Thursday, December 30, 2010

Champagne and Hamster Wheels

If you are at your ideal weight, raise your hand.

Thought so.  Saying "I could stand to drop five pounds" is kind of like saying "I could stand to comb my hair." 

I feel fat.  Have for about a month.  Must be all of the egg rolls, bacon wraps, crab cakes and mini hot dogs I've inhaled since Halloween. 

We all feel fat this time of year, don't we?  And we resolve to hit the gym.  Right after the New Year.  Or Presidents Day.  Or the next commercial. 

Americans love their cars, guns, TVs and fantasizing about looking younger and thinner (waist not hair).

Most of all, we love to eat.  Nothing like grazing the buffet trough four or five times.  And who needs a buffet when servers lay portions on us the size of phone books?

I keep active, mind you, by swimming several days a week.  Chasing my kids helps keep the pounds off also, I guess.  Still, sometimes I feel like a float in the Macy's Thanksgiving parade.  Seen the ad with the "exploding" pants buttons?  Keep me away from windows and large pets.

There was a time when I could eat, and eat, and eat.   Then I hit 40, and my metabolism, like Spike Lee's speech to the Republican National Convention.

I don't look heavier this time of year (wishful thinking?), just feel that way.

So I swim, but nobody will confuse me with Michael Phelps, or Bo Jackson.  I am reminded of sportscaster Dick Schaap's reaction to Bo's physique.  "Once you have seen Bo Jackson coming out of the shower," Schapp said,  "you will never want to shower again."

Exercise has always been vital.  My time.  No phone, no kids, no screens.  

Swimming is my gig.  A friend does triathlons. Often I will hear from him after a weekend biking up mountains or running through the forest. Me? I get tired hearing about it.

I used to workout at night but switched to (early) mornings many years ago for two reasons:  1) We always control when our day starts, but rarely control when it ends and 2) No matter how my day ends up (trust me I've had some doosies) I know I did something right.

And I'm not into diets.  Always felt like to go on a diet means by definition you will go off of it.  So I try to eat well, consistently.  But we certainly are bombarded by them. Personally I am waiting for the cigar, Mountain Dew and Combos diet. Maybe I'll commission a study.

As an aside, my wife is forming a militia to harm the radio lunatic who claims, "Studies show women over 40 have to work out an hour each day just to maintain their weight."  Applications pending.

So with the new year comes the rush to the gym and annual ritual I call the "hamster chase." 

Regulars know November and December are light gym months.  Then January hits and suddenly the locker room feels like fraternity rush week.  For about three weeks, people are being guided around as if visiting a foreign land, sans the cameras and fanny packs.  You see the newbies either flailing in the pool or hitting the treadmill in dress socks. 

At least they're trying.  I heard at my local Y over 75% of gift memberships aren't used even once. 

See you at the gym. 

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

May your life be filled with hope and happiness.

For our leaders both here and abroad, who are called on to guide the future of our children, my children...wisdom.

For our brothers and sisters who are hungry, without shelter, or lonely...comfort. 

For those who are blessed...give 'till it hurts, then give some more. 

And may all of us live with the sheer joy of a child on Christmas morning.

My daughter needed one word upon looking in our first box of ornaments.


Peace be with you.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

G.I. Joe and Dandy Don

There were a few deaths in the news recently.  These things happen in threes, right?

Leslie Nielsen, Elizabeth Edwards and Don Meredith.  Each passing was sad in its own way, as they left behind family, friends and fans.  And each achieved fame, or at least notoriety, in ways not intended.

Leslie Nielsen didn't set out to be a comic actor.  He had dramatic roles for many years prior to becoming a caricature in "Airplane" and the "Naked Gun" films.  He was serious - and don't call him Shirley. 

Elizabeth Edwards was an accomplished attorney best known for her courageous battle against cancer. 

And "Dandy" Don Meredith was the original "star" of the Dallas Cowboys, a Texan through and through who never played a home game, at any level, outside of his home state.  But Meredith is best known for  broadcasting "Monday Night Football" in the 70's and early 80's.  Teamed with Frank Gifford (the straight man) and Howard Cosell (the blowhard), Meredith was the booth comedian.  For example, during the 4th quarter of game where the hometown Houston Oilers were getting drilled, the camera focused on a single fan in an otherwise empty section.  The fan looked up and flipped the bird, prompting Meredith to say, "Well, at least someone thinks the Oilers are number one!"
Don Meredith didn't set out to be a TV star.  Yet Meredith's death is felt mainly because he came of age during my formative years in the 1970's.

When Don Meredith began on Monday Night Football it was exactly that.  The big game.  A night game, held once a week.  And because it was the only night game, it was an event. 

I used to beg my Dad to stay up until halftime to catch Howard Cosell's "halftime highlights."  Because back then, those were the highlights.  And maybe, just maybe, our beloved Bears would make the two minute reel. 

I remember one Monday game vividly featuring the Bears against the Green Bay Packers when Wally Chambers, the Bears All-Pro defensive tackle, was featured in the intro as Jim Croce's "Bad, Bad, LeRoy Brown" played in the background.  What did I want to be when I grew up?  Meaner than a junkyard dog. 

I also remember watching baseball's "Game of the Week" on NBC with Joe Gargiola and Tony Kubek because that's exactly what it was.  The game of the week; the only nationally televised game.  I watched, even though it always featured the Yankees, Red Sox, or Dodgers. 

Now games are ubiquitous, available now or on demand.  A big game?  Only until tomorrow night.  Reminds me of Dallas Cowboys running back Duane Thomas, who said shortly before playing in the Super Bowl, "If the Super Bowl is the ultimate game, why are they playing it again next year?

Growing up we had electric football (with the vibrating field), Slinky's and Pong. And Etch a Sketch.  You could either call sports phone (at 50 cents a pop) for scores or wait for the local news. 

My kids play interactive video games, pull up Internet highlights and choose among Sunday, Monday or Thursday night football games. 

We didn't hear much from Don Meredith after his retirement in 1984.  I admire him for knowing when to walk away, unlike Frank Gifford, who is trotted out like a weekly circus act.

Don Meredith won't ever be mentioned in the same breath as Vin Scully or Walter Cronkite, but his death is significant for two reasons:
First, Meredith was one of the last personalities in broadcasting. Can you name more than a couple network announcers today? Do you tune in to listen to them? Nobody "turned down the sound" in Monday Night Football's heyday.

Second, Meredith's death represents one of the last links to a bygone era, when the channels and games were few. Today everything seems instantaneous. Less was more. Or was it?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bowled Over, and Over, and Over

As I write this, Oregon and Auburn, both undefeated, figure to play for the college football's national championship. 

They play for a championship on the field now, not like the old days when writers and coaches voted for champs.  It's on the field, sort of, based on nerdy computer rankings through something called the BCS. 

Two teams, Auburn and Oregon, will battle for the brass ring. 

On January 10th. 

In the mean time, 68 other teams will go at it in an endless orgy of bowl games. 

This year there are 35 bowl games.

35 games, 70 teams.

70 teams will appear in bowl games out of 119 teams in major college football.  In other words, college bowl games have become the NHL playoffs, where the saying used to be "let's play 82 games to eliminate Winnipeg."

The original idea behind bowl games was to reward a handful of successful teams with the opportunity to play another game after being shuttled around by the host city for a series of photo-ops and glad handling.  Sounds cool, but the definition of "successful" team has been stretched quite a bit.  Stretched, shaken, stomped and spit on.  In today's college game, its six wins and you're bowl eligible, baby.  6-6.  Mediocrity rules. 

It wasn't always this way.  To illustrate, I looked back a few years.
I was born in December, 1967.  I picture my Dad with his infant son asleep on his chest, a stiff drink and cigarette in hand (must be true because I watch Mad Men), waiting on the evening paper and a chance to watch his alma mater.
In 1967 there were nine bowl games, and they were pure exhibition games, since the final polls came beforehand.  In fact, the AP writers poll had only 10 teams until 1968. 

USC finished first in 1967.  Wyoming was the only undefeated team, but finished sixth.  I'm sure nobody outside of Wyoming noticed. 

The 1967 bowl lineup was Orange, Rose, Sugar, Cotton, Sun, Gator, Tangerine, Bluebonnet and Liberty.  That's it.  In those days plenty of good teams went home after final exams.  Purdue finished the season ranked #9 with a 9-2 record.  No bowl. 
Fast forward to 2010 and the land of money spewing scrimmages.    Why so many bowl games?  Two reasons - money and programming. 

Schools love bowl games because they get big payouts and provide another reason for proud alums to cut a check or show up with face paint and a corncob on their head.  And coaches love it because a bowl game means a few extra weeks of practice.  And players love to play. I get that.

Then there's programming and those omnipresent letters - ESPN.  After all, how much pool and poker can a viewer take? 
So get ready, because bowl season starts in a week or so.  Just think, some day players can gather the grand kids and tell tales about:

- The GoDaddy Bowl (are they virtually hosting?)
- The Ticketcity Bowl (plenty of tickets available)
- The Meinecke Car Care Bowl (do players brake with pads or shoes?)

