Monday, December 20, 2004

Person Of The Year

At first I was irritated by the news that George W. Bush was named Time's "Person of the Year" for 2004. Then I remembered that Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Ayatollah Khomeini were previous winners. In fact, Stalin was a two-time winner just like Bush. So I guess Dubya is in good company.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Feeling Minnesota

For the past four days I've been driving a rental car with Minnesota license plates. I have been a stranger in my own state, or at least perceived as one. For instance, people pass me all the time regardless of how fast I'm driving. It's like they're just sure that idiot from Minnesota is going to slow down or do something stupid soon. Of course, I have taken advantage of that by doing stupid things (pulling over abruptly, making U-turns, etc.) and knowing that people will curse Minnesotans, not me.

Today when that woman came over the hill to find a man relieving himself by the roadside, she probably saw the license plates and commented to her passenger that Minnesotans are so ill-mannered that they piddle along the road like stray dogs. What can I say? I really had to go!

Anyway, since I picked up the car before selecting music for the trip, the Minnesota plates had a big influence on my choices. I started out with several Soul Asylum CDs, plus Dave Pirner's solo disc. Then I added Semisonic and Bob Mould. Alas, I didn't bring along any Husker Du, Trip Shakespeare, or Bob Dylan. I'll save those for a trip to Minnesota. Since this is a central and southern Illinois trip, I brought along Jason Ringenberg (frontman of cowpunk legends Jason & The Scorchers) and Uncle Tupelo.


I've also been speaking in that Northern Plains accent that I learned from my (formerly) North Dakotan relatives. But only to myself. I'd probably burst into laughter if I tried talking to anyone else that way.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

The Return Of King Tut

The Field Museum will be hosting another King Tut exhibit in 2006. The article in today's Chicago Tribune recalled "Tutmania" in the summer of 1977. Somehow I don't see the new exhibit being nearly as popular as the first. For one thing, it will be expensive. The Field Museum hasn't set a price, but a museum in Los Angeles will be charging $25-30 for non-members. Also, it is hard to imagine today's Americans getting excited about ancient history. Our culture is so dominated by newness and trash these days. Most people would be more interested in a reality TV show set in the pyramids of Egypt, or maybe the Pyramid Arena in Memphis, TN.

On the topic of Tutmania, I was shocked that the article didn't mention the first person I thought of when I saw the headline: Steve Martin. After all, how many historical/cultural/art exhibits have spawned a #17 hit single like "King Tut?" Of course, the second thing I thought of came nearly a decade later: the Bangles' hit "Walk Like An Egyptian." My third thought was of a friend who went to Egypt with a college archeology class--and that the instructor wanted her to be his mistress.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Some Consolation - This Won't Last Forever

Leonard Steinhorn writes in Salon that the cultural/moral values of baby boomers and their children are very different from the social conservatives who appear to be steering this country's policies. It is only a matter of time before these evangelicals and older Americans become woefully outnumbered anachronisms. He makes an interesting analogy:
And why do social conservatives loom so large in our politics today? The best historical parallel for them may be the Luddites who terrorized Britain two centuries ago, the workers who traveled around the country smashing machines for fear that the Industrial Revolution would destroy their jobs and way of life. They were loud, and their tenacity gave the impression that they represented more Britons than they actually did, when in fact they were merely acting out their despair and outrage at a world that was passing them by. Today's social conservatives are our cultural Luddites.
So as we watch the Bush administration take its mandate off the deep (right) end, the best we can hope is that America isn't destroyed (and I'm not talking about the terrorism bogeyman) before younger generations get a chance to put the nation back on track.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Will McCartney Do A Morrison?

The NFL has announced that Paul McCartney will be performing at halftime during the Super Bowl in February. No doubt he was chosen as a "safe bet" after the overblown Janet Jackson fiasco last year. I wouldn't really like to see it, but I would love for McCartney to do a Jim Morrison-esque show by dropping his trousers. It would be a hilarious slap in the face to the "family entertainment" NFL.

If John Lennon were still alive, I doubt that they would invite him to perform. In a time of war, I think he would have to make some sort of statement that would probably offend the pro-establishment NFL bigwigs.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Giving Thanks

Last night in an unusual fit of husbandly generosity, I offered to take my wife to the mall. My reasoning was clear: we would go to the mall a couple days before Thanksgiving because I won't go near one between Thanksgiving and Christmas. After half an hour, I wished I hadn't offered. I'm a high-speed power shopper, while my wife is a dawdler at best. In the stores she likes, I spend a long time twiddling my thumbs while she meanders back and forth past the same three shelves of items. In the stores I like, I case the joint in five minutes and spend the next ten trying to get her out the door. I rarely find anything worth buying, while she inevitably wants to buy overpriced, fragrant items. The only type of store we can visit together and enjoy is a bookstore, and I have a $209 receipt from Barnes & Noble last night to prove it (in our defense, half of that was for gifts).

Anyway, in the midst of this predictably painful experience, I found something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving: the Internet. Without it, I'd have to spend more time at the malls.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

A Lesson For You Youngsters Out There

A public service announcement: "Why drinking is bad"

Before my last post, I had a glass of Scotch and let one of the dogs outside. Then I picked out my New Miserable Experience CD, took it upstairs to my office, and blogged as I listened to it. Forty-six minutes later, as the CD ended, I heard a dog bark. Oops. Sure enough, he was standing out on the porch waiting for me to let him in. So don't drink when you're taking care of dogs or children because you just might forget them outside. (And people wonder why I don't have kids.)

Ice Cream, Scotch, And Gin

I just ate some chocolate chip ice cream and chased it down with a glass of Scotch. Bad idea. A former co-worker said he didn't like Scotch because it tasted "too medicinal." Never is that more true than after ice cream. It's a combination so jolting to the body that you'll just have to try it yourself someday.

Right now I'm listening to one of my favorite drinking albums, the Gin Blossoms' New Miserable Experience. Of course, this is not an inspirational record--Doug Hopkins, who wrote half of the songs, was an alcoholic who got kicked out of the band before they hit it big. He committed suicide in 1993. Songs of his like "Lost Horizons," "Hey Jealousy," "Hold Me Down," "Found Out About You" and "Pieces Of The Night" speak of a certain sad, isolated, often intoxicated existence. It's anything but "happy" music, although readers have probably noticed that most of the music I like isn't happy (with Devo being a notable exception).

I first heard New Miserable Experience when my brother gave me his cassette. I think he said it wasn't "heavy enough." I upgraded to a CD around the time I moved out of the house (I always hated prerecorded cassettes--I went straight from LPs to CDs), so this album always reminds me of the first few months I lived in my apartment. While I never drank that much (thank God), I had similar luck in relationships, so it was an appropriate soundtrack (along with the Offspring's "Self Esteem"). A couple years ago, I bought a special 10th anniversary "Deluxe Edition" at a store closing sale. Unfortunately, the bonus disc is comprised of mostly weak material and live versions, plus a particularly lame "alternate" version of "Pieces Of The Night" with an unnecessary piano ending. The Deluxe Edition is on the right below.

By the way, the Gin Blossoms are one of very few rock acts to hail from Arizona. Alice Cooper and the Meat Puppets are a couple of others.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Tribune's Annoying Marketing Ploy

I got a phone call Sunday afternoon from a marketing company representing the Chicago Tribune. The caller informed me that I will now receive the Wednesday and Friday newspapers free in addition to my usual Sunday edition. There's one problem--I don't want two more days of newspapers cluttering up our house. Heck, sometimes it takes me until Wednesday to finish working through the Sunday paper. I get most of my news online, and all that paper is just a waste. We used to get those days, but we canceled because we never opened them. Those newspapers went straight from their clear plastic bags into a blue recycling bag.

I politely told the marketer that I did not want the Wednesday and Friday newspapers. He replied, "You're already getting them. We signed you up for this free gift as a thank-you..." But I don't want them, I replied angrily. "You'll have to call 1-800-TRIBUNE to cancel it." Why can't you cancel it? "You'll have to call 1-800-TRIBUNE."

