Friday, October 31, 2008

On this date in

1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Palace church, marking the start of the Protestant Reformation in Germany.

1861 Winfield Scott resigned as as Commander of the U.S. Army.

1864 Nevada became the 36th state.

1892 Arthur Conan Doyle published "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes."

1913 The Lincoln Highway, the first highway across America, was dedicated.

1926 Magician Harry Houdini died of complications from a ruptured appendix.

1941 The Reuben James was torpedoed by a German submarine, becoming the first U.S. Navy ship sunk by enemy action during World War II.

1959 Lee Harvey Oswald attempted to renounce his U.S. citizenship at the American Embassy in Moscow.

1968 President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered a halt to all U.S. bombing of North Vietnam, saying he hoped for fruitful peace negotiations.

1984 Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated near her residence by two Sikh security guards.

1991 Theatrical producer Joseph Papp died at age 70.

1992 It was announced that five American nuns in Liberia had been shot to death near the capital Monrovia; the killings were blamed on rebels loyal to Charles Taylor.

1993 Italian movie director Federico Fellini died at age 73.

1999 EgyptAir Flight 990 crashed off the Massachusetts coast, killing all 217 people aboard.

2005 President George W. Bush nominated Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.

2006 P.W. Botha, South Africa's apartheid-era president, died at age 90.

2007 Three lead defendants in the 2004 Madrid train bombings were found guilty of mass murder and other charges, but four other top suspects were convicted on lesser charges and an accused ringleader was completely acquitted in the attacks that killed 191 people.

Born on this date:
Jan Vermeer (1632-1675)
Clement XIV (1705-1774)
William Paca (1740-1799)
John Keats (1795-1821)
Sir Joseph Wilson Swan (1828-1914)
Juliette Gordon Low (1860-1927)
Andrew Volstead (1860-1947)
Eugene Meyer (1875-1959)
Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975)
Sir George Hubert Wilkins (1888-1958)
Ethel Waters (1896-1977)
Wilbur Shaw (1902-1954)
Dale Evans (1912-2001)
Barbara Bel Geddes (1922-2005)
Michael Landon (1936-1991)
Brian Piccolo (1943-1970)
John Candy (1950-1994)

Trick or Treat from the Boss

Bruce Springsteen may not be staging his usual Halloween light show at his New Jersey abode, but he still has a Muddy Waters-inspired Halloween present: a song about the New Jersey Devil. (Isn't that a hockey team or something?)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Mavericks open season tonight

The Mavs will be playing the Houston Rockets in their opener tonight and hopefully we will discover if coach Rick Carlisle's faster offense can counter Houston's plodding defense and whether Charles Barkley's mother might score 45 against the Mavs D. Houston did not look that great in its opener against Memphis yet it still won by 11, 82-71. Yao Ming had 21 points and newcomer Ron Artest added 10. I'm really anxious to see this version of the Mavs under Carlisle. Hopefully they will do as well as the Knicks did in their first game with new coach Mike D'Antoni. I know I'll be watching.

Esquire makes endorsements in Texas Congressional Races

Esquire magazine has released its endorsements in Texas' Congressional races, endorsing Democrat Rick Noreiga over incumbent Republican John Cronyn, who the Esquire called one of the "10 worst members of Congress."

In House races involving Dallas area representatives, Esquire endorsed:

Democrat Tom Daley over Republican Sam Johnson in District 3: "Sam Johnson once offered the president to hop in his F-15 and personally nuke Syria. His opponent, not nearly so insane, is a successful entrepreneur and lawyer who promises to focus on small-business development, sensible environmental protections, and education. He's the most impressive newcomer of the year. "

Republican Ralph Hall over Democrat Glenn Melancon: "One of the Hill's patriarchs, Hall has defended Texas's oil, livestock, and aerospace interests for nearly 30 years, first as a Democrat, now as a Republican. But party labels don't matter much to him, because ol' Ralph hasn't changed a whit."

Republican Jeb Hensarling (no major opponent): "Hensarling, the GOP's leading foe of deficit spending, was also one of the first in his party to note that its recent profligate ways have hurt its image--and the nation."

Democrat Ludwig Otto over Republican Joe Barton: "Not merely unconvinced that humans contribute to global warming, Barton has used his position to threaten scientists who argue that we do. It is a terrible shame that his opponent is hapless."

Republican Kay Granger over Democrat Tracey Smith: "Kay Granger is a Cowtown moderate, and her general support of Roe and its descendants--including RU-486, the so-called morning-after pill--earns her broad cross-party appeal."

Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson over Republican Fred Wood: "It's not hard to see why Eddie Bernice Johnson has been Dallas's representative for 16 years: Liberal but broad-minded on social issues, she's also a big promoter of area business and infrastructure development."

Democrat Eric Roberson over Republican Pete Sessions: "Pete Sessions stinks--of Abramoff-linked corruption, of tired ultraconservative partisanship, of self-serving redistricting. Goodbye. And hello to Navy veteran Eric Roberson."

End of daylight savings time good for the heart

According to a study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers have found a 5 percent decline in heart attack deaths and hospitalization the day after clocks are reset ending daylight savings time. One could argue that the possibility of extra sleep is always good on the heart, but ... still ... 5 percent seems pretty significant.

Customized license plates

I really think this idea of creating your own license plates is a neat idea, a wonderful opportunity for some self expression. Unfortunately, someone has already appropriated what I would like on my plate, but I'll keep working on it.

Greg Oden's future

I've just got this feeling that Greg Oden of the Portland Trail Blazers is going to be another Sam Bowie, the now almost-forgotten player that was also drafted by the Trail Blazers back in 1984. Incidentally, the next player taken in that draft, in case you've forgotten, was this shooting guard out of North Carolina named Michael Jordan. Bowie, at least, played some, which is more than can be said of Oden.

Imagine the Rolling Stones without Mick Jagger

Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones told the BBC in an interview broadcast earlier this week that the band would consider reuniting for a tour without lead singer Robert Plant. The band reunited for a one-time concert -- their first since 1980 -- in London last December that was a huge success, both financially and critically. Since then, fans have been clamoring for a reunion tour. Plant, however, embarked on a tour with bluegrass artist Alison Krauss to promote their joint album and said he had no further plans to tour for at least two years. I gotta tell ya, Led Zeppelin without Robert Plant is not going to be Led Zeppelin and, frankly, I can't see guitarist Jimmy Plant agreeing to such a foolish notion.

On this date in

1831 Escaped slave Nat Turner was captured after leading the bloodiest slave rebellion in U.S. history.

1922 Benito Mussolini became prime minister of Italy.

1938 The radio play "The War of the Worlds," starring Orson Welles, aired on CBS. The live drama, which employed fake news reports, panicked some listeners who thought its portrayal of a Martian invasion was true.

1945 Jackie Robinson signed a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking baseball's color barrier.

1953 George C. Marshall, who, as secretary of state following World War II, engineered a massive economic aid program for Europe, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

1961 The Soviet Union tested a hydrogen bomb.

1973 The Bosporus Bridge in Istanbul was completed, connecting the continents of Europe and Asia.

1974 Muhammad Ali knocked out George Foreman in the eighth round of a 15-round bout in Kinshasa, Zaire, to regain his world heavyweight title.

1997 A jury in Cambridge, Mass., convicted British au pair Louise Woodward of second-degree murder in the death of 8-month-old Matthew Eappen. The judge later reduced the verdict to manslaughter and set Woodward free.

1998 A mudslide caused by Hurricane Mitch killed at least 2,000 people in Nicaragua.

2000 Comedian, TV host, author and composer Steve Allen died at age 78.

2002 Rapper Jam Master Jay of Run-DMC was killed in a shooting in New York at age 37.

2005 The body of Rosa Parks arrived at the U.S. Capitol, where the civil rights pioneer became the first woman to lie in honor in the Rotunda.

