Thursday, June 09, 2005

Soccer Talk

As the World Cup approaches (less than a year now) I am following soccer ever more closely. But try to find an American to have an interesting conversation. Like looking for a needle in a haystack.

I've found over the years that the only folks to start up soccer conversations with are taxi drivers. Generally they are recent immigrants from soccer-loving countries and only too happy to discuss the world's most popular sport.

In Chicago my Mom & I had a cab ride with a cabbie from Nigeria. I told him I saw the Super Eagles of Nigeria play in Foxboro at the World Cup in 1994. I asked if he remembered Yakini, their ancient striker (by soccer standards, he was 35 at the time) who moved like an old, old man on the field until he had the ball, when he would come alive. We had a nice conversation about the sport and he asked, "Have you ladies ever lived outside the USA?" We laughed and said no.

Classic. To know as much about soccer as we do, we'd have to be foreigners!



Billmon's take on the Tobacco Travesty:

Mastering the Possibilities

I Smell a Burning Tobacco Rat

Can you say "conflict of interest?" Can you say, "HONKING, HUGE, MASSIVE CONFLICT OF INTEREST?"

Tobacco Witnesses Were Told To Ease Up


On Tuesday, after eight months of courtroom argument, Justice Department lawyers announced that they would ask the industry to pay $10 billion -- rather than the $130 billion previously recommended by a government expert witness -- for smoking cessation programs. The reduction stunned anti-smoking activists who have followed the six-year-old case, and prompted tobacco lawyers to say in court Wednesday that the government's case had fallen apart.

According to sources involved in the case, high-level officials at Justiceordered the cut despite objections from career lawyers who have worked on the trial, in some cases years.


Seven Democratic Senate and House members called on the Justice Department's inspector general to investigate possible political interference by Bush appointees in the government's tobacco case, citing news reports that Associate Attorney General Robert D. McCallum Jr., a former lawyer for tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds, ordered the downsizing of the penalties. Lawmakers also questioned why McCallum was allowed to participate in the government's case.

I know lawyers who have been suspended from the practice of law for taking on a client when they worked as lowly grunts at a big law firm that represented the defendant for a few weeks. This guy was an R.J. Reynolds lawyer & he's working on a tobacco case? Maybe he missed that part of Professional Responsibility in law school.

Ah, all becomes clear. McCallum was a classmate of George Bush at Yale! Award Limit in Tobacco Case Sets Off a Strenuous Protest

Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, made public a letter he had written to the inspector general of the Justice Department asking for an investigation into whether improper political interference had led to the change in request and what role might have been played by Associate Attorney General Robert D. McCallum Jr., a former classmate of President Bush at Yale and partner in an Atlanta law firm that represented one of the defendants in the case, R. J. Reynolds.

I guess Bush must be getting ready to nominate him to the federal bench, like Thomas Griffith, currently up for a lifetime appointment to the DC Circuit despite the fact that he practiced law in Utah for THREE YEARS without a Utah law license. Judicial Nominee Practiced Law Without License in Utah

No Chinese Wall is high enough to allow this guy within three states of the government case.

The ethical swamp of this administration continues to impress with its reach and stench.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Homeland Security?

Customs saw nothing wrong with suspect

Click on this link and tell me that you wouldn't have detained this cretin for a few more hours.

Don't you feel safer now?

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Schweitzer 1, Shrub 0

Schweitzer Tells Bush Off on Roadless Change

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer has (figuratively) told President Bush to either put up or shut up on the administration’s new roadless rule.

The administration announced last month that it had overturned the Clinton-era roadless rule, opening up 58 million acres of roadless land in the West (6.9 million in Montana) to road building. That is, unless governors petition otherwise. Governors now have 18 months to make the decisions on these lands, a responsibility that does not sit well with Schweitzer.

“They’ve given me a broke-down baler and a vice-grip and told me to bale hay,” Schweitzer told New West Tuesday afternoon.

In non-farmer terms, Schweitzer is saying the State of Montana has neither the money nor expertise to deal with such a decision.

In a letter to President Bush, Schweitzer writes “The Forest Service has been trying to resolve this issue for upwards of 30 years with little to no success. With each succeeding plan, the issues have become more contentious and irreconcilable. Now your administration, without the benefit of public hearings, has issued a final rule that asks the states to shoulder this burden both administratively and financially.”

Monday, June 06, 2005

Title IX Survives Another Challenge

Now if we can just survive the Bush Administration....

