Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Senator Reid, your turn...

Again, the late Mike Royko can offer the best description of what's going on now that the disgraced and under-indictment Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has exercised his power to appoint a senator to succeed President-elect Barack Obama.

In his column on Mayor Richard J. Daley's death (it re-ran December 19, 2006, just before the 30th anniversary of Daley's death on December 20, 1976) , Royko noted that Daley had been -ahem- impolite when addressing Abe Ribicoff during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. He said that Daley was pretty much playing "Chicago style:"
That's part of the Chicago style -- belly to belly, scowl to scowl, and may the toughest or loudest man win.
Blagojevich is doing something similar, although in his case we might add "haircut to haircut" to Royko's words. Back earlier in December, all 50 sitting Democratic senators signed a letter asking the gov to step down and at the very least, not try nominating anyone to succeed Obama. In that letter, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said the Democratic caucus of the Senate would not seat whomever Blagojevich might nominate. But Blagojevich didn't resign, and since he's still the governor until he resigns, gets kicked out of office or convicted of the crimes charged against him, he can still appoint someone to Obama's seat. And so he has done.

Now the Senate has made a new statement, in which they say again they won't seat the man Blagojevich appointed, former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris. Burris has also run for governor, and the last time he ran, in fact, he lost to Blagojevich -- although he's also a regular donor to Blagojevich campaigns. That toddlin' town.

Given what we've seen and heard of ol' Blago, it's likely he is reacting in that Chicago style described by Royko -- "I'm the bleepin' governor, and the bleepin' Constitution says I can appoint a bleepin' senator, so I'm appointing a bleepin' senator. What the bleep are you bleeps gonna bleepin' do about it?" He's also shown enough chutzpah and a small enough amount of class that he could be just playing with people's heads for awhile -- the Illinois Secretary of State has now said he won't certify the appointment, which Illinois state law may not allow him to do. The US Senate, which promoted its only black member into the White House, must now figure out how to say no to a black politician being seated within their ranks without making him look bad and stressing how little they have against him. It's his friends that bother them, you see. Well, one friend, anyway.

If Blago is impeached, the man who succeeds him, Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn, will make the appointment. Blago and Quinn apparently don't get along, so Quinn will be saddled with saying why he wouldn't pick Burris if he's such a great guy who would be a great Senator if anybody else had picked him for the seat. And the gov probably doesn't get to have much fun these days, so maybe this is his amusement.

The corruption and general political ick factor going on here is really not funny, but it will be interesting to see if Sen. Reid, the very dimmest bulb in a state full of neon, sticks with his guns or has to fold based on legal challenges or a general lack of political courage.

Ain't no party like the Chi Demo party, 'cause the Chi Demo party don't stop...


Like I said on my Facebook status, I'm a proud graduate of Northwestern University: Losing bowl games -- and graduating the people who run the companies you work for -- since 1949.

(Well, yes, technically NU won the Rose Bowl it played in early 1949, but we haven't won any since).

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Of all the birthdays in all the world...

Among the many notables born on 12/25, including, as best as anyone can figure, our Lord and Savior and several of my friends, was the late Humphrey DeForest Bogart, whose doctor first said, "Here's looking at you, kid" on this day in 1899. Even though he would be 109 if he were alive today, Bogie would probably still be way cooler than most folks who make it up on the screen.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


...to everyone this Christmas. If you have the blessing of being able to celebrate with family and friends, I rejoice with you and join my thanksgiving to your own. May we who are so fortunate not fail to remember those for whom this holiday brings feelings of sorrow, loss, anxiety, stress and anger, and may our prayers hasten the day when they find for themselves the Joy of the Love that came down on Christmas.

Pax Christi

Monday, December 22, 2008

Stand Up, Miss Jean Louise...

Robert Mulligan directed five films in which his actors won Academy Awards, but he will probably be most strongly linked with To Kill a Mockingbird, maybe one of the best book-to-film transitions ever wrought.

He passed away Friday at 83, meaning he was a mere lad of 37 when he hit that one out of the park.

Yeah, I'm not sure about this...

So a lady named Rose Mary Sheldon suggests that the Apostle Paul might have been a Roman spy sent to infiltrate the Christian church.