What kind of customer service is that? Why should I have to take the initiative to stop getting something I didn't ask for and don't want?

This isn't the first time the Tribune Company has used the unwanted free newspaper tactic. They gave us RedEye, a silly paper not even thick enough to use for bird cage liner (not that we have a bird anyway), for several weeks. That was a little different, though. It was a brand new paper, we only got it for a short time, and no intrusive telemarketer called to tell us all about our "free gift."

If it wasn't for the ads and coupons in the Sunday paper, I would cancel my entire subscription just to spite them. I suppose I should give the Tribune Co. a little credit, though. At least they are trying to increase ad revenue by giving away free papers, as opposed to the rival Sun-Times, which scandalously overstated its circulation instead.

Update 11/17/04: I e-mailed Tribune customer service, and they said that my account has no record of those days that the telemarketer said I was already signed up for.

Update 12/05/04: As I expected, I started getting the unwanted newspapers the week after I contacted customer service. I e-mailed them again, and they stopped delivering those days. I also had them remove me from their marketing lists.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Preying On The Handicapped

My wife's grandmother called this morning to tell us that someone broke her car window and stole her handicapped parking plaquard. Just in time for Christmas--now some lazy, thieving bastard gets to park close to the stores to do his shopping. I hope he has a heart attack from lack of exercise. Then again, a**holes are the cockroaches of humanity--they'll outlive us all.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Movies I Just Don't Understand

I don't watch many movies. In fact, my wife and I have seen only three movies in theaters since we met in 1997. Every so often she rents a movie or two, and after much arm-twisting, she gets me to sit and watch them with her. Last Tuesday she rented two of the supposedly best movies of last year, Lost In Translation and Mystic River. We finally watched them last night.

Lost In Translation was just goofy. Sure, the slices of Japanese culture were amusing, and Bill Murray was funny sometimes. On the other hand, it was just a sad and pathetic picture about unhappy people. If I wanted to see unhappy people, I would have taken a picture of myself on Wednesday morning. I won't complain about all the scenes of Scarlett Johansson in her underwear, though--I'll give it at least two stars for that and the cool song that was playing in the "gentleman's club" scene. Anyway, the worst part was the end. Without giving anything away, I'll say that Murray whispers something. We rewound the tape twice (no point having a DVD player to watch a dozen flicks a year), but we still couldn't figure it out. Perhaps more frustratingly, I could figure out the first few words and the last few words, but obviously the "meat" of his statement was the part in between. That was the icing on this absurd cake. It wasn't a bad movie, but I just didn't "get" it.

After a break to watch some depressing news on TV, it was time for Mystic River. When that movie was over, all I could say was, "Man, that's f***ed up!" I'll grant that the movie was shot well, and the characters were believable and well-developed. There were a number of interesting twists, although I figured out "whodunnit" long before my wife (which may not bode well for her chances of being a detective someday, but that's another story). Mystic River was "a tragedy of errors"--there were so many times when I expected a character to say something that would have cleared everything up, but those lines were never spoken. There were also some holes in the movie, places where I could have written the screenplay better. While I predicted the end result of the film, well, it was just f***ed up. It left me with a lot of questions and difficulty falling asleep.

I told my wife she should rent Mystic Pizza next time.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Suspicious Timing

Today the Iraqi government declared a state of emergency in most of the country... for the next 60 days. Gosh, things were just fine only five days ago. You don't suppose they delayed this troubling announcement so that it wouldn't hurt Bush's bid for re-election, do you? How could you not? That's what puppet governments are for.

The Bush administration might tell you it's only because of increased violence over the past few days. Then why was an emergency declared for the next two months? A couple days of unrest do not merit such a long-term expectation of trouble. Clearly things have been going badly for some time. Besides, the latest violence is likely in part a reaction to Bush's re-election, so they can't spin their way out of it. They either suppressed it, delayed it, or caused it.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Blue City, Red State

I took some small consolation on Tuesday that at least I live in a blue state, one that stands for civil rights, peace, fiscal responsibility, and economic opportunity for all, as opposed to the red sea of people that oppose those traditional American values.

Then I looked at the county-by-county tallies from CNN. Cook County was the only county in the state to come out "strong Kerry," with 70% of the vote going to the Democrat. Kerry got 1,389,631 votes to Bush's 583,774, a margin of 805,857 votes. Kerry won Illinois by 513,342 votes. That means that if not for Cook County, Bush would have won with over 54% of the vote. I don't live in a blue state; I live in a blue city. No wonder my dad and others view Illinois politics as Chicago versus the rest of the state.

The only thing most of us could all agree on was that Obama would be a better senator than that nutcase Alan Keyes. However, CNN's county map shows that Keyes actually won a cluster of counties in southeastern Illinois, including Clay (57%), Edwards (60%), Effingham (57%). Jasper (55%), Wabash (54%), and Wayne (57%). Is there something in the water down there? He also won upstate Iroquois County with 51%. Nonetheless, Obama set a record for margin of victory in a U.S. Senate race in Illinois, with 70% to Keyes' 27% for a margin of 43%. Not bad for a non-incumbent, eh?

Bad Branding

1.) There is a brand of cheese called "The Laughing Cow." Am I the only one who associates laughing with insanity, as in Pink Floyd's "Brain Damage/Eclipse" from Dark Side Of The Moon? A synonym for insanity is madness which, of course, leads us to mad cow disease. Hmm, maybe I don't want my cheese from a laughing cow, however cute the happy cow character may be.

2.) The Balance Bar company has a new line of bars called "Balance Carb Well." Lots of food manufacturers are bringing out low carb products these days, but isn't there something wrong with this? The company's products are based on the nutritional theory that the proper caloric balance of nutrients is 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat. A low carb product undermines the company's entire premise. While they may regain some former Balance Bar consumers who have gone low carb, they may confuse a lot of potential customers, too.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

A Loss For America, A Loss For Common Sense

For the past couple days, I have been wrestling with what to say about the election. I am disappointed with the narrow majority of Americans who kept President Bush in office. I just cannot believe so many people have been hoodwinked by the Republican spin machine. I admit that Karl Rove and company are tactical masters, but I also think Americans don't know how to think for themselves anymore--they simply adopt whatever position the people on TV or radio tell them. Consequently, we have a second term for a president who should never have been elected in the first place. Maybe it is appropriate that the nation has re-elected a man who has little intellectual curiosity, since that trait obviously reflects a national flaw. In the Internet age, it doesn't take much effort to learn both sides of a story. It disgusts me that so few voters care enough to do so.

Kerry may not have been the greatest candidate, but Bush clearly has so many problems, both in character and as a leader, that I cannot fathom how anyone could vote for him. It would be redundant for me to give reasons today. That's what this blog's archives are for, in case you are more intellectually curious than our commander in chief. I just fear that in four years, it will be painfully obvious why he shouldn't have been re-elected. Maybe even the red states will get the message by then.

The only good thing about this result is that now the Repugnicans can't blame Democrats when the war in Iraq drags on for years. Of course, it isn't in their nature to blame themselves, either. Heck, Dubya won't even admit he made a single mistake in the past four years. With Republicans in control of every branch of government, it should be interesting to see who does get the blame. I suppose they'll have to scapegoat one of their own.


So where do we go from here as a country? Bush seems to view his victory as a mandate, which means he has not learned from the past. After eking out a win in 2000 by the skin of his teeth, he ruled as if everyone supported him. That only enraged and polarized the opposition. Bush's "uniter not a divider" shtick proved to be so wrong that he couldn't even say it during the 2004 campaign, at least not without snickering. While he won clearly this time, 51% is not an overwhelming majority. Also, an LA Times exit poll shows how strongly people feel on both sides. For example, 79% of Bush voters think his economic policies have made the country better off, while 90% of Kerry voters think they have made us worse off. The numbers are similar in regard to Iraq and Bush's overall performance. Very few voters were doing eeny-meeny-miny-mo in the booths on Tuesday. This nation is still divided from the wounds of the 2000 election and the war with Iraq, and those wounds have festered instead of healing. Quite frankly, a large portion of the populace hates him and all he stands for.