Supreme Court Rejects Women's Sports Case

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court refused Monday to consider reinstating a lawsuit that accuses federal officials of discriminating against male athletes in enforcing equal opportunities for women.

Justices without comment rejected an appeal from the National Wrestling Coaches Association and other groups that have been fighting federal policies under the anti-discrimination law known as Title IX.

At issue for the court was whether the challengers showed that the law directly caused a reduction in men's sports, and whether they should be allowed to sue federal officials.

I wonder if the headline will be changed, as it really ought to read "Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to Women's Sports". The men's sports are bringing the case, and they got rejected, not vice versa as the headline seems to indicate.

Viva Title IX!

US Out of Iraq

I love my congressman.

Withdraw from Iraq

By George McGovern and Jim McGovern | June 6, 2005

WE WERE early opponents of the US invasion of Iraq. Nonetheless, once American forces were committed, we hoped that our concerns would be proven wrong. That has not been the case.

The United States must now begin an orderly withdrawal of our forces from this mistaken foreign venture.

The justification for the war was based on false or falsified information. What had been initially characterized by the Bush administration as an uncomplicated military operation has turned into a violent quagmire. Our leaders underestimated not only the insurgency, but also the deep-rooted ethnic divisions in Iraqi society.


The path of endless war will bankrupt our treasury, devour our soldiers, and degrade the moral and spiritual values of the nation. It is past time to change course.

George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic nominee for president, represented South Dakota in the US Senate. Jim McGovern (no relation) represents the Massachusetts 3d Congressional District.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

My Kind of Town, Chicago Is

I need to blog about my great soccer jaunt. My mom & I flew out of Newark on Thursday last week to Chicago to see England's national team (men) play the US at Soldier Field on Saturday. After a direct flight (a nice change from hub-hopping) we took an airport shuttle to our hotel. We rode with tourists from New Hampshire and three name-dropping gay men from LA ("I hear Tom Cruise goes there all the time", etc.). The husband of the NH couple was nice but when he began advocating that the Twin Towers in NYC be rebuilt I tuned him out. (Like who would ever work in that building? Only out-of-towners think that's a good idea.)

We stayed at the Swissotel, & I got a great rate from a site called travelzoo which included a buffet breakfast for both of us each day. The hotel is at 323 E. Wacker Drive, a fancy business hotel 3 blocks west of Millennium Park & 3 blocks north of Michigan Avenue. I asked the desk clerk for a room facing the lake, but with our bargain rate he wouldn't budge. We had a room on the 29th floor overlooking the city. The room was great, soft high-thread-count sheets, down comforters, floor to ceiling windows, huge bathroom with both shower stall and deep bathtub, and Ethernet. Not that I could figure out the Ethernet connection, but we weren't there to go on the computer.

I had bought a great little tour book, the Eyewitness Guides Top Ten Guide to Chicago. It's small, fits in your purse, and really condenses the highlights of Chicago into a series of lists. The perfect guidebook for a short trip. We went for a walk after stowing our bags & walked down to Millennium Park, marveling at the architecture. I made dinner reservations at the Berghoff, 17 W. Adams Street. Not realizing how close it was, we took a cab there. We had a great German meal -- Mom had sauerbrauten & I had wiener schnitzel, with a bratwurst & knockwurst appetizer, & sauerkraut & red cabbage. We had glasses of the house amber beer and rewarded ourselves with apple strudel for dessert. Not traditional German strudel, it was made with phyllo dough, but delicious. We walked home and again enjoyed all the little architectural details of the buildings; many had big elaborate clocks extending from the corner of the building.

Friday we had our first hotel breakfast/brunch -- trays of fresh watermelon, pineapple, honeydew & cantaloupe, cheeses, smoked salmon, salami & ham, scrambled eggs, Irish oatmeal, cheese blintzes, hash browns, two kinds of sausage, bacon, grilled tomatoes, french toast, and then a whole other table of breads & cereals. Brunch cost $18 per so we were happy to hand them our voucher at the end of the meal.

