Monday, March 26, 2007

The Professor On The Drum Kit

Another excellent read is Roadshow: Landscape With Drums - A Concert Tour By Motorcycle, the latest book of travel writing by Neil Peart, the drummer of Rush. His fourth book, this one chronicles (pun intended, though rather esoteric) the R30 tour, the grand traveling extravaganza undertaken by the band a few years back to celebrate thirty years of the existence of Rush. Neil did virtually all of his traveling on the tour by motorcycle (except for the traveling that had to be done over water), and the reportage is excellent - so is the information about the concerts and the little snippets he throws in from time to time about some of the songs.

As I say, this is his fourth book; of the others, I have read one, the second - Ghost Rider: Travels On The Healing Road, his, ahem, chronicle, of the time he spent traveling on his motorcycle after the nearly back-to-back deaths of his only daughter, Selena, and his wife, Jackie. Born partly of this effort was the band's most recent studio album, Vapor Trails, and the book reads almost like an owner's manual for that album. The album is perfectly enjoyable on its own, but if you read the book, the album really opens up.

His books - at least the two I have read - are peppered throughout with his wry sense of humor, and there are two recurring themes in this book that bring almost non-stop humor, at least for me. One of these is the church signs. Peart is not an especially religious person, having been deeply affected by the philosophy of Ayn Rand - the band's song "2112" is a musical interpretation of Rand's second novel, Anthem, and their song "Freewill" is a short treatment on her philosophy concerning religion - and his amusing commentary on these kinds of signs, nearly all of them posted by the "true believers," as I call them, is quite refreshing.

Examples, you say? Well, all right:

From North Carolina: "To Prevent Eternal Burning, Use SON Block"
Rural Illinois: "Forbidden Fruits Cause Many Jams"
Michigan: "Faith Is A Higher Faculty Than Reason"
Western Missouri: "If God Had A Wallet, Your Picture Would Be In It"
Dallas/Fort Worth Area: "No Jesus, No Peace. Know Jesus, Know Peace."

And on and on. The Michigan one is the saddest. What a monumental error. Anyway, sunnier things - the second recurring theme laced with humor: the corporate names on concert venues. I loved this one! Straight out of Neil's mouth, from page 88, referring to the first venue the band played on the R30 tour:

"It now wore a corporate name instead, in the twenty-first century fashion of selling companies the right to put their name on entertainment venues. But they will get no free advertising from me. I'll call it the Financial Services Corporation Amphitheater."

Cellular Telephone Network Amphitheater (Charlotte, North Carolina)
Local Newspaper Amphitheater (west of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
Import Auto Dealer Amphitheater (Columbus, Ohio)
Consumer Electronics Chain Amphitheater (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)

And on and on - again. Great book - highly recommended. The band's new album Snakes & Arrows is due on May 1st. The first single, "Far Cry," can be heard on Q95, probably with some small amount of regularity between now and when the album comes out, though I have only heard it once so far.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Scenes From An Italian Restaurant (Part One)

I have been asked to compile a list of fine Italian dining establishments around town, and am in the process of said compliation. There is currently a list of links (Mangia! - eyes right) to places that fulfill the following three requirements:

1. I have eaten there.
2. They have a web site.
3. They are not chains. (Puccini's Smiling Teeth is an exception, but is listed because it is a regional chain, not a national one. Also, the food is excellent.)

The list is also not limited to places in Indianapolis, although at the moment, the only place listed that is outside of Indianapolis is Puccini's La Dolce Vita, which is in Bloomington. There are three Italian chain restaurants that operate in Indianapolis and which I find to be acceptable, and I will list them eventually - but I want to exhaust the list of non-chain places first. There are also pizza places, non-chain straight Italian restaurants that do not have web sites, and places I have not yet tried. All of these will be listed, by and by. (Maybe.)

For now, the list stands at six, and they are listed in the order that I prefer them. Iaria's is far and away my favorite place for Italian food, and Augustino's is a distant second, though it is still a great restaurant. Vito's and Puccini's in Bloomington are third and fourth, but are not as far removed from Augustino's as Augustino's is from Iaria's. Bottom line - if you have not dined at Iaria's and you like Italian food, then run - don't walk. Time and tide wait for no man; or, zeit und gezeitenwartezeit für keinen mann.

More to come!

Seal The Hall Of Champions - This Tournament Is An Impostor!

Call me a college basketball dork if you want, but I have this information at my fingertips and didn't have to root through old web pages to try to find it. We're down to the Great Eight in this year's men's NCAA basketball tournament, and for the first time since I started completing brackets and saving them for posterity, the bracket is as close to the way the seeds should go, assuming the higher-seeded team wins each game, than I have ever seen it.

What that means, in a nutshell, is that the 1- and 2-seeded teams should be playing each other in the next four games, if they have managed to beat each lower-seeded team they have so far faced. We call the next round the Great Eight, but its actual name is the Regional Finals - in theory, if the higher-seeded team wins every game in the tournament, then the Great Eight should consist of four matchups of the 1- and 2-seeded teams in each region.

In theory. It never actually works out that way, and it didn't work out that way this year - but it's as close as it's been to working out that way since I have been keeping track (and that goes back to the 1994 tournament). This year's Great Eight has all four 1-seeds, three of the four 2-seeds, and a 3-seed. There's no exciting Cinderella story like last year's George Mason team, and the games haven't, I don't think, been up to the same level of intensity and excitement as they were two years ago. A lot of the teams that are left have survived scares, to wit:

Purdue and Butler both harassed Florida pretty well, UNLV hung with Oregon for part of the game tonight, UCLA was sixty seconds away from losing to Indiana before their defense sacked up and caused a critical turnover, Vanderbilt gave Georgetown a run for their money tonight - and Ohio State survived overtime against Xavier and a 17-point halftime deficit (which would have been a 20-point halftime deficit if not for a last-second three point play) against Tennessee, the team that dropped 121 points on Long Beach State in the first round.

