______________BP______________ __________Too Big to Fire__________

Government to BP Oil:  “You’re fired!”

It won’t happen.


Let’s play back the tape and see what the recurring theme is:

Investment and Mortgage Banking – Too Big To Fail

Health Care System – Too Big to Fix

American Automobile Industry – Interconnected Industries Too Big to Let Die 

       and, most recently:

Big Oil Blowup –  BP Oil Technology Too Complicated for Federal Takeover – Hence, BP Too Big to Fire

It is not a curious matter that none of the above occurrences represent government that is too big.  Rather, they represent corporate bungling on a scale so immense that government ended up being the controlled and not controlling one.  The very nature of larger and larger corporate size through loosely regulated market consolidation has, with greater frequency, backed the Federal government into a corner.   The government in case after case has essentially been forced  to reactively capitulate to corporate fumbling, incompetence, and other sorts of mishaps;  because to not do so would cause even more harm to its other constituencies.

A corporation’s successful development in America is a race to be the first (or second) to the top.   To be the first (or second) is usually the formula to be the biggest.  Entrepreneurial discovery,  innovation, and product development is a race to the patent office, then to the venture capitalists and banks; and, finally, a race to go public.  If a company can be the first to go public, it can be the first to generate the massive funds to scale up and get its name and product out there first.  This is immensely important because it  provides the means to dominate the market by acquiring its smaller, but potentially dangerous, competitors.  It’s not that competitors products wouldn’t prove to be better, it’s usually that the competitors are smothered by the avalanche when beaten to the punch.  The losing competitors are usually left the scraps of only being able to eat around the edges of the big, new pie.  The slow, chiseling background sounds of competitors are  just a reminder to the winner that it needs to continue its voraciousness to dominate.

An inevitable result is that most industries mature into a couple or maybe a few dominant players.  These dominant players, in effect, end up by virtue of their early success in controlling large parts of societal infrastructure.  The reliance upon this infrastructure is usually so great and so widespread that even minor disruptions, glitches, or upheavals of the dominant players are immediately and widely felt. 

Recall a while back when Twitter had a very brief technical mishap that disrupted its service.  Half of the United States seemed to go aflutter or atwitter over this.  Think of brownouts or temporary power outages by utility companies, cellphone system mishaps, or internet service provider interruptions.  These are relatively small inconveniences that cause palpable public panic attacks.  When e coli or salmonella outbreaks threaten, it causes systemic fear.  Bad milk, tomatoes, apples, lettuce, spinach, or beef cause havoc throughout society because of the reality that big corporations control so much of the food sourcing.   If Tyson Food has gas, the chicken industry burps in disharmony. 

When the scale of problem becomes a notch or so higher on the calamity scale, all hell can (and does) break loose.  I think that it’s time for the United States to take a necessary and healthy step forward and begin to regulate the extent to which a company can gain market share.  We have seen more than enough of the steroidal corporations that dominate to the point of societal damage.  The benefits to society of the economies of scale have a ferocious proportional step-brother – the massive disasters that occur when the incompetent or greedy side of scale reveals itself.  These corporate catastrophes not only paralyze society; they render government virtually impotent.

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Published in: on May 28, 2010 at 6:38 pm  Comments (3)  




 Oh, yeah!  This is what it’s all about. 


In late April and early May, one of the most beautiful and tasty mushrooms anywhere in the world rears its head in the Heartland.  Like gold nuggets, morel mushrooms are hard to find in the wild.  And, don’t expect anyone to give you a hint about where to find them – even if you fall on your knees pleading. Even close friends disappear, don’t take calls, or seem to be unavailable around that critical three-week time frame.  I doubt that even bribes work.  I think that the morel man reverts to his primordial state when he suspects that a mess of mushrooms might be growing near his cave.

Did I say mess?  Well, yes.  Mushrooms are always found and eaten in a mess.  You might hear, “I found a huge mess the other day.  Don’t know how many, but the wife and I had four or five smaller messes out of the whole thing.  Mmmm . . . sure was a good mess.” 

It’s particularly disheartening to strike up casual conversations after mushroom season is over and discover that everyone seemed to have their fair share of several messes but you.  Sometimes you hear, “Oh yeah, my neighbor found maybe 5 pounds.  He had so many that he gave me half of them.  And boy, were they something else.  They were the big yellow ones, too”  It’s always hurts to hear that the best meal in the world was a historical event that, somehow, you missed.  But’s that’s life in morel country.

 For some odd reason, I forgot all about the morel hunt this year.  I think I happened to be preoccupied  with other things in my life – like my daughter’s wedding, my new blogging habits, etc.  But I heard that the morel crop wasn’t too good this year . . heh-heh-heh.  About 2 weeks ago, my wife reminded me that we missed the mushroom thing, but that  Maldaner’s Restaurant still had a limited amount of their infamous “morel mushroom pie” on their menu.  Not missing a beat, I made reservations for early that night, and we were lucky enough that they still had some available.  At $ 14.00 a sliver, Chef Michael Higgins makes the most incredible morel pie in the world.  I don’t know how he does it, but it’s wonderful – and worth every cent. 