There should be riots in the streets, and maybe someday soon there will be. I'll keep my shoes by the door.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Tension

When my wife left for work this evening, I told her I was going to sit in front of the TV with a bottle of Scotch and watch the election results. I've had a bad feeling about Kerry's chances today (I did my part, of course), so I added that she'd probably come home at 2 AM to find me wallowing in a puddle of urine and vomit. Not a pretty picture, but this hasn't been a pretty campaign, either.

Instead of watching TV, I decided to track the results online as I worked on other things. Multi-tasking helped me keep my sanity. I made it to 12:30 AM before I had to open the liquor cabinet. With Bush frighteningly close to re-election, I cracked. I didn't even use a snifter; I just picked out the least favorite single malt in my collection (Tomatin--never buy whisky based on the unique shape of the bottle) and drank a healthy serving from a plain glass. This wasn't about savoring a fine malt--it was all about dulling my senses. I chased it with half a shot of 12-year Highland Park just for good measure. It worked. I'm ready for the next few hours, as long as I don't fall asleep. I just hope I don't have to do this for the next four years.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

This Is It... VOTE FOR CHANGE

John Kerry may not be perfect, but George W. Bush will go down in history as one of our worst presidents. A vote for Bush is blood on your hands. Either Al Qaeda will strike us for our imperialist policies, or our soldiers will die for our imperialist policies. The Bush-Cheney regime has put the United States into a no-win situation, and too many Americans have been fooled. Don't be one of them. Vote your conscience, and remember that our president has no conscience.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Bruce Springsteen & John Kerry

Bruce Springsteen was in Madison, Wisconsin the other day with John Kerry. He performed two songs and stated why he supports Kerry for president. Kerry doesn't exactly stand for everything that Springsteen believes (if you listen to his lyrics, Springsteen is to the left of both major parties), but he is obviously much closer than Bush. When Kerry took the stage, he said that the first concert he took his daughters to see was on Springsteen's "Born In The U.S.A." tour. The best part of the story came after Bruce left the stage:

Springsteen... strode down the street to meet up with his wife, singer Patti Scialfa. The couple stopped in front of a house full of college students gathered on a second-floor deck. "Bruce, come up for a beer," said a sign hanging from the railing.

Springsteen and Scialfa walked up to the house and emerged on the upper deck, each taking a bottle of Capitol Amber, a local brew, and watching as Kerry paid homage to the man who made the working people of Asbury Park, N.J., famous. "He sings about real people. It's poetry, it's beautiful, about life and struggles and what's important," said Kerry, who plays classical guitar. "And the people he sings about are the people I think we ought to be fighting about and having representation in the White House that's worthy in this country." Still, said Kerry, as he acknowledged the obvious, "I may be running for president of the United States, but we all know who the real boss is! Right?"

As the crowd roared, Springsteen doubled over, laughing at the return tribute.

Speaking of "Born In The U.S.A.," one of the best things about Springsteen supporting Kerry is that this year the Republicans can't use his music out of context like they have used that song and others in the past. Of course, the campaign managers aren't the only ones guilty of this. I was driving through the Texas panhandle and listening to the radio the day Bush started the war with Iraq (incidentally, I had been caught in the middle of a political argument at breakfast). Seemingly out of nowhere (it didn't fit their "format"), the radio station started playing "Born In The U.S.A." It turned out to be a mix of that song with some ominous, threatening quotes from Bush directed at Saddam Hussein. It was the typical jingoistic, knee jerk, redneck stuff that some Americans pass off as "patriotism" these days. Omigod, these people have no clue, I thought. Imagine the irony of using a song about Vietnam (not to mention a bad economy) as the background for Bush talking about Iraq. How prophetic!

By the way, Springsteen isn't the only musician the Bush campaign will be excluding from their greatest hits album. In news that must make my mom happy, the writer of "Still The One" by the band Orleans asked them to stop using his song.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Al Gore

I haven't shaved in a couple of weeks, and I commented to my wife that I was going for the Al Gore look. Remember how he grew a beard after he lost the 2000 election in the Supreme Court? My wife said, "That was sad. He really looked like he had just given up all hope... But then, what can he do? He was vice president, he ran for president, and he lost. His career is over."

"Wait a minute," I said. "Gore is still fairly young, isn't he?" He's only 56. I continued, "Richard Nixon was vice president, ran for president, lost, and came back eight years later to win." I'm not saying that Gore should do this, or that he would be the best choice for the Democrats in a future election (after all, if he had been a great candidate, he would have defeated Bush by a bigger margin), but it's not only possible--it's been done before.

He would be a better choice than Hillary Clinton. I don't mind her, but too many people hate her enough that they would never change their minds and vote for her, regardless of her platform. People are already talking about Barack Obama, at least for vice president, but I think it's a little premature. He gave a great speech at the convention, but let's wait and see how he fares in Washington.

Incidentally, I ran into a couple of former co-workers on the El this afternoon. They recognized me immediately despite my Al Gore disguise.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Endorsements For Bush

President Bush isn't supported by his local (Crawford, TX) newspaper, but he has received a couple of other endorsements lately.

For some reason, a number of Chicago Tribune readers are up in arms over the paper's endorsement of President Bush. These readers sadly demonstrate a lack of historical knowledge. The Tribune's Republican roots run deep--to the founding of the party 150 years ago. From the web site of Cantigny, the estate of former Tribune editor and publisher Colonel Robert R. McCormick:

As editors and publishers of the Chicago Tribune, Joseph Medill and Robert Rutherford McCormick (Medill's grandson) used the newspaper as a forum for advocating their own political points of views. On a national scale, Joseph Medill was instrumental in helping to establish the Republican National Party and in securing Abraham Lincoln’s election to the Presidency of the United States.
So while I do not agree with the editorial board's choice, I certainly wouldn't cancel my subscription over it, as some readers have. This endorsement was a foregone conclusion. Indeed, as Eric Zorn wrote in his blog, "...The next time [the Tribune] endorses a Democrat for president will be the first."

The second endorsement is much more interesting and amusing to me: Iran. Although Bush called them part of "the axis of evil," they figure that a Republican president is better since, as the article says, "Democrats tend to press human-rights issues."

Again, a little historical perspective helps to explain this. Remember the Iran-Contra affair that Dubya's daddy was involved in (yet somehow didn't hang for)? Come to think of it, in light of that treasonous Republican scheme (the U.S. sold arms to the country that sponsored the 1983 truck bombing in Lebanon that killed 241 American soldiers), how can so many Americans trust the GOP to fight the "war on terror?" Then again, the American people elevated vice president Bush to the presidency despite his involvement (he proceeded to pardon the others on his way out of office in 1992). If you aren't familiar with Iran-Contra, please visit this site; it is chilling in light of our current world.

Alas, the Bush administration isn't quite ready to embrace the axis of evil: "It's not an endorsement we'll be accepting anytime soon," spokesman Scott Stanzel said.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Political Vandalism

An article in today's Tribune talks about how Bush-Cheney signs are being vandalized at a rate unprecedented in political history. The GOP actually held a press conference downtown to discuss the theft and destruction of campaign signs. Slow news day, huh? Excuse me while I laugh myself silly. The tone of the article is so hysterical, it is ridiculous:

In Gurnee, Simpson said, someone got out of a car and ripped up a Bush-Cheney sign in a front yard as two young children played outside.
Oh no! Not in front of the children! I'm sure they'll be traumatized for life.

State Senator Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) said, "We're talking about something that is a federal and state hate crime." The Tribune reported this without noting that he is wrong. According to my police officer wife, "hate crime" laws only cover crimes based on race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Maybe tearing down the Cheney sign is a hate crime because his daughter is a lesbian? Dillard could argue that this is a free speech issue, but it is not a hate crime. People just love to throw that term around, as if there is such a thing as a "love crime."

Incidentally, Democrats reported similar cases regarding Kerry-Edwards signs, but they didn't see any need to call a press conference to whine about it.

