Thursday, March 30, 2006

Chicago City Council approves construction of Fordham Spire

On Wednesday, the Chicago City Council gave the go-ahead to begin work on this magnificent new building. I like big plans and ballsy moves and this certainly qualifies as one.

Actual construction work may begin as early as this year with completion estimated in 2010. There are going to be 300 condo’s in it, with the smallest being 700 square feet. At $1,000/sq. foot – the early estimated price, that’s pretty steep. But if you have the money, it would be well worth it.

Take THAT Donald Trump…

My earlier postings about this here and here.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

'06 World Baseball Classic - Wrapup

Yeah, yeah, I know. I picked Cuba to beat Team Japan. Silly me. Congratulations to Team Japan. They truly earned this title. From being absolutely dead, done and all but out the door, they came back to win it all. They were fortunate that Team Mexico beat Team USA or they wouldn’t have even made it to the semis. But, as they got jobbed by the umpire in their loss to Team USA, perhaps it was just the baseball gods evening things up.

Some random thoughts on the final game;

What in the world was the Cuban manager thinking in the first inning? Yes, his starting pitcher had loaded the bases, but no ball had been hit out of the infield and he’d only given up one walk. The Cubans already were thin on their starting pitching, having used their two best starters against the Dominicans, and to throw away his number three starter so early was a serious mistake. I think it cost him and Team Cuba, big time.

You had to admire the Cubans, the way they came back from a 6-1 deficit to make it 6-5. But you had to admire the Japanese even more, the way they turned an error by the Cubans in the ninth inning into a way to put the game out of reach.

It was really a contrast in styles; the aggressiveness of the Cubans vs. the discipline of the Japanese. In this game, discipline won.

I can understand why the Japanese starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka was awarded the series MVP; he pitched outstandingly well. But surely there needs to be an honorable mention for Ichiro Suzuki. This guy is so fundamentally sound, he’s just a pleasure to watch. One also has to give much credit to the Japanese manager, Sadaharu Oh. Every managerial move this guy made seemed to turn to gold. I think his best move was in the top of the ninth inning. The Japanese had gotten their lead runner on via a Cuban error. The next batter tried to bunt him over, but the Cubans were ready and threw out the lead runner. The momentum for the Japanese in that inning was seemingly dying. But Oh had the next batter bunt also, and this time for a hit. The Cubans weren’t ready and the execution was perfect. Now there were men on first and second with Ichiro coming up; and he delivered again. Just brilliant.

And, some random thoughts on the tournament;

All the naysayers were wrong – outstanding baseball was played. Once you got rid of the pretenders in the first round, the games were well played by teams with very even skills.

The Americans no longer dominate this sport. With the influx of non-Americans into the Major Leagues over the past several years, especially from Central and South America, it has become clear that other nationalities could play this game at a Major League level, too. But this tournament has emphasized that fact in spades. Americans are no longer automatically the best basketball players in the world and now they’re no longer automatically the best baseball players either. I think it was very telling that the two teams in the finals were the ones with the LEAST amount of Major League Baseball players on their rosters; the Japanese had just two while the Cubans had none. It is going to be a sad joke to call the MLB championship the “World Series” – we need a new name. The Chicago White Sox will have the distinction of being the last MLB team with the World Series title. Now, IMHO, the Japanese own it until the next World Baseball Classic.

The next tournament is scheduled for 2009 and then every fourth year after that. I would like to see some changes made. The umpire crew needs to be “internationalized”. Outside of a couple of unfortunate calls made by Bob Davidson, I thought the games were called pretty well. But having only American umpires leaves Team USA open to charges of favoritism; something we just don’t need. I’d also like to see the games played at a different time of the year. In fairness to Team USA’s players, many of them just weren’t in peak form; they were in early spring training. This was in contrast to, say, Team Cuba, which was in the middle of its season. Different countries have their leagues play at different times during the year, so it may be difficult to pick a time fair to everyone. Nevertheless, the effort should be made. We should look at how soccer manages to juggle the World Cup vs. the various individual country league schedules and see if there are some ideas there on what to do.

