Friday, September 04, 2009

The Pittsburgh Steelers ended their preseason with their second straight win, this time with the younger players trying to make the team beating up on Carolina 21-10. Several of these young players did themselves good, especially Stefan Logan, seen above high fiving the crowd after his 80 yard punt return, which apparently sealed the deal: he's made the team, and may give the Steelers a weapon they didn't have last year. Another offensive standout was running back Isaac Redman, who punched in another goal line touchdown. The Steelers are so deep at running back however that the local experts are saying Redman is not likely to make the team, which I find hard to believe. He's a fan favorite already. I'm betting they find room for him.

Well, the Steelers are reigning Super Bowl champs but one thing hasn't changed: they get no respect from ESPN. This year just like last year their games are hardly covered, usually last if they make Sportscenter at all. The yak is all about Brett Fauvre, Michael Vick, ad nauseam, and the favorite going into the season is Hollywood Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Regardless of picks, let's remember accomplishment, and the Steelers have only strengthened themselves since January. It's disgusting how little attention or respect ESPN pays the Steelers.

As for the upcoming season, the only thing that would surprise me from the Steelers is cold efficiency. It would be a relief, though. The NFL is looking more like baseball year by year, divided between the elite teams and the bad teams. It's still true that on any given Sunday any team can win, but for a bunch of teams that's going to be a stretch. The Steelers are among the elite teams this season. They've added some potentially exciting players on both sides of the ball, and addressed several weaknesses, although the o line (especially in terms of depth) remains the biggest question mark. Which means Big Ben will probably be improvising a lot again this year, so anxiety awaits again. They start the season next Thursday against the Tennessee Titans.
Update: Redman was cut, but he was signed to the practice squad so he's still a Steeler. Apparently the Steelers are still looking for an experienced O line sub, but didn't sign anybody off waivers. It looks like all the key players are healthy for the opener. Should be quite a show, against a tough team.
Today's Panic (Read Right Away or It Might Be Over)

This feeding-on-itself political news environment wouldn't be so bad if it didn't infect people with panic. It's to be expected that the various sides on the healthcare debate are going to jockey for position, but what's more than a little crazy is the panic some folks express, their instant disillusion with Obama, so disappointed they'll never believe anybody again, etc. Meanwhile, President Obama's speech is not until next Wednesday. It's a little too much like the mindless panic of the Rabid Right.

I've read the headlines and the summaries for way too many accounts and speculations, and just about the only one that passes the smell test so far is this one from Ambinder, and even it is unlikely to be accurate in all details. There have been rumors and panics a half dozen times about Obama abandoning the public option (as it's called) and each time he's reaffirmed his support. I don't expect this time to be significantly different.

I will add this to the argument: I don't see how it is possible--or even legal--to make it a law that everyone must buy health insurance, and not at least offer the choice of a public nonprofit plan. I can't think of a precedent for a law requiring that people buy the product of a private for profit company. People are required to pay taxes, but even that requirement makes some allowances. So I'm not worrying about socialism. I'm worrying about government mandated capitalism.

Update: Apparently the individual mandate is based on laws requiring auto insurance, available only from private companies. But you are required to buy auto insurance only if you own a motor vehicle. You can choose not to own one. To me this is still a stretch.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


You've been hearing what a terrible August it was for the Obama presidency. Some of what you might not have heard, including secret news that was actually published in the last few days:

--the Wall Street Journal admits the Obama Recovery Act is working to improve the U.S. economy.

--even the AP must note that auto sales boomed in August. Thanks in no small part to the Obama incentive program. (Otherwise known as the clunker program.)

--FEMA has been revitalized and is getting very high marks. In New Orleans. From, among others, Governor Bobby Jidal. He of the unfortunate GOP response to the State of the Union. He who said he'd turn down Recovery money.

