Thursday, March 19, 2015

Not Your Father's Badgers

Thanks to regional television connections that cover just about everything that moves on the Big Ten sports scene, I've watched more than 30 University of Wisconsin basketball games this season. The Badgers have a 31-3 record at the moment.

Seven-footer Frank Kaminsky is hard to stop.
The UW team is an interesting group in many ways. It features a seven-footer who handles the ball like an athletic little guy and swishes long three-point shots with ease, a Ho-Chunk Indian lad who went from sub to brilliant team leader, and a fifth-year senior nicknamed "Captain America" who is said to top the league in floor burns caused by diving recklessly for loose balls. These guys are fun to watch.

I was a student at Madison for four years in the 1950s. I attended one basketball game. Wisconsin basketball was not fun to watch.

Wisconsin won its only NCAA championship in 1941 under coach Bud Foster. Six years later the Badgers made their way to the national tournament, but were quickly eliminated. They didn't qualify again for a postseason tourney for 42 years!

Coach Foster hung around for 25 years, continuing to teach the same, old pattern game that was a winner in 1941. His strategy was producing perennial losers by the 50s. Most students responded by skipping basketball games altogether, even though an athletic ticket book cost $8.50, as I recall, and several basketball passes were included.

Curiosity got the better of me in 1955 when the Indiana Hoosiers arrived for a game. Indiana was a basketball powerhouse. They won the Big Ten and NCAA titles the year before, and were well on the way to another conference championship. Wisconsin, in 1955, was to finish with 16 losses. The Badgers tied for eighth in the Big Ten, and those were the days when the conference really had ten members.

I carried a very thick history book to the Fieldhouse. The plan was to do some required reading during timeouts and at halftime.

The superb play of the Hoosiers held my full attention for the first few minutes of the game. The inept work by the Badgers more than compensated. Using the history book for a head rest, I stretched out across several seats (there were plenty of empty spaces). I dozed off and stayed oblivious to events on the court until a fellow student shook me awake after the final buzzer. I actually only saw part of one basketball game during my college days.

Coach Bo Ryan arrived in Madison in 2001 with new ideas and a record of success. The Badgers have been winners since, and nobody is snoozing as the "Grateful Red" fans celebrate win after win. The Badgers may not be able to get past undefeated Kentucky and several other high-powered teams to once again become NCAA champs, but it will be fun watching them try. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Bibi Deserves Boot

Indications are that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi to his friends and some others) will be retained in office after Israel's elections next week. That's too bad. Netanyahu's recent actions, and some past actions, ought to earn him political retirement, not a continuation in power.

Netanyahu doesn't lack gall. He recently insulted the President of the United States, and then proceeded to insult the thinking part of the American public, while carrying his reelection campaign to Washington, DC. His address to the U.S. Congress was featured on television and radio in Israel. Because of that, some believe the whole episode was a contrivance to enhance his chances of reelection. It probably did that; recent polls show the parliamentary coalition backing him gained some ground after his appearance.
A two-faced, worrisome creature.

Netanyahu improperly accepted an improper invitation to address Congress. The Israeli had appeared before Congress before, and he followed the accepted procedure to get there. Protocol dictates that foreign heads of state  get White House blessing before invitations are issued to address Congress. House Speaker John Boehner knew full well he was seriously out of line when he didn't bother seeking administration approval before issuing an invitation to Netanyahu, and so did Netanyahu when he accepted it.

Boehner of late has excelled at insulting President Obama, so the invitation came as no surprise. Netanyahu tried to mask his insult in accepting it by once again demonstrating his less desirable characteristics. In an amazing show of two-faced rhetoric he opening his statement by detailing at great length all the fine things the American president has done to support Israel. He then made a frontal assault on Obama's competence and the cornerstone of American foreign policy pursued by the president for the past six years--a preference for negotiation and formation of coalitions to deal with problems, taking military action tailored to the situation only after careful analysis shows it is necessary.

