Monday, April 30, 2012

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Think the Occupy Wall Street...

...movement is nothing but a bunch of cranks? According to Suzy Khimm, writing in the Washington Post, you may need to think again (my emphasis): 

In its heyday, the tea party turned to elections to enact change, rallying supporters to primary incumbents and helping the GOP retake the House. Occupy Wall Street, by contrast, has largely eschewed the traditional political process. Instead, as protesters have moved off the streets, a small minority of Occupiers has waded deep into the weeds of the federal regulations, legal decisions and banking practices that make up the actual architecture of Wall Street. And they’re drawing on the technical expertise of the financial industry’s own refugees, exiles and dissidents to do so. 

Many of the Occupy wonks once worked on Wall Street, and some of them still do. They’re former derivatives traders, risk analysts, compliance officers and hedge fund quants. They hail from Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, Bear Stearns, D.E. Shaw, Merrill Lynch and JPMorgan Chase — and at least one is a former Securities and Exchange Commission regulator. They’re more likely to use a flowchart than protest signs to fight big banks. But they identify with the movement’s animating belief that America’s financial heavyweights wield too much power, and that its political leaders are too eager to do their bidding. 

As the more visible signs of the movement fade, with their encampments all but cleared from the country’s public spaces, the Occupy wonks have doubled down on their policy work behind the scenes. They’re slowly gaining attention for their efforts — not just from the news media, but also from the some of the financial rulemakers and gatekeepers they’re hoping to influence. 

Most of the wonks in New York jumped into the movement like everyone else: They showed up at Zuccotti Park last fall, curious about the gathering, sympathetic to its cause and uncertain what would happen next. But as Occupy Wall Street evolved and branched off in different directions, they found themselves gravitating to the “working groups” that aimed to reform big finance from the inside out. And some saw an opportunity to make change in a very unlikely place: the regulatory process.

Ivy Radcliffe... a friend of a friend on Facebook. Could that be a real name?

Ezra Klein confirmed something... his blog today that I have long suspected: I'm weird. 

According to Klein (his emphasis): 

If you're reading Wonkbook right now, you're really, really weird. You start your day with a policy e-mail. That's not how most Americans do it. And if you're weird, think about how weird I am: I start my day by writing a policy e-mail. 

But Wonkblog is a really good blog. In fact, it's the best blog on policy that I've found (and I'm open to suggestions). 

(Oh, and by the way, if I'm weird for reading Klein's blog, what does that make you for reading mine? Just sayin'.) 

Some other blogs I read on a daily basis are: 

The Fix, by Chris Cillizza (the best blog on politics I've found). The Fix is also in the Washington Post. (If they ever erect a paywall, I'd pay --- Shhh!

The Conscience of a Liberal, by Paul Krugman in the New York Times (the best economics blog I've found). 

The Dish, by Andrew Sullivan (the best general interest blog). 

And, finally... 

David Frum, which is also on the Daily Beast. Frum is the last of a dying breed, a moderate Republican. It's interesting to read his take on the modern-day GOP. 

I read a few others, but if anyone out there has something that I should be looking at, please let me know.

Paul Ryan is on the front page...

...of the Times today in an article titled, "As Ryan Carries Budget Flag, G.O.P. Salutes," in the print edition, and, "Ryan's Rise From Follower to G.O.P. Trailblazer," online. Either way, this guy's running for something

How do I know? Because Ryan tries -- again -- to dispel the "urban legend" that he is a disciple of Ayn Rand's. But this is a classic case of political spin. As the article says (all emphasis mine): 

In a 2009 Facebook video, Mr. Ryan said the “kind of thinking” in the Rand epics “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” was “sorely needed right now.” 


And, lest we forget, there was this in the New Republic: 

Representative Paul Ryan, also of Wisconsin, requires staffers to read "Atlas Shrugged," describes Obama’s economic policies as “something right out of an Ayn Rand novel,” and calls Rand “the reason I got involved in public service.”
"The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand," Ryan said at a D.C. gathering four years ago honoring the author of "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead." ...
At the Rand celebration he spoke at in 2005, Ryan invoked the central theme of Rand's writings when he told his audience that, "Almost every fight we are involved in here on Capitol Hill ... is a fight that usually comes down to one conflict--individualism versus collectivism."

This guy spoke at a "Rand celebration" in 2005? But he's not a "fan?" Come on. 

Marco Rubio has pulled...

...into a (very slight) lead over Rob Portman in the race for Mitt Romney's running mate on Intrade. (It's essentially tied.)

What does this mean? I'm not sure; but it could portend a battle royal for the soul of the Republican Party. For Rubio represents the insurgent tea party wing of the GOP and has powerful backers, including Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina (and possibly Sarah Palin). Portman, on the other hand, is a member of the party establishment and probably has the support of old Bush hands like Karl Rove.

