Sunday, December 30, 2007

Luminary Christmas

Was just talking about this with someone and remembered I'd seen it on a Miller Lite commercial a couple of years ago. You may remember it as the dancing lights set to "Wizards in Winter" by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I found it on - where else - YouTube, otherwise known as the Black Hole of Spare Time.
Check it out, complete with a detailed explanation of the background behind the display.
Gives me some ideas for my own Christmas light decorating ... none of which I'll do, but ideas nonetheless.

Oh, and for anyone who doesn't share in the whole "Christmas spirit" thing, there's one of my new favorite blogs, Tacky Christmas Yards. My favorite is titled "Hunting Season."

Feliz navidad.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mitchell report little more than gossip

Former Sen. George Mitchell (D-Maine) released to the media today his report on the use of steroids in baseball. His report named 86 current and former players who allegedly used performance-enhancing substances over the past 15-20 years; 55 current, 13 MVPs, 8 Cy Young award winners (seven of which came from Roger Clemens).

The 409-page report relied on testimony of people such as former New York Mets clubhouse attendant named Kirk Radomski, who got pinched in April for money laundering and distribution of steroids. Radomski received checks written by New York Yankees personal trainer Brian McNamee, who claimed in Mitchell's report to have personally injected Clemens and fellow pitcher Andy Pettitte with performance-enhancers. Clemens, naturally, vehemently denies McNamee's assertion.

That Clemens will now have his name linked to Barry Bonds - whose name also appeared in the report, to no one's surprise - is to scar him with the accusation that he cheated. He may have, may not have, we simply don't know. But now he's forced to prove a negative; that he didn't do something.

Sports media are already asking the obligatory question of whether Clemens and/or Bonds should get into the Hall of Fame. That their names have been released as being part of baseball's Steroid Era, lacking any proof, could be baseball's version of McCarthyism.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Lambeau leaps, lands on Raiders

Greatness past ... and present.

Dave (FSU jacket) and Bubba (Raider gear) find themselves among friendly Packer fans just before the Cheeseheads laid the wood to their Raiders on Dec. 9.

Went to the Green Bay Packers' trouncing of the Oakland Raiders on Sunday at Lambeau Field. Great time; 20 degrees, sunny (at the start), no wind, Lambeau Leaps at both ends of the stadium by the time it was all over, and a couple of buddies of mine who are big Raider fans.
Green Bay improved to 6-4 - including five straight - over the Raiders, who have played so poorly the last five seasons their logo has asked for a patch over its other eye too.

I decided to compile a bit of a storehouse of info on the Packers-Raiders "rivalry". Found a great site for all types of FB stats and such in the process:

Year, Winner, Score, Site
2007, Green Bay 38-7, Green Bay
2003, Green Bay 41-7, Oakland
1999, Green Bay 28-24, Green Bay
1993, Green Bay 28-0, Green Bay
1990, Green Bay 29-16, Los Angeles
1987, Raiders 20-0, Green Bay
1984, Raiders 28-7, Los Angeles
1978, Raiders 28-3, Green Bay
1972, Raiders 20-14, Green Bay
1968, Green Bay 33-14, Super Bowl II (We in Packerland would like to thank Raider Nation for allowing the Super Bowl championship award to be named the Vince Lombardi Trophy.)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

For the Packers, Big D stands for 'dump'

Well, the latest Game of the Century has come and gone, with the Packers falling to Dallas (*sigh* again), this time 37-27. They "fall" to 10-2, while Dallas remains 11-1 and in command of the NFC. While it's disappointing, it should ease the sting to imagine that few could've envisioned the Packers being 10-2 at this point in the season.

The Packers were without an injured Charles Woodson, an outstanding cover corner, and situational pass-rush specialist Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (as well as a couple of defensive linemen who make up a very deep rotation).

But you can't commit 9 penalties for 142 yards (!) and expect to be considered a serious Super Bowl contender.

Yes, the Packers got jobbed on what should've been an interception when Al Harris stripped Terrell Owens, but Harris also grabbed a gift INT in the end zone later in the game when Owens went butterfingers on a pass. The O did nothing with it.

And I lost track of all the pass interference penalties they got nailed for, as well as the 15-yard facemasks.

That was just plain stupid, undisciplined football. Not the stuff of a 10-1 team.

The game could mark the end of an era, as Brett Favre left the game (his 249th consecutive regular-season start) in the second quarter with an elbow injury. He got sacked by backup CB Nathan Jones, who blitzed off the Packers' slot and had a clear shot at Favre, who whacked his elbow on Jones' helmet. Favre admitted in his presser that he'd also separated his left (non-throwing) shoulder on the play. It's similar to an injury he suffered last season, from which he returned in a week, but nerves are funny things, so we'll have to see. Nerve problems ended Dan Marino's career. At least Favre has 10 days before getting another crack at embarrassing the Oakland Raiders, a game I'll be attending with Bubba.

The most competitive atmosphere of the night may not have been in Dallas but in Wausau as people scrambled to find someplace that was A.) showing the game and B.) not so jampacked with people that it was exceeding fire-code capacity up to two hours before kickoff.

It was another NFL Network game, which means real fans couldn't watch it on Charter because the cable system and the NFL can't decide whose greed should override the other's. (NFLN wants it on Charter's basic tier, while Charter wants to put it on a special pay tier.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Soldier's Last Ride

People often speak of things that have moved them. Sometimes it's a song. To others, it's a well-crafted speech, delivered so impeccably that to change a word would be to change a note in a Mozart concerto.

To me, it can just as often be the written word. While there are few things that move me like the sheer strength of vibrato brought forth like a flood from the guttural depths of a man or woman blessed with the gift of song, there is simply nothing that manipulates the imagination like perfectly crafted prose.

It's such verse that makes us physically feel the sunny chill of the autumn air at a Saturday afternoon football game at some high school in Manitowoc. Can make us hear the din of voices familiar and new that surround us in a cocoon of warmth at a dinner table. Can make us feel the pain anew of a love unrequited. Or can make us relive the glorious moments of our firstborn son's first cry.

Rob Kaiser wrote such a column for the Post-Crescent of Appleton, Wis. It was about a dead soldier but yet, so much more. It was appropriately titled, "Soldier makes his final trip home."

Kaiser described everything that would've seemed so mundane on any other November day. But through every detail - the mileage on the hearse, the rain droplets attacking the windshield, the sob of a mother whose son will never again experience those mundane redundancies - Kaiser makes us realize this without saying it. Of all people, Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish once said of writing a beautiful song that you can say it's raining without saying it's raining.

While Kaiser could have seized the stage to spew forth any pro- or anti-war screed and had it taken to heart by those who agreed with it, he didn't. Nor did he point out to us that each of these details he pointed out to us was something we the living would experience in his stead.

He left it to us.

Just like the soldier's death leaves it to those left behind to cope with why. And how. And what now.

Without further adieu, I give you Rob Kaiser's account of a soldier's final ride:

Soldier makes his final trip home

A bit of ceremony, tears mark Neenah welcome for fallen Sgt. McDonald

MILWAUKEE -- First out of the cargo hold of Midwest Airlines Flight 305 was a baby stroller, then a child's car seat.

And then, slowly, through the labored machinations of a team of airline employees in orange vests, there emerged one end of a long white crate.

"That's it right there," Robert Karrmann said softly as he stared at the strange cargo through the rain-beaded windshield of the hearse he had driven onto the tarmac at General Mitchell International Airport.

Inside the crate was a casket: that containing the remains of Sgt. James W. McDonald, the Neenah native who was found dead the morning of Nov. 12 in his barracks at Fort Hood, Texas.

The final leg of McDonald's final trip home had begun.

In a shiny black Cadillac hearse with 70,000 miles on it, Karrmann drove McDonald's body Saturday afternoon from Milwaukee through the lonely brown sprawl of rural Wisconsin to Neenah, the town where he grew up, and, where, early this week, he will be buried. The two-hour trip under dull milky skies traversed the two worlds of Sgt. McDonald, who was at once a military man and the boy next door — "Our Own American Hero," as one welcoming banner read, but also, still and always, Little Jim from Irene Street.

Though McDonald didn't die in Iraq (the Army has not said how he died, so even his family doesn't know), his death and homecoming have brought the war to Neenah, which has had no problem taking the measure of McDonald and finding him a hero even though he didn't die in action.

Joan McDonald considers her son McDonald a casualty of war.

"Oh, so much," she said.

"Yes," McDonald's sister Jennifer added fiercely.