Things were a little different last year for me.  I had gone for several years on a morel draught.  My frustration level was at a peak and I needed a morel fix.  I found it in a Morel Mushroom Festival in Wyoming, Illinois.  This was a different kind of mushroom festival.  You didn’t have to hunt your own mushrooms in the woods.  What you got to do instead was to bring your mushrooms to sell if you chose – or your money to buy! 

I was definitely a buyer.

After a 2  hour ride to a bit north of Peoria, we arrived.  There were all sorts of morel memorabilia including carved walking sticks, jewelry, T-shirts, and cookbooks.  We were there for the auction, but it dawned on us after we got there that they wouldn’t be taking credit cards – or checks.  This was going to be a cash-only auction where the seller would walk onto the stage with no more than 6 carefully weighed 1/2 lb. clear baggies of mushrooms for all to see.  He would then tell a short story about when they were picked and other flowery phrases about why his or hers were so very, very good.  After the price per 1/2 lb. bag was determined by highest bid, the buyer could take one or many until all were sold.  But as soon as they were sold, cash was to be paid directly to the seller, not to an auctioneer. 

My wife and I scrambled to come up with $ 90 between us, but we didn’t expect that to go very far when high-end Chicago restauranteurs were some of the competing bidders.  Luckily, my wife and I are long-time antique dealers, who are used to haggling.  We were able to get a couple of bags during the regular auction and then did a side deal near the end with a worried seller.  We came out just fine.  We were able to bring home a mother-lode of 4 lbs. 

Morels are best when eaten fresh.  Frozen is not so good.  For the next several days, we ate morel omelets, morel soup, morel Quiche, sautéed morels on hamburgers, and morel pie (good, but Maldaner’s is better).  We fried them in cracker crumbs, flour, plain, you name it.  As you might guess, we soon had our fill of mushrooms , when I looked to see that we still had over a pound left.  I couldn’t throw them away.  That would have been blasphemy.

I called up a client of mine, who was the former owner of a very good restaurant here in Springfield.  He stills loves to cook on a volunteer basis for various non-profit events.  He appreciates good food, especially real good food.  I suspected that I had found my donee.  When I delivered the morels to him, he was stunned.  “Yeah,” I said. “Suellen and I went up near Peoria this year, up near my old stomping rounds, and got us a hell of a mess.  Can’t eat ’em all.  Whaddya, think?” 

I think I sold him on the fact that my wife and I really have a knack out in the woods. 




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Published in: on May 23, 2010 at 9:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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__ The Senate Financial Overhaul Bill __ For Consumers, It’s a FinReg Flop!


On April 19 I wrote an article critical of an amendment proposed by Senate Durbin to the Senates’s FinReg bill which would have capped the interest rate ceiling on consumer loans at 36%. Senator Durbin said that he tried to pick an interest rate high enough that even the biggest banks could not object.  Guess what?  They objected.    

Senator Durbin did not get his way with his 36% interest rate cap.  What the American public got instead was a kick below the consumer belt by Senate Republicans.    According to Reuters, the Senate  gave a 35 -60 thumbs-down vote on the Senator Sheldon Winehouse amendment, that could have put the brakes on predatory consumer loan lending.  What the Senate did for consumers was to let the large national banks, which do most of the credit card business in the United States, continue to be allowed to charge basically any rate anywhere that they wanted.  Their rate limitations, to the extent that there will be any, will largely be determined by the laws of corporate friendly Delaware and South Dakota which, essentially, have no interest rate limitations for consumer loans.  States will not be allowed to set their own interest rate caps within their states on lending done by national banks.

I haven’t looked at the analysis of the Senate vote, but I think I can safely stick my neck out and say that the 60 votes were overwhelmingly Republican ones.  If they want to vote their conscience for special big banking interests, then so be it.  But voting against an issue that gives the states more regulatory rights doesn’t quite jibe with the Republican Party line – that is, unless it is convenient to do so.  The Winehouse vote just confirms that the Republicans use state’s rights’ issues only when it is politically expedient (Bush-Gore comes quickly to mind).  I guess that there isn’t a constitutionally based principle in their bodies when it goes against their Wall Street buddy-banks.  It’s sickening. 

 Unless the House of Representatives does something drastic in the reconciliation process (don’t get your hopes up), the die is cast.  Of course, that means that we can look forward to endless TV commercials; mail solicitations will start rolling again; and people will continue to get fleeced.  But according to 60 Senators, that’s OK.  In fact, not was it only OK, they pressed the button that will make it happen.

I wouldn’t count on increased disclosure on credit card statements to do much of anything to alter the consumer loan landscape.  You don’t have to put in capital letters on the front of someone’s credit card statement that they will likely get in financial trouble.  They already know it.