And they can reminisce about their lovely December week in Detroit (Little Caesars Bowl) or Boise (Humanitarian Bowl).  Regarding Boise and the "blue rug," wouldn't it be more humane to stay home?  Do players ride snowmobiles to the game?

The BCS is not without controversy.  The plan was to settle things on the field, but there still are issues.  TCU is also undefeated but shut out of the big game because they play in the Mountain West conference. 

Big conferences rule, such as the Big 12, SEC and Big Ten.  And teams feast on directional schools early (Southeastern Middle Florida, Northwest Virginia State) to ensure gaudy final records.

As an aside, next year there will be ten teams in the Big 12 and twelve teams in the Big Ten.  Discuss.

Some have called for a playoff.  I like the bowls.  But only a few of them.  What do you think?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Palin 1, Halibut 0

and other random thoughts

Madam Palin

I watched the premiere of Sarah Palin's Alaska show the other night.  Sounds like a lot of people did, then didn't (the ratings dropped over 40% for episode two). 

I love the outdoors and have never been to Alaska, so I tuned in and found it mildly interesting.  Problem is there are shows on all the time about Alaska and other Arctic locales.  Hunt one day, fish the next.

I understand Whalin Palin pummelled a halibut in week 2.  Sorry I missed that.  It should make a good campaign ad.  But for who?

It's all about 2012 right?  She's already made not so subtle hints (as subtle as a two by four to the skull) about running for president. 

Sarah Palin is the Notre Dame of politics.  There's no middle ground.  Either you love her or think she's Beelzebub. 

And Sarah Inc. is a profitable gig, with best selling books, paid speeches at say, 50 grand a pop and a well paid, friendly megaphone at Fox News.  

I'm not sure what to think of her politically and wonder why she would run given her current role where  she controls every aspect of her message and yields significant influence.  And if she does run, has she peaked too soon?  How many dancing bears or daughters are left to watch?  Gotta say though, the only people happier at the prospect of her running than Republicans are Democrats.  The next 18 months promise to be good theater.

And if you haven't already, check out this Robert Draper piece in the New York Times Magazine:

Pat Downs and Body Scans

I remember when the Hare Krishnas were the biggest "personal space invaders" at airports.  Now we have so-called pat downs and full body scans. 

Not sure why we aren't taking notes from the Israelis, who have arguably the world's toughest airport security without pats or scans. 

I imagine the new policies will be modified, and hopefully won't extend to train stations and buses.  One of my close friends is fond of saying Americans have too many freedoms.   Is he right?

Giving Thanks

Speaking of freedoms....A few weeks ago we walked out of Mass where our local Congresswoman was shaking hands a couple of days before the mid-term elections. 

A nice woman who has served our district for many years.  We said hello and were on our way.  While walking home my son 12 year-old son asked, "Are you going to vote for her?"  "Not sure," I said, which was the truth.  His next question struck me.  "If you are going to vote for her," he said,  "why would you shake her hand?"   

"Because she's a member of Congress,"  I said, "and she is serving our country.  You need to respect that whether you vote for her or not."

People have rioted for less.  I think back to the 2000 presidential race and the ballot controversies.  That's it, controversies.  No coup, no contra insurgence. 

Our peaceful process and results, then and now, are the envy of other nations.  Jimmy Carter has made a post- presidential career observing foreign elections. 

I'm thankful we live, peacefully, in a free country.   God bless those who watch over us, here and abroad.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

5 by 25

I celebrated an important anniversary last week. 

I know, they're all important.  But this one had me reflecting quite a bit.

5 years ago last week I stood with my children and married an amazing woman. 

Tania is amazing.  Not perfect, but amazing.  A beautiful, gifted woman with a huge heart, who sees me for who I am (and more importantly who I am not).  Someone to share hopes and dreams. Together we are a living sacrament. 
Marriage isn't something I pictured happening after a painful divorce.

"Painful divorce."  How redundant. 

Nobody wants a divorce, and in terms of pain, I am reminded of an exchange between Walter Mondale and George McGovern, the latter having badly lost a presidential bid in 1972. 

"How long until I get over this?" a down Walter Mondale asked George McGovern in the wake of his presidential loss in 1984, to which McGovern responded, "I'll let you know."

The image that often came to mind was of a soldier walking through a devastated village.  The sun is on the horizon; You can see it but can't grasp it.  But the light is there, which in my case is two amazing children, family and friends. 

The light is there, and you need to persevere.  Life doesn't come with a built in GPS.  Usually when I expect a layup I get hammered in the lane. 
Sometimes you strike gold. 

Along with a being a wonderful wife and step mom Tania has given me two gorgeous little girls.  Girls so precious they stop traffic.  As for their teenage years, I have been advised more than once to get a gun.

Parenting again is fun and I have remembered a few things such as:

- Teletubbies are so 20th century
- Dreft and changing tables are for chumps
- How to pace back and forth like a cougar in order to induce sleep
- The art of falling asleep in a room full of kids, or before my head hits the pillow

Which brings me to 25.
For years I have trekked off to the pool, park or library for quality family time. 

More than 10 years worth. 

A decade of runny noses, t-ball, raging hormones and sugar highs.

And I've got many more years to go. 

By the time my infant daughter becomes a teenager I will have put in over 25 years.  Instead of a gold watch I'm hoping for a silver cane.

Bifocal Dads - unite!

A few years ago there was a mostly forgettable movie starring Chris Rock called "I Think I Love My Wife." If you haven't seen it I'll save you 4 bucks - he does. 

I know I love my wife...and my life. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Dogbert Dogma

Thoughts on the midterm elections:

On the national front it's hard to deny the big, sweeping change.  A Republican romp, two years after  Democrats swept into power. 

I have heard seen commentary about angry pols "voting against Democrats, not for Republicans." 

Is this supposed to make Dems feel better?  If your girlfriend dumps you for a weaselly, two bit mope who lives with his Mama, do you feel better? 

Not so much, and I'm not buying it.  What I am buying is that voters are fed up with leaders spending money like drunken sailors (an insult to sailors,  of course, who are spending their own money). 

And it appears moderation has gone the way of break dancing, with the fringe elements of both parties making the biggest gains.  The Tea Party made quite a splash, while moderates got shown the door. 

The Tea Party had a big impact, no question.  But are they for real, and who will emerge in 2012?  A more important question might be which sitting member of Congress switches to the Tea Party, and when?   The current cast of Tea Party characters needs to return to the Romper Room. 

I enjoyed the column below, which makes the case that the Tea Party movement is more about karma than anger or liberty:

The near term election result is a couple years of gridlock.  

Americans like gridlock.  Think of the Dilbert principle - companies (voters) tend to promote their most ineffective people (politicians) quickly where they can do the least amount of harm. 

To quote Dogbert, "Leadership is nature's way of removing morons from the productive flow."

Speaking of morons, how about Tea Party candidate Carl Paladino?  Granted, there are loons in any election season, but Paladino belongs on the Mount Rushmore of wacky baby kissers. 

The guy came out of nowhere to win the New York gubernatorial primary, a business owner with no experience in politics or life outside a cave.  Then, in the span of five months, Paladino managed to:

- Threaten to "rub out" a columnist who exposed his child fathered ten years ago as a result of an extramarital affair with a co-worker
- Acknowledge sending sexually explicit, homophobic and racist emails to friends and co-workers
- Referred to New York Senator Kristin Gillibrand as (Senator Chuck) "Schumer's little girl"
- Wield a baseball bat during his concession speech and promise we haven't heard the last of him

In Illinois we had Tony Peraica, a canidate for Cook County Commissioner who was arrested for damaging his opponent's yard signs, in the middle of the night dressed in all black.  The kicker?  Peraica was arrested in the town of McCook, who's Mayor is Jeff Tobolski.  Tobolski was Peraica's opponent.

Tobolski won. 

Politics is a contact sport.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Waving the Magic Juan

How sad. 

How sad that Juan Williams got the whack from NPR for expressing his feelings.   If you follow the news you have had a few days to digest the story.  Here's what Williams said on Fox's The O'Reilly Factor:

"I mean, look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country," Williams said. "But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."

He went on to say that not everyone in a religious group, Christian or Muslim, should be lumped in with extremists.

Juan Williams has been around a while.  He worked at The Washington Post for over 20 years before joining NPR and contributes regularly to publications such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. 

I found this commentary from the Journal particularly interesting:

He also appears on Fox News, and as Hamlet said, "Aye, there's the rub." 

It's those pesky Fox News appearances that have him in hot water, much more than his comments about Muslims. 

He shows up on The O'Reilly Factor, a show I catch from time to time.  I'm a political junkie, so I catch them all.

Bill O'Reilly is a classic bully, his counterparts on MSNBC classic nerds, and all would probably wear my labels with honor. 

O'Reilly brings people on his show who disagree with him.  Credit him for that.  But most get pummeled worse than a Cub Scout at a Hell's Angels rally.  O'Reilly is like the kid on the playground who snags a cupcake from your lunchbox, knocks out your front teeth and then thanks you for joining him.

So Juan Williams is a regular on Fox News.  And somehow, in NPR CEO Vivian Shiller's alternate universe, his time on NPR was as an "analyst," therefore he was not allowed to express his opinions elsewhere.  If he were a "commentator" he could say what he wants. 


