Thursday, December 24, 2015

It's Christmas Eve and...

...the news is slow, so here's a prediction for you.

Are you ready? (It's out of left field.) Here goes: the Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist (above), on Wacker Drive in Chicago, will be sold in the not-too-distant future and reopen as a mosque, causing untold agita in the Windy City.

How on earth did I get there?

First of all, my wife and I visited the church recently as part of Open House Chicago. It's an absolutely gorgeous structure, and I even posted a picture of its organ on my Facebook page. Designed in an award-winning Modern style by noted Chicago-based architect Harry Weese, the church was completed in 1968.

If I remember correctly, by 1968 the church's membership had already peaked. And now it's in decline. (Ask yourself: When was the last time you met a Christian Scientist? The only one I can think of is Henry Paulson, the former Treasury secretary -- and I've never met him.) According to Wikipedia (my emphasis):

A census at the height of the religion's popularity in 1936 counted c. 268,915 Christian Scientists in the United States (2,098 per million). The movement has been in decline since then. The church has sold buildings to free up funds. It closed 23 of its churches in Los Angeles between 1960 and 1995. In 2004 it sold the First Church of Christ, Scientist, Manhattan, to the Crenshaw Christian Center for $14 million. (The building was sold again in 2014 to be converted into condominiums.)
There were an estimated 106,000 Scientists in the United States in 1990 (427 per million), according to Rodney Stark. In 2009 the church said that for the first time more new members had been admitted from Africa than from the United States, although it offered no numbers.
The Manual of the Mother Church prohibits the church from publishing membership figures, but it does provide the names of Christian Science practitioners, Scientists trained to offer Christian Science prayer on behalf of others. In 1941 there were 11,200 practitioners in the United States, against 965 in 2015 (1,249 worldwide). Stark writes that clusters of practitioners listed in the Christian Science Journal in 1998 were living in the same retirement communities.

Okay, so can we all agree this is a denomination in decline? And that maybe -- just maybe -- its few remaining members will be forced may want to sell the building on Wacker Drive? Call it a hunch.

So, how do I get to the second part of my prediction? Let's see: which religion is actually growing in America? Ding! Ding! Ding! You've got it -- Islam. I think it's arguable, but this website claims that it's the fastest growing religion in America:

There are now as many as 7 million Muslims in the United States, half of them American-born. In recent years, Americans of African, European, Southeast Asian, Latin American and American Indian descent have left their parents' spiritual paths to follow Islam, a religion that includes more than 1 billion believers from nearly every country.

I've also read that the "Nones" and the Mormons are the fastest growing religious groups in America, but the point remains: while the vast majority of denominations in the U. S. are in decline, Islam is growing.

Now, I'm not one of those who find this necessarily alarming; I'm just pointing out that if you owned a church that was a marquee property in a high-profile location in downtown Chicago, don't look for the Catholics or the Southern Baptists to bail you out. (Although you might actually find a non-denominational Christian mega-church, I suppose.) But I'm going to predict that just like the "Ground Zero Mosque" in New York, someone will purchase this property in the hope of converting it into an Islamic Community Center.

And the town will go nuts. It will be the biggest controversy to hit Chicago since . . . I don't know when. How will it all get resolved? I have no idea -- that's not part of my prediction.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

How did I miss this?

Protesters went on a hunger strike to save Dyett High School in Chicago this year.

The Times has an opinion...

...piece today written by Kyle Orton about a guy named Aflaq.

Things are getting just a little wacky at year-end.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

If Robert Kobayashi...

...doesn't win Obit of the Day he should certainly get Honorable Mention. From the Times (all emphasis mine):

Robert Kobayashi, who delighted and mystified passers-by for decades with the whimsical displays of his art in the window of Moe’s Meat Market on Elizabeth Street in the NoLIta neighborhood of Lower Manhattan, died on Dec. 14, at his home in Honolulu. He was 90.

In 1977, Mr. Kobayashi bought the building housing the butcher shop for $35,000 and turned it into his personal gallery, mounting impromptu exhibitions of his nail-studded tin sculptures and reliefs, some of which he hung from meat hooks, and paintings and sculptures in a variety of styles.
His window of wonders became a fixture in the neighborhood, though the door to the building remained locked, meaning that the curious could only press their noses against the glass.