The family is awaiting a toxicology report, Joan McDonald said. Her son was taking a variety of medications because of a head injury suffered in a roadside blast in Iraq. "But even if it ends up being the medication, he wouldn't have been taking all that if he hadn't been injured," she said.

Not knowing doesn't really bother her — at least for now.

"Until this is over, I don't care," she said.

Saturday all that mattered was getting her son back where he belonged.

The homecoming of Sgt. McDonald, past fallow fields and silos and woods dotted orange with gun hunters stalking deer, was planned carefully.

Saturday morning as Karrmann waited for the family to arrive at the Westgor Funeral Home in Neenah so the procession could leave for the Milwaukee airport, he prepared for the long trip by sipping black coffee. The hearse, a rental from a local livery costing $125 for the day, waited outside as a gentle snow fell.

Karrmann, a short, slight man with an angular face, green eyes and short graying hair grooved with comb marks, shrugged on his black suit coat and parted the blinds with his hand to look outside.

"Well, looks like we have some interesting weather," he said.

The driver from Captain's Limousine Service who would take to the airport McDonald's family — parents, grandparents and sisters - drove up in a long black Hummer. He wore a black bow tie and a jacket with his name, David, embroidered over the right breast.

Karrmann was glad the Hummer was black. "I thought it was going to be white, but it's perfect that it's black. It matches."

What it matched was the hearse, which Karrmann calls "the coach."

The coach, which would be McDonald's last ride, was plush. The interior of the hearse was dark blue, the seats leather and supple and soft, the dashboard a shiny wood veneer.

Inside, the hearse smelled like leather. It smelled clean, too; the livery service makes sure it delivers these things freshly washed.

Finally, the family arrived and the procession left the funeral home.

As Karrmann steered the hearse out from under the canopy at the front of the funeral home, tiny snowflakes settled lightly on the windshield, turning to water and beading up on the glass. Karrmann turned on the wipers. The hearse was quiet on the road. The turn signal ticked like a metronome.

They headed down Church Street, the little flags on the front of the hearse snapping with ever more urgency. One of the flags was the American flag. The other was for the Army. The hearse passed the rail yard and turned onto Cleveland Street, where the procession stopped to pick up McDonald's grandparents at their little beige wood-frame house.

Karrmann, whose leg sometimes bounces anxiously as he's waiting for traffic to pass so he can turn, has been a funeral director for more than 10 years - ever since bailing out of the restaurant business, where being a manager sometimes required working 110-hour weeks. But this is different, what he's doing today. He's not handled a military funeral before.

"The notes, the notes, the notes," he said.

But there was also something else — a certain feeling.

At 12:05 p.m., Karrmann arrived at the airport. The plane was due in at 12:47.

Waiting on the tarmac behind the wheel of the hearse, Karrmann glanced over his right shoulder to see if the back of the coach was clean. The floor in the back was polished wood. The walls and ceiling were the same dark blue leather as is in the front.

Karrmann looked at his watch. 12:48.

"Here it comes," he said. A royal-blue jet pulled into view, turning left toward the jetway.

Karrmann and the hearse faced the white nose of the plane head-on, as did the limo sitting on the tarmac next to the hearse.

Karrmann got out. A Midwest employee approached him sheepishly. Sgt. McDonald's last plane ride had not been prepaid. Somebody owed the airline more than $400.

The white crate appeared as a woman in the plane peered down from a window.

Midwest employees cut the black nylon straps and lifted the crate. Sgt. 1st Class Toni Kaiser and Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Theal, wearing their Class A dress greens, fought the cold, stiff wind to drape the casket with an American flag as Joan McDonald sobbed, a hand to her mouth.

And then Midwest employees helped Kaiser, Theal and Karrmann lift the casket into the hearse for the ride home.

On the way, the rain turned to snow turned to sleet turned to rain. An urban industrial landscape gave way to sprawling fields and rolling hills and woods and billboards. The pale gray road rushed back and under the hood of the hearse, the dotted white line coming on forever.

When the procession arrived in Neenah, local firefighters and police joined the procession from a staging area at the old Big Lots, just off Exit 131 from U.S. 41.

Karrmann drove in front of the McDonald's little wood frame house on Irene Street, where about 50 friends and family lined the curb to greet the hearse. Many wept. Some saluted. A small child pressed his face to the window of a brick house.

The procession passed over a train, which wailed as it moved slowly west. And then it arrived at the funeral home.

After the casket was rolled inside, Karrmann stood still, blinking.

In the funeral director's eye stood a tear.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

GOP: The Greatest of All Time?

Found a USAToday/Gallup poll that asked people who they thought was the greatest president ever. The plurality of respondents picked Abraham Lincoln (18%); no huge surprise. But No. 2? Ronald Reagan garnered 16%. (JFK was third at 14%, and Bill Clinton was the last in double figures at 13%. FDR only got 9%.)

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Heisman trophy namesake buried in Wisconsin

Just found out last week that John W. Heisman, former director of the Downtown Athletic Club, and for whom the Heisman Memorial Trophy is named, is buried in Rhinelander (Grave D, Lot 11, Block 3 of the city-owned Forest Home Cemetery). That's about 45 minutes north of Wausau.
Apparently his wife was a Rhinelander native.
That's a pretty cool get for Wisconsin, and definitely worth a roadie for any serious football fans who find themselves in the vicinity.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Favre hits record-setting TD pass

On Sunday, Brett Favre hit Greg Jennings on a 16-yard slant for a touchdown as part of the Packers' 23-16 win over the Minnesota Vikings in the dreaded Metrodome. It was the 421st of Favre's career, which broke Dan Marino's record of 420. The previous record-holder? Fran Tarkenton at 342. The next active player with a shot at breaking Favre's new mark? Peyton Manning, who moved to 283 on Sunday. In between are John Elway (300), Warren Moon (291) and Johnny Unitas (290).
If Manning doesn't catch Favre, it may be awhile before anyone else does. The next active players after Manning? Kerry Collins (a backup in Tennessee) and Steve McNair (starting in Baltimore), both at 174.

Also on Sunday, and lost in the hoopla surrounding the "home run" record, Favre surpassed Marino to become the all-time leader in pass attempts. Last week, in a 31-24 win over San Diego, Favre surpassed Marino for the lead in pass completions. And to claim the grandaddy of them all, passing yardage, Favre would need to finish this season with 3,861 yards; not unrealistic at all, as Favre was one of six QBs to surpass that mark in 2006. With two more INTs, he'll tie George Blanda for the all-time lead in that dubious category, too. According to a story in the Journal-Sentinel, Blanda may actually get a bit misty when Favre inevitably breaks Blanda's mark. Though Blanda's record for most INTs in a season (42) is probably safe, even from Favre.

Thing is, Favre is far from done. He hit No. 422 later in the Vikings game and is showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, he's showing signs of a reversal from the direction he'd been heading the past two seasons. Touchdowns were down, interceptions were up; it appeared Favre was fading quickly to black.
Perhaps it's the youth around him re-energizing him, perhaps it's playing within the confines of Mike McCarthy's system ... or maybe he just wants to antagonize Bubba for one more season. Whatever it is, it has Favre leading the league both in completions and attempts, and among the leaders in passer rating, yardage and TDs.
And the best part about it is he has to be mentioned seriously as an early contender for league MVP, which of course would be No. 4 for No. 4.

Packer fans, enjoy it while it lasts. Our quarterback makes a little more history every time he takes the field, and we're blessed to watch it every week in our home market.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

GOP misses opportunity at 'black' debate

I'm pretty disappointed in the Republican Party right now. Though the deadline for third-quarter filings was looming, the Big Four (Giuliani, McCain, Thompson and Romney) felt it necessary to skip the All-America Presidential Forum (see both the GOP and Dem debates here) hosted by Tavis Smiley on PBS on Thursday night.
This one night after the Dems debated in New Hampshire; a seemingly prime opportunity to grab back some headlines during this political preseason.
But instead of addressing this primarily black audience on primarily "black" issues, the Big Four decided to hopscotch around the country gladhanding for those few hundred thousand dollars that they hope will convey a sense of momentum among an electorate that probably doesn't much care at this point.

Anyway, I'm proud of the guys who did show - Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul, Sam Brownback, Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter. Oh, and Alan Keyes was there, too. I'm not sure why. Apparently someone left the back door ajar. (Incidentally, my disdain for Keyes has nothing to do with his race; it has everything to do with his intolerance.)
The reason I'm proud of them is because they acquitted the GOP well and, for the most part, said what I would have liked to in that setting. They shifted the focus from race to colorblind opportunity for ALL Americans.
The only way to get away from race being an issue in America is to stop MAKING it an issue.

