Tuesday, April 29, 2014

More bad news for Republicans.

From NBC News:

Though California and Texas still have the largest number of Hispanics, the five states with the fastest growing Latino populations from 2000 to 2012 were: Tennessee (up 163 percent); South Carolina (161 percent); Alabama (157 percent); Kentucky (135 percent) and South Dakota (132 percent).

Those five are all red states.

The quote of the day...

...is from Chris Hayes: “Much of movement conservatism is a con and the base are the marks.”

Monday, April 28, 2014

Your fun fact of the day:

In New York City, there are now more students enrolled in Jewish schools than in Catholic schools. From COLlive:

Looking at state data, the city's Independent Budget Office found that 10 years ago, there were 134,948 Catholic school students compared to 73,254 Jewish school students. Now the number in Catholic schools has dropped to 87,301, significantly fewer than the 94,589 in Jewish schools.

That's a 35 percent drop in Catholic school enrollment since 2004.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Earl Morrall, longtime NFL...

Earl Morrall, Don Shula and Bob Griese.
...quarterback, died at age 79. From his obit in the Times (my emphasis):

In April 1972 the Dolphins claimed him on $100 waivers and reunited him with their head coach, Don Shula, who had been the Colts’ coach.

When Morrall reported to the Dolphins’ training camp at age 38, his teammates called him Old Man, he said. But when Griese, the Dolphins’ No. 1 quarterback, sustained leg and ankle injuries in the fifth game of the season, against the San Diego Chargers, Morrall took over.

He helped the Dolphins to a 14-0 regular season, throwing for 11 touchdowns, although they were primarily a running team behind Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris.

Asked long afterward who he thought was the most valuable player for that Dolphins team, Morrall answered, “Bob Griese for breaking his ankle so I could play.”

And then this:

Morrall was later the quarterbacks coach at the University of Miami, where he tutored Vinny Testaverde, Bernie Kosar and Jim Kelly.

Nice work!

Friday, April 25, 2014

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Are you guilty...

...of clinging to views long after you should? I'm afraid I am; I suspect most people are. Garry Wills, above, writes (my emphasis):

I am reminded of an exchange that took place between the historian Francis Russell and John Dos Passos. In 1920, two Italian anarchists—Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti—were accused of killing a security guard and an employee of a shoe factory during a payroll robbery to finance their political subversions. Their trial, which resulted in murder convictions for both, was manifestly unfair, and it caused an eruption of sympathy and protest on the left.

Celebrities around the world rushed to the two men’s defense. One of the leaders in this movement, who wrote extensively about the case, was the novelist Dos Passos. Nonetheless, the two men were executed in 1927.

But in the 1960s Francis Russell produced new ballistics tests and interviews to prove that one man, Sacco, had killed the two men at the shoe factory; the other, Vanzetti, was innocent. He tried to show this evidence to Dos Passos, who had given up his leftist ideas by that time. Dos Passos told Russell he could not even hear evidence that would unsettle his personal stake in the matter. He had invested too much of his youthful energy and self-esteem in the case to reopen it even for the slightest reconsideration. It would destroy his very identity, which had been tied up in that passionate commitment.

That is the way people cling with ardor to causes they have felt honor-bound to maintain.

(Reminds me of how so many veterans of the New Deal just couldn't consider the possibility that Alger Hiss had been a spy for the Russians. His antagonist, Richard Nixon, was thought to be a red-baiting vulgarian.)

Maybe a good start would be to realize that it's human to get invested in a particular viewpoint. And then just check yourself from time to time.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to Hume An, a director with the Heartland Alliance.

A new law signed by...

...Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia yesterday will allow gun owners who hold concealed-carry permits to take their weapons into bars, airports and schools.

What are some of the places that still ban guns? According to an article in the Times, "Government buildings that screen visitors, like the State Capitol." (My emphasis.)

Why do you suppose that is? Because guns are dangerous?

It looks like Northwestern...

...is doing everything it can to prevent its football players from forming a union tomorrow. From "At Northwestern, a Blitz to Defeat an Effort to Unionize" in the Times:

Northwestern’s campaign has been a textbook case of how to aggressively battle a union, labor experts say. It adds up to a lot of pressure riding on the broad shoulders of the 76 football players who are eligible to vote Friday by secret ballot.