Juan Williams has been giving (dare I say commentating) what most would call moderate opinions for years.

But the Juan Williams affair is just noise.  The real story is that as a society we continue to focus on "gotcha" moments that squelch necessary dialogue about prejudice and fear. 

Kind of like when I hear, "I'm not racist, but" or "I'm not sexist but," roughly translated as "I'm about to say something racist or sexist."

In 1993 Jesse Jackson famously said:

"I hate to admit it, but I have reached a stage in my life that if I am walking down a dark street late at night and I see that the person behind me is white, I subconsciously feel relieved."

We all have prejudices.  We all have fears.  If we can't talk about it respectfully, how do we move forward? 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tackles, Twits and Tweens

Tossing the ball around

Patrick Mannelly.  If you are a Bears fan you are probably familiar with him.  If not, you're not. 

Patrick Mannelly set a record last month by playing in his 193rd game as a Chicago Bear. 

193 games.  More than Payton, Dent, George, Grange or any other Bear.  Ever.

Patrick Mannelly is a long snapper.  He comes in on punts and extra points, maybe 10 plays a game.  In 13 seasons he has probably made about $9 million bucks. 


Nobody noticed him until last August when he got hurt in training camp and missed a game.  They stuck Desmond Clark, a tight end, in his spot and it was brutal. 

I am planning to play catch with my son through his legs.  Got to keep the options open. 

Reminds me of the saying about left handed pitchers - there's always a roster spot if their arm hasn't fallen off. 

Put a Fork in it...Please

Speaking of the Bears, there has been lots of commentary about their wobbly 4-1 start.  Most of it spot on.  But a couple of reporters accused media and fans of "drinking the Bears Kool Aid."

There it is again.  "Kool Aid" references are everywhere, aren't they?  We all march up and mindlessly "drink" whatever message is being delivered. 

Just like The People's Temple.  Just like Jonestown. 

We have managed to ditch a lot of cultural references through the years, but somehow "drinking the Kool Aid" won't go away. 

My wife was in a play called "The People's Temple" a couple of years ago, a performance which coincided with the 30th anniversary of the Jonestown massacre. 

It was an intense, moving piece.  Over 900 people were murdered in Jonestown, nearly of them 300 children.  It wasn't suicide.  It was mass murder.   

Yet somehow we continue to find humor in the notion of "drinking the Kool Aid." 

Can't we come up with a better metaphor? 

Tweet Tweet

I have two twelve year olds.  Tween twins.  They just got cell phones, so somehow their lives are complete. 

I was talking with my daughter the other day between texts and the subject of pay phones came up. 

"Do you know what a pay phone is," I asked.  She flashed a brief, blank look, then said she did.

As with all things tween, I have a healthy skepticism. 

I doubt she's ever seen a pay phone.  I struggle to remember the last time I saw one.  Cells, pads, pods and berries are ubiquitous.

I read recently that college kids don't email, they text.  Some experts predict email will be obsolete in a few years.  Too slow. 

A few years ago we stopped at an ice cream parlor and my kids were mesmerized by the jukebox.  They had never seen vinyl.

I remember standing in the hallway of my dorm waiting for the pay phone. 

I also remember 8 tracks and typewriters.  Barely.

What else will "disappear" in our lifetime, and when?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Lunkers and Lawyers

A few years ago there was an ad campaign called "Take Me Fishing."  You can check out the ad here:

I tear up every time I see it. 

Fishing is one of my great loves.  Always has been, though I have really grown to appreciate it as a father of four. 

My Dad took me regularly.  We even did a couple of trips to Canada.  In Canada the routine is eat, fish, eat, fish, eat, play cards, sleep, repeat.  Kids in Canada keep crank bait in their lunch box.  Like the two sports in Texas (football and spring football), Canada has fishing and ice fishing.

Years ago I began to introduce fishing to my kids.  We started with the local park fishing program, then "graduated" to a couple of nearby lakes and lagoons. During weekend getaways I loaded gear in the car, hoping to find a quiet fishing hole.

Fishing with young kids is an adventure.  Most time is spent untangling lines and baiting hooks.  It amazed me how quickly I would look up from the tackle box to find lines wrapped around each other, or around a kid.  Success defined as being an o-fer on emergency room trips.

One time I had to release a small mouth that was in bad shape with the hook in pretty deep.  We continued fishing when a gull swooped down next to the boat and grabbed our forgotten catch.  The look on the kid's faces was priceless. 

My daughter was in the habit of naming the worms as she fished.  Somehow seeing me yank and hook Lizzie McGuire never upset her.

My son was all business, and shrewd at that, asking me to cast the line and hook the fish before he reeled it in. 

One morning back home we were walking along when my son looked over a bridge and asked, "Are there bass in there?"

With age and experience came my son's growing excitement at being able to use "lawyers" instead of worms.  He meant lures, but who am I to correct him? 

Why fish?

I love hot coffee and the stillness of nature's morning.  I love listening to the loons and geese.  I love gettin' back on the water for 20 or 30 minutes at the end of the day.  It's not about the fish.

I enjoy the serenity that comes from time alone.  No phone, blackberry, T.V. or IPod.  Our time, with nothing to do but fish.  And talk.  Take me fishing...anytime.

How do you bond with your kids? 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Party Poopers

A recent Saturday started out well.  Despite me, my wife and two of my kids battling various stages of allergies/flu/sinus infections we decided to go out for breakfast.

"Started out well" is a relative term.  When dining out with the shorties, "well" is a meal that involves any combination of the following:

- Less than 5 utensils thrown on the floor
- Less than 5 sugar packets, crackers or liquid creamer packets broken or spilled on the table
- No vomit, gas or body malfunctions
- Two complete sentences spoken by an adult without interjecting (pleading?) a child's name

So yes, while the meal went well, it was the drive that went strange.  As we approached a construction zone outside a mall, I came to a stop along with the other cars while two cars waited to turn through our lane. 

In one car a man blared away on his horn.  Mind you, none of us were moving until the distant light changed.

There was nowhere to go, but this guy clearly had brain surgery to conduct at Starbucks and did not let up.  As the light changed and he drove by, we all got to hear his expletive filled tirade, which he screamed out the window while on a cell phone. 

Tough to explain that one to the kids, huh?  No need.  Just one angry dude.  It would have, however, been quite the teachable (YouTube) moment if we had watched an enraged, distracted driver plow into another car or a construction horse. 

On another recent afternoon, I was walking the dog while pushing my three year-old in her stroller.  The hound took a pit stop and I picked it up and placed it into a sealed plastic bag.  We had a good ways to go and as I came across a garbage can at the curb I tossed the bag inside.

Bad idea. 

I heard a man yell from behind.  Maybe six feet tall, a cut off t-shirt and lunch pail.  Apparently it was his house and he was upset that I used his garbage can.  "I hate when people do that," he yelled.  I said I was just being a good neighbor by picking it up and had a ways to go.  Then he, ahem, put down his lunch pail and approached as if willing to start a fist fight.  Over a bag of poop.  In front of my daughter.  I stood there, he backed off, and we continued on our walk. 

I thought about it again after reading the "Poop Rage"  story below:

So my question in all three cases is:  What gives? 
What on earth is going on in someones life that they become so enraged over something so trivial? 

It's a reminder to me, to us, that we are all vulnerable.  None of us know what lives in the minds and hearts of others.  Looking into the eyes of both men was sad, not scary. 

The scary part is what we don't see. What happens next.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

America, Land of the...Poor?

I was struck by a recent news item. 

Forget struck.  How about floored, shocked, dismayed.

The poverty rate is now at 14.3% - the highest level since the 1950s, when the statistic was first measured. 

And poverty, for a family of four, is an annual household income of $21,954.  

1 in 7 Americans lives in poverty.  And these days, 7 of 7 live with uncertainty, don't they? 

Our economy plugs along with the grace of an "el" train, and the gap between "rich" and poor grows.   I use the term "rich" loosely because somehow I fall under this definition in some political circles. 

I ain't rich.  Blessed? Yes.  But if I'm rich Donald Trump wears a rug. 

1 in 7 are poor. 

Perhaps it's no coincidence that the story broke after several loons rocked the political establishment on primary night. 

I'm not a fan of "isms."  Racism, sexism, ageism. 

Or extremism. 

Extremism is a bipartisan "movement," with adherents on all sides of the political spectrum. 

We lack moderation these days in our political discourse.  Many argue we have for a while, which makes getting together on an issue like poverty a pipe dream. 

Lots to consider in combating poverty, but I tend to simplify it with three main factors:

1.  We spend a ton of money to educate our kids, who overall fall short of other industrialized nations in science and math.  But we spend much less in poor areas due to funding heavily reliant of property taxes. 

2.  Kids who grow up in single parent homes are victimized by a welfare system that still punishes families for sticking together. 

3.  Kids who grow up in cities face crumbling roads, schools and infrastructure.  The race to suburbia has left many who can find a job either unable to get there or faced with hours of public commuting.

A commitment to rail lines and buses would be great (A transportation "Marshall Plan"?), except there's no cash. 

And the problem isn't limited to cities.  The face of poverty is rural, urban, and sadly American. 