Though I probably would've taken it a step further. When asked about the disproportionate number of young blacks who drop out of school and end up in jail, I would've placed a lot of blame on the Democrat Party. Reason? Because they foster a culture of dependency and consequence-free victimhood, to the degree that it's almost as if no black ever "deserves" to go to jail now. It's always racism.
Take the so-called "Jena 6." The alleged "civil rights leaders" are turning out in droves to scream into megaphones about how outraged they are about the six black teens charged with attempted murder for kicking the crap out of a white kid who called one of them an N. The white kid was treated and released in less than three hours.
Were those six black kids indicted because of racism? In this case, I think they actually were. But who's listening? Sharpton and Jackson have cried wolf about racism for so long about so many things, who pays attention when it really does rear its head?
The one kid who's become a poster child in all of this, Mychal Bell, a stud running back on the high school football team whose coach has touted his potential as a big-college recruit, also has the longest rap sheet and is probably the most deserving of jail time.

Blacks won't realize true emancipation until they divorce themselves from the Democrats and embrace the individualism espoused by the GOP.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Presidents and 'The War'

Two very cool things going on TV-wise right now (aside from the Packers going 3-0 by beating San Diego today):

The War - Wisconsin Public Television is airing this Ken Burns documentary in seven parts, the first of which I recorded tonight. Interspersed will be some Wisconsin-related war shows regarding WWII, Korea, and the USS Wisconsin. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Presidential Libraries - C-SPAN is airing a series on presidential libraries, 2 hours each Friday night. They started with Hoover and will proceed chronologically through Clinton. Learn more.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Patriots' act nabs Belichick for wiretapping

Oh, the wannabe-pundit sportswriters are having a field day with this one.
With Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots getting busted for, essentially, warrantless wiretapping of opposing coaches' signals, writers such as Bill Simmons of ESPN just can't help themselves:

"Spying on opponent's signals is just plain seedy. It's one step above playing footsie with someone in an airport men's room. It's a disgrace. It's embarrassing."

But without knowing the parameters allowed by the NFL's and NFLPA's collective-bargaining agreement, I think Belichick and the Pats have gotten off easy.

Yeah, Belichick will have to write a painful check of $500,000 to the league, and yes the Pats will have to turn over $250k to the league office, and the team will have to (most likely) give up a first-round draft pick in '08. But if the Patriots brazenly broke an expressly verboten rule, and gained an advantage over the Jets that allowed them to beat the Jets, 38-14 last Sunday, then they should have to forfeit the game to the Jets.

Now, the NFL's rule is that any team that forfeits a game will lose that game 2-0. So the irony in my scenario would be if the Jets needed the total-points tie-breaker at the end of the year and, despite the "win" they would have been awarded over the Pats, wound up MISSING the playoffs because of the points they would NOT have gotten by winning the forfeit 2-0.

At the very least, the Pats should have to give up BOTH first-round picks in '08, and Belichick should be suspended a game. Or at least forfeit one of those picks to the Jets, the team that was wronged by Belichick's misdeed.

Heard someone make an interesting point, though, that the league could eliminate the problem all together by allowing the defensive coordinator to radio plays in to the "QB" of his defense, usually his middle linebacker.
To that, I say why not let all offensive and defensive players have radios in their helmets.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Godspeed, Kevin Everett

Amid the blurred colors and barely controlled chaos of the opening weekend of NFL games, the world changed dramatically for one young man Sunday in Buffalo, N.Y.
Kevin Everett, No. 85, a backup tight end and a third-round draft pick out of Miami by the Buffalo Bills in 2005, lay motionless on the field.
Fans and players awaited some sign of movement from him. A kick, a twitch. A quick reassurance that he was all right.
Everett dislocated his neck and injured his spinal cord on the opening kickoff of the second half. He launched himself into the ballcarrier, the Denver Broncos' Dominik Hixon, and hit Hixon's left shoulder pad face-first. Everett displaced his third vertebrae, pushing it over his fourth and creating a scissor effect against his spinal cord. Doctors are saying the cord isn't damaged, so there may be some hope for Everett to walk again, though they're calling such chances "slim."

I can't imagine what went through Everett's head in the moments after he dropped to the turf at Ralph Wilson Stadium. He never lost consciousness; I'm not sure which would be preferable, given the circumstances. The fear would be unfathomable. The regret. The immediate sorrow for everything you've ever done wrong in your life. Instant bargaining with God (or any god) for every word, thought or action you've ever perpetrated in your life. Silently begging for this to be just another stinger; just another scare among the many that longtime football players experience.

Instead, it appears Everett will become the fourth NFL player paralyzed by an on-field hit during the modern (post-merger) era.
Mike Utley was rendered paraplegic after hitting the unforgiving turf at the Pontiac (Mich.) Silverdome while playing for the Detroit Lions in November 1991. Utley offered an inspiring thumbs-up while he was being wheeled off the field, something countless players have replicated since then, as a reassuring gesture to fans and teammates.
Darryl Stingley never got that chance, having been rendered quadriplegic in a collision with Oakland Raiders safety Jack Tatum during a 1978 preseason (read: meaningless) game. Stingley died in April at the age of 55.
New York Jets defensive tackle Dennis Byrd broke his neck and was paralyzed in a collision with teammate Scott Mersereau in 1992. But Byrd miraculously recovered, inspiring a book and movie titled, "Rise and Walk: The Dennis Byrd Story."

I find myself wanting to launch into some heartfelt plea for stem-cell research, and for the NFL and NFLPA to do more for players both current and retired to ensure they get the medical care they need ... but I won't lay out some chest-beating case for it here. My thoughts are still with Everett. And frankly, the circumstances should speak for themselves.

Here's hoping that the Bills place Everett in their stadium's Ring of Honor, perhaps next to Bob Kalsu, who was killed in action in Vietnam in 1970. Kalsu exhibited valor on the battlefield as the only active NFL player killed in Vietnam. But Everett will have effectively given his life embodying the courage of all football players.

UPDATE: Neurosurgeon says Everett could walk again.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Kicking off silliness

So I'm settling in to watch the Saints @ Colts in the Thursday night opener of the NFL season, and who do I see bounding across my television screen? Not Reggie Bush. Not Drew Brees. Not Peyton Manning or Marvin Harrison. Hell, not even John Madden's head and Al Michaels' ego vying for space in the booth. But that would've been preferable to what DID grace my screen; Kelly Clarkson.

I think.

I don't know my manufactured pop idols.

But what the hell is the NFL doing to us with this non-football pregame garbage? When did Kelly Clarkson become synonymous with "football"? (Unless there's something I'm missing about the "big tight end" and "eight men in the box".)

Obviously the NFL knows a bit more about marketing than I do, as hundreds of thousands of people are probably listening to her warble through her own pregame warm-ups, while my audience consists of ... well, you.

But honestly, who will tune in to watch both her AND the game? ... Then again, given the choice between watching her strut and gyrate across a stage, and being unable to remove my gaze from Chris Collinsworth's Adam's Apple ... maybe I know where MY pregame vote would lie after all.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The 'Hunt for a Fred November'

Fred Thompson, former Tennessee Senator and actor, just announced, on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno", that he is indeed running for president. It ... is ... ON!

Friday, August 31, 2007

E85 comes to the Wausau area

I saw a big sign in front of the BP in Marathon today advertising E85 ethanol. First one I've seen in this area. Went for $2.65 a gallon today, whereas the regular stuff went for $3.07/3.17/3.27/D 3.12.
I know corn-based ethanol isn't the be-all end-all, as production isn't all that efficient, and widespread usage could cause a whole new set of problems with prices and shortages, but hopefully other forms of ethanol will catch on and help us alleviate our dependence on foreign oil.

Personally, I think we should ban tobacco and allow tobacco farmers to replace their crops with industrial hemp, which, incidentally, counts ethanol as one of its myriad uses.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Vintage Base Ball alive and well

Ran across a story today about former Yankee pitcher Jim Bouton, who attained fame with his irreverent tell-all book, "Ball Four," in 1970. Bouton, it seems, has founded the Vintage Base Ball Federation, which held its first World Series in Westfield, Mass.
The VBBF is like a Civil War reenactment for washed-up jocks. The league, real baseball through and through, adheres to the rudimentary rules of the 1880s and immerses visitors like they just stepped out of the Wayback Machine.
Those paying (a thoroughly modern) $10 will pass by Keystone cops walking the beat, through wrought-iron gates, past newsboys hawking the day's paper, and even primly dressed ladies demanding their right to vote.