Born on this date:
John Adams (1735-1826)
Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881)
Alfred Sisley (1839-1899)
Georges Gilles de la Tourette (1857-1904)
Louis Winslow Austin (1867-1932)
William F. Halsey Jr. (1882-1959)
Ezra Pound (1885-1972)
Charles Atlas (1892-1972)
Dickinson Woodruff Richards (1895-1973)
Ruth Gordon (1896-1985)
Bill Terry (1898-1989)
Patsy Montana (1908-1996)
Ruth Hussey (1911-2005)
Fred Friendly (1915-1998)
Joe Adcock (1927-1999)
Daniel Nathans (1928-1999)
Nestor Almendros (1930-1992)
Louis Malle (1932-1995)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Marc Stein's preseason NBA rankings has Mavs 6th in the West

Marc Stein of ESPN has come out with his preseason NBA power rankings, and if he's correct the Celtics should knock off the Lakers again to win a second consecutive NBA Championship. Following the Lakers in the West, Stein ranks, in order, New Orleans, San Antonio, Houston, Utah and then Dallas. The other two teams from the West he has making the playoffs are San Antonio and Portland, although after watching the Lakers destroy the Trail Blazers last night I think both Portland and Greg Oden may be way overrated. I have a feeling Oden may be the biggest NBAS bust since Sam Bowie.

The other playoff teams in the East, according to Stein, will be, in order of finish, Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia (the only East teams Stein ranks above the Mavs), Toronto, Orlando, Washington and Chicago.

On this date in

1618 Sir Walter Raleigh was beheaded for allegedly conspiring against King James I of England.

1682 The founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, landed at what is now Chester, Pa.

1787 Mozart's opera "Don Giovanni" had its first performance in Prague.

1863 Sixteen countries meeting in Geneva agreed to form the International Red Cross.

1901 President William McKinley's assassin, Leon Czolgosz, was electrocuted.

1911 American newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer died at age 64.

1923 The Republic of Turkey was proclaimed.

1929 Stock prices collapsed on the New York Stock Exchange amid panic selling. Thousands of investors were wiped out.

1940 Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson drew the first number - 158 - in America's first peacetime military draft.

1947 Frances Cleveland Preston, the widow of President Grover Cleveland, died at age 83.

1956 Israel invaded Egypt's Sinai Peninsula during the Suez Canal crisis; "The Huntley-Brinkley Report" premiered as NBC's nightly TV newscast.

1960 Cassius Clay (who later changed his name to Muhammad Ali) won his first professional boxing match in Louisville, Ky.

1964 Thieves (including "Murph the Surf") made off with the Star of India and other gems from the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

1971 Syria left the United Arab Republic.

1966 The National Organization for Women was founded.

1967 The musical "Hair" opened off-Broadway.

1971 Rock musician Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers Band died in a motorcycle accident at age 24.

1987 Jazz great Woody Herman died at age 74.

1994 Francisco Martin Duran fired more than two dozen shots at the White House.

1998 John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth, returned to space 36 years later, at age 77.

Born on this date:
Henry III (1017-1056)
Edmond Halley (1656-1742)
Daniel Decatur Emmett (1815-1904)
Thomas Francis Bayard (1828-1898)
Franz Von Papen (1879-1969)
Fanny Brice (1891-1951)
Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945)
Akim Tamiroff (1899-1972)
Bill Mauldin (1921-2003)
Neal Hefti (1922-2008)

Three choices for Ted Stevens

Now that he has been found guilty of seven felony counts of violating ethics laws, Alaska Senator Ted Stevens faces three choices. The first is his choice: He should resign immediately, as his fellow Republicans John McCain and fellow Alaskan Sarah Palin have been urging him to do. If that doesn't happen (and perhaps even if it does), the second choice belongs to the voters of Alaska: They should not vote for him in next Tuesday's election. If neither of those things happen, the third choice belongs to the U.S. Senate: It should begin the expulsion process as soon as possible. It's just that simple.

If the hurricanes don't kill ya, the escaping bacteria might

I must admit that I wonder why President Bush, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and former Rep. Tom DeLay pushed to locate a biological defense laboratory that will soon house some of the most deadly diseases in the world in Galveston, a barrier island that is regularly hit by hurricanes.

True, the structure survived Hurricane Ike without so much as a scratch, but then Ike was only a Category 2 storm when it struck the island. What happens when a stronger hurricane hits?

“It’s crazy, in my mind,” said Jim Blackburn, an environmental lawyer in Houston. “I just find an amazing willingness among the people on the Texas coast to accept risks that a lot of people in the country would not accept.”

Well, maybe not so crazy when you consider Galveston was in economic free fall long before the rest of the country and the lab promised 300 new jobs for islanders. Also, at the time the lab was being discussed, the major focus of environmentalists was on a liquid national gas plant proposed for Texas City, just across the channel from Galveston.

Officials said politics had little to do with the lab's location. The facility wound up in Galveston, they claimed, largely because the University of Texas Medical School located there is one of the leading research centers into infectious diseases. They also said extraordinary precautions are in place to prevent any harmful products escaping the lab once it opens next month. That's good because the laboratory will do research into some of the nastiest diseases on the planet, among them Ebola, anthrax, tularemia, West Nile virus, drug-resistant tuberculosis, bubonic plague, avian influenza and typhus.

Personally, I would be nervous having that thing around me, and if a hurricane was approaching that would give me another reason to evacuate in a hurry and not return until the bio hazard folks said it was safe to do.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The first big media shoe drops

The Christian Science Monitor said Tuesday it will become the first national newspaper to drop its daily print edition and focus on publishing online. Beginning next April, the Boston-based general-interest paper, founded in 1908 and the winner of seven Pulitzer Prizes, will print only a weekend edition. In 1970, the Monitor's circulation was 230,000. Today it's 50,000.

What happens While She Was Out

I have never been a huge Kim Basinger fan, but after seeing this trailer and reading this write-up, I must admit her latest starring role in a suspense film called "While She Was Out" has definitely piqued my curiosity.

The Times from coast to cost

The Los Angeles Times plans to cut 75 jobs, or 10 percent of its news staff; however, across the country, New York Times executive editor Bill Keller said "I do not see another round of newsroom staff reductions on the horizon" at his paper.

On this date in

1636 Harvard College was founded.

1793 Eli Whitney applied for a patent for the cotton gin.

1886 The Statue of Liberty, a gift from the people of France, was dedicated in New York Harbor by President Grover Cleveland.

1891 The largest earthquake in Japan's history struck.

1919 Congress enacted the Volstead Act, which provided for enforcement of Prohibition, over President Woodrow Wilson's veto.

1922 Fascism came to Italy as Benito Mussolini took control of the government.

1940 Italy invaded Greece during World War II.

1948 Paul Muller was awarded the Nobel Prize for his discovery of the insecticidal properties of DDT.

1958 The Roman Catholic patriarch of Venice, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, was elected pope, taking the name John XXIII.

1962 Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev informed the United States that he had ordered the dismantling of Soviet missile bases in Cuba.

1965 Pope Paul VI issued a decree absolving Jews of collective guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

1971 Britain launched its only satellite.

1976 Former Nixon aide John D. Ehrlichman entered a federal prison camp in Safford, Ariz., to begin serving his sentence for Watergate-related convictions.

1980 Republican nominee Ronald Reagan asked voters during a debate with President Jimmy Carter in Cleveland, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?"

1985 Daniel Ortega became president of Nicaragua.

2002 American diplomat Laurence Foley was assassinated in front of his house in Amman, Jordan.

2005 Vice President Dick Cheney's top adviser, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, resigned after he was indicted on charges of obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements in the CIA leak investigation. (Libby was convicted and sentenced to 30 months in prison. President George W. Bush commuted his sentence.)

2006 Hall of Fame basketball coach Red Auerbach died at age 89.

2007 Argentina's first lady, Cristina Fernandez, claimed victory in the country's presidential election; she became the first woman elected to the post.

Born on this date:
Francis Borgia 1510-1572)
Cornelius Otto Jansen (1585-1638)
Eliphalet Remington (1793-1861)
Ivan Turgenev (1918-1883)
Georges Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935)
Gilbert H. Grosvenor (1875-1966)
Howard Hanson (1896-1981)
Edith Head (1897-1981)
Elsa Lanchester (1902-1986)
Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966)
Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Dr. Jonas Edward Salk (1914-1995)
Butch van Breda Kolff (1922-2007)
Bowie Kuhn (1926-2007)
Suzy Parker (1932-2003)

Understatement of the day

After last night's World Series Game 5 was suspended because of rain with the score tied 2-2 Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria said: “It’s tougher for them because we’re losing right now, we’re playing for our lives and they’ve got to close this thing out. So we’ve got to go out there and have fun and try to take this thing back to Tampa. I think they’re probably a little bit more nervous with this decision than we are.”