What a great tournament – I can’t wait until the next one in 2009!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

’06 World Baseball Classic – Semifinal Summary – Final prediction

Of course I meant that Cuba and Japan would win. It was my evil twin that picked the Dominicans and Koreans. Wouldn’t you know it? Just when I jump on the Korean bandwagon, the wheels fall off.

Two really fine games. The Dominican-Cuban game was decided on a couple of breaks and errors while the Japan-Korean game was decided on the percentages; it really is hard to beat a good team three times in a row.

So we have a Cuban and Team Japan final; teams from two island nations on opposite sides of the globe. These are also the two teams in the final eight that have the least amount of Major Leaguers on their roster; the Japanese have only two (Ichiro and Otsuke) while the Cubans have none. Who do I predict to win? I tried flipping a coin to help me decide, but it landed on its edge, so that was no help. The Japanese have saved their two best pitchers for the final while the Cubans used theirs in beating the Dominicans. But I don’t think that’s going to matter. I’m picking the Cubans to win it all. Why? Part of the reason is that I think they had a harder schedule to get here and they compiled a better record while doing so. I also think their experience in International play is going to be the deciding factor.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

’06 World Baseball Classic – Semifinal predictions

Both of these games are tough to predict, but I have to go with the Dominican Republic and Korea.

The Dominicans have beaten the Cubans once and I think they have the deepest team in the tournament. But I don’t feel comfortable with this pick at all. The Cubans are playing inspired baseball – they clearly really want to win it all. I won’t be at all surprised if they win this game, but I’m sticking with the Dominicans.

On the other side, and as I had written in an earlier post, I’m through disrespecting the Koreans. This team is for real, they are undefeated in this tournament for a reason, and that is why I’m picking them to beat Japan. It is really tough to beat a good team, like the Japanese, three times in a row. But I think the Koreans will do it.

You know, if the Cubans and the Koreans win, the finals will be played with very few Major Leaguers; none on the Cuban side and only a few on the Korean side. One has to think about what that means for Major League baseball, and especially calling its ultimate event “The World Series.” More on this later.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Fordham Spire - Update

Last July, I posted about a proposed new skyscraper for Chicago, the Fordham Spire. The project cleared a major hurdle yesterday when the Chicago Planning Commission unanimously approved going forward. The next step is the Chicago City Council and passage is expected there, too.

So, this 2000 foot tower, which would make it the tallest building in North America, may really happen. Cool...

Happy St. Patricks Day!

An Irish daughter had not been home for over 5 years.

Upon her return, her father cussed her. "Where have ye been all this time? Why did ye not write to us, not even a line? Why didn't ye call? Can ye not understand what ye put yer old mum thru?

The girl, crying, replied, "Sniff, became a prostitute...."

"Ye what!!? Out of here, ye shameless harlot! Sinner! You're a disgrace to this family."

"OK, dad-- as ye wish. I just came back to give mum this luxurious fur coat, title deed to a ten bedroom mansion plus a $5 million savings certificate. For me little brother, this gold Rolex and for ye daddy, the sparkling new Mercedes limited edition convertible that's parked outside plus a membership to the country club....(takes a breath)....and an invitation for ye all to spend New Years Eve on board my new yacht in the Riviera and ... "

"Now what was it ye said ye had become?" says dad.

Girl, crying again, "Sniff, sniff....a prostitute dad! Sniff, sniff."

"Oh! BY GOSH!! Ye scared me half to death, girl! I thought ye said a Protestant'. Come here and give yer old man a hug!"

Thanks, Mom...

'06 World Baseball Classic - Round 2 Summary


I can’t believe it – Team USA has been eliminated from the ’06 WBC. They capitalized on being bailed out in Round 1, but were unable to do so in Round 2. All Team USA had to do to advance was to beat Team Mexico (again) as Korea had opened the door by knocking off the Japanese (again). And I had hopes in the ninth inning, with Junior leading off. But when he struck out, I knew we were doomed.