Netanyahu labeled negotiations over nuclear development between Iran and a five-nation coalition Obama played a lead role in forming "a bad deal," ignoring the fact that no proposal had yet been finalized. Key to Netanyahu's argument was his assertion that the Iranians can't be trusted. He has some expertise in that area. He once agreed to stop allowing Israeli settlements in the West Bank, then continued to allow them, and later said they would be encouraged.

President Obama, who shows admirable restraint after experiencing unwarranted attacks for all sorts of things, gave a measured response to Netanyahu's speech. He said he had no intention of  agreeing to anything that did not include rigid controls on Iran's nuclear program, and that the Israeli prime minister offered nothing new in his talk.

There is little doubt Obama was miffed by the whole scenario. But he's a big guy, and he'll get over it. Although Netanyahu's attitudes and actions have been extremely irritating, there is no reason to believe they will cause a reversal of U.S. support of Israel. I have endorsed American support of Israel as long as I can remember, and that's not going to change. However, Netanyahu's antics certainly added unnecessary strain to U.S.-Israeli relations, and I believe some formerly staunch supporters of Israel may reevaluate their positions.

My feathers were ruffled by an element of a "beggar wanting to be chooser" arrogance in Netanyahu's speech. The U.S. has given Israel about $3 billion a year for many years--the current appropriation is nearly $3.4 billion. In addition we are giving Egypt more than $1.5 billion in aid (mostly military) and funding Jordan at about $1 billion (about one-third military) per year. I consider the Egypt and Jordan subsidies as bribes to keep those countries at least fairly neutral in their positions regarding Israel

A prime minister whose country gets that kind of support from a country that has budget problems of its own has no business sneaking in the back door to lecture the donor nation's leader about his policies. And we don't need visitors from foreign lands promoting scare tactics and saber rattling. We have enough fools of  our own doing that. 

Monday, March 02, 2015

Let It Snow, Let It . . . Argh!

Among the presents under the tree on my ninth Christmas morn was a shiny new snow shovel with my name on it. The shovel was a little smaller than the giant scoop Dad used, but it obviously was intended for serious work, not as a plaything.

I became intimately familiar with the duties of an only son in northern Wisconsin. Calls for "snow relocation" seemed endless during the long, cold winter seasons. I was expected to answer. Our house was on a corner lot bordered by concrete sidewalks. There was no need to go to the gym for exercise.

Much later, we lived for 16 years in a townhouse within a homeowners association in Utah. Monthly association fees covered snow removal. I never tired of cheering on the workers as they removed the white stuff from our driveway and sidewalk. Having long ago mastered the art of battling snow drifts, I was pleased to leave the job to others.

Nearly seven years ago we moved to southwest Michigan. We had visited the neighborhood of choice several times--never in winter. I noted with a degree of satisfaction the absence of sidewalks in the rural community. Responses to questions about winter weather generally took the tone of "not too bad." I thought clearing a driveway once in a while would be good exercise.

Snowfalls indeed were "not too bad" our first several years in Michigan. They gradually worsened. Last winter they were awful; this season has been worse, reminding us that weather runs in cycles. We may be in for a long and unpleasant series of winters featuring large and frequent "lake effect" snows.
 
Reaching the end of our driveway on a snow removal day is cause for celebration (or soaking in a tub and a nap).
It turns out I perhaps should have worried more about driveways than sidewalks when searching for a new home. Our driveway is long and about three times as wide as the sidewalks that surrounded my boyhood home. Rough measurements indicate a big net gain in concrete area from the days of my youth when shoveling was tiresome. Now it just plain wears me out.

I compensate by hiring trusty neighbor Chad to remove the heaviest stuff  (as much as eight or ten inches several times this winter) with his snow blower. When accumulations are only an inch or two, son Lee, beautiful wife Sandy, or I take care of things by hand.

So far this year, Chad has cleared the driveway ten times. The "Klade shovelers" have done the job eight times. It has not been a lot of fun. The last time I pushed a light, one-inch accumulation out of the way the temperature was 9 degrees F. What's forecast for tomorrow?  Most of the weather gurus think we'll get up to three inches of new snow followed by ice showers and then freezing rain. Should be wonderful.

In Idaho they're planting gardens. In Utah they're playing golf. In Michigan. . . Argh!