Richard has started a new blog that includes movie reviews and his thoughts on lots of different topics. You can find a link here.
Archive for February, 2010
This article quotes Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin’s athletic director, as saying that the Big Ten has hired a firm to evaluate potential expansion candidates and that 15 schools are on the list to be evaluated. Interestingly, Notre Dame and Texas apparently aren’t on that list.
Fifteen schools seems like a lot; presumably the list includes a few serious candidates — like, say, Missouri — and other schools whose only real purpose is to provide a point of comparison to the serious contenders. I’m also not sure that it makes any difference that Texas and Notre Dame evidently aren’t on the list. I don’t think the Big Ten schools needs any consultants to tell them that Texas and Notre Dame are more attractive expansion candidates than schools like Iowa State or Syracuse.
Alvarez’s comments left me wondering how serious the Big Ten is about possible expansion and whether his comments are part of a campaign of misdirection. If the Big Ten were really carefully reviewing expansion, you would think they would be focused on far fewer than 15 schools. In the meantime, I’ll reiterate what I’ve said before: I’d prefer to keep the conference just the way it is.
When I was a kid, this was an exceptionally dangerous time of year. The warmer temperatures would lead to melting snow, and the melting snow would lead to slush, and the slush would lead to the risk of the dreaded slush ball. The slush ball, of course, was like a snowball, except a thousand times more painful and potentially destructive. Whereas a snowball, now matter how firmly packed, is always light and fluffy, the slush ball is a more compact and lethal missile of wet, granular snow, ice shards, and water. The snowball strikes its target with an airy “piff”-like sound. The successfully hurled slush ball, on the other hand, gives off a loud, wet “thwack.” Snowballs can be casually shrugged off. Slush balls, on the other hand, immediately drip down your neck or the front of your shirt, leaving a wet, gritty trail.
In my old neighborhood, on Short Hills Drive in Bath, Ohio, the slush ball expert was a red-headed kid named Kenny Rumbaugh. He was a few years older than we were, and bigger besides. If you were outside on a wet end-of-winter day, you had to keep an eye out for Rumbaugh. If you were careless you could suddenly find him behind you, tossing the slush ball with astonishing accuracy at the collar line of your winter coat and then slapping you on the back to ensure that the slush ball broke apart and the water and ice slid down your back with maximum chilling effect. And the neck shot was actually preferable to the alternative. If you got clobbered in the face with the slush ball, it knocked your glasses off, stung like crazy, and left an obvious red mark.
There was no defense against the slush ball. In the arsenal of childhood weapons, it was the atomic bomb.
Many people have forgotten the deadly letters containing anthrax that came hard on the heels of the 9/11 attacks. At the time, the anthrax attacks made it seem that the United States was going to be the subject of unending terrorist activity, from every quarter. Eventually, though, the letters stopped and the public’s focus shifted to al Qaeda, Afghanistan, and later Iraq.
The FBI, however, pursued the identity of the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks in the eight years since the anthrax attacks occurred. After fits and starts, the FBI’s investigation zeroed in on an Army scientist. The scientist committed suicide in 2008, shortly after learning that the investigators were preparing to charge him. The FBI has now released its final report on the investigation, laying out the case against the scientist. The Washington Post article on the report appears here.
The government’s case is based purely on circumstantial evidence; there is no physical evidence linking the scientist to the crime, no confession, and no eyewitness accounts. Accordingly, some have claimed that the government would not have been able to secure a conviction in court. Nevertheless, the circumstantial evidence seems powerful. The report describes how the scientist was one of the few people who had access to the strain of anthrax found in the letters and the capability to create the spores that were placed in the fatal envelopes, and recounts his erratic personal behavior.
Some crimes are never fully solved; Scotland Yard never determined who was Jack the Ripper. We should all hope that the FBI is correct in their conclusions in this instance, because the alternative is that the actual anthrax terrorist is still out there somewhere, at large and potentially capable of striking again.
The BBC published a weird story yesterday about a lawsuit by Pennsylvania parents against a school district. It seems the Lower Merion School District gave all 1800 high school students in the district laptops that included a security feature that allowed the school district to take photos of whomever was using the laptop. The feature was only supposed to be used in the event a laptop was reported lost, missing, or stolen. The article is unclear on whether the feature actually was used for other reasons, but in any case the parents have sued, claiming an invasion of privacy. Their Complaint alleges that the feature may have been used to take intrusive photos.