OK, here's the best part, the English team was STAYING IN OUR HOTEL! Mom recognized one of the players in the elevator as we returned from brunch. She walked into the elevator and said, "Well, good morning, Mr. Crouch!" As in Peter Crouch, who would be making his England debut on the tour. He was folded into the corner of the elevator, wearing his white England shirt over khakis. The other guy in the elevator -- shorter than me --said, also with an English accent, "Of course you recognize him, he's 6'7"." Mom said, well, who are you? (knowing that there are many young players here for England & that we may not know all of them.) I couldn't understand his name through his accent but he said he played for Charlton -- Mom said "Oh, you play with Danny Murphy!" Then she turned to Crouch & said she was looking forward to seeing him play. He was pretty shy & awkward. We were gleeful after we got off the elevator! We took another walk, this time down State Street and Michigan for a bit of shopping. We tried on $200 hats in Marshall Field, then I got some t-shirts with the American flag on them at Old Navy & Mom & I both picked up new purses in TJ Maxx. We walked over to the Daley Center to see the Picasso sculpture in the plaza. On the way home we hit a Borders where Mom bought 3 English soccer magazines.

That afternoon we went to see the Cubs play the Rockies at legendary Wrigley Field. We took the El from the Lake station to Addison. Amazed at all the legal scalpers working the street just outside the train station. Guess I overpaid for tix by purchasing them on the internet before the trip. With the Cubs in a nosedive the Cub fans are not beating down the door. Like Fenway Park, though, Wrigley Field is its own draw. We made it into our seats high above home plate in time to see poor Mark Prior get hit on the elbow by a comebacker straight at him, the ball hit so hard it was caught on the fly by the third baseman. Well, at least the Cubs romped. Derrick Lee hit two home runs. He is an impressive physical specimen -- reminded me of Dave Winfield.

We took the El home and repaired to our hotel room to freshen up before our Friday night dinner at Bar 36, a fancy wine bar. We went down the elevator to the hotel lobby to see a guy in a periwinkle blue uniform with his back to us, signing the shirt of a young boy. It was Andy Johnson, Crystal Palace striker who finished second in the Premier League in goals (behind Thierry Henry, natch). In person, he looks much smaller than he does on the field. Slight, almost. Then we spotted Joe Cole (with John Terry, most improved player on Chelsea). I said to Mom, Mom, you better go get your camera! So she headed off the elevator, where she had a nice conversation with Joe Cole. While she was gone Sol Campbell (Arsenal) and Wes Brown (Manchester United) walked in and began signing autographs and posing for pictures. Then Alan Smith and Phil Neville (both Man U.), who with nasty looks on their faces walked briskly past the people in the hallway & went directly to the elevator. I thought at the time that it was just their personalities, but Smith may have had his famous dust-up with Steve McLaren about the fact that the manager had decided to start Peter Crouch at striker rather than Smith.

Mom finally arrived back & I took her picture with Wes Brown. We struck up a conversation with a transplanted Englishman who was very impressed with our football knowledge (he introduced us to other Brits by saying, "These two young ladies know their football! They watch it on the satellite!"). He took our picture with Sol Campbell (swoon) and Andy Johnson. I got pictures of Mom with Sven Goran Eriksson (the manager) and David James (Manchester City). We missed out on pics with Ashley Cole and Jermaine Dafoe.

OK, here's the embarrassing part. I saw Kieran Richardson wearing the same training outfit, but he looked too young to play. I thought maybe he was the ballboy. So I asked him, "Are you going to play?" He replied "I hope so!" I suppose my question didn't seem so stupid to him as he had never before appeared for his country. He made the most of it, didn't he? Richardson's dream England debut I told Mom the story later and she said, oh, he's a Man U player, but they loaned him out to West Brom this season & he scored the goal that kept them from being relegated. Mom knows all.

While all this was going on I had called the restaurant to tell them that we were going to be 15 minutes late appearing for our reservations. So we finally left to go to dinner. We chortled throughout our dinner, passing the camera back & forth to look at our gets.

Oh, and the "Charlton" player we met in the elevator? A practical joker. I saw him again in the lobby and asked his name. "Michael," he replied. "Owen". Yeah, like I wouldn't recognize my favorite English football player! Every time I saw him after that for the next two days I sang out "Michael! Michael Owen!" He was shameless, nothing bothered the little s**t.

Saturday we went for a walk to Millennium Park to see the new sculpture, "Cloud Gate", which was partially on view. Known in Chicago as "The Bean", it is a, well, bean-shaped sphere made of 110 tons of steel. Only about 20% of the sculpture was completed & exposed, but you could see the sky, the skyline, and the curious on the plaza in its reflection. We took each other's pictures reflected in The Bean, then headed back to the hotel.

