Friday, August 29, 2008

Obama is nominated. I'm conflicted.

It's not special like walking on the Moon special.

It's not even special like JFK getting elected was special for American Catholics.

I suppose -- continuing the Catholic analogy -- it's special like Al Smith getting nominated by the Democrats in 1928 was special.

That's still pretty darn special.

When I was born there were laws in place that kept people from getting served in a restaurant or staying in a hotel based solely on the color of their skin. In my lifetime -- not so extraordinarily long, whatever my kids may think -- we have gone from legal segregation to the nomination of an African-American for the presidency of the United States.

It doesn't matter whether you or I agree with all, some or even none of the planks in his platform: Obama's nomination is positive, tangible proof of healthy development toward the realization of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous dream, toward a time when a person is not judged by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character.


I hate to disturb the positive vibe, but I can't help it.

Obama is from Chicago.

Even that's a source of pride for me -- I tend to be a tad parochial, I realize, but I am proud when someone from Chicago does well.


Obama is a politician from Chicago.

Most of the regulars here are not from this area and I'm pretty sure you weren't treated to the same coverage that we were at home... our dysfunctional Democrats hugging it out in Denver... many of them the targets of federal corruption investigations, all of them nakedly ambitious for the next office, for themselves or their children.

Immediately before the convention began, one of Senator Obama's supposed political mentors, State Senate President Emil Jones, decided to withdraw from the November ballot... and install his son, Emil Jones III, in his place. The voters were not consulted; the primary was in February. The Republicans are running a man who did business under the name "Spanky the Clown." Seriously. They might have have roused themselves from their traditional torpor to nominate a real candidate, had they known they known they would be facing only "Threemil," as the younger Mr. Jones has been dubbed -- but the real purpose in keeping the succession under wraps until well after the primary was to prevent other Democrats from seeking the seat.

Before announcing the investiture of his son, Emil Jones' principal distinction this year was trying to engineer a pay raise for himself and his fellow legislators.

In our state, pay raises for politicians and judges are determined by an appointed commission. The recommendations of that commission become law unless both houses of the legislature reject it. The judges are included, officially, because most of them are elected officials and, practically, because that way the commissioners can say that their intent was to give the judges a raise and keep well-qualified legal eagles perched on the bench.

The House unanimously rejected the raise. But Jones wouldn't even let the measure be called up for a vote in the State Senate, even during special sessions called to consider amendatory vetoes, not until public pressure finally built to the point where a vote had to be called.

(Shed no tears for Emil Jones, though: The way the pension laws are worded, he'll get his pay raise next year after all -- he'll make more by leaving the legislature than by staying in. And he can take well over a half-million dollars out of his well-endowed campaign fund for personal use, now that his office-seeking days are over.)

Even the Illinois Democrats knew enough to try and keep our Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich under wraps as much as possible. Gov. Blagojevich, or "Public Official A" as he is known in several recent federal corruption indictments, will -- unless he, too, is indicted and removed from office prior to next January -- have the opportunity to appoint President Obama's successor in the U.S. Senate.

If Obama is elected.

Now: Not every Illinois Democrat is under active criminal investigation. But corruption is pervasive, especially in Chicago. Recently an Alderman pleaded guilty to shaking down real estate developers in her ward -- old hat, boring stuff for persons as jaded and cynical as we here have become... but there was a twist. Documents from the police department, concerning things like gang crime enforcement, documents intended for the Alderman, found their way into the hands of a local gang leader she was dating.

I know that Fox News and talk radio will try and make a big deal out of Obama's association with William Ayers. But Ayers had a multi-millionaire father, which surely didn't hurt his social standing. After he turned himself into the feds, after years "underground," Ayers found a place in academia and he's been credited with making real contributions to school reform in Chicago.

So Ayers is an unrepentant bomb-thrower. Seriously, what do you expect to find in senior faculty circles on college campuses these days?

Aging radicals and limousine liberals did not bring Obama to the heights where he stands this morning. Somehow Obama came to be accepted by them -- he taught law part-time at the University of Chicago -- but he moved beyond them. He also got accepted by the Chicago pols.

Did Obama transcend them, too? Or will some of them rise with him? Or, even more chilling, will one or more of them pull him down? Obama has associated with people who have been or will be indicted. Tony Rezko is merely the best known example nationally. But everyone who even dabbles in politics in Chicago is near corruption and may be tainted. Everyone.

Chicagoans instinctively look for connections everywhere, in everything. The national media is thrilled that Obama picked Joe Biden as his running mate because of his long Washington service and foreign policy experience. But Chicagoans note that Biden was long associated with a Chicago guy, Joseph Cari, Jr..

Cari, as Dave McKinney pointed out in an August 25, 2008 article in the Chicago Sun-Times, was Midwest field director in Biden's unsuccessful 1988 bid for the White House. Given this association, it was hardly surprising that Biden would reach out to Cari when he contemplated a 2008 bid. But, writes McKinney,
On the day Cari's name first surfaced in the federal probe of the state Teachers Retirement System, the former finance chairman for the Democratic National Committee and for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was to have hosted a Biden fund-raiser in Chicago. Cari was a no-show at that July 25, 2005, event.
Cari admitted in 2005 "to taking part in an $850,000 kickback scheme that prosecutors say was part of a larger political fund-raising operation for Gov. Blagojevich overseen by [Tony] Rezko." He is still awaiting sentencing.

Biden, according to that same McKinney article, is returning any donations received from Cari and Obama's people have pointed out -- not unreasonably -- that Cari donated to a great many candidates.

But still.

Could Obama really walk through the mud of Chicago politics without getting his feet dirty?

Can anyone?

Today may not be the best day to think about all this. But I hope that serious questions are asked, and answered, between now and November.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

McCain selects VP -- and why he should have selected me

Politico reports this morning (the link is to Yahoo! News, where I read the article) that John McCain has selected his running mate.

He'll reveal his choice just as soon as he thinks he can get media down from their collective Rocky Mountain high after Senator Obama's speech tonight in Denver.

We don't yet know who the nominee will be; Robert Novak reports this morning it won't be Senator Lieberman.

It won't be me either.

And that's a shame. For me.