Games are played during the day - no electricity, of course - and players' equipment is as throwback as it gets. Fielding gloves about the size of an oven mitt. Bats with handles nearly as thick as the barrels. And uniforms with collars.

If you're a baseball fan, you gotta love this. Eat your heart out, Ray Kinsella!

Milwaukee even has a team (though it's in the VBBF's rival league, the Vintage Base Ball Association); the Cream Citys.
The oldest professional base ball team in Milwaukee is the Grays, who played one season (1878) in the National League. After that, Milwaukee began fielding its first incarnations of the Brewers, a one-season wonder in 1884 (Union Association), and another in 1891 (American Association). The Brewers came about again in 1901, before they moved to St. Louis and became the Browns. (They moved again in 1954, becoming the Baltimore Orioles.)

One last historical footnote; one that brings up an interesting point. Moses "Fleetwood" Walker was the first black professional baseball player. He took the field for the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association in 1884, their only season.
Which brings me to this: As cool as I think these vintage leagues are, I'd be curious to know how they would handle any black players wanting to play with them. With the exception of Walker (and his brother Welday, who joined Fleet on the Blue Stockings), blacks were largely shut out of the game during the era the Vintage leagues represent. And blacks were completely shut out with the dawn of the Negro Leagues in the late 19th century.
It's not unlike women wanting to join men in Civil War reenactments. Women fighting would've been unheard-of at the time, but several have expressed an interest in joining men for these exercises now.
Part of me says authenticity is authenticity and should be left alone. But another part of me thinks we should throw it open to whoever would want to indulge in the experience. Especially blacks and women, who never would've had that opportunity back then. (There IS a Vintage league strictly for women.)

Anyway, in thinking about it, I'd love to see something like this start up for Negro League teams. It seems like a fine way to honor the men who were relegated to those leagues. And the most beautiful part of it would be knowing that the men on the field are there because they chose to be, not because it was the only avenue our society allowed them.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Wisconsin's firsts are many

The Daily Reporter, a construction trade newspaper, ran a fascinating list of "firsts" associated with Wisconsin.
I hadn't realized that, among other things, Frank Lloyd Wright's son, John, invented Lincoln Logs here. I loved my Lincoln Logs.

Bonds ball and 'potential revenue'

So apparently Matt Murphy, the 21-year-old New Yorker who emerged from the melee with Barry Bonds' record-setting 756th home run ball on Aug. 7, will auction it off.
No surprise, considering he figures to make half a million or so on it.
What surprises me about this - and frankly torques me more than a little bit - is his contention that the IRS had designs on taxing him for the ball's "potential revenue." Basically, the IRS, according to Murphy, claimed it could tax him on the income he COULD GET from selling the ball.
This is outrageous. Thanks to eBay, we ALL have "potential revenue" just cluttering up our houses.
Didn't we fight a revolution in part due to unfair tax practices?

I have the solution for Murphy, though, should he decide to change his mind and keep it. He should tell the IRS, "OK, if you're going to charge me for an imaginary income, I'm going to pay you imaginary taxes. ... 100%, if you'd like."
And I'd go very very public with that, too.

He plans to auction it Aug. 28 to Sept. 15 through Sotheby's Auction House, split the money 51-49 with friend Amir Kamal, and use the money to pay his way to becoming a physical therapist.
After the scramble that netted him the ball in the first place, he may have some customers ... right off the bat.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Whites happier than minorities; nice work, liberals

An AP poll released Tuesday has found that white youths, 13-34, are generally happier with their lot in life than are minorities.

Good job, liberalism.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

RIP, Michael Deaver

Michael Deaver died Saturday at the age of 69, following a battle with pancreatic cancer.
I don't have any posters of Deaver up in my house or anything, but his work may be one reason why I have a picture of President Reagan hanging proudly on my Dead Legends wall.
You see, Deaver was the first of his kind; he often said, "The only thing I did was light him well."
It was Deaver's job to put Reagan in the best possible setting to help the Great Communicator properly shape and convey his message.
Reagan was the last president to escape the 24-hour news cycle that has reduced modern politics to an endless volley of beautiful hair and "which is worse" soundbytes. There were still only the Big Three networks, CNN hadn't reached any prominence yet, and Al Gore had not yet made the Internet accessible to us commoners. So supplementing Reagan's policies and speeches was that much more important.
It's unfortunate that politics has taken the superficial turn that it has, but Deaver deserves credit for being a visionary in that regard, and helping hone the image of a man beloved by so many.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

McConnell: Why are we obsessed with sex predators?

Was listening to a little bit of Mike McConnell's radio show (listen online at his home station M-F 9-12, Sat 12-3) on WSAU, the local affiliate here that runs his show on Saturdays, and he raised an interesting point.
He asked why we treat sexual predators so much differently from other criminals, meaning that we require them to register and then allow people to track their every move, even online.
McConnell, a thinking man's conservative if ever there was one, went so far as to liken our obsession with sex criminals as a sexual titillation in itself.

I wouldn't go that far. But he has a point; why DO we require sexual predators to affix their names to a registry? Because they're still a danger to re-offend? Then why the hell are they out of prison?
As McConnell pointed out, isn't it just as much within our interest to know if our new neighbor has a history of burglary? Or arson? Or, for that matter, murder?

We require NONE of these felons to register. This leads me to think the law should be more consistent, in that either we recognize sexual registries as unconstitutional double jeopardy, or we require all felons to register.

I've long advocated for open-ended sentencing, where a sex criminal would get not the 10-20 years they usually get now, but rather they'd essentially get life in prison with parole a possibility in 10-20 years. Meaning, if after X amount of time, a panel of psychologists determines the person is a reasonable danger to reoffend, there is no reason to let him out. As our prison system is supposed to be about "rehabilitation," he clearly would not have "learned" anything behind bars.

Finally, I do think the mandates for sexual registration need to be tweaked. I recently learned that a childhood friend of mine is a registered sex offender. Knowing him how I do (or did, anyway), I have a hard time believing he would've "abducted a child not his own" for sexual reasons. In his case, it was more likely an ugly custody battle that took an unfortunate turn. But, sex crimes and mandatory sentencing being what they are, the judge probably had little to no leeway in convicting him of "abducting" the child, which, "zero tolerance" being what IT is, would've necessitated a trip to the registry for him.
It's possible he's really a twisted pervert who wanted to do something unspeakable to that child, but it wouldn't surprise me at all if he was actually the "victim" of legal wrangling. Which is unfortunate, in that it cheapens what registries were intended to do.

Having said all of that ... here is Wisconsin's sex offender registry.

Gas today: $2.92/3.02/3.12/D 3.06

Friday, August 17, 2007

Olbermann fumbles again

I could dedicate a whole separate blog to Keith Olbermann's hate-fueled fact-fumbling, but I'll just touch on one here.
He did it again last night on "Countdown." He misrepresented and omitted whatever was necessary to make President Bush look like a bungling murderer.

In a follow-up to the Crandall Canyon mine disaster, where six miners have been trapped since Aug. 6 and three would-be rescuers died this morning (Aug. 17) trying to get to them, Olbermann dedicated several minutes bashing the recess appointment of Richard Stickler to the head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, noting that his appointment was opposed by the AFL-CIO, Democrats, and enough Republicans to force Bush to make the end-around. Olbermann pretty much left it at that and went to Arianna Huffington, and the two picked at Bush thereafter.

Mix that with the fact that Stickler was an executive with Murray Energy, which donated $10,000 to Bush-Cheney and happens to own the Crandall Canyon mine, and the whole process sounds fishy enough to make people think, "Bush really F'd up this one."

What Olbermann DIDN'T tell us was that Stickler's agency did its job. The MSHA investigated that very mine July 5. According to

Federal mine inspectors have issued 325 citations against the mine since January 2004, according to CNN.
In 2007, inspectors issued 32 citations against the mine, 14 of them considered significant.An examination by Mineweb of MSHA records shows that MSHA's last regular inspection of Crandall took place on July 5. During that visit, inspectors cited Genwall Resources for violating a rule requiring at least two separate passageways be designated for escape in an emergency, reportedly the third instance in less than two years that the mine has been cited for the same problem.