—– LET’S HONOR MICKEY MANTLE —– By Never Wearing # 7 Again

When I was 6 years old, my dad bought me my second baseball glove, a Rawlings “Mickey Mantle” signature model.  It was a little too big for my hand, but I thought it was just perfect.  Dad said that the first thing that I needed to do was to break it in.  I didn’t exactly understand what that meant because the glove seemed ready to go as far as I was concerned.    Anyway,  off we went to Ed Hermann’s store to get some Neat’s F0ot Oil – had to be Neat’s foot.  I was disappointed to see the oil discolor the rich, new leather of my glove, but if that’s what had to be done, then so be it.   I assumed that spoiling the beauty of a new glove happened to all real ball players, so I just resigned myself to the thing.

It wasn’t by chance that my glove was a “Mickey Mantle” model.  I was a Yankee fan and Mickey Mantle was my hero from the beginning.  Why I attached myself to Mickey at such an early age, I don’t remember.  I do recall that my mom liked Mickey, and that she used to play Teresa Brewer’s popular record, I Love Mickey (listen –  Mickey’s voice is on the record, too) and played it quite often – especially when I asked her.  In my hometown, I felt like I was unique in my admiration for Mickey.  I lived in central Illinois and I didn’t know anyone else who was a Yankee fan.  In fact, I never met another Yankee fan until I was in high school.  I guess I should have been born in New York, , , like Billy Crystal or Bob Costas.

Billy Crystal was born March 14, 1948 in Long Island, New York.  Bob Costas was born March 12, 1952 in Queens New York.  I split the difference being born April 20, 1950, but was not the recipient of the lucky Yankee location lottery – being born in Peoria, Illinois.  Billy Crystal was also fortunate to see Mickey Mantle hit a home run in Yankee Stadium in 1956 and get his program autographed that day.  Many years later, he was even luckier to meet Mickey on the Dinah Shore program, where he brought his program and had Mickey sign it again.  They became lifelong friends after that episode.  Bob Costas, after becoming well-known, famously revealed that he had always carried a 1958 Topps baseball card of his hero in his billfold as good luck charm.  Costas was eventually rewarded with the honor of being asked by the Mantle family to give the eulogy at Mickey’s funeral.  I recommend that you read it.  It is a fine summary of the feelings that so many of us have had over the years.  His eulogy was a perfect tribute, and Mickey deserved every bit of it. 

 In my young life,  I only got to see the Yankees play a total of 3 times. The first time I saw the Yankees in person was at a Sunday doubleheader in Chicago’s old Comisky Park.  We sat in the right field seats behind a Puerto Rican family that brought their own food to the ballpark.  That was the first time that I saw ketchup used on baloney sandwiches (I tried it later – not too bad).  I remember Art Ditmar and Early Wynn pitching, and I remember Elston Howard hitting a towering home run into the upper left field deck.  Mickey didn’t do much that day.  I also remember that between games, my parents and I strolled around  in the public walkway behind dead center field.  Out of nowhere walked a big, tall Yankee who began a conversation with someone who he seemed to know.  I was starstruck and moved in for a closer look.  I recognized the player as Gil McDougald.  He was a big guy for a second baseman (I think about 6’4″); he looked like an other-world giant to me.  I mustered up the courage to ask him for his autograph.  It was my first try, and I couldn’t wait to have a real Yankee sign my program.  He damaged me for life when he looked down and said, “Sorry, son.  It’s against the rules for us to sign between games.”  I was crushed.  I remember thinking, “Mickey would have never said that to me.”

If you were a baseball fan in my hometown, you either rooted for the Cubs or the Cardinals.  For some odd reason, it was pure National League.  There was the rare fan of the Chicago south-siders but, for the most part, it was Cubs and Cards – particularly Cubs vs. Cards.  I always felt that there were no real rivals for my Yankees.  No one ever cared whether the Yankees won or lost where I lived.  My dad sensed how I felt, and decided that I would have a rival for my team – him.  He made sure to root against the Yankees and, conversely, I returned the favor my rooting against his Cardinals.  Our personal rivalry was usually light-hearted, but sometimes it cut a little too close to the nerve.  Noting that Mickey tended to miss some games now and then because of injury, my dad started calling him, “sicky Mickey.”   It wasn’t too long though before dad inadvertently gave me an opening to rib him when I heard him exclaim during a Cardinal radio broadcast, “Oh, don’t pop up now, Stan.”  From then, I referred to dad’s favorite St. Louis Cardinal as “pop-up-Stan.”  He didn’t like it one bit.

In the fall of 1968 I left home to attend Boston University.  The first couple of weeks in Boston were a rough adjustment for me.  My roommate was an upperclassman, who always went home on the weekends to see his girlfriend.  The  few friends that I did acquire during those first weeks were, unfortunately for me, commuters.   On Saturday, September 28, 1968 (which was about my 4th Saturday in Boston, I read in the morning newspaper that the Yankees were going to play the Red Sox that day and this might be the last game that Mickey Mantle would play in Boston.  Not really having anyone to go to the game with me, I decided to go by myself.  I hopped the MTA to Kenmore and walked to Fenway.  I stood in line near center field and purchased a right field seat for $ 1.00.  I bought a program for a quarter and sat back to enjoy the game.  I don’t remember how many people were at the game, but I remember that there weren’t many sitting near me.  I kicked back and put my feet on the seat in front of me and relaxed for a great day at the old ball park. 