What would you do to combat poverty?  I would love to hear from you.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Daley Double

Da Mayor is done.  Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley won't run.  The Daley regime, and the Machine(?) comes to an abrupt end.

He says its time.  Makes sense.  Some argue its been time for a while, or that it's good to end it on his terms before voters do, with his approval ratings at a new low. 

I think he's just had enough.  You can see the stress on his face in recent years.  The combination of his wife's illness, the botched Olympic bid and an (perceived?) increase in crime seemed to do him in.

There's also the not so small matter of a cash strapped city with a $600 million Visa bill. 

He was a successful mayor, no question.   Chicago remains a world class destination due mainly to Daley's relentless leadership.  Pro business, pro arts, pro development, particularly the lakefront and downtown.  He contributed mightily to Chicago's reputation as a city with a great "front yard."

But the "back yard" has it's share of old tires and sinks. 

Daley rules with the subtlety of a burlesque show, treating aldermen like the "Whack a Groundhog" arcade game. Witness the midnight raid of Miegs Field or the selling of city assets.  Are naming rights next?  How about the "Jersey Shore" Drive or "Oprah" Field?

And corruption is rampant, with over 40 members of Daley's administration indicted in recent years. Cronies constantly cut insider deals, cashing more chits than an Ivy League admissions officer. We're left to wonder the indirect cost of each foot of wrought iron fencing to cops, firefighters and teachers. 

Chicago's next mayor is going to have a lovely, showroom quality car.  Just don't peek under the hood.

Neil Giuntoli's brilliant play "Hizzonor" opens with Giuntoli, as Daley's father, kneeling in his Bridgeport church.  The Priest says "peace be with you" and the congregation responds "and also wit choo."  Pure Chicago.  Pure Daley. 

The city that works, like sausage. 

Da Bears

A quick note as we begin Lovie's farewell tour.  Jay Cutler is a nice quarterback, but I have the sinking feeling he will running from defenses like his hair is on fire.  The line is brutal, and my fear is that they are Puppy Chow to guys like Lions rookie Ndamukong Suh (a beast who tosses QB's like the morning paper)  and the Vikings Jared Allen. 

I hope I'm wrong.  Just sayin'. 

Monday, August 30, 2010

Buy Me Some Peanuts and ...Bush Leaguers

A report last week from Deadspin showed that teams like the Royals, Marlins and Pirates make money despite fielding lousy teams which can't draw flies.   Because they keep costs down?  Yes, but also because of revenue sharing.

Since the mid-1990's, baseball has had a system where "big market" (think New York, LA, Chicago) teams share revenue with "small market" (think Kansas City, Tampa, Cleveland) teams.  The idea was to level the playing field, redistribute wealth, so other teams could compete.

This year, for example, the New York Yankees (baseball's Microsoft) have a payroll of $206 million, while the Pittsburgh Pirates have a payroll of $35 million.  In fact, the Yanks Alex Rodriguez ($34 million) makes as much as the entire Pirates roster.  I picture *A-Rod walking up to the Pirates batting cage and saying "I can buy you guys."  Would he want them? 

Revenue sharing hasn't worked.  Come October, big spenders dominate while little spenders make tee times.  "Moneyball" theories aside, money rules.

There are exceptions.  The Florida Marlins have won two championships and the Tampa Bay Rays won a pennant a couple of years ago.   Cleveland came within a game of the World Series a few years ago. 

Rooting for a small market team means rooting for exceptions.  Baseball does not have a salary cap like other sports or shared TV revenue like the NFL.  Baseball has the strongest players union, by far, of any professional sport and owners who often are their own worst enemies. 

(As an aside, check out "Lords Of The Realm" by John Helyar for more on the "real" history of baseball.) 

And there is revenue sharing (this year's pool is about $450 million), but now comes word that a number of owners pocket the dough for themselves.  While the idea was that teams would spend away on new players, there aren't strict guidelines on what to do with the money. 

Reminds me of the episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond" where Robert goes to his brother for money due to some hard times and promptly spends it on a weekend in Vegas. 

When baseball's labor agreement is up next year and owners cry about player salaries, they won't have much leverage will they?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Beam Me Up Kiddos

Timely article in the Tribune (link below) about technology and kids.

Over the weekend I took my twins, who are entering 7th grade, to get cell phones. We agreed that they would use part of their allowance to pay for them and see how it goes.

Growing up I remember:

- Listening for my mother's ringing a cow bell when it was time to get home

- Standing in line for the pay phone in my college dorm 

- Racing home (or not leaving the house) before answering machines to wait for a phone call.  

Progress, I guess, and a teachable moment.

My kids and I have always had regular dialogue about money and the choices involved.  They had bank accounts at age 6 and an allowance tied to chores. When we go out to eat they have a choice of either getting a soda or a dollar.
I’ve always enjoyed observing personalities as they relate to money.  For example, if I gave my daughter $100 she would figure out a way to save every dime. My son? He would leverage it and try to spend $110.  My daughter’s reaction when I asked for the first month’s cell phone fee – “Dad, can I get back to you on that?”

But I have also watched them try to pool their resources for a Christmas gift. Or get out a sharp pencil to figure out how long they need to save for a game or clothing.  I have watched them burn through money, regret it, and learn from it .  Choices. Hopefully that’s the key takeaway as they grow older.

What lessons have you tried to impart about money? I would love to hear from you.,0,6396201.story

Monday, August 9, 2010

Let Them Eat Walleye

With folks in a huff over Michelle Obama’s Spanish jaunt (a New York Daily News column compared her to Marie Antoinette), I thought I'd provide a side by side comparison of the First Lady’s trip to the Gaul family’s annual trek to the Northwoods of Wisconsin.
This is strictly for comparison purposes, though if the President decided to join us next year it would create the biggest stir since pasteurization. 

Methods of Transportation:           

Obama:  Air Force Two, limousine           

Gaul:   Minivan, fishing boat


Obama:  70 Service Agents                  

Gaul:  Old English Sheepdog


Obama:  60 rooms at Costa Del Sol      

Gaul:  Two Bedroom cabin

Greeted upon Arrival by:                

Obama:  King Juan Carlos                 

Gaul:  Several hundred mosquitoes


Obama:  Sea bass tartare, lobster with seaweed risotto         

Gaul:  Burgers a la Weber


Obama:  Flamenco performance by Juan Andres Maya      

Gaul:   Bonfire guitar performance by Guillermo Gaul

Leisure activities:                           

Obama:  Swimming at a closed beach     

Gaul: Diving off the pier

Top Sightseeing attraction:            

Obama:  Alhambra Palace,  a16th century cathedral                    

Gaul:  World’s largest penny in Woodruff

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Wringing Out the Clouds....

And Other Random thoughts.

Having lived in Chicago all my life, I can't recall a stretch more humid than last month. Hotter? '95 was awful. But not as humid. And not just the morning when my "el" car felt like a Russian steam bath.

I remember a David Letterman skit many years ago when he went on the street to find “Mr. Humidity,” the New Yorker who resembled a walking radiator. They say “It’s not the heat that gets you but the humidity.” Amen.

*A Rod

"A" as in asterisk. Alex Rodriguez is in elite company, the 7th player in baseball history with 600 home runs. In recent years it’s become a rather dubious group with new members Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and *A Rod each linked to steroids.

It remains to be seen where *A Rod ends up history and public perception wise. Fans seem to embrace him at arm’s length, but at age 35 he has a lot of years left.

I’m certain, however, of one thing: History will be kind to Ken Griffey Jr., who retired this year with 630 career homers and without the stain of performance enhancing drugs. Griffey was blessed with every tool except durability; otherwise he would have left Bonds, Aaron, Ruth et al. in his wake years ago.

Alternate Reality

The other night I was flipping channels and came across one of those ubiquitous reality shows. In a riveting piece of drama, a dishevled woman looks up from the couch and discovers she has overslept for whatever ridiculous, contrived activity was on tap. I looked at my wife and said, “Why didn’t the cameraman wake her?” and learned that there are actually RULES for these shows, and that the camera crews can’t get involved. Who knew? Wish I was around when the suits came up with them. I’m sure it was like the Geneva Conventions.


Time to trade the custom made suits for a D.O.C. monogram. Next up: Republican kingpin Bill Cellini. The circus is leaving town but plenty of good theater remains.

Simple Beauty

My daughter turns 3 this week. We have had a good deal of bonding time lately, much of it at the pool, as Mom cares for the new baby.

Monday night was like many this summer. Looks like rain all day, rains a bit (“The clouds are raining” she likes to say) then clears after dinner.

Off to the pool. It’s cloudy, a bit chilly, with just a handful of people. She discovers two small water bottles and brings them to me in the shallow end. Beauty salon time as she rinses my hair, then a series of turns as she fills one bottle with water from the other. Then she lies down, asking me to lie in the water, the end of her corkscrew curls dipped in water. She laughs, running the bottles under the surface.

After a while I look up. We are the only ones left. Our moment. Our summer.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Back to $chool

Here’s all you really need to know about how money drives everything in college sports:

Alabama football coach Nick Saban gets paid $4,000,000 per year. The average yearly salary for a professor at Alabama is $116,000.