I'd make a great Vice President. (I'd have made an equally good choice for Senator Obama, in my opinion, but I'm ineligible to serve with him since we are both Illinois citizens.)

So why would I be a good choice?

I can wear a suit. I'm an Irish-American from Chicago -- so I have experience in attending wakes and funerals. I'm over 35 and a natural-born American citizen so I meet all constitutional requirements. And I wouldn't upstage anybody.

These are the real qualifications for the office. Wikipedia has a small treasure trove of quotes about the Vice Presidency. I was looking for the quote by John Adams ("the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived") but I liked this one by Thomas R. Marshall, Wilson's VP, better: "Once there were two brothers. One went away to sea; the other was elected vice president. And nothing was heard of either of them again."

Since FDR's time, Vice Presidents have been invited to Cabinet meetings. And the job comes with a nice house to live in, limos, motorcades, Secret Service protection -- all of the trappings of power... and virtually no responsibility except that which may be conferred (and withdrawn at any time) by the President.

George W. Bush apparently gave Dick Cheney quite a bit of executive responsibility over the last two terms. Bill Clinton gave St. Al Gore a lot of responsibility as well. Both presidencies were extremely controversial. Coincidence? Maybe not.

They had to find Teddy Roosevelt when President McKinley was shot. Nobody seemed to know where TR was (he was off hiking in the mountains in New York, if I recall the story correctly).

Maybe what this country needs is a return to the traditional role of the Vice President... and if you're looking for someone who's good at doing nothing... I'm your man.

There's still time to reconsider, Senator McCain.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

This seems about right -- even if it is horribly wrong

(Stumbled upon at this site; click to enlarge.)

An invitation gracelessly declined

Sorting through yesterday's junk mail, I came across an envelope marked "special invitation."

Ah, I know what this must be, I thought to myself -- a special invitation to donate money.

The envelope was from a local hospital, one where I (and my Long Suffering Spouse) have spent far too much time over the past couple of years.

I don't donate to charities nearly as much as I did when I was saving money each month -- a time now so distant, it seems B.C. (As indeed it is, if "B.C." is meant as an abbreviation for "Before College.") Nowadays a good month is one where my credit card balances don't go up.

But I opened this envelope anyway.

I was surprised to see that this was not a solicitation for funds, at least not a direct one. It was an actual invitation to a reception, at the hospital.

For cancer survivors.

I tossed the invite into the recycling bin as if it were burning my fingers.

I suppose I qualify in a technical sense as a cancer 'survivor.' I was diagnosed with cancer. It was removed. I'm still here.

I went through a major operation. I had a substantial amount of plumbing removed. It took me months to regain my strength... and I am still adapting to the changes caused by the surgery.

Along with the several feet of tubing removed was a teeny, tiny spot of cancer. I had no chemo. I had no radiation. It just seems to me that, under these circumstances, regardless of the technicalities, it is somehow inappropriate to consider me a 'cancer survivor.'

It could have been much worse.

But it wasn't.

And I'm not going.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Grown-ups screwing up a kids' game -- again

(AP photo by Doug Healy; obtained from ABC News website.)

This is a photo of 9-year old Jericho Scott, a Connecticut kid who throws hard for his age -- somewhere close to 40 mph, supposedly -- too hard for the league in which he's been playing. So hard, in fact, that he's been told he can't pitch any more.

John Christoffersen's story for the AP is all over the place today; I read about it this morning in the Sun-Times; here's a link to the AP website.

Now, I usually hate it when some blowhard passes judgment on people from a thousand miles away on the basis of a single news story. But I'm passing judgment here: Everyone involved in this story -- Jericho's parents, his coach, the league, the other coaches -- every last one of them should be ashamed of themselves.

This one little excerpt from Mr. Christoffersen's story tells you just about all you need to know:
Jericho's coach and parents say the boy is being unfairly targeted because he turned down an invitation to join the defending league champion, which is sponsored by an employer of one of the league's administrators.

Jericho instead joined a team sponsored by Will Power Fitness. The team was 8-0 and on its way to the playoffs when Jericho was banned from pitching.
Naturally, the league has a lawyer: He's quoted as saying that the kid is just too good for the league, which is developmental in character, just trying to promote the sport.

The lawyer has a point.

He and his client are all wrong about banning the kid and disbanding his team, of course, but the truth is, if little Jericho is that much better than the other kids, then he should be playing in a better league. Maybe against older kids.

Jericho's mom is quoted as complaining that it's "discouraging" to tell a 9-year old that "you're too good at something." Jericho's parents are consulting their own lawyer, one John Williams. Williams is also quoted in the story. "You don't have to be learned in the law to know in your heart that it's wrong," he said. "Now you have to be punished because you excel at something?"


It is not punishing a kid to move him up a level where he can really test and develop his skills. Humans don't get better at things by succeeding -- we learn from our mistakes (hopefully). The kid should be playing against 10 or 11-year olds, maybe in a travel league, where he can actually be tested.

One of my sons was once like Jericho is now -- way above the other kids his age. When Middle Son was starting his career at Bluejay Park, one of the coaches asked him why he wasn't trying out for the 9-year old all stars. "But, coach," Middle Son said, "I'm not 8 yet."

Middle Son went high in the next year's draft. And he played on both the 11-year old and 12-year old all stars when he was 10. We moved him up a league at least a year before other kids his age. It helped that he was one of the youngest kids in his class at school, so he was never really more than a year behind his teammates in that way.

In fact, the first time he played with his actual age group was on a competitive travel team after freshman year of high school. Middle Son, now 21, is still playing.

I hope Jericho gets the same chance. He might... if his parents, coaches, league officials and lawyers all GROW UP.

Heads or Tails #53 -- Talk

And so, my fellow Blogospherians, we begin our second year of Heads or Tails, the weekly meme brought to you by Barb, by talking about talk.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper is no Republican -- but he went out of his way, in his column this morning, to defend John McCain's frequent references to his experience as POW during the Vietnam War: "The man can play the POW card from now until his last breath, and there's not a damn thing wrong with that."

But this essay isn't about politics, it's about talking -- and, in defending Senator McCain's right to allude to his lengthy stay in the Hanoi Hilton, Roeper mentions the "cliche" that there's something "off-putting about veterans telling their tales."