I am surprised that the GOP didn't mention the vandalism on stop signs in my neighborhood: "BUSH" stenciled in white paint below the word "STOP." No, it wasn't me.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

I'm The Lucky Winner!

I got a phone call yesterday. The man told me that I won a Chicago Sun-Times raffle. I never entered such a raffle, but I figured I'd hear the guy out. Well, the prize I won was "the Sunday Sun-Times for only one dollar a week." Since when does a raffle prize require you to pay for something? Gee, what a deal. Then again, I wouldn't want the Sun-Times if it was free, either. The Sunday Tribune is more than enough to read, and the Sun-Times is a third-rate paper at best.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Huh?

So let me get this straight... Kerry mentioned something about Cheney's openly lesbian daughter in the last debate, and now the Republicans are going after him for mentioning her? They just can't handle the "L" word, can they?

This was not an "attack" against Mary Cheney. What Alan Keyes said at the convention was, but this was not. Kerry was simply using her as an example of a person who did not "choose" to be a lesbian, but was born as one. Scientific evidence generally supports this theory, not that Bush cares much about science. Kerry's point in mentioning Mary Cheney was that we are not talking about a conceptual thing, we are talking about real people. He did not say anything against her lifestyle, and he did not reveal anything that people don't already know. It's as if he had been talking about women's rights and mentioned that, oh-my-gosh, Laura Bush is a woman, too!

It just amazes me how the Repugnicans blow things like this out of proportion. Maybe they should replace their elephant mascot with a molehill that morphs into a mountain. They are just upset that Kerry was the better debater. Now they're up against the ropes, and they'll do anything to try to make the Dems look bad, regardless of what Kerry actually says.

This strategy of distraction has been used ad nauseum over the last four years. The main reason the gay marriage constitutional amendment issue was resurrected was to take Iraq out of the headlines (and to a lesser extent to rally the fundamentalist Christian wing of the party). It's obvious that every day the media spend covering the manufactured "controversy du jour" is a day that the media aren't talking about the failings of the Dubya administration.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Presidential Hubris

I was shocked several weeks ago when Bush said we couldn't win the war on terror. Not only was he "flip-flopping" as he so childishly accuses Kerry of doing, but for once he was speaking the truth. Naturally, he changed his mind (got back "on message") the following day, lest he lose his deceitful reputation. This week, Kerry is saying that we can minimize terrorism, but we cannot eliminate it. Bush, with remarkable hubris even by his standards, says that Kerry is wrong and that we will indeed destroy terrorism.

We cannot win the war on terror. First of all, we would have to please all of the people all of the time. I don't see how Bush could think that our nation could do that internationally when he personally has aroused so much resentment just within our borders. Second, there is no way to deter someone from carrying out a terrorist act. If someone is willing to pay with his or her life, then what threat of punishment could we use to stop that person? Third, it is impossible to watch everyone all the time. No matter how many troops, police, video cameras, etc. the U.S. deploys, we cannot watch or catch every potential terrorist. The small and highly militarized country of Israel has been unable to eliminate terrorist acts within its borders, so how could we? If we can't eradicate gangs in the U.S., how could anyone presume that we could control the entire world? For an example of a similarly international and unmanageable controntation, look at the "war on drugs."

The Neo-Cons might compare the war against terror to the Cold War against communism, but they are completely different. To change a government, we don't have to convince everyone in a nation, just the "right people" (whether by persuasion or force). To "win" the war on terrorism, we would have to control every person in every nation--it only takes one dissenter to terrorize the world. There has always been terrorism in the world (for example, one could argue that our founding fathers were terrorists in the eyes of the British), and there always will be. No arrogant, self-righteous president can change that with bombs and soldiers. Bush is telling people what they want to hear, not the truth.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

How About A Write-In Campaign?

Since Alan Keyes is going to get trounced anyway, let's make it really ugly. I have a proposal for you Republicans out there. To show your displeasure with your party's choice of candidate, write in "Jack Ryan" for U.S. Senator! Wouldn't it be great if Ryan got more votes than the man the GOP put on the ballot to replace him? Write in Ryan! Catchy slogan, isn't it?

Great Moments In Product Placement

The other day I shopped at a Dominick's grocery store. I noticed that unlike most stores, they had the condoms near the end of an aisle at the front of the store. Then I saw that the liquor department was only 15-20 feet away! I guess they're going for those Friday night one-stop shoppers.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Liberated And Terrified

I felt liberated saying my goodbyes today. Everyone said, "We'll probably have you back here soon," since this was my second return engagement. Boldly I said, "Probably not. I'm changing careers." That surprised a lot of people. When I said I was going to be a freelance copywriter, people said things like, "I didn't know you had any background in that." That didn't exactly build my confidence, but I know how to write, and that's half the battle. I'll figure it out as I go, I suppose. Others didn't understand the freelance concept. "Write for who?" they asked.

By the time I shut off my computer and walked out the door, I felt liberated yet terrified. On one hand, I was not only leaving behind an assignment that caused me a lot of inner turmoil (let me note that the client's people were not at fault--they've been friends for a long time, as much as 11 years), but I had also declared my intentions to start anew as a freelance copywriter. And that is what terrifies me. I didn't burn any bridges, but by declaring my intention not to return, I will feel like a failure if I do. As I told my wife, I'll have to walk in with a big "F" on my forehead! As I walked toward the train, I was torn between excitement and fear. I've been contemplating this for so long that I had almost forgotten how foreign and scary the idea of striking out alone is to most people.

The End Of An Era

Going back to something after you have decided to go in another direction rings so hollow. It's like when you break up with someone, then you go out again. It can never be the same or as good as it once was. That's how I have felt for the past three months. After I decided to change careers, an old client came calling. Against my wife's advice, I took this short programming gig just to save up some cash. As Glenn Frey sang, "It's the lure of easy money, it's got a very strong appeal."

While these few months have been lucrative, I have been miserable. I've never been a shiny, happy person, but my mood has darkened considerably. I don't think my wife could bear another month of me like this. Certain family members haven't helped--they insinuate that I'm doing this because I failed in my new career when in fact, I had yet to really begin.

My body has suffered, too. For the first few weeks, I maintained and even intensified my exercise regimen, but that soon went down the tubes. And while I haven't abandoned my diet completely, I'm eating larger portions more frequently, and I've gained ten pounds. Incidentally, I never considered myself to be much of a "stress eater" before. The nail-biting habit that I had kicked has returned with a vengeance, too. The thing is, my client hasn't really put me under a lot of stress--it's all coming from within. I haven't been true to myself.

The only good thing to come out of this is that it strengthens my resolve to do something else. I've been talking the talk about being a freelance copywriter long enough; it's time to walk the walk. My client wants me to come back in 2005, but I won't make this mistake a second time. Today is my last day of earning a living as a computer programmer.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Martha Stewart And Squeaky Fromme

What do Martha Stewart and Squeaky Fromme have in common? No, Martha doesn't follow Charles Manson. Nor has Squeaky built a media empire on her domestic prowess. At least, I don't think either of those is true. But what they do have in common, as of October 8, is that both will have served time at Alderson Federal Prison Camp in West Virginia.

Martha is upset that she didn't get her first or second choice of prison. Choice? Since when do we give convicted criminals a choice of where to serve time? Sheesh, isn't it enough that she gets to serve her time in a minimum security facility? Maybe she should have chosen not to lie to investigators. Then she wouldn't have to worry about any of this.