There’s no secret as to why Team USA didn’t advance – they just couldn’t get the big hit when they needed it. The Team Stats page is very misleading as it shows Team USA ranking second overall in team batting. But over half their runs and a third of their hits were put up against the South Africans; the tournament’s weakest team. If you take the numbers they put up against South Africa out of the picture, Team USA scored only an average of three runs per game. You need to have an awfully good pitching staff to make that hold up. Team USA’s pitching was good, but not great, with Dontrelle Willis not even making it to the “Good” level.

The four teams left all deserve to be there and I congratulate them all.

I was seven for eight in my Round 1 predictions and two for four (Japan and the Dominican Republic) in Round 2. I’ll post my Semi-final predictions tomorrow.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

’06 World Baseball Classic – Round 2 update 2

Once again, the Americans need help to advance. It's getting to be an old story and this time, I’m afraid the help may not be there. If Japan beats Korea and allows less than 7 runs in the process, Team USA is going home, regardless of how they do against Mexico. If Korea beats Japan and the Americans win, then Team USA will advance.

I’m through short-changing and disrespecting the Koreans – this team is for real. I’ve watched them play a couple of times now and they win by emphasizing fundamentals, practicing team play, getting excellent pitching, playing stellar defense and, of course, the occasional home run helps too. Hmmm, kind of sounds like the White Sox last year, doesn’t it?

The Americans have to be rooting for the Koreans tomorrow night. If Korea and Team USA wins, the Americans will have the added bonus of being able to play them in the semis – hopefully with revenge in mind. And, I think we’d better quit throwing Dontrelle Willis out there – this guy just isn’t ready yet.

On the other side, the Dominicans advanced, as I expected, but they did so by sending my other pick, the Venezuelans, back home. The game tonight between Puerto Rico and Cuba should be pretty good. No predictions (I’ve already been wrong once in this bracket and once is enough), but if the Puerto Rican bats don’t wake up tonight, they’re going to go home too. In a way, that would be cool – the Cubans would then advance to the semis, played in the US. Another nightmare for Castro; maybe the Sox can pick up another pitcher…

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Chicago supports Denmark and Free Speech

Today I attended a rally/demonstration outside the Danish Consulate in Chicago in support of Free Speech and of our Danish allies. For those of you who might have been living on Mars lately, several Danish cartoonists drew cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed and, for this, have been threatened with death by Islamic fundamentalists.

Our government has been unwilling to publicly support the Danes and so it has been left to ordinary American citizens to show the Danish that there are people in this country who still believe in free speech. Christopher Hitchins organized the first show of support at the Danish embassy in Washington DC and now similar demonstrations are being held at the various Danish Consulates around the country – today was Chicago’s turn.

I would guess a total turnout of about 50 people, 40 people at any one time (some people arrived late and some had to leave early). It was bloody cold outside, but spirits were high nonetheless. Several Danish flags, cool posters & cartoons, and Danish products were displayed. The crowd was orderly and cheerful and the rally went off without serious incident. Several people driving by honked in support of what we were doing, but one taxi driver took offense and shouted at us that the “cartoons were bad” and that we shouldn’t be there; some of us shouted back.

Below are some of the pictures I took of the rally. Click on any of them to enlarge.

Even Homer is on our side

Good Danish cookies which I proceeded to grab from this guy and then pass around to everyone.

One of the crowd talking with Pajamas Media, the only media there to cover the event.

Someone brought a case of Danish beer, Carlsburg, but dropped it. Fortunately, only 2 of the bottles broke. It was a real tragedy, but as one wit in the crowd put it; "In any war, there are casualties."

Monday, March 13, 2006

Just Funny...

I found this on the baghdadgirl blog - I thought it was funny.

’06 World Baseball Classic – Round 2 update 1

Truly fine baseball is being played in this tournament. All 8 teams in this round belong here and, with the results shown today, there is no clear, runaway favorite to win it all.

I expected the USA to beat Japan and they did so, but they needed a controversial call to make it happen. I think the home plate umpire (who wasn’t even the guy who was suppose to make the call) blew the call – the Japanese player did NOT leave before the ball was caught and should not have been called out. It may have cost the Japanese the game. On the other hand, it was great to see A-Rod come through with the big hit. I hope he keeps it up because Team USA is going to need all the help it can get to win this thing. And what can you say about Derrick Lee? The guy has been Mr. Consistent for Team USA.