Normally you can count on a lot of big upsets each year in the tournament, but there have been only three this year. Two of those were 11-seeds that won in the first round - Winthrop beat Notre Dame, and Virginia Commonwealth beat Duke. I don't count the Winthrop game as a big upset, but the VCU-over-Duke game is. Even a bad Duke team is still a Duke team, and it's rare for them to go out in the first round - the last time it happened was in 1996. The third upset is UNLV over Wisconsin, which is legitimately a big upset.

Here's how the higher-seeded teams fared in each of the first three rounds of this year's dance:

27-5 in the First Round.
11-5 in the Second Round.
8-0 in the Sweet Sixteen.

Of the five higher-seed losses in the first round, two were the aforementioned 11-seeds beating 6-seeds. The other three were 9-seeds beating 8-seeds, which aren't really upsets. In the second round, three of the five were 5-seeds beating 4-seeds, and the other two were a 6 beating a 3 (Vanderbilt over Washington State) and a 7 over a 2 (UNLV over Wisconsin).

As for my picks, well...they're actually decent, although that's not saying much. If you had picked the higher-seeded team blindly in every game of this year's tournament, you'd be 46-10 right now. My bracket is 39-17 at this point, and my East/South side looks great, with only two mistakes in the East region and one lone foul-up in the South region (I had BYU beating Xavier). My Final Four are all still alive. I'm rarely even near to being this accurate on my bracket - not that it means anything, of course; it's just fun to be able to watch and/or keep track of so many different basketball games, packed into a handful of days, and be able to root for or against a team, and have some kind of personal involvement in every game, based solely on which team's name you wrote down on a piece of paper.

I could have missed the pain, but I'd have had to miss...the uh-uh-uh Dance. (Only one other human on the planet besides me is going to read that last sentence and get a chuckle out of it - unless some sparty-pants chuckles arbitrarily, just to prove me wrong.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

They Heard The Hum Of The Motors, They Counted The Rotors, And Waited For Us To Arrive

I’m not a cab driver who has a collection of copies of The Catcher In The Rye on a shelf in my apartment...but I smell a rat, decomposing slowly in one of the dank corners of Bush’s cabinet. Last week, I sent up this post about the failure of the FBI to use properly certain privileges of investigation afforded it by the USA Patriot Act. It’s old news now, but for-now Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is still news, though for Something Completely Different.

The new flap - which isn’t exactly new, but continues to dominate the news cycle, unlike the Patriot Act bit - has to do with the firing of eight U.S. attorneys by the Justice Department. This article on MSNBC, from the Financial Times, notes that “in December seven prosecutors were told to resign for what the Justice Department insisted were performance reasons,” and that an “eighth was pushed out to make room for a protégé of Karl Rove, presidential adviser.” It also states that unnamed Democrats were contending that five of the eight attorneys who had been fired were working on some kind of “political corruption probe.”

Not that cronyism in the Bush administration is new or anything, but Bush is practically leaping at Congressional Democrats for having the temerity to threaten subpoenas during their investigation of his lackeys. This is the part that’s new - before order was restored to Congress in the midterm elections, Bush had gotten very used to doing whatever he wanted, with zero accountability, including lying about sending American citizens to die on foreign soil for no good reason.

Another article on MSNBC, from MSNBC news services, quotes Bush as saying that he “proposed a reasonable way to avoid an impasse.” And that “reasonable way” would be...uh...sending Karl Rove (the consigliere) and Harriet Miers (Sonny’s sister?) up to Capitol Hill for interviews - except that there will be no transcriptions of those interviews and those two lackeys will not be put under oath.

Remember last year when the oil company executives (that would be the heads of the five families, to continue with a Godfather analogy that is actually starting to get a little spooky with how dead-on it is) went up to the Hill to testify before the then-Republican-controlled Congress? They weren’t put under oath either, and the Dems objected. The Republican response? They said that there was no substantive difference between lying to Congress under oath and lying to Congress without having been put under oath, which greatly reassured all of us that the oil company executives would be completely honest and forthcoming about tens of billions of dollars of profits in their pockets while you and I shell (pun intended) out well over two bucks a gallon for gas.

Maybe I’m just bonkers...but it almost sounds like premeditated obstruction of justice; and someone has both spoken to Bush and spoken to Rove and Miers about it, so that adds conspiracy to obstruct justice to the list of charges. If Bush spoke directly to Rove and Miers, then he is just as guilty as they are of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Unfortunately, it would take those two lying to Congress while under oath in order to bring about thoe charges - and then someone would have to tie it back to Bush in order to drag him down, too.

I don’t think Bush’s “way” is all that “reasonable.” He calls it a “partisan fishing expedition” on the part of the Democrats, and I guess you can’t really blame him for that. What it’s actually called is “accountability,” but he’s gone a shade over six years without having to face any of that, so it’s not really a surprise that he doesn’t recognize it for what it really is. It’s the system of checks and balances finally checking this President’s power, which has gone unchecked since he assumed the throne - er, the Presidency.

One last article, from Newsweek, sums up the whole spectacle pretty nicely. Bush won’t have to fire Gonzales, just like he didn’t have to fire Donald Rumsfeld - even though he should have, and long before he did. The house of cards is starting to flutter in the breeze - and it won’t be long now, I don’t think, before the whole thing blows over and reveals that the little man behind the curtain is no wizard.