Alabama won the National Championship last season. It is estimated that a home game in Tuscaloosa brings in over 21 million dollars to the university.

That’s PER GAME.

Just sayin'.

Nick Saban received a bonus of $200,000 for beating Texas in the title game. And what did the hard working young men who played for Nick Saban get?

A nice ring and a chance to study for free.

I’m sure got some swag, maybe a nice Rose Bowl sweat suit and some gym shoes.

But that’s about it. Or is it?

A few weeks ago Nick Saban referred to sports agents as “pimps” amid allegations that several Division I players, including former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush, took money (in Bush’s case over $250,000) from agents while in school.

Imagine that.

The system is screwy. The NFL and universities have done a fine job fostering a “farm system” for the pros to develop players, so-called “student athletes.”

Think about that. How much does it cost for an employer to hire and train a new employee? For the NFL, not much.

Basketball is no different. The NBA imposed a “one and done” rule requiring players to play somewhere until the minimum age of 19, effectively letting colleges train them for a year, at no cost, with the idea that kids would benefit from “the college experience.”

Hooey. This is America, right? If someone told me when I was 19 “drop out now and we will pay you millions” do you think I would even consider another year of Mac and Cheese and Old Style? Money can’t buy you love, but it makes livin’ a lot easier.

Modern college athletics has turned the concept of “student athletes” on its head. I’m talking revenue sports, not fencing or field hockey.

And yes, I know there are plenty of college athletes who go to class with no aspirations of making a living shooting a ball or knocking people over. For every jock studying ceramics or martinizing, you have one majoring in astrophysics or electrical engineering.

But let’s get real. The time commitment to play a major revenue sport is year-round, the pressure tremendous.

And there are some silly rules. Athletes are not allowed to work in season (presuming they could find the time). But they are allowed to get paid to play another sport. Drew Henson was a quarterback at Michigan while under contract with the New York Yankees for a cool 6 years/17 million dollars.

Agents are pervasive in amateur sports, and the temptation is real because the “free education” carrot is not enough for many athletes. When I was in school at Missouri I certainly saw a few fancy cars, but I also witnessed guys who waiting until Thanksgiving to go home and do their laundry. Many wore team issue clothes every day.

So here’s a modest proposal: How about taking a slice of that revenue and paying players a small stipend, say $50 - $100 per week? It wouldn’t get rid of agent “pimps,” but it might help level the playing field a bit.

Pay to play? Please.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Kase Fer Book Lernin'

"Dad," I heard my 11 year old son call from the kitchen.

"I want to go to college at USC, Florida, LSU, what's LSU?, Ohio State or Penn State."

I guess there are worse criteria for picking a school than Football polls.

My two seventh graders and I have had quite a few talks about college lately. They are curious as a number of their cousins and friend's siblings go off to school.

They want to know "what you do there" and are intrigued, to say the least, by the idea that they are on their own. Our talks have me thinking about the value of education and the pressures kids face.

Growing up, my parents led by example. We lived in a home filled with books and newspapers and they were consistent in emphasizing effort and thirst for knowledge over grades.

They stressed the importance of being well read and the value of knowing a little bit about a lot of things. I remember coming home from college and my parents asking what I learned, not what I got.

Which isn't to say that if I crossed the Bluto Blutarsky line I wouldn't have faced the music. I did well. But graduation day was the beginning of my education, not the end.

Somehow we have bought into the notion that a college degree is a necessity, for everyone. Not sure I buy that.

My freshman year at Missouri I was in a large Marketing class with a visiting professor from Australia. On the first exam he gave 2/3 of the class a C or lower and heard moans when he posted grades. One student yelled, "Everyone deserves a chance" and he quickly replied, "No, not everyone deserves a chance. Everyone deserves an oppotunity to take a chance." He turned his back to us a moment and then said "You know what I am saying don't you?" (pregnant pause) "Most of you don't belong here."

College isn't for everyone, and yet we seem backwards compared to many cultures where kids serve as an apprentice in a chosen field before going to college or trade school.

Mr. Marshall at my high school was one of the most interesting, well read people I have ever known. I don't recall whether or where he went to college. He was a custodian, in charge of cleaning our athletic locker rooms. A good man.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, "Whatever your life's work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.”

And for my kids: No matter where life takes you, be a learner, an interesting person. That's an "A" on my report card.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Found At Sea

RIP Captain Phil.

That would be Captain Phil Harris of the Cornelia Marie, star of Discovery Channel's "Deadliest Catch," who passed away during filming earlier this year.

I've been hooked(pun intended) on "Catch" for a few years now, my one dose of reality TV.

The formula is simple enough. A group of crab fishing boats head out in the Bering Sea (between Alaska and Russia) with cameras aboard. While they "compete" to see who has the most crab at the end, ultimately it's about their individual haul, a year's pay condensed into a few months.

The show opens with close ups each captain in front of his crew as Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive" blares in the background. At one point Captain Sig Hansen is shown thrusting his arm forward as if to signal a "first down." The faces are worn as an old tire, but the rush is on.

The ship's men are classic "bad boys," hard driving cowboys willing to risk their lives in one of the most dangerous jobs on earth.

And the danger is ever present. They work 18 hours at a time some 300 miles from shore. As they fight the raging waves, snow, rain and sleet, the crew offloads over 100 crab "pots" into the sea, each weighing about 800 pounds. Go overboard or get struck with a pot and your're toast.

They don't gather for yoga in the morning, and the work hardly lends itself to a spread in Men's Health or GQ. The captains in particular are overcaffinated, chain smoking and sedentary. Captain Phil suffered a massive stroke followed by a fatal embolism. His two sons are part of his crew, and one struggles with an addiction to pain killers.

So why watch? The show is pure testosterone, and there is a certain honor with each of the crews, many of which are second and third generation.

But there's no free ride. A rookie on the boat, called a greenhorn, goes through a stiff test in order to move up to deckhand. Some might call it hazing. With no HR department the vets have free reign.

I'm hooked, because it's my ultimate fantasy. When I was a kid we used to vacation in Wisconsin and had a neighbor (in the proverbial "house on the hill") who was a commercial fisherman. Paid to fish. Cool.

Not quite my career choice. I suppose someone could run up to my desk and douse me repeatedly, and I do recall a female co-worker many years ago with a mouth that would make a longshoreman blush, but that's as close as I get to life on the Bering Sea. A man can dream, can't he?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Leggo my Blago

I'm "all in" for the Blago Trial.

Thoughts so far:

- He's incompetent and delusional. And LeBron is a shameless self promoter. Tell me something we don't know.

- Speaking of LeBron, it would be great if they had a "Sportscenter" type Blago wrap up on the tube, although I must say this time old fashioned print journalism trumps TV, especially with tapes we are privy to in transcript form.

- The testimony is damning yes, but how? From what I can tell, Blago is guilty of being a naive idiot and betraying taxpayers by making a sham out of his time in office, but it sounds like he never took money and failed with his "schemes." In other words, he couldn't "close the deal" and as a crook he is quite the amateur. Will "honest services fraud" hold up once the defense phase begins?

- Speaking of defense, what surprises await once the defense has a chance to cross examine and bring their own witnesses? Illinois is bipartisan in corruption, and both parties have to fear this trial continuing into election season. There have to be a few state politicians shaking more than hands these days.

- Half a mill on clothes? Wow. How much does he pay KidSnips for a trim?

- After his trial and (hopefully) jail term end, Blago will have a long career as an political entertainer. It's downright Shakespearean the way he waves to the crowd and poses for pictures each day on his way from the courthouse. It's not a crime to be a national joke, and it can be quite profitable. Think Jersey Shore or Clara Peller.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

My Name is Bill and I Don't Get Soccer

Today I learned that the U.S. soccer team lost in something called the "round of 16" and are out of the World Cup.

This after Friday and Landon Donovan's game winning goal. One moment you're up, the next in the gutter (cue the skier exploding over the railing on Wide World of Sports).

A loss to Ghana? 300 million people and we can't come up with enough players to beat a country the size of Jersey?

I don't get soccer. Never played it, barely watch it.

When I was a kid people said "Just wait until your generation can drive, then the sport will really gain popularity." I have been driving for many years, but not to soccer games.

Soccer is the world's sport, not America's sport. Not by a long shot. Ever watch a World Cup match and then tune in to the NASL, MSL, or whatever league is out there these days? Like watching the World Series before a game of T-ball.

Kids love soccer. My theory is soccer is popular with the shorties because it's the one sport adults know nothing about, freeing them to run around without grating, meddling parents.

I know baseball and have coached my son for years. Soccer? Two of my kids have played. I watched.

Let's not confuse participation with fandom, otherwise cycling and jogging would be outdrawing "The Bachelor" and "Desperate Housewives."

Americans play a lot of sports that they don't watch, particularly women's sports. I know an attorney who ran a now defunct women's pro volleyball league. When I asked him whether he thought women's sports would "catch on" like men's his "no" made sense. Put simply, when men get together they go to a ballgame. Women don't, and until they do leagues will struggle.

Ditto soccer. We certainly don't rally around the national team the way other countries do. Most nations shut down for games while we gather a handful of people in the lunchroom.

