Monday, December 31, 2007
Monday, December 24, 2007
No matter where I move UWF finds me. It shows how strong the fund raising motivation is. They publish a glossy magazine every quarter talking about what’s happening at the college. This time I learn that Ralph Eubanks passed away at the age of 86. Dude and I had Ralph for Communication Ethics and he was Professor Emeritus even then. He was a heck of a nice guy and he would talk with you for an hour about anything. He was the only professor to quote H.L. Mencken during my college years.
He was impossible to keep up with as an instructor. His talks were very stream of consciousness and the tests were fill-in-the-blank quizzes on those lectures. I guess he wanted you to transcribe his lecture and study that. I remember that Angela Hatcher came over to our dorm to study for the final, but we decided to simulate play the 1978 Yankees v. 1979 Pirates instead. Dude and I played a 50 game season with those two teams and I will never forget how fun it was, a lot more memorable than my grade in Ralph’s class. Hatcher was frustrated with us, Skinny Lynnie was frustrated with us, but Dude and I were in our element.
A year or so later we saw Dr. Eubanks on campus and I told them that were taking some sort of fiction class and decided to see the movies instead of reading the text. Ralph laughed and he said that there was no one has more ingenuity than a college student. Shortly after Dude’s first attempt at Atlas Shrugged he showed me a passage where they mention the character Balph Eubank, and we both laughed. I wonder if Ralph ever read the book.
It says that he died in Little Rock Arkansas. 86 is a good long life and Ralph was a happy man. Thanks, Ralph for being a part of our great memories.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
In the Golden Age.
The movies made during the studio era—what the cineastes have dubbed “the classical Hollywood cinema”—are, along with jazz, America’s best creative work from the late 1920s to about 1950. But although those pictures are revered, they’re contested. Products of a system run by five vertically integrated companies, they spark ardent and surprisingly nasty debates—about the relationships between art and commerce, convention and innovation, individual and collaborative effort, administrative constraint and creative freedom. These boil down to a single argument: Were the great pictures made because of, or despite, that system? To be sure, plenty in these books could be used in a hackneyed indictment of the studios as fiendish machines that stifled individual creativity, talent, and vision.
More important, any Hollywood history illuminates the dichotomy between those movies that the system most highly prized and those we love now, raising some doubts about the much-vaunted “genius of the system.” MGM under its production head and later special-projects producer Irving Thalberg (Fitzgerald’s model for The Last Tycoon) was the most factory-like and systematized studio, with the biggest and most shimmering collection of stars.
But many of its luminaries (Norma Shearer, say) and its self-important “prestige” pictures (Rose-Marie, Romeo and Juliet) long ago lost their magic; glamour, unlike style, is inherently ephemeral. True, the mystique of Metro’s greatest star, Garbo, remains undiminished. But for the most part, those pictures Hollywood thought would endure (Metro’s lofty movies from the 1930s, Warner Brothers’ ponderous “artistically ambitious” Paul Muni biopics of Socially Progressive men) are now far overshadowed by the studio era’s stylish entertainments, whether rollicking (My Man Godfrey), effervescent (Trouble in Paradise), light-headedly lovely (the Fred and Ginger movies, the highest and purest “art” Hollywood ever produced), hard-boiled (Double Indemnity), or high-trash melodramatic (Dark Victory)—movies no one thought would be watched in 10 years, let alone 70.
In the movie version of The Great Tycoon, the Thalberg character played by Robert DeNiro explains to the board of directors that they are making a certain prestige picture even though he knows it will lose money. He thinks that doing so will lend a certain bit of credibility to the studio.
I heard a long interview recently with Brian DePalma about his anti-Iraq war movie. It's nothing but a revamp of Casualties of War and DePalma spent the interview telling us how the war drove these men to this heinous act. Like the prestige films of the Golden Age, the DePalma film and so many like it are made for peer attention.
The art in museums is usually the art people still want to see. It should be no surprise that the best classic movies share that attribute.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Pettitte, in a statement released by agent Randy Hendricks, admitted using human growth hormone (HGH) on two occasions but denied ever having used steroids.
"Everything else written or said about me knowingly using illegal drugs is nonsense, wrong and hurtful," Pettitte said. "I have the utmost respect for baseball and have always tried to live my life in a way that would be honorable. I wasn't looking for an edge; I was looking to heal.
"If I have let down people that care about me, I am sorry, but I hope that you will listen to me carefully and understand that two days of perhaps bad judgment should not ruin a lifetime of hard work and dedication. I have tried to do things the right way my entire life, and, again, ask that you put those two days in the proper context."
I want to believe him. Why didn't he talk to the investigators? He knew they had the Jason Grimsley evidence to which he was rumored to be linked last spring. Was he too embarrassed to say anything at first or was he waiting to see what the report would say so as not to implicate himself in things the committee doesn't know about?
By admitting to everything in the Mitchell Report, Pettite makes it harder for Clemens and the others involved with McNamee to say McNamee was lying.
This is what brings us back to the Black Sox. There are varying degrees of guilt in both situations. Some players took money and helped to throw games like Cicotte. Some players took money and played their hardest like Shoeless Joe. Others took no money and didn't tank but were implicated because of their knowledge of the conspiracy like Buck Weaver. In the Black Sox case all the players were treated the same.
Where Landis went too far was in the second and third examples. Cicotte you had to banish, but I wouldn't have punished Weaver simply for knowledge. Shoeless Joe is the toughest case. There has to be a penalty for taking money from gamblers, but a guy who hit .375 certainly wasn't throwing the series. Do you give him one or two years suspension?
One of the problems here may be that Landis gave us the wrong kind of precedent. Had he passed sentence for degrees of culpability instead of a blanket response, it would be much easier to wade through the true murkiness of this swamp today.
Baseball should ask all players to come forward under a sort of limited immunity and receive some sort of punishment for full disclosure. For instance, the extent of the use of the drug would determine how long a player would be suspended. Any player who did not come forward during the immunity offer or any player not disclosing their entire use of the stuff would be banned for life if proof contradicted their position.
Then from here on out all players would know that use of HGH or Steroids or whatever else may be invented in the future will end their careers. If guys want to use a supplement or a cream then it needs to be administered by the team doctor or tested by MLB.
I think best part of the full disclosure is that it doesn't disproportionately hurt some users over others and it also takes away stigma on some players who are clean. It would have been a better solution before the Mitchell Report was released when guilty players still didn't know if they were going to named, but better late than never.
It also allows HOF voters to determine how long or how much of the stuff contributed to their numbers and whether the stuff had an impact on their perceived greatness. If baseball wants the public to think the doping will cease, I think this would work.
Friday, December 14, 2007
Just caught the very end of Colin Cowherd interviewing Dan Rooney on ESPN Radio. He asked Rooney, in view of Rooney's 60 years in the NFL and his current vantage point as owner and Chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers, what he thought was the most significant development that he had seen in the NFL.
Rooney said the players are bigger-stronger-faster and we've got instant reply and all that, but the single biggest difference-maker was when players started wearing face masks in the 1950s. Take away the real risk of destroying your face on every play and that REALLY changes the game. That's the kind of great answer you can only get from an old man who has been around and seen it all.
July 4, 1995 I was at Commiskey Park in Chicago to see the Yankees play the White Sox. We had pretty decent seats and got there early. Beaver Cleaver and Eddie Haskel were on hand to throw out the first pitch. Rookie Andy Pettite came out of the dugout during batting practice and a bunch of kids clamored for his autograph. I had to look at the program to learn his identity. I was close enough that I heard him tell the kids that he had to warm up but afterwards he would come over and sign autographs for anyone who waited. He did exactly as he promised. It really impressed me at the time. The most disappointing part of the Mitchell Report for me was Pettite's culpability.
