Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to Greg Goodsitt, a financial advisor in Glenview, IL.

Boy, does this look familiar...

cheer up or take off the hat.jpg

The latest bad guy...

...on the world stage is a Chechen named Doku Umarov, above. The Times calls him "Russia's Osama bin Laden."

I just learned about him this morning, but when I saw his picture in the paper I thought to myself, "Where have I seen that face before?" And then I realized it -- Bustoff!

Monday, December 30, 2013

I just took the dialect test...

...in the New York Times and I have to say, it's pretty accurate. (Take it yourself here.)

According to the test I speak like I'm from either Madison, WI, Philadelphia or Newark, NJ. Where did I grow up? Yep; Chicago, Philadelphia, northern New Jersey and Minneapolis. (Madison is about halfway between Chicago and Minneapolis.)

Vito Rizzuto, Canadian...

...mafia boss, died at age 67. I'd never heard of him, but this is from his obit in the Times:

But Mr. Rizzuto’s luck ran out in 2004, when he was arrested in Montreal on racketeering charges related to a gangland shooting in Brooklyn that inspired a bloody scene in the 1997 film “Donnie Brasco,” starring Al Pacino and Johnny Depp.

In the shooting, on May 5, 1981, Mr. Rizzuto and three other men burst from the closet of a Brooklyn social club and shot three Bonanno captains who had been challenging the family’s leadership, the authorities said. The shooters wore ski masks to make the killing look like a robbery, but the authorities said it had been ordered by Joseph Massino, then a senior Bonanno captain.

I've never seen Donnie Brasco, but I assume that's the scene above. It's not often that you see people die slowly in movies or cry out in pain, but I'll bet that's how it happens in real life. 

Harold Simmons, whom Forbes...

...magazine estimated to be worth $10 billion, died at age 82. His obit in the Times said:

He was one of the largest donors in the 2012 presidential election, giving more than $26.9 million to “super PACs” opposing President Obama, whom he called “the most dangerous American alive” in an interview with The Wall Street Journal because, he said, the president wanted to “eliminate free enterprise in this country.” 

How can someone smart enough to amass all that money say something like that? With the stock market trading at record levels, either President Obama isn't very "dangerous," or doesn't really want to "eliminate free enterprise." Right? Sheesh.

Andy Granatelli, of auto racing...

...fame, died at age 90. From his obit in the Times (my emphasis):

In 1961, the Studebaker Packard Corporation acquired Chemical Compounds, a company with seven employees and only one product: STP (for scientifically treated petroleum). Mr. Granatelli was named the president and changed the company name to STP.

Within a decade, the company had 2,000 employees and was selling more than 100 million cans a year, and its annual sales of $2 million had grown to $100 million. STP decals, with the slogan “The Racer’s Edge,” were everywhere, both at racetracks and on the bumpers of family station wagons. Mr. Granatelli appeared in commercials for the product.

But in 1971, an article in Consumer Reports said STP oil treatment was actually “thick goo,” a worthless oil thickener. Mr. Granatelli denied that, but stock trading halted, and in two days, the stock, which had been at $58, fell to $38.

In 1974, STP was sold to Esmark Corporation for $135 million.

If you grew up as I did in the late 1960s and early '70s, you can attest to how ubiquitous the STP brand was. It's true: those decals were "everywhere." And it seemed that even though everyone had their own pet theory for what STP stood for (both serious and otherwise), almost no one knew it was really "scientifically treated petroleum."

I usually disagree with Ross...

...Douthat's column in the New York Times and yesterday was no exception -- even when he listed his mistakes for the year! In case you missed it, here are Douthat's "three biggest analytic errors of 2013":

1. In Boehner I trusted.
2. I underestimated Pope Francis — or misread the media.
3. I made too much of the Syria debate. 

As for the first, Douthat originally wrote that "the speaker who prevented dysfunction from producing disaster last time is around to try again." But the columnist feels he was wrong because Boehner got "roundly outmaneuvered by Ted Cruz and then accepted an awesomely self-destructive shutdown in the hopes that it would break his party’s fever." 

But the shutdown did break the party's fever, didn't it? Republicans were so horrified by the public's reaction that Paul Ryan -- one of the darlings of the tea party -- negotiated a compromise budget with the Democrats that passed on a bipartisan vote. Isn't that progress? Maybe John Boehner should get a little more credit for showing the rest of the GOP just how destructive the tea party has been.

In the second one, Douthat writes "Given the subsequent media fascination with Francis, my attempt to minimize the papacy’s importance in American religious life may have been somewhat premature." But I disagree. Even though Douthat rightly recognizes the pope's "blend of charisma, asceticism and inclusivity," I don't think he was premature.

Like most people, I also applaud the pope's change in tone, but at the same time I want to see if there will be any substantive changes in the Catholic Church. And the answer is: I doubt it. 