Mickey popped up to Rico Petrocelli in the first inning, headed to the dugout, and did not return to the field.  He was replaced by Andy Kosco at first base.  In the lingo of the time, I thought, “What a bummer!”  I was ticked.  Nevertheless, I bought a couple of hot dogs and decided to stay for the entire game.  I scored my program, got some sun, had a little relaxation, and headed back to the dorm.  Years later, I read in Mickey’s autobiography that after leaving the game, he went straight to Logan Airport, caught a plane back to Dallas, and may have made it home before the end of the game.   As it turned out, that was the last game that Mickey Mantle ever played.  He went to spring training in 1969, but retired before the season started.  His body was worn out.

As a postscript, I still have my original Mickey Mantle glove.  A few years ago, I took it to a professional glove restorer to have it spruced up a bit.  He gave me the sad news that he couldn’t do anything with it. “Just leave it alone and look at it once in a while.” he advised me.  That’s what I do.  As for the last-game program – I sold it during the early years of eBay for $ 535.00.  It still had the mustard stains on it, and I thought at the time that I should pass it on.  I’ve probably sold 4,000 – 5,000 items on eBay over the years without regret – that is, except for that program.

Billy . . . Bob . . .  thanks for rekindling  memories of Mickey from time to time.  All of them are special.  I’m sorry that neither of you were lucky enough to see the Mick’s last game.  I think we all wish he could have gone out with more fanfare, but it just didn’t happen.

Mickey . . . you were the best.  I’m not up for any debates, but you were heads above every baseball player of your era.  And we all know that, along with your great sense of humor, you had more guts than any athlete of your era.  If there was ever a hero for kids like me, it was you. 

There has only been one great baseball player to wear the number 7.  Mickey Mantle will be forever associated with that number.  It is my hope, that in his honor, no player ever chooses to wear that number again.  I know that it will never officially happen, but I do hope that it can be an unwritten, even unspoken, rule.  I know that there are other great uniform numbers in baseball – 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 32, and 44 – but to name a few.  I don’t have any squabble with moth-balling those numbers either.  But, for me and my era, 7 is the big one.  Let’s put it away forever.

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The Round House – Stateville Correctional Center – Joliet, Illinois


It is comforting to reflect that the disproportion of things in the world seems to be only arithmetical.                  Franz Kafka


The total number of prisoners in the United States is staggering.  

2,304,115 people were in prison in this country as of 12/31/2008 according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.   That’s 753 people in prison for every 100,000 of our population –  just an astounding number.  That’s a lot of devastation for a lot of families.  In fact, it represents a lot of devastation, period.  What on earth has happened to produce such a societal disaster?

As  incomprehensible as it may sound, the United States has almost as  many prisoners as China and Russia combined, even though their combined population is almost 5 times larger than ours.   It is difficult to make much detailed comparison, however, because of the difficulty of obtaining accurate information from two countries not known for their openness.    Even allowing for a liberal comparative adjustment because of the lack of transparent statistics, the United States presents an alarming, anomalous case.  Russia is the only large country that has a per person ratio anywhere near ours.  Their ratio is 609 prisoners per 100,000 population.

Perhaps a comparison with our close ally, The United Kingdom, may offer a clue.  Surprisingly, for a country with similar values and a broad diversity of population, we discover an even wider comparative divergence than from that of the Communist totalitarian countries.  The UK at 4/30/2010 had 85,086 prisoners from an estimated population of 55 million, or 154 people in prison for every 100,000 of population.  Alternatively, the densely populated country of Japan at 12/31/2008 had 80,523 prisoners from a population of 128 million, or a mere 63 people in prison for every 100,000 of population.   It’s hard to do anything but speculate about what the huge disparities are between the United States and the rest of the world’s prisoner numbers.  

In spite of the disproportionately large prisoner population of the United States, there is a common trend amongst all the countries.  Prisoner populations have dramatically increased in all of the countries over the past 15 year period.   In the 15-year period beginning in 1992 with the Clinton administration through 2007, the United States prison population increased by about 1 million people, or a whopping 77%.  The UK’s percentage increase over the same period was 79%, Japan’s 85%, and China’s ~50%, with Russia trailing at a 21% increase.   These are large percentage increases by any measure, and there surely are some sociological studies to explain some of this phenomenon, but I want to look at the issue in a different way.  Instead of a hunt to find the best statistical studies, I want to race away from the empirical, and look to a more theoretical approach. Again, I would like to reprise Kafka, who had this to say,

In the fight between you and the world, back the world.

