Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: January 2009

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Ice Storm

The last storm that came through mostly went south of Chicago, so we didn't get very much except a dusting (or maybe up to half an inch or so), and I didn't pay too much attention to it. But the news today was full of the trouble they're having in Kentucky--it's the worst storm the state has ever seen. I've got family in Kentucky and I've been talking to them this week. They've had power through the whole storm and aftermath, but they knew of people who didn't. Even so, I didn't realize that the situation was much, much worse to their west. Some parts of the state may not have power again for a couple of weeks. I even heard that in some more rural areas, they could be out of power for as much as a month. There are bigger problems than just the power, though, because with that out, there are some water treatment plants that are not operating. That means dirty water. So we've got people without power, some of those without heat, and some without water. Don't worry--FEMA's on the case--but is that good or bad? Don't worry, though. I'm sure Mitch McConnell will make sure that everything in his state is under control.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Cut 'Em Right Out

If the Republicans don't want to play with Obama and his economic recovery package, then why should we keep they various incentives intended to entice them? As it stands now, the Republicans have the best of both worlds. By entering into negotiations, they're desires are catered to, and aspects of the bill are added or changed to suit their demands. All this comes at absolutely not cost, however, if they don't follow through with their own support and simply vote against the bill. They had to expend no political capital, and yet the bill is closer to what they want.

In the (almost) words of the great man, this ain't no party. This ain't no Bush administration. This ain't no fooling around. I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one thinking such things. Some members of the Democratic caucus are making the same argument. I'm not sure if that might partially be why some Democratic senators are starting to balk, but the more progressive members (yeah, I know, it's the Senate, not exactly a hot bed of liberality) need to bring them in line. Especially if the Republicans go back to their old tricks and try to filibuster. The alternative to giving this a chance we've got on the table right now is to sit back and watch the economic stall out even further.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bye Bye, Blago

Well, that was quick. 59-0. The Trib said that Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn was sworn in "within hours" of Blago's ouster, but I'd be willing to bet it was a lot closer to five minutes.

The ex-governor has been comparing himself to Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela lately, but John Kass suggests that John Dillinger might be a better example. He also advise Blago to change his legal strategy from one of defiance to one of singing like a canary to strike back at all those who've just crossed him. We'll see how that works out.

I got a call today from a friend asking me how long until Pat Quinn gets indicted. My suspicion is that the legislature will at least give him a couple of weeks of honeymoon. By the time the snow finally starts melting? well, that could be a whole different story.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Goodbye, John Updike

I'm a day late on this, but that just gives me better places to link to. John Updike died yesterday, and the New York Times has a lengthy obit as well as an appraisal by Michiko Kakutani. The New Yorker has a collection of remembrances from writers such as E. L. Doctorow, Joyce Carol Oates, Jonathan Lethem, T. Coraghessan Boyle, and even John Cheever. You can also search through their archives for Updike's contributions to the magazine. Click through, and you'll get the ten most recent of 846 results. Dig deep enough, and you'll find something dear to the heart of this blogger (and maybe one or two readers): his appreciation of Ted Williams upon the Splendid Splinter's retirement.

Also, via The Beat, we can see comics historian Jeet Heer's plea for a collection of Updike's writing (and off-hand comments) about comics.

Thankfully, John Updike left an awful lot of writing behind him. Although you might not know it from the comments I've offered here, he was best known as a novelist. Go explore his work if you haven't already.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Still Distracted

I continue to be knee-deep in late deadlines, so I don't much know what's going on outside my window (except that it's snowing on and off). One thing that I've noticed when I get single-minded in the service of something is that I really do get single-minded. I've got a selection of CDs to listen to at work, but the only one I've put on since last week (or maybe before, I'm not sure) is Catatonia's Greatest Hits. When it finishes, I just hit play again, and I suspect that I'm going to use it to see me through to the end of this project. I keep thinking that I'll put something else on next time (the even money's on Neon Bible, if anything, but I'm not at all sure that I'll take Catatonia out of the player). I'll admit that I did browse a couple of other Specials videos last night while looking for "Nelson Mandela," so "(What I Like Most About You Is Your) Girlfriend" has been going through my head all day, as well. For that matter, "All That Ever Mattered" by Orange Juice has been floating around in my mind since some time last week. I haven't heard that album in quite some time--possibly even a couple of years. I don't know what that's about.

So am I alone in this tunnel vision I experience when I've got something that needs doing? Does anybody else get their mind in one place and leave it there?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Peas in a Pod

It looks like we weren't the only ones intrigued by Blago's self-identification with great men of the twentieth century. Today in The World, they put up their own juxtaposition of snippets of speeches from those heroes, spiced with a little bit of Blago at the end. Go take a listen, see if he rises to that company. And just in case you're like me and that twenty seconds of outro music they offered isn't enough, you're welcome.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Invoking Great Men of the Twentieth Century

As I mentioned the other night, Blago's really turning up the entertainment factor these days. Can he possibly give us his own take on the We won't have him to kick around anymore line? He certainly seems to be working on it.