So good luck Ghana. See you down the road unless I am watching my kid chase a spotted ball.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Al and Rush Together Again

So Al and Tipper Gore announce their separation after 40 years of marriage at about the same time Rush Limbaugh gets married to his fourth wife. Ideology aside, they have something in common with most of us.

We can't seem to find the secret to long-term, fulfilling marriage. But man do we like to try.

A friend passed along an article about Rush the other day which suggested he was a hypocrite for marrying again while being against same sex marriage. I disagree for a couple of reasons: 1) I haven't observed Limbaugh portray his personal life in a righteous manner and 2) Believing in an institution and participating in it multiple times doesn't make you a hypocrite. It means you're trying to get it right.

As to the Gores, I was sorry to hear the news, as I am to hear about any union ending. None of us with any sense enter into commitments with the intention of ending them. If the essence of love is sacrifice, then to have a marriage of any length end is to experience grief. I dealt with a man many years ago who was fond of saying he had been "married and divorced five times to my wife of 36 years."

But this one seemed to resonate because they had been married so long and appeared to be happy, appeared being the operative word. None of us know what our friends or colleagues experience behind closed doors. How often, for example, have you developed a mental image of a co-workers' marriage based solely on one person's view?

Tipper and Al looked happy. Who knows?

Maybe it was for show or political expediency, maybe they "grew apart" (the catch all cliche), or maybe there are other things going on. They have endured crisis in the form of depression and the their son's near fatal car accident. Crisis does not change people, it just exposes them. And if you asked them? None of us have the same view, especially of the mirror.

40 years is a long time. I read an article a few years ago about couples who had divorced after 30 years or more of marriage. Why? A few themes emerged. They married young. They focused on the kids and after they "flew the coop" nothing was left. There is less stigma to divorce today than was when they got married. But the main reason seemed to be a realization that at 55 years or so of age they had another 30years left on earth, which begged the question: Do I really want to spend it with this man or woman?

Reminds me of the couple who went before the judge after 73 years of marriage. She was 92, he was 95.

"Why are you divorcing?" asked the judge.

"Irreconcilable differences."

"And how long have you known this was irreconcilable?"

"70 years."

"70 years," said the judge. "Why would you stay in a marriage you knew was over for 70 years?"

"Your honor, we had a pact. We wanted to wait until the kids died."

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Beware the Boppy

and other random thoughts.

Go Hawks!!

Of course I am excited about the Hawks chance at winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in 49 years. They are an exciting team, with young stars who hopefully will win multiple championships.

But let's get real. Hockey has a limited following, with plenty of room on the bandwagon. It's a great sport to person. On T.V. it feels like I'm watching a two hour traffic cam.

And I can't tell Duncan Keith from Toby Keith or Brian Keith, other than the last two have their Chiclets. If the Hawks rode with me on the subway I wouldn't recognize them.

Chicago is, in order, a:

1) Bears town
2) Cubs town
3) Bulls town
4) Sox town
5) Hawks town


BP Oil Spill

Disaster. A word overused, but not here. This is catastrophic. We seem to agree that we to reduce dependence on foreign oil. But at what cost? We love our cars, and cheap gas to run them. When will will commit to an national energy policy, something we not had for over 30 years?

And the people of the Gulf coast, who have endured and persevered, godspeed.

Imperfect ump

Armando Galarraga was robbed. The ump blew it, and admitted so after the game. But there is no way the call should be overturned.

As an aside, when I heard his name I thought of the way Harry Caray used to pronounce Andres Galarraga's name. Galllllaaaaahraaaggggghhhaaa.

I hate instant replay, in any sport. Why bother with umpires, referees or judges if there is a camera to overrule them? It's called human error, and it separates sports from video games. Baseball is perfect for it's imperfections.


The sewer which is Illinois politics continues, with wall to wall coverage as the trial starts next week. It will be great theater, and I would love to be a fly on the wall as Rod's lawyer tries to coach him as a witness. Can anyone contain this guy? I'm waiting for him to walk out of the courthouse, make a b-line to the cameras for his daily emoting only to be tackled by his own counsel.

Boppy boo boo

We have a newborn, which means we got out the boppy. A boppy (you may also know it as a "bouncy seat") is a wonderful neglectomatic device. An infant is strapped in the seat as it vibrates for hours, freeing parents for housework, reading, T.V., golf or activities which lead you to need another boppy.

But there is a hidden danger. The boppy has a wire base, really two long metal legs, or tentacles, that reach out and grab unsuspecting parents. This thing will find you at all hours no matter where it's positioned. The dangers range from bruised shins to broken limbs after a header down the stairs. Be warned.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Designate This

Baseball season is in full swing. They say nobody really pays attention until after Memorial Day, which is good because both Chicago teams should be in last place by then.

I'm a baseball junkie. Box scores in the morning, games at night, and every..single..highlight I can catch.

Each year they offer a preview of the MLB channel the first week of the season. I have warned my family if we ever subscribe they will awaken to find me asleep in front of the TV in a bed of peanut shells.

Baseball is perfectly imperfect. No clock. Nine inning games, unless there's extras. Three strikes, three outs, which could take three batters or thirty.

Baseball is a thinker's game and a stats paradise. Every matchup is an alphabet soup of WHIP, OBP, RISP and ERA.

Baseball fields are wonderfully different and distinct, other than the base paths. From the Green Monster at Fenway Park to McCovey's Cove in San Francisco, each outfield is unique. What other sport requires managers to come out, in a uniform, and hear about the ground rules before a game?

Not every imperfection is perfect, of course. I prefer ballplayers who don't resemble Rockem Sockem robots and get have their juice freshly squeezed, not from a lab. The Designated Hitter? Phooey!

And I hate interleague play.

Until the mid-90s, baseball was the only major sport where teams competed in separate leagues until the World Series. As a kid I remember watching the Game of the Week on NBC (which was THE Game of the Week). It felt like every game featured either the Dodgers or Yankees. But never against each other. If you were a Dodgers fan, you're only shot at the mighty Yankees is by winning the pennant. The Series was it, champions of the National League against champions of the American League.

Then they messed it up.

The suits decided that the game need teams to play across the leagues, but only a couple of times a year. Interleague contests would rotate every four years or so, except some local rivalries (Yankees-Mets, Cubs-Sox, A's Giants) which would be every year.

I get it. Yankees-Mets and Cubs-Sox can be fun. But for every one of those we get duds like Cubs-Orioles or Sox-Padres.

Interleague play screws up schedules, travel and rivalries. For example, the Cubs and Cardinals meet only a handful of times in order to accommodate their AL friends.

And yes, it does water down the World Series. But it's hard to put the toothpaste (or HGH) back in the bottle.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Four on the Floor

So as of early Saturday morning I am the father of four. Three girls and a boy.

All in. Zone defense. A bifocal Dad.


They say we never know the plan (or who makes the plan) but mine is workin' out alright. I remember at age 10 wanting to be either a cowboy or a linebacker for the Bears. Door number 3? Yes.

While my wife was pregnant the news brought a full range of reactions ranging from "Wow, what a blessing" to a look of "You must be nuts."

Some would say "Oh, so this is old hat for you." It's not of course.

Nothing I have done, nothing I will do, compares to the thrill of raising my children. And witnessing the birth is simply perfection.

Some reality has set in the past few days.

Tired? I am riding fumes.

The house? I am waiting for news cameras to show up and film the crime scene - dolls and stuffed animals sprawled like dead bodies across our floors.

And I have this recurring thought that there is not enough oxygen for all of us. Of course I might be hyperventilating at the thought of feeding six people and a sheepdog.

And I wouldn't bargain away any of it.

Raising kids is hard work, if that's your choice. I know men who don't, like the ones who enable their kids with this silly notion of being their "friend" instead of their Dad, or who put their kids in youth sports solely to fulfill their pipe dream.

As I have told my kids many times, anyone can be a father, but it's takes true commitment to be a Dad. If the essence of love is sacrifice, ours is often silent. Fathers get a card, Dad's get rewards.

Along the way I have mastered a few skills, like the ability to fall asleep in a room full of kids, or listening to a kid tell a long...long story fully enraprtured. Can anything beat the excitement on their face as they tell the story?

A few weeks ago we went to the mall and my (then)youngest daughter, age 2, insisted on wearing her "two-two," high heels, shades and a tiara. She walked slightly ahead of my wife and I, my daughter and son with runway swagger. We were her entourage. She drew stares and laughter from all as we made our way to the escalator up to the food court.

And now she has a sister.

Drive home from the hospital? No thanks, I'll fly.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Free to Me...and You

Score one for lunatics? Seems to be the consensus about Arizona and their immigration bill. Outrageous? Xenophobic? Unconstitutional?

I will leave the constitution matter to lawyers with more smarts than me, but it seems we have reached a turning point in the immigration debate. Or have we?

I doubt it and think little will change as a result, and I don't think the Arizona law will "spread" as many fear.

Both parties are scared to death of immigration reform, the cyanide of American politics. Leaders on both sides have always talked a good game while coming just short of real reform and the chance of offending one giant constituency.

Solution? First, let's first stop the flow of illegals by securing our borders. Then let's examine some type of "permanent worker" status for those who are law abiding and an easier path to citizenship.