Kerry Endorsed By Crawford, TX Newspaper

It's not a big endorsement since the newspaper (the Lone Star Iconoclast--gotta love that name) only has a circulation of 1,000, but I like seeing this in Bush's back yard:
The editorial's writer, Publisher W. Leon Smith, argues that no one would have voted for Bush in 2000 if he had promised to drain funding from Social Security, raise oil prices and give tax cuts to businesses shipping jobs overseas--or "involve this country in a deadly and highly questionable war."
As typical knee-jerk Republicans, several local business owners already say they won't advertise in the Iconoclast anymore.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Analysis Of Kerry's Iraq Statements

The GOP B.S. machine is so busy spewing out flip-flop charges against Kerry that people might actually start to believe them. Here's an article that won't get the publicity it deserves. Marc Sandalow of the San Francisco Chronicle's Washington bureau talks about the Republican spin, then counters
Yet an examination of Kerry's words in more than 200 speeches and statements, comments during candidate forums and answers to reporters' questions does not support the accusation.
As foreign policy emerged as a dominant issue in the Democratic primaries and later in the general election, Kerry clung to a nuanced, middle-of-the road -- yet largely consistent -- approach to Iraq. Over and over, Kerry enthusiastically supported a confrontation with Saddam Hussein even as he aggressively criticized Bush for the manner in which he did so.
Kerry repeatedly described Hussein as a dangerous menace who must be disarmed or eliminated, demanded that the U.S. build broad international support for any action in Iraq and insisted that the nation had better plan for the post-war peace.
The article takes on my favorite GOP lie, wherein they imply that Kerry flip-flopped on funding the Iraq war and therefore doesn't support the troops:
Kerry voted for a measure that paid for the $87 billion by reducing tax cuts for those who earn more than $300,000. He voted against a measure that paid for the $87 billion by adding to the deficit.
Every time I hear Bush, Cheney, et al try to use that against Kerry, my blood boils, and not just because those chicken hawks dare to question the commitment to the military of a guy who actually fought. The supposedly fiscally conservative Republicans have been screwing our nation for a quarter of a century by growing the deficit to fund the military (usually starving domestic programs) while giving their wealthiest constituents tax cuts. Kerry didn't want to run up our national credit card to fund this war, but the Bush people eschew fiscal responsibility.

The real genius of the Reagan Revolution was the way the Republicans used Reagan's deficit spending to handcuff Clinton and force him to reduce the deficit their party had created. Clinton managed to get us into a budget surplus, but then America (or rather, the Supreme Court) handed the reins over to another Republican who uses Reagan's exact same tactics. If we don't elect Kerry, we're just going to keep on getting deeper into debt. Since so many Americans are up to their eyeballs in debt themselves, they don't see the problem with this. Of course, if we do elect Kerry, the Republicans will hold his feet to the fire to reduce the deficit they created. And so it goes.

Keyes Gets Zinged

Charlie Madigan aka The Rambling Gleaner has been writing an entertaining and insightful blog about the campaign trail in the Chicago Tribune. Today he writes about visiting Bob Jones University. Madigan notes that Keyes expressed outrage about Bush speaking at Bob Jones in 2000 even though he spoke there himself in 1996. But here's the best part: he describes Keyes as "the Republican hopeless in the U.S Senate race in Illinois" as opposed to "the Republican hopeful!" I nearly blew my mouthful of water all over my keyboard when I read that!

One Small Calorie

I thought everyone remembered the Diet Pepsi jingle from the 1980s:
Now you see it, now you don't
Here you have it, here you won't
Oh Diet Pepsi one small calorie
Now you see it now you don't
I always wondered how that bottle had one calorie, no more and no less. I pictured a guy dropping a single calorie into each bottle just for the sake of marketing. Whatever the case, I thought it was a pretty memorable ad campaign that distinguished the product from others. In the past week, however, I have heard two other diet colas mistakenly described as having "one calorie."

First, I overheard a woman saying that she likes Diet Coke because it only has one calorie. As far as I know, it has always had zero, or as their web site says, "less than one calorie," attributed to traces in "aspartame, caramel color and citric acid" (the label says zero because of FDA rounding). For more than you ever really wanted to know about this topic, check out the Diet Coke Product FAQ. I quizzed my wife last night about which drink had "just one calorie," and she said Diet Coke, too.

Then yesterday a co-worker was complimenting my choice of beverage, Diet Rite: "That's good stuff. My mom drinks it. And it's got just one calorie, you know." Well, actually, Diet Rite doesn't have any calories. Technically, the presence of caramel color and citric acid means it probably has a tiny amount, so I'd put it in the "less than one" range like Diet Coke.

I always thought Diet Pepsi had an effective and memorable ad campaign. Now I wonder, have people confused the ads for these diet drinks over time? Or did the old Diet Pepsi ads make people think that all diet drinks have one calorie? The kicker is that nowadays, even Diet Pepsi doesn't have one calorie--it has zero, too!

Monday, September 27, 2004

The Only Question About The Senate Race

The only question about the race for U.S. Senator in Illinois is, how big will Obama's margin be? This could be the most lopsided Senate race in Illinois history. I did a little research, and it looks like the biggest margin of victory since the people (instead of state legislatures) began electing U.S. Senators was in 1920 when William B. McKinley (R) defeated Peter A. Waller (D) 66.8% to 26.8% for a margin of 40%. I would not be surprised to see Obama maintain a margin greater than 50% and take over 70% of the vote. I predict that the major networks will call this election at 7:02 PM Central Standard Time.

Keyes Does The Inevitable

When I first saw campaign posters for Barack Obama before the Democratic primary, I snickered. I said to my wife, "How unfortunate to have a name that close to 'Osama.' He'd have to be a heck of a candidate to win with that dubious name recognition."

Lo and behold, he was a good candidate, and now he's running against Alan Keyes. And leave it to a desperate candidate like Keyes (trailing Obama by 51% in the polls) to make use of that nefarious name association. From a story in the Quincy Herald-Whig:
Keyes later led the crowd in a series of chants where they answered his questions with the refrain "Obama been lyin'."
Eric Zorn followed up with the reporter, Doug Wilson, who verified that "Obama been lyin'" was indeed intended to sound like "Osama Bin Laden:"
"I'm certain that's what they're doing," he said. "They're trying to equate (Obama) to a really, really bad man."
I do believe Dr. Keyes has reached a new low. Meanwhile, Obama is collecting money from people in Keyes' home state of Maryland who don't want to see him become a U.S. Senator from any state.

Congratulations, Charlie!!!

Charlie Hamilton rode his bike to Boston's Fenway Park yesterday to see a Red Sox game. Big deal? You bet. Fenway is the thirtieth Major League ballpark Charlie has visited this season. He started at a pre-season game in Atlanta on April 2nd and pedaled his bicycle 11,741 miles to every Major League city. This took some detailed planning since he not only had to determine a route, but he had to coordinate it with the schedules of the teams to make sure they were in town when he was. Along the way, he has been raising money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. You can read all about his six-month adventure at HitfortheCycle.org. For an Associated Press article about his trip, click here.

Making Hell A Nicer Place

The big news from Michigan is that John Colone of the infamously named town of Hell wants to create a Hell Downtown Development Authority. The plan is to take taxes being paid by the three businesses in Hell (Colone owns two of them) and spend them in Hell rather than elsewhere in the county.
He has worked for years to clean up Hell to capitalize on its name as a tourist attraction. “More people have told you to come to our town that any other on earth,” Colone said.
You can't fault a guy for trying to clean up Hell. I've been to Hell (and back) twice. Most recently, I rode a bicycle there last year. To see some pictures of what Colone has accomplished so far, click here. It's a nice start, but you can see that there is lots more potential there.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Heroin And Sterner Stuff

For the past couple days, I've had two songs going through my head. I don't sing in the shower much (which is probably why I'm still married), but yesterday I found myself singing Warren Zevon's "Carmelita," of all things:

Carmelita, hold me tighter
I think I'm sinking down
And I'm all strung out on heroin
On the outskirts of town
There's nothing like starting the day with an upbeat tune like that! My regular readers (hi Mom!) may recall that I wrote about this song during the second last day of my cross-country bike tour. I recently heard Flaco Jimenez's excellent version with Dwight Yoakum. An online review amusingly notes that Yoakum fans will have to buy Jimenez's album to hear it since country radio wouldn't dare play it.