Last night I was thinking about what possible strategy he could have going into his impeachment. By not even showing up to present a defense at his trial in the Illinois Senate, he seems to be adopting some sort of Gandhian nonresistance tactic. Gandhi certainly had good ideas--when an overclass, or bullies of any sort, really, attack people without provocation, the injustice of the attack can be illuminated when the victim refuses to fight back. That idea was used to very great effect in colonial India and in the U.S. Civil Eights movement. If that's what Blago was thinking, I wasn't sure it would be particularly effective given his circumstances, but sure enough, there he was this morning on the Today Show comparing himself to Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela. I'm not sure that he really has anything much in common with any of them, but somebody should point out to the governor that each of those people were fighting for some larger cause, some greater good. They were willing to sacrifice themselves for something better. But what is Rod Blagojevich's beyond . . . well, Rod Blagojevich? Even if he's willing to allow himself to be martyred for the cause, what does he actually get out of it? How does that work in his benefit? Maybe he'll explain all on The View. (Actually, I wonder what he's even thinking in going on The View? Is he expecting allies there? As highly publicized as the differences between the various personalities on that show have been, Blago might just be the one thing that brings them together.)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Just Beginning to Take That Love Away

These deadlines just don't seem to go away, do they? I'm still plugging on my work project (which is a book on the Texas Longhorn football team, if anyone seems to be interested), so I'm borrowing very heavily from Think Progress. In a post called "Obama's First 100 Hours: A Clean Break From Bush," it lists eight areas--regulations, Iraq, diplomacy, torture, Guantanamo, transparency, revolving door, and women's rights--in which the Obama administration has changed the rules from the way the Bushies did things. Go take a look at some of the details of what it looks like to have a new president. What else to the Obamites need to do?

Friday, January 23, 2009

At Least He Didn't Say Lynch

Now that things are slowing down in Washington and the government is actually starting to get things done, the spotlight can come back to Illinois. Rod Blagojevish is certainly doing what he can to grab it back. He's on a bit of a what's been called a "media blitz," trying to . . . well, I'm not entirely sure what he's trying to do. He's telling everybody why he's not going to defend himself during his impeachment--that would be an "impeachable offense," he said to the AP. He also fell back on the old SAT analogy gimmick and claimed, "Dec. 9 to my family, to us, to me, is what Pearl Harbor Day was to the United States." That seemed like a stretch to me, until I remembered Patrick Fitzgerald coming in low in that Japanese Zero.

At a later press conference, he argued that the legislature was acting like a posse trying to decide whether to hang him before or after a trial. That trial starts in the Senate on Monday, but as we mentioned above, Blago's not going to be there. Instead, he's going on the road. He'll be appearing on Good Morning, America and The View. What's he going to get out of that? I have no idea. Does he have some sort of plan for how this works in his favor? Beats me--nothing obvious comes to mind. But if this is a successful strategy then . . . I guess I'll be very surprised.

Another development for Blago today seems just as mysterious and inexplicable. His lead lawyer, Edward Genson, is pulling out. Not surprisingly, Genson isn't forthcoming about his reasons, but he does provide the cryptic statement: "I never require a client to do what I say. But I do require them to at least listen." So where is Blago diverting from the plan? Do his lawyers want him to fight impeachment? Are there legal issues concerning the expected upcoming criminal trial? Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Invoking What Exactly?

For all the sturm und drang surrounding Rick Warren's inauguration invocation, I haven't heard that much about it. I was beginning to think that it was something of an anticlimax, which may have been just as well if it was simply going to fade away and disappear.

Our pal Don Byrd, though, brought up a point about Warren's contribution that hadn't occurred to me. Don blogs for the Baptist Joint Committee, a group that lobbies the government on religious liberty and in support of the separation of church and state (a position that wasn't always as counterintuitive for Baptists as it seems to be today). Don was on the Mall, and he objected to Warren's inclusion of The Lord's Prayer in his presentation.

But something about it bothered me even more than the fact of such Christian content being inserted in a prayer for hearing by a national audience of many religious faiths. I think it was this: It appeared that Warren took the ceremonial opportunity, with the nation's attention on him, to truly and bluntly divide the audience. Recitation of The Lord's Prayer by clergy is a liturgical tradition that typically invites participation. As he began, the audience - in the midst of a hopefully unifying national moment - was instantly split into those who knew and honored that specific prayer and joined in, and those who did not, who had to remain silent. It nearly evoked the public school recitations of the 1950s and 60s in alienating a portion of an audience that is there for something altogether different than a religious experience.

. . .

One reader emailed me that viewing on TV, his impression was that the audience - which largely did not take Warren up on this implicit offer - had "rebuffed" the invitation. Where I was standing, too, some spoke along out loud, but most did not. I suspect that many were in the same position that I found myself, caught between religious convictions that text to be solemn and sacred - and worth reciting as an expression of my faith, and my sense that it was not the occasion for such an expression.

So was Warren up to more than self-promotion? Did he have a more specific agenda?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Limbaugh Hates America!