The Deseret Morning News reported that the mine has been cited 176 times since early 2005. This predated Stickler's appointment by more than a year. And DURING Stickler's tenure - just this year, in fact - the MSHA has issued 33 citations to the mine, including three orders. This mine was clearly a problem for a long time, and Stickler - shady appointment though he may be - was doing his job as the head of the oversight body.

So again I'm forced to defend Bush in the face of overzealous, misguided attacks. My friends on the Left like to call Olbermann the Edward R. Murrow of our time ... when in reality, he's just a former sports hack with a political axe to grind.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Bubba's wedding

Went to a wedding Sunday I thought would never happen Sunday. Bubba finally decided to settle down. Got himself a nice girl, too.

He was big on this being a "nontraditional" wedding, as neither of them was big on the whole "church" thing. So we held the ceremony in the Shattuck Park pavilion in Neenah. It's a fairly new facility, and as you can see at the link, it's a beautiful setting for some summer nuptials. The festivities were held late in the afternoon, so the worst of the sun had passed. While it was still well into the 80s, the gentle breeze and the boats rocking in their Fox River moorings just yards from us made it all OK.

The ceremony was brief and to the point, and all in front of 40-some people. And all with a heavy emphasis on the post-ceremony dinner. Just the way Bubba wanted it.

That's not a "Bubba likes to eat" joke, either. He's just always been at his most comfortable when a group of friends (or in this case, family) can sit around at length for dinner, drinks and a steady stream of BS'ing.

Best of all, he gave me the opportunity to be his best man, which immediately told me a whole host of other guys must've had plans that weekend.

Actually, it was a pretty special gesture, as Bubba and I have known each other for just over 10 years. He began harrassing me ... ERRR, "making my acquaintance" when he was still advocating for students' rights to sleep late and graduate at UW-Oshkosh while I was the editor of the Advance-Titan.

He's held a long string of positions where his primary responsibility was to oversee the health and well-being of other people, before and since those days in the A-T's basement office in Reeve Union. Big and blustery as he is, few have cared more about their fellow man than Bubba. It was that sense of selflessness and altruism that I tried to convey in my Best Man Speech, and I think I did all right. Made everyone laugh a few times, at Bubba's expense, and had them groaning about what a sweet guy he was when it was all over. Mission accomplished.

So if you have a drink handy while you're reading this, raise your glass, mug or bottle in a toast to Bubba and his new wife.

Bully TR

Apparently I'm not the only one who admires Teddy Roosevelt. The AP has a story on how today's candidates are trying to liken themselves to him, no doubt perverting his legacy all over the political map.

For a long time I've tried to reserve my hero worship for legends who are dead. Why? Because they can't F up their legacy. Take it from a guy who as a child worshiped at the altar of Darryl Strawberry.

Tommy steps aside

And the campaign of Tommy Thompson for president is over. The Journal-Sentinel did a pretty comprehensive job of blogging his post-mortem.
After finishing sixth in the Iowa straw poll on Saturday, he acknowledged that he'd fallen well short of his goal of at least second. This, coupled with his ninth-place finish in fundraising for the last quarter, sounded the death knell.

I say good for him; it's time.

It's not that I don't think he would make a good president. As much as libs and Dems hate him, even they've acknowledged relative success with his BadgerCare, SeniorCare and welfare reform, and a reasonably gay-friendly record as governor and during his time in the legislature.
But even when given opportunities to directly discuss these hot-button issues, he ignored his health initiatives and stumbled all over himself by portraying himself as a discriminatory bigot by saying employers should be allowed to fire employees for being gay.

May his campaign manager, Steve Grubbs, never manage another campaign. Grubbs, who graduated from the University of Iowa in 1994, managed Bob Dole's 1996 campaign in the Hawkeye state. He lost that one, too, by 10 percent to Bill Clinton.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Barry Bonds: Home Run King

Like much of the country, I missed the 'Yawn Heard 'round the World' last night, as Barry Bonds hit his 756th home run. He did it on a 3-2 pitch off the Washington Nationals' Mike Bacsik in the fifth inning. To Bacsik's credit, he gloated afterward about how now he can go around to card-show signings with Al Downing, the hurler who gave up No. 715 to Hank Aaron.

I'm not sure how I feel about it. I thought for a long time I hated Bonds and was saddened that he would get the record. But I think I came to grips with this eventuality after Bud Selig and MLB failed to suspend him at the start of the year. I thought at the time that the federal investigation would give MLB just the excuse it needed to sit him down. Then there was the chatter that he may have purjored himself. Still nothing.

Now, as we wait for Bonds to wind down his career so we can gauge exactly how many Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols need to hit to surpass him, I actually find myself feeling sorry for Bonds.

I never thought I'd say that, much less think it, but what if we're all wrong about Bonds? I know there's a whole book out - Game of Shadows - chronicling his use of game-enhancers, and that he's never tested positive for 'roids (there IS no test for the Human Growth Hormone that has supposedly run him through a second puberty). But how much of this is self-perpetuating? How many reporters has he run off because of reporters who've rubbed him the wrong way over the years? Members of the media pay for the sins of others all the time. Even in my days as a sportswriter, I can't tell you how many phone calls I'd get from people all pissed off at ME because they didn't get their paper.

And maybe Bonds is a jerk. I don't know. I kind of assume that most pro athletes are jagoffs, to varying degrees. Ninety-five percent of them have lived a life of privilege and will retire by their mid-30s with a fair amount of coin in the bank. In 1999, I covered a Giants-Brewers game at County Stadium and stood in the Giants' clubhouse just a few feet from Bonds. I didn't try talking to him because he'd gone 0-for-whatever that day and was a non-factor. Thus, no reason to talk to him. A very professional approach, as too many sportswriters double as part-time jocksniffers, but I did deprive myself of the opportunity to get blown off by one of the all-time greats.

But I think I feel sorry for Bonds not because he's made his bed about being a tool, but because ... what if he DIDN'T actually take enhancers? He'll never be able to prove that negative. Hell, if he hasn't taken 'roids, he MIGHT AS WELL START, and we'll see if he can get to 800 dingers before his head explodes and his feet burst from his spikes like the Incredible Hulk.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Sweaty Uncle Teddy

Just got back from Ted Nugent's appearance at the Wisconsin Valley Fair, where he held court Thursday, Aug. 2. What a show!
I'm not usually a big classic-rock guy. Haven't been since getting burnt out on it during my college summer jobs spent listening to WAPL in the '90s. (Didn't realize Pink Floyd and The Doors only had three songs.) But this was a little different.
For starters, I wasn't all that familiar with Nugent's stuff; by reputation only, really. I remember a comedy bit about a classical station that changed its format to classic rock but kept its classical DJs. So this British-accented gent back-announced "The Rolling Stones quartet ... with Honky Tonk Women, and befo' that, we had the Ted Nugent orchestra with Wang Dang Sweet Poontang."

But really, Nuge largely kept his politics out of it. Save for a couple of single-digit salutes to Gov. Jim Doyle and Sen. Russ Feingold, of course. But he was just saying what most of us were thinking on some level.

But, from the opening intonations of "Free for All" to the closing coda of his "Fred Bear" encore, Nugent's show was a study in the kind of energy and enthusiasm we all should hope to have at the age of 59. It carried through to his "sacrifice" of the Great White Buffalo via flaming arrow near the end of his set. He offered some tributes to each branch of service, too. And if I had a nickel for every time he invoked the "Spirit of the Wild" in northern Wisconsin ... well, I'd have several nickels.

But I think that's what really got me about 'Nuge,' knowing that he really meant what he was preaching. He wasn't just saying it to get ratings or sell a book. I felt like he really believed the conservative, all-American mantra he's been preaching all these years. After all, he predates Fox News Channel and its conservative pundits by almost 30 years.

At Nugent's show, I felt comfortable, like I was among friends who believed as I did. It felt good to love my country, to wish for victory in Iraq, and to be an American. Live Earth this wasn't.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Twin Cities bridge collapse

At least seven people are dead in a massive bridge collapse on I-35W that spans the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. More are sure to follow, but storms and nightfall were hampering search-and-rescue efforts.

Homeland Security is saying it's not terrorism, a conclusion on which I'm honestly a bit torn. On the one hand, if it were a terrorist strike, it would prove wrong idiots like John Edwards, who thinks the War on Terror exists only on bumper stickers. Maybe he should sign up for the Homeland Security update from CQPolitics, from Congressional Quarterly. On the other, Bush-haters would be quick to blame Bush and use the incident as proof not that there is a war on terror but that "Bush hasn't made us any safer."

