Thursday, October 2, 2008

Vice candidates show little vices

It was a tale of two debates if you caught the verbal battle between Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Joe Biden on Thursday.

For starters, both side were relatively gaffe-free (she called him O'Biden; he made a reference to "Bozniacs" instead of Bosnians).

In Palin's corner, she helped dispel the myth that she's a train wreck in giving off-the-cuff answers. As someone who has been in a debate, you prep going in by having a good idea what the questions might be and having answers for those. She kept the attention on energy, and tried to portray McCain as the true change agent while chiding Biden for looking at the past.

On Biden's performance, the senator seemed tentative the first third or half, but seemed to hit his stride as the debate progressed. And while he did "look back" at McCain's record, he did it in the fashion of "hey, this guy hasn't backed change before, so why should he now."

In terms of a "winner," Palin gets a slight edge given the beating she took in the Katie Couric interviews. But it's safe to say neither candidate hurt the top of the ticket.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Distancing from Bush

The hacking of Sarah Palin's e-mail is a "shocking invasion of privacy" says a John McCain staffer. Is there really shock at someone looking at personal correspondence between the Guv and her friends, or it is relief that the revelation redirected attention away from Palin's Troopergate investigation?

Or maybe it's another example of the McCain camp distancing itself from the Bush administration, which uses the Patriot Act and other legislation to tap phones and other potential civil liberty violations.

Is it wrong to hack into someone's e-mail? Sure it is. Should the government be allowed to invade a person's privacy? If there's just cause, yes. I'm a little worried not about what the government finds out about potential terrorists, but what it does with other information it finds. And what's to prevent - other than blind trust that our government wouldn't do anything illegal - that such information wouldn't be used for political purposes?

If someone is threatening to blow up buildings or kill the president, then action needs to be taken before something bad happens. If a political opponent is viewing porn or sending suggestive e-mails to their spouse, is that any concern of ours? Or the government's?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

This story had legs

There's always a little something for everyone in the Guinness Book of World Records. And the little something this year is China's He Pingping, who is the world's shortest person.

The lucky little fellow at right is sitting atop the lap of Svetlana Pankratova, who has the longest legs of any woman in the world.

As a kid, I used to love perusing the annual list of things odd and unusual. (I used to like a lot of those "list" books and I have a son who is the same way.

Didn't really have anything else to add, other than I'm a leg man, so I had to include the photo.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Swing of things

Blog time has been trimmed lately due to my participation in a local play, but with a strong weekend (sellouts on Friday and Saturday - small theater seating a little over 100) we're making a strong showing at the halfway point in the run.

The timing of the show was great in that it didn't interrupt my guilty pleasure of the summer: "Swingtown." That's because CBS has canceled/put the show on hiatus/whatever and leaving us wondering what's going on.

I think they rewrote that "final" episode to serve as a wrap-up in case it doesn't continue. It seemed a little hastily put together.

A better cliffhanger version might have been:

- Janet inviting Henry to stay for a drink. Cut to...

- Bruce showing up at that downtown bar and making eye contact with Melinda. Cut to...

- Roger laying on the hotel bed. Cut to...

- Susan sitting in the car with a "What should I do?" look on her face. Cut to...

- Trina standing across the street from an abortion clinic with a "What should I do?" look on her face. Cut to...

- Tom seeing a dad and son get on an airplane and having a "flashback" to a bad childhood experience.

Instead (assuming the show returns) we'll have a season of:

- Bruce and Susan agonizing over divorce and kids, but getting back together;

- Roger trying to balance his attraction to Susan and trying to make do with Janet; - Trina's bulging belly, until she tragically loses the baby;

- and - how's this for a twist - Doug coming back from Guatemala to discovery Laurie is pregnant and someone else is the father.

Of course, the producers could go "Dallas" on us and pretend it was all a dream.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Poll dancing

The Obama camp must be reeling. Polls are showing the Illinois senator trailing.

A reference to the latest polls showing McCain ahead of Obama by 10 points (says USA Today)? No, that first sentence is a throwback to polling data between April 28 and May 4, which showed Hillary Clinton ahead of Barack Obama (depending on which poll you followed).

Three polls had Clinton's lead nationally between 3 and 7 percent. It should also be noted five polls that overlapped the same period showed Obama with leads of 1 to 12 percent. Also,

Now if you're looking at Sept. 8 polls, (and Real Clear Politics keeps track of current and past polling data) McCain leads by 1 percent (Rasmussen) or 10 percent (USA Today/Gallup). One only needs to go back to Friday, Sept. 5, to see Obama with a 6 percent lead (Hotline/FD).

With all these numbers jumping back and forth, what to they mean? Nothing - and everything.

If the McCain/Palin bump is because voters are supportive of a woman on the VP slot or sympathetic to "negative" Palin stories, that's likely a temporary cycle. What can Obama do about that? Send Biden to Switzerland for sex-change operation? Dump old Joe for Hillary?

If polls favor one candidate over another on the issues, then a candidate might address those perceptions to win over those potential voters. That's a potential risky proposal, depending on the issue. If surveys showed people heavily in favor of the war in Iraq, it would be unrealistic for Obama to suddenly change course and say he now supports the war. But if it's an economic issue and the landscape has changed (i.e. - the government control of the mortgage crisis) that action can change what a candidate had previously said on the issue.

There's only one true "poll" that matters. That will occur on Nov. 4, and the answer made in ballot boxes across the country will be binding.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

What the 40s think

What are those in the forties (and some in the 30s) about the upcoming presidential race?

A Florida Chamber of Commerce poll taken in August shows McCain with a 42 to 41 percent edge over Obama in the 40- to 49-age group in the state (42 to 39 percent overall). A national poll in August by the Pew Research Center shows Obama leading McCain 47 to 43 percent in the 30- to 49-age group. The most recent Gallop Poll (conducted Aug. 25 to 31) shows Obama leading 30 to 49 year olds by 3 percentage points (48 to 45).

Of course, we have this crazy democracy that says an Electoral College - not the popular vote - wins the election. In that regard, Real Clear Politics is tracking the Electoral College map. As of Sept. 5, it shows Obama with 238 electoral votes in states solidly backing him or leaning in that direction, while McCain has 185 electoral vote by the same tally. RCP lists 115 electoral votes as toss ups. But those include two biggies - Florida (27) and Ohio (20) - and McCain is currently leading the polls right now.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Rally cry or bedtime story

Republicans (and for a while, Hillary Clinton) say Obama is nothing but a speech.

But if you heard his address at the Democratic National Convention, it's easy to see how Obama uses his words to stir up crowds into a frenzy.

McCain's speech to Republicans came across (on TV anyway) like a bedtime story. "Once there was a man who went to war ..."

Granted, we need to look beyond rhetoric and negatives ads and find out what the candidates really stand for. And I'll give credit to both Obama and McCain for spelling out some of that vision in their respective speeches.

The debates should be interesting. The key will be to really listen to what their saying, not how their saying it. Obama, tested by debate queen Hillary Clinton in 20-some debates and town hall meetings, should blow McCain out of the water in terms of appearance. But Obama needs to be careful: People are listening closely and paying attention in greater detail this time. Both candidates need to provide details while NOT sounding like a rote presentation on policy (kind of like Hillary).

