part would be saying that he and his colleagues should get less money from the government. But he doesn’t say that. That’s too hard.

Foreshadowing? According to...

...an article in the Times, "In Arizona's Latest Twist, Voters Follow G.O.P. Governor and Approve Tax Increase."

It is not every day that a Republican candidate for governor promotes and celebrates a tax increase here in the state many believe helped give rise to the modern conservative movement.

But there was Gov. Jan Brewer, who is seeking a full term in a crowded, competitive primary, beaming to supporters from a middle school stage Tuesday night. Off to her left, large screens displayed the news that fueled her smile: Arizona voters overwhelmingly supported a one-cent rise in the sales tax to help stave off sharp cuts in education and other services.

Arakawa, a Japanese-born...

...conceptual artist and designer, died Tuesday at age 73. (It's usually a red flag when people go by only one name.)

He and his wife, Madeline Gins (who had two names):

...explored ideas about mortality by creating buildings meant to stop aging and preclude death.

Huh?

“This mortality thing is bad news,” Ms. Gins said by phone from her studio on Houston Street. She said she would redouble her efforts to prove that “aging can be outlawed.”

It's true.

Arthur Danto, the art critic and philosopher, who had known Arakawa for nearly 40 years, said, “He really felt they were doing the most important kind of work, to overcome death.” But, Mr. Danto said, “How that was going to happen was never clear, to anyone outside Madeline and him.”

Now that Arakawa has died it must be even less clear.

Everyone is trying to make sense...

...of this week's mini-Super Tuesday: the special election in Pennsylvania's 12th District and the three Senate primaries in Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Arkansas. I'm not convinced that there's any grand lesson to be learned here; each one turned out pretty much as expected. Let's consider them individually.

The special election for Jack Murtha's old seat in Pennsylvania was supposed to be a good opportunity for a Republican pickup. It's full of Reagan Democrats and was the only district in the country to vote for John McCain in 2008 after going for John Kerry in '04. Republican Tim Burns ran against President Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, health care reform, and all the bailouts, takeovers, and blah, blah, blah that have become the GOP's talking points. And he got crushed. My takeaway is that the Republicans still have to come up with an agenda of some sort if they are to retake the House in November. It's not enough to be the Party of No; you have to stand for something.

As far as that other election in Pennsylvania, a Democrat beat a life-long Republican (sort of) in a Democratic primary--simple as that. Now the residents of one of the biggest swing states in America will have a clear choice in the fall between a conservative and a liberal. That alone could make it one of the most interesting races to watch this year.

In Kentucky, despite all the talk of the tea party candidate upsetting the establishment choice, Republicans just replaced one cranky old white guy, Jim Bunning, with a younger version, Rand Paul. The status quo was preserved. And the tension that previously existed between Mitch McConnell and Bunning is now between McConnell and Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina. And who knows if Paul can even win a general election? Don't be too surprised if Democrat Jack Conway beats him in November. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in Kentucky and some of Paul's more out-of-the-mainstream views are just now coming to light.

In Arkansas, it appears that Lt. Governor Bill Halter may defeat incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln in the June 8 runoff. Who cares? Arkansas is more of a red state anyway, and either one would probably lose in the fall. In hindsight, Lincoln should have kept a much lower profile in the last year or so like the other Democratic senator from Arkansas, Mark Pryor. If she had just gone along with her party on health care, etc. she wouldn't have had to face a primary challenge. Lincoln would have lost the general anyway, but at least she would have gone out knowing she had been a help to her party (and her country) instead of a hindrance.

Speaking of the Marshall Tucker Band,...

...here's my favorite tune by the Spartanburg, South Carolina group. This isn't the best version ever; that would be the live one from the "Where We All Belong" album (above), which features a cameo appearance by Charlie Daniels on fiddle.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Here's an unfortunate name...

...for you: Gia Moron is a spokeswoman for Goldman Sachs.

Connecticut Attorney General...

...Richard Blumenthal, who is running for the United States Senate, is in trouble for embellishing his military record. Yesterday it was revealed that he had given the impression--more than once--that he had served in Vietnam when he hadn't. At a hastily called press conference, Blumenthal said:

“On a few occasions I have misspoken about my service, and I regret that and I take full responsibility.”

I take full responsibility. Is it really necessary to say that? Isn't it self-evident that if the words came out of his mouth then he must be responsible? Who else could be, a ventriloquist? Unless he had a gun pointed to his head at the time (or times), then it would have to be his responsibility, wouldn't it? So why doesn't Blumenthal just say:

“On a few occasions I have misspoken about my service, and I regret that,” and leave it there.

