Archive for December, 2012

Know Your Foe: Badger facts for the 99th Rose Bowl

December 31, 2012

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I’m in Los Angeles for the 99th edition of the Rose Bowl, pitting my alma mater against the Big 10 champion. To celebrate the occasion, here is the first of two posts featuring facts on the two squads. Wisconsin is in the spotlight today; I’ll have a shorter roundup of Stanford football facts on New Year’s Day.

Speaking of which: Happy New Year — and thank you, as always, for reading this blog! Now, on to the football!

***

Wisconsin parallels Stanford in that both had problems finding consistent quarterback play.

Moreover, both teams are appearing in their third consecutive BCS bowl game, tied for second after Oregon, which is making its fourth straight appearance. Wisconsin has played in the previous two Rose Bowls. The Cardinal finished its last two seasons in the Orange and Fiesta bowls.

The Cardinal is 42-10 (.808) since the start of the 2009 season, the sixth-best mark in the FBS. Wisconsin checks in at 40-13 (.755), or 11th-best.

Adequate QB play and a strong rushing game could be enough to power Wisconsin to victory. Wisconsin has not had 300 yards passing in any game this year, relying instead on its ground attack. With 277.8 yards per game, the Badgers’ rushing attack is the 12th most potent in the nation.

Read the rest of this entry »

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One Wondrous Sentence: Ammunition counts

December 28, 2012

This one wondrous sentence suggests just how disparate the experiences of two nations with two very different gun control regimes can be.

As many as 100 bullets were fired in Newtown; last year, a total of 85 were fired at people by the police in all of Germany and 49 of them were warning shots.

Source: Michael Winship, “Just a Few Miles From Newtown,” BillMoyers.com, Dec. 16, 2012.

In ‘The Given Day,’ Lehane breathes immediacy, vitality into the Boston of 1919

December 27, 2012

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 27, 2012

Before I was given a copy of The Given Day, along with what was effectively a command to read the book in short order, I’d never laid eyes on a Dennis Lehane tale before.

Which isn’t to say that I did not know of or respect this American novelist. I saw and greatly admired Mystic River, the movie based on a 2001 Lehane work, when it was released to significant acclaim in 2003. Still, it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I even cracked the spine of one of his novels.

The bulk of The Given Day transpires in Boston between mid-1918 and late 1919. It is largely the story of two men. One is Danny Coughlin, a massive, strong-willed 27-year-old policeman whose father is an Irish immigrant who has risen to prominence and a captaincy in the Boston police department. The other is Luther Laurence, a slim, fleet-of-foot handyman, also strong-willed, whose father abandoned his son and wife to poverty.

Although most of this 2008 novel is told from Coughlin’s and Laurence’s perspectives, a number of interstices present the viewpoint of one George Herman Ruth, the baseball immortal better known to fans as the Babe. A handful of relatively short passages put us inside the minds of other key characters, notably Coughlin’s father as well as Danny’s slightly older and much younger brothers, Connor and Joe, respectively; and Laurence’s wife.

Ruth meets Connor Coughlin and Danny Coughlin separately, but these encounters are essentially incidental to the plot. The ball player has two run-ins with Laurence, also mostly incidental to the main plot. However, the first of these meetings takes place as part of an episode that presents a gripping metaphor for race relations in America for much of this nation’s history. (Race relations seems too weak a phrase for a segregated system in which rights and wealth were largely reserved for Caucasians; please feel free to suggest more aptly worded sentences in the comment section below.)

The majority of The Given Day documents the personal and societal forces that led up to the evidently disastrous Boston police strike of 1919. (I believe this event took place in September of that year.) Lehane’s sympathies are clearly with not just the police labor union but with other unions, yet he rarely reduces issues to black and white.

In his telling, the policemen — and they were all men then, of course — were essentially forced to take radical steps because of the parsimony of Boston’s leadership. Police officers were required to work extended hours and to spend three nights a week on call, sleeping in precinct houses that were filthy and ridden with vermin. They never received compensation for working overtime. The force went for years without raises, despite promises of fair treatment by Boston officials. Officers who put their lives on the line found themselves unable to provide for their families even as other personnel, such as trolley car operators, made more, worked less and had been awarded raises more recently.