At least over the past 15 year period, it seems that Kafka has it dead right.  Society has gotten the best of the individual.  I don’t think that one could argue that the individual has become less noble or more savage in a mere 15 year period.  Rather,  the balance of power as between the two has shifted.  From this perspective, one would have to conclude that something in the nature of the individual’s attitude toward his or her political obligation to the government has markedly changed. More people have found more reasons to disobey the government, and those reasons have had their consequences.   

Currently, there does not seem to be any political will to do anything about the political trend.  The maintenance of a prisoner costs about $ 25,000 annually.  Quick arithmetic puts the United States cost at 57.5 billion dollars.  Some estimate that the current annual cost is actually a higher amount, approaching as much as $ 70 billion.  Of course, with rapid growth in prison populations, the government has not been able to keep up with prison building to accommodate more and more people.  At 12/31/2008 the occupancy level (based on official capacity) at prisons in the United States ran at 110%. 

The lack of political will to effectively address this issue, in spite of occasional rhetoric, is alarming.  It is unreasonable to believe that there is any citizen in the United States who wants more and more American resources (tax dollars) to be committed to building more prisons to house more prisoners.   I do not believe that this is a national goal.  Yet the societal ills causing these problems are, essentially a political non-starter. 

I would like to challenge the body politic to begin discussing the relationship between the individual and the society such that the trend lines might start going in the opposite direction.  The cost, the pain, and the inevitability of continuing on this current, unsettling path is a fearful notion to contemplate.  The sure and steady increase in the prison population is evidence of a society alarmingly out of kilter.  The solution cannot continue to be more prisons.  That is an insane course, and society cannot afford to continue to get it so wrong with its people.

Note:  Most of the statistics above were taken from or derived from information published by the King’s College of London in their “World Prison Brief.”

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Published in: on May 16, 2010 at 8:49 pm  Comments (12)  
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As a baseball fan, I’m sick of ESPN’s “Baseball Tonite” Web Gems. 

This year is the 10th anniversary of the Web Gem segment of  “Baseball Tonite,” and  has been virtually institutionalized as a “must see” part of the show.   Web Gems was conceived by producer, Judd Burch, to highlight great defensive plays each day.  It has been a popular mainstay of the show, beloved almost as much by the players as the fans.  All the players take particular pride in making the top 5 or so best plays of the day.  And, the competition is stiff.  The extraordinary defensive skill and athleticism of today’s Major League  baseball players is, um . . . amazing.

Even pitchers love to make a sparkling play to get a Web Gem appearance.    Mark Buehrle, a very good pitcher for the Chicago White Sox made such a play on opening day this season.  A ball was hit back to Buehrle by Lou Marson of the Cleveland Indians.  Hit back too hard to cleanly field, the ball bounded off Buehrle’s foot and caromed into foul territory, where he chased it down, scooped it with his glove, and then flipped it back through his legs to the first baseman, Paul Konerko, who bare handed it just in time to beat Marson for the out.   I’m not sure that I’ll ever see another play like that in my lifetime.  The video of the play should be in the Hall of Fame – that is, if it already isn’t.

So, why have I really had it with these Web Gems?  Easy answer.  It’s not the pitcher’s or the infielder’s plays.  It’s those outfielders.

To make a Web Gem play as an outfielder, you have to end up on the ground, preferably rolling.   If you don’t leave your feet by either diving, lunging, flopping, falling, or sliding, then you just don’t have a TV hit.   There’s no subtlety here – like a diver entering the water with almost no splash.  No, here in the Major Leagues, it’s all about the splash, and nothing but the splash (or splat!).  How this has developed, I really don’t know.  Wait a minute! I think I do know – it’s the show itself that is making quasi-acrobats out of baseball players.  I don’t think baseball managers are in on this folly, but maybe they are.  Whatever, it’s nuts.

I never saw the great Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio, play baseball.  He retired when I was 1-year-old.  From what I understand it would have been a treat.  Yogi Berra said that he never made a fielding mistake, and that he never dove for the ball.  Now that almost sounds like Yogi-ism hyperbole, but another of DiMaggio’s teammates, Phil Rizzuto, echoed the same thing.  He said that what Yogi meant was that, “he’d get the jump on the ball.  He’d be there to catch it, never having to dive, never having to fall down, reach down, or anything.  He was unbelievable.  Yogi meant that no matter where the ball was hit, if it was catchable at all, Joe would be there in plenty of time to catch it right at shoulder height.” 