Let's jump to 1971 for today's song of the...

...day. This one is by Santana and features Carlos Santana as the lead vocal. (Gregg Rolie usually did the singing in each of Santana's first three albums.)

I saw Santana perform in the summer of 1979 in Midway Stadium in St. Paul. His was the warm-up band for Marshall Tucker, which was the bigger group at the time and the reason I went. (Younger people may have trouble believing that, but Santana was in a bit of a lull in his career while Marshall Tucker was in its prime.) At any rate, Santana stole the show.

The guys I was with that night were tripping on LSD and at one point I actually had a pill in the palm of my hand. I demurred, however, as it wasn't the right set or setting for my first trip. I was a long way from home and only knew one of the guys well.

I never did get around to tripping. It sounds like it would be fascinating, but when I was young I was cautious; I just thought I had too tenuous a grasp on reality in the first place. And now that I'm older, I don't hang around too many people that do acid--as far as I know.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Here's a good piece...

...by Mark Lilla, "The Tea Party Jacobins," which includes this great quote:

A wise man once summed up the history of colonialism in a phrase: the colonized eventually colonize the colonizer.

I've often thought that the Republican Party made a couple of Faustian bargains when it launched its Southern strategy back in the 1960s and when it courted the Christian Right in the 1970s. Now those two groups own the GOP. Or in the words of David Frum, who was referring to Fox News, "We thought they were working for us and found out we were working for them."

I couldn't tell if Ezra Klein...

...was quoting Peter Beinart or not yesterday, but he gave a great definition of liberalism:

...bringing compassion to economic power and restraint to military power and equality to political power.

The most unlikely outcome...

...from today's three primaries would be this trifecta: victories by Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania, Trey Grayson in Kentucky and Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas (she needs only 50% to avoid a runoff in June). Then watch the pundits go crazy!

When my father died last month...

...my wife said to me, "Now you're a member of the club." And she was right. Until you've lost a parent, you really don't know what it's like.

As the father of two boys, I've often thought that I will never really know what it's like to have a daughter. I've observed my friends and brothers who are the fathers of girls (and chuckled a little to myself at how protective they are), but I can only imagine what it's really like. I'll never know. And the same is true for losing a parent.

Jane Brody's column in the Times today is about how and how not to offer condolences on the occasion of someone's death. (Ms. Brody lost her husband of 43 years recently.) In my experience, I found that the only really bad way to offer condolences is to not offer them at all. (It's a big deal when someone loses someone. The least you can do is acknowledge it.) The next worse way is to hurry through it. I noticed that only those not "in the club" were guilty of this and could be forgiven as a result. (I'm sure I've been horrible in this way in the past.) It usually went something like this, "Hey, I was sorry to hear about your dad. Now, about such-and-such..." Ouch.

Almost anything else is acceptable, even those two simple words, "I'm sorry." Nothing else is really required. The best thing to do, I've found, is to just let the aggrieved person talk. That's what they need to do most.

I know it's a little late now, but I really want to thank everyone for all of their kind words these past few weeks. Whether in person, over the phone, by e-mail, cards, or even smoke signals (didn't think I saw those, did you?), they were very much appreciated.

I was genuinely touched by everyone's kindness.

The Pennsylvania primary...












...is today (among others), and Senator Arlen Specter, left, is fighting for his political life. At age 80, the cancer survivor would be 86 at the end of his next term. John McCain, who will be 74 in August and is also a cancer survivor, is in a political death match of his own in Arizona. He'd be 80 at the end of the next term if he wins.

Specter was pretty much forced to leave the Republican Party last year in order to avoid facing a tough primary challenge from former Representative Pat Toomey. Now he's in a dead heat in the Democratic primary with another former representative, Joe Sestak. McCain, who famously refused to buckle under five years of horrific torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese, has shown he is now willing to say and do just about anything to retain his seat. It's pathetic, really, to see him make such a complete ass of himself (not that he had that far to go). And for what? So he can continue to appear on Meet the Press every other Sunday? Who cares? No one listens to him pontificate anyway; if they're like me they just fast-forward past him to the round table discussion.

What is it about the United States Senate that makes otherwise sensible people surrender all their remaining dignity to stay? These guys cling to their seats like they're life rafts in the open sea. Assuming that both these men are reasonably well-off financially (neither one could possibly need the job), why in heck are they so hell-bent on retaining these seats? What's wrong with having a distinguished career and then riding off into the sunset like anyone else their age? Do they really live in such a bubble that they think life is not worth living if they can't be a United States Senator? Aren't they aware that the rest of us think members of Congress are little more than pompous, self-important windbags?