Yeah, yeah. What else is new. On his Friday show, Limbaugh publicly hoped for Barack Obama's failure. Now, if we learned anything from the previous administration, it's that ill will toward the chief executive translates to ill will toward the country as a whole. I expect the ringing condemnation from the rest of the conservative movement to begin any moment now.

But on a more realistic note, if Obama fails, chances are that he brings the rest of us along with him. After all, was Bush's failure over the past eight years his own, or did it reflect back on the rest of us? Can America prosper if Obama fails?

Limbaugh's obviously grabbing for headlines, and he's displaying that he and his cohorts have no plans on rising above partisanship or seeking common solutions. And, of course, I don't expect there were very many out there who were expecting anything other than that. But as the right goes back to its more comfortable position in its sniper's nest, I've been wondering if there's really anybody out there who knows how to move forward constructively. Over the last several years, conservatives never seemed happy to hold the reigns of power. That gave them the responsibility to make constructive contributions to the nation, and they didn't really seem to have it in them. I'm talking about more than just conservatives, though. What started me along this line of thinking was a maneuver by Democrats in the Tennessee legislature, which had just shifted to a 50-49 Republican majority. Instead of allowing the Republicans elect their choice for House speaker, the Democrats usurped the process and put all their votes for speaker behind an obscure Republican backbencher who also voted for himself. When first heard about that, I'll admit that I smiled, but then I got to thinking about how, by being obstructionist, the Democrats were getting the way of any real accomplishment. National Republicans (and the radio talkers who love them) are plotting to do the exact same thing in Washington. That's not what we need now.

Barack Obama, with all his talk of inclusiveness, seems far more ready to live and let live and let bygones be bygones, and follow through on all those other cliches than I am, but part of me hopes that he's proven right. It's time to get things done.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hellooooo, Barack

Here's some change we can believe in: a new, nice-looking White House home page. And now, ladies and gentlemen, the White House blog.

Bye Bye, Bush

I'm still on deadline, so not much discussion today. I'm glad to see Obama coming in, but I'm more concerned at the moment about what surprises, if any (See? That's me being optimistic), the current resident has in store while he's still got the power. Not much longer, though.

Monday, January 19, 2009

It May Be Your Land, but It's Not Your Video

Last night I (and a number of other bloggers) posted a clip of Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen singing "This Land Is Your Land" at the Lincoln Memorial for the Barack Obama inauguration concert. I hope you got to see it--if you didn't, it's too late now. One of the verses they sang went:

A great, high wall there that tried to stop me,
A great big sign there said, "Private Property,"
But on the other side, it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

That side may have been made for you and me, but the front of the "Private Property" side belongs exclusively to HBO, and they won't let you see the clip. Sorry, but I've got no pithy punch line to make the irony even more lacerating.

Fortunately, however, thanks to a commenter at Crooked Timber and the reality of the global marketplace, we've got a replacement. The video isn't as clear as before, and it's leaking into the blogroll (sorry for those of you browsing on IE), but that's not the point. Kudos to German news channel N24 for helping make sure that this land is your land once again.

Happy Birthday, Edgar Allen Poe!

As my father might say, Poe would've been 200 years old today if he hadn't died. I didn't realize that this was coming up, but there seem to be tons of activities in celebration (although some of them have already gone past). Here's a Poe bicentennial blog, a list of activities in Baltimore, another Baltimore site, a site for activities in Virginia, the Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site in Philadelphia from the National Park Service, and a fairly extensive list that probably includes all of those places I've named and more. At the very least, go buy his stamp, which was just released on Friday.

Happy Birthday, Edgar! Here's to another 200 years just like the first.

Just Thinking . . .

I'm not the first to mention this, and I'd be shocked if I were the last, but on this Martin Luther King, Jr., Day of Service, it is worth taking a minute or two to consider that in his March on Washington speech at the Lincoln Memorial, Martin told us about the dream he had, and now, not quite forty-six years later, we're getting ready to inaugurate a president who was elected not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character. Forty-six years isn't really very long for this sort of change.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

This Land Is Your Land

UPDATE: The video doesn't work. Here's an explanation and a replacement.

Although I'm glad to see Bush going away and Obama coming in, I haven't been getting caught up in all the excitement surrounding the inauguration. It's more important to wait and see what Obama does rather than to party around his arrival. Still, I caught some of today's concert at the Lincoln Memorial on HBO and had to share this little morsel. I've always been partial to this song, but to see the pure joy Pete Seeger brings to leading the crowd in singing it in this context brings actual tears to my eyes. Pete's 89, by the way, and to get a sense of the history he brings to the occasion, here's a picture of him playing for Eleanor Roosevelt and friends 65 years ago.

By the way, although you probably recognize one of these guys, Pete is flanked by his grandson, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, and Bruce Springsteen.

Back from the Grave

You'd think it might be nice after all these years to see John Lennon once again jumping into the fray and making public statements. But, oddly, it's not. It might have something to do with him having been dead for nearly thirty years. Or it may be that he's weighing in on something he knows nothing about.