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Palin brings energy to the campaign

Maybe John McCain knew what he was doing after all.

Sarah Palin's speech to Republican delegates obviously delighted the partisan audience. And although she said John McCain's POW tenure is why we should elect him president - as a prisoner of war, he knows how to get the country through the torture of his presidency - Palin hit upon what may end up being the key issue in the election: Gas prices.

Here's what I'm talking about:

"When a hurricane strikes in the Gulf of Mexico, this country should not be so dependent on imported oil that we are forced to draw from our Strategic Petroleum Reserve. And families cannot throw away more and more of their paychecks on gas and heating oil. With Russia wanting to control a vital pipeline in the Caucasus, and to divide and intimidate our European allies by using energy as a weapon, we cannot leave ourselves at the mercy of foreign suppliers. To confront the threat that Iran might seek to cut off nearly a fifth of world energy supplies ... or that terrorists might strike again at the Abqaiq facility in Saudi Arabia ... or that Venezuela might shut off its oil deliveries ... we Americans need to produce more of our own oil and gas. And take it from a gal who knows the North Slope of Alaska: we've got lots of both."

Palin may be person best suited to address the oil issue. She knows what Alaskan oil and gas production can do for this country.

With oil prices stabilizing, the issue is pushed further back in our minds. (Actually, with both sides launching attack ads, you wonder if either said cares about issues.) But if the price of oil starts rising and Americans are clamoring for relief at the pumps, the gal who looks good in pumps or heels has a ready answer to heal our pocketbooks.

Now if someone can just give us a good reason to election McCain, the Republicans might just win the whole darn thing.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Labor Day news

The news that broke on Labor Day had nothing to do with working and everything to do with the impending labor of Bristol Palin, the 17-year-old pregnant daughter of GOP VP nominee Sarah Palin (seen at right with infant brother, Trig).

As if the Republicans already had enough to worry about with Hurricane Gustav stealing some of their conventions' thunder.

I feel sorry for the girl, who now becomes the center of a "controversy." Maybe before reporters start making the trek to the Great White North, they should read up on stress and pregnancy. And I won't even include a link to the wild stories that Gov. Palin's infant son is actually the offspring of one of her daughters.

What's interesting in this case is the responses from both sides on the pregnancy.

Obama has essentially said, "Leave the kids alone." I even heard a Republican operative on the Today Show credit Obama for taking such action.

Response from The Republicans and family values groups range, "At least she's keeping the baby" to "this shows Gov. Palin relates to the average American."

Still, you wonder if the baby booty were on the other foot, would those same "family values" group be as supportive if, say, a Joe Biden's unmarried kid was having a baby. Cynical? Yes. Would it happen that way? Likely.

Can't wait for the jokes on how Sarah Palin went from a MILF to a GILF.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Stunning? Or just stunned?

John McCain will have two good looking women up there now that's he chosen Sarah Palin, 44, to be his vice presidential choice. She certainly is something to look at, but she brings some real non-Washington politics to the table.

We’ll know in about a month if this was brilliant strategy to win the race or if he gambled big and lost. He’s certainly trying to appeal to a lot of people here.

This certainly takes the news-cycle winds out of a strong Obama acceptance speech on Thursday night.

Now we've got two 40-somethings on national tickets.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Lights, camera, action

What do you get when you cross a 40-year-old guy with one real community theater role to his credit and a director who is desperate when a person drops a role less then three weeks to opening night?

You get roped into helping a friend with a play. Actually, it's going to be a blast.

A hilarious book, "Dearly Beloved" is set in Texas with the Futrelle sisters getting ready for the wedding of Frankie Futrelle's daughter, who may or may not show up at the church with her future. Among the minor characters in the laugh-filled play are a fortune teller, an over-medicated wedding guest, a fill-in preacher and a dim-witted police officer (played by your favorite blogger, me).

I actually auditioned for another role in the show when my director friend e-mailed me after a cast member dropped the show. I showed up a day after my hernia surgery, hobbled up to the stage, read some lines, and hobbled off. My friend must have felt bad to drag my still-healing body out for the audition, only to give the part to another - and, truthfully, a more-qualified - person. Still, it is nice to be asked.

If you get a chance to see this play and aren't offended by references to menopause, potentially wayward preachers, and other minor indiscretions - the person I'm replacing apparently didn't like (or his wife didn't like) the "direction" the show was going, even though he had the script more than a month - I'd recommend it. I did a Google search and it appears to get wide play at various community theaters across the country.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get ready for my close-up.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dems hit the halfway point

The Democratic convention hit the halfway mark on Tuesday, and so far the women are doing the heavy lifting.

Michelle Obama delivered a performance that took the edge off of earlier reports that took shots at her likability.

Hillary Clinton, while infusing much of her campaign into her speech, came out enthusiastically for Barack Obama. Hard to tell is the references to herself and her husband were laying the ground for 2012 (if Obama loses) or serving as a national political obituary. Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Entrepreneurship is the new old thing

Ever wonder how our local institutions got their start? Same way Ford and Microsoft and others began: an idea, a little money and a lot of hard work.

Whether they are serving pulled pork or pulling teeth, the people who start uniquely local business all fall into the same category. They are all entrepreneurs.

We wouldn't have Main Streets and shopping centers and corner grocers with this breed of people who - despite failure and other risks - devoted their lives to their business ventures.

Individually, these businesses may not have a tremendous impact. Collectively, they have the power to influence the local and regional economy by providing goods and services and jobs to an area.

A century ago - heck, probably not even a generation ago - there was little formal training for entrepreneurs. The business owners attended the School of Life to prepare them for their venture.

That's changing for the next wave of entrepreneurs who hope to tackle bigger and more complex new business opportunities.

Purdue Research Park recently finished it's second annual Entrepreneurship Academy for high school students. In many cases these students are high achievers in science and technology. The academy introduces these youth to a product already developed by PRC firms.

In less than one week, the teams of four or five students must research the product and prepare a pitch to investors, which are comprised of business leaders who judge the presentations while peppering the students with tough questions.

The academy is no mere summer week camp. One of its goals is to equip today's bright high school students with the tools they'll need if they choose to be entrepreneurs.

Is there a Bill Gates or Henry Ford among them? Who knows? But judging by students' responses following the week-long introduction to entrepreneurship, the seed has been planted. We'll see what grows from that.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

In my day...

What do karaoke machines, GPS navigation systems, and NC-17 have in common? They are all things that the collegiate class of 2012 has always known, according to the annual Belot College Mindset List.

The annual compendium of pop culture and ways of life helps serve as an aid to college professors to help them understand their incoming freshmen.

Those of us in our 40s (and up) know - or at least have heard of - the Warsaw Pact, Pee Wee's Playhouse, and Roseanne Barr's horrid rendition of the National Anthem. But to incoming college freshmen, that's ancient or unknown history, unlike always having things like Caller ID, free soft drink refills at McDonalds, and Nintendo.

The list wasn't around in 1986, when I was heading to college. If it had it may have included such nuggets as:
- Ronald Reagan is a politician, not a movie star.
- People did not need a local operator to connect their phone calls.
- The Dodgers have always played in Los Angeles and the Giants have always played in San Francisco.
- TV shows have always been in color.
- The Surgeon General has always said smoking is hazardous to your health.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

And the No. 2 Democrat is ...