My guess is that Romney would prefer Portman, for a number of reasons. But this could be the first test of wills between the former governor of Massachusetts and the Republican Party base. If Portman gets the nod, it may signal that Romney will be his own man (and possibly govern as a moderate). If it's Rubio, however, it may reveal the GOP nominee to be a captive of the tea party.

Stay tuned; it's early.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The license plate of the day:


I heard about this billboard...

...recently and thought about it when reading my Sunday Times this morning. Nicholas Kristof and Maureen Dowd were beating up on those mean ol' Catholic bishops. 

Kristof writes in "We Are All Nuns": 

They are also among the bravest, toughest and most admirable people in the world. In my travels, I’ve seen heroic nuns defy warlords, pimps and bandits. Even as bishops have disgraced the church by covering up the rape of children, nuns have redeemed it with their humble work on behalf of the neediest. 

So, Pope Benedict, all I can say is: You are crazy to mess with nuns. 

The Vatican issued a stinging reprimand of American nuns this month and ordered a bishop to oversee a makeover of the organization that represents 80 percent of them. In effect, the Vatican accused the nuns of worrying too much about the poor and not enough about abortion and gay marriage. 

What Bible did that come from? Jesus in the Gospels repeatedly talks about poverty and social justice, yet never explicitly mentions either abortion or homosexuality. If you look at who has more closely emulated Jesus’s life, Pope Benedict or your average nun, it’s the nun hands down. 

Dowd, meanwhile, writes "Bishops Play Church Queens as Pawns": 

 It is an astonishing thing that historians will look back and puzzle over, that in the 21st century, American women were such hunted creatures.
Even as Republicans try to wrestle women into chastity belts, the Vatican is trying to muzzle American nuns.
Who thinks it’s cool to bully nuns? While continuing to heal and educate, the community of sisters is aging and dying out because few younger women are willing to make such sacrifices for a church determined to bring women to heel.
Yet the nuns must be yanked into line by the crepuscular, medieval men who run the Catholic Church.
How do you take spiritual direction from a church that seems to be losing its soul?
And that's where my "issue" with Catholics lies. For the problem with the Catholic Church isn't the priests, the bishops or even the Pope. The problem is the laity. That's right; like the billboard above, the problem is you. Because every time you enter a Catholic Church or write them a check, you are sending a clear and unambiguous message: I approve.
So stop whining about the Catholic hierarchy. (News Flash: They aren't going to change.) Only you can change. 

Ever since Paul Ryan...

...began auditioning for the role of Mitt Romney's running mate, the Congressman from Wisconsin has distanced himself from Ayn Rand and embraced his Catholicism. (Intrade currently has Ryan's chances at less than five percent.) 

Last week, in a speech at Georgetown University, Ryan defended his budget by saying (all emphasis mine): 

“I suppose that there are some Catholics who for a long time thought they had a monopoly of sorts — not exactly on heaven, but on the social teaching of our church,” Ryan said in a 25-minute speech. “Of course, there can be differences among faithful Catholics on this.” 

“The work I do — as a Catholic holding office — conforms to the social doctrine as best I can make of it,” added Ryan, a prospective Republican vice presidential nominee. “What I have to say about the social doctrine of the church is from the viewpoint of a Catholic in politics applying my understanding to the problems of the day.” 

Representative Ryan calls on his Catholic faith for guidance? That's strange; I could have sworn he was a follower of Ayn Rand's. From the New Republic piece, "Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand": 

"The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand," Ryan said at a D.C. gathering four years ago honoring the author of "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead." 

So Ryan is a follower of Ayn Rand's. Not so fast. From a National Review article, "Ryan Shrugged": 

"I reject her philosophy," Ryan says firmly. "It's an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person's view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas," who believed that man needs divine help in the pursuit of knowledge. "Don't give me Ayn Rand," he says. 

So which is it? Is Ryan a devout Catholic, or a follower of Ayn Rand's? (Because you really can't be both.) I guess it all depends on whether or not you're running for vice president.   

But at least Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney have one thing in common: They're both World Class flip-floppers.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Aaron Bailey, last year's...

...Illinois High School Player of the Year (according to this blog), orally committed to the University of Illinois. The Bolingbrook quarterback, who led the Raiders to the Class 8A title in 2011, will join former Wheaton Warrenville South quarterback Reilly O'Toole, below, in Champaign.

Who says the Illini don't recruit well in the Chicago area? (Besides me.)

A sincere and heartfelt thanks... anyone who has ever read this blog (even once). Today, I received my first check from Google for the princely sum of $106.04. (Not bad for three and a half years' work. Not good, but not bad.)

So remind me, the next time you see me, and I will gladly buy you a hot dog.

Again, seriously, thankyouthankyouthankyou.

My New York Times article...

...of the week was in this morning's edition, "In Brawl, Laws May Have Been Broken, but No Dress Codes": 

The call came in around midnight on Thursday, April 12, and the police officers of Manhattan’s Midtown North Precinct did a double take at the address. 

One Hundred Eighty Central Park South. 