A group called One Laptop per Child has licensed John to be their spokesman. Perhaps they did this by pulling out their Ouija boards, or maybe they just talked to Yoko. I mention the Ouija board because they're not just using a photo or suggesting that this is something that he might've supported if he'd still been with us. No, they've actually got him hawking the product in his own voice (or at least their attempt at a reasonable facsimile), imagining a world where every poor child has a laptop (I suppose it's easy, if you try). John has often been called a visionary, but I'm not sure he actually foresaw the development of laptop computer technology. In fact, I'd guess that the word didn't even exist during his lifetime (not with that meaning, anyway). This might be a worthy enterprise (although I remember Newt Gingrich calling for something similar a dozen or so years ago), but I find it awfully off-putting for them to push it in this way.

Of course, maybe I'm wrong. Is anybody lining up to donate?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Blago's Team Plays Hardball

Here's an intriguing development in the Blago impeachment. Claiming that the Illinois Senate had set up an impossible situation for the governor, Blago's lawyers are planning to sit out the impeachment trial. Blago will apparently face his accusers and jury alone. Here's what the Sun-Times had to say:

Lead defense lawyer Ed Genson said the governor instructed him not to show up.

"I think the rules the Senate adopted are unfair," Genson said.

Lawyer Sam Adam Jr. said neither he nor his father will be there, either.

Genson, Adam and Sam Adam Sr. comprise the bulk the of governor's legal team.

"It's a kangaroo court," Adam said. "You can't possibly get any fairness out of it. It's completely un-American."

Adam said the trial was akin to a "lynching" and likened tactics by senators to those used at Guantanamo Bay.

At least they're not resorting to exaggeration.

Will this move garner Blago any sympathy? Will we all feel bad for him being unfairly railroaded, and will we then rise up to demand a stop? Or will we just sit back, watch him found guilty, and wait for him to be run out of office? I'm betting the latter.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Twice Is Nice

I was intending to mention this yesterday, but I'm on deadline at work again, so I didn't have the time. And, in fact, I'm exhausted tonight and need to go to bed, so I won't have as much to say about this as I'd like to, but on Wednesday, we got a replay of last week's Illinois House impeachment vote. This time, though, it was 117-1 (the sole no vote coming from Blago's wife's sister). I'm not exactly sure of the red tape that required a second vote, but it had something to do with this being a new legislature--the previous vote was made by outgoing legislators, and this one was made by those who won their November elections; there's a huge overlap, of course, but some representatives (such as Deborah Mell, Blago's sister-in-law) are brand, spanking new. Another feature to the vote this time is that Blago himself was nearby, swearing in the new Illinois state senators. These are the people who will hear the impeachment trial and decide whether he continues in office or not. Most every report I saw or heard claimed that the atmosphere was awkward. I guess. Blago continued his recent string of quotes, though, but I swear every time I hear him repeat Lincoln's words, I expect him to end up paraphrasing, instead: "With malice toward none, and charity toward me." The impeachment trial is expected to start in about a week and a half on Monday, January 26. Given how he handled the Burris appointment, I suspect we can pretty much expect him to try to pull something before then.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Goodbye, Patrick McGoohan

Possibly the coolest actor who ever walked, Patrick McGoohan, died on Tuesday at age 80. It's gratifying to see that the vast majority of notices of his passing put The Prisoner right there in the headline. Most everything he did was great, and he was always very effective, but The Prisoner, which McGoohan co-created, produced, and (on some episodes) wrote, and directed, was what made him a visionary. If you haven't seen it (there are only 17 episodes), AMC has made it available for viewing (as part of what I can only imagine is a very unfortunate decision to remake it). One question fans have always speculated on is whether The Prisoner is somehow a continuation of McGoohan's previous series, Secret Agent. For my money, there's only one thing you need to know. The lyric to Secret Agent's theme song stated, "They've given you a number and taken away your name." One of the main catch phrases of the Prisoner is the insistence by McGoohan's character, known only as Number 6, "I am not a number! I am a free man!"

As just a point of personal preference (it is my blog, after all), I noticed on one of my earliest visits to Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk's house (when she was still pre-Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk, of course) that she was the proud owner of a Number 6 badge. It's not true that I married her just for that badge, but it certainly didn't hurt.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Burris Endgame

When last we checked in on Roland Burris, he didn't quite have the precise paperwork the Senate was demanding for him to be seated. Dick Durbin was suggesting that maybe it would be better for everybody to simply wait until the Rod Blagojevich impeachment had run its course. It was just the latest reversal since Blagojevich was first arrested for trying to sell the empty Senate seat. Democratic senators had vowed en masse that they wouldn't seat whatever candidate Blago named, and they stood by that for a little while after Blago actually put his imprimatur on Burris. But then when Burris actually showed up and demanded to be seated, Harry Reid and the Democratic leadership started to waiver. Okay, they relented, maybe we'll seat Burris if he can complete a couple of simple tasks. The first really was simple: that Burris testify before the Illinois House committee investigating Blago. The second, though, easy as it may have seemed, proved more complicated. Burris needed to get the Illinois secretary of state to sign off on his appointment. But Jesse White had refused and intended to continue to refuse to add his signature to Burris's paperwork. That's where we left off, with Durbin saying maybe it wasn't such a done deal after all.