The New York Times is reporting that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama may make an announcement on his vice presidential pick as early as Wednesday morning, Aug. 20.

The inside track of candidates includes Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware. On the outside looking in are Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas.

Kaine and Biden give Obama geographic balance on the ticket. Bayh is a conservative Democrat who has appeal among Republicans, given his large gubernatorial and senate victories in a largely Republican state. Clinton, of course, brings instant name recognition - and potential baggage - to the ticket, while Sebelius is a popular choice, but as widely known.

While Bayh's Indiana roots are right next to Obama's Illinois home, that isn't necessarily a negative: Bill Clinton of Arkansas picked Al Gore of neighboring Tennessee in 1992.

A real stand-up guy

This is one guy who won't take death laying down.

The family of a man in Puerto Rico honored his wishes by having his body propped up in a standing position during his wake.

An unusual request to be sure - especially considering the wake was 3 days. If it's anything like some Catholic wakes I've been to, I wonder how many people walked up to talk to the guy.

I'm going back and forth between traditional burial and cremation. 20 years ago, I would have said nixed the idea of cremation. But with land a premium, I may just have myself reduced to ashes.

If you're on the fence on what to do when the Grim Reaper visits, WebMD has a slightly old, but still pertinent article covering funeral planning.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Politics via the Best Seller's List

Barack Obama aims to put his policies directly in the hands of people via a book called "Change We Can Believe In: Barack Obama's Plan to Renew America's Promise" scheduled to come out Sept. 9.

Obama appears to be taking a page out of Bill Clinton's book (yes, pun intended) when the former president published a policy book during his first campaign in 1992.

While the contents remain to be seen, the book is a strong move by Obama to put his policies in print. There is a chance it could backfire if he alters his stance after the book hits the streets, or if the printed version doesn't mesh with what he's said to date.

Commentators and conservatives will jump on any inconsistencies. Changing direction on a policy because you've learned new information is one thing. Altering your course because of political pressure or poll data is a sign of weakness. Don't take a stand on something if you're going to cave in when you see the latest Harris Poll results.

Not sure what John McCain will plan as a rebuttal. But wouldn't we all like to read about John Edwards' latest scandal. Then again, maybe not.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

No heavy lifting required

Just an update on the hernia surgery: All is progressing well. The scar is a bit unsightly - mainly because the belly hair hasn't fully grown back.

The best news (OK, maybe not the best) is that I'm under a "no-heavy-lifting" rule from the doctor for four weeks after the surgery. In the doc's opinion, "heavy lifting" consists of 20 lbs. I've got another week to milk this, so trash duty, litter pan duty, carried tired and whiney 3-year-old duty, etc. falls to my wife.

It could be worse. My wife works in the health field and she assessed a patient (in his 70s or 80s) who had the same surgery I did. One problem: His incisions didn't take (or he didn't follow doctor's orders) and he ended up with a nasty infection.

I'm hoping to avoid all that, although I may bust a gut when the post-insurance bill arrives.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Back to school is an investment

My memory might be a little fuzzy, but I recall school supplies a generation ago consisting of a pen, a pack of filler paper, maybe a pencil box and a permission from my mom for the nuns to use the paddle as necessary if I got out of line.

I also remember classes starting after Labor Day, no air conditioning on hot days and walking to school in chest deep snow (and did I mention it was a five-mile uphill walk both to AND from home). But that’s a story for another day.

The 2008 list reads like a geek scavenger hunt. And I have to wonder what the teachers are planning when they ask for 10 glue sticks and a box of Ziploc bags per child and erasers only in the color pink.

With four kids (three elementary, one preschool) school, the outlay of supplies and books for free and public education approaches the Gross National Product of Luxembourg (or at least a few hundred dollars). That’s better than the Piper household’s former Gross Domestic Product, which consisted of dirty diapers until 2007.

The economy being what is it, I wouldn’t be surprised in some kids with August birthdays get their gift list and school supply list merged.

Little Sally: “Uh, thanks Grandma for the plain pocket folder. This will go great with my Fiskar scissors, five-subject collegiate notebook with its own folder, and my pack of 3x5 index cards.”

Mom: “Alright kids. Let’s see who can bust open the piƱata.”

Kid No. 1: “Is it filled with candy?”

Mom: “No, but it’s loaded with No. 2 pencils, red pens and paperclips.”

Kids (in unison): “Awwwwwwww.”

You can’t blame schools, though, for turning to students to help subsidize the supply field. Budgets are tights everywhere. I’d hate to see what classrooms would be like without funding from local organizations that provide funding to classrooms as well as provide school supplies to low income families.

State government lends a hand in some regions. Alabama, Iowa, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Virginia were among states with “sales tax holidays” last weekend that applied to certain school supplies.

But if your kids are blessed by having excellent teachers (as ours have had so far), that box of crayons or dozen ink pens is a cheap investment if the outcome is a quality education.

Although I’m still wondering what they do with all those plastic bags …

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

To VP or not to VP

The vice presidential choice can be a milestone - or a millstone. The good folks at Yahoo! (via ABC News) have a great piece on historically poor picks for VP and why a good No. 2 is important.

It's hard to believe that before the first George Bush (that's H.W. - not W), the previous person to ascend directly from the vice presidency to the presidency was Martin Van Buren, who was vice president served as VP from 1833-1837 under Andrew Jackson before winning the 1836 election. Like Bush I, he was a one-term president.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Space: The expensive frontier

For the person who has everything - including an extra $200,000 laying around - you can soon enjoy a flight in space courtesy of British tycoon and purveyor of extreme good times Richard Branson

And you thought that round-trip ticket from New York to L.A. was expensive.

Actually, you're not going to outer space for the $200K. You only get sub-orbital space (about 70 miles up). While a press release offered details on advanced avionics and other such stuff, there was no word if peanuts would be served or if an in-flight movie is available.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Equal opportunity bashing

While Obama and McCain are playing nice (for now), I've linked the Top 10 Most Awesomely Bad Moments of the Bush Presidency and a laundry list of Bill Clinton's issues.

Although this link is from 2006, you can check out the Top 10 Presidential Errors.


And if you're in need of a light moment, there's always Hillary Clinton's Top 10 Campaign Promises as told to David Letterman, plus links to Letterman's Top 10 lists concerning Bill Clinton.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

War and economic impact

So who is right between McCain and Obama when it comes to the war in Iraq?

It’s impossible today to predict the political landscape on Nov. 4. But Americans in general vote their pocketbook.

A recent Gallup poll shows 61 percent of Americans saying the economy – not the war in Iraq – is the No. 1 issue.

While the Iraq/Afghanistan conflict may not be on people’s minds as much, the question is what is overall economic impact of its cost? (FYI: The Congressional Budget Office put war’s outlay at $170 billion in 2007– that’s $465,753,424 per day, $19,406,392 per hour, $323,439 per minute, or $5,390 per second.)

A story earlier this year in MarketWatch.com offered pros and cons to the war’s impact on the U.S. economy.

On the plus side, the money spent is a “just a drop in the bucket” compared to overall government spending, while citing that the economy is stimulated due to the extra expenses for the way.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

(C)old war strategies switch parties

With war waging in a far-away land, one political party opts to escalate the conflict with higher troop numbers and extend the time commitment to fight. The opposing political party leader decides a better tactic is meeting with the enemy and withdrawing soldiers from the conflict.

