Saturday, December 31, 2011

Surging Santorum

The final Des Moines Register poll in advance of Tuesday's Iowa Caucuses offers optimistic news for former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.
Mitt Romney tops the latest Des Moines Register Iowa Poll in the closing days before the Iowa caucuses, but Ron Paul and Rick Santorum are poised within striking distance.
The poll, conducted Tuesday through Friday, shows support at 24 percent for Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts; 22 percent for Paul, a Texas congressman; and 15 percent for the surging Rick Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.
But the four-day results don’t reflect just how quickly momentum is shifting in a race that has remained highly fluid for months. If the final two days of polling are considered separately, Santorum rises to second place, with 21 percent, pushing Paul to third, at 18 percent. Romney remains the same, at 24 percent.
“Momentum’s name is Rick Santorum,” said the Register’s pollster, J. Ann Selzer.
Consider those final two paragraphs -- Mr. Santorum has a legitimate opportunity to finish second -- or perhaps even win -- the Iowa Caucuses. 

The people, events and other things that brought a smile to my face in 2011

I'm not listing everything because I'm not smart enough to remember every one of them. But I know I can definitely list:

1. Feeling the non-stop love and friendship from my wife and our boys
2. Seeing my niece's smile and hearing her laugh
3. Seeing the many pictures my friends and others post of the "little people" in their lives
4. Hearing one of my sons (or any young person) saying "I did it!"
5. A student coming into my office to tell me about the internship or job they got
6. Friends, mentors and colleagues who were there in good times and bad
7. Prague, and with apologies to Tony Bennett, "I left part of my heart in Prague."
8. Dresden, which I experienced for only a few hours but savored for its culture and history
9. The New York-Prague flight crew (pilot included) that made one of my students feel comfortable during an occasionally difficult flight
10. People who take a serious interest in the political process
11. My older son standing by me, experiencing how to vote
12. Green Bay winning the Super Bowl
13. USC beating Notre Dame and UCLA
14. Feeling internal peace
15. The morning newspaper waiting on the front lawn for me

Yes, 2011 had more than its fair share of negatives; at this moment, I remember them but deliberately choose not to note them. Perhaps 2012 will be one in which we remember our friends and loved ones, experience professional and personal accomplishments, and never forget what really matters.

Happy New Year!

You know what they say about blinking and kids, right?

If you are a parent, you certainly do.

So it should come as no surprise what I was thinking when my 8-year-old walked out of his room for Saturday night Mass looking like this...

When asked why he was wearing a tie, the answer was simple: "I wanted to."

I'm hiding the car keys.

Who is next to go?

History and conventional wisdom tell us that at least one presidential candidate will drop out of the race after he/she performs poorly in Iowa and/or New Hampshire.

So, let's play along. Which current GOP candidate will end his/her presidential ambitions sometime between Jan. 4 (the day after the Iowa Caucuses) and Jan. 11 (the day after the New Hampshire Primary)?

Remember, the candidates are (in alphabetical order):

Michele Bachmann
Newt Gingrich
Jon Huntsman
Ron Paul
Rick Perry
Mitt Romney
Rick Santorum

If the recent polls tell us anything (and please remember that polls never predict; they are merely snapshots in time), then the following statements could prove true:
1. Mr. Romney could win Iowa and New Hampshire
2. Mr. Paul is likely to run stronger in Iowa, a state he could win, than in New Hampshire
3. Mr. Santorum could finish as high as third in Iowa and close to the bottom in New Hampshire
4. Mr. Gingrich is fading and unlikely to finish better than third in either state
5. Mr. Huntsman could finish fourth in New Hampshire but will end up last in Iowa
6. Mr. Perry appears to be treading water
7. Ms. Bachmann appears to be taking on water

The likelihood of Mr. Perry or Ms. Bachmann ending their campaigns in the next two weeks is obvious; neither is likely to be a reasonable challenger in Iowa or New Hampshire, where other candidates will siphon their voters. Of course, they could hold out in hopes of a strong showing in the South Carolina primary, scheduled for Jan. 21. But they would run the risk of being ignored by the mainstream media for 11 days and finding whatever support they enjoy in that state gravitating to another candidate.