I’m not quite sure how taking a photo of whomever is using a laptop is really going to help find lost or stolen laptops. What really seems weird to me, however, is that the Lower Merion School District thought it was a great use of school funds — probably more than $1 million in school funds, at that — to give every high school student a laptop. Maybe the Lower Merion School District is just flush with cash, but since when does owning a laptop mean that the recipient is sure to become educated? Apparently the concept was that the laptops could be used to give students access to “school resources” on a 24/7 basis. Do the people running the Lower Merion School District really think that is happening?
American public schools have lots of problems, but they mostly are not problems that can be solved by more technology. The biggest problems with public schools include problems with lack of security, lack of involved parents, too many burnt-out teachers, and lame curricula that fail to motivate and challenge students. The students who are already engaged with school don’t need free laptops to keep up with their homework, and the students who aren’t trying probably aren’t going to use the laptops to turn their educational careers around. Giving laptops to high school students seems like more of a talking point to tout during the next school levy campaign than an effective educational tool.
The temperature has crept above freezing, the sun is shining, and the massive snowfall is beginning to melt a bit. The slightly warmer weather gives us a glimpse of the spring to come.
Another sign that spring is just around the corner is this: pitchers and catchers report to the Cleveland Indians’ spring training camp tomorrow. Spring training games then will start in a few weeks. The Tribe is in the Cactus League, playing from the Goodyear Ballpark in Goodyear, Arizona.
It will be a new roster of catchers and a bunch of new pitchers for the Indians this year, in what will undoubtedly be a “rebuilding” year. The question for Tribe fans is whether the Indians’ roster actually includes enough talent to really rebuild, or whether we are in for endless and embarrassing years of futility, as was the case in the ’70s and ’80s. In any case, expectations for 2010 are very low indeed.
When pitchers and catchers report, however, hope springs eternal.
Google is a great device, and I use it to keep track of family and friends. Today I Googled Russell and found this excellent little article about his forthcoming show. I can’t tell you how cool I think it is that Russell and his three friends get their own Group Show at the Palmer Gallery at Vassar. I particularly liked this passage from the linked release:
art only belongs to us
when we don’t know the outcome.
in one way or another
it restores ambiguity.
I actually agree with that thought-provoking sentiment.
The show, called “this the range and recent,” starts on February 24, includes a reception on February 25, and ends on March 4. Unfortunately, Kish and I won’t be there for the opening night or the reception, but we will make it there for the weekend. We’re very excited about seeing the show.
Posted in Politics, The Economy, tagged Arizona, Budget Commission, Budget Deficit, California, economy, Florida, Making Hard Budget Choices, Michigan, Nevada, Politics, President Obama on February 19, 2010 | Leave a Comment »
After posting a piece this morning, immediately below, about why the “bipartisan budget commission” is a bogus idea that reflects badly on the capabilities of the President and the Congress, hours later I read this piece about how the President would announce today, in Nevada, $1.5 billion in new spending to “help spur local solutions” to the housing foreclosure problem in five states: Nevada, Arizona, California, Michigan, and Florida. What could be a clearer indication of why the “bipartisan budget commission” is a joke?
We’ve now seen how things will work. The President will fly around the country, campaigning for Democratic Senators and Representatives and announcing new spending in their states and districts. In the meantime, the “heavy lifting” of deficit reduction will be left for out-of-office political has-beens like former Senator Alan Simpson, who will be powerless to do anything other than recommend methods to reduce the deficit. We all know how this will play out — the new spending will occur, while any proposed spending cuts won’t ever be enacted.
I sympathize with people who have lost their homes because they lost their jobs. But how many of the people in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Florida who are experiencing foreclosure problems fall into that category? How many of them stretched too far in buying their homes, or hoped to “flip” the houses when they bought in what used to be super-heated housing markets, or misrepresented their assets and income when they applied for their home loans? How many of the banks involved just made bad loans? Why should taxpayers in Ohio bail such people out, particularly when we have to borrow even more money to do it?
I think President Obama has shown his true stripes. He doesn’t care about budget deficits or the federal debt, he cares about politics. He doesn’t have the stomach to make the tough choices because he cannot stand to suffer the political consequences that inevitably will result. In that regard, note the sentence in the fourth paragraph of the linked article: “He will be back in town-hall mode, a venue that aides say allows him to connect with people and distance himself from the messy process of Washington governing.” What could be a clearer indication that President Obama is taking the easy way out?