One of the book’s few out-and-out villains is a petty, vengeful police commissioner who sees compromise with his aggrieved work force as a black mark on his personal honor. The commissioner’s adding insult to injury at a key moment helps convince 1,400 officers to walk off the job. Read the rest of this entry »

One Wondrous Sentence: On naming the right names

December 27, 2012

This one wondrous sentence urges reporters and their audiences to celebrate the heroes, not the villains, of tragedies such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School slaughter.

Right now, everyone knows the name of the Connecticut shooter — but we should know everything about Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Sherlach, who bravely chased down the shooter and tried to tackle him before being fatally shot.

Source: Sally Kohn, “Celebrate the heroes, not the shooter,” Salon, Dec. 17, 2012.

Feather-light entertainment is all that animated ‘Heavy Metal’ can offer

December 26, 2012

The bizarre animated anthology Heavy Metal is something of a cult classic. Unfortunately, my recently viewing of the 1981 picture (my first time watching it) clearly showed that the film has not aged well.

That’s not entirely the fault of director Gerald Potterton and the film’s writers, led by Dan Goldberg and Len Blum, who scripted the frame story as well as two of the segments. Since Heavy Metal appeared, special effects have advanced far beyond the state of the art in 1981. (Which this film likely does not reflect, with its estimated budget of $9.3 million, per the Internet Movie Database. Compare with The Fox and the Hound, an animated picture released one month earlier, which IMDb says costs $12 million.)

Moreover, since this film’s debut, popular entertainment’s restrictions on showing nudity, sexuality and graphic violence have loosened significantly. As a result of these changes, Heavy Metal offers views of material that, far from being forbidden, now qualifies as rather routine. The film’s decidedly juvenile mentality isn’t helpful, either.

The movie loosely revolves around an intelligent glowing green orb possessed of a malignant magic and a megalomaniacal mentality. In the wordless opening sequence, a space shuttle deploys a 1960 Corvette convertible manned by a spacesuited figure, which enters the Earth’s atmosphere, drives across a desert landscape, navigates a twisting road and parks in front of a hilltop mansion. Inside, the astronaut is joyously greeted by a roughly 14-year-old girl, presumably his daughter, who asks what he’s brought. “You’ll see,” the grey-haired man says with a playful wink.

Indeed. When he places his case on the table and opens it, the green orb inside reduces him to bones and goo and corners the girl. This is the Loc-Nar, a floating, talking sphere, and it demands that the girl look into its depths. The bulk of the anthology plays out as stories that the orb shows its terrified prey.  Read the rest of this entry »

One Wondrous Sentence: A conservative maxim for downsizing Washington

December 26, 2012

This one wondrous sentence by conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg suggests a fundamental — and familiar — principle that should guide Republicans going forward.

In principle, Republicans should look at the monumental clutter in Washington like a boat with too much ballast to stay afloat: When in doubt, throw it overboard.

Source: Jonah Goldberg, “Return to Federalism,” National Review, Dec. 14, 2012.

Facts and figures from the 2009 almanac of American death, part 4

December 25, 2012

Last week, I wrote about different ways that Americans die, with a focus on what role guns play compared to other causes of death.

Much of the post was based on a report, Deaths: Final Data for 2009, that spans 119 pages and is supplemented by 11 pages of additional tables. As previously noted, the Centers for Disease Control has sliced and diced the data in multiple ways.

Because this information can be difficult for readers to digest in bulk, this is the fourth and likely final post in a series presenting excerpts from these Centers for Disease Control publications. (The first two entries appeared on Thursday and Friday of last week; the third, on Monday of this week.)

Please enjoy these data on 2009 American deaths:

• There were 5,005 deaths listed as having unspecified intent, meaning authorities could not determine whether the fatalities were intentional or accidental. Of those, 232 involved gunfire.

• Of 25,562 falling deaths, 18 were homicides and 67 had undetermined intent.

• There were 4,211 drownings, most accidental. Read the rest of this entry »

One Wondrous Sentence: Valueless families?

December 25, 2012

This one wondrous sentence, from a television editorial by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, discusses what’s gone wrong with American family values.