I just finished watching the Korea-Mexico game; another nail-biter. I really feel sorry for the Mexicans; they pitched great and their defense was outstanding, especially turning that double-play off a bunt attempt. But they lost because they just couldn’t get the big hit when they needed it. By losing this game, the Mexicans are almost certainly doomed to not make it out of this round. To have a chance to advance, they’ll have to beat both the Americans and the Japanese and I just don’t think that’s going to happen. The Koreans played a solid game and deserved to win. And, by winning this game, they have a chance to advance now.

In the other bracket, I was wrong twice. The Cubans played smart, opportunistic baseball and knocked off the Dominicans. And the Puerto Rican team is suddenly looking very scary. One of my picks to advance is certainly not going to make it out of this round. When the Dominicans play the Venezuelans, one of them is going to lose. That will give that team two losses and that will be the end of their chances.

All of these games have had a playoff atmosphere. Every game is meaningful and there are no more patsies in the tournament. The crowds are large and really into the games. The announcers have been pretty good and, with the exception of the 8th and 9th innings, the commercial breaks have been mercifully short. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s games.

Go Team USA!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

'06 World Baseball Classic - Round 2 Predictions

Picking teams to make it through Round 2 is going to be tougher than Round 1 was. In each Pool, I think there is a clear favorite to make it through with the other 3 teams all having a legitimate shot at being the second team through.

In Pool 1, I think (I hope, anyway) that the USA is the clear favorite. But the second team is a much tougher pick. IMHO, I think that Korea, Japan and Mexico are all about equal. Despite having lost to Korea in the first round, I give a slight edge to the Japanese team. I think their loss to Korea pissed them off and they are going to play with much more intensity. Also, their game with Korea was meaningless as they had already won through to the second round. Mexico has a quality, team, too, and can’t be counted out.

In Pool 2, I think that the Dominican Republic is the clear favorite to win through. But again, the second team is a much tougher pick. Both the Venezuelans and the Puerto Ricans have many MLB players. Cuba does not, but they have had players who defected and have turned out to be stars in the Big Leagues (think El Duque and Jose Contreras). They also have a lot riding on this tournament. If I had a three sided coin, I would be tempted to use that to make my decision. Cuba’s embarrassing loss to Puerto Rico doesn’t bode well for them, but it was also true that that was a meaningless game – Cuba had already made it through to the second round. I’m going to pick Venezuela as the second team, but I won’t be astonished if either Cuba or Puerto Rico beats them out.

So these are my picks to make it out of Round 2;

Pool 1 – USA & Japan
Pool 2 - Dominican Republic & Venezuela

Friday, March 10, 2006

'06 World Baseball Classic – Round 1 Summary

Well, 7 out of 8 isn’t bad. I’m still mad at myself for picking Taipei over South Korea, for reasons I elucidated earlier, but at least my 7 other picks all made it through.

There were some mild surprises. The first, of course, was the USA dropping a game to Canada. The Americans were very fortunate that Mexico scored at least 3 runs against Canada in their game or today’s USA blowout of South Africa wouldn’t have mattered – they wouldn’t have advanced. That would have been a crying shame. Baseball IS America’s game and to have been booted out of a tournament that early would have been borderline catastrophic. The other surprise was Panama going winless – I would have thought they were a bit stronger than that.

I hope that Team USA’s offensive thunder today is indicative of things to come. But today’s output was against South African pitching, so one can’t get too optimistic. As long time readers know, I’m not really a big fan of A-Rod. Today he finally drove in his first run of the series. I hope he drives in some more, but, of course, if he keeps hitting behind Griffey, he may not have anyone on base to drive in. Both A-Rod and Jeter are hitting over .500 for the series and it’s tough to complain about that. It was nice to see Clemens pitching in mid-season form, too. If Dontrelle Willis’ woes continue, Clemens may see another start sooner rather than later.