For its part, Northwestern has not been content to let the vote play out on its own. As a result, Northwestern officials, from the assistant football coaches up to the university president, have pulled out all the stops to squash the union before it is formed.

[Coach Pat] Fitzgerald has held one-on-one meetings with players, along with mandatory meetings for the scholarship football players. The coach has written letters to the players and their parents. Position coaches have also been in contact with players’ parents.

“In my heart, I know that the downside of joining a union is much bigger than the upside,” Fitzgerald wrote in the April 14 letter he emailed to his team. “You have nothing to gain by forming a union.”

“We back Coach Fitz 100 percent wholeheartedly,” wide receiver Kyle Prater said.

Sounds like the kids are going to vote no, doesn't it? 

But, really, how long before another team at another school votes yes? Because these kids are employees, right? (Isn't fifty or sixty grand a year in tuition considered compensation?) And then the floodgates will open up. 

It's only a matter of time.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Jimmy Garoppolo, quarterback...

...of Eastern Illinois, will be one of 30 players on hand for the NFL draft in New York next month. The 2010 Rolling Meadows graduate is being touted as a late first-round or early second-round pick.

From "The best QB you've never heard of":

Garoppolo wasn't groomed as a quarterback from the day he could hold a football. He always figured baseball would be his sport -- his mom insisted he would've made a fine player had he stuck with it -- but gave it up because the game "got a little boring for me."

He played football growing up, too, but never quarterback -- even though his coaches begged him to be one from the day he put on pads. Instead, Garoppolo followed in the footsteps of his older brother, Mike, playing outside linebacker and running back.

Still, Garoppolo's father recalls his son leading his pee-wee team in touchdown passes, since they'd run halfback passes to maximize his son's skill set. But a desire to play quarterback didn't come about until Garoppolo's junior year at Rolling Meadows High School.

Rolling Meadows didn't have a quarterback lined up, so Garoppolo -- who played varsity as a linebacker his sophomore year -- decided to give it a shot.

"I was a decent athlete at the time," he said. "I could throw the ball well because of baseball, so it worked out."

Prepare to hear a lot more about this kid.

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Happy 100th birthday...

...Wrigley Field!

That's the 1947 All-Star game. The sign in the upper right-hand corner says "Ricketts." Click here for a better view.

Apparently, today is "Talk Like...

...Shakespeare Day." Here's one of my favorite commercials from the '90s.

I'm experiencing a slight case...

...of writer's block. Nothing to get excited about; I just don't have anything to say right now. Should be back soon.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Sentences like the one below, from...

...a piece on the front page by Michiko Kakutani, are among the many, many reasons I read the New York Times (my emphasis):

In novels like “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” “The Autumn of the Patriarch” and “Love in the Time of Cholera,” [Gabriel] García Márquez mythologized the history of an entire continent, while at the same time creating a Rabelaisian portrait of the human condition as a febrile dream in which love and suffering and redemption endlessly cycle back on themselves on a Möbius strip in time.

Huh? It's also why I keep my iPhone handy when reading.

While I had seen "Rabelaisian," "febrile" and "Möbius strip" before, I had to look up each one to understand what Ms. Kakutani was saying about Mr. Garcia Marquez. And I appreciate a writer (and a newspaper) that either a) assumes I'm familiar with those references, or b) challenges me to learn them.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

We're moving back to the city...

...in June. After 22 years in Glenview we sold our house and plan on signing a lease on a row house in Little Italy this Saturday. Why there? (Or University Village or the Near West Side or "near UIC," as my wife calls it?) The primary reason is to live close to the house our foundation bought for young adults with autism, above. (Check out our website.)

I don't know when I was going to write about this in my blog, but an opinion piece in the Times this morning, "America’s Urban Future," forced my hand (my emphasis):

For all of the attention showered on hipster enclaves like Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Portland, Ore., America is only in the beginning stages of a historic urban reordering. After over a half-century of depopulation, cities have been filling up — and not just with young millennials, but with families and even older workers and retirees.