The seven candidates have a couple more days to convince Iowans that they deserve their vote in the caucuses. And when they go to caucus, the weather is expected to be brisk but clear.

Has Vaclav Havel's mantle been passed to...

...Liu Xiaobo?

The passing of Vaclav Havel earlier this month reminded us one more time that in word, action and commitment, he never stopped believing that the Czech and Slovak people (along with their fellow Soviet-bloc neighbors) could be liberated from oppression.

It was Havel's humanity and decency in fighting against the inhumane and indecent that won him admirers. And when the former Czechoslovakia had finally rid itself of Communism, it was Havel who assumed the role of politician and statesman.

It suited him well, even if he was less than comfortable in it.

In the final years of his life, Havel often spoke out in support of Liu Xiaobo, who, like Havel, is known for his eloquence with words. Liu, like Havel, has spent considerable time in prison for speaking out against the abuses of his Communist government. Liu, like Havel, ran afoul of the authorities in part because of creating a "Charter" that spoke favorably of basic human rights and freedoms.

For Havel, it was "Charter 77" (reflecting 1977, the year of its creation). For Liu, it is "Charter 08" (for 2008, the year it was first circulated), which drew much of its ideas from Charter 77. The Chinese government was especially angered after Liu's efforts earned him the Nobel Peace Prize.

With that brief and therefore incomplete introduction, I ask: Has Havel's mantle been passed to Liu?

You can learn more about Liu Xiaobo in his newest book. The Wall Street Journal has reviewed it, and the newspaper suggests there is much in Havel's past that resembles Liu's present.
When Mr. Liu won the Nobel, Havel wrote to him of being "touched" but not surprised that Charter 08 drew inspiration from Charter 77 (a compliment Havel returned by working to free Mr. Liu and defend Charter 08 until his death earlier this month): "There simply exists a sort of moral minimum that is common to the entire world and thanks to which people from countries as different and far apart as the Czech Republic and China can strive for the same values and sympathize with each other, thereby creating the basis for true—not simply feigned—friendship." Mr. Liu already shares a great deal with Havel, chiefly a faith in individuals and the impact they can have on a totalitarian system.
Let's remember that too many American politicians remain mute on the question of China's human rights record. Many of those same politicians or the men and women they replaced never doubted that human rights was an issue in the former Soviet Union. So, I'll end by asking another question: China's economic power wouldn't have anything to do with the muted response in the U.S., right?

Friday, December 30, 2011

This is (not) it

Looking for a 7-inch tablet that can reasonably compete with the larger iPad? (I am, too.)

TIME suggests the latest 7-inch device, Toshiba's Thrive, comes close, but...

Predictions for 2012

These are in no particular order, and you are definitely encouraged to chime in:

1. The Southeastern Conference will win its sixth straight college football championship, but it will not win seven in a row.
2. The Republican presidential nominee will be a Mormon. 
3. The stock market at the beginning of trading on Jan. 2, 2012 will be lower than at its close on Dec. 31, 2012.
4. A drug scandal will detract from an otherwise successful London Olympics.
5. A former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania will be a vice-presidential candidate.
6. No meaningful breakthroughs will be made in efforts to bring peace to the Middle East or to the Korean peninsula.
7. At least one prominent American newspaper and magazine will cease publication.
8. Apple will unveil a new iPad and a new iPhone.
9. Blackberry/RIM will be taken over by Microsoft.
10. Republicans will take over control of the Senate and retain control of the House.
11. Iraq will appear less safe at the end of 2012 than it does at the beginning of it.
12. Vladimir Putin will return to the presidency in Russia.
13. Nicolas Sarkozy will not be re-elected as president of France.
14. Americans will salivate over a white-hot social networking opportunity that hasn't been created yet.
15. None of the "Big Four" professional sports leagues will have a repeat champion.
16. The Euro will not be relegated to the history bin.
17. Mother Nature will remind us at least once of her power.
18. Prince Charles will become a grandfather and a king.
19. Fewer Americans will watch television coverage of the party conventions than at any time in history.
20. Barack Obama will be re-elected.