I've also had Procol Harum's "In The Wee Small Hours Of Sixpence" going through my head:
And if grief is not the reason
He must be of sterner stuff
And his sword though old and rusty
Must be blunt as sharp enough
I was introduced to Procol Harum in high school by a friend who had great taste in sixties music but deranged taste in everything else (in particular, he was fascinated with Charles Manson). The band is best known, of course, for the intriguing "A Whiter Shade Of Pale." I was pleasantly surprised to find an extensive fan site about the band (including pages and pages about their biggest hit). Procol Harum's lyrics were mostly written by a poet (Keith Reid) rather than a musician, which explains why many of them are challenging to explicate (Matthew Fisher, whose Hammond organ was an integral part of "A Whiter Shade Of Pale," considers this an especially American pursuit). "Sixpence" is somewhat obscure; it was a single available in the U.S. on only The Best Of Procol Harum for many years. The song is described there as "a vigorous, imaginative view of some of life's mysteries," which doesn't really explain anything. I haven't listened to that record (yes, I have it on vinyl) in years, but I have a feeling I'll be playing it this weekend.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Okay, I'm A DEVO Dork

Last night I volunteered at the Run Hit Wonder, a huge 5K/10K race (10,000 runners) put on by Nike featuring such eighties relics as A Flock Of Seagulls, Tommy Tutone, and Tone-Loc playing on the course. I was stationed at the start/finish line so I didn't get to see any of those bands, but the highlight of the evening promised to be a post-race concert by DEVO.

While passing out water cups at the start, I met another volunteer named Desiree (cursed to go through life reminding people of a Neil Diamond song). She was very friendly, and we ended up hanging out together most of the night. After we ran out of water bottles to pass out at the race finish, we headed toward the concert area. There we were in for a rude surprise: only runners were allowed, not volunteers. The main reason I volunteered was to see the concert, and now I was denied. I suppose I was better off than Desiree, though. She came to see A Flock Of Seagulls, but they only played on the course so she missed them entirely (we both wondered if they still had the same hair). At least I could hear DEVO, even if I couldn't get close enough to see much of them. As we stood outside the concert area, Desiree said, "All they had was that one song, 'Whip It,' right?"

"Oh, no," I replied, proving that I am indeed a DEVO dork. "They had lots of other songs." I proceeded to sing a few of them ("Peek-A-Boo," "Jocko Homo," "Mongoloid," "The Girl U Want"). Not one was remotely familiar to her. In fact, she said they all sounded kind of the same, but I assured her it was just that I am a very bad singer.

Barred from the concert area, we sat on the grass off to the side where we could just barely make out the awkwardly moving figures onstage that were DEVO. The sound system was lousy; the volume went up and down randomly. I have never felt so detached at a concert. It was like we were talking over the jukebox at a bar. In fact, they were halfway through "Whip It" when Desiree pointed out that this was their big hit and we were missing it. When the song ended, we watched hordes of runners head for the exit--that was all they wanted to hear. I felt sorry for DEVO. In a normal DEVO concert, they were just getting started ("Whip It" comes in the middle of the show), but here, the uninitiated audience was abandoning them. Alas, that is the curse of having one big hit.

As DEVO continued with their unique interpretation of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," Desiree incredulously asked, "Oh no, now they're going to play the Rolling Stones?"

"Hey, this is one of their hits!" said DEVO dork Dave. As a child of the eighties, I considered anything with a music video to be a "hit," regardless of whether it made the charts.

After a couple more songs, Desiree decided to go home. She said I should stay, but I just wasn't into it; it was like watching a concert from a high-rise balcony. As we walked north on Columbus Drive, DEVO began playing "Mongoloid." I started singing along. She must have thought I was nuts.

The Brown Line trains have been painfully slow for the past few nights because of track work, so I happily accepted her generous offer to drive me home. Wouldn't you know it, ten minutes after she dropped me off, it hit me: surely she's heard "Beautiful World!" Yep, I'm a DEVO dork. Actually, the correct term is spud. And if you understand that, you're a DEVO dork, too.

Damn, That's Fast!

A motorcyclist in Minnesota got a ticket for going 205 mph in a 65 zone. I don't know if a radar gun even goes that high--this guy got nailed by a "bear in the air," as C.W. McCall would say. It happened on U.S. Highway 61. There's a new Bob Dylan lyric somewhere in there, but I can't think of it right now...

Thursday, September 23, 2004

New Help For The Under-Endowed

No, this isn't some "add three inches" E-mail promise. It is the ultimate proof of a man's virility... the size of his truck. SUVs are just average. A Hummer is better, or a Ford F-350 pick-up, the one with four rear tires. But now Navistar has upped the ante. Their new CXT (short for commercial extreme truck) is the world's largest production pick-up truck, two feet taller than a Hummer or an F-350. It weighs seven tons and can haul another six tons in its bed. "It's not going to fit into the standard garage," said a Navistar spokesman. Don't expect it to be a big hit with the redneck crowd, though--it costs $93-115,000! Notice that Navistar failed to mention the price in their press release.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Da Coach Gets Dissed

The Chicago Bears recently unveiled a sculpture honoring George Halas at Soldier Field. It features great players like Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski, Dick Butkus, Walter Payton, et al, but Mike Ditka is curiously missing. In addition to Ditka's outstanding career as a tight end, including a role on the 1963 championship team, this is the man Halas picked to lead the Bears as his own health was fading, a man to carry on the tradition. Ditka rose to the challenge, of course, by coaching the team to its only Super Bowl victory. By then, Halas was gone and Michael McCaskey was in charge. McCaskey never liked Ditka, and he got rid of him as soon as the team faltered.

Chicagoans love Ditka. The big story in August was whether Ditka would run for senator in place of Jim "Sex Club" Ryan. Ditka wisely declined, and the GOP foolishly chose Alan Keyes to run instead.


Tribune sports columnist Rick Morrissey wrote today about Ditka's exclusion, placing the blame squarely on the personal biases of the McCaskey family.
The Bears say Ditka didn't fit the concept of the sculpture, which, in part, focuses on the lineage of great running backs and linebackers in team history. They say they already had two players from his era, Butkus and Sayers. They also say that most of the players on the sculpture played their entire careers for the Bears. Ditka played six of his 12 seasons in Chicago, then went to Philadelphia and Dallas. The only way they could have narrowed their criteria anymore would have been by saying that anyone with the initials "M.D." was ineligible.
For what it's worth, only four players in Bears history have had those initials (don't ask me why I look up such things). The bottom line is that if Halas himself had chosen the players for the sculpture, Ditka would be there. Ditka would never admit it, but I'll bet he's disappointed to be left out. If he were running for the U.S. Senate, this flagrant dissing would probably be worth 10% in sympathy votes. One can only hope that Ditka will get his own statue once Michael McCaskey is gone.

Nominee For Worst Cover Song Of 2004

"My Generation" by Hilary Duff - I know, I know. You're thinking, "Any idiot could have picked that one without even listening to it." Well, this idiot did listen to it, and it was even worse than I imagined. This version manages to slight every member of The Who. The synthetic dance beat is laughable compared to Keith Moon's antics. Duff's tepid singing is the antithesis of Roger Daltrey's powerful voice. The classic bass solo was emasculated; it was as if Duff's bassist jumped up and down Pete Townshend-style on John Entwistle's grave.

But songwriter Townshend got slighted worst of all. Duff destroyed the whole meaning of "My Generation" with a simple lyric change. Disney corporate product that she is, Duff couldn't dare sing "Hope I die before I get old." People might think she was suicidal, or a bunch of 14-year-old girls might jump off a bridge singing it. Instead, she says, yep, "Hope I don't die before I get old." Wasn't Daltrey singing that he didn't want to get old and become part of the Establishment? I guess Duff already is a part of the Establishment, so she just hopes she doesn't die and keeps on raking in the bucks for tripe like this. That's the most destructive lyric rewrite I've heard since Keb' Mo' changed "Folsom Prison Blues" from "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die" to "they say I shot a man in Reno but that was just a lie" (isn't the singer's guilt and paying his debt to society a critical element to that song?).


I'm being hard on the girl, but all she had to do was perform a different song. "My Generation" is a monument of rock 'n' roll, the sixties, and indeed, a generation. When it comes to covers, she should stick to stuff like "Our Lips Are Sealed." While her version of that song isn't exactly groundbreaking, at least it isn't offensively corrupted.