Never mind the big stuff, how about a few baby steps? I'll suggest a few. How about welcoming divorced Catholics and gays to the church? And I don't mean just the old "hate the sin, but love the sinner." I mean acknowledging that they haven't done anything wrong and should be included in the church like everyone else? How about dropping that silly idea that homosexuals are welcome so long as they aren't in a relationship? (Kind of like saying that it's okay to be left-handed so long as you write with your right hand.) And, while I'm at it, why not join the twentieth century and lift the ban on birth control? Almost every Catholic couple practices birth control anyway; planning your family is a good thing. 

Those are just a few easy suggestions. But I don't expect the pope will take any of them. So while you can count me as a fan of the new pope's, I'll still bet that at the end of Francis's reign the Catholic Church will be just as reactionary as it is today.

Finally, as for Douthat's third "mistake," I think he's being too hard on himself. He writes:

When it looked as if the White House might lose a vote authorizing a bombing campaign against Bashar al-Assad, I argued that a congressional defeat would “basically finish off” President Obama “as a credible actor on the world stage,” putting us on “a long, hard, dangerous road to January 2017.”

He says his "apocalyptic tone was unwarranted and overwrought." To which I would respond: Relax, you're in good company; every conservative pundit has been predicting the end of Obama since he first emerged on the national stage back in 2007. And they've all been wrong, time and again. (Here's a prediction: I'll say President Obama goes down in history as one of the best chief executives ever. More on that another time.)

But then Douthat can't help himself. He ends the piece by saying (my emphasis):

One of the bad habits of pundits is to perpetually look for Grand Turning Points, moments after which Nothing Is the Same, to impose an artificial order on the messiness of political reality. Such moments sometimes do exist: the botched Obamacare rollout, for instance, still feels like a potentially crucial inflection point for the president’s domestic credibility. 

Ouch! Will these guys never learn? 

Oh, well. Happy New Year Ross.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Larry Lujack died...

...on Christmas Day at age 73. In his New York Times obit the former Chicago disc jockey said:

“I did rock ’n’ roll radio for 30 years. It got to the point if I had to play ‘Surfin’ U.S.A.’ one more time, I was gonna puke.”

And I've been thinking something similar for some time now. How on earth can the Beach Boys still tour? I mean, if you're as sick as I am of hearing "California Girls," just imagine how sick they must be of playing it? Night after night and year after year! And that's all their fans want to hear. It must be like some Twilight Zone version of hell.

Timothy Egan has a great piece...

...in the Times today about words and phrases that need to be retired.

With the last tick of 2013, let’s throw out the most annoying, overused and abused words of the year. A few of these terms, “twerking” or “stay classy,” die a natural death when someone like John McCain starts using them — the aural equivalent of a comb-over. Others need a push.

Egan's list includes "artisan," "brand," "gluten-free," "whatever," "24/7," "end of the day," "world-class" and "best practices." He finishes the piece by saying (his emphasis):

A final thought: I’m as guilty as anyone in letting these banish-worthy words get into print. This column is both artisan and gluten-free, an extension of my brand in a 24/7 environment full of world-class competitors. Whatever. At the end of the day, I’ll try to use best practices and resolve to do better. 

In that spirit, I renew an earlier objection to “literally.” It’s become the most overused of phony emphasis words, as in I went to the store, and they were out of kumquats — I mean, they were literally out of kumquats!

It's a good read, but I'll still use "artisan," "brand," "gluten-free," "whatever," "24/7," "end of the day" and "best practices." I'll continue to refrain from using "world-class" and "literally," though.*

While Egan blames Donald Trump for almost single-handedly running "world-class" into the ground, I would maintain that Ross Perot made it off-limits for me years ago. Not that I ever used the phrase in the first place, but anyone who uses it -- like Perot or Trump -- is clearly not "world-class."

As for "literally," my ex-sister-in-law used to use it constantly, as in Egan's example above. It seemed for a while there that everything was "literally" this or "literally" that for her. It drove me a little nuts (but not literally).

To Egan's list I'd like to add a few of my own (and I'm sure I'll think of a few more as soon as I hit "post"). The three biggest current offenders for me are "bizarre," "surreal," and "awesome." (Could we please find some synonyms for these?) And three that I will continue to resist are "dude" (not my generation), "proactive" (too business-schooly) and "think outside the box" (a definite giveaway that you have probably never thought in a creative way in your life).

P. S. I once heard a guy say that rather than be "reactive," he preferred to be "proactive." I wanted to slap him.

* I caught my mother using the phrase "7/11" the other day when she meant to say "24/7." Oh, well; she's 94.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Yesterday, December 27, would...

...have been my parents' 70th wedding anniversary.

I called my mother, who, at age 94, still lives independently in Minneapolis, and told her I was thinking of her. (My father died in the spring of 2010.)

As family lore would have it, my dad, who was stationed in Florida with the army at the time, called my mother's sister Betty a day or two before and left a message "to tell Nance that I'll be home this weekend and that we're going to get married." If you knew my father you would have no trouble believing this story, but when I talked to my mother yesterday she said she didn't recall it happening quite that way.