Personally, it wouldn't bother me in the least if they both lost. Specter is ancient and Sestak and Toomey would offer Pennsylvanians a clearer choice in November. As for McCain, I've never bought his act, dating back to the days when he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar as part of the Keating Five scandal. That, and for dumping his disfigured wife for a much younger and richer girl. (And she was a girl. McCain was 43--and still married--when he met his current wife Cindy, who was 26.) So much for all that "personal honor" malarkey. And if that nut-case Hayworth beat him it would only hurt the Republican Party anyway.

United States Senators would be better off if they would just concentrate on having productive careers. Then emulate stand-up comics, who know when to leave the stage--with the audience wanting more.

If you think the New York Times...

...is a liberal newspaper, you're in good company; I saw a piece once by the Public Editor in which he admitted as much.

On the front page of today's edition, however, the Times has a scathing critique of Richard Blumenthal, the Democratic candidate for the U. S. Senate from Connecticut. Apparently, Blumenthal has given the impression over the years that he served in Vietnam; he actually obtained five deferments before enlisting in the Marine Reserve and serving in Washington, D. C.

(Comically, it has also been reported that Blumenthal was the captain of the swim team at Harvard; he was never on the squad.)

But kudos to the New York Times for publishing a piece critical of a candidate one would assume they were supporting. (I've always thought the Times was a balanced paper.) But can you imagine Fox or the Wall Street Journal running an article about a Republican that wasn't flattering? I can't; it just wouldn't fit their narrative.

Remember this song...

...from Saturday Night Live?

Monday, May 17, 2010

I guess there are no atheists...


...in foxholes. According to the Wall Street Journal:

Tea party favorite Rand Paul has rocketed to the lead ahead of Tuesday’s Republican Senate primary here on a resolute pledge to balance the federal budget and slash the size of government.

But on Thursday evening, the ophthalmologist from Bowling Green said there was one thing he would not cut: Medicare physician payments.

In fact, Paul — who says 50% of his patients are on Medicare — wants to end cuts to physician payments under a program now in place called the sustained growth rate, or SGR. “Physicians should be allowed to make a comfortable living,” he told a gathering of neighbors in the back yard of Chris and Linda Wakild, just behind the 10th hole of a golf course.

Reihan Salam has a piece...

...in the Daily Beast, "Long Live the GOP!," in which he argues that "the GOP is poised for a dramatic comeback." The article is such a muddled mess that it's hard to know where to begin. I think Salam himself put it best when he said, "This could be wishful thinking on my part."

The little box on the home page of the Daily Beast has a split screen of Sarah Palin and David Cameron with the caption, "Who Said Conservatism Was Dead?" Let's start here because Cameron's "victory" in Britain is hardly cause for celebration among tea partiers in the U. S. Cameron only made the Tories competitive in the U. K. by moving toward the center, not the right. To give you one glaring example, Andrew Sullivan noted yesterday that the Conservatives have eleven openly gay members of Parliament. Eleven. Can you imagine anything like that in the Republican Party?

Someone said recently that while Palin would be laughed out of Britain, Cameron would be kicked out of the Republican Party.

I think David Frum has it right:

...a party that does not offer practical solutions to workaday problems – that builds itself on a narrow social and ethnic base – and that is more excited by protest than by governance – will not be a success in either political or policy terms.

A good friend of mine,...


...let's call him Jim (or Scherps), called me last week. It seems he was in my town on business and dialed me on his cell phone.

It was really good to hear from him, but it reminded me a little of that "Curb Your Enthusiasm" episode where Larry David's cousin Andy gives him a hard time for not calling him when he was in New York. Larry's response was "What difference does it make if I'm in town or not? I can call you any time from Los Angeles." His cousin Andy (played brilliantly by Richard Kind, above) said, "It doesn't matter, Larry. You were in town and you should have called."

Coincidentally, I was in Jim's town a few weeks ago (actually, I was at my niece's in the town next door) and I was tempted to call him. Why is that? My cell phone works from anywhere in the country.

In any event, it was good to hear from Jim whether he was in town or not. (It makes me wonder, though, if he really was in my town or if he just made the whole thing up as an excuse to call me.)

Can you believe...

...YouTube is only five years old today?

In case you were wondering...

...Rand Paul's first name is Randall. He was not named after Ayn Rand.

The song of the...

...day is a little peppier than yesterday's and was also released in 1967.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

You can hardly be held responsible...

...for being given a bad name at birth or coming from a family with a history of bad names, but you don't have to perpetuate this objectionable practice.