Thoughts and prayers with those killed and injured in the bridge collapse.

Gas today: $2.99/$3.09/$3.19/Diesel $3.04

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Am I part of the game or not?

I was watching SportsCenter the other night, and I saw a fan getting escorted out of the stadium I think in Philadelphia. (Second one in about three days, I believe.)
Did he throw beer on a player? Nope.
Get into a drunken brawl in the stands? Nope.
Barrel over a little kid in pursuit of a foul ball? Nope.

Seems this fan's sin was to have touched (i.e. "interfered with") a ball that was in play. Now, anyone who follows baseball has seen those fans along the first- and third-base lines straining with every inch of their bodies to reach a ball that is bouncing foul in their general direction. But that wasn't the case with this guy. He was sitting in the outfield bleachers, and a ball had bounced hard off the warning track to well within his arm's reach. All he did was stick his arm out and grab it. Pretty instinctive response, really.

Instead, he got hauled away by stadium security like he'd just gotten back from streaking. For this, I ask Major League Baseball: Are we part of the game or not?

All we sports fans see on TV are ads for video games that are so real you almost bruise; we see cameras placed in every orifice on the field during big postseason series; and we get players in dugouts and huddles "miked up" so we can feel like we're right there next to them. It's partly how owners justify charging us the outrageous rates they do for tickets, beer and food. ... But God forbid we would actually feel some kind of entitlement to a ball bounding our way.

Look, I'm not saying the fan should've been able to jump the rail, call off an outfielder camped under a fly ball, and haul it in for himself. I'm just saying that intent always has to be taken into account. The big yellow foul poles at either end of the outfield are considered part of the field of play, and if a batted ball hits one on the fly, it's a home run. Why can't fans be classified similarly? If a fan reaches for a ball, and is within reason in doing so, why can't that determine the result of the play like the foul poles? The fan snags it, it's a home run or ground rule double; the fan drops or redirects it, it caroms around and possibly results in a double.

My point is I get tired of being taken advantage of by Big Sports. It's bad enough that the Packers (and all of the other NFL teams) charge full price for tickets, beverages and food for exhibition games. But we suck it up because we're fans and, hey, it's either see them or don't. The least they can do is let us keep our seat if a once-in-a-lifetime souvenir comes our way.

Gas today: $3.14/.24/.34/Diesel $3.09

NBA reaping what it sows

With the media salivating over disgraced NBA official Tim Donaghy's promise to name names of coaches, players and other officials in his alleged gambling escapades, I find myself wondering how eager they'd be if he also promised to name sports writers.

This whole thing should surprise no one, especially with regard to the NBA, which David Stern has run like his own little fiefdom for the better part of 20 years. You know this thing reaches all the way back through the '90s and "the Jordan Rules." And I'm willing to ... err, bet, that it includes playoff pairings and the draft lottery, the latter of which is inexplicably shielded from the public. Gee, nothing fishy there.

The chickens are coming home to roost. And the egg will be on Stern's face.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Newest Knight

The clock ticks toward the end of the first day of life for my new son. And I wonder.
Holding him close in a rocking chair, I gaze into his tightly shut eyes. And I daydream.
I recall the musical beauty of his first life-affirming cry. And I pray.

I thank God for granting me a healthy son and a strong wife to deliver him. I hope He will grant me the two things for which I regularly pray; the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job. These are the only two things any person truly needs, as they complement one another, and both lead to all of life's other little wants that we so often mistake as needs.

It's easy to get sappy when talking about babies. One comedian took aim at that habit, saying that people who have children have pretty much given up on their own lives and are willing to pass the torch to another generation that may not "F it up as bad as I did." But there's something to that. It's hard to look at this little 9 pound blank slate and NOT think about what could lie ahead for him.

I'm not talking about the 2044 election cycle, when he'll first be eligible to run for the presidency. I'm talking about the simplest of things; the types of conversations we might one day have. Consider Ben Folds' "Still Fighting It," an ode to his son in which he imagines a day when "maybe we'll both sit down and have a few beers." Will he like sports? Will he be musically inclined? Will he be a multi-billionaire? Or will he grow up to have a simple job, write an occasional blog containing his ruminations about social, political and sports issues, and go on to have a child of his own?

As with most things, the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle. But I love the possibilities. And I love him.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Blame the object? Or the person?

Something struck me while listening to the news story about five teenage girls killed in a car accident after the driver was apparently distracted by text-messaging a friend while she was driving.
I found it interesting that in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shooting, people were quick to blame the shooter's ability to buy firearms and the renewed cry for gun control. But after the deaths of these young ladies in New Jersey, people focused on the girls' use of their cell phones.

In both cases, the misuse of a legal, inanimate object led to the needless deaths of far too many people. But in the former case, voices cried for regulation, whereas in the latter case, those same voices cried out for common sense in the use of the object that led to their demise.

The irony is that the proper use of a firearm is likely to lead to someone's death or great bodily harm, whereas the proper use of a cell phone is unlikely to kill anyone. Note the term "proper use." If a firearm is being "properly used," that means it is being used in self-defense. This means that using the firearm is, in the shooter's judgment, preventing undue harm coming to them or someone else.

The common thread through both of these cases is the importance of proper use, especially in the case of the text-messaging driver, which proved that even the most seemingly benign tool can be deadly when misused.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Health care hits home

Still no baby. I'm starting to wonder if the wife is really pregnant or just covering up for some dramatic weight gain.

Anyway, this impending birth, coupled with a friend's recent mild heart attack, got me to thinking about health care. (And really being thankful that she and I are able to have health insurance because I don't know how anyone could have a baby or a heart issue without it.)

I always found it hard to believe that 47 million Americans have no health insurance. I'd really like to see that broken down to how many are children (who thus COULDN'T be independently insured), how many of the rest don't have health insurance because they CAN'T get it, and how many CHOOSE not to get it and simply roll the dice that they won't get sick. My suspicion is that if all 47 million of those folks broke down their expenses, a majority of them could afford health insurance even if it was in leiu of things like cable TV, cell phones, or even multiple vehicles.

"Oh, that's so cruel."
Not really. In my case, when I was in my mid-20s, fresh out of college and powerdrunk on my first "big boy" paychecks, health insurance was nothing more to me than some annoying forms to fill out before I found out how much vacation I could take. I had it, and fortunately I was reasonably healthy enough that I didn't realize until recently how fortunate I was to work at places that offered it.

Not that I'm going to sit here and defend insurance companies, but they are free-market entities that can choose whether or not they want to cover someone. And from a truly bottom-line standpoint, it would make the most business sense to cover the person who, evidence would indicate, would be LEAST likely to file a claim. Government encroachment on this business model reeks of socialism.

I understand that pre-existing conditions can sometimes skew people's rates and make health insurance unaffordable. And anyone who has to go into the hospital for anything more than an aspirin is easily looking at a bill equal to one or two years salary. No one can afford this.

So what is the government's role? Theories abound, of course, but I feel the gov't should simply be there to fill in the gaps; to take up the slack where people have no other options. That's consistent with the general theory of conservatism, which would seek to lay out options for people and thus grant them a degree of empowerment to solve their own problems. The bottom line is to give them the ability to choose, something liberals love to trot out when it applies to abortion (another thread, another time).

Tommy Thompson may have the answer, not that you'd know it by his moments in the national spotlight as a GOP presidential candidate. Tommy initiated a program called BadgerCare when he was governor of Wisconsin (1987-2001). BadgerCare, which began in July 1999, covers those who work for an employer who doesn't offer health insurance, but who make too much money to be covered by Medicaid. By covering those who make up to 185% of the poverty level (which, if the poverty level is typically set at $18,000, would reach up to $33,300). Its original goal was to cover 40,000 Wisconsinites, including 23,000 children, by the end of 1999.

The state Department of Health and Family Services published a report card on the program in 2005, and you'll see that the scores are generally reported as average-to-above-average.
Actually, there are some other status reports on it regarding coverage of kids, and from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation noting programs mimicked by New York, New Jersey and the Clinton administration. The Economic Research Initiative on the Uninsured at the University of Michigan released a study calling BadgerCare a success. And even Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle has called BadgerCare "a model for the nation."

(It irritates me that Thompson has made no mention of it, as health care is obviously such a hot topic right now. ... But, again, another thread, another time.)

I'll stay on this topic if I learn more about BadgerCare. But for now, wish Bubba a healthy recovery.