Mr. Kobayashi neither courted nor found success with commercial galleries. For many years he worked in the warehouse of the Museum of Modern Art, which hired him in the mid-’50s as a gardener for a traditional Japanese house that was reassembled and exhibited for two years.

Mr. Kobayashi actually knew nothing about gardening.

“I just kept quiet and everyone thought I couldn’t speak English,” he told Alec Wilkinson, a writer for The New Yorker who wrote the catalog essay for “Tattooed Angel: Paintings and Sculpture by Robert Kobayashi” at the Nassau County Museum of Art in 1988. “If I came up with a horticultural problem, I ran across the street to the library and did some research.”

Gotta love the Times!

The Name of the Day...

...may not belong to the Rev. Rick Curry, who died at age 72, but is it really an accident that his obit in the New York Times shows him cooking?

Apparently not (all emphasis mine):

With Constance J. Milstein, a developer and philanthropist, Father Curry founded the Dog Tag Bakery in Washington last year to teach wounded veterans a craft. He also wrote two cookbooks on elemental comfort food, “The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking” (1995) and “The Secrets of Jesuit Soupmaking: A Year of Our Soups” (2002), laden with recipes and spiced with anecdotes.

Okay, so maybe he does deserve the Name of the Day.

It's a curious obituary:

Born without a right forearm, Father Curry, as an aspiring actor, was once ridiculed by a receptionist when he arrived to audition for a mouthwash commercial, and he required a special dispensation from the Vatican to become a priest — when he was 66 — because canon law requires two hands to celebrate Mass.

Mouthwash commercial? Canon law requires two hands to become a priest? Wait; it gets weirder:

When Richard was a small boy, his mother took him to downtown Philadelphia to see the preserved right forearm of St. Francis Xavier, the Jesuit missionary. He was permitted to kiss the reliquary, but sought no healing.

Preserved right forearm? What are the odds?

Hey, if nothing else it's easily the Obit of the Day.

Remember this cartoon...

...from four years ago? After reading a blog post by Paul Krugman this morning, "Where’s The Rubiomentum?," I began to wonder if we'll see signs sentiment like that before too long.

As Krugman mentions, Marco Rubio is leading in the betting markets, if not the polls. (Unlike Krugman, I give a lot of weight to the betting markets; I find them to be much more predictive than polls. For example, when the polls got all excited about Newt Gingrich in 2012 the betting markets stayed with Mitt Romney.)

Right now it looks like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are the frontrunners -- both anathema to the party establishment. While Jeb Bush and John Kasich look like they're both on life support, Chris Christie actually has a chance of a good showing in New Hampshire. That could really muddy the race in the establishment "lane." But at some point, the party elders have to get behind one candidate and it could very well be Rubio.

So let's assume the party says, "Oh alright. Fine. Rubio." Then what? What state does a Marco Rubio candidacy take that Romney didn't in 2012? His home state of Florida? Okay. That would give Rubio 29 Electoral votes that Romney didn't get. So the election would look like this:

Hillary Clinton 303
Marco Rubio 235

What if Rubio picks either Kasich or Sen. Rob Portman to be his running mate and the GOP takes Ohio as well? Here's what you'd get:

Hillary 285
Rubio 253

Let's go nuts and say the popular vote is really, really close and the Republicans capture Virginia this time around. Now what?

Hillary 272
Rubio 266

So even if Rubio steals the three closest states President Obama won last time he'd still come up short. He would need one more, like Colorado, to put him over the top. That would be a "heavy lift," as they say in Washington nowadays.

Oh, alright. Fine. Rubio. I'm in!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Name of the Day... a near miss: Zach Line is not a lineman for the Minnesota Vikings.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Prior to 1964, all but three...

...of Great Britain's 48 prime ministers were educated at private secondary schools.

So the trick to becoming prime minister in the old days was to attend one of those so-called "public" schools, right? Surely that's causation.

Or is it correlation? Maybe, just maybe -- another way of looking at it is -- the trick was to be born into the upper class and attend whatever school your parents happened to send you.

Now, I know what you're probably thinking right about now: What on earth is he getting at today? 