It is significant enough that young people are choosing to start the next phase of their lives in cities. But increasingly, so are their parents. No less immune to the economic shocks of the last decade, and with longer life spans and bigger health bills before them, downsizing empty nesters are also discovering the benefits of more compact living.

Then there's this, which I had earlier thought to post as "The statistics of the day":

A staggering 90 percent of our gross domestic product and 86 percent of our jobs are generated in 3 percent of the continental United States, namely our cities.

So, yeah, look for some posts soon on our experience moving "back to the city." (I may even have to write a series on it for the Oak Leaves.)

It's Holy Week.

Here's a piece I published in the Oak Leaves recently titled "My Spiritual Journey":

They say you’re not supposed to discuss politics or religion, but since I’ve already made some comments on the former in my earlier columns, why not tackle the other subject as well?

I was born in Oak Park to a typical Irish Catholic family. My father grew up there and attended Ascension and Fenwick; my mother was raised in Austin and went to St. Lucy’s and Trinity. Until they were 18, neither had lived beyond that small patch of land in the Midwest.

I was the fifth, and last, of my parents’ children. I read once of a psychologist who maintained that birth order was a big determinant of one’s personality. While the oldest hewed closest to the parents culturally, the youngest tended to rebel more. Now, to look at me you would never think of me as a rebel, but sometimes I wonder if he was on to something.

Growing up, we all went to Catholic schools from kindergarten through college. My parents, devout Catholics, never missed Mass – even on all the various holy days of obligation – and adhered to all the rules of the Church. (To this day, I love spaghetti on Friday nights. It’s a carry-over from the days when Catholics couldn’t eat meat on Fridays. My mom – a good but not especially imaginative cook --  served it with marinara sauce until Vatican II; then she simply added ground beef. It was a big favorite in our house.) And while the rest of my siblings (and my extended family) followed suit, I couldn’t help feeling just a little skeptical even at an early age.

To give you an example, I figured out for myself that Santa Claus was probably a myth. After all, I reasoned, how could one man deliver presents to every kid in the world in one night? It just couldn’t be possible! So, I wondered, what else was I being taught that wasn’t true?

My latent skepticism was reawakened one day in a religion class in my junior year of high school. The seventies were a somewhat progressive time and my lay teacher began the semester with the question, “Why is there a universe?” I don’t remember what his answer was, but to this day it still haunts me. And the best answer I can come up with is, “I don’t know.” Why would a seemingly perfect being, i. e., God, have a need to create a universe? And why would He create Man? I was taught as a child that it was because God loves us. But how could someone love something He had yet to create?

When I got to college and learned about evolution I wondered, is this all some existential accident? E. O. Wilson, the famous biologist, once told Charlie Rose that evolution implies “no designer.” Whoa! Could that possibly be true?

Now, some Catholics like to square that circle by saying that God “guided” evolution. But that sounds just a little too convenient for me. Why, then, did He take millions of years to do it? And why did it take millions of years – and the extinction of the dinosaurs – before He got around to creating Man? What was He waiting for? I know, I know: It’s a mystery.

But if Wilson is right and evolution is true, then what of the Catholic faith in which I was raised? If there is no God then Jesus couldn’t be the Son of God, right? What am I supposed to do with that?

A few years ago I checked out a book from the library about the historical Jesus. Never mind what religious leaders tell us, what do historians think? And I found out there’s a whole spectrum of thought on the subject. Some historians believe in the literal interpretation of the New Testament: Jesus, born to the Virgin Mary, was the Son of God and rose from the dead three days after being crucified on the cross. Some scholars, on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, don’t believe Jesus existed at all, but was more of a legend, an idea. And, of course, every other conceivable historical interpretation lies somewhere in between.

What do I think? Well, Jesus is mentioned by at least one Roman historian of the time. He didn’t appear to have an agenda, but was merely noting the life of an important individual in Palestine. Do I think Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary and rose from the dead? Fifty-five years of experience on this planet tells me both are impossible. Was He really the Son of God? Boy, that’s a stretch for me. I would need a lot more evidence than just the writings of Paul and the Gospels. After all, Paul never even met Jesus and the Gospels were written decades after His death. What’s more, historians tell us that the Gospels were written more to inspire than to enlighten.