My dad was indeed stationed in Florida in 1943 and came home on short notice but the two had been engaged since the previous spring. According to my mom, "everybody was getting married," so it wouldn't have been so unusual for them to tie the knot, especially since my father's future in the military was so uncertain.

So my dad did arrive home on a Friday or a Saturday, which would have been either Christmas Eve or Christmas of that year. Since Catholic churches didn't typically perform weddings on Sundays, the earliest my parents could have gotten married would have been Monday, the 27th. And on that morning, at ten o'clock, James Francis Tracy and Nancy Ann Crawford walked down the aisle of Ascension Church in Oak Park, Illinois. I've seen the pictures; my mother didn't have time to buy a traditional wedding dress and my father wore his uniform. (We had been told growing up that my dad couldn't have worn anything else; to be out of uniform during wartime would have been considered treasonous.)

Ascension, above, was the parish in which my father had been raised and the one to which my mother's family had recently moved. Only 24 years old at the time, my parents grew up in the same general area and had known each other since grammar school.

After the wedding ceremony, a breakfast was held at the nearby Oak Park Arms Hotel. (Today we would probably call it "brunch.") I asked my mother where the young couple spent their wedding night. Since my Aunt Betty and Uncle Sandy were "the only ones with a car," they drove my parents downtown for dinner at the Palmer House Hotel.

(I can only imagine what that evening was like since my father couldn't stand my aunt and uncle. Was it because Uncle Sandy didn't serve in the war? I doubt it; my dad didn't like a lot of people.)

After dinner the newlyweds were whisked away to the Edgewater Beach Hotel on the city's North Side, which was actually on the edge of the water in those days. (The city later built Lake Shore Drive to the east. What's left of the hotel is now condominiums; it's that pink structure you see where the Drive meets Hollywood.) Their room was only ten dollars a night and they stayed there for the next three days, entertaining their parents for dinner in the hotel's dining room.

By then it was time, however, for my father to return to Florida and my mother to her parents' apartment in Oak Park. She took a train down to meet him about two weeks later and they rented a room in the back of a house owned by a couple of schoolteachers named Gwen and -- are you ready for this? -- Shady. The house was in Apalachicola, on the panhandle, and my father hitchhiked the five or six miles to the base each day. My mother couldn't recall if they had to share a bathroom with the other couple or not, but they did have access to the kitchen. She remembers preparing steaks there that my father had brought home from one of the cooks on the base.

This was 1943, remember, and Apalachicola was smack dab in the Jim Crow South. My mother, who had never been out of Chicago in her life, witnessed the "separate but equal" treatment of blacks, saw people drinking Coca-Cola from bottles (!) for the first time and, with her experience as a secretary, got a job as a file clerk in a V. D. clinic. (It had some other euphemistic name she told me, like the Social Disease Hall or something, but it was clearly there to treat the base's soldiers.)

Also, according to family lore, the naive Irish Catholic girl quit as soon as she found out what V. D. was (usually brings a laugh), but my mom told me yesterday that that was not true either. "What was I supposed to do all day, sit in that house?" Besides, my parents were only down there for two months.

In the middle of March my dad shipped out to Martha's Vineyard, where he prepared for the amphibious war in the Far East. My mom, meanwhile, returned to Oak Park where she lived with her parents for the next two years while he was away.

Robert W. Wilson, a retired...

...hedge-fund founder who became a major philanthropist, died at age 87. According to his obit in the Times:

Mr. Wilson was found dead Monday in an inner courtyard of the San Remo building on Central Park West, between 74th and 75th Streets, where he lived in a 16th-floor apartment. The police said he left a note indicating that he had leapt to his death.

Although tragic, Mr. Wilson's suicide was a considerate one. His note included “a list of appointments that would have to be canceled.”

Friday, December 27, 2013

Frederick Fox, a hat...

...designer, died at age 82. Among his many clients were members of the British royal family, including the queen. The last three paragraphs of his obit in the Times reminded me of why I am an American:

Mr. Fox told an interviewer that before attending his first fitting at Buckingham Palace to meet Queen Elizabeth in the late 1960s, his employer, Mr. Amies, explained the rules: “Don’t touch the queen, don’t ask questions and don’t turn your back.”

When the day came, Mr. Fox said, “The queen was standing at the end of a long room. I advanced, did my chat and my thing. When it was time to depart I was rooted to the spot. I thought that if I walked backwards I would fall over the furniture or one of the corgis. Her Majesty spotted my dilemma and turned her back on me.”

The queen’s back, he explained, was her way of giving him permission to leave.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The day after Christmas...

...in prison, from My Road Home:

Wednesday Dec 26th

The majority of the facility is closed until after the New Year. Fire and Safety is open however, and I'm grateful for that. I go to the office at my usual time, 8:00 (although this morning Chief R. called for me an hour earlier) and take care of whatever needs to be done. Before you know it's 11:00 and time to go back to the dorm for the count. Pretty much everyone else isn't working but instead just hanging out which makes for a very long day. I work in the afternoon as well.