It should hardly come as a surprise now, of course, that the Senate Democrats have caved completely (they had to do something to prove they were still Senate Democrats, didn't they?). Burris was able to get White to sign a reasonable enough facsimile that Reid and Durbin set aside their reservations and decided to welcome him with open arms. He'll be sworn in on Thursday.

So what next? Not much, is my guess. While he'll be one more vote for the Democrats (and their almost almost filibuster-proof majority), he'll otherwise be pretty invisible, I suspect. He'll have almost no seniority, and he'll never fully escape the Blago stain that got him where he is (or soon will be). I'll be very surprised if Burris doesn't run for a full term in two years. State Republicans are already licking their chops to get a crack at him. Congressman Mark Kirk seems particularly eager. But I don't think he'll have a chance to go after Burris. Burris will undoubtedly be challenged in the primary, and there's absolutely no evidence that he'll have what it takes to win. He was on MSNBC this morning and pointed out that he's never lost a statewide race to a Republican. That's not incorrect, but we should also note that he hasn't won a statewide race in almost twenty years--he was elected attorney general in 1990. Since then, he's lost statewide races to Democrats (he's gone down in three attempts to be the Democratic nominee for governor), which prevents him from even facing Republicans. I suspect the same pattern will hold if he attempts to hang on to this seat.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pressing Automotive Issues

Well, not so pressing right now. A little while ago, though . . .

We've had a weird problem with our Volkswagen Jetta since almost forever. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), we haven't had it consistently, so we've never been able to solve it. Sometimes when it's very, very cold, we'll start the car--which has automatic transmission--and then we can't get it out of park and into gear. It's not as locked as if we try to get it out of gear without holding down the break--there's a bit more play--but it's the same sensation. Sometimes it freezes for only a minute or two, but sometimes it lasts longer. I want to say that the longest has been about 12 minutes; I don't think I've ever had to wait a full 15. However, when you're just sitting there in the cold, it sure seems like a lot longer.

We've tried to take the car in to be checked, but the transmission has never frozen when someone is right there to try to diagnose the problem. Lately, though, it's gotten a bit more annoying. If I'm coming home from work, shuddering with concern that I'm going to have to sit in the car while it decides to get into gear, it'll shift right in with no problem. But, if I need to stop somewhere on the way home--the grocery store, say--it'll freeze up when I get back in the car. Although it may not have had time to warm up completely, it certainly should be warmer after having run for a few minutes and then sat for a few minutes than it is after sitting all day. My experience tonight was even more annoying. The transmission hesitated for a second or two but went into gear OK, but then I had to stop for gas. I drove for about five minutes and then pulled into a gas station. It's in around 0 degrees outside, so I certainly didn't linger at the gas station. Maybe it took five minutes to fill the tank. But when I was back in the car, it took six or seven minutes to get it out of park.

We've got no idea of what might be going on. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Any ideas at all?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Jim Rice: Hall of Famer

The news came around lunch time, and boy, was it ever welcome. After 14 years of eligibility with no results, Boston Red Sox Jim Rice was finally elected into the Hall of Fame on his last year of eligibility. Rice was a powerful force on the Red Sox during the 1970s and '80s, and, maybe because that's the period when I first started paying close attention to doings around Fenway, he was always one of my favorite players. He was certainly something to be reckoned with when and Freddie Lynn were rookies together in 1975, and then when you threw Yaz, Pudge, and so many others into the mix, that was a team worth paying attention to. I was a teenager, so I can't say that I was always consistent, but there were certainly days on which he was my absolute favorite player.

Rice was a dominant hitter, but he didn't quite play well enough quite long enough to be a lock for the HOF. He was 18 home runs shy of 400, 49 RBIs shy of 1,500, 48 hits shy of 2,500, and 2 points shy of a lifetime .300 average (care of A little bit higher on any two or three of those would have been all he needed, but he didn't have it, so he had to wait. Players need to appear on 75 percent of baseball writers' ballots to make it in, and last year he made it to 70--close, but not close enough. Twenty previous players who hit the 70 percent threshold made it up to 75 percent the next year, so I was optimistic, but you never can tell.

This has nothing to do with stats (although it has everything to do with why he deserves to be in the hall), but one of my most prominent Jim Rice memories highlights a demonstration of his sheer power. I can't find an actual link at the moment (although there are other people talking about it), but Rice had such pure strength that he once broke a bat on a check swing--he stopped the bat handle from going around, but the end of the bat had such force that it couldn't be slowed. It's my understanding that he's not the only major leaguer to have accomplished such a feat, but he's the only one who's among my favorite players.

Congratulations, Jim. It's about time.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

High-Stakes Economics

As the economic news just gets worse and worse, there's been some concern that Obama's stimulus plan isn't strong or robust enough to adequately tackle the problem. This post from TomP at Daily Kos provides a nice summation of the various worries Obama has faced. I pay particular attention to the opinions of Nobel Prize-winning economists Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman.

