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.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Writing On The Wall

From the Tribune:

Chicago lost a quarter of its technical jobs in the last three years, according to a University of Illinois at Chicago report. And most of them were lost after experts declared the recession over in November 2001.

UIC's Center for Urban Economic Development analyzed data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which last April counted 47,000 jobs in the Chicago area, compared with 63,400 in March 2001 and 57,200 the following November.

The unemployment rate among Chicago area information technology workers was 3.8 percent in 2002, twice the rate during the technology boom three years earlier, the study said.

Remember, those unemployment numbers don't include all the IT people who have abandoned the field entirely (such as those who have become freelance copywriters or art supply/framing shop owners). Actually, this is just the news that I need right now, something that says, "Don't look back."

Pass The Ibuprofen

According to today's Chicago Tribune, Alan Keyes "plans to make 'inflammatory' comments 'every day, every week' until the election."
"This is a war we're in," one source recounted Keyes as saying. "The way you win wars is that you start fires that will consume the enemy."
Hey, wasn't that the BATF's strategy at Waco? (as one of my Texan friends says, "What A Cook Out.")

Eric Zorn is soliciting suggestions for inflammatory statements that Keyes might make in the remaining 48 days until the election. Those might be fun to read, but it will be hard to top the Doctor himself. In the mean time, I'll have to stop by CVS/pharmacy on the way home to get something for this Keyes-induced inflammation...

Lou Reed's New York

With the Republicans gathering for their lovefest in the Big Apple two weeks ago, I have been thinking about Lou Reed's album, New York. I loved the album when it came out, but I feared that it would sound terribly dated 15 years later. After all, it is easily Reed's most topical and political. Late 1980s references abound, from Bernard Goetz to Kurt Waldheim, along with figures who are still on the scene in a different context like Rudy Giuliani (who, of course, spoke at the convention).

I finally got a chance to revisit it this weekend. I had forgotten just how bitter and depressing the lyrics are. Of the fourteen songs, all but one or two are pretty bleak. Reed describes the hopelessness of lower class city life on much of side one. The single "Dirty Blvd." featuring Dion DiMucci is a highlight. Side two contains some heated political attacks, but sometimes they are a bit too scattershot to be effective. "Sick Of You," "Hold On," and "Good Evening Mr. Waldheim" have lost some impact with the passage of time, but "Hold On" opens with a memorable lyric: "There's blacks with knives and whites with clubs fighting in Howard Beach / There's no such thing as human rights when you walk the New York streets."

Musically, Reed and Mike Rathke lead a raw and powerful guitar attack, one in each stereo channel, on songs like "Dirty Blvd." and "Strawman." Other songs like "Last Great American Whale" and "Xmas In February" have a softer sound. Reed alternates between singing and speaking (rapping?), and his voice matches the feel of the music: urgent on "There Is No Time," somber on "Xmas In February," and ominous on "Dime Store Mystery."

The record ends with a powerful trio of songs. The subdued "Xmas In February" tells the poignant tale of an alienated Vietnam veteran. This is followed by the overwhelming, guitar-driven rage of "Strawman" where Reed takes aim at NASA and Jimmy Swaggart, among others. The climax of the album is the absurd image of "a gold ark floating up the Hudson." New York closes on a haunting note with "Dime Store Mystery," Reed's farewell to Andy Warhol. One of Reed's finest songs, "Dime Store Mystery" also foreshadows his exceptional Magic And Loss album of 1992. Although New York hasn't aged as gracefully as Reed's early 1980s recordings like Legendary Hearts and New Sensations, it is still a solid album. The intensity and spirit of the music save it from being written off as merely a period piece.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Death Of A Project

I'm about to pull the plug on a large web site project that I've been working on infrequently over the past nine months. Last year, I drove through each of the contiguous United States (in other words, all but Alaska and Hawaii) over the course of several long trips. I thought it would be fun to create a special "48 in 2003" site with a page for each state.

Alas, it just didn't worked out. The writing was tedious and the results were boring. My manic form of travel (often 400+ miles per day) made some states a blur, and the few interesting stories I had were lost in the passage of time. If I had hatched this idea at the beginning of 2003 instead of near the end, I could have laid more groundwork along the way; I would have paid better attention to details and taken notes. Instead, the story came out weak.


Editing photos was even harder. With hundreds of photos to crop, resize, sharpen, and caption, I was overwhelmed. Plus, there was a huge imbalance in the number of pictures from each state. While states such as Maine, Texas, and Nevada were well-represented, I had no photos from about ten states and just a few lame snapshots from others. On top of all that, I was concerned that the last two sections I added to my cycling web site (Texas 2003 & Central Arizona 2001) failed to generate the enthusiastic reaction that my Coast to Coast and Grand Illinois Trail sections did. My "48 in 2003" quest paled in comparison with my Coast to Coast tour. Multiple trips lack the epic value of one long journey, and traveling by car is less intriguing than traveling by bicycle.