He recounts how, as a high school kid, he would hang out at the home of a buddy whose father had been a POW in World War II. "The dad used to sit in the basement with us and laugh along with the idiocy of 'Hogan's Heroes,'" Roeper writes, "and not once -- not a single time -- did he say a word about his own experience."

It's a poignant vignette. However, I believe Roeper misunderstands the father's silence. He wasn't afraid that his stories would induce 'eye rolling' -- he just didn't have the words to talk about it with people who weren't there. A lot of veterans of that generation closed off that portion of their lives, refusing to visit, in waking hours at least.

Now, as that generation leaves us, many of the survivors are talking about what they saw and felt and endured and overcame in Europe and the Pacific.

But this is not because the survivors are more open or otherwise different from their comrades who have passed from the scene. It is just that they are older now, and the walls they erected to close off these memories have begun to crumble. The filters they imposed on themselves, perhaps not to worry the family, perhaps because they couldn't handle the memories themselves, are wearing out. And so they talk. They can't help it; they are often embarrassed by it -- and we are richer for it.

I had an uncle who was weeks -- days -- away from death from a cancer he'd battled magnificently for several years. But he found the strength to go see "Saving Private Ryan" when it premiered. We knew he'd served in Europe. Only then, though, did we find he came ashore on D-Day + 1.

We didn't learn much else. There wasn't time. "It was very accurate," he said. But he was gone before he could, or would, elaborate.

It isn't just old war stories that are lost when our ancestors go on to their rewards. It's the old family stories, too.

It is said that bloggers talk too much about too little; that there is no aspect of their ordinary lives that are not mined in numbing detail. But, as a reader of history, I can tell you that the private thoughts of observers of events give depth and color to the study of any time or place. In generations past, we had letters and diaries to provide that context. With the widespread use of the telephone, a lot of that color was lost. I can predict with some certainty that future historians will seize upon blogs like yours and mine to find out what real people felt and experienced at the turn of the 21st Century.

So talk nice.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Hollywood sues Bollywood

According to a story posted this morning by UPI Warner Bros. has sued Mirchi Movies, seeking to stop the anticipated September 12 Indian release of the motion picture, "Hari Puttar: A Comedy of Terrors."

No plot details are given in the UPI story, but this article on Rediff says that "Puttar" is about the adventures of a "10-year-old Indian boy whose family moves to England." An article by Eugene Novikov, posted Saturday on Cinematical, says any similarity starts and ends with the name: "The movie itself appears to be an action-adventure fantasy, about a resourceful kid who saves his dad's top secret computer chip from some burglars -- sort of like a modern, Indian Home Alone."

Well, speaking for myself, more work for lawyers is probably a good thing.

In the meantime, however, I may have to reconsider the proposed string of fantasy books that I've recently been plotting: My hero is Larry Otter, an otter of course, with magical powers, who befriends Don Weasel, a red-furred weasel, and Hermione the cat. Together they take on the evil Lord Hissalot, a snake, and a very evil wizard-lizard he is besides....

Why Biden?

Barack Obama has selected as his running mate a man whose own unsuccessful 2008 presidential bid was torpedoed almost as it was launched, because of an interview the candidate gave to the New York Observer. According to Jill Zuckman's article in the February 1, 2007 edition of the Chicago Tribune, Senator Joseph Biden told the Observer that Obama was "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy."

Kind of forgot about that one, eh?

When your eyes stop rolling, come back.

At the time, according to Zuckman's article, Obama said, "I didn't take Sen. Biden's comments personally, but obviously they were historically inaccurate... African-American presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton gave a voice to many important issues through their campaigns, and no one would call them inarticulate." And, of course, Biden expressed the necessary regret: "I deeply regret any offense my remark in the New York Observer might have caused anyone. That was not my intent and I expressed that to Senator Obama."

At least on that occasion, he must have expressed himself very well.

Biden's experience, particularly his chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, is being touted as the reason he was added to the ticket. Biden has been in the Senate for more than a generation -- he was bound to be the chairman of something (when his party came to power) after serving so long in a body with a seniority system that awards longevity above all.

My own suspicion is that Biden was picked because he gives the late night and cable news-comedy hosts a ready target. It's not that Senator Biden is unqualified or a real lightweight. No one could last in the Washington environment for any length of time without considerable skill and at least some substance -- I don't care how secure your base is at home. But Senator Biden has plenty of baggage that can be mined for comic gold. The comedians were starting to get squeamish about doing McCain age jokes because they were having trouble poking equal-time fun at Obama. And now?

Sit back and watch.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Russians still not out of Georgia? An update and a link to an eyewitness account

I wrote Tuesday about my concern over Russian behavior following the flare-up between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia.

I do not know, or care, necessarily, who is the aggressor or who is truly at fault. I am frightened though that the Russians agreed to a cease-fire and then, apparently, did not live up to the undertakings assumed by that agreement.

There is still serious question about Russian compliance. Mike Eckel writes in an AP story posted late this morning on Yahoo! News:
There were still questions about the extent of the Russian pullout on Friday.

Outside Poti, Russian troops were seen digging large trenches Friday morning near a bridge that provides the only access to the city. Five trucks, several armored personnel carriers and a helicopter were parked nearby. Another Russian position was seen in a wooded area outside the city.

It was not immediately clear whether those troops remained later in the day. Poti is far from any zone that Russian troops could be allowed to be in under the cease-fire.
I did come across this interesting account from a young Russian from South Ossetia, posted on Ellee Seymour's blog. But, again, it is essentially irrelevant to me, as an American, whether Georgia blundered in South Ossetia. What I want to know is will the new Russia honor solemn obligations it has made before the whole world... or has Cold War II just begun? Has the world gotten back on the road to World War III?

The initial returns aren't promising.

More on clergy child abuse and the grace of releasing a deposition

If you followed all the links through my August 12 post, about the $12.7 million payout for clergy child abuse in the Chicago Archdiocese, you would have eventually found a link to Cardinal George's deposition. I would have posted this link in my post as well, but I couldn't open and read the deposition (it's over 500 pages -- be forewarned) on my office computer even though I have Adobe Acrobat Professional 7.0 here.