But throughout the campaign, Obama often seemed to be underplaying a situation, not doing enough to address it, only to demonstrate that his detractors were seriously underestimating both his intentions and his abilities. Is that what's going on here? Nate Silver, in spelling out Obama's Price Is Right negotiating strategy, says it is. He answers the question of whether Obama should've expected push back from Senate Democrats with another question:

My question is: can Obama really be entirely surprised that this is happening?

Before you answer, consider who we haven't heard very much from the past couple of days. We haven't heard very much from Mitch McConnell. And we haven't heard very much from the Blue Dogs. Nobody seems (publicly) to be taking the position that the $800 billion is too much, at least provided that it comes with $300 billion of tax cuts.

Now consider what Obama told CNBC the other day:

Obama also confirmed that he plans to lay out a roughly $775 billion economic stimulus plan on Thursday but indicated that the amount could grow once it gets taken up by Congress.

"We've seen ranges from $800 (billion) to $1.3 trillion," he said. "And our attitude was that given the legislative process, if we start towards the low end of that, we'll see how it develops."

Obama isn't picking these numbers out on accident. This range -- $800 billion to $1.3 trillion -- is most likely the range of outcomes that his administration considers acceptable. He says that "given the legislative process", he's deliberately chosen a number on the lower end of that range.

What does this mean? It means he wants the Senate Democrats to do his dirty work for him. All of the sudden, the administration, which is about to spend at least $800 billion, gets to play the role of the fiscally prudent tightwads, negotiating against the Senate Democrats. This has at least two benefits. One, it requires less of the administration's political capital to sell the package. And two, it completely co-opts the conservative opposition. Unless you're Paul Krugman or Greg Mankiw, you probably don't really have any idea whether $300 billion or $800 billion or $1.2 trillion is the right amount to spend; the numbers are too large, the scope of the stimulus too unprecedented, to provide for any absolute frame of reference. So the frame of reference is relative rather than absolute. If you're Mitch McConnell or Mary Landireu or Bob Corker and you see that John Kerry thinks that $800 billion is too little -- well then, 'gal darn it, this Obama fella must be doing something right.

That makes sense, and it fits how we've seen Obama operate before. And if you're not sure at this point why Silver calls this the Price is Right negotiating strategy, he explains:

I call this a Price is Right negotiating strategy. When bidding on an item on The Price is Right, you want to come as close as possible to the item's price without going over. But if you do go over, your bid is invalidated. Thus, it is worse to bid $1 too much than $100 too little. Here, analogously, the risks of overbidding seem to be considerably greater to Obama than the risks of underbidding.

Bob Barker would be proud.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

It's On, Again

I didn't get a chance to write about this yesterday evening or this morning, but shortly after I wrote that I was losing interest in the Burris controversy, the Illinois Supreme Court went and made me start paying attention again. Harry Reid and Dick Durbin had apparently sent Burris home with a simple two-part plan to be accepted by the Senate. Burris needed to testify before the Illinois House Investigative Committee on his dealings with Rod Blagojevich, and he needed to get Secretary of State Jesse White's signature on the appointment from the governor. White has all along refused to sign, basically taking the position that he wouldn't support any appointment from Blagojevich. Burris took the matter to the Illinois Supreme Court, which didn't provide the clear-cut victory he sought. The court wouldn't force White to sign the document, but it also ruled that White's signature was not necessary to make it official. White has the legal duty to record the appointment, and he's done that. Durbin came out yesterday and said that they'd asked for White's signature on Burris's appointment, and that's what they still demanded.

So, there we are. Everything's in play, again. Durbin even suggested that maybe the best thing to do would be to wait for Blago's impeachment trial to finish. Yeah, maybe that's not such a bad idea, at that. By now, however, the Senate leadership has drawn a number of lines in the sand over this. They weren't going to seat anyone appointed by Blago, but then maybe they could work something out with Burris. Now, however, they've backed themselves into a corner, and they don't seem to know the way out of it. I find it humorous to some extent, but then I remember that Reid and Durbin are the ones who'll be leading the fight for Obama's plans against the Republicans. That wipes the smile right off my face.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Impeachment Is Now

The buzz seemed to be that they'd get to this later in the day, but the Illinois House wasted little time this morning in impeaching Governor Rod Blagojevich. The vote was 114-1, with 3 abstentions. Not surprisingly, Blago has few friends in Springfield. For his part, the governor talked tough and claimed he was looking forward to the impeachment trial in the Senate.

As I recall, part of the calculus for voting for Blago last time around was that, sure, we all knew he was iffy, but when he got drummed out, Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn would step in, and he'd be pretty good. Now that it's playing out in precisely that manner, there's not that much surprise--we should be able to go back to business as usual with a new governor by mid-February or so.

Interestingly, although Illinois has had its share (or more?) of governors who have gone to jail, this is the first time the House has actually impeached one. I guess that it just goes to show that illegality isn't necessarily an impediment to getting the job done.