Now, this would ordinarily be a problem mostly for her and whomever might be embarrassed when she deployed this wacky notion. But Col. Sheldon teaches history; in fact she's the head of the history department at the Virginia Military Institute. So she's responsible for teaching young folks about history. It not completely disturbing that she has some crackpot ideas -- my high school US History teacher, Mr. Love, could throw some curveballs with the best of them, for example.

But the thought process that's involved in dreaming up a Roman initiative to spy on what was at the time a minor religion seen mainly as a Jewish sect, whose appeal was limited to mostly poor folks and slaves? To suggest that Paul, whose early opposition to Christianity was based on what he saw as the blasphemous idea Jesus was the Son of God, would work for pagan Romans and pretend to convert to this faith? It seems like there's a pattern of overlooking ideas that don't match the theory simply because they don't match the theory. The idea of that kind of thinking underlying what students are taught at VMI is a little nervous-making.

Col. Sheldon's bio says that one of the fields of her doctorate is Roman provincial archaeology. One hopes she eventually digs up a clue.

(H/T Dustbury)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

It Ended in 1989, Al...

When people are worried they may not be able to make rational decisions for themselves, they give someone else what's called "power of attorney," meaning that person can make decisions for them.

I think that Minnesota ought to give a power of attorney to another state, like maybe Wisconsin or one of the Dakotas. Back in 1998, they elected former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura as their governor. That was all fun, because it was the 1990s and we were all sort of loose since the Commies lost and all. But Ventura was not much of a governor, Minnesota legislators got tired of overriding his vetos and Minnesotans elected Tim Pawlenty and his funny name just as soon as they had a chance in 2002.

Now the same state is bending over backwards trying to make Al Franken one of their Senators. Franken was a longtime Saturday Night Live writer who had the distinction of being with the show when it was often funny (1975-1979) as well as when it often stank (ever since, although Franken can only be blamed for the years he worked with the show, 1985-1995). Franken has managed to squeeze two books worth of humor into six titles (mostly Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Why Not Me?). He's made jokes about rape, about a husband who didn't want to have sex with his wife after her breast cancer surgery because she only had one breast and shepherded two sketches about a gawky adolescent Chelsea Clinton onto SNL in 1993 after rightfully blasting Limbaugh for making the same kind of joke. Franken complains about conservative racism and yet during his television, movie, radio and book career, has hired one (uno) nonwhite person in a senior position.

Granted, a jerk in the Senate is nothing new. As Okies, we know this (and we are frequently reminded). But Minnesota has given the nation senators like Hubert Humphrey, who came into the office after fighting to finally get the Democratic Party to embrace civil rights in 1948. Or Paul Wellstone, whose honesty and good character earned him friends and respect across the political spectrum despite his own decidedly un-mainstream views. When mokes like us want to follow up Don Nickels with Tom Coburn, we don't exactly tarnish a brightly shining legacy. But Minnesotans are ready to do just that, it seems, and more's the pity that they'd not only get themselves stuck having to choose between a bland political hack of a non-entity and a fellow who seems to specialize in mean jokes but that they'd then go and pick the meanie.

So I support a temporary power of attorney that would allow voters in a neighboring state to choose Minnesota's elected officials (fortunately, Minnesota does not border Gov. Rod Blagojevich's Illinois, although many Illinois voters do have experience in casting more than one vote per election). The Ventura episode could be considered a one-time aberration. Like when Iowa made The Love Boat's Gopher a congressman, or Georgia did the same with the Dukes of Hazzard's Cooter. But the repetition signals the possible California-ization of the state, and it should be stopped before that happens. Because we sure as heck don't need a second California.

(PS -- the post title refers to this. Scroll down to the end).

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Happy Trails

To the original Slingin' Sammy, former Washington and Texas Christian University quarterback, defender and punter Sam Baugh.

The obit omits that Baugh also had a short movie career, starring in the Republic Pictures serial King of the Texas Rangers. Among his co-stars were Neil Hamilton, who would later "Great Scott!" his way through a role as Police Commissioner James Gordon on the Batman TV show, and Duncan Renaldo, who was better known as The Cisco Kid on television and in a few movies of his own.