Alfonso Soriano is a veteran left-fielder with the Chicago Cubs.  He hasn’t always been a Cub, nor has he always been an outfielder.  He started out as a second-baseman for the New York Yankees and was a very good player for them.  The Yankees traded him to the Texas Rangers, where he was informed that they needed his services, but not at second base.  He was told that he was to be an outfielder.  He pouted, threw a fit, and refused to play for a short period.  Upon realizing that he had developed a particular lifestyle to which he was now accustomed, he reluctantly attempted to make the switch to the outfield.  The results were not very good.  Soriano has never really “taken” to the outfield.  The two of them just don’t seem to get along.  The Rangers finally tired of the Soriano act and traded him to the lowly Washington Nationals.  After a stint with them, the Cubs landed him in 2007 where he continues to play everyday.  His salary is $ 19,000,000 this year – not bad for a guy who can hit the ball, but has a heck of time catching it.  He still doesn’t like playing in the outfield.    Lately, this multimillion-dollar-fizzle, has been benched in the late innings of games for a defensive replacement.  Here he is in stop action:

There’s another thing about Soriano-in-the-outfield that is quite intriguing.  He has developed what could best be described as a nervous fielding “tic.”  This odd mannerism reveals itself as a habit of doing a little hop just before attempting to catch a flyball.  He knows that he looks like a fool doing it, but he cannot stop himself.    This odd-timed baby-jump has caused a number of embarrassing bobbles of the ball, but shame and ridicule isn’t strong enough medicine.  He seems to be mentally stuck – reminiscent of Charles Barkley’s golf swing interruptus.  Neverthless, you suspect that Soriano wants to make a Web Gem play someday.  It may be awhile – long-long while.

One more thing here.  Joe DiMaggio did not suffer from a lack of range.  The players don’t remember balls falling just out of his reach because he didn’t quite get there.  He always got there; he always made the catch; and, he always stayed on his feet.  His grace on the baseball field is something that we don’t see much of anymore.  I think we could – if  it were not for that damn Web Gem segment.

Hey guys, let’s stop the ridiculous showboating in the outfield.  I know that baseball is entertainment, but the pratfalls are an act gone stale.

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President Obama has appointed an eminently well-qualified nominee in Elena Kagan to be the next Justice on the United States Supreme Court.  It is a bit odd that she has had aspirations her entire life to become a member of the Supreme Court yet, for some reason, chose a career path where she has never actually been a judge.  One cannot help but wonder why her career has meandered in so many directions, but I am sure we will get an answer during the nomination hearing.  No doubt there will be many questions and musings on the matter.  At this point, I guess it would be better to stay curious and refrain from judgment.

The last 5 failed nominations to the Supreme Court were all made by Republican Presidents. Nixon had failures with Clement Haynsworth and Harold Carswell primarily because of the nominees’ tracks records with respect to civil and women’s rights.  Reagan had a notorious and somewhat unexpected  failure with Robert Bork for two reasons – his advocacy of constitutional originalism and his role as acting Attorney General in the firing of Archibald Cox in the Saturday Night Massacre.  Reagan also had a failure with Douglas Ginsberg, whose name was withdrawn, after he confessed to having smoked some dope back in his student days.  And, finally, George W. Bush had a failure with Harriet Miers when it was widely determined that, in addition to having never been a judge, she was simply unqualified for the position.

With media scrutiny so intense since the days of LBJ, one wonders why the vetting process for High Court nominees has been so poor.  One would naturally think that a Supreme Court nomination is an act that the Office of the President would want to spend some considerable time planning – for example, similar to national disaster relief contingency plans.  On the other hand, maybe that is exactly why it doesn’t work so well.   Judging from the national responses to 9/11, Katrina, New Orleans, and various other calamities, the Executive planning process has not worked so well there either.  On the other hand, maybe a nomination is a different planning animal entirely.  It could be that until the spotlight is truly on someone, you just never know what is going to happen – either from within or from beyond.

The advice and consent process that we have all come to be so familiar with, particularly since the Bork days, could best be described as an iterative and monotonous one and not purely a contentious one.  The process never seems to get re-scripted; it just seems to be re-played over and over.  The Senate Judiciary Committee questioning process itself has been honed to almost a precise formulaic set of questions – many probative, some just plain annoyingly unanswerable.  In the former group we can expect interrogatories on judicial activism, legislative power,  due process, the Establishment Clause, and federalism with respect to the Commerce Clause and the 14th amendment.  In the latter, we will hear probings about gay rights, abortion, campaign financing, and other constitutional issues likely to be confronted by the Court now or in the near-term.  Bottom line is that the nominee needs to be well-prepared in constitutional theory and case-law, show a calm and even judicial temperament, and show some signs of just being oneself  (but not overly so).

Luckily for this nominee, the Senate has been (and continues to be) overwhelmed by financial matters of immense proportion.   Having been through the throes of the financial meltdown, TARP, auto manufacturer bailouts, health care reform, and the synthetic derivative mess with Goldman Sachs and the investment banking bunch, the nomination process might be a welcome relief for the Senate to take a break to do something that it knows how to do.  To say that financial oversight has not been the strong suit of the United States Senate is not an understatement.  That has been fully confirmed during the recent hearings of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.  On the other hand, it could cut the other way for nominee Kagan.  Some of the Senate’s other political problems might roil over to her hearing.  Let’s hope that will not the case.

Just for fun, how about some predictions:

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Illinois State Capitol Photographs WARNING! REAL UGLINESS LURKS.