Even though I've been writing about it, I can't say I'm that enthused one way or another, at this point, though. My main interest was in avoiding Blago's CYA Senate pick, but Roland Burris seems like a pretty done deal. There could still be some action there--Harry Reid says that Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White must sign the appropriate certification for Burris's appointment, and White is refusing to sign any appointment from Blagojevich, so there's something of a stand-off. White claims that his signature is not necessary and that Reid is just trying to shift responsibility to someone else. If Reid is so dead set on caving, he shouldn't insist others cave along with him (although it's often been said that spinelessness loves company, or something like that). If White has the power to stand in the way of Burris's appointment (he doesn't claim that he does, and I tend to doubt it, too), then count me standing beside him.

As for the impeachment itself, it'll go through its regularly scheduled paces. Blago seems pretty useless, so I won't be sorry to see him go, but I also won't lose much sleep one way or the other.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Impeachment on the Horizon

Blago is one step closer to having to hit the road, as a Illinois House Investigative Committee voted unanimously (21-0) to recommend impeachment of Governor Rod Blagojevich to the entire House. The full House might (read probably will) get a crack at the issue on Friday, and odds are very high that they'll send articles of impeachment over to the Senate. Blago's not impressed, and he figures he'll do better in the Senate. His only real justification for that belief is that Senate action will be presided over by a judge. Yeah, he's got nothing. On a positive note, a Blago spokesperson has promised that the governor would not resign before the House vote, so he'll either be impeached or not. That might not sound so positive, I agree, except didn't Blago at one point after his arrest indicate that he had no plans to name Obama's replacement? We all know how that turned out.

The Chicago Tribune reports:

The committee based its vote on a lengthy report detailing a litany of alleged abuses of the governor's power. The list includes Blagojevich expanding health care without legislative approval, spending state money on useless flu vaccines, refusing to release federal subpoenas and other government information to the public, widespread hiring abuses and pay-to-play activities in which big contributors often wound up with hefty state contracts.

If you're interested in getting your own glimpse of the resolution, you'll find it here.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Doing the Math

We were speaking of the Senate last night, and that reminded me that Mitch McConnell is all of a sudden worried about everybody getting equal representation. It's amazing what having one's minority status shrink even further can do to one. But he said something to George Stephanopoulos on Sunday that didn't quite sit right with me:

Look, I think everyone knows that half the American public is represented by a Republican senator.

Wait a minute. Republicans often win in large, sparsely populated states, like Wyoming or Idaho. Democrats win in hugely populated places like California and New York. That can't be true, can it?

Via Yglesias, I found James Surowiecki of The New Yorker, who claimed that, after doing "a quick-and-dirty calculation," Republicans senators represented about 37 percent of the public. Somehow, though, that didn't quite sound right, either. Those who know me realize that, in the right mood, I can be a bit of a stickler in these kinds of situations. So I did the math myself, just to see what I came up with.

As much as it pains me to say so, McConnell is technically correct. Just over 50 percent of the population is represented by one or two Republican senators (24.5 are represented by two Republicans and 25.8 are represented by a Republican and a Democrat). Of course, because everyone is represented by two senators, the percentages don't neatly add up to 100 percent. On the Democratic side, 75.3 percent of Americans are represented by at least one Democratic senator. I gave you the number of people represented by both a Democrat and a Republican, but that leaves 49.5 percent of the population who are represented only by Democratic senators.

So I guess that Mitch McConnell can continue to make his claim, but he next time he does, Harry Reid should point out that Democrats represent 3 out of 4 Americans.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Roland Burris's Excellent Adventure

It was certainly exciting to see Roland Burris turned away from the Senate floor. I've never had anything against Burris, although lately it has been getting on my nerves that he seems to have no idea why anyone would question his credentials just because he was appointed by a corrupt governor who less than a month ago was arrested for trying to sell the very seat he's trying to claim--why would anything think that one thing had anything to do with the other?

Unfortunately, it seems that the Democratic leadership is acting true to form and, after making what they claimed was a strong and principled stand against Rod Blagojevich's manipulations, are getting ready to cave and accept Blago's candidate. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

Monday, January 05, 2009

I Wasted My Christmas!!

Blogger has been giving me real trouble tonight, so I'll keep this short. Instead of books, shirts, DVDs, etc., I should've asked for a Democratic leadership with a spine. Just a few days ago, one of the most important things Congress could do was prepare a stimulus package to be on President Obama's desk the day that he's sworn in. Now, however, maybe it's not quite so vital. Surely it will be fine if we can get this by February. Why? Because Republicans are dragging their feet (boy, was that unexpected!), and Democrats are willing (once again) to cave. Although Democrats appear to have the numbers, they seem determined to let Republicans control the agenda. After all, there are only nearly 50 percent more Democrats than Republicans in the Senate--how can they Dems possibly stop them? Mitch McConnell doesn't want to move quickly--no matter what the cost of delay might be to the economy--and we wouldn't want to upset Mitch McConnell, would we?

Santa, is it too late for some kind of trade?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

A Different Look at Gaza

Faithful reader RT sent along a link to an essay in this morning's Globe and Mail out of Toronto on the new developments in Gaza. Written by a former Canadian ambassador to Israel, Egypt, and Jordan, it's an intriguing examination of the situation that doesn't look through the prism of American politics. Unfortunately, it's not chock-full of optimism, either.