Gas today: $3.35/.45/.55/Diesel $3.09.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Balloons, but not for Junior

Well, no baby yet.
So the wife and I went to the Balloon Glow on Saturday (7-7-07) that kicks off the annual Balloon Rally that visits Wausau every year. Got some cool photos. I'm told the regular balloons go for about $70,000, while customized models (see the ultra-cool rubber ducky here) can go from $110,000 to $150,000. Also, the operators use 10-gallon tanks of propane, and they go through about 30 gallons on an average ride.
Not a hobby I'll be taking up anytime soon.

Update: Just found out today why the Balloon Glow seemed so utterly lame on Saturday. All of the baskets were detached from the balloons and sitting on the ground because gusting winds would've made it dangerous to have that many in the air in such close proximity at one time. Normally, I've been told, they hover fairly low to the ground, then do their "countdown to glow," and then fire 'em up. Now THAT would be pretty cool. Oh well, next year. Junior (not born yet) should dig that.

Ernie would love this one.

No, the duck's not actually on fire.

Friday, July 06, 2007

7-07-07 ... and counting

As this once-in-a-millennium day dawns, I find myself wondering if it will be the beginning of my new life as a dad. My wife's due date arrives today, and she's as ripe as she's going to be. She's gotten so big the baby looks like he's going to fall right off the front of her.

But God bless her for being so brave and strong through everything so far because the more I learn about the intricacies of pregnancy, the more I thank the Lord that I'm a guy. Organs getting shifted around by the growing fetus, acid reflux, constipation, soreness pretty much everywhere. The whole "gaining 30 pounds" thing I think I could handle. But the rest would be enough to cure any gender-confused man.

So the nursery has been painted and papered; the requisite blue sports-themed outfits have been purchased, washed and organized; and here we sit, afraid to plan anything more than 12 hours ahead or travel more than half an hour in any direction just in case "it happens." (Though I'm starting to think this whole birthing process is much more gradual than we're led to believe in the slapstick comedies on TV.)

Though, God willing, he'll be born safely and healthy. Then maybe he can become my own little version 2.0, and I can impart some of the wisdom I've taken from the mistakes I've made ... and go from being a father to fully a dad.

See it again, Uncle Sam

With immigration being such a hot topic in the news lately, it got me to thinking. What must America look like to a foreigner?

I had the opportunity to see a nation from just such a vantage point in 1998, when some friends and I took a whirlwind tour of some parts of Europe around our Memorial Day weekend. I saw Paris, London and Amsterdam in about one week. That's not much time to really absorb the culture, but it was just enough to see the biggest tourist attractions; the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, and Arc de Triomphe in Paris; Big Ben, Westminster and the Tower of London; and ... well, let's just say "Amsterdam" and realize that those who know, know.

Anyway, one thing that has really stuck with me from that trip was one of the more mundane sights. As we cruised through the French countryside headed for the Chunnel, I gazed out the window at the terrain. It didn't look terribly different from Wisconsin; rolling pitches, farm fields. But somehow the farmhouses looked different. They looked like they had housed generations under their quaint roofs. They weren't like our houses, with wooden and vinyl siding and looking like they were built sometime in the last 50 years. These French homesteads were built of brick and stone. It struck me that some of those houses could have been older than my home country.

It made me wonder what kinds of conversations went on in those houses. Probably idle chatter about the crops, maybe school, maybe the local soccer team. Hell, maybe even sneering at the ignorant American tourists who were probably breathing on the glass gazing out at the French countryside from that damned Chunnel train again.

I also think about my honeymoon in Greece in 2004. As the tour bus wound around the treacherous hillsides, I could scarcely take my eyes off the seemingly endless fields of olive trees, the rocky slopes, and the occasional sheep herds that moved among it all. I wonder now, what would Greek tourists think about a ride along a long, straight stretch of country road in northern Wisconsin. "Ooo, look, honey; cows!"

Perhaps my points is that, in both cases, what was so everyday and mundane to them seemed new and fresh and fascinating to me. It's that mind-set that I try to adopt sometimes on my way to work in the mornings. Sometimes I'll take a different route. Oh, sure, the highway is faster. But like in the movie "Cars," that faster route can sometimes take you past things you'll never otherwise see. I cruise through the American countryside, ride the crest and trough of each rolling undulation on the paved strip that guides me past cornfields, cow pastures and American farmhouses.

And I try to see America again through a fresh set of eyes.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Heisman Heroes: Nile Kinnick

A friend of mine recently loaned me a book called "The Heisman: Great American Stories of the Men Who Won," by Bill Pennington. I'm only through the first couple of chapters, but if they're any indication, what a fantastic read this is going to be.

Pennington's first player profile is on Nile Kinnick, the 1939 Heisman winner for whom Iowa's Kinnick Stadium is named. It's actually named partially in honor of his brother Benjamin as well, as both ultimately were killed in service of their country in World War II.

Nile Kinnick played for Iowa through two awful seasons in 1937-38 before leading the Hawkeyes to a 6-1-1 record in the year of his Heisman campaign. But what struck me most about Kinnick was not the accolades, nor even the photograph of the determined go-ahead touchdown against Notre Dame that still adorns offices at the University of Iowa. Rather, this young Republican, who gave an eloquent introduction for Wendall Wilkie on Wilkie's visit to Iowa during the 1940 presidential campaign, put his law career on hold to join the U.S. Navy Air Corps on Dec. 4, 1941. Note that not only was this prior to the institution of the draft, it also was three days BEFORE the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Of his decision to join, Kinnick wrote to his brother George: "I would be lacking in appreciation for all America has done for me if I did not offer what little I had to her."

Kinnick met his end on June 2, 1943, when on a training run in the Carribbean he ditched his plane in the sea rather than risk jamming an overcrowded carrier deck with his oil-hemorraging Grumman F4F Wildcat. Search parties were immediately dispatched for him, but he was never found. One last heroic effort by a man whose courage and selflessness we all should aspire to emulate.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Bring back Badger baseball

Loathe as I am to give The Capital Times in Madison any undue credit, one of their sports columnists wrote an interesting piece raising the possibility of reanimating the University of Wisconsin's baseball program, dormant since the end of the spring 1991 season.

Apparently, UW Athletics Director Barry Alvarez mentioned, off-handedly on a radio show, the possibility of bringing back the baseball program. This is good news for those of us bitter with former university president Donna Shalala, who spearheaded the demise of the program as a means of reducing a $1.9 million budget shortfall.

Wisconsin, the only Big Ten team without a baseball program, deserves another avenue to shine in the national spotlight, especially given the ESPN-driven increase in interest for the College World Series.

To that end, the Cap Times notes that Wisconsinites should be paying close attention to the Anteaters of the University of California-Irvine, who are progressing through the CWS this year after reviving their own program. It was killed in 1992, the year after the Badgers, and has since jumped from NCAA Division II to Division I.

Well, go Anteaters: Zot, zot, zot!

Update: Oregon State beat Cal-Irvine 7-1 in their elimination game today, so the Anteaters' storied season is over. ... And yes, it was the Beavers-'Eaters game ... so SOMEbody had to go down!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Ron Paul: Back to the Future?

Just found myself chatting up some of the attributes of Ron Paul (R-Texas), who is running for president. He's still one of 10 in a crowded field, but he stands out in a very important way. He's a Libertarian. And he's very much a throwback to what the Republican Party once represented, particularly as it stood under Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater.

Paul favors abolishing a laundry list of federal agencies and departments, everything from Education to Energy to the IRS, all in favor of state control. I fear he's the last of a dying breed of true Republicans. Sadly, evidence of this comes in his dismissal by his fellow Republican presidential candidates as the kooky comic relief; the Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel of the right.

No one has been more complicit in his marginalization than Fox News, which hosted the GOP's second debate, added a text-message poll at the end of the event, then downplayed the fact that Paul actually led their (completely unscientific) poll immediately afterward, and ultimately finished second.

My cynical side tells me the big networks - not just Fox, but all of them - want to maintain the Left/Right status quo, as well as wars in Iraq and everywhere else, because conflict makes good ratings. I think my cynical side happens to be right; as right as Ron Paul.

(Gas today is $3.09/3.19/3.29/Diesel 2.99 ... no bitching about 'Big Oil' gouging us today.)

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Opening Day Night

There's something about Opening Day. Even if it's at night. And even if it's for a semi-pro team comprised of collegiate players, most of whom will only set foot in a major league stadium if they buy a ticket.