John McCain and Barack Obama? No. The above is a simplified version of the Kennedy/Johnson and Nixon administrations during the Vietnam War.

During Vietnam, the Democratic leadership of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson escalated soldiers – which carried the euphemistic title of “military advisers” – from the Eisenhower-era number of less than 1,000 to more than 500,000 by the time Johnson left office in 1969.

Republican President Richard Nixon halved the fighting force by the end of his second year in office and had his foreign policy expert Henry Kissinger begin secret peace negotiations with the North Vietnamese.

Fast-forward to 2008, and it’s the Republican McCain who had made statements about staying in Iraq “100 years” if necessary and the Democrat Obama who wants begin troop withdrawals and meet with foreign governments that pose a threat to U.S. interests.

The problem in affixing general labels to elected officials is that the “party line” doesn’t always fit.

By definition – if not by his actions as a congressman and vice president – Nixon should have been a staunch anti-communist for life. Instead, one can connect the dots on America’s foreign policy achievements back to Nixon, whose mastery of world politics thawed relations and opened doors from China to the Soviet Union to the Middle East.

Until the 1930s, black voters traditionally voted Republican, thanks in large part to President Lincoln’s push to abolish slavery. When Democratic administrations introduced the New Deal and subsequent Civil Rights legislation, blacks switched parties.

That doesn’t mean Democrats always work for the betterment of blacks. “American Pharaoh,” a book by Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor about late Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, cites references to official and unofficial policies under the city’s Democratic mayors that gave Chicago the most segregated public housing projects in the nation.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Scenic Indiana is a real treat

In four years of making trips college and home, the phrase “Indiana’s natural beauty” never entered my mind.

The miles of farm fields along U.S. 41 and Highway 63 in far western Indiana made the three-hour drive seem longer. The stretches of long, flat terrain lent itself toward two things: Boredom and speeding (and I have the tickets to prove it).

Two decades later, the family and I recently drove for hours on state highways and local roads in southern Indiana. Now the phrase “Indiana’s natural beauty” is embedded in my brain.

A four-day getaway ran the gamut from Charlestown State Park just northwest of Louisville, to the cool depths of Marengo Cave, to the somewhat commercial - but kid-friendly - Holiday World. Plus some good eating and trip to Nashville, Ind., wedged in along the way

It is a side of Indiana that begs to be seen again.

I will spare you the vacation slide show, but the highlights include:

- Our son Ben, 6, gently holding a Red-spotted Purple butterfly we found along a trail path (at left).
- The biggest wolf spider we have ever seen (and hope we never see in the house).
- Catch-and-release of various frogs and toads.
- A couple of winery stops that proved kid-friendly as well.
- The guy who told me I look like Tony Stewart (I think that was an insult.)
- The wonder and beauty of caves, forested hills and the winding Ohio River.

The list goes on.

We endured a little bit of “are we there yet” from the kiddos, but the six of us enjoyed each store, park, restaurant and unscheduled stop along the way. Although the relatively tight quarters of a hotel suite and the time in a mini-van could easily give way to frayed nerves (or at least a scene from National Lampoon’s “Vacation” movie series), the trip was amazingly relaxing – thanks in no small part to the beauty that surrounded us on the two-lane highways or river overlooks.

The gloom-and-doom talk about the economy seems to discourage the idea of taking a vacation. Yeah, gas is $4 (and up) per gallon. We we still decided to pack up the suitcase, hop in the car and see a side of Indiana that is unlike the Indiana we see in the middle part of the state.

Not only will you experience river bluffs and thick forests, but you will also help the economy. Trekking around Indiana and stopping at uniquely local stores and restaurants keeps those entrepreneurs in business. Why eat at a chain restaurant on vacation when you can partake of uniquely local fare while overlooking the Ohio River?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Batman - or Bad Man?

The Batman P.R. juggernaut suffered a mild set after reports the Caped Crusader - aka Christian Bale - allegedly hit his mother and sister.

I've not yet seen "Dark Knight," although I may have to wait until the DVD release. While my oldest boys (ages 6 and 8) are excited about it, I think this is one film dad may have to pre-screen for them.

I don't ordinarily follow the celebrity gossip. In fact, I think Alex Rodriguez - the New York Yankee star whose divorce proceeding have included a spice of Madonna - is making a positive career move by signing with the William Morris Agency.

But the news is too good of material for my warped funny bone to pass. So now I offer the top 8 reasons Christian Bale (allegedly) hit his mom:

No. 8 - He was still buzzing from the effects of "Joker Gas."
No. 7 - He blamed her for giving getting teased in school by fellow classmates Agnostic and Wiccan.
No. 6 - He caught her wearing the Bat suit without permission.
No. 5 - She told him any man who wears a cape is a wuss.
No. 4 - She drank the last can of Bat juice.
No. 3 - She complained that he can save Gotham City, but he can't call her for Mother's Day
No. 2 - She ranked him No. 3 Batman of all-time, behind Adam West and Val Kilmer.
No. 1 - She liked "Iron Man" better.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Women drivers

OK, just the title of this post is bound to get me in trouble. But there was almost a cat fight at the IRL race after a pit row spat between Danica Patrick and Milka Duno.

The pair have made as much news off the track as they have on. Duno, 36, is a former model-turned-race car driver, who has been behind the wheel competitively for the past 8 years. Patrick, practically born with a steering wheel in her hand, had been the Anna Kournikova of the racing circuit until winning her first IRL race this year. The win put to rest criticism that she was better at racy photos instead of racing cars.

It's Patrick's second recorded spat with a fellow race car driver this year. At the Indianapolis 500, she tried to confront Ryan Briscoe after a pit row crash. Ironically, Briscoe went on to win the next IRL race and was the winner Sunday the day after the Patrick-Duno argument.

Before I get blasted with comments about women drivers, I will note that my wife has been in two less accidents than me (Me 2, her 0) as well as three less speeding tickets (Me 3, her 0).

Friday, July 18, 2008

Oil irony

Oil may be Alaska's most profitable business - but that doesn't mean the locals get a break.

In one remote Alaskan village, the price at the pump is $8.55. No that's not a misprint.

Statewide, the average price per gallon is $4.65, compared to $4.10 nationally.

Maybe it's time to trade in the family car for a sled dog team. It may make trips to the grocery store a little longer, but it'd be an interesting way to go. Wonder how much it costs to feed a sled dog team?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hernia surgery: More painful than pushups

Oh, the indignity of it all.

On Wednesday I underwent outpatient surgery for a hernia. I'm sure the soreness will subside eventually, but right now I'm thinking: Why did I get this surgery?

My gut feels like I've done 1,000 sit ups. The hernia was located just above the belly button, which means I am clean shaven in that area (so much for going shirtless at the beach). I briefly was the hot blonde doctor's assistant - a med school student shadowing the surgeon. But it was too brief: She didn't even stop in to check on me.

The pain will subside, and it's not too bad if I'm lying down or sitting. What hurts is the process of lying down, sitting down, or anything that requires the slightest bending of my waist. That's when the pain really hits and I start moving like The Mummy (the 1930s Boris Karloff edition, not the Brendan Fraser movie series).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

All-stars shine long into the night

The 2008 MLB All-Star Game featured great defense - and poor defense (3 errors by Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla - along with clutch pitching by both teams. The American League won the 15-inning contest by a score of 4-3.