In this morning's Times there's an article in the Upshot section titled, "Class Differences in Child-Rearing Are on the Rise," by someone named

The class differences in child rearing are growing, researchers say — a symptom of widening inequality with far-reaching consequences. Different upbringings set children on different paths and can deepen socioeconomic divisions, especially because education is strongly linked to earnings. Children grow up learning the skills to succeed in their socioeconomic stratum, but not necessarily others.

“Early childhood experiences can be very consequential for children’s long-term social, emotional and cognitive development,” said Sean F. Reardon, professor of poverty and inequality in education at Stanford University. “And because those influence educational success and later earnings, early childhood experiences cast a lifelong shadow.”

The cycle continues: Poorer parents have less time and fewer resources to invest in their children, which can leave children less prepared for school and work, which leads to lower earnings.


Ms. Miller goes on to list all of the "investments" more affluent parents tend to make that "prepare" their offspring for higher education and success in life. They include preschool, trips to museums and volunteer work. Also important for a ticket to the good life, apparently, are extracurricular activities such as organized sports and lessons in music, dance or art. Richer parents, it seems, tend to spank their children less than those with a high school degree or less. And, last but hardly least, that current panacea: Reading Aloud to the Little Dears, preferably as often as possible.

Almost hilariously, Ms. Miller also notes:

While bullying is parents’ greatest concern over all, nearly half of low-income parents worry their child will get shot, compared with one-fifth of high-income parents. They are more worried about their children being depressed or anxious. 

Do I sound just a tad cynical here? Maybe it's because the "investments" listed above are common to all upper-middle class families today.

For the record, my wife and I did pretty much all of those things when raising our own two boys. Why? Because we raised them in the 1990s. 

But as for our own childhoods, we both played organized sports and . . . that's about it. (Also for the record, we both went to college and have graduate degrees.) How did we make it so far in school? After all, we were both raised in the 1960s, when no one ever heard of all that stuff above. Think my parents ever read to me aloud? Think again. "Read it yourself!" Or better yet, "Go watch TV or somethin' -- can't you see I'm busy?"

Am I whining? Not at all. But the answer to why my wife and I went to college isn't some big state secret. In fact, it's hiding in plain sight in this very piece:

...the more affluent children end up in college and en route to the middle class, while working-class children tend to struggle.

In other words, the trick is to be born into a "class" in which pretty much all its members go to college. (Wanna be prime minister of England? Get yourself born into the upper class -- all the rest flows from there.) So don't grow up in the inner city or in some small town somewhere. Because very few of those people go to college. Why? I don't know; they just don't.

But that's really all there is to it: choose your parents carefully. The best predictor for success in college and in life is probably just growing up around other people who go to college and succeed in life.

This ain't rocket science, people.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Ezra Klein wrote about...

...high school football coach Kevin Kelley two years ago (my emphasis):

Coach Kevin Kelley of Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Arkansas, instructs his players to never punt, never field punts, and only do onside kicks, and he claims that math backs up his innovative philosophy.

Nate Silver has an update this morning. Interesting stuff.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Most Appropriate Name...

...of the Day belongs to Luigi Creatore, a songwriter and record producer, who died at age 93.

Creatore, who with his cousin Hugo Peretti formed the songwriting team of Hugo & Luigi, produced such hits as "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine" and "Honeycomb," above. 

I didn't see the debate...

...last night, but the betting markets this morning are affirming what many people have been saying lately: the Republican nomination is coming down to a three-man race -- Rubio, Trump and Cruz. The latest from PaddyPower (with odds and my thoughts in italics):

1. Marco Rubio, 6/4
Down a touch from last Friday's 11/8.
2. Donald Trump, 9/4
Holding steady.
3. Ted Cruz, 3/1
Up from 5/1; coming on strong in Iowa.

4. Chris Christie, 10/1
Up from 12/1; New Hampshire dark horse?
5. Jeb Bush, 10/1
Fading fast. Wow; what happened to the early front-runner?

6. Ben Carson, 66/1
Fading really fast. Might not get a "ticket" out of Iowa.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

I'm going to go out on a limb...

...this morning and say that Donald Trump doesn't win anything. That's right; and here's how I get there.