“A large fight,” Sgt. Kenneth Monahan recalled, “in the New York Athletic Club. Which was an unusual call to begin with.” 

Across the city, in cemeteries marked with fancy mausoleums, former members of the 144-year-old New York Athletic Club began spinning. This was not good. The police were coming! This was not a civilized start to the weekend, which begins at the club every Friday at 5 p.m., when the dress code relaxes from a mandatory jacket to an optional jacket. What in heaven’s name had happened to prompt a 911 call from inside the building? 

"The best fight I've ever seen," in the words of one onlooker. Read the rest of it here.

Yankee legend Moose Skowron...

...died at age 81 in -- of all places -- Arlington Heights, Illinois.  

Oh, yeah, I thought, he ended his career with the White Sox so he probably settled in the Chicago area after he retired

But, apparently, Skowron was originally from Chicago: 

“When I was about 8 years old living in Chicago, my grandfather gave all the haircuts to his grandchildren,” Skowron told John Tullius for the oral history “I’d Rather Be a Yankee.” “He shaved off all my hair. I was completely bald. When I got outside, all the older fellows around the neighborhood started calling me Mussolini. At that time, he was the dictator of Italy. So after that, in grammar school, high school and college, everybody called me Moose.”

He went to Purdue on a football scholarship and played halfback, punted and place-kicked. But he became a collegiate star in baseball, playing shortstop and pitching, and the Yankee organization signed him in 1950 after he won the Big Ten batting championship. 
The obituary doesn't mention where Skowron went to high school in Chicago so I did a little digging. Turns out, he graduated from Weber High School, which closed its doors in 1999.

While many old-time Chicagoans may remember Weber from its location on the Northwest side, above, between Hansen and Blackhawk Parks (Belmont Cragin, for you purists), Skowron attended the original school, below, in its last years on West Division Street in the largely Polish Pulaski Park neighborhood.

Founded in 1890 as St. Stanislaus College, the school changed its name to Weber High School in 1930 in honor of Archbishop Joseph Weber. (If you look hard, you can see the original name on the arch stone over the door.) Weber moved in 1949.

(Further trivia: Archbishop Weber was a member of the Congregation of the Resurrection, which also founded Gordon Technical High School in 1952 due to overcrowding at Weber. The new school took its name from Gordon Hall on the original Weber campus.) 

Weber High School, which oddly didn't even have a baseball team in Skowron's time, was nicknamed the "Red Horde." (That must have been a little awkward in the McCarthy Era. But, judging from the picture below, the nickname referred to Native Americans, which would have been even more awkward today.)

The football team, of which Skowron was a star, appeared in five Prep Bowls at Soldier Field, including his senior year, 1947-48. (The Red Horde won the championship in 1961 and '64.) Two of those contests drew over 83,000 fans and are ranked fourth and fifth on the IHSA's list of the most well-attended games in Illinois high school football history. 

 Where was I?

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Before I let go...

...of My Road Home, by my friend Jerry Byrne, I want to post one last entry.

(I'm afraid Jerry may be beginning to think I'm some kind of crazed stalker, the way I've been writing to him on Facebook and asking him so many questions. But I can't help it; his book has raised so many thoughts and emotions in me. I just can't believe my childhood friend went through such an ordeal!)

The following post takes place almost a year after Byrne's sentencing, in Mohawk Correctional Facility in Rome, New York. It reminds me a little of the poem, "Howl," by Allen Ginsberg. I found it really powerful. (Again, I reprint it unedited.)

Thursday June 12th 

Continuing the waiting game, silence from Albany has put me in a foul mood. Mail call came and went, not a peep regarding work release. 

If my brain had a bullhorn which could shout out what I'm thinking at the moment, first and foremost would be -- fuck this place! Fuck these guys who wear their pants below their ass, what's that all about, pull your pants up  you piece of shit. Fuck these morons who can't put a sentence together without saying at least one of the following: you heard... nigger... whas up son... my baby mamma... pussy... shit. Fuck most of these assholes back in prison for a second, third or fourth time! Stop selling drugs you fucking idiots, get a job. Fuck these guys who can't walk 10 yards without spitting, and fuck all of them who walk slower than a 90 year old man. Fuck these dudes who refuse to take showers. Fuck all the beggars who come to my cube time and again asking for a shot of coffee and creamer. Fuck these guys who sleep all day and haven't spent a minute of their bid trying to rehabilitate themselves. Fuck the child molesters & rapists. Fuck the crappy food they serve here and fuck the lazy, good ol' boy, overweight C.O.'s who don't do shit for their $50k per year. Fuck the Hispanics who can't seem to speak to each other without screaming at the top of their lungs. Fuck all the muscle heads, lifting weights day and night as if that will help them, in any way, in the real world, read a book, get a clue. And fuck you too Jerry, for fucking up your life, forgetting to count your blessings and ending up here. How could you!