Take K. Dun Gifford, for example. He died last week at age 71 and his obit in the Times says he was:

...a bon vivant and a sometime restaurateur who traveled with gregarious ease in social circles of the famous and accomplished, and he had plenty of stories to tell.

(I wonder if my obit will read like that some day.)

The "K" in K. Dun Gifford stood for Kilvert, which was his mother's maiden name. It also explains why he went by the name "Dun." (I've often wondered why parents would give their children a first name like Kilvert only to call them something else. If they intended to call him "Dun," why didn't they save the trouble and give him that name in the first place? Maybe he started out as Kilvert and all the kids in the playground called him "Kill" for short. I can just imagine him getting his friends all together one day and asking them, "From now on, how about you guys just call me 'Dun?' ")

And it's not like Dun was a big improvement, either. How do you suppose he introduced himself at cocktail parties?

"Hi, I'm Dun."

"You're done? What do you mean, you're done?"

"I mean my name is Dun."

"Your first name is Done?"

"No. My first name is actually Kil--. Never mind."

Gifford's father's first name was Clarence and his mother's Priscilla. His sister was also named Priscilla and his brothers were named Charles and John. (He must have wondered from time to time how he got stuck with Kilvert.)

"Okay, okay, we're off to a bad start, here," he may have thought as a young man. So what does Gifford do? First he marries a woman named Gladys and then has a son, whom they name Kilvert Dun, Jr. He must have figured it was hopeless by that point, because he then went on to have two more sons, Arnold and Clarence.

Mildred Orton died...

...at age 99. Never mind who she was; it's not important.

I was all set to write a brief post this morning that said, "Note to prospective parents: avoid the name Mildred." But then I read the rest of the obituary and found out that her husband's first name was Vrest. (Vrest? Even my spellcheck highlights that.) And her son's name was Lyman.

So it turns out Mildred may have had the best name in the family.

"Dominique" was the only...

...Belgian song that ever rose to number one on the pop charts in the United States. It was recorded in French by Soeur Sourire (Sister Smile, born Jeanine Deckers), also known as the Singing Nun. It's about Saint Dominic, a Spanish-born priest and founder of the Dominican Order, from which she was a member (as Sister Luc-Gabrielle).

"Dominique" proved to be Deckers's only hit, however. She gradually became disillusioned with the Catholic Church and eventually left the convent.

In serious financial difficulty, she and her companion of ten years, Anna P├ęcher, both committed suicide by an overdose of barbiturates and alcohol in 1985. She was 51.

The song of the...

...day is a beautiful one, by Richie Havens. (No, it's not "Freedom," although that's a good one, too.) It's called "Follow," and it's from the 1967 album, "Mixed Bag." It was written by Jerry Merrick (whoever that is). I first heard it on the soundtrack from the 1978 movie, "Coming Home," which is one of my favorite Vietnam films. (It's depressing what's happened to Jon Voight, isn't it?) The movie was loosely based on the life of Ron Kovic and is much better than Oliver Stone's "Born on the Fourth of July."

If you can ignore the annoying video and just listen to the music, I think you'll enjoy it.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Rosa Rio, an organist...

...from the silent film era, died at age 107.

Miss Rio was undoubtedly among the very last to have played the silent-picture houses, accompanying the likes of Chaplin, Keaton and Pickford on the Mighty Wurlitzer amid velvet draperies, gilded rococo walls and vaulted ceilings awash in stars. She was also one of the few women to have made her way in a field dominated by men.

When silents gave way to talkies, she became a ubiquitous presence on the radio; when radio yielded to television, she played for daytime serials.

For eight decades — until her final performance, last year — she built a career as one of the country’s premier theater organists.

At NBC, Miss Rio played for as many as two dozen radio shows a week, often with just 60 seconds between shows to bolt from one studio to another.

Radio of the period was a rough-and-tumble world — a man’s world. Miss Rio gave as good as she got.

As recounted in Leonard Maltin’s book “The Great American Broadcast: A Celebration of Radio’s Golden Age” (Dutton, 1997), she was playing a show at NBC one day when the announcer, Dorian St. George, crept up behind her, undid the buttons down the back of her blouse and unhooked her bra. Miss Rio, performing live before a gallery of visitors, could do nothing but play on.

When the music stopped, Mr. St. George stepped up to the microphone to do a commercial. As he intoned plummily with the gallery looking on, Miss Rio stole up behind him, unbuckled his belt, unzipped his fly and neatly dropped his trousers. Then, according to Mr. Maltin’s book, she started on his undershorts.