It does note that Baugh is the only player ever to lead the NFL in offensive, defensive and special teams categories in a season -- 1943, when he had the most pass completions, best punting average and most interceptions (he caught 11).
Or maybe, "Ugh." According to this tidbit on the MTV Movies Blog, Keanu Reeves is toying around with a live-action movie of the 1990s anime Cowboy Bebop.

You may or may not know much about this space bounty hunter/noir series from creator Hajime Yatate, and it would take way too long to explain it much beyond "space bounty hunter/noir anime series." But trust me, the complex storyline, some elements of which are spread out over all 26 half-hour episodes, would be next to impossible to put into feature-film length. Not to mention that Reeves himself lacks an important requirement to play the lead character, ex-gangster Spike Spiegel -- Spiegel is animated and Reeves is not. Yes, Spiegel is laconic, deadpan and rarely displays much emotion. But he's that way because he's cool, not because he's a walking beta test for animatronic amusement park characters.

The MTV blog post head says that Reeves wants to do "something good" with Cowboy Bebop. I'll take him at his word and suggest that he leave it alone.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bell Rung

Heisman trophy winner Sam Bradford, a University of Oklahoma sophomore, performed his role, and immediately the business of buying and selling began. There were multimillion dollar deals on apparel. Celebrity performers brokered large fees for their appearances. Broadcast and other media companies offered nine-figure contracts for programming. The top names in the business received top salaries and some substantial performance bonuses. There was wheeling and dealing like nobody's business. And Bradford and those like him, even though responsible for the very acts that set all this financial flow in motion, won't receive a single dime today and have no guarantee they ever would.

Oh yeah, and Bradford got to ring the bell that opened trading on the New York Stock Exchange, too.

When Sales Attack?

A couple of our Oklahoma legislators would like the state to stop assessing sales tax on firearms & ammo purchases. I'm not a gun-owner, nor am I likely to be, but I don't have problems with responsible firearms ownership, combined with appropriate background checks and safety training. So I don't see a real problem with this idea.

The rationale, however, is interesting. Read this statement from Rep. Proctor:
People shouldn’t have to pay a tax to the government if they need a gun in the home for self-protection.

It's an excellent rationale for his bill, but it's also an excellent rationale for repealing almost any non-luxury-item sales tax. People shouldn't have to pay a tax to the government if they need food in the home for protection against starvation, for example. People shouldn't have to pay a tax to the government if they need clothes in the home for protection against nudity (in some cases, of course, the ones protected from certain people's nudity would be the rest of us).

Carry it further, and it's an argument against other kinds of taxes, too. Property taxes: People shouldn't have to pay a tax to the government if they need a home for protection against December. Excise tax on automobiles: People shouldn't have to pay a tax to the government if they need a car to get from that home to the place where they buy the food, clothes and/or firearms they need for protection against those other things. Federal income tax: People shouldn't have to pay a tax to the government just because they need a military or police to protect them from the folks who own bigger firearms than they do.

Keep this up, and this is what we end up with:

1. Donald Trump paying taxes for stuff with his name on it and ugly combovers (the latter figured according to the Blagojevich Assessment Ratio (BAR), which indexes the marginal rate to the ugliness and fakeness of what is not actually fake hair).

2. Osama Bin Laden paying taxes for wasteful consumption of natural resources (the air he breathes).

3. Hugh Hefner for the same (Viagra, silicone, blonde hair-coloring and bimbos -- some of those, like silicone, are non-renewable).

4. Roseanne Barr and Rosie O'Donnell for wasteful use & corruption of the good name of a blameless flowering plant.

Man, I love this idea! Rep. Proctor, you and Sen. Corn are my new heroes!

Send in the Clones...

At what point can we officially declare that it is no longer linguistically correct to refer to the movie industry as a creative enterprise?

The Procrastination Formula

Even though that headline sounds like the title to a Robert Ludlum novel (The Aquitaine Progression, The Parsifal Mosaic, The Bourne Ultimatum, etc.,) there is a professor in Canada who has actually studied procrastination for the last 10 years and has developed a mathematical formula that determines why people procrastinate.