The report itself consumed my whole night. Fascinating report. The names have been all over the news and rightly so. It is very well laid out. What irks me is Mitchell's conclusion.
The first two points deal with the player’s responsibility and drug testing. The third one and beyond echo the post-Clinton zeitgeist.
Obviously, the players who illegally used performance enhancing substances are responsible for their actions. But they did not act in a vacuum. Everyone involved in baseball over the past two decades – Commissioners, club officials, the Players Association, and players – shares to some extent in the responsibility for the steroids era. There was a collective failure to recognize the problem as it emerged and to deal with it early on. As a result, an environment developed in which illegal use became widespread.
ESPN seems to be taking the attitude that Bud Selig should step forward and shoulder some of the blame. I can’t stand Selig, but blaming him allows the moral relativists to blame everyone and thus no one. It was the perfect approach from a former Senator trained to put together commissions to find answers and no solutions. This allows everyone to feel good about the study with a promise to be better next time with the built-in exercise that everyone will be to blame then too. The constant cycle that we can always be sorry and promise to be better.
Knowledge and understanding of the past are essential if the problem is to be dealt with effectively in the future. But being chained to the past is not helpful.
Nothing would be more helpful in the future than to match this capital offense with a capital punishment. This report without real consequences is an enticement to find and take the undetectable HGH.
Baseball does not need and cannot afford to engage in a never-ending search for the name of every player who ever used performance enhancing substances.
It’s their brand. If they want us to continue to wonder whether or not the game is fair then just stop now and pretend no one else is a wrong-doer.
The Commissioner was right to ask for this investigation and report. It would have been impossible to get closure on this issue without it, or something like it.
There is no closure without a penalty for the cheating.
But it is now time to look to the future, to get on with the important and difficult task that lies ahead. Everyone involved in Major League Baseball should join in a well planned, well-executed, and sustained effort to bring the era of steroids and human growth hormone to an end and to prevent its recurrence in some other form in the future. That is the only way this cloud will be removed from the game. The adoption of the recommendations set forth in this report will be a first step in that direction.
Looking to the future is the usual battle cry of the guilty who do not want punishment. Remember how impeachment was hurting the country because President Clinton needed to get on with the business of the American people? It’s not that he should have resigned to get the country back together but that we should just ignore the wrongdoing with a promise that he will be better next time.
The current players named in this report need to be booted from baseball. Those who retired should be ineligible for the HOF. It's a shame that so many people cheated, but they did it to themselves. The union could have prevented some of it early on by cooperating with proper testing, but they didn't make the players cheat either.
It was a shame what happened to Shoeless Joe. No one could ever prove that he actually cheated and his career was over and his HOF chances lost. How can you look at his example and then allow these cheaters to play or be in the HOF?
But the most important lesson of the Black Sox is that throwing baseball games stopped. The penalty was so high that it wasn't worth the risk. That's why you have to boot these guys. Without real consequences the problem is going to get worse not better. It's even admitted in the report that technology is always going to be further ahead than the testing. The only thing baseball has to combat the usage is the danger that detection will end careers.
After seeing Pettite in his rookie year, I probably saw the Yankees in person 12-15 more times in Spring training, regular season and even one World Series game. I never saw Pettite repeat his grand gesture to those kids. I didn't always have seats close enough to the action to hear him speak to the kids, but I sometimes did. I don't mean that I blame him, but I think that the 1995 Andy Pettite was excited to be in the big leagues. Having played the game as a kid and probably dreamed of getting autographs himself, the experience of signing was as much of a thrill for him as the kids. With time those kinds of feelings naturally subside and I'm sure they did with Pettite.
By the time Pettite took the HGH he was no longer thinking about those kids or being a kid. Baseball was a job now and he needed every advantage. I can understand the economic incentives that caused this cheating like I can understand the economic incentives of embezzlement. The difference is that the penalties for embezzlement are a lot more harsh than losing your job. And until penalties make it too risky this problem will continue.
I can forgive Pettite as a human being and understand his temptations, but his actions would have been different had Barry Bonds or Ken Caminiti or Mark McGwire been detected and booted in the late 1990s. Pettite with the rest of the names in this report need to pay the price now to prevent the next impressionable young player from following in their footsteps.
Santa attacked outside Dollar General. According to witness Butch Johnson, 48, the alleged assailant cried out, "Who the --- he callin' 'ho'?" before the jolly smackdown.
SYDNEY (AFP) - Santas in Australia's largest city have been told not to use Father Christmas's traditional "ho ho ho" greeting because it may be offensive to women, it was reported Thursday.
Sydney's Santa Clauses have instead been instructed to say "ha ha ha" instead, the Daily Telegraph reported.
He hasn't solved Social Security or health care or built a fence, but maybe he is making progress on steroid use in baseball. As you recall, he felt strongly enough about it to include it as a priority in his State of the Union address in January 2004:
To help children make right choices, they need good examples. Athletics play such an important role in our society, but unfortunately, some in professional sports are not setting much of an example. The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball, football, and other sports is dangerous, and it sends the wrong message, that there are shortcuts to accomplishment and that performance is more important than character. So tonight I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches, and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough, and to get rid of steroids now.
Whatever else can be said about Bush, he is a guy who believes that character matters, that it is the true measure of a man. Isn't that why we still watch Westerns?
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Trump's latest has hit the shelves. Like everything he does, it's 1 part Machiavelli, 1 part blather, and 3 parts marketing machine. He taps into the get-rich-quick mentality that he knows so many Americans have and that he knows is a farce, except as it applies to himself.
Speaking of big, I reviewed the names in the Mitchell report and how did the Giles brothers (they of the square jaws and unusual bulk) evade detection?
Yet another bailout for the bull in the china shop who splashed his money around during the housing run and now finds himself facing increasing mortgage payments - exactly as stipulated in the contract he knowingly signed. This article posits that the government is wrongly focused on keeping people from losing their homes when it should instead be focused on making people wealthier, which is quite a different thing.
If two percentage points on a mortgage rate decides whether someone can afford to keep their house or not, then they can't afford to keep their house. They're paying too much. By continuing to pay too much, they'll divert their would-be savings to an asset that's likely twice as expensive as it should be right now, and even if it's not, tends to produce poor returns over long time periods.
House prices have swelled since World War II to the point where renting, for most people, now makes far more financial sense than buying. The ratio of house prices to rents has more than doubled during that period, as has the ratio of house prices to incomes. That's because the government has worked in earnest during that time to make houses more affordable by subsidizing down payments. In doing so, it has increased demand, and with it, prices. Ironically, affordability efforts have made houses more expensive than ever before. And we're still pushing them. The Federal Housing Administration still talks about owning a house as a key part of the American Dream, while the less-math-inclined members of my profession still talk about renting as "throwing money down the drain."
Stocks tend to return 7% a year after inflation over long time periods, while houses tend to return zero. So at today's prices, I'm keen on renting the latter while owning the former.Don't we vote Republican to avoid this sort of policy from getting pushed through?
Once upon a time in America, before the FHA, we didn't need the government to intervene in the decision about whether we should buy, or continue to own, houses ... while things like clothing, cars and food have grown more affordable since World War II, houses have become a bad deal.
If I'm right, the government isn't doing any favors for recent house buyers who are struggling to afford their payments by guaranteeing that those payments will keep coming at their current pace for five years. It's merely forcing those same homeowners to divert too large a percentage of their income to a no-growth asset, while leaving little or nothing to invest in a fast-growth asset. The government isn't doing that because it's mean. It's doing that because it honestly believes it knows better than its citizens how they should allocate their money. What's particularly sad about that is that the government has overspent its own checking account by $1.6 trillion since 2002, thereby increasing the national debt by as much. On Thursday, struggling homeowners got misguided financial advice from a source that can't even pay its own bills.