What happened next is unrecorded.

I could think of a few cheap puns using the word "organ," but I think I'll pass. It's a family blog.

The song of the...

...day is a sequel to yesterday's. How many people in this clip can you identify?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Rand Paul is now poised to win...

...the Republican primary for senator from Kentucky next Tuesday. An outsider and tea party favorite, Paul has been endorsed by Sarah Palin and Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina. His opponent, Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, is the establishment candidate and has the endorsement of Dick Cheney. (I'm not sure which would be worse.)

Paul has been shunned by the party regulars but that's beginning to change. According to a piece in Talking Points Memo:

Other GOP leaders are starting to say that Paul is capable of being on the team, however. It's a line you're likely to hear with increasing frequency as polls continue to show Paul ahead in the primary.

And also:

It all sounds very similar to what happened with [Marco] Rubio, who started his campaign as an outsider running against party favorite, Gov. Charlie Crist. As Rubio picked up steam, his establishment supporters first stopped saying much about the race and then started saying nice things about Rubio, while also reiterating their support for Crist. The stage was set for a full embrace of Rubio by the establishment when Crist dropped out of the race to run against Rubio as an independent.

Now, with just a few days to go before Paul's potential upset win over Grayson -- who still carries the support of the establishment -- there are signs that the party is preparing to give Paul the Rubio treatment. The Kentucky GOP has scheduled a "unity rally" for the Saturday after the election, where the establishment will celebrate whomever wins the primary.

Is this foreshadowing the 2012 presidential race? If Palin gets off to a fast start against Mitt Romney by winning the Iowa caucus, the South Carolina primary, and delivers the knock-out blow on Super Tuesday, will the party elders fall all over themselves to get in line behind the tea party queen? Will she suddenly be deemed not only "qualified" to be president but the "best person" for the job?

This could be painful to watch.

Since Mark McKinnon is touting...

...Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels for president in 2012 (again), I have to point out (again) that he was the budget director under President George W. Bush. Next!

Long-time residents of Chicago...

...might remember the

Spindle,” a 50-foot-high metal spike onto which eight cars had been threaded like onions on a skewer. Erected in 1989, the sculpture — quite literally an eight-car pileup — stood for nearly 20 years in the parking lot of Cermak Plaza, a shopping center in Berwyn, Ill., near Chicago.

Its creator, Dustin Shuler, died on May 4 at his home in Inglewood, California.

Readers of a certain age...

...will appreciate the song of the day. Also, Francophiles: do you know what this song is about?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The print version of Fox News...

...er, the Wall Street Journal, is practically breathless in its article today, "Voters Shifting to GOP, Poll Finds":

Republicans have solidified support among voters who had drifted from the party in recent elections, putting the GOP in position for a strong comeback in November's mid-term campaign, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

The findings suggest that public opinion has hardened in advance of the 2010 elections, making it tougher for Democrats to translate their legislative successes, or a tentatively improving U.S. economy, into gains among voters.

Republicans have reassembled their coalition by reconnecting with independents, seniors, blue-collar voters, suburban women and small town and rural voters—all of whom had moved away from the party in the 2006 elections, in which Republicans lost control of the House. Those voter groups now favor GOP control of Congress.

"This data is what it looks like when Republicans assemble what for them is a winning coalition," said GOP pollster Bill McInturff, who conducts the survey with Democratic pollster Peter Hart.

Bad news for the Democrats? Not if you keep reading:

Overall, the survey found that voters were split over which party they preferred to control Congress after November, with 44% favoring each party.

So, with the midterm elections still about six months off, the Journal is celebrating because the Republicans are tied with the Democrats? Now that's what I call spin!

Are you worried...

...about the deficit? You needn't be, according to economist James Galbraith. (Yes, he's the son of John Kenneth Galbraith.) I'm not saying I agree or disagree, but it's the subject of an interesting interview with Galbraith on Ezra Klein's blog. I particularly liked this observation of his:

Since the 1790s, how often has the federal government not run a deficit? Six short periods, all leading to recession.

Dave Fisher, the leader...

...of the folk music group the Highwaymen, died at age 69. The group was probably most famous for its 1961 hit song, "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore." What? You've never heard it?

But what you may not know about the Highwaymen is that they were probably the best educated pop group in recent memory. Besides Fisher, who remained in music, two of the other four went to Harvard Law School, one to Harvard Business School and one to graduate school at Columbia.

Remember that next time your teenager is practicing with his band in the basement.

The song of the...