The professor -- who has one of the ultimate cool professor names, Professor Piers Steel -- began by studying 250 college students. The jokes, they overwhelm my poor brain and I cannot pick just one...

Anyway, Professor Steel says that procrastination is different from laziness. Lazy people don't care about the task they're not doing. Procrastinators care about the task, but they're impulsive and easily distracted by something that will be more fun, more satisfying or at the very least, less boring right now than whatever the task is.

And those procrastinators who've claimed the real reason they put stuff off is that they're such perfectionists they can't stand the idea of doing a less than perfect job? Nope, says Professor Steel. Just like the rest of the impulsive & easily distracted folks who find what they think are more interesting things to do, like play Spider Solitaire, InkBall or write stuff in a blog...well, that's enough of that right there.

He goes into greater detail in a book, The Procrastination Equation: Today's Trouble with Tomorrow. It's due out soon.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Pastoral Scene?

I'm not like this fellow, who decided "O Little Town of Bethlehem" wouldn't be sung in his church, because the Bethlehem depicted in its lyrics doesn't match the reality of life in Bethlehem today.

OK, but Phillip Brooks wrote the words in 1868, inspired after his own visit to Bethlehem in 1865. This was a number of years after the events he describes, and he never indicated he was writing a historically accurate recreation of events. If he had, he probably would have had to figure out a way to include the hubbub that was supposed to have been going on because of the census that brought Mary and Joseph to town and the fact that Bethlehem's Jewish citizens were in barely-subdued revolt against the Romans.

But on the other hand, I may follow this guy's lead and try to get a Christmas song banned myself. I'll start here...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Out of balance

Number of children who die of starvation per day around the world: roughly 30,000.

Number of children who died of starvation between when Florida toddler Caylee Anthony was reported missing July 15 and a bag with her possible remains was found December 9: Nearly 4.5 million.

Number of children who died since the disappearane of Alabama teen Natalee Holloway on May 30, 2005: More than thirty-eight million.

Number of times any of those children have been mentioned on nightly news programs, discussed during news analysis shows, profiled by Oprah, been the subject of special investigative reports or had their deaths/disappearances analyzed by Greta Van Susteren: 1.

Really, one, you may ask. You're sure it's one time?

Well, no. But I'm an incurable optimist.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

On this (Lego) block I shall build my church...

A family in England has a unique Christmas tradition of building some gigantic project each year with some of their nearly 500,000 Lego bricks. This year, they built a church.

On the downside, a full-size church made of Legos would probably be pretty drafty, and not have a lot of structural support. On the upside, since most Lego blocks only come in three colors, that limits the number of fights the congregation can have about the color of the floor...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Not the Chicago Way...

Although he grew up on the Northwest side, married an alderman's daughter, clerked for former Alderman Edward "Fast Eddie" Vrdolyak and worked for current Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley back when Daley was the Cook County State's Attorney, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich apparently forgot how to do things.

I mean, you can't tell me that the late Hizzoner Da Honrable Richard J. Daley, Mare a Da Great City a Chicago and All Its Great Peoples, would ever have been caught talking business like this on the phone. But Da Mare would have probably warned Rod that going downstate can make you do stupid things.

Somewhere, Mike Royko is having a frickin' ball right about now...

(Fun side note: Blagojevich's father-in-law, Richard Mell, helped write Chicago's gun-control laws. Mell then failed to register his guns and is now proposing a one-month amnesty for all gun owners who missed the deadline on or about the same time he missed the deadline to re-register their firearms.)

Happy 400!

Just 400 years ago today, John and Sarah Milton welcomed their first son, John, into the world in London. Little Johnny would later go on to write some stuff, like this poem about the Bible and this little note about censorship, among others.

Milton said a lot of things, some of them worthy and some of them less so. I like this quote of his from Aeropagitca:
And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play on the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Dear Mom & Dad: Please Send $$$$

Some questions have arisen about whether or not the public bailouts of financial firms and potentially the auto industry might be followed by others. Some of the possible hat-in-handers are now thought to include college presidents, because college is verra verra expensive these days. It's so expensive that the College Board suggests universities are pricing themselves out of the market.