Not much of a conspiracy theory, I know - but try this! I said at the top that I smell a rat - and that rat is that this story is news at all. I mean, yeah, it’s news - but so was that story about the abuses of the Patriot Act by the FBI, and it went away like that! (The Blog-O-Rama snaps its fingers.) Literally. The day that story broke, it was at the top of the MSNBC page - but by the end of the day it was gone. You actually had to enter a search string to get a hit on that story. This article - the last one, I promise - is from today (well, Tuesday) and talks about the Congressional response to the report of the Justice Department’s Inspector General; but this story is still flying under the radar, compared with the story about the firing of the U.S. attorneys.

Then again, it might just be me. Hmm...there must be a copy of The Catcher In The Rye around here somewhere.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

How To Take A Fall

This is something that happened last week, and I’m just now getting around to posting it, in part because I have been behind on a number of things since last week, and also in part because I wasn’t entirely sure how I wanted to approach it. So I’ll just sort of launch into it and see how it goes.

Last week, on Thursday (3/8), Amy was walking down a flight of steps at school when her feet got tangled up underneath her, and she fell. She managed to sort of slide down the stairs (not many of them - four or five) and land on her back, which wound up being a very good thing. She called the doctor when she got home, and he advised her to come to the hospital so that they could check on her and the baby and make sure that everything was okay.

(I was at work when this happened - and had stepped out to get a cup of coffee at Starbucks, which is all the way across the mall from the theatre - when Amy called the theatre to let me know what had happened. I got the information from Dione, who had been asked by Amy to keep me from panicking, which I am not wont to do anyway, because as far as Amy knew at that point, everything was okay. They had checked out the baby, and he was moving around - quite the swimmer, that one - and his heartbeat was normal.)

Amy called back a little bit later, so I was able to get all of the above information directly from her, which made me feel better, as did hearing her voice and not hearing worry there. Things turned worrisome when she called back a couple of hours later to let me know that the nurses monitoring her had discovered that she had been having some contractions. (Later, after I got to the hospital, one of the nurses told us that when a pregnant woman has a fall, oftentimes that fall irritates the uterus enough to cause small contractions - and it seems that it happens often enough in the world that the treatment for it is pretty standard, which was very reassuring information.)

Fortunately, I was able to make arrangements with the staff on hand at the theatre that night so that I could leave and go to the hopsital on the off chance - and my heart skipped a beat thinking about this prospect - that Amy went into labor. It would be safe to say that I exceeded the speed limit for most of the distance between the Fashion Mall and St. Francis.

Long story short, or this part of it at any rate, they were giving her shots of Tributylene, which is supposed to stop the contractions she was having - which were not the kind of contractions that indicate that labor is beginning. The worry, however, was that if they continued (at the rate of, say, more than about four per hour) her body might be tricked into thinking that it was time to give birth, even though it was not. This kind of treatment requires an overnight hospital stay, and for the mother to be hooked up to a heart monitor (more on that by and by). The next day, Friday, the nurses attending her determined that the Tributylene wasn’t having enough of the desired effect, so they switched over to an oral medication called Procardia, which had a better effect. Due to the new cycle of treatment, however, a second overnight hospital stay was required.

On Saturday, Amy was upgraded from clear liquid food only to solid foods, which we both took to be a good sign; and she was seen by the on-call doctor, who decided that we would be allowed to go home if a mid-afternoon check indicated that the Procardia had sufficiently reduced the number and frequency of the contractions. By mid-afternoon, the Procardia had done its thing, and Amy was discharged.

She was on bed rest this week and did not go to work, and has continued to take the Procardia. She had an appointment with her doctor on Wednesday (3/14), and they elected to begin weaning her off of the Procardia. She is still on bed rest (though she is not required to remain in bed every second of every day - she’s just not allowed to, you know, go rollerblading or anything) and probably won’t go back to work next week, at least at first.

Our little guy is coming together, though - he even managed to learn when they would attach the heart monitor to Amy, which was done by running a long elastic band around her belly, with a sensor attached that can detect the baby’s heartbeat. He has been an active little fella, all the time swimming around and kicking Amy - and it got to the point, while she was at the hospital, that she could feel him swimming away from the sensor when they put the heart monitor on her. The heart monitor also amplified the sound of his kicks, which, through the heart monitor, sounded almost like little claps of thunder. During her stay, she had an ultrasound done, and they got a picture of him waving his little baby hand - and the ultrasound person put a caption at the bottom of the picture which read: “Hi, Mom!” The ultrasound also revealed that he weighed two pounds and eight ounces, which is teeny tiny, but is also apparently relatively normal for this stage of pregnancy - they get much bigger in the last couple of months, apparently, than they do during the first two trimesters.

That’s pretty much the story. I went back and read through the notes I made while I was at the hospital, and have included most of that material - I spent those two nights at the hospital in a fairly uncomfortable chair next to Amy’s bed, and was able to do quite a lot of writing - Amy looked over at me at one point, smiled, and said that this experience would probably make quite the post for the Baby Blog. And so it has.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Quick Takes (#1)

• So you probably heard that a batch of the new George Washington dollar coins escaped from the Philadelphia mint without the words “In God We Trust” struck onto the edge of the coin, right? It was reported last week, but I’m just now getting around to it, though, so it’s going to be a quick take; and, unlike the rest of the world, I will report the whole story - the coins, numbering about 50,000 or so, did indeed escape from the Philadelphia mint without “In God We Trust,” but they were also without “E Pluribus Unum” and the year of minting. That is, the ENTIRE verbiage that should have been engraved on the edge of the coin was missing - not just the part about God. But thank heavens for all of those alert people in the media who jumped on the story and only reported, apparently, a third of it, because that’s just what we need in this country - more half-truths for the religious crazies to get riled up about.