First, I'm going to not go out on a limb and say the Des Moines Register Tribune poll is right: Ted Cruz takes the first state on February 1. Everybody in the know seems to respect this poll, and besides, Cruz is lining up some key endorsements in Iowa, e. g., Bob Vander Plaats and Rep. Steve King.

Next is New Hampshire, where Trump currently leads the field with either 26.8 percent, according to the Huffington Post aggregate poll, or 28.7 percent, according to the Real Clear Politics average of polls. But if you add up the percentages of the establishment candidates -- Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and John Kasich -- you get a total of 36 percent on HuffPo and 36.6 on RCP. And I'm going to say that the establishment coalesces, more or less, around one of these four candidates in the next two months. (At this date it looks like it could be Christie.) So let's say Trump stays in the high twenties, Cruz gets a bounce out of Iowa and comes in third at around 15 percent, but the establishment candidate gets a little over thirty and wins.

Now the Donald is oh-for-two. And the guy who's made his campaign . . . about his campaign is suddenly not looking like a "winner."

Next comes South Carolina, and it looks like it could be Cruz against the establishment. Trump? By now he's yesterday's news. Conservatives will have to rally behind the freshman senator from Texas to stop the establishment candidate -- Christie, Rubio or Jeb. And the establishment will have to rally behind its guy to stop Cruz. Whoever wins that one will be well-positioned for the SEC primaries on March 1 and Super Tuesday on March 15.

If Trump loses both Iowa and New Hampshire, I'll say he finds a convenient excuse to drop out ("I never wanted to be president anyway"), but he'll certainly be gone if he loses all three.

I know the Donald has a commanding lead in the national polls (Monmouth had him at 41 percent yesterday, a new high!), but I'm skeptical that his numbers will translate into real votes when the time comes. So I'll say the nomination comes down to Cruz vs. the winner of New Hampshire (the establishment choice). After the Granite State, it could be a two-man race.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Unfortunate Picture...

...of the Day is from a piece in the Times, "From Stanley Cup Finals to a High School Coach," about a hockey coach named George Gwozdecky. (And let's not even get started on how you would pronounce that last name.)

Is some mischievous player holding up two fingers behind Gwozdecky's head? Or is he related to Ray Walston (below) from the old My Favorite Martian series?

I have to think the photographer took more than one picture of this guy. Doesn't seem like he would fly all the way to Colorado just to take one shot, right? "Okay, got it; let's go."

So is the Times' sports editor having a little fun at Mr. Gwozdecky's expense? Or did this one just slip past him?

Can you believe there's... of a Romney - Ryan redux in 2016? (Ask yourself: Is that any crazier than the thought of a Donald Trump candidacy?) It's true; in the event of a deadlocked convention, the party may once again turn to its 2012 ticket. (Go to the very end of this video.)

So here's my question: With a recovering economy in a little better shape than in 2012, and with President Obama's approval ratings essentially the same, what states, exactly, would a Romney - Ryan ticket hope to win that it didn't capture last time?

Let's have a look at the three closest states Obama won in 2012: Florida, Ohio and Virginia. Altogether they add up to 60 Electoral votes. If you subtract those from Obama's total of 332 and add them to Romney's 206 you still get an Obama victory, 272-266.

In fact, Obama won nine of the ten closest states. Again, what would make anyone think Romney (or any Republican candidate, for that matter) would do better this time around?

Remember how people talked four years ago about drafting Jeb to come in and save the day? Now the tables are turned and Romney may be the new GOP savior. Here's a prediction for you: I'll say Hillary beats whomever the Republicans nominate in 2016 by an even greater margin than Obama did in 2012.

The Iowa caucuses are...

...on February 1, in 52 days. That's only seven weeks from Monday.