He's got that right. The Phillies were up three games to one. They had their best pitcher, Cole Hamels, starting for them. Everything was in place for the Phillies to wrap up the Series last night.

The Series is supposed to resume tonight with Hamels scheduled to be the first batter in the bottom of the sixth inning. If the game is played tonight (and I understand that is a major "if), a pinchhitter will be inserted, meaning the Phillies lose their ace (although now there's a chance he could start a Game 7, if the Series goes that far).

But the Rays have to be optimistic about getting by Hamels without a series-ending loss. And the Phillies have to be a little bit concerned about the same prospect because, if the Rays manage to pull this game out, the rest of the series will be played in the Rays' Tropicana Field where Tampa Bay had the best home record of any team in baseball.

But, back to that "if" I mentioned earlier. The weather forecast for Philadelphia says rain, possibly with snow, until Thursday. If that is the case, Hamels might be rested enough to finish Game 4. However, I'm betting he'll be held for Game 7 insurance.

Update: The resumption of Game 5 has been delayed until tomorrow at the earliest.

A good way to run an election

I decided yesterday was a good time to vote. I figured that most of the early voting fanatics did exactly that -- voted early or, at least earlier. A mid-afternoon visit on a Monday, I thought, would be tranquil. I was mistaken ... again. When I arrived at the Audelia Road Library, the parking lot was full, motorists were circling it like buzzards just waiting for someone to leave and parked cars lined the side of the streets for blocks in all directions. The line waiting to vote stretched out the front door of the library, a couple dozen deep.

However, when I assumed my place at the back of the line I discovered it moved faster than I was expecting. Once inside, probably not more than 15 minutes after I had joined the parade, I witnessed an expertly orchestrated, efficient operation. I was directed to a desk where a woman took my voter's registration, entered data into a computer that produced a print-out which she ripped from the printer and I signed. Then I was directed to a second desk where a woman quickly directed me to a touch-screen voting booth.

My hats are off to the people at the election officials at the Audelia Road Library for the way that process is operating there.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Obama way ahead in newspaper endorsements

Barack Obama has been endorsed by 194 newspapers, compared to the 82 (including the Dallas Morning News) that have endorsed John McCain. Four years ago, that margin was a lot closer with 213 newspapers endorsing John Kerry and 205 for George Bush. Thirty-eight papers that endorsed Bush in 2004 (including the Fort Worth Star Telegram) have endorsed Obama this year. Four that endorsed Kerry in 2004 endorsed McCain this time.

More newspapers (11) in Texas endorsed McCain than in any other state. The Texas papers, besides the Morning News, endorsing McCain are Amarillo Globe News, Beaumont Enterprise, Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Galveston Daily News, Kerrville Daily Times, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung, San Antonio Express-News, Wichita Falls Times Record News, Tyler Morning Telegraph. In addition to the Fort Worth paper, the other Texas newspapers to have endorsed Obama are Austin American-Statesman, Bryan-College Station Eagle, Houston Chronicle, Longview News-Journal, Lufkin Daily News, San Angelo Standard Times.

On this date in

1275 The city of Amsterdam was founded.

1682 The city of Philadelphia was founded.

1787 The first of the Federalist Papers, a series of essays calling for ratification of the U.S. Constitution, was published in a New York newspaper.

1880 Theodore Roosevelt married Alice Lee.

1904 The first rapid transit subway, the IRT, opened in New York City.

1947 "You Bet Your Life," starring Groucho Marx, premiered on ABC Radio.

1967 Expo '67 closed in Montreal.

1978 Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin were named winners of the Nobel Peace Prize.

2002 Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith broke the NFL career rushing yardage record of 16,726 held by Walter Payton.

2004 The Boston Red Sox won their first World Series since 1918, beating the St. Louis Cardinals 3-0 in Game 4.

2005 White House counsel Harriet Miers withdrew her nomination to the Supreme Court after three weeks of criticism from fellow conservatives.

Born on this date
Catherine of Valois (1401-1437)
James Cook (1728-1799)
Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840)
Isaac Merrit Singer (1811-1875)
Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)
Emily Post (1872-1960)
Earle Cabell (1906-1975)
Alfred Whitney Griswold (1906-1963)
Jack Carson (1910-1963)
Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)
Harry Saltzman (1915-1994)
Oliver Tambo (1917-1993)
Teresa Wright (1918-2005)
Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
H. R. Haldeman (1926-1993)
Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)
Jean-Pierre Cassel (1932-2007)
Floyd Cramer (1933-1997)
John Gotti (1940-2002)
Carrie Snodgress (1946-2004)

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

(Click on title to view trailer)

Death Defying Acts (2008) ** Though all the elements are in place, there's not much magic to be found in this film, an intermittently entertaining but surprisingly modest romance from director Gillian Armstrong.

Eight Miles High (2008) ** Like most flower-power nostalgia trips, this film has the irksome effect of reminding the audience — whether too young or too square — that it missed out on the grooviest moment in history, man. But as these things go, this one goes with flair.

Elite Squad (2008) ** A one-note celebration of violence-for-good that plays like a recruitment film for fascist thugs.

Hell Ride (2008) *½ The film gets the scummy patina right, all phony-Leone dusty trails, but while everybody on screen looks to be enjoying themselves, it is no fun to watch.

Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) **½ It's harmless fun, and it makes for an often impressive display of the latest generation of computer-wizardry. But the enterprise is utterly void of substance: instantly forgettable and about as enriching as a rerun of "Johnny Quest."

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (2008) *** It's not only fresh and unassuming, but a film that serves, very nicely, the severely underserved audience of young girls.

Red (2008) *** Touchy subject matter aside, this film demonstrates real elegance in its commitment to a relatively straightforward story, allowing the characters' emotions to come to a slow boil.

Zombie Strippers (2008) ** The action can be bloody, but is mostly routine. Ultimately, the film’s most eye-catching special effects are reserved for bikini waxes and implants.

Friday, October 24, 2008

You gotta keep on your toes ... toes, that is

It's Friday. The end of another week. So I thought I would leave you with a glimpse of my all-time favorite cartoon character.

The Boy on the Bus

Every year on April 1, each of the British television networks insert into their evening newscasts an April Fools feature. One of the great ones was about the annual Swiss spaghetti harvest. If this had been done it England, it could have been another. And then there's this offering from "Andy, The Fonz and I" that seemed worth passing along as well.

Spielberg, Eastwood: It's the second one that counts

Steven Spielberg had two films he directed released in 1993. The first, "Jurassic Park," was a real crowd-pleaser; the second, "Schindler's List," won the all the awards. Same thing in 2005 when he released "War of the Worlds" and then "Munich."

A couple of years ago, Clint Eastwood"s "Flags of Our Fathers" was expected to carry his recent tradition of Oscar-worthy fare, but it didn't turn out that way. In fact, it was considered somewhat of a disappointment. So he rushed to release "Letters from Iwo Jima," at the very end of that year and, whaddya know, it was that second film that wound up getting Eastwood more Oscar nominations.

Could the same thing happen this year? Judging from this trailer for "Gran Torino," it just might. Eastwood's "Changeling" opened today to at least one rave review, at least a couple of very good reviews, at least one mediocre one and at least one outright pan. Just judging from the trailer, however, "Gran Torino" might be the more significant of the two 2008 Eastwood films.

What happens when neither hometown team makes the World Series

Los Angeles had two shots to send a team to the World Series this year, but neither the American League Angels nor the National League Dodgers made it past the first round of the playoffs. Now the Los Angeles Times is running an on-line survey asking readers to vote on who will win the World Series. Two selections out of the seven possible choices received 68.8 percent of the total votes cast. Finishing second in the voting right now with 1,599 votes is Tampa Bay in either five or six games. But the leading vote recipient, with 2,082 votes, is "Who cares?"