I find that when inmates are cooped up like that, playing cards (gambling for stamps) and such, tensions are much more likely to reach a breaking point. It wouldn't shock me at all to see a fight erupt at some point during the next week or so.

I've been saying for some time now the two hardest days will be Thanksgiving and Christmas, and they were. But you know what? I'm proud to say I faced them and got through them! I now await and pray for happier times in '08.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Day in prison...

...from My Road Home:

Tuesday Dec 25th

Christmas day! Earlier this morning, I overheard this exchange that I think best sums up the day. One of the new guys in the dorm went up to a 22-year veteran (in for murder) and asked, "How do you handle being in prison on Christmas?" He answered, "You can end up in the box just as easily today, as you can any other day."

If you take away the roast beef that was served for lunch, it truly is like any other day. And that's the way I approached it as well. In speaking with the boys mid-morning, who were just about to attack the presents Santa left, I cut our conversation short as I knew my emotions were about to get the better of me. Once off the phone it was a day of reading, writing, listening to music and at the end of it all, praying to God that this will be my last Christmas at Mohawk.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Mikhail T. Kalashnikov, creator...

...of the AK-47, died at age 94. Ever wonder where they got the name for that rifle? No? Well, I'm going to tell you anyway:

General Kalashnikov’s public life resulted from a secret competition to develop the Soviet infantry rifle for the Cold War. The result was the AK-47 — an abbreviation for “the automatic by Kalashnikov” followed by the year the competition ended.

Christmas Eve in prison...

...from My Road Home:

Monday Dec 24th

I was glad to have work this morning, the Chief kept me busy from 7-11. Being busy means there is less time to focus on the realization I'm here, and that this will be the first Christmas ever apart from the boys.

Church was at 1:00 p.m. and brought in about twenty new faces for a total of 50 or so inmates. Back to the dorm by 3:30 p.m., where eight Christmas cards awaited me at mail call. I'm blessed to have that much love and support coming my way. Sadly to say, many of the guys in the dorm won't get that much mail in a year. I try to downplay it, and will hide seven letters under the pillow while I open and read one. Mainly I feel bad, but I don't want anyone to get jealous and then pissed off. I can just hear it, "Hey man, you think you're better than me with all that mail?" Good grief, I don't need that.

Quiet night in the cube, read the paper, part of the new book Eileen gave me, said my prayers, shed a tear or two right around midnight, then off to sleep.

Monday, December 23, 2013

I saw "Jobs" last night...

...and while it was good, it demonstrated one of my (many) problems with movies: how do you tell the story of a man's life -- especially one like Steve Jobs's -- in only two hours? It was more like the cinematic equivalent of bullet points.

Today is December 23, or...

...as Seinfeld scriptwriter Dan O'Keefe would say, Festivus.

(Want to drive your Fox News-watching friends or relatives crazy? Wish them a "happy holiday.")

Sunday, December 22, 2013

More Christmas in prison...

...from My Road Home:

Saturday-Sunday Dec 22nd-23rd

As I've said before, there's nothing like a visit, especially when it's your mother and father, along with one of your three sisters and two brothers. They arrived Friday night, spending the evening in Rome, NY. I got the call yesterday morning at 10:00 to head up to the visitor's room. Being three days before Christmas, the place was packed. We lucked out though and were given a table all the way at the end, removed from the throng of humanity. You could spot my family a mile away, Dad never without his blazer and tie, Mom even at age 82 looking so refined, elegant and attractive. My sister, Liz, causing all the C.O.'s heads to turn with her good looks, and Jack, who has never had a bad hair day in his life, just off the plane from the dregs of Honduras, appeared looking like he has been held up at at $800 per day spa.

Our three-hour visit went faster than Lindsay Lohan in rehab. So many laughs, memories, positive thoughts for my future, and then of course when it was time to say goodbye, a few tears. That wonderful visit will carry me through the holidays. For the first time ever I'll be relieved when Christmas day has come and gone. That being said, I do know I'm much more prepared emotionally to face the day than I was only a month ago for Thanksgiving.

Today (Sunday) has been quiet, other than walking over to the mess hall for breakfast and lunch (I skipped dinner). I've been confined to the dorm and my cube, where I have been reading. Family and friends have reached out to me this Christmas with all sorts of new books to keep my mind occupied. You have no idea how grateful I am.

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

This guy is a long way...

...from home.

And what, do you suppose, is a "purse doctor"?

The quote of the day...

...is from Dr. David Blumenthal, a former adviser to President Obama and president of the Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based foundation that focuses on health care:

“If you put our health care system on an island and floated it out into the Atlantic it would have the fifth-largest G.D.P. in the world.” 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Have you seen this one-handed kid...