I was thinking about this the other night in a larger context with my wife, who posed the question "What exactly are American values?"

Ours is the land of opportunity, right? Even when only 80% of us are employed? Yup.

Ronald Reagan got me many years ago. I see myself living on his "shining city on a hill, whose beacon light guides freedom loving people everywhere."

And our values can be summed up with that one word: Freedom.

Do you ever take it for granted? I remember being in Prague for the first Czech free elections, right after the fall of the Berlin wall . The plazas were full of candidates from over twenty parties, including the beer party and the music party. I will never forget the woman who explained to me how happy people were to vote...for anyone. "Now we are free!" she exclaimed.

I grew up in a military household, the son of a proud Naval Commander. My Dad never, to this day, let's me forget the sacrifices Americans have made for freedom.

I am sure there are people in his life he disagrees with on everything except the weather. But he would fight, and he would die, for their right to say it.

So would I. I would fight for all us immigrants, all with ancestors who faced discrimination of some sort.

It's our fight also.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Can I Buy a Hormone Surge Protector?

Two of my children turn 12 this week. Nora and Thomas are twins, the best of friends (reluctantly)and as different as they are similar. A common sight is Nora running out to remind Thomas what he forgot on the way to school.

Having opposite sex twins provided me the opportunity to embark on a ground breaking sociological experiment, with a remarkable conclusion.

Men and women are different.

Please, before you leave this page to email Drudge or Huffington,read on as to my methods.

You see, from the beginning I to exposed them together to everything. We played catch together, attended dance and music shows together, went to the mall together. P.C. baby, all the way. Equal opportunity.

It didn't work.

I should have known early on. On their first birthday we gathered for candles and cupcakes, which were carefully placed on each high chair.

Nora delicately reached at a few sprinkles, raising each in the air and placing it on the tray before eating them.

Thomas thrust his face straight into the cupcake.

I guess it's not about sex as much as personality. As a child Nora would sit for hours with her books and dolls, while Thomas preferred to chase the dog and go one on one with the seat cushions.

Some would argue that young kids are like kittens. Everyone loves cute, cuddly kittens. So soft, purring gently.

Then they turn into cats.

Don't get me wrong. I adore my children, and every age has had it's share of joy and challenges. They are not shy about what's hip and what's an OMG moment.

As an aside, I have taught fifth grade religious ed (Sunday school) for years. I love kids at age 10 because they are on the cusp of adulthood, and close to attending church because they want to, not because Mom and Dad drag them there.

Each year I predict that for half of them the light will go on...they will discover that the opposite sex is good for something besides target practice. Each year, bingo, about half are smitten.

My kids are no different. Their experience is somewhat unique in that they watched me date and marry my wife. I still have a framed, signed note from Nora, age 6, which reads "Dad is going on all of my dates."

Twins make great spies. Nora gives me the scoop on her brother and vice versa. When Thomas was in first grade he spent a good half hour in the bathroom slicking his hair like Bowser from Sha Na Na. Quite a hit with the ladies, I learned.

And then, a few years ago, the hormones kicked in. Now I have a son who wants to buy Axe because "It's chemically guaranteed to attract women." Or flies.

I will never forget the evening when, while barbecuing, I asked Nora, then 9, to please get me a spatula. What ensued was a child writing on the kitchen floor, screaming that I did not understand her.

She's right, I didn't. Then again, she didn't either. The hardest part of parenting these days is recognizing the times when they have no control. Their bodies are volcanoes, erupting at any moment. To parent a tween is to experience "push pull" on a daily basis. Up to age 8 or so you are the center of their universe. Now the switch flips between affection and mortification.

Oh, and I did I mention that my son's party includes GIRLS?

And then you are a man, my son.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Call Congress for a Band Aid

March 22. Monday. I could not believe my eyes. First of all I opened them, which meant I was breathing and the world had not come to an end.

There were some clouds, but the air was relatively clean, the train ran on time, and when I walked into the office nobody greeted me with "Good morning, comrade."

We're all here. No apocalypse.

Could have fooled me. I thought the world was sure to end with the health care bill. We were on our way to bread lines, gun toting IRS enforcers and military parades led by men in fuzzy hats.

Don't get me wrong. I don't like the bill, at least what I believe to be in it. Do any of us really know what's in this thing? As for the politics, both sides are full of it, as usual. Good idea, bad bill.

Citizens of this country should have access to quality health care. Radical concept? Hardly. But is an insurance system subsidized by employers really the best method?

Many would argue that we give citizens full access, and I would agree to a point. We spend zillions on care for seniors, for the poor, in subsidies for all types of patients and facilities.

And we continue to spend. Like a drunken sailor, which of course is an insult to sailors who are spending their own money.

We spend away, while our resources are drained by abuses. The other night I watched a segment about 911 paramedics in Washington DC (go figure) who spend most of their time responding to head colds and stubbed toes.

I have also lived first hand, as a special needs parent, the nightmare of insurance companies kicking consumers in the gut. Experience taught me an important lesson; all insurance is good until you get sick.

And we all feel the strain of increasing health care costs. As our population ages, the problems will further tax our system. For proof, spend time with a group of seniors engaging in an "organ recital."

So the system is busted like a three legged chair. We need a fix, yet the health care bill seems like too much, too fast.

And while I hardly expected complete bipartisanship, I thought we might see an olive branch instead of a two-by-four.

Hopefully the new plan covers splinters.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Last to Be First

Baseball season is around the corner and "hope springs eternal" (even for Cub fans).

We will spend many nights at the park, looking out at number 42, never to be worn again.

42 belongs to Jackie Robinson, the Dodger great who's number was retired by all professional baseball teams (majors and minors) a few years ago. Robinson broke baseball's color barrier in 1947 as major league's first black player. Before Jackie greats like Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige tolied in the relative obscurity of the Negro leagues.

I have a challenge for you. As you read this, think of five people you can ask the question, "Who is Larry Doby?"

I would be surprised if one person knew the answer. Do you?

Larry Doby was the second black player in the majors after Jackie Robinson. Coincidently, he was also the second black manager (after Frank Robinson) of a forgetable White Sox team in the late 70's.

Larry Doby signed and played for the Cleveland Indians eleven weeks after Jackie Robinson broke in with the Dodgers. He led the Indians to their last world championship in 1948, played in nine all-star games and, like Robinson, is a member of the Hall of Fame.

So Jackie Robinson "paved the way" a couple of months for Larry Doby. Was life in "the show" any easier for Doby than Robinson? Hardly. But nobody remembers Larry Doby.

How about Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Director. Who will be the Oscar's Larry Doby?

I'm not a fan of "firsts;" first black player, first woman director, etc. In J school I had an editor who hated "first" stories because they neglected everyone who came before them. Amen.

Not to take away from the achievement, or the significance. But too often we skip the first steps on the ladder.

For example, I was moved to tears in 1988 when Jesse Jackson gave his remarkable speech at the Democratic National Convention. "My right and my privilege to stand here before you has been won," he said. "Won in my lifetime, by the blood and the sweat of the innocent."

Jackson got it. So many had come before him, many forgotten until he spoke of the "common thread" which unites us all.

It's too bad we can't run an "honor roll" with the next "first" story of everyone who built the mountain the subject stands on. In that sense, the first is in fact last.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pleased To Make Your Friendship

The phone rang at 9:00pm on Friday night. One of my oldest friends, calling to ask whether I can meet him on the South Side of Chicago at 8am Saturday to help load boxes for Haiti relief.

Of course, I said, where do you need me?

My wife marveled at the fact that I responded immediately, and happily corralled the kids into the van for a rainy trek south.

My friends and I, it's how we roll.

I learned long ago that the most valuable treasure we have is friendship.

I have a many, many acquaintances, but a handful of dear friends. In fact, I joined Facebook a few months ago and never realized just how popular I am, with a daily dose of new "friends."

They are acquaintances, of course, not friends.

But nothing to scoff at. Acquaintances serve a purpose. They are there for us at various points in our lives, we visit, spend time together, but they don't see me the way my friends do.

I was touched hearing Sportswriter Frank Deford tell a story recently about Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell. Deford and Russell spent a good deal of time together through the years as Deford covered both Russell and the Celtics. One afternoon they were riding together on a highway when Deford said (I'm paraphrasing), "You know Bill, I really appreciate your friendship through the years."

"We are acquaintances, not friends" Russell said. "Friendship requires a tremendous amount of work, and I just don't have the time to invest in another friendship. I do value your acquaintance, however."

He's right, of course. Most of us go through life without bothering to make the distinction, and their acquaintance seems to bring both satisfaction.

But they aren't friends.

My sixth grade daughter expressed concern recently about her number of friends. It's about quality, my dear, not quantity.

I have a handful of friends. Most go back over 30 years. They are my brothers and I would do anything for them.

They see every side of me, especially the raw, vulnerable side I try so hard to keep from everyone else. Lord I am not perfect, but they see me for who I am, and I see them for who they are.

We've been through a lot together. Marriage, divorce, kids, vices, job advances, jobs lost. We are older now, heavier and a bit grayer. But we still laugh like kids when we're together.