If you're hot, you're hot

John A. Bargh, a Yale University psychologist , has just finished leading a group of researchers who have determined that if you want to make a good first impression, have a cup of hot coffee at your disposal. According to their research, individuals who held a cup of hot coffee for 10 to 25 seconds warmed to a perfect stranger. Holding a cup of iced coffee had the opposite effect, indicating (I'm not sure "proving" is the correct word to use here) that temperatures affect emotions.

I'll go along with that. I have a different reaction seeing a woman in a bikini on a beach during the summer than I do seeing that same woman wrapped in a heavy coat during the winter. I will also say that a nice hot shower puts me in a far better mood than a cold one. However, I'm one of the world's great coffee drinkers, while my love life ... well, let's not go there. Of course, there's the fine print in the study that says "a hot beverage can't always overcome awkward habits and distasteful traits." Ahhh, that explains it.

On this date in

1648 The Peace of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years' War and, effectively, the Holy Roman Empire.

1857 The world's first football club was founded.

1861 The first transcontinental telegraph message was sent from California to President Abraham Lincoln.

1901 Annie Edson Taylor became the first person to survive a trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

1917 The October Revolution.

1926 Harry Houdini gave his final performance.

1929 The Black Thursday stock market crash.

1931 The George Washington Bridge, connecting New York and New Jersey, was dedicated.

1940 The 40-hour work week went into effect in the United States.

1945 The United Nations charter took effect.

1952 Republican presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower declared, "I shall go to Korea" as he promised to end the war.

1954 President Eisenhower pledged U.S. support to South Vietnam.

1962 The U.S. blockade of Cuba during the missile crisis began under a proclamation signed by President John F. Kennedy.

1987 Thirty years after it was expelled for refusing to answer allegations of corruption, the Teamsters union was welcomed back into the AFL-CIO.

1992 The Toronto Blue Jays became the first team outside the United States to win a World Series as they defeated the Atlanta Braves 4-3 in Game 6.

1999 Rhode Island Republican Senator John Chafee died of congestive heart failure at age 77, just a few months after he announced he would not seek re-election in 2000.

2002 Authorities arrested Army veteran John Allen Muhammad and teenager Lee Boyd Malvo in connection with the Washington-area sniper attacks. Muhammad was later sentenced to death, Malvo to life in prison.

2005 Civil rights activist Rosa Parks died at age 92 in her Detroit apartment.

Born on this date:
Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723)
Alban Butler (1710-1773)
Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879)
Belva Ann Bennett Lockwood (1830-1917)
James Schoolcraft Sherman (1855-1912)
Dame Sybil Thorndike (1882-1976)
Rafael Trujillo (1891-1961)
Melvin Purvis (1903-1960)
Moss Hart (1904-1961)
Sonny Terry (1911-1986)
Bob Kane (1915-1998)
J.P. Richardson (1930-1959)
Ronald and Reginald Kray (born 1933; Ronald died in 1995, Reginald in 2000)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Welcome to the Katy Trail

Where old, ugly, out of shape people are not allowed.

Perhaps she should go to a virtual jail

Sometimes I think the times have simply passed me by. Consider., for example, the tale of a Japanese woman jailed after killing her virtual husband. That's right, not her real husband (I'm not even sure she's really married), but an avatar in some popular computer game called Maple Story (or, in English, Maple Story) in which participants can live out make-believe existences. What happened here, apparently, is that her virtual husband, without any warning, divorced her, so, in retaliation, she logged on to his computer and somehow killed his digital representation. Now it's not the killing part of the previous sentence that got her into trouble, it's the logging on part. So, for illegally logging on to someone else's computer she faces five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Eddie Sefko's cloudy crystal ball

Dallas Morning News Mavericks beat writer Eddie Sefko, writing in an "Inside the Mavericks" newsletter that arrived by e-mail this morning, is predicting the Mavericks will win more games than last year, the Lakers will "have the Western Conference by the throat," and the Philadelphia 76ers will win the East.

But then he's also picking the Phillies to win the World Series, while I'm sticking with my Tampa Bay-in-six prediction. Yes, I know the Phillies won Game 1 last night, but I also predicted that and I think they will win Game 4 in Philadelphia (the two games lefty pitcher Cole Hamels starts for Philadelphia), but Tampa Bay takes Games 2, 3, 5 and 6.

But back to Sefko's basketball predictions. He says the Mavericks will win two more games than they did last year (53 as compared to 51), which may not seem like much, but, according to Sefko, "will put them right on the cusp of a home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs." I'm not going to argue the 53 versus 51 or whatever, because I haven't gone through the Mavs schedule game by game yet (I plan to do so perhaps this weekend). But if I see them on the cusp of anything, it's on the cusp of the lottery. The highest finish I can see for the Mavs is sixth in the Western Conference.

Here's what fuels my pessimism, if you want to call it that. Dirk Nowitzky and Jason Kidd are not good teammates. That was obvious last season when Avery Johnson built an offense around Dirk that emphasized the half-court game. Kidd was reduced to being a wing shooter. Now along comes new coach Rich Carlisle who wants to install a more movement-oriented, fast-break type of offense. All, well and good. That should really help Kidd, but at Dirk's detriment. Face it: The German is good, but he's slow. I find it difficult to believe the Mavericks are going to be a better team with an offense built around the adequate Kidd versus one built around the good Nowitzky.

As far as the Lakers' stranglehold on the Western Conference, even with a healthy Andrew Bynum, I don't think Kobe Bryant has the supporting cast to choke anyone except themselves, as they did in last season's NBA Finals. (Why is it that Lamar Odom seems to become the Invisible Man in big games?) Yes, the Lakers may still win the Western Conference, but I don't see them dominating as, say, the Boston Celtics dominated the Eastern Conference last season.

"In the Western Conference, everybody is infatuated with Houston and predicting San Antonio, Phoenix and Dallas are on the outs," Sefko wrote.

Hey, I'm one of those infatuated with Houston. I think the addition of Ron Artest makes the Rockets a solid contender. He can guard anyone in the league, he's a good passer and will help Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming with offensive production. He's a perfect fit with coach Rick Adelman's philosophy (remember Adelman offered to give up his salary if the Sacramento Kings kept Artest, which they didn't do). This is also Artest's contract year and he needs to play at his highest potential to secure the long-term deal he craves. The only weakness I see with Houston is at point guard, but with the addition of Brent Barry the Rockets don't need to rely so much on PG Rafer Alston.

And I'm not predicting San Antonio is on the outs. The medical problems associated with Manu Ginobili means the Spurs won't pose that much of a threat early in the season, but if Manu comes back healthy late this year or early in January, watch out for the Spurs come playoff time. I think they could actually win it all.

As for Philadelphia, Sefko said "the Sixers are going to win the Eastern Conference. Elton Brand deserves it after so many years of propping up the Los Angeles Clippers with his steady, classy play. Brand, Andre Iguodala, Andre Miller and Samuel Dalembert are going to make the Sixers formidable." I have the same problem with Philadelphia as I do with Dallas -- their parts don't mix. Brand is a half-court expert on a fast-break team. I see Boston, Cleveland, Detroit and Orlando finishing higher than Philadelphia.

Now, before anyone decides to cash the check I just finished writing, remember Sekfo follows basketball for a living, I just do it for the love of the game.

Don't trust those computers

Random Access Memory is a computer term for the data it stores. However, I'm beginning to question how it stores it and how randomly it retrieves it. Case in point: On Sept. 13 of this year, the Southern California football Trojans put a solid whupping on the Ohio State Buckeyes to the tune of 35-3. This week, the first of this season's BCS polls came out. The BCS, of course, is the system that decides which two teams will play for the national championship. I'm looking at the computer rankings on the BCS poll and those rankings list Ohio State No. 5 and USC No. 10. Huh?

On this date in

42 BCE Brutus committed suicide after forces led by Mark Anthony and Octavian decisively defeated Brutus' forces.

1915 Between 25,000 and 33,000 women marched in New York City, demanding their right to vote.

1929 The New York Stock Exchange began to display panic signs.

1930 The first miniature golf tournament was completed in Chattanooga, Tenn.

1935 Gangster Dutch Schultz and three others were shot to death in a Newark, N.J., saloon.

1941 19,000 Jews were burned alive at Dalnik in Odessa by Romanian and German troops.