My initial conclusion was that the link was defective... but I found later I could open it up at home using plain old Adobe Reader 8.1. Apparently the link requires the more recent update.

I haven't read all of the deposition yet, though I intend to. To put it mildly, it is distressing and depressing to read (in press accounts) about how persons in authority messed up time and again and how children suffered as a result.

There is one hard truth about child abuse: No one does this once. The only sure way to prevent future recurrence is to isolate the abuser -- permanently -- from all situations where he (or she) might get a child alone. The law must be allowed to run its course. That means, and should mean, jail for an abuser discovered in a timely fashion. For a person in religious life who avoids jail, because (for example) credible allegations surface too late for criminal prosecution, that means constant vigilance by his peers. Forever. And an absolute prohibition against any further assignment where children are regularly present. Family must be informed, lest the abuser turn on his own nieces or nephews for lack of any other potential victims. Is it a mark of Cain? A scarlet letter? Sure. It has to be.

And then that word... "credible." From what I've read about the Cardinal's deposition, the meaning and application of this word was a major sticking point for him.

My view is that "credibility" must not become a shield behind which a popular priest can be allowed to hide. Of course the abusing priest (or teacher or coach or boy scout leader -- this isn't just a Catholic clergy problem, you know) is charming, seemingly affable, often well-liked -- these are the very qualities that permit him to gain access to a child, and to work his will on a child when access is obtained. While no one wants to see a good man brought down by a malicious rumor, I say better a hundred good men are lost than another child abused.

That's the exact opposite of the ideal of our American criminal justice system, built as it is on a premise (handed down to us by our Founding Fathers... not the Warren Court) that it is better that a hundred guilty men go free than one innocent man is jailed.

So what should be a "credible" accusation? I'm not ready to posit a hard and fast rule. I do know that it's not 'beyond a reasonable doubt.' I do know that for any allegation -- before ever considering 'credibility' -- the civil authorities must be notified, and allowed to do their work. I know too the diocese must not simply rely on the authorities to investigate, particularly with allegations that do not surface until years after an alleged event. In our unhappy world, the civil authorities have more than enough current crime to tax their resources.

So, for the older allegations, do the names, dates and places match up? That alone may strongly support a finding of credible. Are there multiple allegations? Do additional people come forward when the first accusation is made? (This doesn't happen only once.) Rumors, hearsay, queasy feelings, all sorts of things that have no probative or evidentiary value in a court of law may be -- and should be -- taken into account in determining whether an accusation is or is not "credible."

Why would I advocate a standard so un-American and anti-legal? Because in religious life, in particular, men and women accept the authority of their bishops or religious superiors over their lives and careers. Fr. O'Malley may want to stay at St. Dominic's -- but when the Bishop says it's time to pull up stakes, off Fr. O'Malley must go. We are not punishing the accused man by pulling him out of a parish and putting him into an office or a library, under close supervision, while investigations are made; the priest is merely being obedient to his vows. His suffering and embarrassment, if unjust, may be offered up to God. And if it is warranted... well, I happen to believe his suffering will be much worse in the next life.

Will there sometimes be baseless, misguided and even intentionally malicious accusations?

It certainly is possible; ours is a sinful world.

The best protection a faithful priest has against baseless or malicious accusations is common sense... and transparency. This is nothing special: In order to be a Cub Scout leader, years ago now, I had to receive training about protecting children and protecting myself, too. The rules were of the common-sense variety: Always keep another adult close by. Never be alone with any one child. Stay visible. Keep the door open.

It's a shame, certainly: Watch "Going My Way" or "The Bells of St. Mary's" again and consider the scenes that would have to be re-imagined or deleted entirely to protect Fr. O'Malley or Sr. Mary Benedict against later allegations of abuse. But Fr. O'Malley and Sr. Mary Benedict would adapt with ease. Most -- surely the vast majority -- of our real-life priests and nuns can adapt as well. Are adapting. Have adapted. It is only the abusers who would truly chafe when common sense precautions are required.

So let's require them.

And, in the meantime, although I know I will be aggravated with Cardinal George when I read his deposition -- I may be calling for his head -- still, I am grateful for his courage in allowing the deposition to be made public. Having taken this step, I think Cardinal George might be the first to agree that whether his career founders because of his testimony is unimportant; what is important is that the Church learns... and heals.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Neither one of them, apparently, reads this blog

I refer to Messrs. Obama and McCain, our presidential candidates.

The gmail blog announced this week that the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees-to-be have agreed to share their Internet reading lists with the denizens of the Blogospher. Thus... Senator McCain's "Google Reader shared items" and also Senator Obama's.

I searched both sites in vain for a reference to Second Effort... and was disappointed not to find any, though not surprised.

Specific articles are culled and made available on these "shared items" sites. Oddly enough, those featured on Senator Obama's praise his campaign, while those featured on Senator McCain's favor his. As this is written, for example, the lead article on Obama's shared items site comes from the Martinsville (Va.) Bulletin website... a paper that is probably not a daily read for the Illinois senator.

On the other hand, the items in the right hand columns of the sites -- though no doubt also selected by their respective staffs -- may provide a sliver of insight into their respective views of the world: The Wall Street Journal is on both sites, as is ESPN (Disney will be pleased)... but Fox News, the Drudge Report and are listed only on Senator McCain's. The Daily Kos, the Washington Post and the New York Times (genuflection optional) are only found on Senator Obama's list.

Both McCain and Obama feature their hometown papers and hometown teams -- and I was pleased to note that Senator Obama (an open and notorious White Sox fan) provides a link to the official Pale Hose site... but not to the Cubs. Senator McCain also provides a link to his daughter Meghan's blog.

I have to wonder, though, whether either Senator Obama or Senator McCain actually find time during their whirlwind days to browse the Internet.

Somehow, I kind of doubt it.

Curmudgeon gains -- and loses -- "man cred"

Younger Daughter informs me that young men in their late teens and early 20s do not buy 'nice' clothing unescorted.

Nice, in this context, means shirts with actual collars and pants bearing neither a "swoosh" (or equivalent logo) nor a drawstring.

Such clothes are to be chosen by the young man's mother or by the young man's girlfriend.