We scoff at the need for mothers and fathers to make it their priority to train their children to be strong in spirit and soul and responsible for right and wrong and exalt instead the virtue of having things and providing expensive toys, games, and electronics that substitute for parenting and then don’t understand why our kids would rather have ear buds dangling from their ears, fingers attaching to a smart phone, and face attached to a computer screen than to have an extended conversation with their family at dinner.

Source: Mike Huckabee, monologue, The Mike Huckabee Show, Dec. 16, 2012.

Facts and figures from the 2009 almanac of American death, part 3

December 24, 2012

Last week, I wrote about different ways that Americans die, with a focus on what role guns play compared to other causes of death.

Much of the post was based on a report, Deaths: Final Data for 2009, that spans 119 pages and is supplemented by 11 pages of additional tables. As previously noted, the Centers for Disease Control has sliced and diced the data in multiple ways.

I found a number of fascinating facts and figures in this almanac of American death. Because this information can be difficult for readers to digest in bulk, this is the third post in a series presenting excerpts from the report. (Here are links to Thursday’s and Friday’s fatality fact roundups.) I’ll probably put up one final fact-filled entry on Tuesday.

Without further delay, we now present the following 2009 death data:

• Murder claimed 5.5 lives per 100,000 Americans. The three highest rates are for these age brackets: 15 to 24 (11.3 deaths per 100,000), 25 to 34 (10.2) and, astonishingly, those younger than 1 (7.4). Those aged 5 to 14 were least vulnerable (0.8).

• The District of Columbia had the nation’s highest homicide rate, with 135 killings translating to 22.5 deaths per 100,000 residents. The national rate of 5.5 was less than a fourth of the district’s tally.

• D.C.’s 111 gun deaths, including suicides, homicides and accidents, also made for the nation’s highest rate, with 18.5 deaths per 100,000 residents. The national rate was 10.2. Read the rest of this entry »

One Wondrous Sentence: Justice Antonin Scalia and sodomy

December 24, 2012

This one wondrous sentence reflects the opinions — some might say antediluvian opinions — of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on homosexuality and the supposed ills associated with it.

A practiced cultural warrior himself, Scalia wrote that laws “called into question” by the court striking down the sodomy ban were “laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity.”

Source: Dana Milbank, “Scalia blocks the aisle against gay marriage,” The Washington Post, Dec. 11, 2012.

Facts and figures from the 2009 almanac of American death, part 2

December 21, 2012

Yesterday, I wrote about different ways that Americans die, with a focus on what role guns play compared to other causes of death.

Much of the post was based on a report, Deaths: Final Data for 2009, that spans 119 pages and is supplemented by 11 pages of additional tables. As previously noted, the Centers for Disease Control has sliced and diced the data in multiple ways.

I found a number of fascinating facts and figures in this almanac of American death. Because this information can be difficult for readers to digest in bulk, this is the second post in a series presenting excerpts from the report.

I’m planning to post more items containing 2009 death data on Monday and Tuesday of next week; the first item went live Thursday evening. And now, some additional fatality facts:

• A child born in 2009 had an expected life span of 78.5 years. The rate was 76 years for males and 80.9 years for females. For all races, females have longer expected life spans than males.

• A black child born in 2009 was expected to live 74.5 years; a white child, 78.8 years; a Hispanic child, 81.2 years; a non-Hispanic black child, 74.2 years.

• Alzheimer’s disease was first recognized as a cause of death in the late 1970s. It is now the nation’s sixth-leading taker of lives, claiming 79,003 victims in 2009. Read the rest of this entry »

One Wondrous Sentence: Gun ownership rises even as crime falls

December 21, 2012

This one wondrous sentence, part of a fascinating opinion piece by a former advisor to President George W. Bush, highlights the uncertain relation between gun buying and crime.

Gun buying spiked in the Obama administration, pushing the share of households with a gun all the way back up to 47%, near the 1960 peak, even as crime rates tumbled to the lowest levels ever recorded, making guns less necessary than ever to self-defense.

Source: David Frum, “Why Obama shouldn’t lead fight against gun violence,” CNNOpinion, Dec. 17, 2012.