Pope Benedict XVI has launched a surprise attack on climate change prophets of doom, warning them that any solutions to global warming must be based on firm evidence and not on dubious ideology.
The leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics suggested that fears over man-made emissions melting the ice caps and causing a wave of unprecedented disasters were nothing more than scare-mongering.
The 80-year-old Pope said the world needed to care for the environment but not to the point where the welfare of animals and plants was given a greater priority than that of mankind.
I love that the Pope gets to remind the secular hysterics about the importance of science.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Interesting story out of Pasadena, Texas. A grandfatherly man called 911 to report a burglary in progress next door. He gave play-by-play to the dispatcher while waiting for the police to arrive. Minutes pass. He desperately does not want the robbers to get away. Finally, against the dispatcher's emphatic instructions, he goes outside with his shotgun and shoots both the burglars just before the cops arrive.
The incident may prove a test for a new law recently passed [Sept 1] in Texas which expands the right of citizens to use deadly force. Under Texas law, people may use deadly force to protect their own property or to stop arson, burglary, robbery, theft or criminal mischief at night.
But the legislator who authored the "castle doctrine" bill told the Chronicle it was never intended to apply to a neighbor's property, to prompt a "'Law West of the Pecos' mentality or action," said Republican Sen. Jeff Wentworth.
"You're supposed to be able to defend your own home, your own family, in your house, your place of business or your motor vehicle."
I understand and agree with the argument that human life is worth more than property. And I understand and agree with the right to protect your own life and property. And I understand and agree that in Texas, it's more shoot first, ask questions later, than in, say, Massachusetts. And I don't like someone going out with his shotgun to shoot people dead. I also don't like that all you're allowed to do as an American citizen is sit and watch two guys loot your neighbor's house and hope the police show up in time to stop them. And I really like that somewhere people are still looking out for their neighbors.
I don't really know what to make of this story. Do you?
Friday, December 07, 2007
I did some reading recently on death positivity bias. In a nutshell, research confirms the tendency among the living, particulary strong in America, to ascribe higher favorability ratings to the recently deceased. In other words, people tend to be remembered more fondly in death than during their lives. The bias is strongest in situations where the deceased is perceived to have become a better person late in life. It was interesting to see this play out in the Sean Taylor story. Taylor was generally perceived as a thug, an attitude problem, and undisciplined in college and in his early NFL career. The early stories, when all that was known was that he had been shot in his home, tended to mention his negative reputation. The following day, the stories reporting his death played up what a fine young man he was and how, after having a baby with his girlfriend, he was really putting his life together and you could see he was a changed man. By dying, he cleaned up his act literally overnight.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Revisiting Bush's "axis of evil" State of the Union speech on January 29, 2002.
My hope is that all nations will heed our call, and eliminate the terrorist parasites who threaten their countries and our own. Many nations are acting forcefully. Pakistan is now cracking down on terror, and I admire the strong leadership of President Musharraf. (Applause.)
But some governments will be timid in the face of terror. And make no mistake about it: If they do not act, America will. (Applause.)
Our second goal is to prevent regimes that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction. Some of these regimes have been pretty quiet since September the 11th. But we know their true nature.
North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens.
Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom.
Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens -- leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections -- then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world.
States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.
We will work closely with our coalition to deny terrorists and their state sponsors the materials, technology, and expertise to make and deliver weapons of mass destruction. We will develop and deploy effective missile defenses to protect America and our allies from sudden attack. (Applause.)
And all nations should know: America will do what is necessary to ensure our nation's security.
We'll be deliberate, yet time is not on our side. I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons. (Applause.)
Our war on terror is well begun, but it is only begun. This campaign may not be finished on our watch -- yet it must be and it will be waged on our watch.
We can't stop short. If we stop now -- leaving terror camps intact and terror states unchecked -- our sense of security would be false and temporary. History has called America and our allies to action, and it is both our responsibility and our privilege to
fight freedom's fight. (Applause.)
Our first priority must always be the security of our nation, and that will be reflected in the budget I send to Congress. My budget supports three great goals for America: We will win this war; we'll protect our homeland; and we will revive our economy.
Several observations can be made.
1. Six years later, the three "evil" countries are generally considered to be less of a threat today than they were in 2002.
2. Bush indisputably did play the weapons of mass destruction card.
3. This speech was delivered a few months after 9/11. Another attack on US soil and this speech resonates again. A "24" marathon on Fox prior to election day would be a good idea.
4. Using the simple and non-nuanced measure of whether Bush did what he said he was going to do, he has been remarkably effective. He has been disciplined about maintaining a limited agenda -- win the war, protect the homeland, and revive the economy -- and his ability to maintain that focus has been his practical strength and political weakness.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Friday morning I was in Irving, Texas for a meeting. A front page story in the FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM began this way:
Three-quarters of Hispanic immigrants do not speak English well, but the overwhelming majority of their children and grandchildren speak the language fluently, according to a new study from the Pew Hispanic Center.
"The second generation has a foot in each world, and the third has made the transition to English," said D'Vera Cohn, co-author of the study. "By the third generation and beyond, English is dominant, and Spanish has faded into the background."
Saturday morning, my local paper had picked up the story for its front page and it began this way:
Study: Poor English skills among Mexican immigrants
Nearly three out of every four Mexican immigrants speak English "just a little or not at all," the most among immigrant groups from Latin America, according to a study released this week.
The reasons for poor English skills among Mexican immigrants include lower education levels before entering the U.S., less time in this country and more opportunities to speak Spanish at work, the study found.
Same Pew study, totally different slants. Now tell me again how there is no media bias, and how the editor's choices of headline, placement and lead don't tell me how I am supposed to interpret the data.
Bush must be feeling good these days. His approval rating is up to 36 percent and Congress's is still very low at 22 percent (but nowhere will you see the headline "Approval of Bush 64% higher than of Congress"). House and Senate candidates yapped about how bad Bush is to get elected, then yapped about all the things they were going to do to make Bush pay and to undo the damage, and they have been singularly ineffective on nearly all fronts. The surge is working and the Dems are starting to realize that "anybody but Bush" won't necessarily restore them to power, since the Republican candidates aren't Bush either. Of course they can still pray to Mother Earth or great grandfather spirit for a massive natural disaster or tanked economy to blame on the GOP.
From Bush's press conference this morning:
Congress still has a lot to do, and doesn't have very much time to do it. Three weeks from today Americans will celebrate Christmas, and three groups of Americans are waiting on Congress to act.
The first group are the troops. Our troops are waiting on Congress to fund them in their operations overseas. Nearly 10 months ago, I submitted a detailed funding request. Congress has not acted. Our men and women shouldn't have to wait any longer.
Second, our intelligence professionals are waiting for Congress to act. The legislation Congress approved early this year to make sure our intelligence professionals can continue to effectively monitor terrorist communications is set to expire in February. Allowing this law to lapse would open gaps in our intelligence and increase the danger to our country. Our intelligence professionals need these tools to keep our people safe, and they need Congress to ensure that these tools are not taken away.
Third, American taxpayers are waiting on Congress to act. Congress has failed to pass legislation that will protect middle class families from the burden of the Alternative Minimum Tax. If Congress doesn't act, millions of Americans will be hit with an unexpected tax bill. And even if Congress does act by the end of the year, this action could delay the delivery of about $75 billion worth of tax refund checks. Congress expects Americans to pay their taxes on time, and the least the Congress can do is make sure Americans get their refunds on time.
Give Bush credit. His message remains the same: national security and tax breaks. And everyone who is trying to distance themselves from him should be careful about distancing themselves from that winning message. Meanwhile he is using his veto pen to attach the negativity that people have toward Congress -- what with its earmarks, waste, political bickering, mutual back scratching, and self-serving pomposity -- to its Democratic majority.