1942 The British army under Field Marshal Montgomery launched an offensive to drive Axis armies out of Egypt.

1944 The largest naval battle in history began in the Philippines.

1946 The United Nations General Assembly convened for the first time.

1958 An underground earthquake trapped 174 miners in Springhill, Nova Scotia.

1965 American forces in Vietnam launched the siege of Pleiku.

1973 President Richard M. Nixon agreed to turn White House tape recordings requested by the Watergate special prosecutor over to Judge John J. Sirica.

1983 A Marine barracks in Beirut was hit by a truck bomb, killing 241 Marines.

1987 The U.S. Senate rejected the Supreme Court nomination of Robert H. Bork, 58-42.

1989 A series of devastating explosions struck the Phillips Refinery in Pasadena, Texas, killing 23.

1998 Dr. Barnett Slepian, a doctor who performed abortions, was killed at his home in suburban Buffalo, N.Y., when a sniper fired through his kitchen window. (James Kopp was convicted of murder and is serving 25 years to life in prison.)

2001 The iPod was released.

2002 Gunmen seized a crowded Moscow theater, taking hundreds hostage and threatening to kill them unless the Russian army pulled out of Chechnya.

2003 Madame Chiang Kai-shek, widow of the Chinese nationalist leader, died in New York at age 105.

2006 Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling was sentenced by a federal judge in Houston to 24 years, four months for his role in the company's collapse.

Born on this date:
Peter II (1715-1730)
Pierre Larousse (1817-1875)
Adlai E. Stevenson (1835-1914)
William Coolidge (1873-1975)
Felix Bloch (1905-1983)
Frederick Lanchester (1968-1946)
John Heisman (1869-1936)
Una O'Connor (1880-1959)
Frank Rizzo (1920-1991)
Johnny Carson (1925-2005)
Diana Dors (1931-1984)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Los Angeles council member offers another elephant alternative

Los Angeles City Council member Tony Cardenas is doing a Jenny in Los Angeles. Joined by a number of celebrities who need some extra publicity these days (Bob Barker, Robert Culp, Esai Morales, Alicia Silverstone, but not Lily Tomlin), Mr. Cardenas said yesterday he would ask the council to ban keeping elephants at the Los Angeles Zoo. Like Dallas, the L.A. Zoo is constructing a new elephant habitat, a 3.5-acre site where the zoo hopes to house six or seven Asian elephants. Unlike Dallas, however, Cardenas is not advocating sending these elephants to a sanctuary in Tennessee or a park in Mexico. He wants the city to construct its own 50-100 acre elephant sanctuary in the San Fernando Valley.

On this date in

1746 The College of New Jersey (later renamed Princeton University) received its charter.

1797 Andre-Jacques Garnerin made the first recorded parachute jump.

1836 Sam Houston was inaugurated as the first president of Texas.

1883 The Metropolitan Opera House in New York City opened.

1910 Dr. Crippen was convicted of poisoning his wife.

1934 FBI agents killed Pretty Boy Floyd.

1962 President John F. Kennedy announced an air and naval blockade of Cuba, following the discovery of Soviet missile bases on the island.

1964 Jean-Paul Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, but turned it down.

1966 "The Supremes A' Go-Go" became the first album by an all-female group to reach No. 1 on the Billboard magazine Top 200 charts.

1968 Apollo 7 splashed down after orbiting the Earth 163 times.

1981 The Federal Labor Relations Authority decertified the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization because of its strike the previous August.

Born on this date:
Daniel Boone (1734-1820)
Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Collis Potter Huntington (1821-1900)
Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923)
John Reed (1887-1920)
Curly Howard (1903-1952)
George Wells Beadle (1903-1989)
Constance Bennett (1904-1965)
Jimmie Foxx (1907-1967)
Timothy Leary (1920-1996)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

On this date in

1520 Ferdinand Magellan discovered a body of water now known as the Strait of Magellan.

1797 The USS Constitution was launched in Boston Harbor.

1805 The British fleet commanded by Admiral Lord Nelson defeated a combined French and Spanish fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar.

1824 Joseph Aspdin patented Portland cement.

1879 Thomas Edison invented a workable electric light at his laboratory in Menlo Park, N.J.

1944 The HMAS Australia was hit by a Japanese plane in the first kamikaze attack.

1945 Argentine politican Juan Peron married actress Evita.

1959 The Guggenheim Museum opened in New York City.

1967 Tens of thousands of Vietnam War protesters marched in Washington, D.C.

Born on this date:
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)
Alfred Nobel (1833-1896)
Guiseppe Glacosa (1847-1906)
Edna Purviance (1895-1958)
Georg Solti (1912-1997)
Dizzy Gillespie (1917-1993)
Malcolm Arnold (1921-2006)
Natalee Holloway (1986-2005)

Monday, October 20, 2008

A wedding moment to remember

Now here's how to make a big splash on your wedding day.

Sarah's Saturday Night

I'll admit it! Following the Texas-Missouri football game, I was among the record number of viewers who turned to the local NBC affiliate to see Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin's appearance on "Saturday Night Live." Nothing much to say about it except I made the mistake of not changing the channel right after Ms. Palin's opening bit and suffered through guest host Josh Brolin looking uncomfortable during his opening monologue and an embarrassingly unfunny skit in which Brolin appeared as a man dining with friends at a Japanese restaurant where he was planning to propose to his girlfriend. I have maintained SNL has not been worth watching since the great John Belushi-Chevy Chase-Jane Curtain et al opening years and what I saw this past Saturday sure solidified those feelings. I've seen funnier funerals.

BCS Rankings Trivia Question

Texas is ranked No. 1 in this year's first BCS rankings which came out yesterday. Here's the trivia question: What team was ranked No. 1 in the very first BCS rankings which came out in 1998? The answer is UCLA. The Bruins remained on top for all of that one week and has never returned to the top spot since.

Fashion critic Blackwell has died

"Mr. Blackwell," the compiler of the worst-dressed list who once described Tony Romo's main squeeze as a "global fashion curse," died yesterday of of complications from an intestinal infection. He was 86. These were some of Mr. Blackwell's main targets of late and and here's a look at some who incurred his criticism.

On this date in

1803 The U.S. Senate ratified the Louisiana Purchase.

1818 The United States and the United Kingdrom signed the Treaty of 1818 which, among other things, established the U.S.-Canadian border along the 49th parallel.

1944 General Douglas MacArthur fufilled his promise to return to the Phillipines, commanding an Allied assault on the islands during World War II.

1947 The House Un-American Acitivities began investigating communist infiltration in Hollywood that resulted in a blacklist that prevented many from working in the industry.

1955 "The Return of the King," the third part of J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, was published.

1964 Herbert Hoover, the 31st President of the United States, died at the age of 90 in New York City.

1968 Jacqueline Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis.

1973 During the Watergate investigation, President Nixon fired Attorney General Eliot Richardson and deputy Attorney Attorney General William Ruckelshaus because they refused to fire Watergate investigator Archibald Cox.

1977 A plane carrying the rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd crashed in Mississippi, killing lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, backup singer Cassie Gaines, the road manager, the pilot and the co-pilot.

1979 The Kennedy Library opened.

Born on this date:
Christopher Wren (1632-1723)
Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891)
John Dewey (1859-1952)
Charles Ives (1874-1954)
Bela Lugosi (1882-1956)
Margaret Dumont (1882-1965)
Jelly Roll Morton (1890-1941)
James Chadwick (1891-1974)
Rex Ingram (1895-1969)
Wayne Morse (1900-1974)
Anna Neagle (1904-1986)
Arlene Francis (1907-2001)
Grandpa Jones (1913-1998)
Art Buchwald (1925-2007)
Mickey Mantle (1931-1995)
Jerry Orbach (1935-2004)
Lewis Grizzard (1946-1994)

A few thoughts on baseball, Leach and my Horns

I had forgotten how edge-of-the-seat suspenseful a baseball game could be and I offer thanks to the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox for reminding me last night. Tampa Bay was leading by 3-1 (the eventual final score), but every time Boston put a runner on base, I just new the very next pitch could radically change the game and the decision of who would play in the World Series. And when Boston loaded the bases in the top of the eighth, with Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon bringing on a different pitcher for each Boston batter, the tension was almost unbearable. Finally David Price, Tampa Bay's fifth pitcher in that inning, struck out J.D. Drew. What a game!

Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach is just that and I am sick of his bloodsucking approach to the game. I was at a friend's house Friday evening enjoying a backyard cookout and I mentioned my disdain of Leach's approach to the game to the host-chef. Then on Saturday, I watched Tech defeat Texas A&M. Now, being at UT alum (Hey, gang! Look who's No. 1!), I rarely root for the Aggies, but I was absolutely dumbfounded by the way Leach ended that game. Tech was up 36-25, it had the ball inside the A&M 5-yard-line with less than 30 seconds to play. Now in a situation like that, a coach with any class at all (Texas' Mack Brown, OU's Bob Stoops, to name just two close to home) is going to have his quarterback take a knee and run out the clock. But what does Leach do? He calls a time out to deliver a play to his quarterback who then runs in for another touchdown. That's like hunting deer with an AK-47. College football does not need to have its image tarnished by the likes of Mike Leach.

I was thrilled a week ago Saturday watching Texas come back to defeat Oklahoma. Then at the halftime of this past Saturday's Texas-Missouri game, with Texas up 35-0, I began thinking that this Longhorn team might actually be pretty good. I'm still not convinced because the Horns usually find a way to break my heart and their remaining schedule is still a tough one. But if they came out as strong against Oklahoma State this Saturday as they did against Missouri, a lot of my fears will fade.

Colin Powell's Presidential Endorsement


Army four-star general and President Bush's former Secretary of State Colin Powell's endorsement yesterday of Barack Obama was not so much a repudiation of John McCain, although he did question whether McCain really grasped the causes of the current financial crisis and he had some harsh words about the negative direction of McCain's campaign, as much as it was an indictment of Powell's own Republican party, which, he said, is moving too far to the right. Powell is a pragmatist and he see's his party being controlled by the neoconservatives.

I was particularly moved when Powell talked about this picture he saw of a mother at the grave of her soldier-son slain in Iraq and I thought he made a superb point when he talked about the Republican party's whisper campaign concerning Obama's religious beliefs. Powell also questioned McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as a running mate saying she clearly wasn't ready to assume the presidency.

I have nothing concrete to base this on, but I also have a feeling that Powell's endorsement is as much a repudiation of President Bush as it was an endorsement of Barack Obama. I believe Powell believes his legacy has been tainted by Bush and I'm betting he is particularly angry that Bush provided him with false intelligence about Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction" that Powell took before the United Nations Security Council in February 2003. I also know Powell did not completely endorse the invasion of Iraq and said repeatedly that Bush had committed too few troops to make the incursion a success, but he recommendations and advice were repeatedly undercut by neocons Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

If I voted in the poll ...

Here's what my ballot for the Top 25 college football teams would like this week:

1. Texas (7-0)
2. Penn State (8-0)
3. Alabama (7-0)
4. Oklahoma State (7-0)
5. Southern California (5-1)
6. Oklahoma (6-1)
7. Florida (5-1)
8. Georgia (6-1)
9. Ohio State (7-1)
10. TCU (7-1)
11. Boise State (6-0)
12. Texas Tech (7-0)
13. Utah (8-0)
14. Ball State (7-0)
15. Georgia Tech (6-1)
16. LSU (5-1)
17. South Florida (6-1)
18. Missouri (5-2)
19. Michigan State (6-2)
20. Oregon State (4-3)
21. Tulsa (7-0)
22. Northwestern (6-1)
23. Pittsburgh (5-1)
24. Minnesota (6-1)
25. Boston College (5-1)

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

(Click on title to see trailer)

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008) ½* Surely there’s a more nuanced argument to be made in favor of Intelligent Design than pinning the old "bad as Hitler" canard on pro-evolution scientists?

The Flight of the Red Balloon (2008) *** This eloquent study of loneliness and postmodern drift likely will be received with more admiration than rapture by the followers of director Hsiao-hsien Hou. But Juliette Binoche’s turn as a harried single mom and film’s enlivening portrait of domestic rupture make this a highly accessible Hou.

The Incredible Hulk (2008) **½ Don’t rent or buy this if you are looking for an intellectual film. If you’re into seeing some fun, mindless action in a faithful Marvel comic adaptation for a couple hours, then see the Hulk smash some stuff.

The Strangers (2008) ** As pointless suspense exercises go, this at least gets off to a good start. However, you can only string an audience along for so long with scary masks and sudden appearances at the window, and after a while, the suspense starts seeping out of the movie, because you realize that’s all there’s going to be to it.

Friday, October 17, 2008

What's wrong with calling it a "breakfast taco"?

A restaurant franchise called Another Broken Egg is moving into the Casa Linda Shopping Center spot that was occupied by Eckerds. As its name implies, this will be a breakfast-lunch spot only, open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily. I was looking over its menu that, unfortunately doesn't mention prices, and I noticed such Texas breakfast favorites as chicken florentine omelette, baked brie, crabcakes, and smothered croissants. But nowhere did I see breakfast tacos. Wait a minute. Could be it be that item the restaurant calls "Lafitte's Tortilla"? The menu describes it as "Scrambled eggs, Chorizo, green chilies & onions wrapped in a warm flour tortilla covered with melted combo cheese & salsa . Served w/ sides of salsa & sour cream." C'mon, guys. It's a breakfast taco. What's with this Lafitte's Tortilla business? And, who the hell is Lafitte anyway?

When will that "Road" open?

I've finally gotten around to reading Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize winning "The Road." I'm about a third of the way through it as I write this. I have put it off for a long time mainly for personal reasons -- I really didn't think I should be reading anything that depressing in the mood I was in. Another side, the side that eventually won out, wanted to read it before the film version was released.

Now the question has become when will the film be released. It was originally supposed to open in wide release around Thanksgiving and then it was moved to December. Now it turns out the film starring Viggo Mortensen, Robert Duvall, Charlize Theron and Guy Pearce may not open this year at all. A couple of reasons have been mentioned for the delay, but I think the real reason revolves around what drives all Hollywood decisions: money. If the movie is anything like the book I'm reading, this is really going to be a downer and I don't think people will flock to the theaters around the Holiday period to see something like this, especially if the economy remains as bad as it is now, and there is every reason to believe it will -- or get worse.

I've also heard that you can add "The Soloist" and "Defiance" to the list of films being pushed to 2009 and thus probably scrapped from this year's Oscar race. From the polling I had done, both Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx were receiving support for acting nominations for "The Soloist." Probably not so much now.

On this date in

539 BCE King Cyrus the Great of Persia marched into Babylon and released the Jews from almost 70 years in exile.

1091 A tornado hit London.

1781 British General Cornwallis offered his surrender to American revolutionaries at Yorktown.

1888 Thomas Edison filed a patent for the Optical Phonograph (the first movie).

1931 Al Capone was convicted of income tax evasion.

1933 Albert Einstein fled Nazi Germany and moved to the United States.

1956 Queen Elizabeth II opened the first commercial nuclear power plant in Cumbria, England.

1965 The New York World's Fair closed.

1979 Mother Teresa awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

1989 An earthquake struck the San Francisco Bay area.

Born on this date:
Spring Byington (1886-1971)
Jean Arthur (1900-1991)
Irene Ryan (1902-1973)
Nathanael West (1903-1940)
Arthur Miller (1915-2005)
Rita Hayworth (1918-1987)
Montgomery Clift (1920-1966)
Tom Poston (1921-2007)
Charles McClendon (1923-2001)
Evel Knieval (1938-2007)
Howard Rollins (1950-1996)

The college football game I would like to see at the Cotton Bowl

I took a tour of the newly renovated Cotton Bowl about a month ago and I have to admit I was impressed. Is it on the level of what's going up west of here in Jonestown? No, but then I would argue the overwhelming majority of college football stadiums could be found lacking when being compared to the newer pro football houses. Jonestown will be a great place for professional football games, but the Cotton Bowl is, by far, the area's best place for college football games. But now the question is: What games?

Texas and Oklahoma will continue their Red Rivalry there for another five or so years. After that, who knows. I don't see that game moving to Jonestown; instead, if it forsakes the Cotton Bowl and the State Fair, I think it will become a home-and-home series.

The New Year's Day Cotton Bowl game itself is moving to Jonestown beginning in 2010.