Middle Son (who did survive his 21st birthday, by the way) was in general accord with this assessment. Both he and Younger Daughter assured me, by way of example, that Oldest Son's mysterious girlfriend undoubtedly selects all of his 'nice' clothes.

I was skeptical. Oldest Son tolerates stores the way most people tolerate root canal without anesthesia. Still... he has been almost human in his dealings with us we first learned of the young lady's existence. I was forced to acknowledge that this might possibly be true.

This conversation with Younger Daughter and Middle Son arose because of expedition that day to buy some 'nice' things for school. He has no steady girlfriend (that we know of) and Long Suffering Spouse (to her eternal credit) does not think of shopping as entertainment. My wife had absolutely no intention of buying something for Middle Son at which he might turn up his nose and (quite unlike the girlfriend situation, as you must expect) the young man can never, under any circumstances be seen shopping with his mother.

It was therefore Younger Daughter accompanied Middle Son on this outing and selected the 'nice' things from stores like "Express" or "AĆ©ropostale." (In doing so, Younger Daughter both violated, and in a broader sense, validated and expanded upon, the rule she had explained to me.) Younger Daughter was particularly amused that, at one store, the young (male) sales assistant was altogether too willing to attend to Middle Son's needs. He hovered by the changing room, offering to bring in different styles or sizes.

Middle Son came out of the dressing room at one point, ostensibly to obtain his sister's opinion on a particular item... but his real purpose was to hiss at her, "Don't leave me." Younger Daughter had wanted to check out the women's fashions, but she found this predicament sufficiently amusing to induce her to stay.

Ultimately Middle Son selected a pair of jeans without holes. This point was particularly emphasized by Younger Daughter, who appeared to be slightly scandalized by it.

I thought it must be patently obvious that new pants must be purchased without holes and said so. "Besides," I asked, "if you just needed jeans, why didn't you just go to KMart?"

This -- I learned later -- boosted my "man cred" considerably in the eyes of my children.

But I only learned it... when I lost it... which I did later that same evening.

It was Gene Kelly night on Turner Classic Movies and somewhere after the five millionth showing of "An American in Paris" and the eight millionth showing of "Singing in the Rain" came "Cover Girl," a Gene Kelly musical I'd never seen. Co-starring Rita Hayworth. And a young Phil Silvers.

Why, Phil Silvers was so young he had hair on the top of his head. Some of it may have actually been his.

Naturally, I had to watch.

Not only did I watch, I enjoyed the movie.

Middle Son and Younger Daughter were quite disapproving. Whatever "man cred" I had gained in my KMart remark, they told me, was, because of this movie selection, irretrievably lost.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Russians play a dangerous game in Georgia

(Ben Sargent cartoon obtained from Yahoo! Comics.)

I was tempted to poke fun, a la Mr. Sargent's cartoon above, at our American ignorance of geography by doing a post like... Russians invade Georgia. South Carolina next?

But there's nothing funny about what Russia is doing now.

Russia can make a case before the world for reacting to what amounted to a Georgian invasion of the disputed South Ossetia area. True, South Ossetia has been a part of Georgia... so, in a sense, to say Georgia 'invaded' South Ossetia by sending troops in would be like saying the United States invades Montana if we send troops there. On the other hand, only 20 years ago both Georgia and Russia were part of the U.S.S.R. -- the borders between them are new and, arguably, fluid.

What if much of the population of Montana were ethnic Canadians, clamoring to be reunited with the mother country, eh? American troop movements into Montana -- trying to round up pro-Canadian separatists -- might not look so benign to Canada under those circumstances, would it? And if Canada were big and strong and America small and weak... would it be a huge surprise if Canada sent troops in to the disputed area?

Russia can even make a case for plunging into undisputed Georgian territory after its counterstrike began. I can hear John Wayne now: They may have started this, but we aim to finish it.

So Russia invaded -- or Russia launched a counterstrike in response to a Georgian invasion -- take your pick -- and the world reacted with shock and outrage. American diplomats went to Tbilisi and the French President went to Moscow, both urging a cease-fire. Both Russia and Georgia accepted the cease-fire.

But, now, apparently, Russia is not honoring the cease-fire. There have been reports that Russian troops are not only not leaving Georgian soil, they are moving further into the country.

The Russian move in support of Russian separatists in South Ossetia may have been calculated to send a message to other Russian neighbors (Ukraine and Poland in particular): Don't get too cozy with the United States. We can still crush you. We will not allow ourselves to be surrounded by potential enemies.

This message, if paranoid, is an arguably legitimate message for Russia to send.

But failing to honor the Georgian cease-fire does not underscore that message. Rather, it sends a different and far more chilling message: We can not be trusted to keep our word. We will expand again, on our own timetable, and we will not be deterred by the mere protests of other nations.

It's the message Hitler sent several times before World War II.

Is the Russian Bear trying to start World War III?

Heads or Tails #52 -- Heads or Tails

What? Deja vu all over again? No, my fellow Blogospherians, it's a special time today at Heads or Tails, the weekly meme brought to you by Barb: It's Week #52 and that means today is Heads or Tails' first birthday. So Happy Birthday, Heads or Tails, and welcome to the party. If you'd care to read prior Heads or Tails entries on this blog, simply click the "Heads or Tails" label at the bottom of this post.

Be advised, however, that should you actually do so, we may have to deny you further servings of birthday punch.

Birthdays are very much on my mind this morning because today happens to also be Middle Son's 21st birthday.

He's the youngest senior on his college baseball team and I'm very nervous.

He intends to celebrate tonight... and into the wee small hours tomorrow... and a great many people have promised to assist him in his passage from illegal drinking in taverns on a forged ID... er, from, adolescence to adulthood.

He is expected to vomit.

Read that sentence again (if you're not eating).

Granted -- I have been known to indulge from time to time, and occasionally to excess. When I was his age I indulged indulgently. I have no bluenose pretensions. Nor would I deny Middle Son his revels -- as long as neither he nor anyone in his party is driving (and I've been assured they will not be).

But, please, setting out for an evening's entertainment with a view toward throwing up as some sort of goal strikes me as wrong, wrong, wrong. And stupid.

And dangerous.

Then, today, on the front page of the Chicago Tribune we learn that the presidents of roughly 100 of some of the best-known colleges and universities are suggesting that the drinking age be lowered from 21 to 18.