My children think it's funny that I have known them for so long. I hope they have the gift of true, loving friends throughout their lives.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Forget Hoops, Give Me Some Wraslin!

As I write this there are about 15 hours or so to complete your "March Madness" bracket.

Offices are sure to empty over the next couple of afternoons as a testosterone charged migration begins to local watering holes. Suddenly we are interested in schools such as Oakland (Michigan, not California), Wofford (South Carolina) and "directional schools" - Eastern, Western, Southestern (insert state name) that serve as preseason sparing partners for teams in the Big Ten, ACC, Big East etc.

A recent article cited the next two days as the most popular time to get a vasectomy, with many practices offering discounts for those who book ahead. Anything for a couple days on the couch, I guess.

64 teams to start, 16 teams by Sunday. Best of one, with upsets galore. Madness.

But I would rather be in Omaha this weekend catching some wrestling. Not the WWF nonsense, but the amateur, freestyle variety.

Omaha is the site of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships.

I wrestled in high school and through the years have become a big fan of college wrestling, particularly Northwestern. I watch and go to dozens of meets. Northwestern is a program on the rise, with three recent individual champions and a 4th place team finish in 2008. NU alum Jake Herbert is likely to make the Olympic team in 2012.

I love wrestling because it features constant movement by some of the best conditioned athletes in the world. If you have ever tried boxing, kick or otherwise, you understand the endurance needed to last seven minutes on the mat. It's grueling.

On the mat you're alone, working through a series of moves and counter moves. Coaches wave their arms, contort their bodies and yell during a match, but it really doesn't matter. Take your arm, leg or head out of position and it's over. Fin. Nyet. Wrestling is a sport for thinkers. Fast thinkers.

So who will win this year? No mystery here. Unlike basketball, where dozens of teams have a shot, wrestling is dominated by the Iowa Hawkeyes, who are competing for their 23rd national championship. A couple of teams will challenge (Oklahoma State, Iowa State) but rooting for Iowa is like rooting for the Yankees, or Microsoft. The only Iowa intrigue is last year they won the team title without an individual champion. At a minimum Jay Borshel and Brett Metcalfe should take first this year.

And for the record, I have Ohio State, Kentucky, Duke and Kansas State as my Final Four picks.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Lent, Coffee and Spirituality

So we are about half way through Lent, the 40 day period leading up to Easter and the holiest period for Christians.

I'm in the club. Raised Catholic, attended Catholic grade school and now raising my three (soon to be four) children in the church.

I'm observant, attending mass weekly in addition to teaching Sunday school (fifth graders) for over ten years. I love fifth graders because they are "young adults" and on the verge of so much, including deciding for themselves whether to attend mass. All I can do is help strengthen the roots and branches, along with their parents.

It's not easy rounding everyone up for two hours of church and school on Sunday. My son Thomas used to say "How many more songs?"

Two stories regarding religion and kids:

Years ago I was in the habit of letting one of my kids place the collection envelope in the basket. It became a big deal because I based it on who was behaving well. One Sunday I forgot the check but had an extra envelope, which I sealed and gave to Thomas, age 7. We were in the second row, and as the usher came towards the front with the basket my son held up the envelope, saw that it was empty, stood up (my wife and daughter were between us) and exclaimed, "Dad, there's no money in here." It was on that day that I started to give online.

Another time I was walking in downtown Chicago with Nora and Thomas, then age 8, when we passed a panhandler. He asked for money and I politely said, "Sorry not today." Later when we stopped for lunch Nora asked why I didn't give him money and I explained that we donate money to organizations which provide food and shelter to those in need, and that we are told in the bible to help the poor.

Boy was I proud. We got home and Nora began explaining to my wife about the man on the sidewalk. With a big smile on my face I asked Nora to explain to Tania why we didn't give the man money and she said, with true conviction, "WE DON'T GIVE MONEY TO THOSE PEOPLE!"

Can I get a witness?

I've always tried to be a moral compass for my children, and one of the highest compliments I received was from a friend who said I "blend spirituality and religion in a way few others do." Early on with them I focused on two things: 1) We are all God's children and 2) The golden rule.

I remind my kids (and students) that Lent is about giving and observing as much as sacrifice. For several years now I have given up coffee for Lent. I am not a happy camper for the first couple of days, but as I say to my kids, going without my morning jolt is nothing compared to Jesus dying for our sins. I also try to attend daily mass more often and read daily meditations. Most years I have to get past kids wanting to give up broccoli or school. Some things never change.

The God I pray to loves everyone. In terms of my Catholic faith I am moved by Gary Wills and his book "Why I am a Catholic." The Creed is the essence of my faith.

Religion is a personal experience, one that ebbs and flows. Right now I am in a good place spiritually and feeling great about my life and all of the blessings it brings. I love my work, advising people who are rich by any definition. Yet I am truly a wealthy man.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I'm Sorry...Really?

Are you tired of public apologies? Are you sick of seeing famous people with seemingly perfect lives screw up, blubber about it on camera and wonder what possessed them to behave that way in the first place? John Edwards, Mark Sanford, Ted Haggard. Enough already!

And Tiger, I get that you messed up, but it seems to me the only people you owe an apology are your wife and family, friends and maybe Nike shareholders.

Save the rest of it for another time. Take away TMZ and The National Enquirer and Tiger would still be crushing the PGA like walnuts. In other words, he didn't seem to be apologizing for his behavior as much as for getting caught.

Some apologies, however, I would like to hear.

Which brings me to Derrick Rose. I was at a Bulls game the other night entertaining (this year some would say subjecting)guests when I looked around at a number of Bulls jerseys with Derrick Rose's number 1 on the back.

My son Thomas received the same Rose jersey from one of his running buddies for his 11th birthday. He was excited and wore it for a few days until the story broke about Derrick Rose having someone else take his SAT exam to get into Memphis. I sat down with Thomas a couple of weeks later and let him know that he was not to wear the jersey any more for two reasons:

1) His mistake would likely cost students, alumni and fans of the school any games he played in. Rose was "one and done" to the NBA after only one season, and subsequently Memphis was forced to forfeit their entire season which ended in the Final Four.

As an aside, Memphis was also forced to vacate their only other Final Four appearance in the mid '80s. I am planning a reality show featuring players from schools forced to forfeit games and seasons due to misbehavior. A cast of thousands, as they say.

2) He has yet to apologize for his mistake.

We all make mistakes, I said, but without contrition his bad example is made worse. So I asked for the shirt, which we gave to goodwill, and offered to buy him a new one. He chose a Bulls shirt without a players name.

Teachable moment accomplished. I was proud of his reaction. He really had none, just looked at me as if to say "Yeah Dad, that makes sense." I reminded him that character is the way you behave when nobody is watching you.

I have never met Derrick Rose. Seems like a nice guy. Brilliant basketball player. He's young and has the talent to be an All Star for years to come. It's also apparent he had no interest in going to college, forced to do so by the ridiculous requirement that you must be 19 to play in the NBA. Have they set a maximum age yet?

Seems like a nice guy. That's the point and where, like Tiger's Nike ad, "I am Tiger Woods." We all craft an public image. Some people are active in social causes, or at least offer opinions once in a while. Some aren't. Tiger Woods is no Muhammad Ali. Or Jim Brown. He plays golf. Like nobody before or since.

Tiger plays golf, but that's really all he does. I have never heard him speak about infidelity or much of anything else, so he is no hypocrite. Flawed? Oh yeah. Hypocrite? Nah. Hello Mark Foley. A friend of mine said at one point, "Tiger's father must be so disappointed." Really? How would I know? How would anyone know?

As a kid one of my heroes was Cardinals great Lou Brock. I went to a game at Wrigley Field when I was 12 with a homemade sign congratulating him on his 3000th hit. Later I sent him a letter requesting an autograph. He (his peeps) sent a form letter saying I needed to send $20 for it. My Dad said to remember the moment, what he does on the field.

Teachable moment accomplished.

Later I remember meeting Artis Gilmore, "the A train," at a Bulls game. No autographs, just a handshake and smile. Much more meaningful.

So to me heroes are like politics. If all politics are local, let's keep the heroes local. Parents, teachers, friends and family. Those we know, or at least think we know.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Pinch me - Bears got it right?

I am sitting in my office on a sunny Friday and just saw a headline that the Bears signed Julius Peppers and a stud tight end who played with Love and Mike Martz on the Rams.

This offseason has been particularly bad for diehards like me. Not only do we have to think about another mediocre season of 7-9 but the Bears have no draft choices to speak of next month. Thank you Jay Cutler.

And every time I turned around another coach turned down the chance to coach with lame duck Lovie, or as I heard on the radio recently "Lovie Del Negro." Stiffed more times than a clueless waiter.

I saw the headline, but don't want to look. The Bears could actually come out of this in good shape. I know, I know they need O-line help and a receiver, but this is big.

All of the talk this winter has been about the Hawks, rightfully so, although something tells me a letdown is coming. Hockey being the one sport where top seeds do get upset in the first round and the goalie position is anything but settled.

I digress. I love the Bears, and Chicago is a Bears town. Always has been. There is a whiff of optimism this afternoon which is exciting. Now if we could just find some blockers.