...play basketball? From an article in the Times today:

Born without a left hand and forearm, Zach Hodskins was thought to have a better chance to become president of the United States, as a relative imagined when he was an infant, than to play basketball for a college powerhouse. Yet Florida, which won back-to-back national titles in the past decade and reached the N.C.A.A. tournament’s Round of 8 the past three years, recently guaranteed him a roster spot for next season by designating him a preferred walk-on.

The Loveliest Name of the Day...

...belongs to Lovely Warren, the new mayor of Rochester, New York.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmastime in prison...

...from My Road Home.

Thursday-Friday Dec 20th-21st

Can you imagine going to "the box" (the prison within the prison) for taking extra grilled-cheese sandwiches? No, I can't either, but that's what happened to "Little Jay," a baby-faced, hapless, twenty-one year old kid who lasted in our dorm not quite a month. I'm not sure what crime brought him to Mohawk, but other than his walkman, which he treasured, he didn't have a pot to piss in.

My friend Jon -- whose company I enjoy more each day -- out of the goodness of his heart (something you don't see in prison too often) decided to take Jay under his wing and guide him through the minefield that is prison life. Whenever Jay seemed to be on the verge of doing something stupid -- which was practically every day -- Jon would quickly put him straight. You could almost set your watch every night, waiting for the inevitable "you moron, you can't be smoking in your cube, 20 feet away from the C.O." Jon would yell. I'd chuckle to myself and think, "That poor kid is never going to make it." But Jon stuck with it, hammering away, getting him to see the light a little bit. They had meals together and Jay, walkman in hand, would shuffle over to Jon's cube at night, like a lost puppy, begging for a cigarette afraid to make a move without his input. Jon was breaking the #1 rule they explain to you upon coming to prison ... don't stick your neck out for anybody!

But guess what, it seemed to be working. Sure, Jay hadn't become a model inmate, he still messed up, but there was a resemblance of hope that he could complete his 2 year sentence without any major infractions. Jon was feeling somewhat proud of his, okay a bit of a stretch here considering what he was working with, dare I say it, protege.

Then this past Tuesday, as quickly as you can say "I'm hungry," Jon's project came to a crashing halt. Because this kid thought taking a few extra grilled-cheese sandwiches from the mess hall was a good thing to do, he'll now be waking up Christmas morning in the box. He was sent there minutes after getting caught, (lying to the C.O. didn't help matters) all his belongings (within the hour) were packed up and shipped out of our dorm, and he's looking at probably 30 days in the box. Was it worth being strip-searched (videotaped while it's performed), thrown into the showers -- the last one he'll have for a week, no phone calls, no walkman or books, and being alone in a cold cell, where they keep the light on 24 hours a day, was this all worth a grilled cheese?

This being a cruel place, no one has sympathy for him, just ridicule. How could you be so stupid, of all things to end up in the box for?

Of course, Jon feels bad for him; feels somewhat responsible but I know that shouldn't be the case. He did as much as he could, more than anyone here ever would have done.

I can't believe...

...I'm commenting on this Duck Dynasty story, but Josh Barro nails it:

There are two Americas, one of which is better than the other. And it's instructive who's sticking up for the worse America.

The America I live in has this one right. Racist and anti-gay comments and comments disparaging of religious minorities are rude and unacceptable and might cost you your job.

This map shows...

...the seventeen states that now allow same-sex marriage, unions or partnerships. (New Mexico became the latest yesterday.)

The map below shows the results of the 2012 presidential election:
The seventeen states in the first map account for a total of 232 Electoral votes, almost 86 percent of the 270 needed to be elected president. So, if the Republicans descend into another round of gay-bashing in the 2016 primaries like they did in 2012, the eventual nominee is going to face a heck of an uphill battle in the general.

Just sayin'.

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The 2016 Iowa caucuses...

...are only two years from next month. According to Scott Conroy, writing in RealClearPolitics, there are no fewer than nine Republicans considering a run (so far):

1. Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee
2. Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum
3. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz
4. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul
5. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker
6. Texas Gov. Rick Perry
7. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal
8. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio
9. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

And I'll add two more:

10. Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan
11. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush

This could be a crowded field!

My new idol...

...is a 17-year-old girl from Oak Park.

Tavi Gevinson, a high school senior, is a writer, magazine editor, actress and singer. She started a  blog devoted to fashion, Style Rookie, in 2008 -- the same year I started this blog -- when she was only eleven. It draws nearly 30,000 readers a day. (That's about a hundred times more than mine. Oy!)

I saw Ms. Gevinson on Chicago Tonight last night and you can watch her interview with Phil Ponce here. (I can't figure out how to upload it or download it or whatever.) She is one of the most impressive (and mature) teenagers I have ever seen.

Ben Bradlee Jr. has a new book...

...out about Ted Williams called The Kid. From a review by Scott Conroy in the Daily Beast (my emphasis):

That Williams spent much of his life either hiding or downplaying his half-Mexican heritage is perhaps unsurprising given the biases that permeated his southern California upbringing and the segregated sport in which he became a star.

