The Pacific

Kish and I have enjoyed The Pacific, the new drama series on HBO.  It is extremely well done, and I particularly like the idea of using interviews with actual World War II veterans about the battle that will be portrayed to provide the introduction and framework for each episode.  With The Pacific, as with any realistic “war movie,” I am shocked and amazed by the violence, the bloodshed, the hours of boredom alternating with the long adrenalin-drenched minutes of freakish horror, and ultimately the simple heroism of the American boys — and boys they were — who were shipped to unknown overseas lands to fight and die in the most brutal conditions imaginable. 

The Pacific theatre of World War II is interesting on many levels, not the least of which is the clash of two cultures that really didn’t understand each other.  One of the only drawbacks to The Pacific I have noted (and we’ve only watched the first two episodes so far) is that there is no representation of the Japanese point of view.  That is too bad, because the Japanese perspective on the war truly is fascinating.  If you want to get a good sense of how and why the Japanese fought, and what their culture was like leading up to and including the war years, read The Rising Sun by John Toland, which is one of my favorite books.

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Keep The Big Ten As It Is (Cont.)

Here’s another reason why the Big Ten is a very attractive option for schools in other conferences — it takes its monetary proceeds from events like the NCAA Tournament, pools them, and then splits them equally among all 11 teams in the conference.

This article from the Columbus Dispatch explains that, for every team to make the 2010 NCAA Tournament, and for every win by a Big Ten team in the NCAA Tournament, the conference will get $222, 502.  Every one of the 11 schools in the Big Ten therefore will get $20,227 for each of the five teams to make the Tournament and for each of the nine wins the Big Ten teams have achieved so far in the Tournament.  That totals to close to $300,000 for each school, which is a nice thing to add to the bottom line in these tough economic times.  And because the Big Ten splits the proceeds equally, rather than following more of an “eat what you kill” methodology as some conferences do, even poor Northwestern, which has never qualified for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, gets the same portion of tournament-related money as does perennial NCAA Tournament participant Michigan State.

Most of the non-athletic news about colleges these days is about money, about cuts in state subsidies and tuition hikes.  (Ohio State, for example, recently announced an 7 percent tuition hike after holding the line on tuition for three years.)  Is it any wonder that Big Ten schools are seriously considering expansion of the conference as a means of (relatively) painlessly increasing revenue?  And, should it really be a surprise that schools in other conferences are hoping they get the invitation to join a conference that both generates lots of revenue from its fans and athletic teams and then splits it equally?

Keep The Big Ten As It Is (Cont.)

Keep The Big Ten As It Is (Cont.)

Keep The Big Ten As It Is (Cont.)

Keep The Big Ten As It Is (Cont.)

Keep The Big Ten As It Is (Cont.)

Keep The Big Ten As It Is (Cont)

Keep The Big Ten As It Is

Slowhand Is 65

Today is Eric Clapton’s 65th birthday.  When I heard that as I drove to work this morning, it made me stop for a moment — and then the memories of all of the Eric Clapton music I’ve heard and loved came roaring into my mind and I was sucked back to my teenage years and the right rear bedroom on the second floor at 2440 Buckley Road in Upper Arlington, Ohio.

You see, I’ve loved Eric Clapton’s music since I finally got my own room as a teenager.  In that room I had a cheap stereo system with two tiny, blue felt-covered, plastic speakers that I mounted on the wall (poorly), and on that cheap system I played Eric Clapton’s records constantly and at maximum volume.  I had several double-record greatest hits albums — one called, I think, History of Eric Clapton and another called Clapton’s Greatest Hits — as well as what I still think is the greatest teenage boy air guitar album ever made:  Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.  Clapton’s career had a hiatus of sorts after that legendary album, then he came back with 461 Ocean Boulevard and a terrific live album called E.C. was Here.  I bought and played and loved all of his records then, and I continue to love his stuff now.  Clapton helped to introduce me, and no doubt entire generations of music fans, to blues music, which he played faithfully yet with his own indelible stamp.