They point out that the age limit is ignored, particularly in and around college campuses.

When the drinking age went from 19 to 21 in Illinois, about 30 years ago, one of the arguments offered in favor of the change (aside from the fact that Federal government was mandating it, holding highway funds as a hostage) was that the new, higher limit would help keep booze out of the high schools... but it wasn't really intended to interfere much with the college kids.

I personally do not believe we should ever pass a law we do not want or intend to really enforce. It breeds cynicism and contempt for all laws.

The college presidents also point out that they have problems with "binge drinking." With kids deliberately setting out to get totally #$%!-faced. Wasted. Bombed. I believe the learned academics are suggesting that kids hiding in the shadows, downing copious amounts of alcohol in a few moments, hoping to avoid detection is worse than openly drinking, legally, in taverns or other places that may be licensed and regulated and watched.

I think they're right.

When I was just a little kid, my late father used to offer me the occasional sip of beer or, if he was having it, a little wine with dinner. He wanted, he said, to "take the mystery" out of alcohol. I don't know if it worked, necessarily. After all, I did drink heavily in college and law school.

On the other hand... maybe it did work to this extent: Although it sometimes happened, I never set out on a spree with an intention to get sick.

It will be a subdued birthday celebration tonight at the Curmudgeon home. Middle Son is staying on campus tonight. I'll be anxiously waiting to hear from him tomorrow morning.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Back to School

"Was he excited?" Long Suffering Spouse asked.

I had just accompanied Youngest Son to school on his first day of sophomore year. Youngest Son drove. He has to accumulate 50 hours of time driving with a parent before he can get his license. Most of these hours will be obtained 15 minutes at a time, just like this morning.

"He did comment that there was a lot more traffic than he'd seen when we'd made this trip before," I told her. There are a lot more cars on the road at 6:45 a.m. on Monday than at 7:15 a.m. on Sunday.

"It's not the same, is it?" sighed Long Suffering Spouse. She was getting ready for her first day of school today, too. Classes at the grammar school where she teaches don't begin until next Monday, but there are meetings and seminars and all sorts of other command performances on the docket for this week.

"I remember when each kid was so excited to start school... and the next younger one would cry about being left alone," she said.

"Left out of the limelight, you mean."

"Well, that too." But Long Suffering Spouse was not going to let me puncture her sentimental moment. "By next Monday only Youngest Son will be at home," she sighed. "I'm going to miss them."

"Oh, sure," I said. No one to wake us up when they stomp up the stairs at 1:30 a.m. No one to leave the fans on all night when they're supposed to be turned off. Fewer glasses and plates to pick up in the morning --"

At this point I notice that I was getting the Death Glare. Long Suffering Spouse was not pleased that my attitude was so far out of alignment with hers. I apologized at once.

Then the phone rang. It was Older Daughter.

Older Daughter holds a degree in English from the University of Illinois. I contributed substantially to that enterprise. I told her, as I've told each of her siblings in turn, that she had eight semesters to do with as she pleased, to study what she wanted -- but, unfortunately, I could not contribute anything to her education beyond that point.

Naturally, Older Daughter did not believe me.

She took her degree in English and, somewhere around the end of that eighth semester, discovered that English majors are not highly recruited on campus. There are no signing bonuses for English majors.

So here were are, two years down the road, and Older Daughter has gone back to school. There are certain fields towards which English majors gravitate. Law, for instance.

But Older Daughter has selected nursing.

The good news is that she will find work if she completes the program. The bad news is that none of her hard-won mastery of the themes of Jane Austen or Geoffrey Chaucer satisfy any of the prerequisites of a nursing program. She may be able to explain iambic pentameter, but that won't help her start an IV.

So Older Daughter is working part-time at a Starbucks and studying chemistry and anatomy. She is also borrowing money like a Third World nation.

At the height of our current national credit crunch, this is not particularly easy. Banks have responded to their own irresponsibility in giving home loans to anyone who could hold a pen long enough to sign the papers by cutting out nearly all student loans.

No, I don't see the connection either. But there it is.

Today's crisis concerned a blemish on Older Daughter's credit report concerning a telephone company. The account allegedly has her name and social security number associated with it -- so naturally she was calling to accuse Long Suffering Spouse and me of not paying our bills.

I was so glad that Long Suffering Spouse took the call.

But it shattered her mood. Doubly chastened now, I tried to recapture the moment. "Yes," I said, improvising freely, "I remember those first days of school. The excitement over the new backpack. The crying on the way to school."

"But I always stopped, didn't I?" asked Long Suffering Spouse.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Indifferent to the Olympics... but feeling only sort of guilty about it

(Brewster Rockit comic found at Click to enlarge.)

I gather that a lot of people are enthralled with the Olympics, not just in the United States, but around the world.

But not me.

I appreciate that these are superb and dedicated athletes... but they're mostly engaged in sports that I don't follow, don't understand, and won't see again for four years even if I suddenly got interested. Let's face it: Does anyone really understand the gymnastics scoring system? Do the gymnasts?

Some guy named Phelps may break the record of seven gold medals won by Mark Spitz at the 1972 Munich Olympics. I hope he does. Spitz got a Wheaties box, as I recall. Phelps will probably get much more... and probably deserve all of it.

But I just can't get worked up about it.

Neil Steinberg writes in this morning's Sun-Times that the "best thing that can be said about the Olympics is that it's better than war. But the underlying principle -- my country beats yours -- is the same."

That reminds me -- has NBC done a feature on how the Georgian athletes are getting on with the Russian athletes in the Beijing Olympic Village these days?

Still, I don't want to sound too mean-spirited or snarky about the Olympics.... I'm from Chicago and Chicago is, as you may know, one of the four finalist "candidate cities" for the 2016 Olympics.

I'm not certain whether I'm enthusiastic about the bid either. But it certainly would be interesting if Chicago gets the nod. A lot of people will make a lot of money off of it, that much is certain. Who knows? Maybe the trough will be so full the some crumbs will spill down to the rest of us here....

In fact, following the money trail would be an Olympic sport about which I could become truly enthused....

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Chicago Archdiocese pays $12.7 million to settle child abuse cases

That's the headline this afternoon on the Chicago Tribune website.