So, it’s on to Round 2. Games for this Round start on Sunday with the USA opening up against Japan. The competition gets much tougher from here on out as the pretenders are all gone. The 8 teams left in the tournament are all quality teams. My predictions for Round 2 will be posted tomorrow or early Sunday.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Space geek alert

Tomorrow, Friday, March 10th, from 2:30pm to 4:45pm Central time, the NASA channel will have live coverage of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) as it attempts to insert itself into orbit around Mars.

The MRO is the latest spacecraft sent to map and explore Mars. It will be able to take pictures of Mars in greater detail than any previous orbiter and will also be able to send information back to earth at a higher bit-rate than any previous exploration mission. To be able to send this data back at such a rapid rate, the MRO is using the Ka-band (32 gigahertz). It’s expected that the Ka-band will become the standard interplanetary transmission wavelength, making this mission the first step in establishing an interplanetary Internet-like structure. Very cool.

If you never watched the NASA channel before, you’ll see that the productions are earnest, but amateurish. Awkward pauses, dead-time, announcer miscues, etc., all happen with some frequency. But for me, that’s part of the allure. This is a show about science and space exploration being done live by the scientists doing the work, rather than some dog-and-pony show that’s long on quality but short on content.

The NASA channel is on DirecTV; channel 376. You can read more about the MRO mission here.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Surgery plus four weeks...

Four weeks (plus one day) since my surgery. I’d now rate my condition as “Good and improving”. There are times now when I can go for a few hours and have totally forgotten the fact that I just had surgery. No pain or discomfort, no constant urge to go to the bathroom, normal energy levels, etc. It’s not perfect yet, but it certainly is getting better.

There was a study released about two weeks ago, comparing Prostate cancer patients who had treatment (surgery or radiation) vs. those who did not (“watchful waiting”). The summary of the study was that those patients who had treatment lived an average of 13 more years while those who did not lived an average or 10 more years. This is good, but I, personally, plan on living a lot longer than 13 more years. That would only make me 69, and I don’t plan on leaving this life that soon. I would have liked to have seen that study differentiate between those patients opting for surgery. vs. those who had radiation, but, alas, they did not do so.

I've come across another study, released just last week, which links obesity to the recurrence of prostate cancer for those people who have had their prostate removed (like me). I certainly could stand to lose some pounds and so I have become much more serious about my health. The occurrence of cancer and subsequent surgery certainly indicated to me that I had to make changes in my life style, and this latest study just emphasizes the fact. My youngest daughter has been bugging me to get a treadmill for some time so last week I ordered one. It was delivered yesterday and so now I have one less excuse to get back into shape.

It’s funny what a mind game junk food is. Before the surgery, I would have a hard time looking at ice cream or chocolate cake, etc., and not indulge. Now I’m not even tempted. I’ve dropped nearly 20 pounds in the last 6 weeks. I’m sure the liquid diet that I was on in the hospital for a few days had something to do with it, but I’ve lost weight since I’ve returned home, too. Another 30 pounds and I’ll be back in reasonable shape.

'06 World Baseball Classic – Round 1 update

Stupid me. I picked Japan to get through to Round 2, mainly because the level of play in the Japanese leagues is so good, that many of their best players are playing in the Major Leagues. I don’t know why I didn’t use the same logic in considering Korea’s chances. They, too, have players in the Majors and so, in hindsight, I should have picked them over Taipei. There are no Chinese players (mainland or Taiwanese) that are in the Majors. I guess I was blinded by all of the Little League World Series titles won by Taipei. Stupid me.

The Dominicans looked every bit as good as I feared as they rolled over a very good Venezuelan team. I don’t see anyone touching them in the first round or the second; this is one awesome team. They have great hitting and excellent pitching and defense and I think they are the deepest team in the tournament.

The Americans won, but I’m worried about the lack of run production. The Americans are not going to be able to shut out everyone they play and if their hitting doesn’t pick up, they could face problems. There’s not a lot of room for error in a tournament where, at most, a team will play only eight games. Two long balls just isn’t going to get it done against the better teams. If they can’t string together some hits, they could be making a quick exit from this tournament.

I’m glad these games are being broadcast on ESPN2 – they are a great “fix” for my baseball cravings.