But the extent to which his ethnic background has remained obscured is striking. If one were to gather a roomful of passionate baseball fans today, I’d confidently wager that more than half would have no idea that Teddy Ballgame was among the first great Hispanic ballplayers in the big leagues.

And, amazingly:

In all, Williams lost five of his prime playing years to military service -- a fact that makes his final stat sheet all the more remarkable and that has long been a centerpiece in any discussion of his greatness.

After all, who could imagine a pro athlete in the modern era giving up all of the money and privileges of sports fame to serve his country?

I'm experiencing a slight case...

...of writer's block everyone. Should be back soon.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Also, over the weekend...

...this blog surpassed 250,000 all-time page views. That's a lot!

Thanks for reading.

Peter O'Toole also died...

...over the weekend, at age 81. I particularly liked his 1982 movie, My Favorite Year.

Tom Laughlin died...

...while I was out of town for the weekend. The actor, writer, director and producer of Billy Jack was 82. Kids, if you don't know about this iconic movie, you really ought to see it. You'll understand your baby boomer parents a lot better if you do.

Friday, December 13, 2013

I hear Minnesota...

...is nice this time of year.

My mother turned 94 on Wednesday and I'll be visiting her for the weekend. Blogging should be light to non-existent until Tuesday.

Sen. Marco Rubio demonstrated...

...this week one of the main problems with the Republican Party.

In a piece in the Daily Beast, Michelle Cottle reports that the likely contender for the 2016 GOP nomination opposed the Ryan-Murray budget deal. But it's not so much that as it is about how he did it (my emphasis):

Not that Rubio’s victory was one merely of speed. He lapped the field on intensity as well, pursuing an impressively aggressive schedule of media denunciations: Huckabee, Hannity, Megyn Kelly—even a full-on column on Breitbart.com, warning of how the deal was further threatening the American Dream. No WAY anyone can mistake where Rubio stands on this issue. He is 100 percent opposed to derailing the American Dream by allowing sequestration to be tinkered with.

"Huckabee, Hannity, Megyn Kelly and Breitbart.com." What, no piece in the National Review?

I'll just repeat what I wrote in a post last spring (substitute "Marco Rubio" for "Congressman Ryan" and "Romney"):

I wonder, why are Republicans always complaining about the "liberal" media when they only talk to newspapers and television stations owned by Rupert Murdoch? Why are they so mystified that they can't reach independents and Democrats? Why didn't Congressman Ryan publish his budget in the New York Times or the Washington Post or USA Today? Announcing his plan through the Journal is just preaching to the choir. And why didn't Romney appear on some of the Sunday shows before Labor Day (when President Obama's team was defining him)? Why didn't he give some interviews to CBS or NBC or ABC? Why did he confine himself to the network that employs people like Sarah Palin?

Is it really any wonder that the Republican Party has such low approval ratings? Why don't they try talking to the rest of the nation? Make their case to us, not just the GOP base. How on earth do Republicans expect to convince us of the wisdom of their policies when they won't even talk to us?

My first hockey game...

...of the year last night was a doozy: Glenbrook South overcame a 2-0 deficit to defeat New Trier Green in overtime, 3-2. Junior D.K. Arenson scored two goals, including the winner, in a big road win for the Titans. Nick Stevens, a freshman defenseman, provided the other score for the Glenview squad.

My Player of the Game, however, would have to be sophomore goalie Matt Grinde, who kept the Titans in the contest after a slow start.

Glenbrook South's next game will be at home this Saturday night against Rockford. The Trevians, meanwhile, will host rival Loyola Gold on Saturday afternoon in Winnetka. Go to both!

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Happy 12/12 Day...

...from the Julie + Michael Tracy Family Foundation. Thanks to everyone who donated this year!

If the Ryan-Murray budget deal...

...passes as expected, it could mean that the fever in Washington may finally -- at long last -- be breaking. From an article in today's Times (my emphasis):

“We know that this budget agreement doesn’t come close to achieving what we want to achieve on our ultimate fiscal goals,” Mr. Ryan said Wednesday. “But again, if we can get a step in the right direction, we’re going to take that step, and that’s why we’re doing this.”

With Ms. Murray by his side to announce the deal on Tuesday, Mr. Ryan explained his thinking: “As a conservative, I deal with the situation as it exists. I deal with the way things are, not necessarily the way I want them to be. I’ve passed three budgets in a row that reflect my priorities and my principles and everything I wanted to accomplish. We’re in divided government. I realize I’m not going to get that.” 

"I deal with the way things are, not necessarily the way I want them to be."

That's a huge concession for Mr. Ryan to make and a departure from Republican thinking since at least 2009. It may also be a sign that the GOP is ready to return to responsible governing.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The news is slow...