• A couple of days ago at work, one of our guests handed Heather a small stack of flyers and asked if she would hand them to folks who might be of like mind and interested in doing something for a good cause. The little flyers are for the Indianapolis chapter of PFLAG, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. They are trying to get 100 people to send 100 letters to Indiana legislators, in order to urge legislators not to pass SJR-7, the proposed “marriage equality” amendment to the Indiana constitution. I plan to write such a letter to my representative, Larry Buell, for him to ignore. Ending discrimination against gay people is the most important social progress issue facing Americans today, and I am proud to do such a simple thing as write a letter to my legislator, in the interest of improving the quality of life for all citizens of Indiana. Hopefully PFLAG will meet - and perhaps greatly exceed - its goal of 100 letters to legislators.

• This is another one that happened a while back and isn’t that big a deal - but which sort of bothers me. Oprah Winfrey recently chose the Sidney Poitier memoir, The Measure Of A Man, as the newest selection in her popular Oprah’s Book Club series. This was way back at the end of January, but here’s what happened: once this selection was made public, the Poitier book went from 288,958th place on Amazon’s bestseller list to 1st place - in twenty-four hours. I suppose it’s a good thing that so many people are inspired to read because of Oprah - but I have to wonder how many of those people only read the books she recommends, how many people read that book not because it interests them, but because she says they should read it. We are all individuals...we are all individuals...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Shall We Dance?

Looks like a good year to be a mid-major school in the Big Dance and on the west half of the bracket. Butler, Old Dominion, Wright State, Southern Illinois, and Winthrop are all hanging out in the West and Midwest regions, poised to knock off some big seeds on their way to NCAA Tournament glory. I don’t think any of those teams has Final Four potential, but national parity is going to make this a mighty interesting tournament. And if things fall the right way for one of these schools, who knows?

I think the Butler-Old Dominion game in the first round is ridiculous. Here are two pretty good mid-major schools that both have the potential to win a game or two (three?) in the tournament, and one of them is going out in the first round because of dopey scheduling. Nevada-Creighton in the South region is another goofy first round game. Those are both teams that like to make noise in the first round and put on a show.

Creighton, especially, with its dumpy schedule and candy-ass conference situation, could have been a lower seed and been given an opportunity to showcase its game against a Virginia or a Louisville. The Blue Jays lost two of three to the other big gun (the only real big gun) in the MVC, Southern Illinois, and those were the only games they played against ranked opponents. Sure, they won a lot of conference games, but a whopping four teams in that league finished conference play at least four games under five hundred. (Hell, as far as MVC bids go, Missouri State has to be pretty hacked they didn’t get in. They got to the conference semis before losing to eventual champion Creighton - and also beat Wisconsin.)

And as for Nevada, a 7-seed? Was Louisville, a 6-seed, that much more impressive (other than the win at Pitt) than the Wolf Pack? How about flipping those seeds and letting Nevada take a run at Pac-10 rep Stanford? Then we could see how well Louisville fared against a plucky Missouri Valley team in Creighton. But that’s just me. What do I know?

Florida has the easiest run to Atlanta, because there are three good mid-majors in that region (Butler, Old Dominion, and Winthrop) and also because once you get past 2-seed Wisconsin, the quality of that bracket drops in a hurry. Georgetown also has a pretty easy run to the Great Eight - their half of the bracket is awfully soft, and the worst-case scenario is that they play 1-seed North Carolina with a trip to Atlanta as a prize.

The south region is gong to be exciting. Memphis should have been a 1-seed - at 30-3, only one other team, 1-seed Ohio State, has as good a record. I suspect that after this season, someone in the athletic department at Memphis is going to start thinking about how much it would take for Memphis to be invited to join the Southeastern Conference. Had they been in that conference this year and made the conference tourney finals, they would have played Florida - and I think that’s going to be your National Championship game.

I like Ohio State a lot, but they’re really young, and they look extremely vulnerable when they don’t come out gunning. I think the Buckeyes get to the Great Eight, but will meet in that game a Memphis team playing with a big chip on its shoulders - and it’s conceivable the Buckeyes don’t even make it that far, because they will likely meet Tennessee in the Sweet Sixteen, and the Vols will be looking for revenge for the buzzer-beater loss Ohio State handed to them in Columbus on January 13th. I’ll take the Buckeyes in that one, though, because they’re just the better team, and they will come into their own in this tournament. It’s going to take a good, good team to knock out Ohio State, and Memphis is the only team in their region that qualifies. (Florida and Georgetown could do it, too, and maybe Kansas - but Ohio State would have to get to Atlanta to play any of those teams, and would have to win a game in Atlanta to play either Kansas or Florida for the championship - and I don’t think the Buckeyes will last quite that long.)

Before I get to my Final Four picks, I’ll talk briefly about Indiana. The last time the Final Four was played in Atlanta, Indiana - on a good run of bad luck for other teams - got all the way to the title game before losing the worst title game of all time to Maryland. Things aren’t going to fall that way for Indiana this time, but they are going to get some good breaks, and they’ll make the Great Eight.

They beat Gonzaga in the first round mostly because head coach Kelvin Sampson will have them fired up to do so - this is the last hurrah for senior Rod Wilmont, and a chance for junior D.J. White to showcase his formidable talents to NBA scouts. (D.J., if you’re listening - please stay next year. You guys will have a real shot at the Big Ten championship and a deep run in the NCAAs, if you can stay healthy and Eric Gordon proves that he has the goods. You might be a first-round pick right now - though I doubt it - but if you stay and next year falls the way it should, you’ll be lottery for sure, and maybe top five.) Also, Gonzaga knocked Indiana out in the second round last year, and the Hoosiers will be looking for revenge.