Facts and figures from the 2009 almanac of American death, part 1

December 20, 2012

Earlier today, I wrote about different ways that Americans die, with a focus on what role guns play compared to other causes of death.

The report, Deaths: Final Data for 2009, spans 119 pages and is supplemented by 11 pages of additional tables. As noted, it slices and dices the data in multiple ways.

I’ve selected some additional facts and figures from this almanac of American death, chosen simply because I found them interesting. Because this information can be difficult for readers to digest in bulk, I’ll put up at least one more post featuring excerpts from these Centers for Disease Control publications in coming days.

On with the fatality facts:

• In 2009, 10.2 Americans out of every 100,000 were killed by firearms, whether by suicide, homicide or accident. From 1999 through 2009, the rate ranged from 10.1 to 10.5. These rates, like other gunshot fatality rates, have varied only slightly over the previous decade. Read the rest of this entry »

On firearms and firearm fatalities

December 20, 2012

Author’s note: This entry was initially posted on the afternoon of Dec. 20. It was extended and re-posted later the same afternoon. Slight edits were also made to the original text. Thank you for reading! MEM

***

The 117-page report compiled by the federal government’s Centers for Disease Control provides detailed breakdowns by age, race and sex for more than 100 different causes of death in the 2009 calendar year.

The nation tallied 2,437,163 deaths that year, with a number of predictable causes leading the way. Heart disease was the top culprit, claiming nearly 600,000 people. Malignant neoplasms, or cancers, finished in second place by ending just shy of 568,000 lives. Chronic lung disease and various ailments that stop or limit blood flow to the brain respectively notched 137,353 and 128,842 deaths.

Accidents or unintentional injuries were responsible for 118,021 fatalities, ranking fifth on the list. Eight of the next 10 causes are diseases, except for suicide (No. 10, 36,909) and assault or homicide (No. 15, 16,799).

Incidentally, the government’s catch-all category, covering all but the top 15 causes of death, accounted for 469,367 deaths, or around 19.3 percent of the total.

These rather dry tables drew my interest because of the Sandy Hook Elementary School slaughter, which claimed the lives of 20 children and six staff members. They were all killed by multiple gunshot wounds, like victim No. 27, the shooter’s mother, who was slain in her own bed. (The suspect also dispatched himself with a bullet.)

This horrific event has prompted Americans to begin debating gun safety with a fervor that has perhaps never been matched. It’s resuscitated a great deal of argument over this old saw: “Guns don’t kill people, people do.”

Yet a superficial reading of government statistics indicates that guns do in fact kill.

Read the rest of this entry »

One Wondrous Sentence: Benevolent protection and gun rights

December 20, 2012

This one wondrous sentence presents a conservative view of the “benevolent protection” of the Second Amendment and the way that debate about guns has been affected by supposed media bias.

The practical consequence of living for nearly two-and-a-half centuries under the almost universally benevolent protection of the Second Amendment is a society in which there are hundreds of millions of guns, in which 47 percent of families and nearly as many Democrats as Republicans own guns, and in which the dissent over the sacrosanctity of gun rights is heard largely because of the overrepresentation in the media of the coastal, urban Left.

Source: The editors, “After Newtown, and Before It,” National Review, Dec. 17, 2012.

One Wondrous Sentence: Concealed weapons laws and crime

December 19, 2012

This one wondrous sentence, from a detailed analysis of data in states with concealed carry or shall issue gun laws, helps establish that crime tends not to decrease as guns become more widely available.

Minor changes of specifications can generate wide shifts in the estimated effects of these laws, and some of the most persistent findings — such as the association of shall-issue laws with increases in (or no effect on) robbery and with substantial increases in various types of property crime — are not consistent with any plausible theory of deterrence.

Source: Ian Ayres and John  J. Donohue III, “Shooting Down the ‘More Guns, Less Crime’ Hypothesis,” Stanford Law Review, April 2003.

Cleverly and clumsily, love cycles in and out of focus in ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’

December 18, 2012

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind begins on a drab winter morning in 2004. It so happens to be Valentine’s Day. Impulsively, Joel Barish leaves the New York City-bound platform and jumps onto an outward-bound train at the very last moment. After calling in sick, he disconsolately wanders the beach at Montauk, on the eastern end of Long Island.