--Salon reported that the U.S. is brokering what may turn out to be a breakthrough in the Middle East. In case you missed it, Obama and Sec. of State Clinton sent former President Clinton to North Korea, and he not only got those U.S. journalists out, but sudden progress is being made on nuclear talks, and on North/South Korea relations. Iran has also indicated a new willingness to cooperate with nuclear inspectors.

---On health care, with all the noise and jockeying, the GOPer fringe may have blown their wad in August, town halls are becoming support health care reform events, and Obama still has the votes in Congress.

But hey, keep this to yourself. Wouldn't want cable news to catch on.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Massive fires are only the most visible reason that California is a state of emergency. See post below.
State of Emergency

The Terminator returned from the East Coast to declare California in a state of emergency, due to the tremendous fires in the L.A. area. Apart from the immense damage, the loss of life (2 firemen so far) and the cost of trying to fight them (with no success so far) these fires threaten the Mount Wilson Observatory, and have caused the evacuation of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, which means among other things that the Mars rovers have stopped in their tracks.

That the effects of the CA fires extend to Mars is just one of the operative metaphors for this state's plight. Schools are reopening, and starting to cope with budget cuts, and no one involved in them--students, teachers, administrators apart from the highest ones--is being affected. Mandatory furloughs and across the board pay cuts are just the beginning.

The spiral downward is accelerating due to these cuts. The CA economy, particularly hard-hit because of high participation in the housing market bubble, started to falter, and to send less in taxes to Sacramento. Refusing to raise revenues, the Terminator terminated or disemboweled programs mostly for the poor, old and sick. Very heroic. Already the CA economy appears resistant to the improvements seen elsewhere--the official unemployment rate rose to nearly 12%, the highest in more than 60 years. Despite the federal recovery act, construction jobs fell, as did tourist related jobs, the combination hitting the Latino community hardest. But that was even before the decline in pay for state workers, and the loss of jobs because of cut programs. Those effects are now rippling through the economy as well as the society.

Since the Terminator gave in so bravely to the quaint but unaffordable anti-gubment hysteria, the state is helpless when it is clear that government is going to be needed more than ever--and these fires are Exhibit One.

First of all, look at them. These are very powerful fires. And as this eloquent diary attests, this is not even yet fire season. These fires aren't supposed to happen in August, not in southern California. But the entire southwest is parched, in the midst of a multiple year drought. The Climate Crisis is coming to get them, and it's not going away.

Just as these fires threaten the air, the water, the business and public resources of the region and beyond, California's economic tailspin will affect the rest of America and the world economy. But the Terminator plus the perfect storm of a helpless state government and a total leadership vacuum in the state, together forestall much hope that California can fix itself any time soon.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Kennedy Farewell: The Music

As was repeated (and shown repeatedly in the retrospective films that played over (and over) the past few days), Senator Ted Kennedy loved music, and music was a big part of all of the memorial events. There were songs at the Kennedy Library, including hymns and several choruses of "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling," with Irish tenors outdoing each other each time.

The most impressive music came at the funeral Mass. Yo Yo Ma played the Sarabande of Bach's Cello Suite #6, which if I'm not mistaken has particular meaning for the musician, who played it for his father shortly before his death. In any case, he played it memorably, with evident feeling. Placido Domingo sang Franck's "Panis Angelicus," the Tanglewood Chorus sang Brahm's "Let Nothing Ever Grieve Thee," and mezzo-soprano Susan Graham sang a wonderful "Ave Maria" by Schubert.

But I was especially taken by the organ music at the very beginning, as Kennedy's casket entered. The processional hymn, which began a bit later, was "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name" but I couldn't tell if the organ music was another version of it, but whatever it was, it was beautiful, mysterious.

The most notable addition to the day's music was at the Capitol, after the official prayers and singing. As the hearse was about to leave, the crowd across the street spontaneously began singing "America the Beautiful."

But the musical moment I will remember came at the very end, at the Arlington National Cemetary, in the most impressive solo version of Taps I've ever heard. It was not an ordinary rote rendition--it was very musical, with pure tones and full of feeling.