...day is by the New Christy Minstrels, not the Highwaymen. (And folk music aficionados will recognize that first guy as Barry McGuire, of "Eve of Destruction" fame.) YouTube has the version by the Highwaymen, but I found this to be a much more spirited rendition. I hope you enjoy it.

Joe Kernen, of CNBC, was quick...

...to mention a piece by Dan Henninger in the Wall Street Journal this morning, The We're-Not-Europe Party, in which Mr. Henninger--Surprise!--criticizes Europe for growing slower than the U. S. in the period from 1996 to 2005. (Paul Krugman has pointed out, by the way, that it's more complicated than that, but whatever.)

If you've ever read the Journal--even once--you've probably noticed that the editors have a huge--and I mean huge!--problem with Europe. (Did they all have a bad semester abroad there, or something?) In fact, if you've ever read the Journal more than once, you really don't need to read the article at all; you probably could have written it yourself. You would already know what they are going to go on and on (and on) about: America Good, Europe Bad. (Never mind that Germany is the second largest exporter in the world. Oh, and the U. S. isn't first. How come they never print stuff like that?)

What makes Europe such a godforsaken place, according to the Journal? In short, their safety net. It seems that the editors of the Journal just can't stand the idea of anyone getting any assistance from the government at all. There motto should be, "Let Them Eat Cake." The article makes fun of Britain's outgoing prime minister Gordon Brown (or "failed" prime minister, as Henninger calls him), by quoting him as saying, "I tried to make the country fairer." Imagine that. He dedicated his life to public service "to make the country fairer." What a loser!

Henninger continues, "Maybe there's a more important goal." He doesn't say, but one could reasonably assume he means faster economic growth. Like, China, perhaps? Maybe we should adopt their political system; after all, it seems to be providing faster growth than ours. (They're number one in exports, by the way.)

So, should we emulate China, and have a more authoritarian system like theirs? It seems to be working for them. Well, to quote Mr. Henninger, "Maybe there's a more important goal."

The big news in Pennsylvania...

...has been about the Democratic primary next Tuesday, which pits veteran Senator Arlen Specter against Representative Joe Sestak. Polls indicate that the two are pretty much in a dead heat as the race draws to a close.

If this has appeared on your radar screen at all, i. e., if you're a political junkie like me who has no life, then you know that Specter--who is the more centrist of the two--was a long-time Republican who switched parties last year, and Sestak--who is the more liberal--is a former admiral in the navy and blah, blah, blah.

The more interesting angle to this story is what awaits the winner of this primary. Pat Toomey, the likely Republican nominee, is a former member of the House and was also president of the Club for Growth, which was the original home for tea partiers before they were called tea partiers. In other words, he's on the far right. How far?

Well, according to Harry Enten at Pollster.com:

Toomey ranked more conservative than 97.9% of all United States legislators since 1995. He had a more conservative voting record than J.D Hayworth, Jim DeMint, and was about as conservative as Jesse Helms. Only Tom Coburn and Tom Tancredo scored further to the right.

To put it into prospective, Pat Toomey would most likely be the second most conservative Republican in the United States Senate, which would be quite an accomplishment considering Pennsylvania has supported every Democratic Presidential candidate since 1992 (and Obama won it by 10%).

More conservative than Jim DeMint? Is that possible? There's more:

Toomey...still has a slight lead over both Democrats in a potential general election showdown, though less of a lead than he had earlier this year. In a hypothetical matchup, Toomey leads Specter 35 percent to 33 percent, and leads Sestak 29 percent to 28 percent.

I guess that means it's as good as tied, since the general election isn't until November. If Sestak wins next week (and the momentum seems to be in his favor), Quaker Staters could be faced with a stark choice in the fall between a true liberal and a true conservative. Considering that Pennsylvania has become one of the biggest swing states, the outcome could be really telling.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The song of the...

...day.

I just noticed that Jonathan Cohn...

...and Ezra Klein were the 2010 winners of the Hillman Prize for their respective blogs. (Don't ask me what the Hillman Prize is; I'd never heard of it, either.) But congratulations are in order, and they deserve it because theirs were certainly two of the best blogs out there, especially on health care reform. (Most of what I learned in the past two years on the subject was gleaned from these two sources. They really performed a public service and may have had more of an impact on the debate than people realize.)

But now that the health care bill has passed, Cohn has moved on to other things. I don't know what those are just yet, but I'd like to find out because his absence has left a gaping hole in the New Republic. The other Jonathan, Jonathan Chait, has a (fairly) new blog but it's just not as good. I guess I'll have to content myself with Klein's; his is the best blog I've found so far.

David Cameron's victory in Britain...