Peggy Noonan usually offers interesting observations about politics and the national mood. Her most recent column is about President Obama’s decision to appoint a bipartisan budget commission and about the national mood on spending. In brief, she believes that the appointment of the commission may be viewed as a fresh approach that is helpful to the President and that there is a deep concern in the country about runaway government spending and the resulting massive budget deficits and mounting national debt.
I agree with Noonan on the latter point, but not the former. I think people are extraordinarily worried about the direction of the country and the obvious inability of our elected representatives, from the President on down, to act responsibly and courageously when it comes to spending. We are seeing no signs that Congress and the President really share our concern — as opposed to mouthing the standard platitudes — and will do something about it. That is why I disagree with Noonan on the former point. I think most people will view the bipartisan commission as a feeble dodge, a way for the President to pass the buck on his budgeting responsibilities. The reality is that we do not need another commission to hold hearings and eventually author a long report that no one will read. Instead, we need elected representatives who actually do their jobs, make tough choices, and take the political heat that results because they know as a country we have no other choice. In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie has done exactly that, in an effort to bring New Jersey’s budget woes under control. No one in Washington has stepped up in similar fashion.
This is a big part of the reason why I think President Obama is falling so dramatically in the polls. Many of the people who voted for the President had faith in his ability to do things differently and to make a real, meaningful change in how our country and our political systems operate. So far, he has not delivered. Appointing another “bipartisan commission” of former politicians and Washington insiders doesn’t seem like any change at all, much less anything meaningful. I think the President risks losing the faith of most of the people who voted for him, and once faith is gone it is hard to regain.
Posted in Music, Music videos, tagged All You Need Is Love, Blood Sweat and Tears, Chicago, Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Music, Music videos, Penny Lane, Pink Floyd, the Beatles, Tower Of Power, Us and Them on February 18, 2010 | Leave a Comment »
The other day I was driving, listening to the radio, and heard Chicago’s Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? It’s a great song and it got me to thinking: Where have all the horn bands gone? That is, why aren’t rock bands that feature trumpets, and slide trombones, and saxophones popular any more?
There was a time in the late ’60s and early ’70s when horn bands dominated the airwaves. On the FM rock stations, you had bands like Chicago and Tower of Power. On the AM dial, you had acts like Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass and Blood, Sweat and Tears. There also were many songs where horns were prominently featured, like All You Need Is Love and Penny Lane by the Beatles and Pink Floyd’s Us and Them.
I liked the horn bands because they had a different sound. It was a bit crisper, a bit cleaner, and a bit brighter than the sound produced by the standard four-man band with two guitars, bass, and drums. It was a great change of pace, and now that sound seems to be totally gone from popular music. Why?
As if the states weren’t dealing with enough bad news already . . . .
The Pew Center on the States has released a study that concludes that our 50 states are, collectively, grossly underfunding their retirement benefit programs for state employees. The study estimates that state liabilities for pension benefits and health care and other retirement benefits are underfunded by $1 trillion. The programs have anticipated liabilities of $3.35 trillion, and are funded only to the tune of $2.35 trillion. The gap is due to failure to make annual contributions to plans — probably so that legislators could spend that money elsewhere — and to decisions to offer richer benefits, cost of living increases, and expanded retiree health care without fully appreciating the liability consequences of such actions.
The link above allows you to find fact sheets that evaluate and grade the contribution efforts of each of the states. Ohio comes out pretty well and is considered a “solid performer.” The Buckeye State has funded almost 90 percent of its pension liabiity and more than 30 percent of its health care and other benefits. In short, Ohio has been pretty responsible in recognizing, and budgeting for, its pension and retiree benefit programs. Other states haven’t. In Illinois, for example, more than 40 percent of the pension liabiity is unfunded.
During these tough economic times, states are struggling to find the funds to pay for basic services. What are they going to do when the pension liability comes due?
One year ago, President Obama signed the massive “stimulus” bill into law. Americans are understandably skeptical about whether the stimulus bill was worth the hundreds of billions of dollars in borrowed money that has added significantly to our national debt or whether it was, in fact, a pork-ridden bill that did a lot for Members of Congress (and other government employees) and not much for average Americans.