So, again, what do I think of Jesus? Well, I guess he was a Jew who lived in Roman-occupied Palestine and preached a revitalized form of Judaism. But my main takeway from the study of the historical Jesus is that it doesn’t really matter. What’s important is Jesus’s message, which can be distilled down to three words: Love thy neighbor. Really, what more needs to be said? And isn’t that the basis of all religions on earth?

To sum it all up, do I believe in God? Do I believe in the Divinity of Jesus? It doesn’t matter. Why are we here? What follows this life? And why is there a universe? I still don’t know. And I’m not sure it matters either. If I can just be a good son, brother, friend, husband, father, neighbor, business colleague – a tall order, to be sure -- that’s all I can really do. All the rest of it is beyond my pay grade. What exists beyond our experience? How should I know? I don’t have the tools to access that information. (And neither do you.) All I have is my five senses and none of them can help with the supernatural.

So I guess you could say I’m agnostic. Not only do I not know any of the answers to life’s Great Questions, but I also maintain that they can’t be known. So why bother? Just try to be a good person. Isn’t that hard enough?

Now what time is that game on tonight?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The chart of the day...

...is from Steve Benen:

Clinton raised the top marginal rate and saw the best job growth in modern times. I’ve yet to hear a Republican explain how this is possible.

Reagan did lower the top marginal rate, but he also raised taxes when the deficit soared. (Incidentally, job creation under Reagan didn’t pick up until after he raised taxes.)
George W. Bush cut taxes considerably, including reducing the top marginal rate. He also saw the worst job creation of any president since Hoover. I’ve yet to hear a Republican explain how this is possible.

Gov. Scott Walker...

...of Wisconsin is leading his opponent, Mary Burke, by an average of 7.7 percentage points according to RealClearPolitics. (One recent poll has Walker up by 16 points.)

In a related story, Wisconsin now ranks ninth out of ten Midwestern states "in private sector job growth since Gov. Scott Walker took office in January, 2011, according to the most recent Current Employment Statistics (CES) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)."

What's more, the Dairy State "was 32nd among states in total job growth according to the Census of Employment and Wages released Wednesday."

What am I missing?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Bruce Rauner is up...

...over Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois by three percentage points, 43-40, in a new poll by Rasmussen. Or should I say, Rauner is up by only three points in a poll by Republican-leaning Rasmussen.

I've thought for a while now that Rauner would win in November. It's just in keeping with the Zeitgeist: he's a tea party-type Republican in the mold of Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin or Gov. Rick Scott of Florida. Rauner promises to cut taxes on the rich and gut the unions. (Is that supposed to be new?) But people nowadays seem to love that approach. Will it work? I don't know. Walker is still wildly popular in Wisconsin even as he drives the Dairy State farther and farther into the ditch. My guess is that Rauner will win but serve only one term. I mean, honestly, is cutting everything really the path to prosperity? Could it be that simple? Or is investing in the future the route to take? If it were really the former, Mississippi would be the model to emulate. Or Wisconsin wouldn't have dropped so precipitously in job creation since Walker was elected. Who wants to start a business in a state with lousy services? If you lived in a condo and I told you I could cut your assessments but that the elevators wouldn't be inspected as often or the pool wouldn't get cleaned regularly, would you consider that a good deal? The truth is, schools, roads and other infrastructure cost money. There's just no way around it.

I would have thought for sure that Rauner would be up by more than three points at this stage of the game. You could interpret the poll as the challenger having room to grow as people become more familiar with him while the incumbent is stuck below the magic 50% mark. That's certainly plausible. But I'm not so sure. A lot of people seem to underestimate Gov. Quinn. I think he's performed reasonably well given the mess he inherited. And I also suspect he's as dumb as a fox. Don't write him off just yet.

Happy April 15!

Are your taxes too high? Not according to Jonathan Cohn (my emphasis):

Relative to other countries, tax rates in the U.S. are relatively low, even when you throw in local and state taxes and add them to federal levies. Overall, according to the Tax Policy Center and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which supplied the graph above, taxes in the U.S. are among the lowest in the developed world. The average for countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an organization of rich countries, is higher. And in countries like Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands countries, the average is much higher. In those nations, taxes account for more than half of total national income.