...(such as it is) should be a lesson for Republicans in America: to regain power, move to the center. After 13 years in the wilderness (and being known in the UK as the "nasty party"), the Conservatives have retaken Number 10 Downing Street by moderating their platform. Surprised? We shouldn't be. After all, Tony Blair did the same thing for Labour back in the 1990s.

Are there any parallels in America? Sure. Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, George H. W. Bush, Clinton, and now Obama all ran (and/or governed) as centrists. Centrists win elections because they capture the broad center of the electorate. Sound painfully obvious? It should be, but today's Republicans don't seem to be getting the message. They think the path back to power is by becoming more and more extreme. It would be hard, in fact, to imagine a 2012 GOP presidential nominee that wasn't from the base. How well does that work out in practice? Well, let's see; Adlai Stevenson, Barry Goldwater, George McGovern, and Walter Mondale all got crushed. True, Ronald Reagan won twice, but it could be argued that after the '81 tax cut, the Gipper governed mostly from the center. (George W. Bush? The less said about him, the better.)

But just as trying to reason with an alcoholic is pointless, so is trying to advise a political party that's hell-bent on its own destruction. And just as an alcoholic needs to hit rock bottom before recovery can take place, so must political parties need to hit rock bottom every so often before they can remake themselves into credible contenders. After nominating Stevenson twice, the Democrats turned to Kennedy; after Goldwater, the GOP went with Nixon; after McGovern, Carter; and after Mondale, the Democrats formed the moderate Democratic Leadership Council, which brought us Clinton and Gore.

Back to today's Republicans. Will the GOP take a page from the Cameron playbook and nominate someone from the center in 2012? Don't count on it. For one thing, it would be next to impossible to come up with a moderate Republican name. Also, the GOP is still in denial. After a year and a half of just saying no, they think they're on the right track. And in the midterms, as the party out of power, they should regain seats in Congress. The Republicans may even retake the House; it's unlikely they will win back the Senate. The base will probably misinterpret the results as a mandate, however, and nominate someone who's far right in 2012. Only after getting annihilated will the party elders look around at all the carnage and say to each other (like Blair and Cameron before them), "Maybe we should try something different. Maybe we should--gulp!--move to the center." Then a new generation of moderate Republicans can emerge and America will once again have a two party system.

That would be great, because I'd like my country back, too.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The song of the...

...day.

I've made fun of people with unusual names...

...in this blog, but here's someone who actually did something about it:

Frank Frazzetta was born in Brooklyn on Feb. 9, 1928, and as a boy studied painting at a local art school. (Early in his career, he excised one z from his last name because “with one z it just looked better,” Mr. Pistella said. “He said the two z’s and two t’s was too clumsy.”)

I'm not sure that Frazzetta with two z's is so terrible, but I give the man credit for taking the bull by the horns.

First Tiger Woods finished fourth...

...in the Masters, then he withdrew from the Players Championship, and now his swing coach has quit.

How long do you think it will be before he finds Jesus?

For those of you who don't follow...

...the stock market closely,

...the Shanghai Composite Index, which tracks the bigger of China’s stock exchanges, fell [to its lowest level yesterday] in almost a year. The measure [has] slid 21 percent from the close on Nov. 23, entering a bear market.

The Shanghai index has slid 19 percent this year, the world’s worst performer after Greece among the 93 gauges tracked by Bloomberg, on concern government will increase efforts to curb speculation in the property market, hurting economic growth.

I don't know who it was, exactly, that determined that a 20% pullback constituted a bear market, but the important point here is that China led the U. S. market down in 2007 and led it back up in 2009, so investors should be wary of these recent developments in the Far East.

Monday, May 10, 2010

In case you missed it this weekend...

...tea party activists denied Republican Senator Robert Bennett of Utah the opportunity to compete in his party's primary on June 22. His sins? Saving the country by voting for TARP and having the temerity to negotiate with the Democrats for a bipartisan health care bill.

Do I care? Not really. Actually, the more extreme the Republican Party gets, the better, as far as I'm concerned. They'll only become more irrelevant. Let Jim DeMint have his way, I say, and he can be the Senate minority leader of 30 Republicans. Have at it.

No, I only bring this up to underline what I've been harping on for a while now: the utter fecklessness of Mitt Romney. Despite Romney's endorsement, Bennett, an 18-year veteran of the Senate, couldn't even secure a spot in the primaries! And Romney is supposed to be the GOP front-runner for 2012? Trading tip of the day: sell Romney short on Intrade.