Americans also expect their tax dollars to be spent wisely. Yet today, 11 of the 12 annual spending bills that fund the day-to-day operations of the federal government remain unfinished. And now congressional leaders are talking about piling these bills into one monstrous piece of legislation which they will load with billions of dollars in earmarks and wasteful spending. Taxpayers deserve better. And if the Congress passes an irresponsible spending bill, I'm going to veto it.
And for good measure, he gives the bums a deadline to shape up.
The holidays are approaching and the clock is ticking for the United States Congress. Based on the record so far, Americans could be forgiven for thinking that Santa will have slipped down their chimney on Christmas Eve before Congress finishes its work. Let's hope they're wrong.
Yeah, let's do that, you and me, we're together on this, united against that foul enemy, Congress. Americans are right and Congress is wrong. You go! Occasionally Bush manages to say something that is both upbeat and politically smart.
Like "the Democratic Congress is divided and inept":
Congress -- the Democrats in Congress, in the House and the Senate, need to work out their differences before they come to the White House. You can imagine what it's like to try to deal on an important piece of legislation, and the Democrats in the House have one opinion and the Democrats in the Senate have another opinion. FISA is a good example.
And "Congress is more concerned about scoring political points than in doing the job people sent them here to do. They are unprincipled and undisciplined":
And hopefully, as we come down the stretch here, they're capable of coming forward with, here's what we believe, here's our plan, here's what we would like you to consider. As opposed to some examples, which is passing legislation for the sake of the headline, as opposed to passing legislation to get it passed, and SCHIP is a classic example. They knew I was going to veto the bill. They knew that was going to happen. They knew the veto would be sustained. But they ate up valuable time and passed the bill anyway.
And they don't support the troops.
Hopefully [in their remaining time in control of Congress and mine as President] we're capable of working together. But if not, I'm going to stand strong for certain principles, one of which is to make sure our troops get funded. We've got men and women in combat. We've got people risking their lives for the United States of America. And this Congress has yet to fund them, and it needs to. And it needs to fund them without telling our military how to conduct this war. Arbitrary dates for withdrawal are unacceptable, particularly given the fact that the strategy is working. It's working. And it seems like to me that this Congress ought to be congratulating our military commanders and our troops. And one way to send a congratulatory message is to give them the funds they need -- and now is the time to do it.
Well said, for a change.
Steyn has a way of saying things that no one else is saying. You read it and think about it and then you realize there is something to it.
What if we've already had the reformation of Islam and jihadism is it? It wasn't just Seventies Bryn Mawr Muslims who were "moderates". So were, comparatively, Muslims all over the world. The Sudan's always been a nutty joint but you'd have had a harder time convincing anyone to jail an English schoolmarm over a teddy bear 50 years ago: The Prophet's authoritative cuddly-toy suras date back all of 20 minutes. In 1950, a young Pakistani emigrating to Scotland or Canada would have received an education different only in degree, not (as now) wholly foreign in kind and ever more resistant even to the possibility of assimilation. One can detect similar trends in Indonesia, Singapore, the Central Asian stans, the Balkans - and among the de-assimilationist third generation Muslims in western Europe.
The Islamic "reformation" is, in a sense, the opposite of Christianity's. The Saudis have used their vast oil enrichment to promote themselves as a kind of Holy See for Muslims, and the Wahhabization of previously low-key syncretic localized Islams in almost every corner of the planet is testament to their success. I look at the gazillions of dollars tossed into the great sucking maw of US "intelligence" agencies and I wonder why somewhere in the budget we couldn't put something aside to promote a bit of covert ideological rollback in Chechnya or Bosnia or Pakistan. But we're not that savvy, and God knows what unintended consequences would blow up in our faces.
And at one level the Islamist "reformation" makes perfect sense. After all, they look at Christianity's reformation and see that everywhere but the United States it led to the ebbing of faith and its banishment to the fringes of life. The jihadist reformation is, as they see it, a rational response to the Christian one.
Monday, December 03, 2007
A new U.S. intelligence report says Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and it remains on hold, contradicting the Bush administration's earlier assertion that Tehran was intent on developing a bomb.
What event happened in 2003 that would convince Iran to halt their program?
And how long will it remain on hold if the anti-war party elects a president?
According to a source close to Leno, the host will pay around 100 "Tonight Show" staffers on a week-by-week basis -- taking the optimistic approach that a strike will be settled soon.
Most of the workers were officially pinkslipped by NBC on Friday; the staff at "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" was also let go the same day.
"NBC regretfully informed the people who work on 'The Tonight Show With Jay Leno' and 'Late Night With Conan O'Brien' that their services are not needed at this time due to our inability to continue production of the shows," the Peacock said in statement.
The article makes Jay out to be some sort of miser for not paying people their full salaries. The Internet is full of staffer quotes about how he is turning his back on them. We're talking about 100 people. I can't see that costing less than $100,000 a week. I guess it's his responsibility since the strike was his idea.
Friday, November 30, 2007
Maybe you remember Michael Kinsley from his Crossfire days opposite Pat Buchanan, back when the show had a level of civility lost with the Carville/Tucker approach. He has Parkinson's disease which means he's a moral authority on stem cell research. Even though it was found that skin cells could be cloned to resemble embryonic stem cells, that's not enough for the ailing Kinsley.
But any Republicans who think the stem-cell breakthrough gets them off the hook are going to end up very unhappy. This issue will not go away.
First, even the scientists who achieved the latest success believe strongly that embryonic-stem-cell research should continue.
No law says they can't.
No one knows for sure whether the new method of producing pluripotent cells will pan out or where the next big developments will come from.
SPECIAL BULLETIN: No one knows the future!
We are still many thresholds away from anything that can be of practical value to me and others. Scientifically, it makes no sense to abandon any promising avenue just because another has opened up.
If scientists say that it should continue and it's perfectly legal to continue it then what's your point?
Second, even if this were a true turning point in stem-cell research, people like me are not going to quickly forget those six lost years. I am 56. Last year I had a kind of brain surgery that dramatically reduces the symptoms of Parkinson's. It received government approval only five years ago. Every year that goes by, science opens new doors, and every year, as you get older and your symptoms perhaps get worse, doors get shut. Six years of delay in a field moving as fast as stem-cell research means a lot of people for whom doors may not open until it is time for them to shut.
Again, what delay except by the FDA that takes forever to approve anything.
The embryos used in stem-cell research come from fertility clinics, which otherwise would discard them. This has been a powerful argument in favor of such research. Why let these embryos go to waste?
In what way are they going to waste if scientists want to do the research and the research is legal?
Even if all embryonic-stem-cell research stopped tomorrow, this far larger mass slaughter of embryos would continue. There is no political effort to stop it. Bush even praised in vitro fertilization in his 2001 speech about the horrors of stem-cell research. In vitro has become too popular for politicians to take on. But their failure to do so makes a mockery of their alleged agony over embryonic stem cells.
Is the Justice Department raiding laboratories and rounding up scientists?
Finally, the position a politician takes on an issue tells you something about his or her character, values and intellect. And that understanding doesn't disappear even if the issue itself does. Over the past six years, Bush and most Republicans in Congress have done their best to stop medical research that could cure many diseases, including one that I have.
If all knowledge, innovation and discovery can only be found at the bottom of a crate of government funding then this statement is true.
What does that mean for Kinsley's position on funding the war? This is from his column in June.
Last week President Bush condescended to sign a bill authorizing $100 billion for his war, but only after any serious timetables or criteria or deadlines for troop withdrawal were stripped from the legislation. . . it is considered the height of naivete, irresponsibility and indifference to the fate of American soldiers to suggest the possibility of any exit strategy short of triumph. If you do, you are betraying the troops. And no one sees actual triumph in the cards, so there is no exit strategy.