That level may sound scary but, as many of us have written before, you could make a good case that the people of Scandinavia and Northern Europe know what they are doing. They are far more secure, thanks not only to national health insurance but also to generous provision of child care and unemployment benefits. And despite the high tax burden, their economies have historically been strong—in part, because the combination of investment and a secure safety net makes people more comfortable with a dynamic, ever-changing economy. The wonks used to call this economic model “flexicurity.”

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Monday, April 14, 2014

Stephen Colbert will be...

...taking over the Late Show from David Letterman next year and one industry insider tells me the competition is very nervous. But color me skeptical. Or at least unconvinced.

Don't get me wrong; I'm a huge Stephen Colbert fan. The Colbert Report is one of the few shows I record (and actually watch on occasion). He makes me laugh out loud, which is something not many people can do (Jon Stewart and Bill Maher are two others).

So why am I reluctant to hop on the Colbert bandwagon? Three reasons.

First of all, that late night time slot is a tricky one. We all remember how well it worked out for that other can't-miss, Conan O'Brien. And Jimmy Kimmel, who has achieved success in the role, had a long, long runway (since 2003). Could he have stepped in and made it work right away? Doubtful. As for Jimmy Fallon, the young comic has made quite a splash in taking over The Tonight Show from Jay Leno. But can he keep it up? Didn't Letterman also start out fast only to ultimately fall behind Leno -- for good?

And that brings me to reason number two. Why did Leno succeed where Letterman fell short? I'd argue it was because Jay played it safe and went for the lowest common denominator. In short, vanilla wins in late night. That's why, I'd venture, Conan's humor didn't make the transition and Dave ended up trailing NBC. And that's what worries me most about Colbert. His comedy is political, edgy and only plays to a small niche in the market. (As I said, I love him but will the rest of America? Half the country is Republican; will they watch in great numbers?)

Finally, there's reason number three. We haven't seen much of Colbert out of character. Sure, he's funny and incredibly quick on his feet, but will America fall in love with the real Stephen Colbert? Maybe, but it's an open question.

Personally, I'll give the guy a chance. I think he's one of the funniest guys on TV. But do I think he's a slam-dunk in the job? Nobody is.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee...

...spoke at the Freedom Summit in New Hampshire yesterday. From an article in the Times (my emphasis):

Mr. Paul offered up his message of making the Republican Party more ecumenical by reaching out to Americans who feel conservatives do not look out for them. And in doing so, he offered some blunt advice.

“The door’s not going to open up to the African-American community, to the Hispanic community, until we have something to offer,” he said, adding that Republicans should care more that minorities are so overrepresented in the prison population.

“But your kids and grandkids aren’t perfect either” Mr. Paul said. “The police don’t come to your neighborhoods. You get a better lawyer. These are some injustices. We’ve got to be concerned about people who may not be part of our group, who may not be here today.”

And I agree. 

But I also have a little advice for Sen. Paul: If you really want to be the presidential nominee of the Republican Party in 2016, drop this line of thinking from your stump speech immediately. This will never appeal to today's GOP. Ask yourself, do you know any Republicans who would agree with him on this? I don't. "Minorities are overrepresented in prison." I concur; but I'm not a Republican. And talking like that to the GOP base is a political death wish.  

Doesn't Sen. Paul know his audience?

Leee Black Childers, a...

...photographer, died at age 68. (I didn't misspell his first name.) From Childers's obit in the Times:

According to a story Mr. Childers told [his assistant], when Lee was 6 or 7 he insisted on writing his first name with three E’s, which caused a frustrated teacher to call his mother to school. His mother defended the spelling, and from then on he was known as Leee.

Everybody's got a shtick.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

The quote of the day...

...is from health economist Jonathan Gruber, one of the principal architects of the Affordable Care Act (my emphasis):

The 26 states — all with Republican governors or Republican-controlled legislatures — that have thus far declined Medicaid expansion “are willing to sacrifice billions of dollars of injections into their economy in order to punish poor people. It really is just almost awesome in its evilness.”