I had hopes that a Cub would make a positive mark in the game. For a while it looked like Carlos Zambrano would get the win, having been on the mound when the NL took the lead. Unfortunately, Edinson Volquez saw to it that the AL would tie the game.

As a baseball fan, I wanted to stay up until the end. I also faced the practical matter of a morning outpatient surgery. Needless to say, baseball won out in the end.

It was cool seeing all the Hall of Famers during the player introductions.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Vacation blog

The blog has been silent as the family and I take a trip through scenic southern Indiana.

I'm doing the on a Blackberry, so I may need to edit this later.

Stops so far have been Charlestown State Park, Marengo Cave, and a couple of wineries and good restaurants. Monday is a trip to Holiday World.

The oddest thing so far is a guy telling me I look like NASCAR driver Tony Stewart. I'm not sure but I think I should be insulted.

The blog will get back into the swing of things later this week.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Jaws: 2008

The town where the fictional 1970s thriller "Jaws" was filmed got a real life scare when a reported shark siting shut down Martha's Vineyard beaches this week.

"Jaws" was probably the first mega hit I saw as a kid. I remember seeing the film at the Kennedy Theater in Highland, Ind. My family went to an afternoon show, and when we came out, the line went down the block and around the corner. The movie house sat in the middle of a city block.

As a kid, the scariest scene to me was when a diver (can't remember now if it was Roy Scheider or Richard Dreyfuss who were diving and discovered a human head on the sea floor.

In another shark-related tale, there was an old guy who used to come into the newspaper I worked at and told us all kinds of crazy tales. Back in 2001, there was a rash of shark attacks on the East Coast. This guy believed that the Cubans - or Cubians, as he called them - were training sharks to attack U.S. citizens.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Do I C-eem thinner?

The healthy folks at Yahoo! say weight loss is as easy as A-B-C.

Well, at least the C part, anyway.

The editor of their health section credits a diet rich in vitamin C with trimming her waistline. This 40-something (and not bad looking from the neck-up bio pic or in this recent photo) also works out, which also is helpful.

I'm still sticking with the no-soda, no-late-night-eating regimen (although I've been letting that slide during some late-into-the-evening summer events).

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Wii-hab not just for old folks

You may have heard stories about how the Nintendo Wii system is a great tool for keeping seniors active. But it's not just for the over-60 crowd.

While lacking the graphics of its Nintendo sister systems and its competitors, the games are design to get your duff off the couch (or off the computer) and be active.

I admit I was skeptical when my wife said, "We have to have a Wii system" a few months ago. A passing fad that will collect dust with other "must have" items that sit in closets, the garage, etc.

We haven't invested heavily into games, but our favorites are the Wii Sports and Wii Fit. The sports disc features tennis, baseball, boxing, bowling, and golf. The Wii Fit disc has various balance (the most fun), aerobic, and other exercises. It also keeps track of weight, body mass index, and issues you a Wii Fit age (I'm younger than 40, according to it).

The $300 system price (plus another $90 for the Wii Fit board) might seem high at first, but when you consider me, my wife, and our four kids are active Wii players, it's a bargain. Got a rainy day and 20 minutes to spare? Do a quick Wii workout. Tired of the treadmill - or in our case, don't want to take all the clothes and boxes off of the treadmill? Play nine holes of golf.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

To drill or not to drill

The debate over increasing oil drilling in the United States is centered on lowering prices. I'm for that - if politicians and oil companies can commit to that as a short-term solution.

My fear is that we go from "crisis mode" - where everyone is saying we need real study of non-oil based energy systems - to a feeling that everything is OK and maybe we'll find more oil to last us for decades (or until the next energy crunch hits).

With apologies to William Shakespeare, I offer this ode to the problem:

To drill or not to drill; that is the question
Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outraged environmentalists
Or to take the hit against a tide of rising energy prices
And by accepting it; pay it. To drill, so deep.
So deep, perchance to strike. Ay, there's the rub.
For in that wealth of new oil what troubles may come
When we have shuffled off the energy crisis
Must give us pause. There's the dilemma
That makes a calamity of a fossil fuel life.
For who will bear the whips and scorns of Greens,
The oil giant's wrongs, the common man's consumption,
The pangs of price hikes, the market's delay,
The insolence of politicians and the spurns
That drilling makes, when he himself might his mark make
With a clean hybrid?
But that the dread of something after oil,
The undiscover'd country from whose ideas
We seek results, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those fuels we have
Than fly to solutions that we have not yet thought of?
Thus convenience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of clean fuels
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thoughtlessness,
And futures of great clean environment
With this regard their momentum turn awry,
And lose in the name of Exxon

Monday, July 7, 2008

All-stars with a Cub flavor

The Major League Baseball All-Star rosters are nearly set, but the Cubs are leading the way with 7 players selected to the squad including catcher Geovany Soto, the first catcher to start for the National League.

I've always enjoyed baseball's all-star games. You get to see the best of the best (although there's always room to argue about fading stars making it and deserving players staying home). One thing I've grumbled about in recent years are the players who sit out due to "injuries."

Even before they changed the rule to making the winning league the home team for the World Series, the game meant something to players. From the days of Ruth and Gehrig through Mays and Aaron to Rose barrelling over Fosse, players played to win. This was no mere exhibition.

Be sure to tune in Tuesday, July 15, to FOX to catch the action as Yankee Stadium takes perhaps one final moment in the sun before it is scheduled for demolition after this season.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Oil boom

I recently posted on the oil boom in North Dakota. Now comes news of an increase in drilling in my home state of Indiana.

I wouldn't be surprised if this is a story repeating itself all over the country. And who can blame anyone hoping to strike it rich in their backyard?

I have an aunt who lives in southern Illinois in an area where the landscape is dotted with tiny wells pumping in farm fields and backyards. I haven't talked to her recently, but I wonder how that well is doing.

What I should do is tell my brothers and sisters in Whiting, Ind., to drill in their backyard. The large refinery that's there should have spilled enough oil in its 100-plus years to have small pockets deposited throughout the city. That's a good way to recycle. Right?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Big green pill?

Who needs Viagra when you've got watermelon?

Scientists say the summertime treat contains citrulline, which turns into arginine, which relaxes the blood vessels. It's similar to the effect when a man takes a pill for ED (erectile disfunction). The catch is you'd have to eat about six cups of watermelon to get enough citrulline to trigger the action, so I don't think the folks at Pfizer are worried.

I love watermelon, but the only effect it usually has on me is an extra trip or two to the bathroom.

That reminds me. I haven't been getting enough lately.

Hey! I was talking about watermelon.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Starbucks economy

While the news stories lately focus on struggling families choosing between filling up their car and putting food on the table, another barometer of the tough economy has cropped up.

Starbucks announced recently it is closing 600 stores due to the economic downturn and the tough economy.

Call me boring. Call me traditional. But I like a regular cup of coffee (which Starbucks does sell). Does that Organic Sumatra-Peru Blend taste great? Probably. Is it worth four bucks? Maybe once in a while.