I hereby nominate "My Generation" for this year's "Landslide" award, named for the awful butchering of the Fleetwood Mac classic rendered by the Dixie Chicks a few years ago (the Smashing Pumpkins did it much better, by the way). One can only hope that Duff's mistake doesn't become a new trend. What's next, Britney Spears singing "Behind Brown Eyes?"

"Seven Days" by Bob Dylan

That's the song in my head today: "Seven more days, all I gotta do is survive."

"Seven Days" wasn't officially released by Dylan until The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 in 1991, but he wrote it years earlier. Ron Wood recorded it on his 1979 solo album Gimme Some Neck with an appropriately Dylanesque voice. It's the best song on the album, although a few others are pretty good, too (overall much better than the follow-up 1 2 3 4). Wood also performed "Seven Days" for Bob Dylan - The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration, an exceptional all-star concert album.

The reason this song is on my mind is that I have only seven days left in this consulting gig. As for why I am so glad to be leaving, that will have to wait for a later post...

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The Next Generation Of Bicycle Tourists

The latest e-newsletter from the Adventure Cycling Association directed me to an archived article by Willie Weir titled "Endangered Species." I have read a number of articles by Weir, particularly about his travels in Turkey, and he is much more adventurous than I'll ever be. Anyway, in this story he ponders the future of bicycle touring. He notes that when he was young, lots of kids rode their bikes to school, but nowadays relatively few do.
Most are driven to school in SUVs until they reach the age where they can buy their own cars... For the generation growing up today, the bicycle is something you put on top of your Ford Explorer until you reach a recreational trail. It is a toy, not a viable means of transportation.
Then he tells a great story about a class of third graders who were fascinated by his bike trip through India. Weir says that we are responsible for inspiring the next generation of bicycle tourists by sharing our stories. He's right. I have been pleasantly surprised by how my cycling web site has motivated others to start riding again. Interacting with these people has been almost as rewarding to me as touring itself. So after you read his article (a heartwarming tale that even non-cyclists should enjoy), check out my cross-country bike trip.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Fines For Marijuana

This is the best idea I've heard in a long time. A Chicago police sergeant has suggested that the city should ticket people for possessing small amounts of marijuana rather than arresting them:

Sgt. Tom Donegan said he has long been fed up with making arrests for possession of small amounts of the drug, only to see judges later drop the charges. He said that court records from last year indicate that 94 percent of the 6,954 Chicago cases involving marijuana amounts smaller than 2.5 grams were dismissed, as were 81 percent of the cases involving from 2.5 to 10 grams. Donegan said assessing fines of $250 for possession of 10 grams or less would have raised $5 million for the city's coffers in 2003.
This proposition was announced the same day that City Hall suggested raising taxes on gasoline and natural gas. The problem with a gasoline tax is that people leave the city to buy gas (the city already charges an extra five cents). As for natural gas, since most Chicagoans heat their homes with it, an added tax there would be like a back-door real estate tax increase. The marijuana proposal is a better alternative. Not only would it increase city revenue (and cut the expense of paying police to go to court for cases that are thrown out), but it would take a burden off the courts, too, to the tune of 27-28 cases a day (6,954 cases divided by 250 weekdays). One addition I would suggest to prevent this from being abused by those who can afford the fines is a limit similar to speeding tickets: after a certain number of tickets, the offender should be arrested. Theoretically, a judge would be less likely to throw out a case knowing that the offender has violated the law several times to even end up in court.

Of course, as someone who uses lots of natural gas, some gasoline, and no marijuana, I could be biased. The city would never approve of it anyway. I predict that this is the first and last we will ever hear of this proposal.

[UPDATE 09/22/04]
I guess I was wrong. The Sun-Times has a front page story today about Mayor Daley's support for "pot tickets."

The October Surprise

Lerner newspaper columnist and former radio host Ed Schwartz predicted last week that the Bush administration will find Osama Bin Laden just a few weeks before the election, thus securing second term with a swell of patriotism. He saw a story recently that set the stage by quoting a government official saying that Bin Laden's time was running out. I saw that story, too, and I also fear an "October surprise" featuring Bin Laden. Don't get me wrong--I hope Bin Laden dies a slow and painful death. I would be mighty suspicious, however, of the timing of such an announcement. In fact, I would seriously doubt its veracity. "Are you saying that they will say they found Bin Laden whether it's true or not?" my wife asked incredulously. Yes, I believe they would. It wouldn't be their first lie, and by the time anyone figured out the truth, Bush would already be into his second term. Some experts say that Bin Laden has been dead for some time, particularly since he reportedly needed dialysis, which would be difficult to get in hiding or especially on the run. Perhaps Bush knows that Bin Laden is dead, but he will not reveal it until it benefits him politically (I haven't always this cynical, honest).

Another thing to look out for in October, of course, would be a terrorist attack like Al Qaeda used in Spain to influence the elections. A new attack could have the opposite effect here, as I predict that undecided voters would rally around the president (rather than throw out the ruling party, as the Spanish did). The Republicans have also been working on a plan to delay the elections if such a thing occurs. Conspiracy theorists go further, predicting an indefinite postponement of the election coupled with martial law.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Tribune Ponders Blogging

The Sunday Tribune has one of the dumbest headlines I've seen in a while: "True or false: Blogs always tell it straight" with the sub-head "Sites reflect beliefs and biases of authors." Gee, what a shock! Anyone who has spent five minutes reading blogs knows that they are biased (except mine, of course). The article goes on to say that blogs don't have the same journalistic responsibilities and integrity as the mainstream media. So? Those factors do not eliminate mainstream media bias, anyway. All media are inherently biased, and this holds true for the Tribune, CBS, and Fox News as much as it holds true for my blog. I'm tired of the mainstream media's "holier than thou" attitude toward the masses. Why does a non-story like this deserve front page coverage?

A University of Chicago law professor weighs in to say that people get distorted views from reading only blogs on one side. And I suppose people don't get distorted views watching Fox News or reading the Chicago Tribune. There is a funny thing about alleged "media bias"--people only see it when it doesn't match their own beliefs. That's why Alan Keyes thinks the Tribune has a liberal bias -- because he is further to the right than the newspaper is -- while I see it as having a conservative bias because I am more to the left. And as another person notes in the article, a biased source isn't necessary wrong, either. Even Rush Limbaugh tells the truth sometimes, if only by accident.

As for the Dan Rather issue that inspired this article, here is a thought that I haven't heard mentioned (although I admit that I haven't followed the story closely). The littlegreenfootballs.com guy said that he typed a letter with Microsoft Word's default settings, and it exactly matched the letter CBS claimed was typed in the early 1970s. Has anyone talked to the people who designed Microsoft Word? I ask because word processors are designed to imitate typewriters. If the designers used an IBM Selectric as a model for Word, then a document typed with Word's default settings should look the same as one typed on a Selectric--that would merely be proof that the designers did a good job. Just because the Word document matches the memo, that does not mean that Word was used to create the memo.

What has been glossed over is that the officer's former secretary said that although she questions the authenticity of the documents, the allegations within them are essentially true. In an editorial on Friday, the Tribune said it is old news that Bush got preferential treatment and that the "new news" is the documents. It galls me that the Republican spinmeisters are trying to use Vietnam against Kerry when Bush didn't even show up for his gravy assignment. Bush's neglect of duty may be old news, but if Kerry's service is suddenly an issue, then Bush's non-service should be as well. The truth is that the memo controversy isn't so much "new news" or real news at all, as it is "B.S. news," a red herring that distracts the media and the nation from what is really at stake in this election. All of the stories about Vietnam and the national guard are irrelevant distractions. The media get suckered into this again and again by the political parties (I'd say particularly the Republicans, but only because I'm biased). Is "Rathergate" really more important than American soldiers dying in a war started under false pretense? Is anything that happened thirty years ago more important than choosing the direction of this nation for the next four years?