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Is Critter Control...

...a customer of Harrison's Poultry Farm in Glenview? Or is Harrison's the customer? Yikes!

Full disclosure: I saw the driver of the truck come out of the store with a bag in his hand. But, really, that truck could be bad for business! I can just picture the owner of the store, "Hey, park that thing around the corner, will ya? Jeez!"

Today is the fourth anniversary...

...of my father's death. Here's a piece I wrote about him at the time:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had never thought of it like that before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

One time I turned the tables on him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The quote of the day...

...is from Republican Governor John Kasich of Ohio:

"When you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he's probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small. But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor. You'd better have a good answer."

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

How can a country...

...like Great Britain have the technology to develop a "transparent bonnet" but not be advanced enough to have paved roads?

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Is it "MATHONIA," or...

..."MAHTONIA"? At least they're not teaching SPELING SPELLING.

I had my very own...

...Marshall McLuhan moment last week.

Although, unlike the scene above, it wasn't McLuhan and it wasn't in a movie theater. It was instead a political scientist named Matt Grossmann and in the form of a tweet:

Apr 3
To clarify our graph, would likely all be categorized as ideologues in survey.

Now, I don't know whether to feel chastened, or flattered to be mentioned in the same sentence as Jonathan Chait and Andrew Sullivan. (If any member of Chait's or Sullivan's staff saw that tweet I can only imagine what they were thinking: Who the devil is BoringOldWhtGuy?)

I wanted to respond to Mr. Grossmann but didn't know exactly what to say at first and didn't think I could express it in only 140 characters anyway.

Mr. Grossmann's tweet was prompted (I assume) by a post I wrote last Thursday in which I said, "...while Democrats are (mostly) pragmatists, Republicans are (mostly) ideologues." To illustrate, I used a chart from a paper Mr. Grossmann wrote, "THE IDEOLOGICAL RIGHT VS. THE GROUP BENEFITS LEFT: ASYMMETRIC POLITICS IN AMERICA." (Did I actually read the paper? Of course not.) My post must have come across as snarky (or pretentious, like the guy in the clip above) to warrant that tweet from Mr. Grossmann.

But is he right? While I sure don't think of myself as an ideologue, I'll concede that I'm not entirely objective. Is Jonathan Chait an ideologue? Maybe, but I'll let him answer for himself. But Andrew Sullivan? I wouldn't say so. He's said many times that he's a conservative in the tradition of Edmund Burke and Michael Oakeshott, but he's also been a strong supporter of President Obama's. So what would Mr. Grossmann say is Sullivan's ideology? Conservative, liberal, or what?

Mr. Grossmann, if you're out there, please respond. Thanks.

Arthur Smith, who wrote...

..."Dueling Banjos," died at age 93.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Is Paul Ryan serious...

...when he says he wants to “expand opportunity,” “strengthen the safety net,” move toward “patient-centered health care reform” and “end cronyism” in the financial sector?

Jared Bernstein is dubious. From his piece in Politico (my emphasis):

If Paul Ryan actually had the courage of his convictions, he would call his budget what it is: a radical evisceration of the safety net. He would tell the American people: “Look, we can’t afford the health coverage, social insurance and protection from recessions that you say you want, at least not without asking you for more tax revenues, which I’m not going to do. We can’t afford to invest in human capital, from pre-school to college, ensuring basic nutrition for the poor, medical research or infrastructure. We cannot afford to arm regulators against financial volatility, bubbles and the subsequent market failures they cause.”

“We need to leave all of that up to the dynamic private sector and to the gumption of the poor themselves. Here’s the budget that makes all those cuts. Good luck.”

The chart of the day...

...is a little confusing at first glance but worth a second look. (Go ahead; I'll wait.)

The gist of it is, while Democrats are (mostly) pragmatists, Republicans are (mostly) ideologues. And that reinforces something I've been thinking for some time now. Jonathan Chait agrees (my emphasis):

One of my longstanding fixations, going back almost a decade now, is that we make a mistake when we think of liberalism and conservative as symmetric ways of thinking. On economic policy, at least, they are asymmetric. Liberals believe in activist government entirely as a means to various ends. Pollution controls are useful only insofar as they result in cleaner air; national health insurance is valuable only to the extent that it helps people obtain medical care. More spending and more regulation are not ends in and of themselves. Conservatives, on the other hand, believe in small government not only for practical reasons — this program will cost too much or fail to work — but for philosophical reasons as well.