Friday, April 27, 2012

The next book I'd like... recommend is Crazy: A Father's Search Through America's Mental Health Madness, by Pete Earley. The author, a former reporter for the Washington Post, writes about his son's battle with bipolar disorder.

I assumed, when my wife recommended it, that the title referred to Earley's son's mental illness and his family's struggle with it. But it's also about America's horribly dysfunctional mental health system (if you can call it a "system"). For example, the largest public mental health facility in the United States isn't even a hospital; it's the Los Angeles County Jail. "On any given day," writes Earley, "it houses 3,000 mentally disturbed inmates."

I have to confess, Crazy is a little hard to read sometimes; it's very discouraging. But a good read nonetheless.

The (Ann) Romney cartoon...

...of the day.* 

*I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work.

Remember when FM radio...

...was great? Like WXRT in Chicago? Or KQRS in Minneapolis? I do. (Try telling that to someone under the age of, say, thirty.) 

I'm reminded of this by an obituary in the New York Times of a guy named Pete Fornatale (my emphasis): 

Pete Fornatale, a disc jockey who helped usher in a musical alternative to Top 40 AM radio in New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s, presenting progressive rock and long album tracks that AM stations wouldn’t touch and helping to give WNEW a major presence on the still-young FM dial, died on Thursday in Manhattan. 

 FM radio had been around for a while but did not come of age until the 1960s, when, amid the whirlwind of a growing counterculture, the federal government mandated that FM stations carry different programming from that of their sister AM bands. Enterprising D.J.’s grasped the chance to play longer, fresher, rarer music and give voice to the roiling political and social issues of the day. 

Mr. Fornatale was at the forefront of the FM revolution, along with WNEW-FM colleagues like Scott Muni, Rosko, Vin Scelsa, Dennis Elsas, Jonathan Schwartz and Alison Steele (who called herself “the Nightbird”). They played long versions of songs, and sometimes entire albums, and talked to their audiences in a conversational tone very different from the hard-sell approach of their AM counterparts. 

Now once-great stations like XRT play bland, consultant-approved playlists -- when they play music at all -- squeezed between lots and lots of ads and mindless chatter. What's left? Satellite radio; although I'm noticing that more and more stations are adding D. J.'s. And that's a shame. 

I'm with Frank Zappa: Shut and play!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

I finally finished...

...My Road Home, by Jerry Byrne, my childhood friend. (I could have read it in one day -- it's that compelling -- but I kept getting interrupted.) Byrne, whose writing style reminds me a little of Frank McCourt's, recalls his thirteen-month stay in prison for securities fraud. It's one of the most gripping books I've read in a while, perhaps because I could hear Jerry's voice in it, some thirty or so years after we last spoke.

Here are the first few paragraphs, unedited (all of the dates have a line through them; I imagine he crossed them off the calendar, one at a time):

Friday June 22nd, 2007 

I wake up at 5:00 a.m. knowing this will be my last day of freedom for quite some time. Perhaps as long as nine years. Once again I hardly slept, in spite of numbing myself with more cocktails than I had a right to. But why not, for I know there won't be any alcohol in prison. Not being able to face them this morning, I bid tearful goodbyes to my parents last night, as well as my two teenage sons. The pattern of continuing worst moments of my life seems to have no end, today's sentencing will sadly keep that streak alive. 

You don't exactly pack a bag for prison, so knowing I will be in the same clothes for at least the next 2-3 days I try to pick out the most comfortable and inconspicuous clothes I own: khaki pants, blue Brooks Brothers shirt, and Nike sneakers. 

I get into my car and head to the local Starbucks. Real coffee is a pleasure I won't be experiencing again for, well, longer than I want to imagine. I treat myself to a latte and look around at all the familiar faces I have come to know these many months, as far as their concerned it's just another day for me as they extend their greetings. Little do they know I won't be seeing them for quite some time. The first hint of a tear begins to fall, before the day is over many more will come. 

I get on the train heading to Manhattan, specifically 100 Centre Street where I await sentencing at 10:00 for Securities Fraud. I look around at my fellow commuters, engrossed in their NY Times, and Wall Street Journals, a scene that I participated in for 20 years as I made the trek from the suburbs to the streets of Lower Manhattan. "How the hell did it come to this?," I think to myself. I look out the window at perhaps the bluest sky I have ever seen, not a cloud to be had on this first official day of Summer. I make my way to the court house, walking slowly, and hoping the sidewalk might just open up, swallow me whole so I can disappear and avoid the humiliation that awaits. I'm in sort of semi-shock I think. Wait, what if I just turn around and run? I'll head out West, start over, and avoid all this shit. But of course I can't. I'd be a fugitive, constantly looking over my shoulder. And worst of all, I could never see my family again. I enter the building and take the elevator to the 13th floor. In a matter of minutes I'll be handcuffed and no longer a free man. 