I have lived in Springfield, Illinois for the past 35 years and, for all its warts, I love it and plan on staying.

Aesthetically, however,  it has its problems – not the least of  which is the area surrounding the Illinois State Capitol Building.  I am not the only one to recognize the visual shortcomings there as well as some adjacent downtown areas.  In the mid-1970’s Springfield’s downtown area went through the same convulsions and dislocations that most all cities experienced when developers started building indoor shopping malls. 

Recognizing the ills that had fallen on central Springfield, there have been an increasing number of merchants, civic leaders, and local governmental people who have made great inroads in revitalizing the heart and soul of downtown.  Their work has not been easy, nor has it necessarily been rewarded.  Nevertheless, a lot of dedicated and stubborn individuals keep trying.  A not-for-profit organization, Downtown Springfield, Incorporated, has also been vitally instrumental in focusing on the central business district of Springfield as the most essential core of our community.  I commend them for their efforts.

Springfield, as the capital city of Illinois, also plays host to much of the State’s government.  As such, the government’s architecture, officials, and employees play an essential part in the day-to-day activities and life of the city.  Its downtown presence and importance cannot be understated.  It is always there, always looming.

The center and seat of State government revolves, of course, around the Capitol Building.  Its stature dwarfs its surroundings, but not overly so.  It represents what it is supposed to represent – the power of the people and their State government.  No problem with that.  Other problems have developed though.

Over time, much of Illinois’ governmental operations have, for political reasons, been shifted away from Springfield.  Much of the work of State government has been transferred to regional offices throughout the State.  Even more work has been permanently relocated to Chicago.  The effect of this decentralization of State government has left much of the infrastructure of the city looking like, in fact being, an abandoned carcass.  This has left the remaindermen of Springfield to clean up the mess.  It’s a pitiful state of affairs, but this is where we are and what we are left with.

I decided to take a half-dozen photographs of the State Capitol Building today to give a sense of what we, as residents, see everyday.  We may not always notice it, or may just overlook it, but there is some big-time ugly surrounding that big-domed building.

I did not try to get artsy with the photos, nor did I try to go overboard to show the worst of things (such as standing aside a dilapidated building or a dumpster and then framing the Capitol building).  However, I have taken the liberty of adding some commentary.  Enjoy!

This picture is from the perspective of the revitalized (?) Capitol promenade, so to speak.  While it may be visually  unappealing because of the overhead railroad structure, it is precisely this overhead track which returns so much affection; it is the only place downtown which enables one to avoid the long waits of Amtrak and other trains rambling through city center.  This underpass is much beloved.

Recently the owner of this track, Union Pacific Railroad, proposed more than doubling the daily number of freight trains rambling through the city  to 45 or so.  It seems that Union Pacific, which is the largest landholder west of the Mississippi River and second largest landholder in the United States (the largest is the United States itself), did not want to be inconvenienced to use its resources to buy new right-of-way landholdings outside of the central city.  Currently, their plan has been shelved while another route through the city is being reviewed by officialdom.

This is on the Illinois State Museum side of the Capitol.  What can I say here that the picture doesn’t?

 Are trees and asphalt mutually exclusive, or do you just have to live with what you get?

Where have all the cars gone?  It’s Monday; it’s a newly surfaced lot; but it’s lonely.

Rough winters require a lot of cold patch, but you do what you have to do.

Even Le Corbusier could not have built an uglier building than the adjacent Stratton Office Building (on right), nicknamed the SOB – the building that is, not the former governor who was nicknamed “Billy the Kid.”

. . .  and the wheels of progress just keeping on spinning.

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___________ LADY GAGA__________ The Bee Cocoon is Perfect for You!

             Jerome Rozen/American Museum of Natural History

NPR.ORG recently published a wonderful story about the discovery of cocoons made by bees from the petals of flowers.

Busy Bees Use Flower Petals for Cocoon Building

According to the article, each 1/2 inch cocoon is ” a papier-mache husk surrounding a single egg,  protecting it while it develops into an adult bee.”  Incredibly, these gorgeous cocoons were simultaneously found in Turkey and Iran, and an article about their discovery was published in combination in American Museum Novitates.

The cocoon struck me at once as a dress form fit for a queen – not necessarily a queen bee. 

Lady Gaga came to mind and, well . . .  I just could not resist fitting her in one – of course, a much bigger one.   I just hope that she and Lady Starlight would think that it’s glam.


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WHAT HAPPENED TO THE BOWLERS? The Middle Class Disappeared. That’s What.

According to Bill Abercrombie in a story he calls Number of Sanctioned Bowlers Dropped, the number of registered bowlers in the United States Bowling Congress has fallen from over 9 million in 1979 to about 2.3 million today.   That’s quite a drop by any measure.  Naturally, the bowling industry tracks these statistics quite closely and has tried to adjust its business model to cope with what seems to be a steady decrease in the popularity of bowling leagues.   Mr. Abercrombie cites that the, “reasons for the decline vary from other sporting venues being available, decline of the Baby Boomers, the amount of entertainment money accessible to the middle class, fragmentation of the family and the current economic climate.”  His citation is one that could have been written 30 years ago, however.   Bowling started in its death throes when:

Ronald Wilson Reagan was elected President of the United States in 1980.