Our city got its first Starbucks earlier this year. It's a prime location right off of the interstate. We've got three other "coffee shops" in town, and there's no evidence that Starbucks is pulling their business.

And while the puns are potentially endless on this post (Starbuck-less. Falling Starbucks. Better latte, then never), what's not funny is the fallout from the current economic woes. If Starbucks (or your local coffeehouse or any other local business) closes, that means those now ex-employees are looking for jobs. Any jobs.

Suddenly, there's competition for those barely above minimum wage fast food, retail, and low-skill factory jobs. And the people competing for those jobs may be folks whose white-collar job is gone, and they need something - anything - to get by.

If you're the person doing the hiring, that person with the higher education and skills (and a resume) looks better than the average Joe or Jane who has worked those "dead end" jobs all their life.

The huge unknown (unless someone has a link to post about this) is the impact of higher skilled workers trickling down to lower-skilled and lower-paying jobs and its effect on people whose only realistic job choice are those low-skill, low-pay jobs. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Black gold, North Dakota tea

Let the new oil rush begin. Landowners in North Dakota are becoming millionaires simply for owning land.

The U.S. Geological Survey discovered a large oil deposit under North Dakota. As a result, million-dollar homes are sprouting up in a state where the per capita income is around $36,000.

Other than cursing my bad luck of not being born in North Dakota (never thought I'd say that), I think this is great. Instead of making multi-billionaires out of foreign sheiks, we've got some regular John and Jane Q. Public folks enjoying the good life.

Unfortunately for me, the only thing my kids have discovered in the backyard are bugs, a few marbles and some neat looking rocks. Maybe I need to tell them to dig deeper...

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Child sacrifice? Hmmmmm

During the week of Fourth of July, our community has a church service in the park.

The danger of that is combining the solemnity of worship with the temptation of swings and slides less than 100 yards away.

As the two youngest boys - ages 6 and 3 - ignored repeated warnings and threats to be quiet, my wife gave in an took them to the playground. (Or maybe she was trying to get away from the service? Hmmm.....)

I contemplated the punishment that awaited the youngest offenders. I mentally tallied the times we urged them to not talk aloud - about 347 at last count - and planned to keep them in time out until next year's church service.

Then the minister started his sermon.

He talked about God telling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. "OK," I thought. "God is telling me how to punish my kids." While I was thinking how to explain to the police my divine intervention, the minister switched gears to talk about how we need to let our kids be kids: i.e. - baseball is supposed to be fun, not a life-or-death career path.

The minister also talked about making sure our kids are responsible and live faithfully in the world. Those magazines' and their ideas on beauty? Not important.

In the end, there was no punishment. No sacrifice. Just a stern talking to with a warning on how to behave at the next public event. Then we let them loose in the backyard. To have fun.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Swimming in the polar region

For the first time in recorded history, one thing may be missing from the normally frigid North Pole : Ice.

Scientists are predicting a thin layer of ice may disappear by August or September.

It's unclear yet what impact this may have on the planet. Does this mean the climate is changing more rapidly than earlier predictions? Or is the Earth going through normal ebb and flow in its polar regions?

I'm not a tree-hugger, per se. But I do use the low-energy light bulbs, keep the AC at a respectable temperature, walk or bike when I can and recycle, recycle, recycle. The U.S. Department of Energy has a list of tips for people interested in saving energy.

One person alone can't make a difference. But one person times a few million - better yet, a few billion - can have an impact.

Whatever happened to the good old days when the worst thing we worried about were starving kids in Third World countries if we didn't eat our peas and carrots?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Taking a spin around town

Remember when the cool thing in a big city was a rotating rooftop restaurant? Indianapolis has one, and other cities do, too.

The tiny, but rich, city of Dubai - part of the United Arab Emirates - is going one better: An entire building that rotates. Actually, it's not even the entire building, but each floor can rotate independent of the others.

But what's really cool about this building is that it will use wind and solar power that not only generates enough power for itself, but for 10 surrounding sites.

Dubai is becoming a paradise for architects with some of the most innovate construction projects anywhere. In the process, it's becoming a hot international tourist spot. It's a smart move for a small country to position itself for the future when the oil runs out.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Heave! Ho! Oh, no!

Father's Day is supposed to be a day of relaxation for dad, right?

Wrong! My wife decided it would be a good day to head to Menard's to buy patio bricks (we don't even have a patio) and mulch for the yard.

I loaded up the large utility cart with 45 brick pavers (approx. 10 to 15 lbs. each) and eight bags of wet, heavy mulch.

When showering that night, I noticed a large bulge above my belly button about the diameter of a half dollar and protruding about a quarter-inch outward. My nurse-trained wife and I figured it was a hernia, and did a little research to find out more.

It didn't hurt, although there was some mild discomfort. Still, I went to my doctor, who referred me to a surgeon, who said, "Yeah, we're going to have to repair that." This hernia is basically a tear in the abdominal wall.

The main concern - as we found online and confirmed by the surgeon - is that the hernia could interfere with the bowels and possibly causing a serve infection. So guys, there are worse things than surgery for a hernia - such as gangrene in your bowels.

My only beef with the surgeon was when he asked about pain. I said there was mild discomfort, but no big deal. Then he proceeded to push his hand about three inches into my midsection and asked how that felt. I'm sure that wouldn't have felt good with or without a hernia.

Surgery is scheduled July 16, so I'll let you know how that goes. Depending on what type of painkillers I'm on, it could be an interesting post.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Teen preggers: An update

The story of whether a group of Massachusetts teens made a pact to be pregnant may be unfounded. The story now is that the teens got pregnant, and then decided to form a type of support group since they were all in a similar situation.

That's certainly a better story than planning to get pregnant together.

In a way, these kids may enjoy their 40s better than some of us. At least their kids will be grown up and out of the house (assuming they stop at one). I'd boot my kids out, but the local child protective service folks wouldn't like four pre-teens wandering the streets.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Sandberg Game

Twenty-four years ago - June 23, 1984 -I was sitting in Wrigley Field watching the Cubs play the St. Louis Cardinals.

For most of the game, it was miserable. The Cubs trailed 7-1, then 9-3. A bunch of us Cub fans sitting under the upper deck overhang on the third base side of stand had to put up with a loud-mouthed Cardinals fan during the game. The Cubs rallied to make it 9-8, but the outcome looked dismal as the Cardinals featured one of the game's best relievers, Bruce Sutter.

Leading off the ninth inning was Ryne Sandberg. The young Cub had been making some noise that year after a productive, but not exciting, two years in Chicago. But today would be a turning point in his career.

Sandberg deposited a pitch from Sutter into the bleachers in left field to tie the game at nine. Wrigley got LOUD! But in the top of the 10th inning, the Cardinals scored twice to take a 11-9 lead.

With two outs, Bob Dernier walked, bringing up Sandberg with the tying run. Everyone was hoping - and only the most desperate would have bet money - that Sandberg could hit another homer.

The folks watching at home - a nationwide audience thanks to a rainout of NBC's other game that day - were watching the credits role. NBC announcers already named Willie McGee - who hit for the cycle and drove in six runs - as its player of the game.

Then it happened.

Sandberg blasted another home run near the same spot he'd hit the first one. If Wrigley was loud before, it was at another level now. The Cubs eventually won the game 12-11 in 11 innings. Sandberg - with two home runs and seven runs batted in - was named player of the game. Cardinal manager Whitey Herzog (perhaps in a fit of hyperbole) proclaimed Sandberg as the greatest player he ever saw.