The imbalance of casualties in the tragic confrontation between Hamas and Israel is stark. Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed or injured, from toddlers to the aged. Television footage suggests almost all are innocents.
. . .

The Israeli government was placed in an impossible situation when Hamas refused to renew its six-month-old ceasefire on Dec. 19. From that day on, Hamas has laid down an array of rockets and increasingly sophisticated missiles, with a range reaching Ashdod and Beersheva, some 46 kilometres away from the Gaza border. This raises the question whether Tel Aviv itself could be vulnerable. Even the most placid of governments would have to react in order to survive. And the Israelis have done so, massively.


Israel will hold a general election on Feb. 10. Most polls show that the right-wing Likud opposition leader and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to come to power. A weak-willed reaction to Hamas's rocket attacks would have exposed the present government to sharp criticism from Mr. Netanyahu, against the background of a frustrated and angry populace. It would have opened the governing coalition's departing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the Kadima Party's new leader, and, most of all, Ehud Barak, the Defence Minister and Leader of the formerly dominant Labour Party, to devastating criticism and their portrayal as leaders unable to safeguard their country's most basic interests. Inaction would have meant humiliation for Mr. Olmert, electoral defeat for Ms. Livni and the end of Mr. Barak's political career.
. . .

Many politicians and military commanders have limited objectives. They want to weaken Hamas as a guerrilla organization and force it to give up the missile threat, but leave its domestic rule in Gaza intact. Mr. Barak's chief of staff, Brigadier-General Mike Herzog, has been explicit. He says the aim of Operation Cast Lead is strictly confined to creating deterrence and forcing a sustainable ceasefire. His candour has been ill received in some military circles.

These officers worry that leaving Hamas intact, even if seriously weakened, would be only a temporary palliative. They believe Hamas would spring back with newfound support from the Palestinian and Arab grassroots, much as Hezbollah did in Lebanon.
. . .

But what is the Israeli exit strategy? One would have expected this to have been decided far in advance, but cracks are beginning to show in the Israeli leadership. Ehud Barak wants to consider the 48-hour ceasefire proposed by the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, to test Hamas's intentions. Such a ceasefire would go some way toward meeting international and humanitarian concerns. This could then be stretched into a renewal of the six-month cessation of hostilities, should Hamas be willing. It would reduce the possibility of ground troops being caught in a quagmire. The Prime Minister's office, however, has denied that any consideration has been given to winding down. Several on the general staff agree.

I've quoted from it fairly extensively, but trust me, this is only a taste. Check out the full piece. And if you're interested, you can contribute to a Globe and Mail Q&A with the author, Michael Bell, Monday afternoon at 1:30 Eastern (12:30 Central). I won't have a chance to participate, but I suspect that I will take a look later when I get a chance.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Vague New Year's Wishes

With the New Year's weekend bringing an end to the holiday season, we at Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk central are feeling a little bit worse for wear. I started feeling achy more than a week ago, but everything seemed fine on Monday as we came back into town. The aches started again that night, and then they were slowly joined by a sore throat. I wasn't feeling well enough to go out on Wednesday night, though I did have some champagne at home. I'm doing mostly better now, but even at that I slept a bit over eight hours last night and then had a three-hour nap this afternoon. Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk has had this same kind of thing going on and off for a few days herself, and it's a bit more at the on end tonight.

Other relatives have been experiencing the same kind of thing, and it seems to be going around our condo complex, as well. I've been more homebound than not, so I don't know how friends around town have been doing, but it wouldn't surprise me if it's much the same. This isn't exactly the most promising way to ring in a new year, although for all its advantages and the audacious hope we've got, I have to admit I don't have real high expectations for 2009. The economy shows no real sign of turning around, and I suspect that we'll have a few more "unexpected" drops before we're all over. Am I wrong? I hope so. We'll just have to wait and see.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Are We Really Taking Blago Seriously?

I've been ignoring it--because who wants to worry about corrupt politicians during the holiday season?--but the Rod Blagojevich situation has been heating up. I can't say I'm surprised that, even after promising that he wouldn't, he named an appointment to Obama's empty senate seat. Anybody who didn't see that coming should be banned from the annual pundit cookout and slumber party. He's a crook! Were we actually supposed to expect him to keep his word? There was every reason for him to claim the cloak of gubernatorial respectability by performing his gubernatorial duties. Up until Tuesday, I would've said that Roland Burris was perfectly qualified to be senator, but now I've got serious doubts about his judgment. He actually said with a straight face that he doesn't think he should be tainted because Blago's been having trouble. When the trouble Bloago's been having is that he's trying to sell the senate seat, by definition, any appointment he makes is tainted. Sorry Roland, it was tainted before you ever got there, so your taking it isn't enough to untaint it.

There have been various arguments about whether Blago's appointment can be legally thwarted, but I'm partial to this one in Slate by professors from Yale and Cornell. One good thing that Blago's action might produce this week is to hurry the Illinois legislature into pursuing his impeachment. House Speaker Mike Madigan has asked legislators to return early to hear the report from the committee investigating just that. Thanks, Rod. They needed a fire under them.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year!

No, I'm not up yet. Don't let anyone else make you get up, either!