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 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...

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