So will President Stuffedshirt make a journey to Washington DC to ask for his and his fellow admins' share of the federal pie? Aside from the nearly 39 billion Uncle already doles out in federal financial aid, that is.

But why hit up Uncle for money when you can go after the favorite financial resource target of students everywhere, the 'rents? Colleges can almost always count on Mom and Dad putting out some more green for Junior at school if they ask for it instead of Junior asking. Because when colleges ask for it, it's called "tuition and fees," and when Junior asks for it, it's called "that %^*@& kid must think I'm made of money!" This way, Mom and Dad are the ones who go after Uncle for the money, rather than the big old mean college with a fat endowment and a score of ugly buildings. And since for some reason Uncle sees fit to keep increasing how much he hands out, then Prexy Stuffedshirt and Co. can keep bumping up the cost on their end.

As this opinion piece notes, increases in college costs have outpaced inflation for at least the last 16 years, six percent to about 2.5 to three percent. It also notes some of the reasons why -- a lavish lifestyle for students so they can do important things like form bands named Screaming Snotrockets, an even more lavish lifestyle for ol' Pres. Stuffedshirt (whose salary rose about six percent a year, a number we just ran across back in the annual college cost increase sentence), hiring a six-million dollar man, and so on.

Some of the money goes to buildings, of course. Despite what the appearance of most new university buildings would lead you to believe, these things don't just build themselves. Some of the rest goes to funding activities and such for the "first-year experience," which is the college's way of saying "sophomore year sucks and we helped."

Eventually, colleges may very well price themselves out of the market for all but the wealthiest students, some of whom don't care what kind of A you give them as long as you remember just whose mummy and daddy put a roof over your shabbily-dressed intellectual genius.

Can't wait to see what gets taught at those places then...

Friday, December 5, 2008

Time Dilation...

So I did something today I haven't done in about 20 years -- I bought a copy of Rolling Stone magazine. Issue 1066, to be precise, which was a special issue focusing on "The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time."

I used to subscribe to RS, but it spent less time focusing on music and more time being trendy, and I got tired of flipping through 40 Ralph Lauren ad pages to get to the table of contents. I noticed the magazine is smaller now, and it's exchanged the staple-binding I remember for a glued-in style. Most of the reasons I stopped buying it are still there. This issue features reviews of 32 new and re-issued albums. A bare handful have more than 80 words and even the feature review -- Guns N' Roses Chinese Democracy, which against all expectations arrived before actual Chinese democracy did -- is less than 750 words long. None of them receives less than two stars. Combine the uninformative star ratings with the drive-by reviews, and there's hardly much more there than a reviewer saying, "I liked it" or, "I didn't like it" to suggest why a particular album should separate me from fifteen of my dollars. Since I don't know these people, that ain't it, kid.

RS is, in many ways, still a product of its time and is mired in the 1960s. The "Greatest Singers" feature bears that out. Only four of the top 50 (Bono, #32, Whitney Houston, #34, Jeff Buckley, #39 and Kurt Cobain, #45) are actually under 50, or would be if they were alive (Cobain died in 1994 and Buckley in 1997). Only three (Christina Aguilera, #58, Mariah Carey, #79 and Mary J. Blige, #100) are under 40. Fully half of them either broke onto the national pop/rock/country music scene or had their heydey in it during the 1960s. Since the rankings were chosen by votes from musicians, most of whom are either contemporaries of those musicians or who would have been teen-agers listening to them, this shouldn't surprise anyone. The page that lists the voters also makes clear that they were asked to judge singers of the rock era, mostly post-1955, rather than "all time." Enrico Caruso rests easier.

Also unsurprising is the lack of diversity in the listings -- six singers who worked primarily in country music and two who had much work in gospel. Of that pair, Al Green, #14, is celebrated for his secular songs by commenter Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, who is apparently a member of a band called The Roots. Only Mavis Staples, #56, is mentioned as a gospel singer, even though Bob Dylan, #7 and Bono, #32, and the late Patsy Cline, #46, have been known to sing songs of a religious bent. There are a surprising number of blues artists on the list, as well as some older rockers who had more exposure in the 1950s than most other times.