And I do not begrudge the victims of these crimes one shiny red cent. I hope the money helps them heal. I hope it helps them find peace. But I hope you can understand that I'm extremely angry about this, too.

Because it's not an impersonal "Archdiocese" paying out these millions -- it's folks like me and my neighbors who put an envelope in the basket every week at Mass.

Because it's not just something that happened long ago that we didn't understand or just found out about: At least some of the millions paid today are paid to victims of Daniel McCormack, who was sentenced to five years in jail just last summer after pleading guilty to abusing five boys between the ages of 8 and 12 between 2001 and 2006. Eric Herman and Susan Hogan/Albach reported in the July 3, 2007 edition of the Chicago Sun-Times about the plea, including a statement by Assistant State's Attorney Kathleen Muldoon that, with one victim, the abuse occurred "on nearly a daily basis" between September 2005 and January 2006.

Columnist Michael Sneed reported, in that same July 3, 2007 edition of the Sun-Times that she had heard "rumbles" that McCormack "reportedly vacationed several times with a top religious honcho in the Chicago archdiocese while complaints against him were being probed."


And, to make matters worse, that July 3 article by Eric Herman and Susan Hogan/Albach reported that "archdiocese spokeswoman Colleen Dolan said the perception of McCormack's crimes was worse than the reality. The priest admitted he pulled down the pants and fondled the genitals of five boys, but prosecutors never accused him of sexual assault, or rape."

If that doesn't get your blood boiling, you have no blood at all: Thank God it wasn't rape... but are we -- or the victims -- to find comfort in this? The reality is awful, inexcusable and horrific.

And the worst part is, there were warning signs and red flags galore concerning McCormack. Susan Hogan/Albach's November 14, 2007 follow up article for the Sun-Times reports that officials at Mundelein Seminary were made aware of sexual misconduct allegations against McCormack in 1992, before he was ordained "involving two adult males and a minor."

But the then-rector of the Mundelein Seminary went ahead and approved McCormack's ordination. Hogan/Albach interviewed the former rector, now Tuscon Bishop Gerald Kicanas, for the November article. Even knowing about McCormack's conviction, Bishop Kicanas still defended the decision to ordain McCormack. He said it would have been "grossly unfair not to have ordained him" because the allegations against McCormack were not "credible." (Kicanas did say there was concern about McCormack's drinking and he was 'referred to counseling for this problem.' Wonderful.)

In addition to his duties in Tuscon, Kicanas is now Vice President of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops.

As a Catholic, I'm inclined to take the long view: The Church survived the Renaissance Popes... it can survive the current plague of child abusers. But the abusers must be ruthlessly extirpated, root and stem and branch and leaves. Along with everyone else (of whatever rank or dignity) who looked the other way or who knew or should have known.

In announcing the settlement today, Cardinal George apologized again, to the victims and to the Church in Chicago. But more apologies just won't do. Not any more.

In one sense, some of the money we've kicked in each Sunday to the Church has been allocated toward healing victims of abuse. That's a good thing. But, in another and very real sense, that same money has been used to underwrite and smooth over, even subsidize, the abusers' criminal lifestyle.

This can't be allowed to continue.

Heads or Tails #51 -- Supply

Yes, ladies and gentlemen of the Blogosphere, it's time once again for Heads or Tails, the weekly meme brought to you by Barb. Actually, it was also time for Heads or Tails last Tuesday, too. But -- if you'll skim down the page -- you'll see that, lately, I've not supplied as many posts as usual. And I'm still not billing eight hours a day.... You'd think I'd do better....

I am abundantly supplied with what I don't need. Bills? I got plenty. Sales calls? A constantly interrupting stream. (And, yes, I've placed my numbers on the "Do Not Call" list. That worked for awhile... but someone has obviously discovered a loophole.)

But patience? My supply is short and, when I need it most, often nonexistent. I would like to construct a shelf for it somewhere, where I might lay in a goodly supply. Storage, however, seems an issue. No one seems to know how to keep it.

If I could keep patience available, I'd keep some in the desk at work... maybe a can of it for the car... and good size box in the kitchen pantry. Wouldn't it be nice to carry some around like sore throat lozenges? If I saw someone on the street who had lost their patience, I could offer some of mine.

But I've got to figure out how to keep it first.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Change of season(s)

Are you old enough to remember when Labor Day was the start of Fall?

I've noticed, from my lurking in the Blogosphere, that school seems to start earlier in the South than it does here in Chicago -- I gather that a lot of kids are already back to school there.


But even in Chicago, the start of school is creeping up the calendar, squeezing out the Dog Days. Youngest Son starts football practice -- officially -- this week. Classes start next week. And boxes and bags are already starting to accumulate in the living room as the collegians prepare to move out. Two weeks from now Middle Son and Younger Daughter will both be in class.

It seems like only yesterday we were watching baseball.

Actually... it was Saturday. Middle Son pitched a complete game on Saturday afternoon, giving up only two unearned runs. (He seems genuinely puzzled why Long Suffering Spouse and I try and get to his Summer games. The ones in the "Spring" -- you know, when it's 40 degrees and the light drizzle is mixed with snow flakes -- are more important. But we can get to games played on the weekend in the Chicago area... games played in Wisconsin on a Tuesday afternoon, for example, are another matter entirely.)

In the time of Julius Caesar the Roman calendar had drifted months out of sync with the actual seasons. Caesar reformed the calendar to realign the seasons with the appropriate months; his reformed calendar worked well enough until Pope Gregory XIII added the refinements we still use today.

It is no longer the calendar that is out of alignment with the seasons... we are.

Friday, August 08, 2008

A sports memory (sort of) in honor of the start of the Olympics

Which -- after you cut through all the politics and corporate sponsorships -- is sort of a sports event.

But come with me now in the Wayback Machine to August 8, 1988 -- 20 years ago today -- for a special moment in baseball history.

Yes, today is the 20th anniversary of the first scheduled night game in the history of Wrigley Field.

Now, of course, we're all White Sox fans here in the Curmudgeon household, so you may well wonder why a moment in Cub history is significant for us.

If you'll let me proceed, Your Honor, I can tie this up.