He sits down, opens his journal and dispassionately notes that it appears to have been two years since he made an entry. Barish’s life appears to be as cold, empty and colorless as his surroundings.

However, a young woman with blue hair and an orange jacket wanders the beach as Barris does, eats in a diner as he does, waits on Montauk’s westbound train platform as he does. She waves; he ducks away. On the train, they sit in the same car. Barish sketches her; she tries to engage him in conversation, moving closer and closer to him.

She is Clementine Kruczynski, and she is drawn to Barish in ways that she doesn’t appear to understand. He certainly doesn’t understand the attraction either.  Read the rest of this entry »

One Wondrous Sentence: Guns, death and injury

December 18, 2012

This one wondrous sentence, citing 2005 data about gun violence in the United States, captures the extent to which firearms affect Americans’ health.

When we consider that there were also nearly 70,000 nonfatal injuries from firearms, we are left with the staggering fact that 100,000 men, women, and children were killed or wounded by firearms in the span of just one year.

Source: Gregory D. Curfman, Stephen Morrissey and Jeffrey M. Drazen, “Handgun Violence, Public Health, and the Law,” New England Journal of Medicine, April 3, 2008.

On the murder of innocents

December 17, 2012

There was another mass killing in the country on Friday. Having shot his mother to death at the home they shared in Newtown, Conn., a 20-year-old man drove to nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School. He fired at least one bullet through a pane of glass and began shooting adults and children. Twenty youngsters and six adults were slaughtered at the school.

The Sandy Hook slaughter commanded the nation’s attention for what seemed like most of Friday. For me personally, it was the second Friday in a row dominated by news of murder. (On Dec. 6, I learned that a friendly man who owned a restaurant near my house had been shot to death.)

On both Friday afternoons, I found my life warped by pain and horror. And as hard it was to come to grips with the murder of the man I had known (although not well), it’s been even harder to dissipate the awful feelings provoked by the slayings of complete strangers in faraway Connecticut.

Part of the problem, of course, is that the Sandy Hook slaughter, while tragic, is not nearly as much of an aberration as one would hope. Already this year, according to this Mother Jones timeline, there have been seven deadly mass shootings. Seventy-nine people were killed; a similar number were injured. (MoJo defines as a mass shooting as one in which at least four people were killed by gunfire.) Read the rest of this entry »

One Wondrous Sentence: A moderate’s opinion

December 17, 2012

This one wondrous sentence, from a feature on retiring U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), gives one moderate law-maker’s view on the political process in Washington, D.C., as a deadline approaches.

She’s especially critical of Obama and congressional leaders who are “going to put the country through this emotional travail, whip-sawing Americans, leaving them to wonder as to whether or not they have the capacity to work together” to avoid the impending “fiscal cliff,” the series of tax increases and major spending cuts set to take effect next year.

Source: author, “Olympia Snowe leaving the Senate, but says she won’t stop fighting,” The Washington Post, Dec. 11, 2012. (Link is to second of two pages.)

In the aftermath of murder, small lessons emerge

December 14, 2012

Author’s note: This is the third and probably final of three posts that I’ve written this week about my reaction to homicide. The earlier entries appeared on Wednesday and Thursday. Also, this item provides a little context for this story. Thank you for your interest in my blog!

***

I rarely take well to sudden or significant changes. Adjusting to someone’s new haircut; preparing to move to another city, or even another house; embarking on a new job, or departing an old one — all these transitions stress me in different ways.

The murder of Mohammed Arfan Sundal, the smiling man whose Indian restaurant was near my house, was the most sudden and significant change possible. As I tried to come to grips with the news the morning after his killing, I could feel my hands trembling. I spent much of Friday doing what I normally do — tweeting, reading, shopping for groceries — but nothing really felt normal.

I’ve written earlier about my work as a daily newspaper reporter and how it connected me, for the first time in my life, to various shocking and tragic murders. But the difference between the slayings I covered and the one at the Kabab and Curry House was that I’d never known any of those victims when they’d been alive.