Kinsley mocks that anything less than victory in Iraq is a betrayal of the troops, but thinks that anything less than a government victory in stem cell research is a betrayal that shows a lack of "character, values and intellect." Stem Cell research can go on with or without government funding, but defeating our enemies is illegal without funding.
And woe betide any politician who suggests that waiting for complete triumph might not be the only alternative -- just in case democracy, prosperity, peace and brotherhood don't flower in Iraq next week. Sens . Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama opposed the war-funding bill because it lacked even the mealy-mouthed timetables in an earlier version that Bush vetoed.
But no timetable for government funding of stem cells should ever be discussed because the breakthrough is always right around the corner.
For this they got crocodile tears from Sen. John McCain. Squandering a bit more of his war-hero capital, McCain came close to accusing the two leading Democratic presidential candidates of treason: "I was very disappointed to see Senator Obama and Senator Clinton embrace the policy of surrender."
Maybe Clinton and Obama just lack the "Character, Values and Intellect" that it takes to see the importance of an American victory.
So there is a "power of the purse," you see. Congress can cut off funds for a war that people don't like. In this connection, older readers might recall the Iran-contra affair, in which sources of money were found to keep the contra war going in Nicaragua without Congress's even knowing about it. This met with the enthusiastic approval of the Wall Street Journal, even though funds you do not know about are hard to cut off.
This is the perfect example of which I speak. Congress cut off funding for the Contras so Oliver North and company raised their own money despite Congress. Kinsley, of course, didn't like it and would have liked to have seen people go to jail for it. He would have liked to have seen the funding on anti-communist freedom fighters criminalized. The action of North and company brought about free elections in Nicargua despite Congress.
Has anyone in Congress treated scientists the way the Contras and their supporters were treated? Kinsley pretends that people are treating scientists the way Congress treated Oliver North.
That Wall Street Journal editorial accuses these three Democratic senators of "vot[ing] to undermine U.S. troops in the middle of a difficult mission." If this is true of last week's vote, it will always be true of any attempt to cut off a war by cutting off funds.
So it undermines scientists to lose funding but the troops just have to deal?
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Presidential hopeful Delaware Sen. Joe Biden stated unequivocally that he will move to impeach President Bush if he bombs Iran without Congressional approval.
“The President has no authority to unilaterally attack Iran and if he does, as foreign relations committee chairman, I will move to impeach,” said Biden, which was followed by a raucous applause.
Biden said the best deterrent to prevent preemptive military action in Iran is to make it clear, even if it is at the end of his final term, action will be taken against Bush to ensure “his legacy will be marred for all time.”
So often the Democrats speak without consideration as to how it might impact the soldiers in the field. If Biden feels this way as a member of the loyal opposition he should tell Bush 1 on 1. It's no more a threat if he says it publicly, but it does help him score points with a radical audience. What he has done here is embolden an enemy like Iran to ramp up attacks against our troops in Iraq.
The Democrats so often complain about the violence while protecting the violent.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Some day soon I will tire of Ann Coulter railing against the New York Times, but not today.
With an exhausting use of air quotes, the Times reports that: "The Republicans have railed against 'amnesty' and 'sanctuary cities.' They have promised to build a fence on the Mexican border to keep 'illegals' out."
In liberal-speak, that sentence would read: "The Republicans have railed against 'puppies' and 'kittens.' They have promised to build a fence on the Mexican border to keep 'baby seals' out."
Half the English language is becoming the "N-word" as far as liberals are concerned. Words are always bad for liberals. Words allow people to understand what liberals are saying.
I watched part of one Democratic debate, the one in Chicago where the candidates yelled "I am the pro-labor candidate," "Workers of this nation, unite!" and such. That part I understood. And I watched some of the Republican candidates speaking at an event in Iowa. Ron Paul, Huckabee, those guys I understood. With all the (air quotes) "debates," it does amaze me how hard it is to figure out what some of these folks are saying, much less getting them to say the same thing again the next day. Talking for a long time without saying anything has to be a difficult skill to master, but is apparently a required skill for national politicians and sports agents. Even the great savior Fred Thompson has fallen prey. He had a great opportunity to step in and speak boldly and has failed to do so. Reagan had great political skill but you also knew where he stood on key issues. Can the same be said of these candidates?
Monday, November 26, 2007
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Who would have bothered squeezing the stuff without Whipple warning us? I remember going down that aisle as a kid and grabbing a pack. Squeezing was nothing special, but it felt good knowing that the persnickety Whipple couldn't stop me.
They humorously told us the stuff was so soft that store managers had to police the joint. We laughed and we remembered the brand. I'm still a customer.
I like that Madge had them soaking in Palmolive.
I liked that babe who brought home the bacon and fried it up in the pan.
I like that Calgon took her away. And later it was the Ancient Chinese Secret.
I liked plop plop fizz fizz.
Ore-Ida is alrighta
How Many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop? The world may never know.
Commercials have abandoned this formula. We're seeing some humor again, but it's more of a post-modern approach. Geiko, The Wendy's Wig men, those big foot ads, the Coors Light Press Conferences etc. They all seem to comment on themselves with the product playing a supporting role.
Watching a few spots again on You Tube, I forgot that Whipple would scold others, but then inadvertently squeeze the stuff himself. Priceless.
What current TV ad campaign borrows from the classics? Do any?
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
I am thankful for football to watch tomorrow.
Not pleased with his team's overtime loss to the lowly Jets, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is apparently in no mood for a major holiday.
Asked how he will handle Thanksgiving tomorrow, Tomlin said, "We are going to come to work and we are going to be thankful that we have an opportunity to do so."
The first Thanksgiving proclamation out of the White House. Happy Thanksgiving J-Boys.
WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houfes of Congress have, by their joint committee, requefted me "to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to eftablifh a form of government for their safety and happiness:"
NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and affign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of thefe States to the fervice of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our fincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the fignal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpofitions of His providence in the courfe and conclufion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have fince enjoyed;-- for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to eftablish Conftitutions of government for our fafety and happinefs, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;-- for the civil and religious liberty with which we are bleffed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffufing useful knowledge;-- and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleafed to confer upon us.
And also, that we may then unite in moft humbly offering our prayers and fupplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and befeech Him to pardon our national and other tranfgreffions;-- to enable us all, whether in publick or private ftations, to perform our feveral and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a bleffing to all the people by conftantly being a Government of wife, juft, and conftitutional laws, difcreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all fovereigns and nations (especially fuch as have shewn kindnefs unto us); and to blefs them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increafe of fcience among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind fuch a degree of temporal profperity as he alone knows to be beft.
GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand feven hundred and eighty-nine.
(signed) G. Washington
The comparisons between the royalties that book authors collect and what screenwriters collect is misleading. A book is a finished piece of media after some editing. A script needs backing and production to be finished. Screenwriters want to share in the continual rewards of a hit while being merely paid employees for a failure. Where would they learn such an idea? From the studios that make every easy villain a corporation.
I’ve been reading a really interesting biography of Howard Hawks, the great Hollywood Director. He hated High Noon. It wasn’t the politics of it, but the approach. Hawks couldn’t stand seeing Gary Cooper cry his way around town asking for help. That’s why he made Rio Bravo. In his movie the Sheriff turns down help from the “well meaning amateurs”
Hawks was apolitical, not the kind of guy who really cared all that much. Yet he was outraged at seeing the hippies protest the Vietnam War. He spent four years living in France in the 1950s so you couldn't call him some dumb fat American who was ignorant to the world, but he couldn’t understand how someone could root against America. Different times.