Only 25 more days until Opening Day!!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Medicare Part D - the solution

I had posted a few days ago about how I was helping my mom decide whether or not to enroll in the Federal government’s new Medicare Part D plan for Prescription Drug Coverage. I mentioned that it looked complicated, but actually, once you sink your teeth into it and really begin researching the options, it’s not that bad.

My mom currently has typical Medicare coverage; both Part A and Part B. She pays nothing for Part A (as normal) but does pay the Part B premium (which is now about $88/month). In addition, she’s also enrolled in a Medigap program; Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Arkansas Plan D (Medi-Pak D). These two plans, together, would cover most of her medical expenses should she become ill, but they do NOT cover prescription drugs. After doing some initial investigation, I determined that she has three basic options;

1) Keep things just the same as they are now. She would continue to pay for her prescription medication (eye drops), and her Medicare Part B and Medigap premiums.

2) Keep her Medicare Part A&B and Medigap insurance and also enroll in a Prescription Drug program to help pay for her prescription medication.

3) Drop her Medigap coverage and enroll in a Medicare Advantage program (with or without a Prescription Drug coverage option).

The third option, enrolling in a Medicare Advantage program, is the most radical and, after some discussion, was one we discarded. This option would, essentially, change her current Medigap-type coverage to whatever benefits were offered by the Medicare Advantage program she enrolled in. The premiums for these Medicare Advantage programs are generally cheaper than the ones charged for Medigap coverage, but money isn’t the only concern here. My dad had cancer and eventually succumbed to it, but it was not for lack of medical care. He had excellent care and the combined coverage of Medicare and Medigap took care of most of the bills. My mom really doesn’t want to change that coverage and I certainly can understand that. It’s nice to have insurance which doesn’t whine about the bills but just takes care of them. As an aside, I’ve received most of the bills for my cancer surgery and they total up to about $65,000.00. I have Blue Cross Blue Shield and they are covering all but about $1000.00 of it. Since Blue Cross and Blue Shield do not offer a Medicare Advantage program in Arkansas (where my mom lives), that rules out this option.

We then had to decide whether or not it was worthwhile to enroll in Medicare Part D (Prescription Drug Coverage). At first glance it certainly seems attractive; the government is offering huge subsidies to various private companies to help underwrite these plans. Prescription Drugs ARE cheaper this way, but as I mentioned in my previous posting on this subject, my mother only has one prescription medication she currently takes. That’s only one consideration, of course. If she doesn’t enroll in a plan by May 15th, she’d be unable to do so until November 15th. If something happened to her in the meantime, she’d be on her own in paying for prescription medication until November 15th. In addition, Medicare imposes a penalty of 1% per month for each month one delays in subscribing to Part D. So, I wanted her to join a plan and had hopes of finding one which wouldn’t cost her any more out of pocket than what she was paying now.

Finding a plan can be a bit tedious. What plans are offered depend on which county a person lives in. For example, my mom lives in Benton County in Arkansas. There are currently 41 Prescription Drug plans available for this county. Which one to choose? Well, that depends on which prescription medications you are taking or think you are likely to take; each plan has its own options as to what drugs it covers, how it covers them (copays and deductibles) and which pharmacies you can use.

Fortunately, the government Medicare website is a pleasant surprise; it actually is very helpful in determining what your options are. But the key to using it is to have the proper information. You need to know which prescription drugs are to be covered (including dosages) and the county the person to be covered lives in. Once you have this information, you can plug it in and the website will then prepare a list of all plans available in that area and their costs. By doing this, I found a Humana plan for my mom that saves her money; the yearly cost of the premiums and her prescription medication under this plan is cheaper than what she is paying now for the medication alone. In addition, she’ll now be enrolled in a Prescription Drug Plan so if she needs to start taking additional prescription medication in the future, she’ll be covered. Finally, since she’s now enrolled, she won’t be subject to that odious 1% per month penalty. All in all, a good deal. Of course, the taxpayers are paying for this, but that’s another story altogether…

I found the Jane Bryant Quinn article I mentioned earlier to be absolutely spot-on in its recommendations; she’s clearly done her homework and I highly recommend it as a resource for you. That article, plus the government Medicare website should be all you need to know to figure out your best option.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Harry Browne – RIP

Today’s newswire carried a story about Harry Browne passing away; he died from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).