I didn’t spend much time wondering about why or how Mohammed had been killed, or by whom. Reporters frequently seem to solve murders in movies or TV shows, but I never had. The truth, hopefully, would come out after the police made an arrest.  Read the rest of this entry »

One Wondrous Sentence: Peace between Israelis and Palestinians

December 14, 2012

This one wondrous sentence shows in detail how a self-described impenitent Zionist, impenitent dove and hawkish dove who has “irritated some of my comrades … with my unglowing view of the Palestinians and their inability to recognize the historical grandeur of compromise” views the long-standing and possibly intractable conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

I am still quite certain that the establishment of the state of Palestine is a condition for the survival of the state of Israel, as a Jewish state and a democratic state, and that for Israel not to be a Jewish state would be a Jewish catastrophe, and for it not to be a democratic state would be a human catastrophe; and that the only solution there has ever been to this conflict is the solution that was proposed by the Peel Commission in 1937, that is, the partition of one land into two states; and that the Jewish settlement of the West Bank was a colossal mistake, and the occupation (and the indifference to it) corrodes the decency of the occupiers; and that the Jewish state is a secular entity; and that anti-Semitism, which will never disappear, does not explain the entirety of the history of the Jews or their state, or exempt Israel from accountability for its actions.

Source: Leon Wieseltier, “Losing Hope on Israeli-Palestinian Peace,” The New Republic, Dec. 20, 2012.

Death and the cub reporter: My life and murder

December 13, 2012

Author’s note: This is the second entry in a series of related posts that began on Wednesday. I also posted this prologue the previous week. Thank you very much for reading!

***

I had lived a few relatively comfortable decades before I first got involved with murder. Then I changed careers and became a reporter for a small-town North Carolina newspaper.

I wasn’t officially the crime reporter at the paper. Then again, the paper was so small that sometimes I had to handle whatever kind of news story broke. The three-county area that we covered wasn’t home to that many people, but unfortunately, it seemed to have more than its share of crime.

And actually, one of my assignments was covering an entire county. Usually, that meant covering the local governing council and school board. But sometimes, it meant covering crime — and typically, the kind of crime we were interested in was murder. One of the years I worked the beat was astonishingly bloody: If memory serves, there were eight slayings in a county of about 20,000 people.

One night a man, apparently made paranoid by cocaine, starting shooting the folks on his driveway. Two died; one managed to escape despite a serious wound. It was the county’s first multiple homicide in many years. Read the rest of this entry »

One Wondrous Sentence: War and politics

December 13, 2012

This one wondrous sentence, part of a novelist’s lengthy but fast-reading political memoir, succinctly expresses one contrarian liberal’s view of President George W. Bush’s foreign adventures.

At a social gathering following 9/11, I was dismayed that friends to the left of me condemned what I considered George W. Bush’s legitimate military action in Afghanistan, given the complicity of the Taliban in its alliance with al-Qaeda; the war against Iraq, on the other hand (having nothing to do with al-Qaeda or 9/11 or phantom weapons), made me angrier than anything that any American government has done.

Source: Steve Erickson, “I Was a Teenage Conservative,” The American Prospect, Dec. 5, 2012.

Remembering the man behind the counter

December 12, 2012

Author’s note: This entry, the first of a few related posts, is self-explanatory. However, the preceding this earlier item provides a little additional background. Thanks for your interest in my blog!

***

Mohammed was his name — I think.

I don’t remember precisely when I met him or under what circumstances. But my memory, too often elastic and elusive, produces this recollection.

The first time I went into Kabab and Curry House, I think, one table was occupied and another recently had been. I could tell that there had been customers at the other table because the used items remained there. There was one server, a woman who seemed to have little English, but she had little interest in clearing up after customers. I remember waiting a little longer than I’d have preferred to get my food.

I met and slowly got to know Mohammed over the course of my next few visits to the restaurant. I always ordered takeout, since the interior was so drab and my house was so close.

I quickly learned that Mohammed was the main man at Kabab and Curry House. He spoke excellent English, unlike the rather withdrawn servers I encountered. Mohammed often ran the register. He also cooked the food, which I hadn’t initially realized. Read the rest of this entry »

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