...so here's more from My Road Home:

Monday July 23rd

 Before being sentenced I read quite a bit about the effect that doing prison time has on a person, both before & after. While yes, I know it's only been very brief so far, I'm sure the post-traumatic stress never fully leaves you. Already I carry such an amount of sadness, remorse, guilt and shame. Negativity is rampant. I fight hard against wallowing in it however, I will be looking for the positive spirit that I know can be gained here, somehow. Only a month in and I can tell you, that when I do regain me freedom someday, there will never be a time when I am not so utterly grateful for all the Lord has given me. I can't help but think of all the complaining and negative energy I have given off for so many years now. Rarely living in the now, soaking up all the beauty that was in front of me.

In the town where I grew up (Short Hills, NJ) and resided most of my life, the majority of folks know what has happened to me. I try not to think of the gossip or the nasty, mean-spirited words that are being used to describe me. A good ol' fashioned kick him while he's down. Fine, say what you want, but please, please, don't let my sons come under this type of fire, don't you dare say anything to them. I am so sorry I am here!

I have friends who never left my side during all this, I will forever be grateful. There are others, even though I haven't hurt them in any way, have already written me off. I understand though, I do.

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Monday, December 9, 2013

According to food author...

...Michael Pollan, "Twenty percent of food in America is eaten in the car." That sounds like a lot, doesn't it?

My wife and I decorated...

...the house this weekend and I actually got into the Christmas spirit a little. (We even played some Christmas music last night.) And I thought, What would it be like to be in prison this time of year? So here's the relevant passage from My Road Home.

Saturday-Sunday Dec 8-9th

Normally, when it's time to write about what goes on here I have to hold back a little. There is so much material to share; I could fill pages with what takes place on any single day or night. However, this morning (Sunday, 10:45) I've been staring at this paper for 30 minutes and still don't know what to say. Do I write about how sad I've been the past couple of days? How lonely and depressing the weekends are? Or how for the first time in my life I am dreading the arrival of Christmas? Perhaps I could write about how all I want to do is have a good cry by myself. But, there is no place where that can be accomplished. There are always people around, no such thing as privacy. Yes the "black dog" (depression) has returned and is deep inside me at the moment. About every three weeks, it rears its ugly head and stays for a couple of days or so. It's times like this when I wonder why I can't adapt better. I mean, you see guys laughing and joking all the time. They approach each day with seemingly not a care in the world, like the time spent here is more of a homecoming with old friends, a vacation perhaps. Why do I carry this shame and guilt with me constantly? Why do I tread so lightly, afraid of each step I take, thinking one false move could lead me straight to the box? With some inmates, time spent in the box is simply the cost of doing business. They could care less.

But you know what; I'll never get to that line of thought, never! I won't reach a level of disrespect and the prevailing rally cry of so many here, "I'm the victim" mantra. Hopefully, I will shake my depression in a day or so, in order to feel better physically at least.

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Are cracks beginning...

...to appear in the Republicans' lockstep opposition to Obamacare? From Politico (my emphasis):

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval is the only Republican governor whose state is both running its own health insurance exchange this year and expanding its Medicaid program under the health law. He’s arguably doing more to put the Democrats’ signature law into place than any other Republican.

Sandoval has always maintained that he dislikes the health law and he’d like to see it repealed. But as long as it’s the law of the land, he says it is his job to make it work for the people of his state.

“I opposed the Affordable Care Act from its inception,” he wrote in an email. But he’s a former federal judge and in his view, once the Supreme Court upheld the legislation, “the Affordable Care Act became the law of the land.”

Even after sticking his neck out on Obamacare — which few others in his party would consider amid fear of a conservative backlash — Sandoval is overwhelmingly popular in Nevada. State lawmakers backed his Obamacare approach on a bipartisan basis, and he’s cruising toward reelection next year with no formidable opponent in sight.

One of the things I learned...

...back in the 1980s was that government can never do anything as well as the private sector. Never.

With the disastrous rollout of the HealthCare.Gov website, it's hard to argue this point. In fact, the Times reported just recently (my emphasis):

Jeffrey D. Zients, the presidential adviser leading the repair effort, said he had shaken up management of the website so the team was now “working with the velocity and discipline of a high-performing private sector company.” 


And then, on Meet the Press last week, the roundtable had this to say:

“The most distinct thing in this report: ‘the team is operating with private sector velocity and effectiveness,’” MSNBC chief political analyst Chuck Todd said. “That is an acknowledgement that this was a government operation for a long time, and it failed, and now we’re bringing in the private sector folks. That is an indictment of the whole idea of government as the solution.”

“Government is like an offensive lineman,” New York Times columnist David Brooks said. “It can do something really well. It can do blocking, it can create order. But when you ask government to be a wide receiver, then you’re asking it to do things it can’t do… Republicans win elections when Democrats overreach and ask government to do things it can’t do.”

MSNBC anchor Andrea Mitchell said the malfunctioning website threatened the project of liberalism by presenting government as structurally incapable of implementing its goals.