The President and Vice President Obama have been out on the campaign trail trying to convince Americans that the stimulus bill has worked. Doesn’t that fact tell you a lot about whether the stimulus bill has had a positive impact on the lives of most Americans? Would the President need to convince us of something that had obviously been effective in jump-starting the economy and reducing unemployment?
Last weekend, during the dark, pre-dawn hours, I took Penny for a walk to the wooded area behind the library. In the dimness Penny stared intently into the woods, as if looking for small animals that might be moving through the underbrush, and I found myself looking intently into the woods as well. As the snowflakes drifted down around us, the woods indeed looked lovely, and romantic, and a bit scary all at the same time.
I don’t often think of poetry, but I found myself recalling one of Robert Frost’s better-known pieces, which probably is one of the best “snow poems” every penned:
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
The Ohio State men’s basketball team has quietly put together a fine season. After limping out of the gate in Big Ten conference play, thanks in large part to an injury to Evan Turner, the Buckeyes have reeled off 9 conference wins in a row. Their last win was a 19-point trouncing of Illinois on the road on Sunday, in a game filled with highlight dunks, killer three-point shots, and tough, scrappy defense.
This year’s Buckeye team is a good example of why college basketball can be fun to watch. The team’s starting five is solid from beginning to end, basically consistently of four lanky guards, all of whom can shoot and run, and an undersized, hustling, shot-blocking center. One of the guards, Evan Turner, is an excellent player who routinely racks up rebounds and assists and can be counted on for a clutch basket when the chips are down. Two of the other guards, Jon Diebler and William Buford, have silky smooth outside shots, and when they are hitting no defense can afford to leave them open. The fourth guard, David Lighty, is a steady, athletic, experienced player who can get out on the break and then finish, plays tough defense, and has really worked to improve his outside shot. The center, Dallas Lauderdale, is a gritty, dive-for-loose-balls type who typically can be counted on for a rim-shaking dunk or two on offense and a fistful of blocked shots on D. Each of these starters plays a lot of minutes, and it shows — not because they get tired, but because they play so seamlessly together. Buckeyes’ coach Thad Matta and his staff have done a wonderful job in melding the starters into a formidable unit.
Tomorrow the Buckeyes have a huge game, at home against Purdue. The game is crucial because Ohio State and Michigan State are tied for the conference lead, with identical 20-6 overall and 10-3 conference records, and Purdue lurks a half game behind, at 9-3 in conference and 21-3 overall. The Buckeyes gave Purdue one of those losses, in a shocking come-from-behind victory in West Lafayette. A victory tomorrow night in Value City Arena would be a tremendous achievement, and would go a long way toward determining the Big Ten regular season champion.
Columbus was hit with another blizzard today. As of 6 p.m., I’d say another six inches had fallen on New Albany, and more is supposed to be on the way.
The firm closed early due to horrible road conditions, and traffic moved at a crawl on the drive home as snow continued to fall at a rapid rate. When I got home I promptly changed into snow gear, grabbed my trusty long-handled, flat-edged shovel, and began the latest driveway snow-clearing exercise.
This is perhaps the fourth large snow storm we’ve had in the last two weeks, and because temperatures have stayed at or below freezing during that entire time period there has been very little snow melt. The massive resulting accumulation of snow poses some difficult challenges for the shoveler.
On one side of my driveway, next to the house, the snow has been piled about as high as it can go, to a point only a few inches below the windowsill. On the other side is the Great Wall of Webner, where the snowmass is about five feet high and growing with each new falling flake. The Great Wall is a gnarly mixture of ice shards, packed snow, and slush, with a fresh white dusting on top. The weight and density of the pile is such that, were a lump of coal at the bottom, it would even now be assuming diamond form due to the immense pressure. It takes some effort to toss even more snow to the top of the pile.
In the meantime, the yard and grounds have taken on an alien look. Snow is perched precariously on the bannister on the back patio, as if Jack Frost has been playing some wintry game of Jenga. In the front yard many of the the bushes are completely buried by snow, and several of the shrubs separating our property from that of our neighbor are bent down to the ground with the weight of the snow.
It took me about an hour or so to shovel our driveway clear of snow, and by the time I reached the foot of the drive the area next to the garage, where I had begun my efforts, was already covered by another inch of fresh snow. As I put away the shovel for the night, the snow continued to fall. I’ll be shoveling again tomorrow morning.