Waiting for me in the courtroom are my lawyers, my oldest brother Joe (I have two, along with three sisters), cousin George Maguire, who has been my rock since the day I was indicted 16 months ago. Also my Uncle and mentor, the man who got me my first job on Wall Street way back in 1980, James J. Maguire. Shortly before I am called to appear in front of Judge Michael Opus, I reach into my pockets and hand Joe my cell phone, wallet, and car keys. I will no longer have a use for any of these things. We've already said our goodbyes, out in the hallway. When I go to hug them I know it'll be for quite awhile. I don't want to let go, but my time has come. 

The sentencing is a blur, the prosecution makes a few closing remarks, stuff like what a pleasure it's been to work with the defense, the shared cooperation, blah, blah, (oh how lovely for all of you I think to myself, one big happy family). Then the lawyer stands before the Judge asking for leniency, the fact that I have never been in trouble with the law before, that this is a non-violent 1st time offense The whole time I just sit there, in shock really, staring at the floor, trying to hold back the tears I promised I would not let fall. Minutes pass, and now it's my turn to speak. I know the Judge has already decided my fate, nothing I say will change that, but for some reason I feel the desire to say a few words. This is probably my 10th visit to the courtroom, and I have never once had the opportunity to speak. I want the Judge and everyone else to know how sorry I am, how I can't believe where my life has taken me; literally minutes from being led away in handcuffs. I rise out of my chair, I've given a lot of thought to what I want to say, but immediately I go blank, I stand there frozen, my rehearsed speech all but forgotten. I faintly recall saying how much I will miss my sons, the pain I have caused them along with the rest of my family. I admit my guilt, ask the Judge to be lenient, thank my lawyers, and my family for their love. I begin to sob. I can't feel anything; my body is numb. Finally I run out of things to say and sit down. Now it's Judge Opus's turn. I wait to hear the number; is it 1 year, 3, or worst case scenario, 9 years that I am being sentenced to. He's speaking, but very little registers. Why can't I just faint, or better yet wake up, because really, this is all just a bad dream isn't it. Next thing I know, I hear him say "2 1/3rd to 7. Good luck to you sir." There it is, right smack in the middle of the best/worst case scenario. Four hundred thousand it cost my family in legal fees to get a result I probably would have received if I had pled guilty at my arraignment....16 months ago. 

At the same time the Judge was meting out my sentence, 2 court officers stepped up directly behind me. I could see one of them reaching for his handcuffs, the other one pulling out my chair as he began to utter the words I had come to dread, "Place your hands behind your back sir." The tears are still running down my cheeks, I'm almost gasping for breath; my legs wobble like a rubber pencil. Will I even be able to stand up? I hear the clicking of the cuffs, then I feel them. Thankfully not to tight. I look back at my Uncle, my cousin,  and my brother, I'm helpless now, and there is nothing they can do for me. But their hearts reach out, I can see it in their eyes. The holding cell I am being led to is off to the side of the court, step through a door, and I will be gone. The guards are holding on to me, I want this walk to take forever, but considering it's only about ten yards long, that won't happen. The door opens, I look back one last time.

Matt Micucci, who led Stevenson... a thrilling upset victory over then No.1-ranked Maine South in last year's playoffs, has been accepted into Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering and invited to walk on the Wildcat football team. Kudos to Matt and NU coach Pat Fitzgerald!

Micucci was one of the most talented and exciting players I watched in the last few years, and you can read about him here, here, here and here.

And if that's not enough, here's a YouTube video of the former Patriot quarterback, placekicker and punter:

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Monday, April 23, 2012

I'll be in Sonoma, California, for...

...the next few days, visiting a place called Sweetwater Spectrum. (More on that later.)

But don't get any ideas about robbing us, because someone will be staying at our house (with the world's most fearsome basset hound).

Blogging should be non-existent until at least Thursday.

Rob Portman is being touted... the latest favorite in the race for Mitt Romney's running mate. Intrade has him in the lead, and Chris Cillizza (who has the best blog on politics) has a post about the Ohio senator today. Cillizza mentions that Portman (my emphasis): 

...does have much to recommend him — based in a swing state, budget credentials and steadiness as a messenger among other things. That combination could (and perhaps should) put him on the short list. 

Wait a minute! Budget credentials? 

Portman was the Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush. According to Wikipedia (my emphasis): 

During his tenure, the US public debt increased by 469 billion dollars. 

Again, does this country have amnesia?

Coincidentally, two of the best...

...movies I've seen in the last year dealt with amnesia: Unknown, above, and Memento, below.

I thought of these two pictures over the weekend when considering the possibility that the voters could conceivably hand over both houses of Congress and the White House to the Republicans in November. And I thought, Does the American public have amnesia? Don't they remember the last time they did that, and what a disaster it was for America?

Come on, people! Try to remember: 9/11, Katrina, two unfunded (and unending) wars, Dick Cheney, torture, an unfunded Medicare drug benefit, the squandered surplus, the exploding budget deficits, the worst economic contraction since the Great Depression!