By August 8, 1988 Oldest Son was already 3 and already a diehard baseball fan. And when I got home from work that evening he was already sporting his new PJs -- OK, they were from the hospital secondhand store where my mother volunteered -- but they looked like a baseball uniform.

And Oldest Son was quite pleased with the getup. Not only was it a reasonable facsimile of a baseball uniform, it was emblazoned with the name and logo of....

... wait for it...

the Philadelphia Phillies.

On August 8, 1988, the Chubbies were scheduled to play the Philadelphia Phillies in the first ever night game at Wrigley Field. The game was rained out after 3½ innings.

You could look it up.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Furnishing Younger Daughter's dorm room

Younger Daughter will be leaving for college in a couple of weeks. I played hooky from work a couple of days ago and wound up accompanying Younger Daughter and Long Suffering Spouse to the local mall on a procurement expedition. Now I know what the modern girl absolutely needs for the dorm.

You already know, I suppose, about the extra long sheets. Some day I would like to meet the wretch that sold every college in the country on the idea that all dorm beds must be "extra long twin."

This -- for the few of you who don't know -- is a size that exists nowhere else. That means we dumb parents must buy new sheets every time we send a kid off to school -- because nothing in the linen closet at home will fit.

Yes, I would really like to know how much money this Bedsheet Barnum laid out to get all the colleges to buy into this travesty. Of this much I am certain: If this person also sells sheets (and of course he or she must), he or she never had to trifle with FAFSA forms or other college loans.

But new bedsheets aren't enough for the modern girl contemplating college dorm life. One must surely have a comforter -- a big, bulky cross between a blanket and a down coat.

There is one small problem: The typical dorm room is large enough for Student A and Student B, two extra long twin beds, two desks, maybe two dressers or maybe two closets. Seldom is a room large enough to have both dressers and closets. There is a community bathroom somewhere down the hall. If you're lucky, it's restricted to members of a single gender, at least after visiting hours.

Dorm room beds are frequently bunked because, otherwise, Student A might have to crawl over Student B to obtain access to the room's door... and escape to the bathroom.

In the middle of the night, this can be quite disconcerting.

With the beds bunked, Student A and Student B can sit at their desks, facing away from each other, the backs of their chairs just touching. If they raise their respective arms, both scholars can touch both the bunk beds and front wall of the room.

If either of them wants to pull out a comforter, the other better plan on going to the library. Or home for the weekend. There just isn't room for all of them.

I tried to explain all this the other day to Younger Daughter. I tried. And I was ignored. And Long Suffering Spouse overruled me: We therefore acquired a hideous, loudly striped comforter, the dominant color of which is a garish neon pink. Extra long twin, of course.

But we had only just begun.

Younger Daughter is lobbying for a television in her room. I say if she wants to watch television at night she can just stay home and look for a job.

I've won this battle. Temporarily.

But it turns out that this seeming victory was really a tactical defeat: While I was fulminating against a TV, Younger Daughter had intrigued Long Suffering Spouse on the idea of a microwave.

Younger Daughter sneakily appealed to Long Suffering Spouse's problem-solving abilities. The dorm, apparently, has restrictions on the size and power consumption of microwave ovens. Once Long Suffering Spouse accepted the challenge of finding a device meeting these specifications she would no longer consider whether a microwave was necessary.

Fathers of the world, hear me! We are paying for dorm food. Three meals a day, even on weekends. There is no need at all for a microwave -- but Younger Daughter now has one of these, too.

But the real capper came when Long Suffering Spouse and Younger Daughter picked out a set of dishes.

"A set of dishes?" I bellowed. "Will you be hosting dinner parties in your room?"

I went on in this vein for some time, quite persuasively, I thought.

But I persuaded only myself: We bought the dishes, too, and I was taken home, so that Younger Daughter and Long Suffering Spouse could continue their quest to acquire more stuff for the dorm without any further interruption.

Friday, August 01, 2008

McCain commercials use the wrong woman

You may have read about or seen the new McCain commercial that uses images of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton to emphasize that Barack Obama is a "celebrity" -- the biggest celebrity in the world, the ad says... but is he ready to lead? (You can watch the commercial, at least for now, by following the link to the Huffington Post.)

With all due respect to Senator McCain, whether Senator Obama is or is not "ready" is of no moment in this election. McCain's commercial is irrelevant. His campaign is irrelevant. As far as Obama is concerned, Senator McCain is not even a candidate in this election.

Barack Obama is running against George Bush.

And, if he's still running against George Bush in November, Obama will win. Hands down.

Any Democrat would win with this strategy. Zippy the Wonder Horse would win. Even I could win such a race -- and I'm not in Zippy the Wonder Horse's league.

So... in the interest of making things more competitive, let me suggest that Senator McCain stop running images of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears in his commercials and start running images of... Hillary Clinton.

And not just images, either. Footage.

There's plenty of footage of Hillary bashing Obama -- saying he's not ready to lead, that he's untested, that he's been anointed as the media's darling without having first been 'vetted'....

Throw in some footage from her husband, too. The South Carolina stuff. Before Hillary's handlers hustled him off the main campaign trail. In fact... McCain's media people should start looking the video from those backwaters to which Bill was dispatched in the later stages of Hillary's campaign -- surely McCain had someone dogging him 24/7, right? There are probably some true gems there.

Let the Clintons bash Obama.

In the meantime, while running Clinton clips, Senator McCain can try and make the larger point that he's running against the Democratic Party, not against Sen. Obama individually. He has to make the point that Obama is a creature of his party, beholden to his party, and when if Obama is elected, we will get all of them, too. Even the Clintons. And every crazy, regulation-loving apologist for the nanny state that goes along with the Democratic line.

The Democrats can't really fight back too well on this line. Right now, of course, they are calling McCain the stalking horse for GWB's third term and so forth... but only because McCain has not challenged this. Yet, McCain can credibly make a distinction between his own maverick career, often at odds with his own party, and Obama's career... which has never strayed an inch from the party line. He really hasn't had the time to stake out any major differences, even if he wanted to. When the Obama camp links McCain to Karl Rove, McCain can take refuge behind fawning clippings from, of all things, the New York Times (genuflection optional).

Is this negative campaigning?

Yes. But it's going to get negative anyway. We might as well have it negative and competitive.