This is a huge loss for all of us that believe in small, Constitutionally-limited government. Harry was the face of the Libertarian Party for many years and was its national standard bearer in the 1996 and 2000 campaigns. I knew Harry, met him once or twice, and spoke with him several times on the phone. I also campaigned for him, donated money to his campaigns and, of course, proudly voted for him. He was a compelling speaker and a wonderful “preacher” of libertarian values. I think my favorite line of his was “Would you be willing to give up your favorite government program in exchange for ending the Income Tax?” Pithy and to the point. Another favorite; “Some people say the libertarian program to reduce the federal government goes too far; that it throws out the baby with the bathwater. But we have to remember – its Rosemary’s Baby.”

Though I’m no longer a card-carrying member of the Libertarian party, I was a founding member and sponsor of an organization he started, Downsize DC. Its target is the continued cancerous growth of our federal government, IMHO the single biggest threat we Americans face today; bigger than Al Qaeda, bird flu and “global warming”. Harry was a tireless fighter against this out-of-control growth and a real hero for many of us – he will be sorely missed.

Rest in Peace Harry, you have certainly earned it.

'06 World Baseball Classic - Round 1 Predictions

I’ve decided to take a stab at predicting the outcome of the inaugural World Baseball Classic. This is quite difficult for several reasons;

Except for the US team and other teams that have players from MLB, I have no idea who these guys are. Guesses about their ability are just that, guesses.

The rules are different than “normal” baseball. There are “slaughter” rules (I haven’t seen those since Little League), maximum number of innings that can be pitched, etc.

The entire series is really short. Even the winner of the tournament is only going to play 8 games (3 games to get out of Round 1, 3 games to get out of Round 2, the semi-finals and the finals). Anybody can get hot (or cold) over a short stretch.

It’s really early in the season for Major Leaguers. Normally, I’d pick the teams with the best pitching as having the best chance, but for so many of these teams, the pitchers will have just started getting into shape.

Nevertheless, I’m going to take a stab at it – I’m just as interested in looking like an idiot as the next guy. But I’m only going to do it a Round at a time; i.e. I’m only going to predict Round 1 now. Once that’s over (and I’ve learned a bit more about these teams, then I’ll take a stab at Round 2). So, with those caveats out of the way, here are my predictions for the teams advancing out of each pool in Round 1.

Pool A

My favorites here are Japan and Chinese Taipei. I'm picking Japan because they have a long and honored tradition of baseball and its top players are at MLB level. As a White Sox fan, I was very glad to see Japanese national Tadahito Iguchi as our second baseman last year, this year, and hopefully for years to come. Though he’s not playing in this tournament, he just shows the level of talent there. Ichiru Suzuki IS playing for the Japanese team and that can only help – he’s one of the games elite players. I’m picking Chinese Taipei over China and South Korea just because they have a longer history playing the game.

Pool B

My favorites here are the United States (of course) and Mexico. The reasons to pick the US are obvious – the biggest pool of MLB players. I’m picking Mexico over Canada for two reasons; I like the MLB players they have better than the ones playing for Canada and Mexico has also won more Caribbean World Series than any other country – they have a long and deep history with baseball. I think South Africa is totally outclassed and won’t win a game in this round.

Pool C

My favorites here are Puerto Rico and Cuba, but both the Netherlands and Panama have a chance. Puerto Rico has won nearly as many Caribbean World Series as the Mexicans have and they have many fine Major Leaguers on their roster, including Carlos Delgado, Javy Lopez, Carlos Beltran, Bernie Williams, Yadier Molina and Ivan Rodriguez. The Cubans are the mystery team. I’m picking them, even though they have NO Major Leaguers on their team, because I think they really, really want this and they, too, have a long and storied baseball history. One doesn’t think of the Netherlands as a baseball power, but the Major Leaguers they have on their roster, including Andruw Jones, Kirk Sarloos, Sidney Ponson, Shea Hillenbrand and Randall Simon, will make them competitive. But I just don’t think they’re as deep as the Puerto Ricans or the Cubans. Panama, too, has a chance, but I think they also lack depth. If Mariano Rivera had decided to join their team, then I think I would have picked them over the Cubans, but not the way the rosters stand now.