A new political science paper by Matt Grossman and David Hopkins bears out this way of thinking about American politics. The authors find a fundamental asymmetry between the Republican and Democratic coalitions. They examined survey results and other data among voters, activists, and elites, and found that Republicans express their beliefs about government as abstract ideology (big government is bad) while Democrats express their beliefs in the form of benefits for groups. The differences are enormous (as shown in the chart above).

The different ways of conceptualizing the debate over government spills over into every other way in which the parties operate. Democrats are more favorable toward moderation and political compromise; Republicans toward ideological purity and principle. It’s not coincidental that Republicans have instigated more high-stakes partisan escalation in Congress.
The asymmetry has also colored our understanding of issues like Obamacare.

And I agree; while Democrats think of Obamacare as a partial solution to America's dysfunctional health care system, Republicans seem to think it's bad because any government intervention in the economy is bad by definition.

Or take social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage. I'd say most Democrats would argue that abortion is either right or wrong depending on the circumstances. And while many Democrats may have been skittish about gay marriage in the past, most seem to have concluded that it doesn't really affect them after all, so why not? Republicans, on the other hand, would argue that abortion and gay marriage are wrong because they're wrong, i. e., because my religion tells me they're wrong. (That position, by the way, is going to hamper the GOP politically for a long, long time. Republicans may just have to wait until the older generation dies off to become competitive again on a national level.)

Or government spending: for Republicans it's always wrong, wrong, wrong (except, somehow, in the case of defense or benefits for seniors) while Democrats would say, "it depends."

So which would you say you are, a pragmatist or an ideologue? And which one would you say is better positioned for the future? 

Confused about the recent decision...

...to allow the Northwestern football team to form a union? Brian Phillips, writing in Grantland, has a good piece on the subject, "The Northwestern Decision: An Explainer." (I think it could be the most underrated story of the year.) Money quote:

Amateurism has NEVER been about an ideal; it has ALWAYS been about control. In American college sports, it’s used to control the economy of the game, ensuring that profits go to the organizers rather than to the players whom fans are paying to watch.

Hat tip: Joe Tracy.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Charles Keating, who was convicted...

...of fraud in connection with Lincoln Savings & Loan, died at age 90. From his obit in the Times (my emphasis):

By 1987, its investigators found that Lincoln had $135 million in unreported losses and was more than $600 million over the risky-investment ceiling. Soon, the F.B.I., the Securities and Exchange Commission and other agencies were homing in.

Mr. Keating hired Alan Greenspan, soon to be chairman of the Federal Reserve, who compiled a report saying Lincoln’s depositors faced “no foreseeable risk” and praising a “seasoned and expert” management. And Mr. Keating called on Senators Alan Cranston of California, Donald W. Riegle Jr. of Michigan, John Glenn of Ohio and Dennis DeConcini and John McCain of Arizona, all recipients of his campaign largess, to pressure the bank board to relax its rules and kill its investigation.

All five met with regulators, and Edwin J. Gray, then the board chairman, said four senators — all but Mr. Riegle — “came to me like lawyers arguing for a client.” He resisted, but was replaced by a chairman more sympathetic to Mr. Keating, and the board backed off, with disastrous results for depositors and investors.

Mr. Keating, a 6-foot-5-inch beanpole who walked with a swagger, never minced words about buying political influence. Asked once whether his payments to politicians had worked, he told reporters, “I want to say in the most forceful way I can: I certainly hope so.”

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Tom Toles cartoon of the day:

Bush vs. Clinton? One can only hope. My thoughts here.

Ezra Klein and Jonathan Cohn...