And once again, there was the England team, this time heading out for a bit of pre-match training. At this point the word was out with England fans so our hotel, lobby and entryway were filled with autograph seekers. We stood our ground & took a few photos. A burly man threatened my mother with expulsion for taking a picture inside the lobby (he said he was with security) so we went outside & took pics of the team in the hotel entrance. The team waited around until Peter Crouch came out, last, his head down, looking dejected. Probably had just learned he would not play in the game today.

After all the meetings with the team in the hotel, the game was almost anticlimactic! We intended to take the bus, but the 146 bus did not come for 30 minutes, until a bus came which refused to open the doors because it was too full. So we hailed a cab & had it let us out at the Roosevelt Rd. train stop. We joined the throngs walking to the game. A mostly English crowd, it seemed, from the yelling and the singing. We passed two men inside an underpass selling the new England strip out of a black sports bag ($40 each). They sold out in less than a minute.

Security was pretty routine. They looked cursorily inside my binoculars & my purse. We found our seats on the Club level & I headed out for food. I got sandwiches & sodas. Stupid Soldier Field rule: fountain sodas served in cups, you can't have either a lid or a straw. However, if you order coffee, you can get both a lid & a little stirrer. I don't know, I think I'd rather be hit by a cold flying projectile than a cup of hot coffee. But that's just me.

US was missing our "A" team: No Damarcus Beasley, Eddie Johnson, Eddie Lewis, Claudio Reyna, John O'Brien, Frankie Heyduk, Clint Mathis, Pablo Mastroeni, Oguchi Onyewu, Tim Howard, or the ageless Cobi Jones. England was missing even more: David Beckham, Michael Owen, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Sean Wright-Philips, Gary Neville, Wayne Rooney, Paul Robinson, Wayne Bridge, Danny Murphy, Ledley King and more.

The US played what I call "boot and chase" soccer, preferring long crosses to the forwards to controlling the ball on the ground up the field. England cleaned our clock, really; Landon Donovan (known by doubters as "Landon Gone") was invisible. Josh Wolff worked his butt off but couldn't finish. I was impressed by Richardson, of course, with his two goals, and Joe Cole, who looks like he will be quite the playmaker some day. Alan Smith leaned in on everyone and fouled repeatedly.

Unfortunately we had to listen to a couple of soccer pretenders behind us who kept saying inane things like "Smith's going to get a card! That's the fourth time he's fouled! Referees are counting!" Right, he's going to get a card for a garden variety push.

I thought Clint Dempsey had left it all on the field & was calling for him to be subbed out when he scored late in the game. That made the score look respectable, but without an attack we really got skunked.

After the game we walked home past all the beautiful parks, fountains, and sculptures.

Sunday we again went walking, looking at architecture and eventually ending up at the Art Institute of Chicago, which is right next to Grant Park. Fantastic collections. I got to add another painting to my "Mel Kelly life list". My high school art teacher's room was covered with reproductions of great paintings. Each year the class had to memorize all the paintings in order and recite the names of the paintings and the artist. I think if you got my brothers & sisters in a room today between the four of us we could recreate the entire three walls. It started with "Starry, Starry Night" by Van Gogh, which I've seen, along with "Pines and Rocks" by Cezanne (Mr. Kelly called it Rocks and Pines, but who's counting). At the Art Institute I saw Seurat's "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte", which Mr. Kelly mercifully shortened to Sunday Afternoon in the Park. Check!

Monday we flew back to Newark & headed to Manhattan for a night on the town before England - Columbia. Tuesday we headed out early to Giants Stadium. Got there so early we pulled into the parking lot for the Aramark employees. There weren't any parking collectors there yet, so we just went in the open gate & saved $15. Parked next to an Aramark truck for shade & set up chairs to eat & crowd watch. Bought an England flag from a woman selling them out of a sports bag. ($10). Went into the stadium when it opened at 2:30 p.m.

Silly security rule at Giants Stadium: They sell you soda in 20 oz. bottles but won't give you the cap. (Note to self: Take a 20 oz. soda cap next time you go to Giants Stadium.) A 12-year-old Columbian boy in the row ahead of us almost got in a fight with an English fan (couldn't determine if she was English or American) who was shouting obscenities in his mother's ear. At halftime when I went out for soda, I proclaimed myself "Switzerland" as I passed through the two still angry camps. As for the game: The real Michael Owen favored us with a hat trick as England won 3-2. The fans chanted and sang. The sun shone. It was a great, great, great trip.