Clapton, who was known to some as Slowhand, had an amazing career by the time he was 30.  As a kid he played with John Mayall’s Bluebreakers and the Yardbirds, and then he formed two of the earliest rock “supergroups,” in Cream and Blind Faith.  He played with the Beatles on While My Guitar Gently Weeps, and George Harrison wrote Here Comes the Sun in Clapton’s garden.  By 1970 Clapton was the quintessential guitar hero who set songs alight with incredibly fast, liquid guitar chords that hit you deep in your gut.  He collaborated to extraordinary effect with Duane Allman on the Layla album, played on The Band’s The Last Waltz, has performed and recorded with a variety of blues greats and countless other rock artists, and has continued to make terrific acoustic and electric music up until the present day.  His concerts — and I was privileged to see him perform once, in upstate New York in the ’70s — are legendary for the quality of their music.  His official website reports, incidentally, that he will be in concert again this summer in Europe.

It’s hard to pick my favorite Clapton songs.  There are so many of them — Cream’s extraordinary Crossroads and massive, pounding Sunshine of your Love, the delicate recording of Can’t Find My Way Home by Blind Faith, Let it Rain, Farther on up the Road and Drifting Blues from E.C. was Here, the excellent and note-perfect Worried Life Blues and many other songs from his The Blues double-CD set, his acoustic Layla on MTV’s Unplugged, and a number of songs on his recent CD with J.J. Cale, The Road to Escondido.  For my money, however, the crowning achievement of his career was the Layla double album and his astonishing playing with Duane Allman — on Layla, on Have You Ever Loved a Woman, on Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out, and, most brilliantly, on the 9-minute, 41-second opus, Key to the Highway, a sinuous conversation back and forth between Clapton’s alternately sharp and ragged guitar and Allman’s slide, each trying to top the other in inventiveness and craft.  I think it is one of the great rock recordings ever made.

It’s really kind of stupid for someone like me to write about Clapton, because his music says so much more than words can.  And so, in honor of E.C.’s birthday, here is a more fitting tribute — a video of a 2001 acoustic performance of Key to the Highway:

A Cold, Icy Hand

The Congressional Budget Office is forecasting that the Social Security system will pay out in benefits more than it takes in this year, and the chief actuary of the Social Security Administration seemingly agrees.  The threshold will be crossed much earlier than expected because the current economic recession caused receipts from payroll taxes to decline — due to the high unemployment in the country — while the payouts have increased due to some people taking retirement earlier than was planned.  The imbalance is a matter of some immediate concern, although the chief actuary states that the system has a considerable balance.

The demographics of the Social Security system are inexorable, however.  The reality is that Americans are living longer and longer and therefore are receiving Social Security payments for longer periods than before.  In addition, the forthcoming retirements of millions of Baby Boomers — who all at once will stop contributing and starting receiving — will place an enormous strain on the system.  As a result of these factors, we will have fewer and fewer workers supporting payments to more and more retirees.

For those of us who are at the tail end of the Baby Boom, or younger, news about the solvency of the Social Security system is of the keenest interest.  We’ve faithfully paid into the system for decades, and lately we’ve come to wonder whether we will ever see benefits from those contributions when our retirement date arrives.  We pray that Social Security will be a reliable part of our retirement income planning — and when we read that the system is paying out more than it takes in already, years earlier than was anticipated, it is like a cold, icy hand clutching the heart.

Russell Webner, “Oil Person”

Occasionally I run searches on friends and family members, just to see if anything interesting pops up.  Tonight a search of Russell’s name showed that he is one of the people in the “Carbon Capture Report,” a news monitoring service of the University of Illinois that focuses on climate change issues.  That’s right — the “‘Carbon Capture Report” has listed Russell as an “oil person.”

Why, you ask, would Russell be listed as an “oil person”?  So far as we know, he has no interest in petroleum products, has never set foot on Southfork Ranch, and doesn’t speak with a Texas twang.  If you look at the source article cited in Russell’s “oil person” biography, however, you see that it is a review of his recent show with three other art students, called “This The Range and Recent.”  One sentence in the review says:  “Two paintings by Webner that were on display use oils to portray digital media and computers in their valiant attempt to simulate war.”  And so, by virtue of that phrase and through the likely use of some automatic Boolean search tool that looks for names associated with “oil,” a comment about Russell’s use of oils in his artwork has made him an “oil person” in the “Carbon Capture Report.”

It doesn’t say much about the accuracy of the “biographies” in the “Carbon Capture Report” that a Vassar art student could be depicted as an oil man.  Given some of the recent revelations about the slipshod science and scholarship in the field of “global warming,” however, we probably shouldn’t be surprised.