But there's something pure about the game. There's a certain nostalgia embodied in the layers of thick paint that coat the steel railings; a unique odor of brats and ballpark franks that will linger, if only in the mind, long after the fans have gone home.

They conjure a feeling that is as pure as the joy of stopping to watch a father play catch with his son after the game is over and the players have left the field. A son who may be too small to hold the regulation-size bat of his heroes, but who swings just as mightily at his hopeful father's playful toss.

We're lucky in northern Wisconsin. We have the Woodchucks nearby in Wausau. A couple of hours to the east, we can always visit the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, a Class A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. A few hours to the southeast awaits Miller Park, the major league cathedral that houses the Milwaukee Brewers. But we're lucky not because of the easy commutes to "better" baseball. We're lucky for the humble ball diamonds that dot the countryside in between. American Legion, Little League, rec leagues and random gatherings of kids who don't bother with "uniforms" and "rules."

Somewhere there is a son playing catch with his dad. And that's the best game there is.

Friday, May 25, 2007

A Brat Haiku

Must be Wisconsin/
I watch Racing Sausages/
Soon I will eat one

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Reagan Diaries

Just picked up my copy of The Reagan Diaries, Ronald Reagan's personal day-by-day account of his time in office, just released on May 22. At 784 pages, it's pretty thorough, but not nearly thick as it could've been. Apparently the author had to cull from five full 8.5 x 11 bound volumes just to pare it down to this.

I'm looking forward to it, but I'm also looking forward to finishing the book "Silent Wings," about World War II glider warfare, a book I've been working on in fits and starts for several months. Of particular interest to me is the CG-4A, a model that is being restored near my hometown.

Brew Crew *whew*

While the Brewers (28-19) have lost 9 of their last 13, they should offer no apologies for playing in a weak division. They've maintained their 6.5-game lead in the NL Central thanks largely to the second-place Astros and Cubs losing also.

The Crew have seen their team batting average deflate about 10 points, which drops them from third in the NL to sixth, still second in the division behind the Cubs. They're still hitting .242 with runners in scoring position (including stranding 6 in scoring position against Brad Penny in a 5-1 loss to the Dodgers on Wednesday night), which puts them ahead of only Arizona (25-23), Pittsburgh (19-26, -8), Cincinnati (18-29, -10) and Washington (18-29).

That's not good, but at least there's room for improvement.

Meanwhile, the Brewers' team ERA through the first six innings of any game is 3.41 - BEST IN THE NL - while their late-inning ERA bloats to 4.74 - third-WORST in the NL. Here's what I can't figure out; the bullpen has looked solid.

Only Carlos Villanueva has given up one or more earned runs in his last half-dozen appearances. Derrick Turnbow has only been "Turnblow" twice, taking two losses and blowing one save in his last 10 appearances. Francisco Cordero hasn't failed to convert a save opportunity yet and is tied with Arizona's Jose Valverde for the NL lead in saves.
Southpaw sidearmer Brian Shouse gave up two in a loss to the Phillies (which combined with Turnblow's 4 earnies in an 8-6 loss snatched from the jaws of a 6-2 victory) but has been solid this season. (Not bad for a FIB.)
Matt Wise has been money all season as the setup guy for Turnbow, getting one strikeout in four of his last five innings of work, and only giving up a run in Wednesday night's 5-1 loss.
Chris Spurling has been a pleasant surprise. He's given up just 3 runs all season, and none since May 5.
Elmer Dessens could be the missing link to mediocrity, now that I look at it. He hasn't even appeared since last Friday, and the Saturday before that, he gave up 5 runs to the Mets in a 9-1 loss.

But it all comes back to driving in those runners once they've reached second or third. In the Brewers' 9-of-13 skid, they're 2-3 in one-run games, and they've scored 3 or fewer runs in 8 of their last 11.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

About those 'high' gas prices

Loathe as I am to even address "high" gas prices, the stories just don't seem to go away.
Yes, it sucks paying $3.45/$3.55/$3.65/Diesel $2.99 a gallon, but it's like when your cable bill goes up. It only sucks because it's an additional expenditure compared to what we're used to.

Found an interesting article, written by the Cato Institute, that ran in Investor's Business Daily in May 2006 and does a pretty good - though slightly eye-glazing - job of putting current gas prices into perspective.

Its basic point is that prices, as a percentage of disposable income, are actually lower today than in 1981, and at other times in the last 50 years when we might have thought gas was so much "cheaper."

Meanwhile, the media keep trotting out stories about how gas prices are "at an all-time high," without telling us that gas prices have almost ALWAYS been at an "all-time high." The Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration (EIA) has an interesting table of statistics tracking gas prices since 1992. Note the peaks and valleys regardless of administration, with the final spike above $3/gallon really only coming in May 2007.

Interesting to bear in mind for those accusing President Bush of being too dumb to tie his own shoes but yet somehow behind this massive collusion in the oil industry. I'll believe gas prices are too high when people stop buying premium.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Pols don't disappoint on illegal immigration

Well, the pols - of both parties - have proven me right once again. I've been saying for years that we'd never see any meaningful reform of immigration that would punish those who stormed our borders and are occupying our country illegally. That's because the Republicans don't want to alienate business, which relies on the cheap labor, and the Democrats don't want to alienate what they see as a potential voting base of minorities.

Today we get this garbage legislation from Congress, which plays paddycake with the 12 million or so illegal aliens currently in America. ("Oh, we can't deport them all," say the enablers. Yeah? We don't seem to have a problem going after the millions of drug users in this country.)

So I Googled illegal immigration in Wisconsin, just to see how the issue affects my home state. I shouldn't have been surprised to find that Gov. Jim Doyle is behind yet another program to reward illegal immigrants. The Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) apparently uses Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (I-TINs), issued by the IRS, as acceptable ID for obtaining a first mortgage. And just so I'm not singling out our lying, criminal governor (more on that later), it's the IRS, according to a WHEDA's executive director, that won't even allow WHEDA to ask about a mortgage applicant's legal status. Wonderful.

That on top of Doyle's proposal to allow children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state college tuition:

Journal-Sentinel, O. Ricardo Pimentel, 5-31-05:

State Rep. Pedro Coln (D-Milwaukee) estimates that we're likely talking about fewer than 100 students paying $5,831 a year rather than $18,583 to attend a University of Wisconsin System school.

OK, so if it's only a few people, then it's OK to break our laws. Tell that to the drug users and dealers. Pimentel is a big lib and makes a typically bleeding-heart case for these children - that they didn't ask to be brought here, this is the only country they've known, they shouldn't be used as pawns, etc. He's right; they shouldn't be used as pawns. But seeing as they're now young adults capable of choosing a college, they also are perfectly capable of choosing a legal path to citizenship.

It used to be that American citizenship meant something other than money and votes to those we choose to represent us.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

True Blew Brew Crew ... renewed?

At long last, my Milwaukee Brewers may have returned to prominence!
Note the "may". After snapping their four-game skid and finally closing the deal against the Phillies today, they're still holding a 5-game lead (on Houston) and have shrunk their magic number to 116.

OK, maybe that's pushing the optimism envelope a bit far. But the Crew has either had - or been within about a game of - the best record in MLB all season. And if the Journal-Sentinel's story on the rising demand for Brewer merchandise is any indication, it's time for fans to start tuning in. And in this season that the team is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its World Series appearance and only postseason date, is there any baseball city in America that celebrates a team that LOST the World Series like Milwaukee and Wisconsin? ... I don't think so.

Through six full weeks of the still-young season, they've proven they can dominate a suddenly mediocre-at-best NL Central (going 17-6 in a 23-game stretch through April). I have a feeling they're in for a shootout with the Cubs at some point, though, who virtually match their team batting average (about .270) and team ERA (both around 3.70). Given the way they play against each other and fill each other's stadiums, this could be good.

The Crew's starting rotation - Ben Sheets, Chris Capuano, Dave Bush, Claudio Vargas, Jeff Suppan - is as solid front-to-back as anyone's in the league. Interestingly, Sheets has been the weakest of the bunch.

The one thing the Brewers need to shore up - and the one area where the Cubs dominate them - is their hitting with runners in scoring position. Last season, when they won just 75 games, they batted around .240 with RISP, which put them in the bottom third of the league. Well, they're not much better this year, hovering between .240 and .250 again, which again puts them in the bottom third of the league. They'll need to raise that about 30 points to really start putting teams away.

And, perhaps most importantly, more Brewer wins might mean more exposure for these guys.

On a completely unrelated note, is there any cooler song, right now, tonight, than "Gone Away" by The Offspring?