But maybe Whitey was on to something. When Sandberg did hang up his cleats 14 season later, he was rewarded for his outstanding career with election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I've been to some great games in Wrigley, but this one tops them all.

George Carlin - R.I.P.

Whether you say any of the Seven Words You Can Never Say On TV (warning: they are listed on the link), George Carlin - who died this weekend at age 71 - had comedy that anyone could enjoy.

He could be as raunchy as anyone. And he could be as clean as anyone. Carlin was probably one of a few comedians who could perform before an outlaw biker group and a ladies church social and have both audiences laughing. One of my favorite Carlin routines is a skit he did comparing football and baseball.

If you've got kids, you may have seen Carlin in a very un-Carlin-esque role as Mr. Conductor on the "Thomas the Tank Engine" show.

The world is less funnier today - but don't worry: We still have politicians.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

You're 16, you're beautiful and you're pregnant

By now you've probably heard about the teenage girls in Massachusetts who made a pact to get pregnant.

This one certainly falls in the "what were you thinking?" category.

The story references the pregnancies of Jamie Lynn Spears as well as the Oscar-winning movie "Juno." While it cautions against blaming those influences, you have to wonder that if a.) these girls are not bright to begin with, if b.) they would see the nightly "ET" updates on Jamie Lynn or the acclaim given to Juno and say, "Hey, that looks pretty good."

The obvious followup question is: Will the commonwealth of Massachusetts end up footing the bill for the birth and upbringing of these kids? Stay tuned.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Hope you live here

Kiplinger.com has issued its list of the 10 best places to live, work and play.

There are various criteria that go into this selection. Click the link to learn more, but here's the top 10 (and maybe a comment or two from me).

1. Houston - Never been there, but it seems too hot.

2. Raleigh - Not been there either, but close to the ocean.

3. Omaha - Nope, too Nebraska-ey.

4. Boise - Uh, no. Sounds nice, though.

5. Colorado Springs - Ding! Ding! Ding! My sister lived there in the 70s and we went there on a family vacation. Pike's Peak. Beautiful parks. Loved it.

6. Austin - No, but maybe not as hot as Houston?

7. Fayetteville - Go Razorbacks! But, never been.

8. Sacramento - Near wine country and halfway between the Sierras and the Pacific. If I were moving to California, that's where I'd want to go.

9. Des Moines - Too wet (sorry, cheap shot).

10. Provo - Not been there either.

OK, so I'm no help. Check out the link - and if you're close to one of these cities, check them out (or feel free to post your views in the comments section on this entry).

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Paper, not plastic, for gas stations

For everyone who grew up on Visa and MasterCard, there's a potential hitch in the plans when it comes to filling up at the pump.

The Associated Press is reporting that some gas stations are refusing to take credit cards. The reason, the story says, is the transaction fee that credit card companies charge on transactions. The fee is a fixed percentage of the sale, which means the higher the transaction, the higher the total fee. But the gas station owner in West Virginia says that rising fuel costs don't keep up with profit margins.

Disregarding the economic argument for the station owner, let's look at how this would impact consumers. If you've got a mini-van, a full tank of gas is about $100 right now. Heck, a mid-size car is going to be close to $50 for a fill-up.

With a generation that is reliant on credit cards, a switch to "cash only" means added trips to the bank - do people even visit banks in an era of direct deposit? - or to the ATM.

Let's play devil's advocate. Gas station owners nationwide say, "I give up" and will accept only cash. If Joe and Jane Consumer are paying $50 to $100 cash to fill up the car, that means they're walking around with $50 to $100 cash. Will thieves begin targeting gas stations to rob customers for quick cash, or the stations themselves that will be flush with cash?

And what if the practice expands to other businesses? Individual and businesses will be in a position where there will be large amounts of cash being carried around or sitting in cash registers (or store vaults).

There's not a lot of value for a thief to steal a wallet or purse if it's filled with credit cards. But a wad of cash is not traceable.

The one positive of a credit-less society is it place more responsibility on people to spend wisely and spend only what they have.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

You are getting sleepy, sleepy, sleepy .......

With four kids, work and, other commitments, my wife and I find keeping a schedule difficult. One area that we've struggled with this summer is getting to bed. No, not that "getting to bed." I mean sleep.

The cause has been a mix of youth sports, aggressive yard work (mulch and brick pavers - more on that topic in an upcoming post), and general busyness. Another factor is Indiana's decision to get in step with the rest of the U.S. and follow Daylight Saving Time. We now spring forward and fall back. Before we stubbornly kept our clocks the same and let the rest of the civilized world figure out what time it is here.

As a result, there's still a fair amount of daylight now at 9:30 p.m. - which makes it tough to stick to the school year bedtime of 8:30 p.m. The kids are in bed at 10 p.m. at the earliest, which means my wife and I - after tending to straightening up the house and other mundane tasks - have little interest or energy in anything else besides getting to bed. As in sleep.

In between yawns and spoonfuls of cereal an the morning ritual of watching "Arthur" on PBS, my wife found an article discussing the healthy benefits of sleeping. The passage I found interesting - although not surprising in retrospect - is that Americans slept an average of 10 hours per night in 1880, the year Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. Today, we get 6.9 hours a night on weekdays and a whopping 7.5 hours a night on weekends.

My inner clock already tells me I need more sleep, but I need get it in sync with the outer clock that is Eastern Daylight Time and get to sleep at a decent hour - which may result in "getting to bed" more often. But I digress.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

WWCG (What will Conkrite get?)

Tim Russert was a great journalist. I don't get a chance to watch TV news programs every Sunday, but when I do, it's "Meet the Press." He's a tough interview and doesn't go in for the screamfest that inundates the bulk of what passes for dialogue on the cable "news" networks.

That said, was Russert enough of a media icon to warrant the hours of coverage devoted by NBC and its army of cable networks? Let's hope they didn't do it for ratings.

Jim McCay, who was a one-man ESPN before ESPN was around, about a week earlier. He received scant notice, especially compared to Russert. This for a man who is synonymous with ABC's "Wide World of Sports" and ultimate sports/news crossover story of Israeli athletes being murdered at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.

My question is: If Russert deserves suspending programming for the night, special tributes on Saturday and Sunday, and a parade of remembrances on Monday, what will happening following the death of Walter Conkrite - the dean of TV journalists?

Peter Jennings, who was retired when he died, got a break-in regular coverage announcement and a two-hour prime time special. Tom Brokaw is retired and probably will get the same treatment. Dan Rather is still alive, but his career died after CBS gave him the boot.

News division occasionally do stories about the celebrity culture and ponder why America is so fascinated. The next time NBC does a story on that topic, it should first review it's own coverage on the death of a news employee.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Schools are key piece in autism puzzle

There are two recent stories in the Whittier Daily News and the Cincinnati Enquirer about students with autism who recently graduated from high school. There are uplifting articles about individuals who have overcome difficulties associated with this condition.

I have four children who have been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum. Three are in the local public school system and one is still in pre-school.