...are -- still -- the two best writers I've found on the subject of health care reform. Cohn (above, right) has an excellent, balanced, piece in the New Republic that's really a must-read. From "It's OK to Feel Good About Obamacare Again* It was worth it. Probably." (my emphasis):

Think for a moment, in very basic terms, about what the Affordable Care Act is supposed to do. It really boils down to two simple goals. One is to improve economic security—to protect people from crippling medical costs, so that they can get the care they need without enduring financial ruin. The other goal, related but separate, is to transform medical care itself, so that it either costs less or provides better value for the price—or, ideally, some combination of the two. Nobody ever imagined that Obamacare alone would accomplish the goals. The best hope of supporters was that it would produce progress towards them. That’s why Senator Tom Harkin, whose committee helped write the bill, famously referred to the law as a “starter home.”

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Hobie Alter, surfboard...

...and sailboat manufacturer, died at age 80. From his obit in the Los Angeles Times (my emphasis):

When he was a young man, Hobie Alter had a clear vision of his future: He didn't want a job that would require hard-soled shoes, and he didn't want to work east of Pacific Coast Highway.

He succeeded.

The son of a second-generation orange grower, Alter is credited with innovations that allowed people who couldn't lift log slabs to surf and those who couldn't pay for yacht club memberships to sail.

Known practically everywhere with a coastline or a lake simply as "Hobie," Alter developed the mass-produced foam surfboard. He later popularized sailing by inventing a lightweight, high-performance catamaran.

A self-taught design innovator and entrepreneur, Alter was a reluctant businessman who wore cutoffs instead of suits and was guided by his imagination above all else.

"I'm making money producing things that give me pleasure, doing exactly what I want to do," Alter told a reporter in 1977. "I guess I'm really lucky that way."

There were only several hundred surfers lugging their heavy wood boards into the waters of Southern California in 1958 when Alter and then-partner Gordon "Grubby" Clark perfected the delicate chemical process of making rough-cut polyurethane foam blanks that could be custom shaped in less than an hour.

Initially dismissed as flimsy toys, Hobie's lightweight boards caught on. In less than a year, wood boards that had been used since Hawaiians invented the sport were obsolete.

Alter's timing couldn't have been better. The following year, the movie "Gidget" introduced the nation to a fun-loving California subculture. Interest in the sport surged, and Alter — the so-called Henry Ford of surfing — was there to provide the vehicle.

"He is one of the pillars on which the sport of surfing is built upon," said Steve Pezman, a surfing historian and publisher of the Surfer's Journal. "He was enamored with inventing things. He'd get interested in something, see how it could be improved and go make a better version of it. Once it became repetitive, he moved on to something new."

As a teenager, he learned from Walter Hoffman, a pioneer of big-wave surfing, the art of turning a slab of balsa into an instrument for gliding across the water. He sold that board for $65 — a $20 profit. He made three more in his parents' garage and quickly sold them too.

"Nobody had ever before given me more money for something than it had cost me to make it," Alter later told a reporter. "I thought that was pretty keen."

Alter graduated from Chaffey High School in Ontario and was attending Chaffey College — splitting his free time between skiing and surfing, depending on the weather — when he decided to move to Laguna and concentrate on making boards.

He moved out of his parents' garage in 1954 and used an $8,000 inheritance to open Orange County's first surfboard shop on Coast Highway in Dana Point. If the surfboard business didn't pan out, Alter figured he could earn a living as a cabinetmaker.

"The most important thing to Hobie was to have fun in whatever he did," said Dick Metz, a childhood friend and longtime business associate of Alter, and founder of the San Clemente-based Surfing Heritage Foundation. "He didn't want to run a business."

Lorenzo Semple, the creator...

...of the 1960s television series Batman, died at age 91. In his own words:

“From the very beginning, Bill Dozier and I had seen millionaire Bruce Wayne and his Bat regalia as classy comedy, hopefully appealing to kids as an absurdly jolly action piece and to grown-ups for its deadpan satire, entirely nonfraught with psychological issues,” Mr. Semple wrote in the Variety piece. “I mean, golly gee, how else can one view a character who enters a nightclub in full Bat garb and mask, accompanied by a gorgeous chick, and when greeted by the maître d’ with an obsequious ‘Good evening, Batman! A table for two?’ gravely replies, ‘Yes, thank you. But please, not too near the music. I wouldn’t want to appear conspicuous.’ ”