If you look at the latest from the Huffington Post aggregate of 235 polls from 33 pollsters you'll find it to be essentially a four-man race, with Ben Carson fading fast:

1. Donald Trump, 35.8 percent
2. Ted Cruz, 14.1
3. Marco Rubio, 12.3
4. Ben Carson, 11.9

The average of polls at Real Clear Politics is similar, with Carson falling since his peak in early November:

1. Trump, 30.4
2. Cruz, 15.6
3. Carson, 13.6
4. Rubio, 13.6

Over at Paddy Power, the Irish betting website, it's a five-man race if you include Jeb Bush and Chris Christie (Carson is in sixth place, at 40/1 odds):

1. Rubio, 11/8 odds
2. Trump, 9/4
3. Cruz, 5/1
4. Bush, 8/1
5. Christie, 12/1

It looks like the world has finally caught on that Dr. Carson, while perhaps a brilliant surgeon, is thoroughly unqualified to be president of the United States. Jeb Bush, although he's going backwards in the polls, can't be written off entirely because his super PAC still has over $100 million. And Chris Christie, with the endorsement of the New Hampshire Union Leader, could conceivably do well enough in that state's primary to be back in the thick of the race.

But, having said all that, it appears today that the GOP nomination is a three-man race between Trump, Rubio and Cruz. Charlie Rose asked a number of pundits the other night who was the likeliest Republican nominee and (with about 5:10 remaining in this video) most of them (reluctantly) said Trump. I'll go with the lone dissenter, Evan Osnos, and say it remains to be seen if Trump can translate these good poll numbers into actual votes. While the others were basing their opinions on data and evidence, I'll use a more faith-based approach. And that is to say I have too much faith in America to think one of the two major parties would nominate someone so clearly unqualified for the job.

P. S. There's reporting that the Republican Party brass is preparing for a contested convention. Pinch me!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

You'll never guess...

...who the most admired male politician is among Republican voters. Yep, incredibly, it's President Obama, at a lofty eight percent. (George W. Bush was next, at three percent.) Don't believe me? I wouldn't either, but I read it this morning in a piece in FiveThirtyEight, "How Republicans And Polls Enable Donald Trump." (Here's the original Gallup poll.)

But here's a question for you: Should you really be surprised by this? And the answer is: Hell yes! 

I watched Fox with my mother and sister last week and I can attest it's all Obama-bashing all the time. Lower gas prices? Won't hear about it on Fox. Good jobs number on Friday? No mention at all. Nope, it's non-stop wall-to-wall Obama-hating! No wonder these people have such a warped view of reality.

But, on second thought, maybe we shouldn't be so surprised. (Yes, we should.) One thing this poll underscores is something I've been thinking for some time now: one of the (many) problems with the Republican Party is that they have no leadership. George H. W. Bush? Bob Dole? George W. Bush? John McCain? Mitt Romney? Mitch McConnell? Paul Ryan? Reince Priebus? (Who?) All of them polled lower than the skinny socialist Muslim atheist black guy with the funny name from Kenya who is bent on destroying our American Way of Life.

No wonder a clown like Trump is leading in the polls.

Holly Woodlawn, transgender actress...

...and subject of the 1972 Lou Reed song “Walk on the Wild Side,” died at age 69. According to her obit in the Times, the opening lyrics were about Ms. Woodlawn:

Holly came from Miami F-L-A,
Hitchhiked her way across the U.S.A.,
Plucked her eyebrows on the way,
Shaved her legs and then he was a she.

I had never heard of Ms. Woodlawn and don't necessarily love that song (or Lou Reed, for that matter), but I thought it was worth a mention.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

This is what it's like... drive up to Minnesota and back for six hours with my sister. (Or just imagine what would happen if someone chugged a pot of coffee.)

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Before I leave... visit my mother in Minnesota (she'll be 96 on the 11th -- can you believe it?), here's the latest from PaddyPower on the Republican race for president. (The betting odds appear next to each candidate's name and the comments in italics are my own.)

1. Marco Rubio 5/4
The establishment favorite?

2. Donald Trump 3/1
Is he for real?

3. Ted Cruz 11/2
Will the freshman senator from Texas end up as the conservative alternative to Rubio?

4. Jeb Bush 6/1
Needs a good showing -- BADLY -- in New Hampshire. What if he doesn't get it? Dead man walking?

5. Chris Christie 16/1
Just got the endorsement of the New Hampshire Union Leader; dark horse?

6. Ben Carson 22/1
Could still do well in Iowa, but fading fast. Like Trump, the retired surgeon is out of his depth; but unlike Trump, people seem to care.