I saw American Gangster on Sunday. I was taken by what I read another blogger say about the film. The Denzel Washington villian character is much more sympathetic than the real life character and that's the nature of good movie making, complex villains. It's also the central problem with the current crop of anti-war films. The American side never is shown to have redeeming qualities.
This Redacted sounds like the worst of all, a rehash of DePalma's overrated Casualties of War, about another rape case. I heard him on NPR say that the war turned these normal men into animals. Well if we can judge behavior by results then the war has civilized these men. Far fewer rapes happen among our servicemen than do among the general population.
I wonder if DePalma thinks filmmaking turned Roman Polanski into an animal?
The media is doing everything they can to tighten the race between Hilary and Obama. The driver’s license question in the debate is being played like Dukakis in that tank. The media is really setting Obama up for a big fall. It’s like he’s the only one who doesn’t know how vicious the Clintons will become if Hilary is in real danger. All that stuff about his Muslim education we heard earlier in the year will resurface if she’s in trouble. She probably has more dirt than that waiting somewhere. The media knows that Obama isn’t an experienced enough campaigner to thwart the totality of the Clinton arsenal. But they pretend to keep the horse race going.
Pat Robertson came out for Guiliani. He says a lot of ill-considered things, but I never understood why so many people are afraid of him and religious conservatives in general. Religious conservatives have owned either the White House or Congress for all but two years between 1980 and 2007 and what social liberties have we lost in that time? Certain voters are so afraid that Republicans will end freedoms like abortion that they have swallowed worse losses of freedom like higher taxes, inept government schools, the growth of government, the bankruptcy of Social Security, and disengagement of world affairs to preserve it. Robertson’s endorsement makes him more practical than his many critics.
John McCain was good on the Daily Show the other night. He gets away with being for the war what with his maverick persona. Ramesh Ponnaru is carrying the McCain flag at National Review, but I’m not buying. He’s the first guy to compromise principles in order to pass bad legislation or to grab headlines in the New York Times. Just imagine him as President.
The new health club opened near my house. It’s the nicest one I’ve ever belonged to. Upstairs they have 40 cardio machines and downstairs is full of resistance machines and free weights. I use to be that guy what hated exercise. I found it boring and it took too long to see or feel any results. Had I not suffered the back injury ten years ago, I’d still be that guy. Adversity so often leads to opportunities.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. And a prayer for our boys and girls overseas.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
NEW YORK -- Scientists have made ordinary human skin cells take on the chameleon-like powers of embryonic stem cells, a startling breakthrough that might someday deliver the medical payoffs of embryo cloning without the controversy.
Laboratory teams on two continents report success in a pair of landmark papers released Tuesday. It's a neck-and-neck finish to a race that made headlines five months ago, when scientists announced that the feat had been accomplished in mice.
The "direct reprogramming" technique avoids the swarm of ethical, political and practical obstacles that have stymied attempts to produce human stem cells by cloning embryos.
And think of the hysteria one year ago.
I'm halfway into my next list already so here is a catchup of the previous ten ranked in order of enjoyment:
PULP FICTION (1994)
It was well after midnight when this movie came on the commercial-free station. I figured I would just drift off to sleep during the slow moments which never arrived. It hasn't aged a bit and I know you've seen it so I won't bother with the review. It's on my list of top 100 films of all-time and if pressed, I imagine it would easily make the top five.
AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999)
I saw it in Orlando with Tom Freeman sleeping next to me. One of my all-time favorite films. It is as pitch-perfect as any movie I've ever seen and especially relevant as I inch towards my own midlife crisis. I hope I can go out with the same look of contentment as Lester Burnham.
PAN'S LABRYNTH (2006)
The best movie I saw that wasn't already on my top 100 list. This one just misses although I would recommend it highly as quality. There are some really beautiful sequences, especially the escapade with the Pale Man which is a classic scene. There is no happy ending, but in my mind it was poignant to believe that the fantastical story was the imaginings of a dying girl to give meaning to her life as her life fades. I was disappointed when listening to the director commentary that he meant it to have really been happening. If that is true then it is a much more tragic story.
NATIONAL VELVET (1944)
Sixty-some years on, it is still worthy viewing. There are plenty of slow talky scenes that don't play to the young ones so much but add up to nice emotional payoff for the mature audience. It's a good girl-empowerment story for daughters everywhere.
HOT FUZZ (2007)
Not as genius as SHAUN OF THE DEAD but worthy nonetheless. It's pretty funny that the hero figured out this convoluted land scheme motive when really all those people were killed just because they were annoying. In a way, this film is more clever than good - there is a smart sensibility behind it but it somehow doesn't add up to a classic. I still think it will be worth watching again in ten years.
THE HOAX (2007)
I saw this on the plane to Orlando while listening through the world's worst headphones. It was a struggle to hear all the dialogue but I enjoyed it all the same. Richard Gere always manages to be interesting and the plight of his character was really engaging. You rarely get to root for a guy whom you know is deliberately doing wrong unless he's some sort of gangster.
THE SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON (1960)
Sure it's watchable but it's also kind of boring. I watched it with the kids in the Disney hotel. It's overlong and spends a lot of time wondering which brother is going to bone the girl. Everything comes a bit too easy for them and they never really appear too frightened of the pirates.
It got decent reviews and carried me through the first two acts before it all came crashing down in act three. Do we really have to discover the expansive subterranean suburban dungeon? And if he's got several rooms dedicated to dismemberment, then why is he chopping up the deer in the attic? Just to confuse the neighbors in case they're spying, I guess.
THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA (2006)
I watched this one with the Freemans on my first overnight. I have heard it described as the best movie ever about working. It just didn't ring true for me. The entire plot is - oh boy, the boss sure is demanding, our hero is never going to be able to keep her job, but oh boy, she comes through in the clutch, yay. Repeat ad nauseum.
THE MANHATTAN PROJECT (1986)
I'm cheating a bit here just to make my quota. This was on at Saunders' house and I paid enough attention to it to determine that I have indeed now seen it. It is standard '80s fluff in the wake of WARGAMES which proved that nerdy kids can save the world if only the stupid adults would take them seriously.
Friday, November 16, 2007
In baseball news, the owners have stepped up their campaign to eradicate player-enhancing steroids from the game. In an unrelated story, the owners have announced that revenues are at an all-time high. Oops, my mistake, those stories are related. It appears the owners have profited wildly by glorifying the offensive heroics of the steroid era while now they are benefiting by their mock incredulity and half-hearted, yet very public, effort to root out the offenders.
They milked Bonds for 762 dings before sacrificing him. Now we enter the new chase to 800 with "clean" ARod.
I love the way science works. This guy was busy curing cancer when he accidentally discovered free energy. Well, not exactly, but there is considerable promise on both fronts. The great thing is that he is not on the public payroll, he is merely a retired tinkerer in Erie, PA.
A former radio engineer, Kanzius donned his cape and sprung into action when he got cancer a few years ago. He recalled from his radio days that his eyeglasses had a funny way of heating up whenever he stood too close to the broadcast tower. He came up with the idea of seeding a tumor with microscopic bits of gold and then blasting radio waves at the person. The waves of course go right through the person but the metal heats up and destroys the tumorous cells. It sounds simple and it is, and so far, so good in the clinical trials. All they have to figure out is how to get the metal particulates to adhere to only the bad guy cells and never the good guy cells and it is sayonara to many types of cancer.
So, while he was using high energy radio waves to desalinate saltwater the other day, he accidentally bumped the beaker of water and saw a spark. So, he took out his lighter and put the flame to the water and it burned like a roman candle. If he turns the radio waves off then the flame goes out, but so long as the radio waves bombard the saltwater, it burns. Thus, he has found a way to liberate heat energy from the most abundant resource on earth. The radio waves agitate the molecules within the water and some of the H2O bonds are broken. The hydrogen, being lighter than air, floats away and provides a constant source of fuel for a fire on the surface of the water. That's how I think it works anyways.