In round two, the Hoosiers likely draw 2-seed UCLA. I don’t know if there is any luck in this or not, but UCLA is definitely the 2-seed you would rather play if you had a choice between the four (the others are Memphis, Wisconsin, and Georgetown - and yes, Indiana has already beaten Wisconsin, but that was in Bloomington). If Indiana beats UCLA, I think they get Wright State in the Sweet Sixteen - if Wright State can win two big games, their opening matchup against Pittsburgh and their theoretical secound round game against Duke. That would put Wright State on the George Mason path of excellence, but if Indiana can find a way to knock off UCLA, they can put a stop to Wright State’s dreams of glory. Unfortunately, Indiana would find themselves staring down the barrel of a good Kansas team in the Great Eight. Probably then it’s Kansas’ turn to stop an upstart’s dreams of glory. Either way, it won’t matter - the winner gets Florida in the Final Four, and Florida is on track for a repeat this year.

Final Four: Florida, Kansas, Georgetown, and Memphis
Championship game: Florida and Memphis
National Champion: Florida

Big upsets:
1. Tennesee is the only 5-seed to survive the first round.
2. Winthrop goes to the Great Eight, knocking off Notre Dame, Oregon, and Wisconsin along the way.
3. Vanderbilt thrashes Washington State in the second round, and gives Georgetown a scare in the Sweet Sixteen.
4. The success that the 1- and 2-seed teams will have. Any of the 2-seeds could have been a 1-seed if this or that conference championship game had gone differently - and this is, I think, the best overall grouping of 1- and 2-seeds in a long time. Normally you have some 1-seeds and 2-seeds exiting relatively early, but those eight teams are so strong this year that I think they survive. I have all four 1-seeds in the Great Eight, along with two of the 2-seeds. The other two Great Eight teams? Indiana, a 7-seed, and Winthrop, an 11-seed.

Best games:
First round - Butler/Old Dominion
Second round - Memphis/Nevada or Vanderbilt/Washington State
Sweet Sixteen - Georgetown/Vanderbilt
Great Eight - Ohio State/Memphis

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Wheel's Still In Spin - And There's No Tellin' Who That It's Namin'...

The following excerpt, from an AP article posted on MSNBC’s web site on Friday, contains a surprise. The article concerns an audit of the Justice Department conducted by Glenn Fine, the Inspector General of the Justice Department, which reveals that the FBI “improperly and, in some cases, illegally used the USA Patriot Act to secretly obtain personal information about people in the United States.” The excerpt is italicized.

"In an earlier statement, Mueller called Fine's audit ‘a fair and objective review of the FBI's use of a proven and useful investigative tool.’ The finding ‘of deficiencies in our processes is unacceptable,’ Mueller said. ‘We strive to exercise our authorities consistent with the privacy protections and civil liberties that we are sworn to uphold,’ Mueller said. ‘Anything less will not be tolerated. While we've already taken some steps to address these shortcomings, I am ordering additional corrective measures to be taken immediately.’”

So what’s the surprise? Not that the FBI abused its privilege and power under the guise of protecting Americans from terrorists. No...the surprise is that FBI director Robert Muelller admits that the findings of the audit are viable. This is an absolutely astonishing mea culpa to come out of a cabinet-level agency in the Bush White House.

Even Attorney General Alberto Gonzales got in on the crow-eating bandwagon, at least in part. Again, the excerpt is italicized. To wit:

“There were two main problems: First, partly due to insufficient guidance and training there was some confusion in the field about the rules, and that led to numerous instances of these letters being used in ways contrary to our policies and procedures. For example: in some cases the paperwork was filled out wrong; in some cases necessary approvals were not obtained or documented; and, in some cases the third-party recipient provided the wrong information or information on the wrong individual. In addition, one FBI unit used a form letter to obtain information that should have been obtained by an NSL.

And second, the FBI did not have proper internal mechanisms to track the use of NSLs or to provide adequate oversight. Consequently, the FBI is unable to give an accurate number of NSLs issued…and thus our reporting to Congress has been inaccurate.”

The full text of the Attorney General’s remarks can be found here. He does go on to make a bit of a week-kneed assertion that he doesn’t think the “kinds of errors” that took place were of the intentional sort, but mostly he seems contrite. A second astonishing mea culpa from a Bushie. None of what has happened seems to portend a shakeup in either the office of the Attorney General or the office the Director of the FBI - at least not yet.

But it does bring instantly to mind the objections to the Patriot Act that were voiced by its opponents when it was first passed - that while the Patriot Act, on its face, seemed to be a useful tool for rooting out terror suspects within our borders, at bottom it was also a piece of legislation that could very easily be abused to spy on just about any American the government saw fit to bug. And while there might not have been malice aforethought in the irregularities uncovered by this audit - surely it would not come as a surprise to anyone that people in Bush’s administration might be poorly trained or unsupervised - the audit shows that those kinds of abuses not only could take place, but that they did take place.

(The audit, along with other reports issued by the Justice Department’s Inspector General, can be found here, but be warned - if you aren’t outfitted with that fancy broadband stuff, those reports could take a while to access. They range in girth from nine to thirty-four megabytes.)

Not that we can impeach Bush or anything. In the first place, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi ruled it out shortly after she was installed as Speaker. In the second place, convicting Bush and removing him from office would leave us with Darth Cheney as the President. I can’t think of many things that could be worse than having George Bush as President, but putting Cheney in charge would be one of those things.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

A Couple Of Good Reads

Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, by Jimmy Carter

• There was some controversy when this book came out, because it was thought to be too critical of Israel; and it is critical of Israel, but I don't know that I would say that it is too critical of Israel. None of the parties are blameless where the issue of peace in the Middle East is concerned, and Carter paints the subject here with broad strokes, based on years of experience as a principal player in helping in the effort to bring peace to the region. I've always read that there are two central issues at the heart of the conflict - control of Jerusalem and the right of return for displaced Palestinians; but Carter makes a strong case for a third - the continued encroachment by Israel into other lands (not just Palestinian lands, either - land in Syria and Jordan come into play, too).