I have fond memories of the explosion in the popularity of bowling in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  In about 1960, I recall my father taking me to see the opening of Rosewood Lanes in North Pekin, Illinois.   I remember that the joint was so packed that we could barely squeeze in the front door.  As a part of their grand opening, the proprietors invited  the most famous bowling team in the world (ever) – the Budweiser team from St. Louis.  It was exciting stuff.  In 1958, this team of bowlers, which included Don Carter, Ray Bluth, Pat Patterson, Tom Hennessey, and Dick Weber scored a team record of 3,858 pins, an America Bowling Congress record that stood for over 30 years.  In bowling circles, these guys were considered the equivalent of the 1927 or 1961 New York Yankees.  Don Carter, a member of that team, would later become the first athlete in any sport to receive an endorsement deal of  1 million dollars (from Ebonite Bowling Balls).   All five of these bowlers had long and successful individual bowling careers as well – and all were eventually  inducted into the American Bowling Congress Hall of Fame. 

 I know that it’s hard to believe it now, but bowling in the 1960’s had a big wow factor.  Most people in any walk of life can probably remember having fun at some point their life bowling with friends or family.   But now, a bowling alley is not the first place, nor even the last, that most people think of when contemplating an enjoyable recreational diversion.  I may or may not be typical,  but I have not been in a bowling establishment for at least 15 years.  The fad, if that’s what it was, is basically – just passe.  

Bowling has long  been linked to the blue-collar man.  Construction and factory workers in fact played a huge part in the rise of its popularity.  As the economy boomed with new construction, new automobiles, and almost everything else new after WWII, men earned enough money to not only support new families, but to take part liberally in leisure activities.  Bowling seemed to hit the spot for “a night out with the boys,” and the bowling alley developers and entrepeneurs caught on quickly.  Thousands of new bowling alleys sprang up everywhere, and bowling quickly developed into family fun with organized leagues for women and, also, children.  I recall a weekend bowling league that I joined as a child with my cousin – we all wanted to be pro bowlers.  Then, over a course of years, it just gradually began to peter out.  So what happened?

First, I am not about to completely blame the demise of bowling on former President Reagan.  For all I know, the amiable dunce may have liked to bowl., and may have been a bowling proponent. 

  However, for 8 consecutive years the Reagan administration  did about everything in its power to cripple the middle class blue-collar worker.  Aside from its notorious union-busting, it decimated (with Democratic Congressional approval) the steep progressiveness of the income tax rates, which had worked so well post-war for the middle class; it unnecessarily began systemic de-regulation, which consolidated corporate entities and  power (which continues to kill consumers); and it leveraged up government debt to fund what was a semblance of prosperity.  The middle class paid a dear price for Reagan’s follies, and the chasm between the bowlers and non-bowlers began a process of widening , which has not yet stopped.

It wasn’t and isn’t all about Ronnie though.  Television coverage hurt the business and popularity of bowling as much as anything.  Bowling is not a spectator sport. Somehow, it just doesn’t translate to an exciting viewer format i.e.  bowler picks up ball, walks, rolls ball toward pins, knocks down pins, and then does it again.  The commentary never was very exciting either, such as, “I wonder why he has a five-step approach and not the conventional four-step?”  I believe it all equates to the definition of viewer monotony.  Without successful TV coverage, other recreational sports managed to push bowling further and further into simply a niche activity.  With lousy TV ratings came almost no big advertising money, and then, no new business.  Hence, fewer and fewer bowlers were attracted to the sport.

Another theory about the decline of bowling in the United States involves a strange conspiracy theory about Japan.  In the 1980’s it was difficult to find new maple furniture anywhere in the United States.  The rage in the ’80’s seemed to be country oak or a more formal cherry.  Every piece of furniture that my parents purchased in the 1950’s and 1960’s was hard rock maple.  But when they wanted to add to their repertoire in the 1980’s, they were told that maple was not available. When they asked, “Why?” they were told that the Japanese had cornered the market for maple because of their insatiable appetite for the construction new bowling alleys.  Setting the conspiracy theory aside, it does seem on the face of it that bowling fever raged in Japan concurrently with the rise of their blue-collar workers in the explosion of their auto industry.  This, of course, paralleled America’s decline in the auto industry. 

If I have made any point at all about the relationship between bowling and blue-collar middle class workers, I would like to punctuate it with one last thought.  With the ascendency of Asia, and China in particular, and their determination to create at least some sort of middle class in the near future, I have a recommendation for investors out there.   Buffett, Berkshire, are you listening?  It’s going to be bowling in China.  If not now, then soon.  It might be time to get your money down.

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