Asperger's is arguably the mildest form of autism. With my kids, they seem "normal" (as if any kid can be labeled normal). But it's when you engage with them in discussion that you see some of the social quirks kick in - i.e. lack of eye contact, lack of basic conversational skills, hand-wringing (my son sometime licks his hands).

But they perform well in school. The two older students are in a more rigorous academic program geared toward the gifted and talented students. In academics, the Asperger's can present problems during timed testing - sometimes there's a lack of urgency to get the test done - as well as following some basic classroom rules.

The key for us in the school system has been to meet with the school regularly. In our district, the Asperger's diagnosis puts our children in the special education category, which means a thorough individual education plan (IEP) for each child. Input into this plan comes from the parents, the classroom teacher, the school's special education coordinator, and any other staffers - i.e. speech therapist, physical therapist - who assist with their education.

These meetings, as well as other communication during the year, keep you plugged in to the school system. That line of communication is critical to keep the home and school on the same page.

It's important to know what rights you have as a parent. Yes, it sounds bureaucratic. But it helps protect the child and guarantees a proper education.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day

Just a quick post to say Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there. Enjoy the day and we'll blog you later this week.

(Did I just write "blog you later?")

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Are you ready for some (virtual) football?

If you're like me and you've got some time on your hands (read: like to waste time) and you like football, the folks at Goal Line Blitz might just have the game for you.

It's free to sign up and free to keep playing. If you want to invest some disposable income, you can purchase points to help upgrade your players. You can also purchase and operate teams.

From a player standpoint, it's been neat to build your players for the week in, week out games. Your players get better via a combination of training and "leveling up," which improves their numbers in 14 physical attributes and football skills depending up their position.

From a team owner standpoint, I've not tried that, but you build your stadium, set ticket prices, sign players, set up how you want the offense/defense to perform.

The games are simulated remotely (you can't view them live), but you can go back and look at the play-by-play which is depicted with small circles moving about a gridiron.

It can be mildly addictive, so beware. Otherwise, have some fun.

Friday, June 13, 2008

It's a tie at best

From almost the dawn of time until the 20th century, the basic household ritual stipulated that men hunted and gathered while women nested.

It wasn’t always that way. For a brief time, women hunted and gathered, too. At least until Eve picked the wrong apple. Then Adam relegated her to menial duties of childbirth and the kitchen. (Isn’t that why history is “HIS story”?)

Settle down, ladies. I’m joking.

Women bolted to the workforce in a huge way during World War II. My mom quit high school to be a Rosie the Riveter during WWII. Three decades later, 43 percent of the nation’s women were employed. Today – with more than 60 percent of the female population (ages 16 and older) working – the two-parent household usually means two parents are employed. And when the day is done and both of you have come home after a long day of work, it’s mom who’s (usually) expected to make supper, do the laundry, clean house, bathe the kids and still look fabulous.

And when it comes to raising children, doesn’t the bulk of the duties fall to mom there, too? Sure, dad can give tips on hitting the ball, how to tell a lousy joke and impart that unique skill in watching a televised sporting event and know which referee requires an eye examination.

Empathy? Compassion? We’re not programmed for that. But we can grunt in 15 different pitches and tones to express varying emotions.

We can criticize, correct, cajole and carouse with ease. But offering a kind word or positive encouragement is like a foreign language.

Mom at child’s baseball game: "Good job honey! You almost hit the ball!"

Dad at child’s baseball game: "Get your elbow up. Spread your feet. Watch the ball. Tote that barge. Lift that bale."

You get the idea.

Somehow, despite our shortcomings, there is Father’s Day. It seems unfair that we get the same one-day special calendar designation as does a mother.

So when a tie or coffee mug comes my way, I gladly take it. The way I see it, we dads are lucky to get anything at all.

(Note: Check out the National Fatherhood Initiative for far better advice than I can give).

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Paying through the hose

As gas prices officially busted the $4 mark here in Indiana ($4.19 is the standard figure today - luckily I filled up at $3.92 yesterday), it got me thinking about a cross-country trip with my dad some 30 years ago.

We went from Indiana to Colorado to Alabama to visit various relatives. One thing that sticks out from that trip is using my pre-glasses vision to spot the gas signs from the highway. The goal: Find that gas station that had gas under 60 cents a gallon.

My first memory of gas prices came from that trip. The cheapest gas I recall was 56 cents (OK 56 and 9/10 if you want to be picky). The high point hovered between 60 and 65 cents. Those stations didn't get our business.

The trip down memory lane is jarred back to reality when it hits the pothole of today's gas prices.

Looking back 30 years to prices in 1978, gas was 63 cents a gallon; a new home cost $62,500; a dozen eggs was 82 cents; a gallon of milk was $1.71; a first-class letter cost 15 cents. The median income in 1978 was $15,064.

Flash forward to prices in 2008: Gas is $4.06 (6.4 times the price 30 years ago); the average home - could find new home price - is $206,200 (3.29 times the price); eggs are $2.59 (up 3.15 times); a first-class letter is 42 cents (up 2.8 times). The median income is $61,500 (4.08 times).

So prices in general have tripled while the median income quadrupled. If gas were triple the price, we should be paying around $2 a gallon. That would be a bargain, considering that experts predict the national average to hit $4.50 later this year.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Poll: Hillary out of veepstakes

In the Obama veepstakes, visitors to this blog said Barack Obama should not choose Hillary Clinton as his running mate.

Among those voting in an unscientific poll on this site, 45 percent said Obama should not choose Hillary. Of those, 27 percent said they lack the chemistry to work together, while 18 percent said her negatives would drag Obama down.

Hillary supporters wanted the former First Lady at a 36 percent clip. Of those, 27 percent said Obama would need her supporters in November, while 9 percent felt it would be like having two presidents.

Another 18 percent – perhaps sensing a McCain victory – said they would leave the country with Susan Sarandon. She might be 61, but she’s holding her age quite well. I wouldn’t leave the country with her, but maybe a weekend would be nice. (I don’t think my wife would agree to that).

Next up on the poll: Gas prices.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Legislation fuels talk on gas prices.

Senate Republicans today blocked legislation to take a bite out of oil companies' profits. While I'm all for the free market system, government intervention makes sense.

Why can state attorneys general go after gas station owners for gouging consumers at the pump - remember $4/gallon gas after 9/11 - but our federal government can't go after corporations for gouging the American public?

It's not just filling up your tank that's hitting the wallets hard. The high fuel prices are driving up the cost of food and other products.

The oil companies are single-handedly driving a wedge between Americans for whom high gas prices are a minor inconvenience and those who have to save every penny so they can drive to work AND pay the bills.

Let's look at it like this. If you're stuck in a low-paying job (let's say $10/hour) and you drive 20 miles one-way to work, you're spending about 10 percent ($8 out of $80) of your pre-tax wage on transportation. By the time you take out taxes and insurance, the percentage is likely 20 percent or more.

Thirty years ago, everyone talked about how we need to conserve and come up with alternative energy sources. Wind and solar energy - along with other green technologies - are becoming more common. But two of our nation's largest industries with fuel interests -the oil and automobile companies - have been negligent in tackling the problem.

Our next president has an opportunity to set an agenda on this issue. But look to local officials as well. Put pressure on school boards and city and county governments to put some green technologies in new building projects. Whatever we do as a nation will require a collective effort, but we need our elected and business leaders to lead.

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