Traveler, by Ron McLarty

• I found out about Ron McLarty on Stephen King's website, I believe, when McLarty's first novel, The Memory Of Running, was published a few years ago. McLarty has done some work reading audiobook versions of some of Stephen King's novels, and King saw fit to plug McLarty's first novel for the dust jacket. McLarty's first novel was excellent, but this new one is even better. It tells the story of Jono Riley, a Manhattan actor/bartender who grew up in Rhode Island and is drawn back there by the death of his childhood love. What he learns about his past while he's back in Rhode Island is a chilling tale, well told in an engaging narrative structure in this terrific novel.

Next: Roadshow, by Neil Peart (yes, that Neil Peart) - a book about the 30th Anniversary tour, and how he motorcycled his way through it.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Free Bumper Sticker - Warning! Applying Sticker To Car May Cause Car To Lean Left

I got on the mailing list a few years back when I made a donation to them as a wedding present for my uncle, who had requested that donations be made to one of three organizations in lieu of folks bringing gifts. The three organizations were, Doctors Without Borders, and The Harlem Children's Zone. That's neither here nor there, of course - just adds a bit of color. - on arriving home from our first Expectant Parents class and checking my e-mail for the first time all day - I found a message waiting, from MoveOn, to do with a free bumper sticker.

I used to not be a bumper sticker kind of guy, until I started to realize how under-represented free-thinking liberals are in the state of Indiana. I slapped an "End War Vote Peace" sticker on the back of my car in 2004 to support Ralph Nader for President, and I replaced that sticker this fall with one urging people to vote for John Barnes for State Representative. Amy and I don't quite see eye to eye on the more acerbic stickers, so those don't make it onto my car - Buck Fush, Eff The FCC, Impeach W, that kind of thing - but the less controversial ones sometimes find their way back there.

Anyway, the sticker is black lettering on a white background, and it says "Endless War" - one word on top of the other. In addition, the LESS part of Endless has been crossed out in orange and replaced with the word "This," to create the image of "End This War." The idea is to support Congressional efforts to stall President Bush's proposed escalation of the war in Vietraq. I heard a story on the news tonight on my way home from work, about a guy from Indiana, William Beardsley, who had re-enlisted in the military in 2005 to qualify for health insurance for his ailing wife. William - B.J., to his friends, it seems - was killed in Iraq last week on the same day that his wife was released from the hospital. (Oddly, I heard it on RTV6 news on the radio tonight, but I can't find it right now on their web site; but Goggle managed to rustle up some hits about it here and here.)

I know it won't make any difference, but I'll put the sticker on my car anyway; and from time to time I will blog about things like this. Maybe it will help and maybe it won't. Maybe we should force Bush's daughters to serve a tour in Iraq. Hell, maybe we should make King George II serve a tour in Iraq - maybe he can find the weapons of mass destruction that he lied about so he could send American soldiers to die for no good reason.

We impeached Bill Clinton for lying about having sex in the White House with someone who was not his wife; but we re-elected George Bush for lying about the threat to the American people that was being posed by Saddam Hussein. Pass the Freedom Fries - all this patriotism is making me hungry.

Ah,'s the link to the MoveOn page where you can request a free stcker for yourself - or lots of stickers for a small donation. I almost signed up for the ten stickers for a five buck donation, until it occurred to me that I might have trouble rounding up ten liberals to give them to.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Cosmic Smorgasbord Of College Basketball Delight

Saturday night was the last home basketball game for Errek Suhr, Earl Calloway, and Roderick Wilmont at Assembly Hall, on the campus of Indiana University, in Bloomington, Indiana. They and the rest of the Hoosiers pummeled a hapless Penn State squad, winning 94-63 and locking up the #3 seed in next weekend’s Big Ten Tournament in Chicago. They also completed their first undefeated season at home since the 1993-94 year, which was my freshman year in college - and the year that the Bob Knight machine began to unravel in Bloomington.

(The best game I went to that year was a game I didn’t even get a ticket to originally. It was the Purdue game, and one of my friends who had a ticket to that game was not going to use it, and let me have it. What a game. Purdue had the services that year of one of the best players to ever suit up for the Boilermakers, Glenn Robinson. He played only two years at Purdue because he was...well...not the most rigorous academic who ever attended Purdue. He did wind up being the #1 pick in the 1994 NBA draft, though - but he was never as good in the pros as he was those two years in college, during at least one of which I believe he led the nation in scoring. The night he came to Bloomington during my freshman year, he lit the Hoosiers up for 39 points, knocking down shots from all over the floor. Indiana won the game, but it was a lot of fun to watch the Large Pooch - his actual nickname was “Big Dog,” but my buddy Scott always called him the Large Pooch - hold court, so to speak, in Assembly Hall that night. After the game was over, those of us who had gone together hung around for a while, and got to hear the pep band do some improv stuff, including a pretty nice solo by the drummer.)

Indiana bowed out of the NCAA Tournament in 1994 in the Sweet Sixteen round, losing to Boston College. The Hoosiers would not again see the light of the Sweet Sixteen until the unlikely, but quite remarkable, run to the title game in 2002 - about which we shall speak more by and by. An ignominous run of first- and second-round exits would follow for the next seven years. Bob Knight was fired by former Indiana University President Osama Brand Laden in 2000, the second-to-last year of that foul run of tournament futility.

But I digress. The Hoosiers Saturday night solidified a place in this year’s NCAA Tournament, which they returned to last year after missing it for two years in a row, the first time they had missed the dance since 1985. Solidified a spot, I say - as though there had been some doubt. Going into the game, the Hoosiers were 19-9, which seems like a good enough record. However, their record in the last ten games, a benchmark looked at closely by the selection committee (which will meet in an undisclosed location somewhere in downtown Indianapolis next Sunday to choose the at-large teams in the tournament who do not qualify automatically by virtue of having won their conference tournament, and to determine how those teams are seeded) when selecting at-large teams, was a meager 6-4. It should be noted, though, that those four losses were all road losses in Big Ten games - and it’s no secret that the Big Ten was a tough place to win this year if you were the road team.