It's not exactly free energy, since the laws of thermodynamics prohibit such a thing - it takes more energy to produce the radio waves than you get back with the heat. But still, this will certainly become more than just a curiosity - getting energy from seawater is one of those holy grails of science. There's always that dream that we can thumb our nose at Saudi Arabia once we realize that California borders the biggest battery on planet earth.
I love the accidental nature of Kanzius' discovery. It reminds me of the stories of how we got penicillin and rubber - the first of which has saved millions of lives while the latter has prevented them. That was a joke, folks.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
I'm still looking for something, anything that commends new Pirates skipper John Russell.
"We knew going into last season that our strength in the minor leagues was going to be from [high Class A] down," Arbuckle said, "and that our weakest team was going to be at [Class AAA] -- and it certainly was.
"But when I was there in August, John still had his team getting after it and competing with nothing to play for. You've got to be a pretty good manager to get a team to do that. John did a great job with a team that was extremely thin talent-wise."
The Lynx finished 55-88, the 55 victories being the lowest in the International League. They were last in the league in runs scored (553), home runs (59) and team earned run average (4.77).
Russell, a former major-league catcher with Philadelphia, Atlanta and Texas, ended his playing career in 1993. He successfully managed for eight seasons in the Minnesota minor-league system before being picked by then-general manager Dave Littlefield to join the Pirates' major-league coaching staff as third-base coach after the 2002 season.
Then-manager Lloyd McClendon yesterday declined to comment on Russell.
He can take losers and turn them into high-energy losers. Terrific. Can't wait.
The more I see and hear new Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, the more I like him, and the more I understand why he was hired. The Steelers organization has been a model of stability, consistency, predictability and sanity for more years than we have been alive to watch. They hire head coaches with grit, determination and energy and they keep them around. They dump players whose price next season will exceed their worth. They draft and acquire players to fill specific needs and who will play hard and not get into trouble in late-night shootings outside strip clubs -- and when they don't bring the ability, attitude or image, Plax, they find themselves looking for another team. So in this short-attention-span, quick-fix, instant-gratification, knee-jerk culture, I love that Tomlin, after watching his team allow kick returns of 90 and 100 yards and a couple of lengthy punt returns as well, responded calmly and sanely. That approach is why the Steelers compete pretty much year in and year out, while other teams are busy trying the next big thing and hoping it works. There won't be drastic changes on the kick coverage unit. That is not how the Steelers operate. Tomlin understands that he is not the guy. He is the coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, with emphasis on Pittsburgh Steelers. It's not all about him, and yet it is. He is so suited for that job. I like the way he does business, how he intuitively understands what the Pittsburgh Steelers are all about, and what his role is in the greater scheme of things.
The Philadelphia Eagles once found a good special teams player by opening their stadium doors to all comers in an open tryout. Not only did Vince Papale, a bartender and Eagles season-ticket holder, make the team, he played three seasons for the Eagles and became their special teams captain. Disney even filmed a 2006 movie about his story, "Invincible."
Any Pittsburgh bartenders out there who think they can cover kickoffs?
Apparently, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is not willing to follow the Eagles' approach of 30 years ago, even though he does not appear to have many players now who can consistently tackle on kickoffs.
"Just because things go bad, I don't want to have a knee-jerk reaction and be emotional," Tomlin said during his news conference yesterday.
"We are not in that business. We are professionals. We have some guys that need to do a little better job at shedding blockers and tackling. We have to do a better job at getting them in position to do that.
"There won't be drastic changes. That is not how we operate."
Monday, November 12, 2007
Tom's story about his grandfather said this better than even Bill Bennett, but just to repeat the point.
We seem to no longer have any kind of reference point. For indeed, we are not living in the toughest of times, we are not living in the worst of times, nor are we fighting the toughest of wars. But try telling that to our nation’s young people; too many of them absorb too much of the negativism taught by our culture to know this.
The truth is, we’ve been in far worse shape in terms of what we’ve had to endure in this country — but we may not have been in far worse shape in terms of what we know about our country. Over 50 percent of our nation’s high-school students — our population reaching voting age — are functionally illiterate in their knowledge of U.S. history. If you track education progress, you find that students know more in the 4th grade, less in the 8th grade, and are failing by the time they are high-school seniors. Relative to what they should know at their grade level, the longer they live and grow up in America, the less they know about it.
Too many textbooks on American history are politically one-sided. Worse, and more often, many of them are just plain boring.
Students in our high schools are rarely expected to read a complete history book of any sort.
We are talking about our country’s history — the country Abraham Lincoln called the “last best hope of earth.” We are a country that has prevented epidemics, improved the conditions of mankind, and saved other countries. We have fought wars for those who could not defend themselves, we have liberated the immiserated, and we are a city of refuge for foreigners.
With all that has gone wrong in our present war, I remind that Lincoln could call us the “last best hope” only three months after Antietam, still the bloodiest day in American history.
But, America is not just the story of presidents and great leaders, but of the undertaking of a great people. While we have our Washingtons and our Lincolns, we also have so many others — heroes in every walk of life, in every city in America. If we [study U.S. history, we] realize that for every anti-hero that we can be criticized for, there are hundreds of heroes; for every dark moment, there are thousands of rays of light to be seen through the passing clouds.
Why not invite a veteran in to school this week? I cannot think of a greater way for young children and young adults to learn history than through the stories that make our history — and these stories deserve to be told and retold.
A time of war is a terrible thing, but it brings opportunities for teachable moments, and it is about the best time there can be to make our heroes and their cause teachable and estimable again. If we rededicate ourselves to studying our history and our people rightly, if we take the time to look at the entirety of our firmament, we will see what our Founders saw we could be, what foreigners who came here saw all along, and what we ourselves can — even today — see once again: that we have something precious here. That something is called America, where young men and women sign up to protect her each and every day in the uniform of our armed services. And it is worth the time of every young man and every young woman in our nation’s classrooms to study why.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Here's my grandfather Pvt. Vincent P. (Jack) Stark (right) on the shores of the Philippines in 1943.
He was awarded the purple heart after taking some grenade shrapnel in the leg. He never talked about what happened. The shrapnel would work its way out in the early 1980s. He showed it to me as it broke through his skin. A doctor had to cut it out.
A relative told my mother that the blast knocked him out and he regained consciousness when two Japanese soldiers tried to move him. He somehow killed them both.
Near the end of his life he told me a story about guarding an airfield that came under Japanese attack. My first inclination was to videotape his story, but I thought it would have made the moment unnatural and decided to have the memory of him telling me over the memory of the exact details.
When I was 8 years old my grandmother shared with me these two photos:
The guys he arrived with:
The guys he left with:
The war was always with him. I remember he had a relapse of Malaria in the 1970s, something he picked up during the war. His doctor in Indiana couldn't treat it and he had to travel to the south to get help.
Jack is 3rd from the left in this picture. Look at how much weight he lost compared to the stocky picture on the top. It was probably the malaria.
The biggest impact of the war was losing his baby brother. "Boots" they called him. He was a tail gunner in Europe shot down during one of those dangerous missions like in the movie Memphis Belle.
My mother has Boots' war bonds in a box. Boots married quickly before shipping out and his wife disappeared after his death forfeiting the bonds. I wonder if she is still alive.
My granfather was at Hiroshima 7 days after the drop. The army was there to help cleanup and restore order. One day he found several rolls of film. Curious to their content he put them away. The Army made him surrender the film when he left Japan, but he palmed one roll and on it was some graphic evidence of the blast. The style suggested it was shot by a photojournalist. He may have been an Army man himself and tried to hide the film from the authorities. We'll never know.