Pool D

This is the easiest pick of the 4 pools – I’m picking the Dominican Republic and Venezuela to move on. Both teams are packed with top-notch Major Leaguers, especially the Dominicans. Just look at these names; Jose Acevedo, Miguel Batista, Yhency Brazoban, Daniel Cabrera, Bartolo Colon, Jose Lima, Damaso Marte, Pedro Martinez, Jose Mesa, Guillermo Mota, Odalis Perez, Fernando Rodney, Felix Rodriguez and Julian Tavarez; and that’s just some of their pitchers. They also have Ronnie Belliard, Adrian Beltre, Robinson Cano, Julio Franco, Rafael Furcal, Julio Lugo, David Ortiz (Big Papi), Jhonny Peralta, Neifi Perez, Placido Polanco, Albert Pujols, Aramis Ramirez, Jose, Reyes, Alfonso Soriano, Miguel Tejada, Juan Uribe, Moises Alou, Vladimir Guerrero, Alberto Castillo, and on and on and on. Not only will this team make it out of this particular Pool, I have to place them as the early co-favorites (along with the Americans) to win this whole thing. They’re talented at every position and very deep, especially with their pitching. This is one fine ballclub. The Venezuelans are nearly as deep with such MLB stars as Kelvim Escobar, Freddy Garcia, Felix Hernandez, Juan Rincon, Johan Santana, Carlos Zambrano, Omar Vizquel, Bobby Abreu, Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez, Alex Ramirez, Henry Blanco, Victor Martinez and many more. The game between these two teams, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, March 7th, should be an excellent one. The other two teams in this pool, Australia and Italy, are just completely outmatched.

So those are my picks to make it out of Round 1;

Pool A - Japan & Chinese Taipei
Pool B - United States & Mexico
Pool C - Puerto Rico & Cuba
Pool D - Dominican Republic & Venezuela

Remember, you heard it here first…

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Medicare Part D - the problem

No, I’m not on Medicare (yet), but my mother is and she’s asked me for help in deciding whether or she should enroll in the new Medicare Part D (Prescription Drug Coverage) plan. This is an interesting challenge for me because I don’t know beans about this stuff.

I’ve started doing some research on the subject and it is, unfortunately, as complicated as it first seems. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources one can turn to for answers. There is the US Government Medicare website from which you can review/download their handy-dandy, 104 page booklet entitled “Medicare & You 2006.” I’m about a third of the way through it. Another resource is Jane Bryant Quinn's column in the January 10th, 2006 issue of Newsweek, “A Map for the Medicare Maze.” In it, she gave some basic pointers about what to join and what not to join, based on various conditions. And, to learn about Medicare Part C, I’ve got a Terry Savage column from the Chicago Sun-Times published earlier this year. This should get me started anyway…

My mother is lucky in that she is very healthy (actually, luck is only part of it - she also takes very good care of herself). She has only one prescription medication she takes and that is for her eyes; she needs nothing for high blood pressure, diabetes or other common chronic conditions. Part D, however, assumes that you do have prescription drugs to be covered. This would be fine if you could enroll or not enroll as you choose, but there is this interesting little caveat that if you don’t enroll by May 15th of this year, you then have to pay a penalty in perpetuity for not enrolling at the earliest possible date. This seems unfair to me, but makes sense, I guess, if you’re trying to force people to join (something that Quinn’s column says they are trying to do). The logic would be that if only the really sick people sign up, the premiums will be higher. This also means that the healthier people are partly subsidizing the sicker ones. This seems unfair – if you’ve taken care of yourself, like my mother has, you get to pay an additional premium to help cover the fat slobs who are trying to eat or drink themselves to death. I know, I know, life isn’t fair, and, many of the people who are sick are just unlucky, not un-careful. It’s the way of insurance, I guess.

So, over the next couple of days, I’ll be posting my “findings” – maybe they’ll help someone else navigate the Medicare maze…

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