Why on earth would we want to go back to that?

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

"I have no idea what gluten is, either, but I'm avoiding it, just to be safe."

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Alex Cassie, the British POW...

...who was the inspiration for the character played by Donald Pleasence, above, in the 1963 movie "The Great Escape," died at age 95.

Have you ever seen...

...a picture like this in the arts section of the newspaper and thought to yourself, "What the heck is this modern dance stuff all about, anyway?" Well I have -- many times. And I've also thought to myself, "I've got to go and see something like that some day."

Well, Friday night I did.

I drove down to a place called Stage 773, on Belmont Avenue near Racine (right near our old townhouse on Kenmore). Hedwig Dances, a "contemporary dance theater ensemble" was putting on a performance called "Vanishing Points." The cost for a ticket was $25. (No senior citizen discount?)

The company, in its 27th year under founder Jan Bartoszek, is a local group, having performed over 1,500 times in the Chicago area. The program even had an insert from Rahm Emanuel -- himself a former dancer -- proclaiming April 13 as "Hedwig Dances Day in Chicago." (How did I miss that?)

From the program:

Hedwig Dances' bold, interdisciplinary collaborations combine poetic choreography with sculptural artifacts, projected images and haunting original music. The resulting dances resonate with complexity and depth and provoke emotion, connection and wonder.

Wow. Okay, so provoke me.

The show was divided into four parts. The first two, "Dance of Forgotten Steps" and "It's Not About You," would take about 45 minutes, according to the guy who introduced the show. These would be followed, after a short intermission, by "Line of Sighs" and "Por Dentro," which would take an additional 30 minutes. Cool!

As the lights slowly raised on the first performance, "Dance of Forgotten Steps," I thought to myself, What on earth did I get myself into? The work featured six dancers, five of them from Cuba (of all places). There were just a few props and some New Age-like music. The costumes were in earth tones -- black and olive -- and the whole thing felt like some sort of homage to spring and/or rebirth.

(Or did I miss the whole point? Who knows?)

As the dancers got started (and the performance went on for some time), all I could think to myself was, How do they remember all those steps, all those moves? Is any of this ad-libbed? (And I don't think so; there was too much synchronicity.)

My next thought was, These people are in incredible shape! They really moved effortlessly (or so it seemed to me) and went on jumping and moving about for quite a while. (I'd be way out of breath!) The dancers, while having extensive backgrounds, couldn't have been much beyond thirty years of age. (I also wondered, How long can you do something like this?)

When the lights finally went down, I waited for everyone else before clapping. Is this thing over? I didn't want to be the only one clapping in case it wasn't.

The second dance, "It's Not About You," featured only two male dancers and a rope. It was vaguely homoerotic, I have to admit. (Would this be a good time to change the subject to the NFL draft?)

The costumes were different for this one, too; they were blue. (And all of the dancers, by the way, were barefoot for the entire evening.)

After the intermission came the third performance, "Line of Sighs," which is shown in the picture above. This one involved several ropes (looks like twelve) and three male dancers. (The tone of this one was much more aggressive, though; it seemed to simulate fighting, or competition of some kind.)

Finally, the last dance was "Por Dentro," which means "on the inside" in Spanish. And all five Cuban dancers returned for this work.

It started out a lot like the first one in that there was much activity on the stage. (It was then that I decided that dance may be a little like a three-ring circus: you could take it all in as a whole, or focus on just one dancer at a time. Or like a football game; you can watch the whole field or just one part, like the wide receiver and the defensive back covering him.)

Midway through this work, the five performers began to play a game of "tag." And this, in turn, evolved into one of the women pairing off with one of the men. They then simulated what could have only been lovemaking in a very subtle way. There was no chance of the vice squad turning up, but it was clear what they were portraying -- very interesting.

The whole show was over in about an hour and a half. Did I understand what I had just seen and heard? Again, who knows?

But I would see Hedwig Dances again.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

I've been reading this book...

...for most of the day today and can't put it down. The author was one of my best friends during the five years  I lived in New Jersey as a kid.

I'll have a lot more to say about it -- a lot more -- in the not-too-distant future.

Hillman Curtis, a pioneer... Web design, died at age 51. 

Hillman ... Hillman ... where have I heard that name before (my emphasis)? 

For Mr. Curtis, who called himself a serial self-reinventor, it was the start of a third career. A nephew of Chris Hillman, an original member of the Byrds, he had played in a rock band in the 1980s and early ’90s before teaching himself Web design. 

Now, I know what you're thinking: that's a long way to go just to get a Byrds song on your blog. But that's not just any Byrds song; it's "So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star," co-written and sung by Chris Hillman himself. And while this isn't the best version ever, it's live at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 -- a truly historic event. (Fast forward to about 1:15.)