To wit: The average number of road wins among the eleven teams in the Big Ten is...get ready...a whopping 2.36. Yes, you read that right. Big Ten teams, on average this year, each won less than three road games, of the eight they each play. And that includes the fact that Ohio State won seven of their eight road games. If you take their seven wins out, the other ten teams won an average of 1.9 road games in the league this year. Of the 88 games played in the Big Ten this year, the home team won 62 of them. That’s a winning percentage of over 70% for the home team. So the competition in the Big Ten is fierce. Some people say the Big Ten is weak this year, but that is not accurate. When you start filling out your brackets next Monday, look at some of the lower-seeded teams from the Big Ten - Michigan State, Purdue, Illinois, and especially Michigan (I think three of those four teams get in, and maybe all four, depending on how well each does in the Big Ten Tournament - but Michigan is for sure the most underrated of them all) and start thinking Upset City.

Indiana finished the season 20-9, and undefeated at home, with quality wins over Southern Illinois, Wisconsin, at Connecticut, and Michigan State. Their RPI (a goofy computer number that’s supposed to give you some indication of how strong a team is, and which is roughly as useful as the NFL’s quarterback rating statistic) is 21, which is a high number; but when you consider that 31 teams get in automatically, that leaves only 34 at-large bids, which means that an RPI of 21 out of 34 doesn’t look nearly as good as an RPI of 21 out of 65. The 5-9 road record doesn’t help the Hoosiers in the eyes of the selection committee, but finishing third in the Big Ten, which is going to send at least four teams, makes them a lock.

And senior Rod Wilmont was there Saturday night, pouring in buckets and bringing the crowd to its feet time and time again. This kid has been fun to watch play over the five years he has been at Indiana. From humble beginnings as a freshman to his position of leadership as a senior this year - all the while developing a three-point shot that is just scary good - Rod Wilmont has made Indiana basketball electrifying again. In the last game, on the road at Northwestern, Rod dropped in nine treys, a school record, on the way to 31 points and 12 boards. On Saturday night, he had 21 points and 11 boards.

Wilmont has gotten better and better each year, but really turned a corner this year, adding almost four points and two boards to his averages from last year. And his three-point shooting? He made 70 treys this year, compared with 73 in the previous three years that he played. Sure, his minutes were up because he’s a senior, but he capitalized - and is one of the reasons the Hoosiers are a dangerous team going into the Big Ten tournament and the NCAAs. He was fun to root for as an underdog when he first came to Bloomington, but now he’s a team leader who, I would argue, is the most important player on the team, in terms of how well Indiana will do in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments.

It’s possible that Indiana could make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Possible - but not likely. But stranger things have happened. It wasn’t at all likely that the Hoosiers would get to the title game in 2002, but that happened. Granted, luck played a huge part in that happening, but it did happen; and it could happen again this year. I doubt it, but who knows? The Hoosiers only lost to Ohio State by seven points, in Columbus - and Ohio State might be the best team in the country. (I still think the best team in the country is Florida and that they are going to prove it come tournament time, but the Buckeyes are nothing to sneeze at. Overrated teams? Wisconsin, and any tournament-bound school located in the state of North Carolina.)

Ah, that magical run to the title game in 2002. That was fun. That was the year that Another Major Competitor ate General Cinema and I cut my hair. (Actually, I pretty much obliterated my hair.) It was also the year I flew on a plane for the first time. But anyway...the NCAA title run for Indiana. I didn’t actually think Indiana was going to get out of the first round. Usually I pick them to win way more games in the tourney than they actually do - such as one. That year, however, I picked them to lose in the first round. They did not; they beat a decent Utah team in what, if I recall correctly, was fairly convincing fashion.

Not really a surprise, even though I did not pick it. Looking ahead to the second round, Indiana would get the winner of the USC-UNC Wilmington game. Wilmington actually wound up beating a pretty good Southern Cal team, otherwise the Hoosiers were probably out in the second round. But they lived to die another day. It was their first Sweet Sixteen berth since 1994. It would have been sweet if Boston College could have been waiting in that Sweet Sixteen game, so the Hoosiers could exact some revenge - but it was not to be. BC was way over on the other side of the bracket, and they lost in the first round to Texas anyway. Instead of Boston College, the Hoosiers got to face an old, old tournament foe in the Sweet Sixteen. Duke.

Yes...the gold old Duke Blue Devils. I won’t go into just why Duke is such a nightmare for Indiana fans - just suffice it to say that they are. In 2002, Duke wasn’t just a #1 seed in their bracket - they were also the overall #1 team in the tournament. I don’t remember all the details of the game, only that Indiana somehow found a way to keep it close, all the way to the end. After what I think I recall was a missed free throw, Duke’s Carlos Boozer got the rebound, and - with time running out and Duke down by one - put up a second-chance shot from right under the basket. The kind of thing that goes in 99 times out of 100. This was the 100th time - the shot rimmed out, and, thanks to a huge dose of luck, the Hoosiers had knocked off Duke and were going to the Great Eight for the first time since 1993.

To put it in perspective, Duke is to Indiana in college basketball what the Patriots used to be to the Colts in the NFL - except that the Indiana frustration with Duke goes back to at least 1992; the Colts-Patriots rivalry is considerably more recent than that.