“This was a very tough bet, and [Obama] had an obligation to make sure the rollout was not disastrous, in order to achieve those goals,” Mitchell said. “Now they’re at risk of losing the credibility of government as an agent of change, for a generation.”

And in the wake of the rollout, it's hard to argue with any of that. (Except what David Brooks said. Governments can certainly do health care reform; they've done it all over the globe. In fact, every other developed country has universal health care and none has considered a return to the private system. Does Mr. Brooks really think the United States is operating in a vacuum?)

But I bring all this up to share an experience I just had with my property taxes, my mortgage company and the Cook County Treasurer's office. I won't bore you with all the details, but suffice it to say that I had a problem and after going around and around on the phone with my mortgage company and the Cook County Treasurer's office I finally decided to go down to City Hall and fix the problem in person. My wife dropped me off, drove around the block and waited for me to give her a progress report. I didn't know what to expect, but shortly texted her, "This may only take a few minutes!"

I walked in the door on Clark Street and found the office immediately to my right. A nice young man directed me to a lady a few steps away. There was no line on a Friday afternoon. Impossible, I thought. Again, not to bore you with all the details, but she figured out in a matter of minutes that my mortgage company had paid the tax on the wrong property. Imagine that: the big, bad city of Chicago was right and my "private sector" mortgage company was wrong. What's more, as I mentioned, it took only a few minutes to clear up. The Cook County Treasurer's Office had functioned with "private sector velocity!"

So maybe -- just maybe -- it's not as black and white as we had been taught back in the Reagan Years. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Meanwhile, in California...

...the Los Angeles Times reports, "State health exchange swamped with enrollees":

In response to higher-than-expected demand, the Covered California exchange said it is adding staff and expanding its capacity to answer consumer calls. It received 17,000 calls in less than an hour Wednesday, more than it received in an entire day in recent weeks. The exchange is also trying to dig through a backlog of 25,000 paper applications filed in October and November.

During the first two months of enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, California consistently outperformed the federal marketplace in 36 other states. Through mid-November, the state has enrolled nearly 80,000 people in private health plans, and 140,000 more appear to have qualified for Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program.

And yet Republicans are still saying things like this:

As condolences and reflections followed the passing of Nelson Mandela, Rick Santorum linked the injustices the former South African president fought and Obamacare.

“He was fighting against some great injustice, and I would make the argument that we have a great injustice going on right now in this country with an ever-increasing size of government that is taking over and controlling people’s lives — and Obamacare is front and center in that,” Santorum said Thursday on Fox News’s “The O’Reilly Factor.”

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Tom Toles...

...cartoon of the day.

Is it time to raise...

...the minimum wage? According to Daniel Gross (my emphasis):

The real problem is that companies in the U.S. do not pay enough, and that they have conditioned themselves (and their investors, and board, and employees, and politicians) NOT to raise wages even as their profits and cash holdings rise to record levels. Consider that corporate profits have soared from $1.2 trillion in 2009 to about $2 trillion this year, and that between the end of 2006 and mid-2013, corporate America’s cash holdings rose from $850 billion to $1.48 trillion. And yet the response to this remarkable turnaround has been effectively to reduce wages. Median household income in 2012 was BELOW where it was in 1999, and has risen in only five of the last 12 years.

Unfortunately, many of America’s largest employers—including Walmart and McDonald’s—have made paying the lowest possible wages a bedrock component of their business model. To be sure, that business model—just like the American economic model—is starting to creak under the weight of its own contradictions. (Walmart always wonders why its customers, who occupy the lower ends of the income ladder, never seem to have enough money to spend at Walmart stores.) And yet the executives fail to see the connection between the low wages they pay and the low consuming power of their customers.

Dick Dodd, lead singer...

...and drummer for the Standells, a California garage band, died at age 68. From his obit in the Times:

He began his entertainment career at 9 as a Mouseketeer on the original “Mickey Mouse Club” television show. He said he bought his first snare drum and cymbals from his fellow Mouseketeer Annette Funicello. 

When "Dirty Water" was released in 1966, neither Mr. Dodd nor any of the other members of the Standells had ever visited Boston.

General Paul Aussaresses, one of...

...France’s top officers in the colonial war in Algeria from 1954 to 1962, died at age 95. From his obit in the Times (my emphasis):

In December 2000, General Aussaresses gave an interview to Le Monde in which he said that torture had been routine and condoned by the French leadership as the fastest way to get information about guerrilla activities.

The next year he expanded on that account with the publication of a book, “Special Services: Algeria 1955-57.” 

The book is graphic in its details. The general wrote of beating prisoners; of attaching electrodes to their ears or testicles and gradually increasing the intensity of the electrical charge; of pouring water over their faces until they either spoke or drowned. Whether a captive talked or not, he said, he usually had him executed anyway, often doing the job himself. 

I wonder if Dick Cheney will ever make a similar confession.