Like any good son, I call... mother about once a week, usually on Sunday afternoon. (It's a holdover from the olden days, when phone calls were cheaper on Sundays.) After catching me up on the latest family news and whatever her dwindling number of friends is up to, the subject often turns to President Obama and some real -- or usually imagined -- transgression of his. She can get pretty worked up about it, and it reminds me of a piece I read about a year ago called "Fox Geezer Syndrome" (my emphasis): 

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been keeping track of a trend among friends around my age (late thirties to mid-forties). Eight of us (so far) share something in common besides our conservatism: a deep frustration over how our parents have become impossible to take on the subject of politics. Without fail, it turns out that our folks have all been sitting at home watching Fox News Channel all day. 

Sound familiar? 

I only bring this up because of something I read in Charles Blow's column in the Times today. Interestingly, the only demographic group that approves of the president's job performance more than of the man himself is seniors: 

Reviews of the internal number in the ABC News/Washington Post poll found that unmarried men had the widest gap between the percentage who viewed Obama favorably (63 percent) and those who approved of his job performance (41 percent). By comparison, 66 percent of unmarried women had a favorable view of the president and 63 percent approved of his job performance. 

(As a point of curiosity, the only demographic group in which Obama’s approval rating was higher than his favorability rating was among seniors: 47 percent approval to 43 percent favorability.)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Last week I asked...

...if your political views were determined by your genes

This week I saw Michael Gazzaniga, a psychology professor, say on Charlie Rose that "free will is an illusion." 

And today, Michael Kinsley writes that success may be due in part to luck or circumstance (my emphasis): 

Maybe your success is due to something you got from your parents. This could be money, or good manners. It could even be a quality like determination. Evolutionary psychology is teaching us that huge chunks of personal characteristics, good and bad, derive from our genes. The full implications of this have not sunk in, but one of them surely is that "rewarding success" is more futile and more difficult than previously thought. 

 Maybe your success is due to something you got from the government, like a broadcast license, or a new freeway through your property, or a special tax break. Maybe it's due to having been educated at a public university, or having had your education financed through federal student loans. Maybe it's just because you're an American. The average American baker earns more than twice what a baker earns in Poland and five times what a baker earns in China (and I imagine the bread and the working conditions are better too). What's true for bakers is true for bankers: Operating in a rich country is more lucrative than operating in a poor one. And this is for reasons having nothing to do with admirable personal characteristics. 

And let's not forget simple luck. All the factors discussed above boil down to good luck: whom you're born to and so on. But the residual, unexplained differences in how people succeed or don't also are mostly luck. 

Is that true? Is it all luck? Is it all genes? Is it all just circumstance? 

After my father died two years ago, I asked myself: What would my life have been like if he had died when I was two, instead of 51? Would I have graduated from college? Would I have even gone to college? 

Taken a step (or two) further, what if I had been born in a poor neighborhood in the city? Would I have gotten involved in drugs or a gang and ended up in jail? What if my ancestors had never immigrated to this country in the first place? Would I be speaking today with a funny accent? Or writing with a completely different perspective? And what if I had been born in the Middle Ages? Would I have even made it to age thirty? 

I find that most people, when asked, attribute their successes to hard work or good choices, but think that their setbacks were due more to bad luck or circumstances beyond their control.

The "song" of the day... for Ted Nugent.

Unprincipled ambition.

That's how Charles Blow describes Mitt Romney. From his piece in the Times (my emphasis): 

Infinite malleability is its own vice because it’s infinitely corruptible by others of ignoble intentions. 

Not only has [Romney] at some point in his political life been on both sides of more issues than I have energy to list here, he has made clear during the primaries that he is willing to shift to the far right on far too many issues to be the right president for modern America.

Levon Helm, drummer...

...for The Band, died at age 71.

While I was never much of a fan (I guess their music just wasn't my cup of tea), Helm had such a glowing obit in the Times that I decided to post this in tribute.

(Hey, I guess if you played at Woodstock you deserve at least a tip of the hat.)

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

My beloved Cubs...

...are now tied, with the San Diego Padres, for the worst team in Major League Baseball. The good news? I may be able to actually get a ticket to a game this summer.

Stanley Resor, former secretary...

...of the Army and soothsayer, died at age 94. From the Times obit (my emphasis): 

Stanley R. Resor, who as secretary of the Army from 1965 to 1971 oversaw the troop buildup in Vietnam, investigated the massacre of civilians by American soldiers at My Lai and laid the groundwork for the all-volunteer Army, died on Tuesday at his home in Washington. 

Mr. Resor also helped plan for replacing draftees during the Vietnam War with an all-volunteer Army, although he worried about whether that was fair and whether it would lead the United States into more wars. 

Like Iraq and Afghanistan?

Rob Portman, Republican senator...

...from Ohio, has just overtaken Marco Rubio in the race for Mitt Romney's running mate on Intrade.

What does this mean? Is Romney giving up on the Latino vote? Is he trying to shore up the white, working class vote? Is he trying to lock up Ohio at the expense of other swing states such as Florida or Virginia? Is he embracing the GOP establishment and turning his back on Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina and the tea party? Or is he just trying to pick a running mate who will be seen -- not as a game-changer -- but as a seasoned, capable individual who can assume the role of president if needed?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mitt Romney is taking some heat...