So here's my dream game for the Cotton Bowl: one between the winners of the Big 12 and the Southeastern conferences. Right now, there is no question those are the two best conferences in college football but, because they are so competitive, it is doubtful the winner of each will ever meet in a BCS title game. This year, Penn State has a better chance of finishing the season undefeated than does any team from the Big 12 or the SEC. Plus, there is this ongoing debate right now about whether the Big 12 has snatched overall superiority from the SEC and such a series between the champions of the two leagues would, while not answering that argument, at least would provide more legitimacy for one side over the other. My view is that the Big 12 is the premiere offensive conference in the nation and the SEC is the best defensive conference. I would also bet that this year, at least, the offense of Texas, Oklahoma, or Missouri would shred the defense of Alabama, Florida or LSU.

I have absolutely no idea how you would work this game into the current bowl schedule. Perhaps college football shouldn't even try. Instead of having this bowl game after the regular season, like all the other ones, move this to the beginning of the year, call in the Kickoff Bowl or somesuch and play it in weather that's likely to be more hospitable in Dallas. It would feature the previous year's conference winners.

But I'll leave the details to the detail people. Me, I'm just the Big Idea Guy.

A radical new look in high school football

I'm not sure I completely comprehend this new A-11 offense, but what I gather is it is a further enhancement of the spread offense that exploits a loophole in football rules to allow all 11 players on a team to become eligible pass receivers.

Here's the theory behind it. If you don't have a quarterback under center to receive a direct snap and instead place him at least seven yards behind the line of scrimmage, you have a kick formation, the kind used for field goals and punts. In kick formations, interior lineman are not required to wear numbers 50 through 79. Any player wearing 1 through 49 or 80 through 99 is eligible to receive a pass under the current rules of the National Federation of State High School Associations.

The A-11 formation was devised by coaches at Piedmont High School in California who were trying to stay competitive with bigger schools with bigger players. Piedmont's scheme features a center flanked by two guards who are essentially tight ends. Two players, either of whom may be the quarterback on a particular play, line up seven yards deep and three wide receivers split on either side of the line. Under football rules, seven players must begin each play on the line of scrimmage and only five are allowed to go downfield to receive a pass, but the A-11 disguises who those people are. To keep defenses completely off balance, prior to each Piedmont play, only the center initially goes to the line of scrimmage. The two “guards” and the split receivers each stand one and a half yards off the line. Then, just before the ball is snapped, Piedmont shifts into formation for the signaled play.

Rules at the college and pro level prohibit the use of the A-11, but Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, known for his wide open offensive approach was quoted as saying the A-11 “presents some ideas all of us should think about.”

The A-11 has not been greeted with universal acceptance even at the high school level, however. It is has been approved in 40 states, Texas not being one of them.

My favorite line from last night's Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner

The Alfred E. Smith Memorial Dinner is an annual charity fund raiser for Catholic Charities, named in honor of the former governor of New York and the first Catholic to run for President. The first dinner was held in 1945, a year after Smith died, and since 1960, when John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon appeared at the dinner, it has been an election-year tradition, for the most part, that two major party candidates attend. There have been exceptions. In 1984, Walter Mondale opted out saying he needed time to prepare for a Presidential debate with Ronald Reagan. In 1996 the Archdiocese of New York opted not to invite the Presidential candidates because John Cardinal O'Connor was furious at President Clinton for vetoing a bill outlawing some late-term abortions. The candidates weren't invited in 2004 either because of Democrat (and Catholic) John Kerry's pro-choice stances.

However, both John McCain and then Barack Obama came to last night's white-tie dinner to trade one-liners. My personal favorite was this from Obama: “I think it is a tribute to American democracy that with two weeks left and a hard-fought election, the two of us could come together, and sit down at the same dinner table without preconditions.”

Where the candidates stand on closing the "innovation gap"

The United States, for decades, was the leader of the technological revolution. Not so much anymore. Starting in 2002, we imported more high-technology products than we exported and that difference has been growing ever since. What programs do the two Presidential candidates have in mind for closing or even eliminating that gap?

Republican John McCain offers the same answer for this as he does for practically everything: cut corporate taxes and end "burdensome regulations." Democrat Barack Obama, on the other hand, sees a more active role for the federal government to finance science, math and engineering education and in research that results in industrial spinoffs.

Obama is a firm believer in evolution and claims the teaching of intelligent design and other creationist theories clouds a student's understanding of science. McCain says he believes in evolution, but that students should be taught all points of view.

Upon further review, the ruling on the field is reversed

It turns out that "Joe the Plumber," who really isn't a licensed plumber after all -- he just works for a plumbing company, would not have to payer higher taxes after all if he purchased the company he worked for. Joe has become the conservative's new poster boy after he confronted Barach Obama last weekend in Holland, Ohio, and got the Democratic Presidential candidate to admit Joe's taxes would increase if he purchased the company, Newell Plumbing and Heating (which has two employees: Joe and its owner Al Newell) and it earned more than $250,000 annually. According to tax analysts "neither (Joe's) personal taxes nor those of the business where he works are likely to rise if Mr. Obama’s tax plan were to go into effect." Of course, now the question is would he pay them regardless. The state of Ohio has filed against a lien against Joe seeking unpaid back taxes.

Amon Carter Stadium is where streaks go to die

In this year's edition of the Initial Bowl, TCU whupped up on previously undefeated BYU last night 32-7, ending the longest current undefeated streak in college football at 16 games. But that seems to be the pattern at TCU's Amon Carter Stadium. The last time the two teams played there, BYU ended TCU's 13-game winning streak, which was at that time the longest in the nation. Who has the longest winning streak in the country now? Three teams -- Penn State, Texas Tech and Utah, which had an 18-game winning streak snapped in 2004 by ... you guessed it ... TCU in Amon Carter Stadium. Oh, yes, Utah still has to play TCU this year. Fortunately for the Utes, that game will be played at Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.

Sarah Palin to do her Tina Fey imitation on SNL?

GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, whose been the subject of a withering imitation on "Saturday Night Live" by writer/actress/comedian Tina Fey, has agreed to appear this week on SNL. What makes it even more intriguing is the host of this week's edition of SNL is Josh Brolin, who stars as George W. Bush in director Oliver Stones's new film "W."

Meanwhile, Palin's running mate made up last night for his cancelled appearance on David Letterman's a couple of weeks ago. John McCain told Letterman, who has been highly critical of McCain since he cancelled an appearance on his show at the last minute on Sept. 24, "I screwed up" by not appearing and then withstood a barrage of questions from Letterman on Palin's qualifications and his campaign tactics that were as tough as anyting in the Presidential debates. When Letterman asked McCain if he thought Palin was qualified to lead the country, the GOP nominee replied: "In all due respect, one of the people I admired most was an obscure governor of a southern state called Arkansas and he turned out to be a fairly successful president. Ronald Reagan was a cowboy, no experience in international affairs. I think she has shown leadership."

After questioning McCain's and Palin's tactics trying to tie Democrat Barack Obama to former Weather Underground member William Ayers, Letterman asked McCain if he knew Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy.

"I know Gordon Liddy," McCain replied. "He paid his debt, he went to prison ... I'm not in any way embarrassed to know Gordon Liddy."

Letterman responded: "You understand the same case could be made of your relationship with him as is being made with William Ayers?"

Letterman also mentioned Ayers in his opening monlogue: "It was interesting last night during the debate. At one point, John McCain brought up Barack Obama's relationship with '60s radical William Ayers. And then Barack Obama brings up McCain's relationship with John Brown at Harper's Ferry."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Who will "Joe the Plumber" will vote for?

No one, it turns out. After last night's debate in which the name Joe the Plumber was invoked enough times to qualify him for his own Disney special, some enterprising souls went searching for Joe Wurzelbacher (his full name) in the Secretary of State's voting rolls for Joe's hometown of Holland, Ohio. And guess what? They found a Robert Lee and a Frank Edward Wurzelbacher, but no Joe. There goes another vote lost for John McCain.

Update: The AP is reporting that Joe the Plumber is not a plumber, either -- at least not one licensed by the state of Ohio, which requires plumbers to be licensed. And it also says he owes the state $1,182 in back income taxes.