But back to the dance! The Sweet Sixteen matchup that would give Indiana its opponent in the Great Eight was #3 seed Pittsburgh and #10 seed Kent State. Like the #4 seed USC, Pittsburgh was a really good team that year - and they also got bounced out of the tournament by a team they might have been overlooking. In Pitt’s defense, though, Kent State is just one of those teams that gets overlooked - even in this era of mid-majors making noise, teams like Kent State are going to get overlooked. Sometimes when that happens, they rise up with fists and knock off a better team. They showed Pittsburgh the door that year, completing the Great Eight matchup of 5th-seeded Indiana and 10th-seeded Kent State.

Now, the Carlos Boozer miss that gave Indiana the win over Duke was luck. Good old dumb luck. Whatever combination of circumstances it was that brought Indiana and Kent State together in 2002, for the right to go to the Final Four, wasn’t just plain old luck - it was Forrest Gump-style shrimp boat luck. See...not only did it mean that Indiana got to avoid playing another highly-seeded team, it also meant that Indiana got a rematch with the team that had bounced them out of the previous year’s dance - the very same Kent State Golden Flashes. This time, however, the Hoosiers were starting to feel it - they were starting to feel like they might be able to make some real noise in this tournament. And they beat Kent State, earning their first regional championship, and a place in the Final Four, for the first time since 1992, where they lost in the Final Four to...Duke.

In 2002, they drew #4 seed Oklahoma in the Final Four. At the time, Oklahoma was coached by Kelvin Sampson, who is now the head coach at Indiana. Small world! It was Sampson’s first ever trip to the Final Four, and he had a good squad that year. After Duke, they were the best team Indiana played in the tournament that year. And wouldn’t you know it? The Hoosiers beat the Sooners - and they beat them handily, leading most of the way and simply dominating a very, very good Oklahoma team.

Where was I while all this was going on? Having dinner at a place called Ivar’s Salmon House in Seattle, Washington. There was some other game on the big-screen TV when we sat down to eat, but we asked if they were going to show the Final Four game when it came on. Our waitress was pretty sure they were, she said, because the chef that day was originally from - wait for it - Bloomington, Indiana.

And, like I said, Indiana manhandled Oklahoma, earning their first appearance in the National Championship game since 1987. Amy and I were in Seattle visiting her parents, who had moved out there on September 12, 2001, after her dad got...well...he was not treated very nicely by Safeco Insurance, the company that assimilated American States Insurance, where he had worked his whole life. Anyway, Amy and I had flown out there to visit, and we watched the National Championship game in their living room.

I wish I could report that Indiana had played well in that game and brought home their sixth title in as many tries (other victories coming in 1940, 1953, 1976, 1981, and 1987); but they did not play well. Neither did their opponent, the Maryland Terrapins. Apparently nobody had told either team that one of them would be compelled to win the game - it sure didn’t look like either team much wanted to win that night. In the end, Maryland played slightly less poorly than Indiana, and won their first title.

So, yeah. I don’t expect anything like that to happen this year, but you never know. That’s what makes the NCAA Tournament the greatest post-season playoff system in all of sports. All you have to do is qualify to participate, by winning your conference tournament or earning an at-large bid, and anything can happen. Last year, George Mason shocked the world and represented the Colonial Athletic Association in the Final Four

Other college basketball notes from Saturday: Texas and Kansas played in an early game, and had a monster first half; the Longhorns were up 54-42 at the break, but ended up losing 90-86. Lesson learned? Kansas good. Kansas very, very good. Funny story. Kansas head coach Bill Self took the job in Lawrence when Roy Williams left after losing the national title game to Syracuse in 2003, to take the head coaching job at North Carolina. The school Bill Self left? Illinois. Also in action earlier Saturday, concurrently with the Texas-Kansas game, was an Illinois-Iowa game. The score of that game, at halftime, was 28-27 for Illinois. So check that out - Texas alone in their first half (54) almost outscored both Illinois and Iowa (55) in the first half of that game.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Pink Floyd Playlist

Last week I mentioned that I did not have a CD of Pink Floyd songs to play in my car and said that I was going to work on a playlist after the Oscars. I ended up writing about the Oscars instead, along with my regular writing on the phantom novel I keep threatening to foist upon the world. I finally got around to compiling the playlist last week, so here it is:

1. Welcome To The Machine
2. See Emily Play
3. San Tropez
4. Any Colour You Like
5. Fearless
6. Goodbye Blue Sky
7. Time
8. Learning To Fly
9. On The Turning Away
10. Mother
11. Comfortably Numb
12. Wish You Were Here
13. Hey You

All but three - See Emily Play, Learning To Fly, and On The Turning Away - are culled from what I consider to be four of the five best Pink Floyd albums, which are:

1. Meddle
2. The Wall
3. Animals
4. Dark Side Of The Moon
5. Wish You Were Here

Animals is the only one of the five not represented in the playlist, because the songs on Animals which I would have included are both exceptionally long - Dogs and Pigs (Three Different Ones) - and I chose not to include any exceptionally long songs on the CD because they would have taken up too much space and forced me to leave too many excellent songs off. The exceptionally long songs that I would have included are:

1. Shine On You Crazy Diamond (complete)
2. Dogs
3. Pigs (Three Different Ones)
4. Echoes

The combined length of those four songs is over 78 minutes. Echoes alone clocks in at over 23 minutes. The combined time of the 13 songs that did make the list is just over 66 minutes. They're all great songs, but a Pink Floyd CD with only four tunes would not have been as chock full of variety as I would have liked.

Next: A long post on college basketball, specifically about the Indiana Hoosiers, their chances in the NCAAs (as well as in the Big Ten tournament), and the on-court heroics of senior Rod Wilmont in the last two games of the regular season. I started to write that post last night, but it got awfully long and needs to be reorganized. It might also include my thoughts on Indiana's run to the 2002 National Championship game, which many people used (incorrectly) to make the case that former Indiana head coach Mike Davis was a good head coach. He wasn't then, and isn't now - but has the potential to be, I think.