My grandfather died from cancer in 1996. His specialist in Memphis said that he had only seen his type of cancer one time before, the other man had also been at Hiroshima shortly after the war. If his death was related to the radiation, I'm blessed that he lived 50 years after the war.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
The New York Review of Books looked at three anti-Bush books over the summer. The consensus? Bush is a dumb cluck.
One of the few foreign policy achievements of the Bush administration has been the creation of a near consensus among those who study international affairs, a shared view that stretches, however improbably, from Noam Chomsky to Brent Scowcroft, from the antiwar protesters on the streets of San Francisco to the well-upholstered office of former secretary of state James Baker.
Near consensus is great. There may be people who don’t hate Bush but we can’t name any. Don’t you like how Baker’s office is well upholstered? Even as a temporary ally they had to get in the Republican fat cat thing.
This new consensus holds that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a calamity, that the presidency of George W. Bush has reduced America's standing in the world and made the United States less, not more, secure, leaving its enemies emboldened and its friends alienated.
I'm not sure what friends we have alienated. Germany and France who originally opposed the invasion have both since elected leaders friendlier to Bush. And the only thing proven to embolden our enemies are articles like this one.
Paid-up members of the nation's foreign policy establishment, those who have held some of the most senior offices in the land, speak in a language once confined to the T-shirts of placard-wielding demonstrators.
Paid-up members? It sounds an awful lot like the fools that appeased Hitler in the 1930s. Remember how the State Department crossed out “Mr. Gorby, tear down this wall”? It was too provocative. Boy they really had the pulse of the world. Reagan wrote it back anyway and I’m sure that Kissinger looked up from his memoirs and cringed when he heard it.
They rail against deception and dishonesty, imperialism and corruption. The only dispute between them is over the size and depth of the hole into which Bush has led the country he pledged to serve.
If the writer knew what the world “rail” meant he would know that James Baker has never railed against anything in public life. His negotiations behind the scenes are legendary, but he always faces the microphones straightforward and respectfully.
Last December's Baker-Hamilton report, drawn up by a bipartisan panel of ten Washington eminences with perhaps a couple of centuries of national security experience between them and not a radical bone in their collective body, described the mess the Bush team had left in Iraq as "grave and deteriorating." The seventy-nine recommendations they made amounted to a demand that the administration repudiate its entire policy and start again.
He’s certainly never read Dr. Feynman’s experience with being on a Washington committee. Wisdom does not come from such a beast.
In the words of former congressman Lee Hamilton, James Baker's co-chair and a rock-solid establishment figure, "Our ship of state has hit rough waters. It must now chart a new way forward."
I thought the problem with electing Bush was that he was a rock-solid establishment figure. Remember how he was going to be cradled by all of daddy's advisors because him too dumb to run country by self. Now he's a rogue for breaking with them.
So it comes as less of a surprise than once it might have to see Dennis Ross and Zbigniew Brzezinski—two further fixtures of the national security elite—step forward to slam the administration in terms that would, in an earlier era, have seemed uncouth for men of their rank. Neither Ross, who served as Middle East envoy for both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, nor Brzezinski, a conservative Democrat and cold war hawk, could be dismissed as Nation-reading, Howard Dean types.
Why don’t we instead dismiss Brzezinski as the guy who was unable to understand the level of unrest in Iran as Carter’s National Security Advisor. An old pro like him totally misread the situation and once our embassy hostages were taken, he had no viable “rock-solid establishment” plan as to how to get them out.
Ross sounds like a career State Department guy. What’s the biggest State Department achievement in the last 25 years?
Yet in withering new books they both eviscerate the Bush record, writing in the tone of exasperated elders who handed over the family business to a new generation, only to see their successors drive the firm into bankruptcy. Both books offer rescue plans for a US foreign policy they consider to be in tatters.
If Brzezinski and Ross were as influential and effective as the writer claims, Bush wouldn’t have inherited the problems he did in 2001. Gilligan could write a better rescue plan.
Bush’s “rock-solid establishment” critics are men who thought in baby steps and pieces of signed paper instead of action. Any kind of success in the Middle East based on force discredits the diplomatic corps and it renders these men meaningless in the overall process. I'm sure with glee they look for this to be a failure so that their nuanced and ultimately ineffective approach will look at like statesmanship.
DEBORAH KERR (1921-2007)
I could never tell how old Deborah Kerr was onscreen. Her nature made her seem older to me. I would have guessed that she was nearly 40 during FROM HERE TO ETERNITY and yet she was a mere 32. A solid actress that was respected in her time and forgotten by many today. The news of her death took 3 weeks to reach me.
THE HUCKSTERS (1947) – This is one of the better post World War II Clark Gable movies based on a best-selling novel. It’s full of great character actors (Sidney Greenstreet, Adolph Menjou, Edward Arnold) and Kerr plays the leading lady. Its subject is the dishonesty of advertising and yet the movie is still tame by comparison to what they’d do with the subject today. The summer show Ad Men on American Movie Classics seems to be inspired by this idea.
JULIUS CAESAR (1953) – You’d think that Marlon Brando as Marc Antony would make this a joke, but it’s really a solid Shakespeare movie, and probably the most underrated one. Kerr plays Portia in the All-Star cast.
FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953) – She will always be remembered for the waves rolling in on her and Burt Lancaster. It’s based on what I think is the best novel of the 20th Century. And yet I still like the film despite its brevity.
THE KING AND I (1956) – Yul Brenner had played this so long on Broadway that he really had the character unlike many screen musicals. Kerry plays the thankless straight character to Brenner’s eccentricities and she does so with grace and aplomb.
AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (1957) – Everlasting especially after the homage in Sleepless in
HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON (1957) – Robert Mitchum is the Marine and Deborah Kerr is the nun stranded on a south seas island. The dual struggle between saving themselves while not getting caught up in their feelings for one another is really pulled off first rate by these actors. I just don’t think you could make the movie today, because in these less innocent times the tension between the two could never really build in the same way.
SEPARATE TABLES (1958) – This feels stagey like the play it’s based on. A lot of credit is given for the performances but it didn’t do a whole lot for me despite it’s excellent reputation.
THE INNOCENTS (1961) – Based on the Henry James Turn of the Screw, Kerry is fabulous as the governess that can’t make sense of her possibly supernatural world.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
At least the Pirates know who they are. They became the last MLB team to fill its managerial vacancy by hiring AAA manager John Russell out of the Phillies' system. Russell was fired as the Pirates' third base coach following the team's 2005 season. The Pirates are perpetually a triple-A club trying, and mostly failing, to hold their own against real Major League teams. Russell's reputation is that he gets the most out of young players, which is the storyline out of Pittsburgh every year - that the Pirates might go .500 this year if everything goes well and their young players step up. Somehow every year that hope turns into about 69 wins.
In 2002, Russell was named minor-league manager of the year by Baseball America. He was tabbed International League manager of the year in 2006.
"My philosophy is hard work," Russell said. "We won't be outworked or outprepared. There's a right way to do it, and I know what it's supposed to look like -- attention to detail, accountability, preparation."
That was what Lloyd McClendon (losing seasons 11, 12 and 13) was supposed to have brought to the team, and he left saying that hard work is no substitute for talent, and not apologizing for getting mediocre results out of a mediocre lineup. He joined Leyland in Detroit and took a better lineup to the World Series.
The Pirates are riding a string of 15 consecutive losing seasons, one shy of the major-league record.
Make it 16. This hire confirms what fans already knew: the organization no longer even promises to win, only to play hard. Last year's marketing slogan had fans scratching their heads: "We will." Will what? Show up, rain or shine? Win about 69 games?
Good luck attracting free agents: "You won't win, but you'll sure work hard!"