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Tracking The Fringe Candidates

A few days ago my favorite electoral vote poll tracking site (despite the webmaster's political views), Current Electoral Vote Predictor, offered a link to a page at Politics1 that shows state-by-state ballot status for a dozen fringe/spoiler candidates. I didn't know that Leonard Peltier was running, albeit only on California's ballot. Robbie Robertson did a song with and about him several years ago regarding his controversial conviction (Clinton was petitioned to pardon Peltier, but he didn't). Being in prison probably kept Peltier out of the running in a few states, but it's nice to know California doesn't discriminate against incarcerated people. Why isn't Manson on the ballot? He's got name recognition, just like Arnold.

And what's up with the Socialist Workers Party? Their candidate, Roger Calero, is constitutionally ineligible for the presidency because he wasn't born here. Why would you nominate someone who couldn't be president? Isn't that a way of acknowledging that you don't have a prayer? Do socialists pray? Oh well, I suppose they wouldn't release Peltier if he won, so that makes two "impossible" candidates regardless of how many votes they get.

Speaking of spoiler candidates, I recently found an old quote from Ralph Nader regarding the Republicans' beloved Saint Ronnie: "Reagan is the most ignorant president since Warren Harding." And now the Republicans are trying to help him get on the ballot. Politics certainly makes strange bedfellows!

Fortunately for Kerry, Nader probably won't draw as many voters away from the Democratic Party this time around. It was nice to be idealistic when Clinton was the president and everything was going well, but now people are seeing where Bush & Co. have taken this country and deciding that it is more important to defeat him than to make some sort of a statement by voting for a candidate who can't win. At least I hope people realize that.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Meth: The Secret To A Productive Economy

The Tribune had an article from the L.A. Times: "Once a party drug, meth moves into the workplace." Apparently, while I was using sleep deprivation to cope with my job, others switched from cocaine and No-Doz to meth.

Here's an interesting tidbit: "It is popular with workers in overachieving, highly productive economies such as those in Japan and South Korea." It sounds like Bush should be promoting meth labs to jump start the economy!

#1 B.S. statistic in this story: "Although there are no government or private statistics on meth use in the workplace, a major national survey in 2002 found that an estimated 77% of people who use drugs of any type are employed." This is so meaningless that I am disgusted that an editor let this eat up a column-inch of newsprint, even with the disclaimer in front. I guess I'm glad to hear that only 23% of drug users rely on mugging people like me to support their habits, but it has nothing to do with whether people use the stuff at work. That's like saying, "We don't know how many people work in their homes, but 77% of homeowners are employed."

Wal-Mart sponsored a study in their home county in Arkansas that found that "meth use cost area employers $21 million last year — about $42,000 per affected worker — in higher absenteeism and health costs." Maybe if Wal-Mart paid their employees more, they would be able to buy better drugs that didn't cause as many problems. Or maybe those employees wouldn't feel that their lives were so miserable that they needed drugs to escape them.

I do not mean to make light of the meth problem. Unlike other drugs, this one has hit even small town America pretty hard, and illicit meth labs have caused who-knows-how-many explosions, sometimes in apartment buildings with lots of innocent victims. It has become established enough in our culture over the last decade to pop up in songs by Bruce Springsteen and James McMurtry (three times on one album!), among others. On the other hand, it is hard to read an article like this, then look around the office and imagine a bunch of my co-workers speeding on meth.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Americans In Spain

American pro cyclists are racing very well at the Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain) this month. It's too bad that most Americans think the Tour de France is the only race worth watching. In fact, OLN dropped daily coverage of the three-week Spanish race this year; they are promising only a one-hour summary a month after the race. Figuring that they will have to fit 20 days of racing into 40-45 minutes of air time (factoring in commercials), coverage will be superficial at best. That's a shame because the Vuelta has earned a reputation as the most exciting and competitive of cycling's grand tours. In recent years, the Vuelta has not been decided until the last few days of the race.

Since today is the first rest day of the Vuelta and we're still riding the patriotic crest of Olympic fervor, let's review what Americans have done. The race started with a team time trial which was won by the best time trialing team in the world, US Postal Service. They won the time trial at the Tour as well, and what's really impressive is that the Vuelta team includes only two of the nine riders from the Tour team. Their victory is a testament to the team's depth. One of the riders who helped Armstrong win the Tour, American Floyd Landis, became the first leader of the Vuelta.

After passing the leader's gold jersey around to a few teammates, Landis got back on top with a strong ride in stage eight, an individual time trial. Landis was third, eighteen seconds behind another American, Olympic time trial champion Tyler Hamilton. Hamilton, my favorite rider, showed that he still has the form that won him the gold in Athens a month ago, riding a steady 31.5 mph over the flat 25-mile course (I could do that, but only if it was downhill!). Taking the victory on September 11, Hamilton dedicated the win to those who died that day in 2001. Landis will be joining Hamilton's Swiss Phonak team next year, as will the second place rider sandwiched between them, US Postal's Victor Hugo Pena.

Landis has held onto the gold jersey through some difficult, mountainous terrain. His lead is shrinking, but he has fought valiantly. Yesterday, however, Landis was overshadowed by the incredible riding of American teammate Dave Zabriskie. Zabriskie attacked just two miles into the race and stayed away for 100 miles to win. Such breakaways rarely succeed, but the US time trial champion managed to win by more than a minute. According to
procycling.com, he had a little help from Axl, Slash, & co.:
When asked what [he] was thinking about [during] the time off the front, he added, "I had a Guns N' Roses song in my head. I'm not sure which one, though. It's the one where he says, 'They can't catch me, I'm innocent.'"
That song is "Out Ta Get Me" from Appetite For Destruction, of course (one of my all-time favorite records). I could imagine Zabriskie quoting Axl as he crossed the finish line: "Take that one to heart!"

W. Isn't For Women

A great article by Katha Pollitt of The Nation talks about how both parties stressed manly posturing at their conventions. I don't want to over-quote (you should read the entire article), but I love the way she describes this:

Republicans are real men. Democrats are gay. President Bush is a resolute he-man who will keep us safe from terrorists; Sen. John Kerry is a flip-flopper who wants to take a more "sensitive" approach to the war on terror and who, as Vice President Dick Cheney sneered, seems to think "Al Qaeda will be impressed with our softer side." Conservatives are not just tough, they're compassionate too; as for the Christian right, what Christian right? Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! That's really all you need to know about the Republican National Convention...

Through clever stage-managing and endless iteration of the discredited Saddam Hussein-Al Qaeda connection, the RNC managed to attach to the reckless and inept Bush presidency the qualities Americans admire in men--optimism, confidence, fun, resolve, determination, single-mindedness, strength, will, foresight. Kerry and the Dems were the opposite--pessimistic, weak, indecisive, effeminate Breck girls and girlie men. You'd think Kerry, not Bush, had been the cheerleader in prep school. In the contest between real men and girlie men, women don't exist. The few female speakers were there to underline Bush's heterosexual credentials: Elizabeth Dole said Bush would protect us from gay marriage; Laura, Barbara and the twins testified to his Dadness. And don't forget Barney, the Scottish terrier. Real men have dogs. Women, gays, Democrats--have cats.

You wouldn't think so, though, if you'd watched the militaristic extravaganza that was the Democratic National Convention: the swift boat band of brothers, the saluting candidate "reporting for duty." I cringed, I really did. It was such a blatant manipulation of imagery, so patronizing, such a kick in the teeth to the Democratic base. Quien es mas macho? Maybe they could just wrestle--or better yet, take a leaf from Zell Miller and have a duel. At this rate, we won't have a woman President until the year 3000, and she'll have to be a five-star general.

I gagged when I saw those "W. is for Women" signs at the Republican convention. Pollitt notes, "Bush has done so little for women--and so much against them--that Laura had to reach all the way to Afghanistan to find some women whose lives have arguably been bettered by her husband." Pollitt goes on to criticize Kerry for saying little about women in his campaign. I, too, wonder whether women realize what is at stake in this election and who really represents their interests. This isn't just about abortion, either--it's about economic issues like the wage gap and Social Security privatization as well. I hope Kerry doesn't keep neglecting the female majority. This election is too close and too important to take anything for granted.