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.

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.

A Positive Presidential Legacy

Although I disagree with many of President Obama’s policy positions and legislative initiatives, there is no doubt that he has had a positive impact on American democracy.  His campaign inspired many disaffected voters, and his ultimate success inspired many people to believe that they, too, could pursue a career in politics.  This article, for example, indicates that the President’s election has encouraged conservative African-Americans to run as Republicans.

When I was a kid, it was commonly said that anyone in America could grow up to be President.  In the 40-odd years since then, that concept seemed to get lost.  President Obama’s election, however, confirmed the truth of that statement and reinvigorated the important underlying concept.  I imagine that many more people now dream of perhaps being President someday.  If the President’s example gets more people participating in democracy — regardless of their political views — it will be a positive legacy.

The Law Of Unintended Consequences

A number of U.S. companies have modified their accounting statements to reflect increased liabilities that will be imposed on them as a result of the “health care reform” legislation.  The latest (and largest) is AT&T, which is taking a $1 billion non-cash charge to its accounting statements for the first quarter of 2010.  AT&T says the charge reflects additional taxes it will have to pay.  The increased tax burden in this particular instance could cause AT&T and other companies to change — and perhaps eliminate entirely — benefits offered to retirees.

Congress’ response to this news is interesting and entertaining.  The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce has asked the CEOs of the affected companies to appear for a hearing and to produce clearly confidential corporate documents, like analyses of the impact of “health care reform” legislation on the companies and other documents, including e-mails, prepared or reviewed by senior company officials concerning health care reform.  Copies of the letters to the company CEOs are available on the Energy and Commerce Committee website.  The tone of the letters is quasi-intimidating and humorous at the same time.  The letters earnestly state that “[t]he new law was designed to expand coverage and bring down costs, so your assertions are a matter of concern” and notes that the companies’ decisions “appear to conflict with independent analyses” like the Congressional Budget Office and the Business Roundtable.

The implication of these letters is that the Committee expects to find a giant cabal, in which large American companies have gotten together to take phony accounting charges to undercut the “health care reform” legislation and make the President and the Congress look bad.  Is Congress really so clueless?  Do they honestly think that large companies manipulate their accounting statements and take $1 billion charges for political purposes?  In this post-Enron era, the accounting statements of publicly traded companies are carefully considered and vetted by independent accounting firms and independent audit committees of the company’s Board of Directors; political views don’t enter into the equation.  And in this economy, do Members of Congress really believe that companies would take huge unnecessary charges that would make their earnings look worse than they already are?

Even more hysterical is the letters’ pitting of the decisions of company management against “independent analyses” from the Congressional Budget Office and the Business Roundtable.  Does Congress actually think that the generic findings of the CBO about decreased premium costs by 2016, or the comments made by the Business Roundtable months ago about some earlier version of the “health care reform” legislation, have more substance than the determinations of company executives who must grapple with how accounting and auditing standards require them to evaluate and report the liabilities of their companies based on the specific of their particular health care plans?

The congressional investigation will leave the company CEOs being summoned in a quandary.  They probably can’t refuse to attend.  In this era of big government, no American company wants to be in the cross-hairs of anti-business congressional committees.  But the alternative is not attractive.  If the companies produce sensitive corporate documents to a notoriously leaky Congress, those documents may end in the hands of keenly interested competitors.  And if the CEOs appear to testify, they will likely be browbeaten by a gang of know-nothings who couldn’t distinguish generally accepted accounting principles from a cracked pumpkin and who will attempt to shirk their own responsibility for foisting increased taxes and increased costs on American businesses.  The hearings won’t be pretty.

Don’t be surprised if other companies announce similar accounting decisions as a result of the changes made by the “health care reform” legislation and if, ultimately, benefit plans get changed materially as a result.  Congress is about to get a serious lesson in the law of unintended consequences and the repercussions of making poorly considered, wholesale changes in the law applicable to a huge chunk of the American economy.

The Jarring Questions On The Census Form

Today we filled out the census form for our household.  The form itself is interesting.  You are asked how many people live in your household and whether you own your own home with or without a mortgage, or rent, or “occupy without payment of rent.”  (I guess the latter category refers to people who live in government housing.)  You are asked your telephone number and your name.  And then you are asked a bunch of demographic questions about the members of your household.  What is their gender?  What is their age?  And, most noticeably, are they of “Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin,” and what is their “race” — “white,” “Black, African Am., or Negro,” “Japanese,” or “some other race,” among a number of other options?

The Census Bureau website offers explanations for why each of the questions is asked.  The website states that the Hispanic question (question no. eight) has been asked since 1970 to provide data to federal agencies to use in monitoring compliance with federal anti-discrimination provisions and to state and local agencies to help plan and administer bilingual programs.  With respect to the general “race” question (question no. nine), the website states that “race is key to implementing many federal laws” and that race data are needed to monitor compliance with the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act, to “assess fairness of employment practices,” to “monitor racial disparities in characteristics such as health and education” and “to plan and obtain funds for public services.”  The website adds that the race-related information also  is used by state and local governments to establish congressional and state voting districts.

The census has a long history of asking demographic and race-related questions.  According to the Census Bureau website, the first U.S. census, which was taken by U.S. marshals in 1790, asked for the name of the head of household and the number of people who fell into various categories — free white males over age 16, free white males under 16, free white females, all other free persons, and slaves.