Someone named Jonathan Lethman writes an essay to try to explain why the phrase "greatest singers" is being used instead of "performers who got the most votes in our poll." He pretty much has to in order to explain why punk croaker Iggy Pop, #75, comes in ahead of one of popular music's best tenors, Art Garfunkel, #86, or two of its best harmonizers, the Everly Brothers, at #90. Nobody who listens to much rock, soul, blues or country is under the illusion that technical perfection of voice alone makes a great peformer or performance. That's OK, because I don't listen to Howlin' Wolf, #31, in order to hear purity of pitch, tone or diction. I listen to hear him howl, rasp and moan about the evil that's goin' on when there's another mule kickin' in his stall. Wolf was a great performer, but he's no great singer on most of his recorded work.

Some modern music performers are both, of course. The top spot in the poll is given to Aretha Franklin, who has a great voice and is also a great soul performer. Elvis, #3, often showed some amazing range and Freddy Mercury, #18, could sing anywhere in four octaves.

Silly lists, sketchy reviews and pouty models selling clothes aside, there's just not all that much in a Rolling Stone any more, and a bunch of what is in there is stuck in a time loop that the magazine seems desperately to want to keep alive.. So thanks for the memories, RS. See you in 2028, along about issue 1326.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Well, the heavyweight minds at Entertainment Weekly have declared Seth MacFarlane the "smartest person in TV."

MacFarlane, creator of two shows for which this blog has registered dislike, Family Guy (ugh) and American Dad (uuuuuughhhh), has apparently made a whole bunch of money off DVD and merchandising sales, and is TV's highest-paid writer.

He's obviously a canny marketer and I can't deny he's made a lot of money. But I also can't deny his shows are ugly dreck. Even so, I don't know him well enough to insult him the way EW did -- "smartest person in TV?" That's like being the prettiest Klingon. You have to wonder if maybe MacFarlane forgot to invite EW staff to a party or something...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Learning a Little Bit at a Time...

Students at Carleton University in Canada spoke loudly to their elected officials (no, not the ones who really run things -- I mean the student government that gets to play "lets pretend" with the change the administration finds in the couch cushions), who reversed last week's vote to stop funding a charity.

The Student Association stepped up in a very commendable way and undid their decision to support a charity other than the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. That decision came after a student representative moved to change the charity supported by Careleton's participation in Shinearama. That's a nationwide charity event held on more than 60 Canadian college and university campuses. The bill approved by the council pulled Carleton's funding from the CCFF because cystic fibrosis is a disease that affects only white males. Only a single student representative disagreed with that decision, wondering why in the world the race and gender of the people a disease affects makes its eradication or treatment more or less worthy of charitable contribution.

Of course, as about thirty seconds with even a reference resource as dubious as Wikipedia would show, CF affects women too, and its prevalence with the Caucasian gene pool means it also affects people in India, the Middle East and South America. Carleton's students told their student government they were being dumb, and so the student government reinstated their agreement with CCFF, pledged to donate at least $1,000 this year, and made a formal apology. For this, they get well-deserved credit. Generally, the only time elected officials apologize is when it's for something done a hundred years ago or by someone else. But these are just young folks -- they somehow had the idea that they did something wrong, so they should 'fess up and say so.

I hope they also learned that their major idiocy of picking and choosing charitable support based on who is most affected by whatever the charity is doing is an even bigger dumb move than failing to do their research about matters they didn't understand. Even if CF affected only white males, that would be no reason to pull charitable support.

The student rep who sponsored the original motion resigned, but he learned there are people even dumber than he is, since apparently he received death threats because of his bill. Another student rep who supported the bill said he was ashamed at what his actions had done to the reputation of a university he loved, so he resigned too. The student government president, who at the time of the original bill said the measure was approved because students wanted to rotate their support to some other charities, faces an impeachment petition with what its supporters claim are 1,000 signatures on it. She hasn't resigned yet.

So I guess she's learned faster than her fellow students how the grown-ups play the game...


Somebody's been reading my other blog and they've found me out...