In 2008, running in an open field, with all the money in the world and the best resume of any Republican, Romney came in third in the race for delegates. Third. Behind John McCain and Mike Huckabee. Besides being a Mormon and a flip-flopper, Romney has one glaring problem: he can't get people to vote for him. No one, and I mean no one, is excited about Mitt Romney. Okay, maybe his immediate family and the Mormon Church--but that's it. So if Romney can't even help Bob Bennett get on the GOP ballot in heavily Mormon Utah, how in the heck is he going to get anyone to vote for him for president?

Sarah Palin is still the candidate to beat for the Republican nomination in 2012. Right now, it's hers to lose. If the Iowa caucus were held tomorrow, she'd win in a walk. And by endorsing Carly Fiorina for the Senate from California instead of tea partier (and sure loser) Chuck DeVore recently, Palin is signaling that she's running in 2012. I've read that the GOP establishment is terrified. They should be.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

I had a mini-reunion of sorts on Saturday...

...with a couple of friends from the Merc, Kevin and Walter. Since Kevin lives in Flossmoor on the far South Side, we met at Walter's new digs on Austin Boulevard in Oak Park, just north of the Eisenhower and across the street from Columbus Park. We're all a bit older and grayer now (and heavier), but it was good to catch up with some old pals. And after much vigorous handshaking and back-slapping (Shakespeare must have had Walter in mind when he came up with the greeting, "Hail fellow well met..."), we set out for lunch at (where else?) Goldyburgers in Forest Park.

(The trip didn't go off without a hitch, however. While my wife had the van with 127,000 miles on it, I had to choose between the '97 convertible with a dead battery or the Honda Civic with a flat tire. It's a long story, but suffice it to say, I made it.

Kevin had me beat, though. He told us that the gauges in his van have this mysterious tendency to stop working abruptly for no apparent reason. For example, he may be driving along on the highway when all of a sudden the gauges on his dashboard--speed limit, gas, etc.-- fall to zero. This can last for three minutes or three days, Kevin said, and then--just as inexplicably--turn back on again. He'll have no idea how fast he's going or how much gas is left in the tank. He just keeps up with the traffic and hopes there's enough fuel left to get where he's going.

I can just imagine a cop stopping him and saying, "Do you know how fast you were going?"

"No, I don't!" Kevin could answer truthfully. "Tell me.")

Goldyburgers is only a short distance from Walter's and is a typical Chicago tavern, dating back to 1926. (I couldn't believe my mother had never heard of it.) It's dark, dank and has that tell-tale subterranean odor of stale beer and urine. Perfect!

We sat in front where food is served and since all of the tables were equally sticky, we chose one in close proximity to the restroom. We knew it was the restroom because it had an ancient sign on the door that said MEN'S TOILET. Charming. And it was just as Spartan on the inside as you would expect. Over the sink (cold water only), someone had slapped a tiny mirror on the empty paper towel dispenser. This, I gathered, was so that male patrons could quickly check to make sure their hair was combed properly before returning to their bar stool. (Good thing I don't have that problem.) Oh, and needless to say, there was no soap, either.

From my seat in our booth I could see a huge Irish flag hanging over the bar in the back and a photo of the Dooley brothers, whom I assume are the proprietors of the establishment. (It made me wonder how much money was funneled through this place to the IRA back in the day.)

Our waitress, Karen, emerged from the shadows to take our order. (I knew her name was Karen because Walter is the kind of guy who always asks the waitress what her name is; you never know...) She had on a plaid flannel shirt, jeans and Timberland boots and looked like she had just gotten out of the shower; her hair was still air-drying. My guess was that she'd been up late the night before drinking and watching the Blackhawks on TV. "Menus?" she asked, in a voice that sounded like she'd been smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for the last two decades. She brought us bottles of beer with those little glasses that you find only in shot-and-beer joints like this one.

For lunch, Walter and I ordered cheeseburgers on rye with grilled onions while Kevin opted for the Bleu cheeseburger (he always was the fancy-shmancy one). The burgers were thick and served with fries on paper plates. We ate, brought each other up on our families (Kevin's daughter is graduating from college next weekend!) and exchanged some Merc gossip. Before we knew it, it was time to go home.

We shook hands heartily (again) outside of Walter's apartment (I don't know which, but one of those guys hurt my arm), and promised to get together again "real soon," which means "not in the foreseeable future."

Just as I was about to drive off, Kevin leaned down to the passenger side window and asked me what ever happened to that "Song of the Day" feature on my blog. I stopped doing it around the time my father died, I told him, and since no one said anything about it, I just never started it back up again. He said he missed it, so I decided to include a song that always reminded me of my early days in the city.