China wants to...

...put a man on the moon.

No, that's not some joke about its plans for some of its political dissidents. It's serious. And the Guardian notes the Chinese want to make it happen within five years.
Tentative plans to land a man on the moon have been outlined in a document published by the Chinese government that confirms the nation's intention to become a major spacefaring nation. Officials in China have spoken before of their hopes for a crewed lunar mission, but the government document is the first to state the aim as a formal goal for the nation's space agency.
Details of the plan – which would see a human walk on the moon for the first time since Apollo 17 in December 1972 – were published in a white paper that serves as a roadmap for the next five years of Chinese space exploration.
It says China will "push forward human spaceflight projects and make new technological breakthroughs, creating a foundation for future human spaceflight", and describes preparations for orbiting laboratories, space stations and studies that underpin "the preliminary plan for a human lunar landing".
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty adds that the Chinese appear to be taking advantage of the decline in space exploration by the U.S. and Russia.
China's space program has already made major breakthroughs in a relatively short time. In 2003, it became the third country to launch its own astronaut -- known as a "Taikonaut" -- into space, and five years later, completed a spacewalk.

Despite the advances, in terms of experience China lags far behind the United States and Russia, which engaged in a Cold War-era "Space Race" for decades.

But while the emphasis on space has waned in those countries, China has placed a premium on the development of its space industry, which is seen as a symbol of national prestige.
 Anyone reading this doubt the Chinese will make it happen?

It depends. Doesn't it?

A good story in the USA Today for you to consider -- how much power do high-profile college coaches have?

The introduction offers a sobering assessment of the power relationship between some coaches and their bosses.
Current University of Alabama President Robert Witt tore at that football-foremost notion almost as soon as he took the job nearly nine years ago, ousting misbehaving Mike Price before the newly named coach ever worked a game. As engineering professor Clark Midkiff remembers, "It was rumored that a member of the board of trustees did not want him to fire Coach Price, and Bob Witt said, 'It's either me or him.'
"Were that to be a situation between him and Nick Saban, who would win?" Midkiff says of the man who has coached today's Crimson Tide within reach of a second national championship in three years.
He still likes Witt's chances, he says, but concedes, "I don't know."
That speaks volumes, doesn't it?

I don't mean to sound Pollyannish, but the big-time presence of athletics is not going to change on America's colleges and universities until the presidents, the NCAA, alumni and boards of trustees stand firm and determine enough is enough.

What will that mean?

Among the options:
1. Reduce the number and amount of corporate sponsorships and television deals.
2. Cut the number of athletic events that, for lack of a better term, benefit television first.
3. Significantly reduce the salaries paid to many football and basketball coaches.
4. Shorten the practice and actual seasons in which sports can compete.

No, this list is not complete. And, no, these are not "must-do" items. Nevertheless, they are a starting point for a conversation that needs to be had IF IF IF there is a real belief that coaches (and their teams) wield too much power.

For what my opinion is worth, I don't see that conversation happening any time soon.

Thanks, Lexington!!

My wife and I hit the road this morning, heading home (with a stop at my in-laws to pick up the boys, of course) after a three-day mini-vacation in Lexington, Kentucky.

And we leave here with plenty of good memories.

We enjoyed the Holiday Lights at the Kentucky Horse Park...

...alright, my wife liked going there a wee-bit more than I did.

But then again I'm sure she'd tell you that there were at least two stops that were favored FAR MORE by me. If you think college football...

...and basketball... would be correct!

Of course, the art, culture, history and the generous and warm people who live here are unforgettable.

We drove out of the downtown/UK area the other day and saw miles and miles of horse farms. I read later that there are more than 500 such farms in the immediate area. Perhaps the only thing that saddened us was to see the number of "For Sale" signs at the entrances.

On the advice of a friend, we also drove the historic road from Lexington to Paris. It's worth every one of the approximate 14 miles.

So, Lexington, thank you. I hope I get the chance to visit again soon.

Happy New Year...and Go Big Blue!

Thursday, December 29, 2011