Blame a pair of SMU profs for those squiggly lines on your TV during the Presidential debates

CNN has used this graph during the Presidential debates and the vice-presidential encounter to show the world how a group of 30 "undecided" voters are reacting in real time to what the candidates are saying. Now I've learned that CNN's focus group was managed by two professors of communications at SMU, Rita Kirk and Dan Schill. Here's an excerpt from a story in American Prospect that tries to explain the whole process:

Kirk instructs participants to adjust their dials based on whether they have "a favorable or unfavorable response" at any given moment, but leaves determining what that means to the individual.

Some response are fairly consistent. "Audiences don't like it when candidates fight with each other," Kirk says. And, in a bit of news surely heartening to Jim Lehrer, "audiences want people to follow the rules, so any time you see rule-breaking they dial it down." Facts are preferred to rhetoric, and while audiences don't typically like personal anecdotes, says Kirk, if "they believe it's a natural expression, they react very favorably." Joe Biden's misty-eyed moment at the end of the vice-presidential debate was a big hit.

These are heartening findings, but there's no way to know if they represent participants' true reactions or what they think they should feel -- as Kirk acknowledges, a significant body of research shows negative ads work even though voters, independents especially, claim to hate them.

What's more, the process of dialing itself changes how the participants experience the debate. "[Participants] say they pay more attention, because they are focusing on the words," says Kirk.

Later in the story, it quotes one Cliff Zukin, director of the public-policy program at Rutgers University and former head of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, as saying the methodology of the SMU profs is all a bunch of hooey: "It has no scientific validity -- it's not a sample of anything that has generalized validity."

But then these are professors of communications, not of research or statistics. Whaddya expect?

Inspiration for "Casino" is dead

"Casino" is one of my least favorite Martin Scorsese films. For one thing, too much of it reminded me of "GoodFellas" revisited and why Scorsese would want to revisit what many claim was the finest film of the 1990s was beyond me. It also proved, after witnessing film critic John Bloom's (also known in some circles as Joe Bob Briggs) performance as an inept Las Vegas casino employee, that he is a good film critic and a fine satirist.

The inspiration for the lead character in "Casino," Sam "Ace" Rothstein (played by Robert DeNiro, who also starred in "GoodFellas"), was onetime Chicago bookmaker Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal who ran four Las Vegas casinos in the 1970s and who, I have just learned, died earlier this week of a heart attack at his home in Miami Beach, Fla. He was 79.

Let's see how the two characters compared. Both Rosenthal and the fictional Rothstein survived car bombs. The film opens with Rothstein leaving a restaurant, going to his car, turning on the ignition and boom! On Oct. 4, 1982, Rosenthal finished eating at a Tony Roma's in Las Vegas when he got into his Cadillac, turned on the ignition and a bomb exploded.

Both demanded the best in customer service. Rothstein dictated the number of chocolate chips that should be in each cookie served in his casino and, according to Rosenthal's former attorney and now Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, when Rosenthal was walking through the Stardust casino and saw a cigarette butt on the casino floor, he picked it up himself -- then fired the person who was responsible for cleaning the area.

There is a scene in the film where Rothstein deals harshly with someone he caught trying to cheat. In an interview with the Miami Herald, Rosenthal said he ordered his security men to crush the right hand of a man he caught cheating at cards. "He was part of a crew of professional card cheats, and calling the cops would do nothing to stop them, so we used a rubber mallet -- metal hammers leave marks, you know -- and he became a lefty," Rosenthal was quoted as saying in the 2005 interview.

Rosenthal hosted his own local TV talk show. So did Rothstein in Scorsese's film. In the movie, Rothstein marries Ginger McKenna (wonderfully portrayed by Sharon Stone), a statuesque blonde and former stripper whom he divorced after learning of her affair with Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci, another "GoodFellas" alumnus), a former friend from Chicago who had relocated to Las Vegas. In 1969, Rosenthal married Geri McGee, a statuesque blonde and former stripper whom he divorced after learning of her affair with Anthony "Tony the Ant" Spilotro, a former friend from Chicago who had relocated to Las Vegas.

There are many other similarities but I won't go into them now. The similarities are not coincidental. Nicholas Pileggi, who wrote the book that became "GoodFellas," wrote a nonfiction book on Rosenthal's life called "Casino," which became the inspiration for Scorsese's film (and probably explains its similarities to "GoodFellas").

On this date in

1793 Marie Antoinette was guillotined.

1859 John Brown led a raid on Harper's Ferry, W. Va.

1869 The Cardiff Giant hoax was exposed.

1875 Brigham Young University was founded.

1915 Margaret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood.

1923 Walt and Roy Disney founded the Walt Disney Company.

1940 The Warsaw Ghetto was established.

1946 Ten Nazi war criminals condemned during the Nuremberg trials were hanged.

1964 China detonated its first atomic bomb.

1973 Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho, who negotiated a cease-fire in the Vietnam War, were named winners of the Nobel Peace Prize; Tho declined the award.

1978 Pope John Paul II was elected.

1984 Desmond Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

1987 Rescuers freed Jessica McClure, an 18-month-old girl who had been trapped in an abandoned well for 58 hours in Midland, Texas.

1991 George Hennard ran amok in Killeen, killing 23 persons and wounding 20 others in a Luby's Cafeteria.

1995 The Million Man March took place in Washington, D.C.

1997 Author James Michener died at the age of 90 in Austin. He is buried there and honored by a statue in the Texas State Cemetery.

1998 British police arrested former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London.

2000 Missouri Gov. and U.S. Senate candidate Mel Carnahan was killed in a plane crash south of St. Louis.

2002 President George W. Bush signed a congressional resolution authorizing war against Iraq.

Born on this date:
Noah Webster (1758-1843)
Francis Lubbock (1815-1905)
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973)
Eugene O'Neill (1886-1953)
Michael Collins (1890-1922)
William O. Douglas (1898-1980)
Bert Kaempfert (1923-1980)
Linda Darnell (1923-1965)
Nico (1938-1988)
Dave DeBusschere (1940-2003)

McCain's (hopefully) last hurrah


John McCain's best line during last night's debate was when he tried to separate himself from George Bush by telling opponent Barack Obama "I'm not George Bush. If you wanted to oppose George Bush, you should have run for President four years ago."

The problem, however, was that throughout the rest of the debate McCain outlined economic policies that are carbons of the Bush policies that got us into this financial mess in the first place. Instead of using the final Presidential debate to outline a way to get us out of this financial crisis, McCain stuck to the same Bush trickle-down theories -- cut taxes and government spending. And what he means by this is cut the taxes of the richest of American citizens and cut spending in those programs that working Americans desperately need right now.

McCain also echoed the nasty rhetoric his campaign has been espousing in these last weeks, especially when he continuously trudged out the parable of "Joe the Plumber" to accuse Obama of engaging in exactly the "class warfare" that has been at the heart of McCain's campaign.

And, what has to be the biggest shock to my sense of fair play, came when McCain refused to acknowledge, let alone repudiate, the erroneous and absurd campaign tactics of running mate Sarah Palin and tried to paint himself as the victim of unfair attacks.

What has become absolutely clear these past few weeks is that John McCain has absolutely no idea how to steer this country out of its current financial problems. His call this week to cut capital gains tax in half is ridiculous. First of all, the only individuals with any capital gains these days are the incredibly rich. Second, such a plan would only put this country further in debt.

I did like his idea to eliminate the income tax on unemployment benefits for the next two years, but I wished he had supported, like Obama has, extending these benefits. His homeowner rescue plan also burdens taxpayers by forcing us to purchase these loans at prices higher than the values of the homes. Obama, on the other hand, would force bankruptcy judges to adjust mortgage values before they are sold.

Obama's plans to put a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures, to raise the minimum wage and tie it to inflation and provide more money for state and local budgets, are ways to help those who really need it. McCain's plan, on the other hand, to make permanent Bush's tax cuts, only helps the top 1 percent of Americans.

And what program did McCain outline last night to create jobs? It was to use “tax cuts that are directed specifically to create jobs.” Exactly the same theory employed by George Bush and there are a lot of us out there waiting for those "benefits" to trickle down to us.

McCain just can't say he's not George Bush. He's got to prove it and so far, when it comes to the economy that is the No. 1 issue today, he has not done so.