7. John Kasich 25/1
Also needs a good showing in New Hampshire or else he's probably out.

8. Carly Fiorina 40/1
Only seems to attract attention during debates. 

There are no new polls out, so that will have to tide you over. Blogging should resume on Sunday or Monday.

P. S. This just in -- a new poll.

The Tom Toles cartoon of the day:

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to Caroline Margaret Peerless Leather, wife of British Gen. Sir Robert Ford, who died at age 91.

Honorable mention: Lord Chief Justice John Passmore Widgery, from the same obit.

Veddy, veddy Briddish, don't you think?

The final rankings...

...are in -- wait a minute! Wasn't that all decided on the field last weekend?

Well, sort of. Except that four teams are still undefeated: Loyola, Glenbard West, Montini and Phillips. (Six, if you count 2A Tri-Valley and 1A Arcola.) While everyone (outside of Glen Ellyn) seems to think Loyola and Glenbard West are Nos. 1 and 2, it gets a little muddy after that.

Mike Helfgot at the Tribune has the four undefeateds at the very top of his list:

1. Loyola
2. Glenbard West
3. Montini
4. Phillips

Beth Long, over at the Sun-Times, sneaks a couple more teams in there, one of which had two losses:

1. Loyola
2. Glenbard West
3. Montini
4. Libertyville (13-1)
5. Homewood-Flossmoor (10-2)
6. Phillips

And, finally, MaxPreps has only one other squad, also with two losses, in the mix:

1. Loyola
2. Glenbard West
3. Nazareth (12-2)
4. Montini
5. Phillips

Michael O'Brien, at the Times, says the "Ramblers are simply the best high school football team in the state." Full stop. End of conversation, right?

But I saw Loyola defeat Mount Carmel, 49-21, and then watch Glenbard West beat the Caravan two weeks later, 7-0. Could Loyola really have beaten the Hilltoppers? I don't know.

And what about Montini? They bested a bunch of schools in higher classes: Maine South, East St. Louis, St. Rita, De La Salle and Fenwick. How would they have done against the other undefeateds?

And don't forget Phillips. They also beat Fenwick, Carmel and 8A Simeon.

So what's the answer? I'm not sure. Mike Helfgot thinks a whole new class system is needed after all the lopsided games this weekend. But maybe this year was just a fluke. As I pointed out yesterday, in the previous two years, half the games were decided by a touchdown or less. Still, Helfgot says:

The time has come for a separation, to throw out the current eight-class structure and create separate divisions for public and private schools.

His reasoning? (My emphasis.)

Private schools have a huge competitive advantage. Their enrollments are not restricted by geographical boundaries, and they actively recruit students in order to stay in business.

But Fenwick coach Gene Nudo told me almost two years ago, "We don't recruit. In fact, we can't even use the word 'recruit.' " (A few months later, a high-profile quarterback transferred to Fenwick.) Stop smirking everyone.

(Oh, and remember that kid who showed up at Wheaton Warrenville South a few years ago from Arkansas? It cuts both ways.)

So Loyola draws from outside Wilmette. So what? Don't forget, if Palatine had succeeded on that two-point conversion attempt late in the semifinal game they would have sent it into overtime and then -- who knows? -- ended up in DeKalb instead of Loyola. It was that close.

I don't pretend to have the answer for the "perfect" playoff system. I used to say -- grouchily -- that 5-4 teams shouldn't even make the postseason until my son said, "Shut up, Dad! The playoffs are for the kids and their parents. Most of these kids will never play football again and they just want to play in the postseason!" And he was right. (He usually is.) Also, not allowing 5-4 teams would lead to easier regular-season schedules. 

But if you stripped out the "privates" from the "publics" we'd still be wondering if Loyola could beat H-F, or if the Ramblers could have beaten Stevenson last year. (Or if Providence could have beaten Cary-Grove.) Or a hundred other what ifs.

The current system may not be ideal -- it still leaves that potential Loyola - Glenbard West showdown in limbo -- but it's the best they've come up with so far. (The only change I would make -- I might make -- would be to have an extra round: 8A vs. 7A, 6A vs. 5A, etc.)

But if it ain't terribly broken -- and it isn't -- don't monkey with it too much.