...for this video, but I actually think it makes him look more human and more likable.

Romney reminds me of Al Gore; he just can't relax in public.

Have you ever moved... another state? If so, you are one of only 30 percent of Americans who will ever change their state of residence in their lifetimes.

I think I liked Ted Nugent...

...better when he was a hippie.

The Catholic Church, aka...

...the "Republican Party at Prayer," is all over the news this morning. 

First, it's at odds with its legislative arm, the GOP Congress. Apparently, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a problem with Paul Ryan's draconian budget. From the Times article, "Catholic Bishops Protest House Budget": 

“Major reductions at this time of economic turmoil and rising poverty will hurt hungry, poor and vulnerable people in our nation and around the world,” the Rev. Stephen Blaire, bishop of Stockton, Calif., and the Rev. Richard E. Pates, bishop of Des Moines, wrote for the conference. “A just spending bill cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to the poor and vulnerable persons; it requires shared sacrifice by all.” 

Wait a minute. I thought it was the White House that was waging a "War on the Catholic Church?" 

Next, I turn the page and see, "Vatican Reprimands a Group of U. S. Nuns and Plans Changes." And my first response is, of course, There are still nuns? (The average age of an American nun is 70.) From the article: 

The Vatican has appointed an American bishop to rein in the largest and most influential group of Catholic nuns in the United States, saying that an investigation found that the group had “serious doctrinal problems.” 

The Vatican’s assessment, issued on Wednesday, said that members of the group, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, had challenged church teaching on homosexuality and the male-only priesthood, and promoted “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” 

The sisters were also reprimanded for making public statements that “disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.” 

And my second question is, Why on earth do these women put up with a bunch of old men telling them what to do? 

Like much of the Catholic Church, I guess, it's a mystery.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, by...

...Pablo Picasso, may be the first (and most famous) example of Cubist painting. 

John Golding, an art critic and expert on Cubism, died at age 82. According to the Times (my emphasis): 

Considered one of the foremost British art historians of his generation, Mr. Golding was known on both sides of the Atlantic for his book “Cubism: A History and an Analysis, 1907-1914.” First published in 1959 and issued subsequently in several revised editions, it is one of the earliest comprehensive studies of the movement and has long been considered among the most seminal. 

Though Mr. Golding was long recognized as an authority on Cubism, he grew to believe that the movement was resistant to authority in every sense of the word. 

“I continue to enjoy looking at Cubist pictures as much as I ever did,” he told the British newspaper The Guardian in 1994. “But I have come increasingly to realize that I do not really understand them, and I am not sure that anyone else does either.”

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

It's been a rough...

...couple of months for St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

First the Lions got blanked in the state hockey championship by St. Rita, 5-0. (I was there; boring game.) And now one of its most famous alums, aging rocker Ted Nugent, is in trouble with the secret service for his recent tirade against the president.

Jonathan Karl says...

...Jeb Bush is on Mitt Romney's short list for running mate.

Hmmm ... Romney/Bush ... I love it!

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

"What part of Canada that I know nothing about are you from?"

Paul Bogart, who directed...

...the 1960s sitcom Get Smart, died at age 92. The show starred Don Adams, left, as the ditsy secret agent Maxwell Smart and Edward Platt as his boss, the Chief. It even made my dad laugh.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The presidential election... in full swing. Nate Silver, writing in his blog today, reminds us that (my emphasis): 

...there have been only 16 presidential elections since World War II. That simply isn’t a lot of data, and overly specific conclusions from them, like “no recent president has been re-elected with an unemployment rate over 8.0 percent” or “no recent incumbent has lost when he did not face a primary challenge,” are often not very meaningful in practice and will generally not carry much predictive weight. 

I wrote about this in February and will no doubt have to write about it again (and again) between now and November.

My wife buys...

...a product called Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day liquid hand soap. On the side of the container is a "Household Hint": 

To make sure hands are clean and germ-free, wash them for at least 30 seconds in hot, soapy water. Be sure to suds up around the wrists and lower arms, too! If you have young children, have them sing Happy Birthday twice and their little hands will be clean as a whistle before they know it. So easy! 

No smart aleck remark from me could improve upon that.

I didn't know...

...they had "Stand Your Ground" laws in Norway. According to "Norwegian Man Claims Self-Defense in Killings" in the Times (my emphasis): 

By turns defiant, impassive and, just once, tearful, the self-described anti-Islamic militant who admitted killing 77 people last year, including scores of young people at a summer camp on a tranquil wooded island, went on trial here on Monday. 

In the courtroom, the defendant — Anders Behring Breivik, 33 — proclaimed that he had acted in self-defense, bore no criminal guilt and rejected the authority of the court. 

He should ask for a trial in Florida.