Nevertheless, you would like to think that by 2010 — decades after our nation’s sordid history of legalized slavery, followed by Jim Crow laws and other forms of legalized bigotry and discrimination, was finally ended by the civil rights movement and the enactment of federal statutes designed to enforce constitutional guarantees of equal protection and to bar discrimination in voting, housing, and employment — we would have gotten past a fixation upon race and counting and categorizing people on racial grounds.  It is jarring, dispiriting, and seemingly inconsistent with the ultimate goal of a color-blind society for a federal government agency to ask people to identify themselves as “black,” “white,” or a member of some other racial group and to say that “race is key to implementing many federal laws.”

Clearly, when it comes to race we haven’t progressed as far or as fast as we might have hoped.  Let’s hope that, when the 2020 census rolls around, the race-related questions are gone and are considered as archaic as the questions asked in 1790.

Before The Clock Runs Out On 24 . . . .

Fox has officially announced that it is canceling 24.  This will be the show’s last season on TV, although there are hopes for a movie at some point.

This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.  I’ve posted several times on this year’s generally lackluster season.  Clearly, the show seems to have run out of ideas — which is not surprising, because there are only so many terrorist threats to American soil that can be played out, from beginning to end, in a 24-hour period.

Before the show ends, however, there are some things that I really want to see:

*  Jack Bauer saying he is very hungry and then eating something.  A Power Bar, a Fig Newton . . . anything!

*  A CTU superior slapping Chloe O’Brian after she makes yet another inappropriately snarky comment and engages in her customary facial contortions and eye-rolling during a critical moment.

*  A member of CTU dozing at his computer station during the 4 a.m. hour.

*  A technical glitch or downloading failure that prevents an effort by Chloe to immediately send detailed plans of a previously unknown building to Jack’s PDA.

*  When Kiefer Sutherland whispers one of Jack’s lines, the character to whom he is speaking saying:  “Huh?  What?  I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that.  Could you please speak up?”

*  CTU boss Brian Hastings channeling the ghost of Bubba from Forrest Gump by mentioning five kinds of dishes made with shrimp.

*  Standard CTU security forces actually maintaining a “perimeter” that catches a bad guy trying to infiltrate or escape.

*  The return of Tony Almeida, David Palmer, Jack’s brother, Jack’s wife, various people Jack has killed, the cougar that hunted Kim in an earlier season, and a surprise appearance by William Shatner in a haunting, hallucinogenic dream sequence that leaves Jack profoundly traumatized.

*  Jack Bauer showing that he actually performs bodily functions like the rest of us.  If it were up to me, he would be shown coming out of a bathroom, with some toilet paper stuck to his shoe.

Thanks For The Memories

Last night the Buckeyes fell short in their bid for the Elite 8, falling to Tennessee 76-73.  It was a tough, back-and-forth game, but ultimately Tennessee’s outright dominance of the boards, free throw shooting, and flypaper defense on Buckeye sharpshooter Jon Diebler carried them to a narrow victory.  The Volunteers deserve credit for playing a tough game, beating a very good team, and earning their first trip ever to the Elite 8.

The Buckeyes and fans celebrate after beating Illinois

As for Ohio State, we hoped they would win, but they didn’t — and now their season is suddenly over.  Although it ended with a loss (a result that will happen for all but one team in the NCAA Tournament) that fact should not detract from an excellent season.

Evan Turner, who played his heart out last night, clearly is one of the best players in the country. Buckeyes fans will long remember his excellent play this year and his gritty and speedy return from a serious back injury; we will recall with special relish his last-second three-pointer to stun Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament.  William Buford and David Lighty both stepped up their games this year, on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court, all the while playing virtually every minute of every game for the short-handed Buckeyes.  Dallas Lauderdale also improved his game and was an intimidating shot-blocking force on defense.  And although Jon Diebler had a difficult game last night, his pinpoint three-point shooting  was a key ingredient that helped propel Ohio State on its end-of-the-season run to a share of the Big Ten regular season championship, the Big Ten Tournament title, and the Sweet 16 in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.

Kudos, too, to Coach Thad Matta and his staff for producing an exciting season and a team of young men who were fine representatives of The Ohio State University.  Coaching at the major college level is not easy — Coach Matta just makes it look that way.

The Tennessee Press And The Elite 8

David Lighty

Tonight the Buckeye basketball team plays for a spot in the Elite 8.  Standing in their way is the Tennessee Volunteers, the only team in the country this year to beat both Kansas and Kentucky — generally regarded by the pundits, at least, as the two best teams in the land.  Tennessee and Ohio State have a bit of a rivalry going; they played twice in 2007, including a come-from-behind victory by the Buckeyes in the 2007 NCAA Tournament, and another regular season game in 2008 won by Tennessee.

Tennessee plays the press, which is not a style Ohio State has seen much during the regular season.  For the Buckeyes, the press will present  significant challenges.  Evan Turner, as the point guard, will have to work harder to get the ball upcourt and watch for the trap; David Lighty will probably do more ball-handling in the backcourt as a result.  If they Buckeyes can break the press, they will need to take advantage.  Jon Diebler will have to get to good spots and knock down open three-pointers, and William Buford and Dallas Lauderdale will need to finish if the Buckeyes can get an advantage on the break.  Because the Buckeyes typically don’t play many players fatigue could be a factor, and any foul trouble could be a serious problem.

To advance in the NCAA Tournament you need to beat the best teams around, and Tennessee definitely belongs in that category.  The Tournament also requires teams to adjust to different styles, like Tennessee’s press, if they want to move forward.  I expect that Thad Matta and his staff have worked hard this week on schemes to beat the press.  Tonight we’ll see if that work bears fruit.