This weekend, I thought up a new idea that would salvage some of the work I did on the "48 in 2003" project. Instead of narrating a journey, I will concentrate on destinations. I won't be limited to one year's experiences, either, so it may never really be finished. It should be more interesting and useful to visitors, and it will give me a framework for documenting future (and past) travels. Tentatively, I will still divide it by state. Each state's page will have a list of places, and each place will have a page or more of photos. This way, I can put related photos from different trips together. I will still have to do a lot of photo work, but at least I don't have to tie it all together. My first thought was to call it "American Places," but since that is William Zinsser's book title, I will have to come up with something else. This may not sound radical to most blog readers, but it is a major departure from the way I have documented trips online in the past.

For inspiration, I am thinking of The Who after they created Tommy. They were working on a concept called Lifehouse. It fell apart, but the pieces turned into Who's Next, one of their finest albums with "Won't Get Fooled Again," "Baba O'Riley" (aka "teenage wasteland"), "Behind Blue Eyes," etc. I hope to gather the extant pieces of "48 in 2003" and create a Who's Next.

Spyware & Pop-Up Ads

At my client site, I am not allowed to install software on my PC. While spyware or adware may install itself when I visit an evil web site, I cannot add software to thwart it. Consequently, my PC has become a nightmare of intrusive advertising.

For example, every time I log on, a message box tells me that spyware has been detected and asks if I would like to remove it. If I say "yes," another box tells me to pay $19.95 to activate this "helpful" software. Do people really trust this stuff to work? This program installed itself (along with an adware program) when I visited a rogue web site, and now it's offering to protect me from its brethren? Even more annoyingly, this box pops up four times before it leaves me alone.

Another piece of adware generates a pop-up ad every third or fourth time that I click on a link (any link at any site). There are only about half a dozen different ads that pop up over and over. The pop-ups for dating web sites are bad enough, but the worst pop-up ad I have seen asks, in big letters, "Should marijuana be legalized?" To the left of these words is a huge leaf. Yeah, that's just what I want on my screen when the boss walks past!

Friday, September 10, 2004

D-I-V-O-R-C-E

My uncle is going through a divorce that just gets uglier by the day. First my soon-to-be-former aunt tried to keep it from happening, even though it had been coming for many years. Then her strategy was to squeeze him for every cent. Much to her lawyer's disappointment, there wasn't much there to squeeze. Now he has finally succumbed to her demands (settling for less than one third of the house's value so that she can stay there) just to be rid of her and end this 18-month nightmare. She managed to give him one final screwing-over, though. She decided that he couldn't have the grand piano although they had agreed all along that it would be his. Then, God told her (supposedly, she's been conversing a lot with Him throughout the divorce) that she should show her Christian charity by giving him the upright piano instead. When I heard that, I wanted to drop that piano on her head. All along she has professed her undying love for him, but this betrays her true self (and selfishness). I'm glad that I'll never see her again.

Years ago, my uncle told me never to get married. If I had witnessed this divorce when I was single, I would have followed his advice.

UPDATE 11/15/2006 - My uncle is an idiot. Right after his divorce, he married someone else. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice...

Thursday, September 09, 2004

What A Relief!

I'm so happy right now. I just got off the phone with my wife, and she said she found a home for the pit bull puppy we've been taking care of for the past two days. My wife is a soft touch, so any time another police officer finds a dog (this one was being attacked by several other dogs in a West Side alley), we end up getting stuck with it. She was a cute little thing with a wiggly, chocolate-colored body and a pink nose. She also peed every time I reached down to pet her... then she wagged her tail in it! Since she wasn't house trained, at night we kept her in a room in the basement with plastic flooring. She didn't like that. First she howled with displeasure, then she started gnawing the pine door frame. My wife is taking horseback riding lessons, so today she took the puppy along to the stable. She gave her to a woman working there whose sons wanted a dog. Our two older dogs are probably even happier than I am. That puppy had too much energy for them!

Speaking of puppies, this was in today's Chicago Tribune:
Dog Wiggles Paw Free to Shoot Florida Man

PENSACOLA, Fla. -- A man who tried to shoot seven puppies was shot himself when one of the dogs put its paw on the revolver's trigger.

Jerry Allen Bradford, 37, was charged with felony animal cruelty, the Escambia County Sheriff's Office said Wednesday. He was being treated at a hospital for a gunshot wound to his wrist.

Bradford said he decided to shoot the 3-month-old shepherd-mix dogs in the head because he couldn't find them a home, according to the sheriff's office.

On Monday, Bradford was holding two puppies -- one in his arms and another in his left hand -- when the dog in his hand wiggled and put its paw on the trigger of the .38-caliber revolver. The gun then discharged, the sheriff's report said.

Deputies found three of the puppies in a shallow grave outside Bradford's home, said sheriff's Sgt. Ted Roy. The other four appeared to be in good health and were taken by Escambia County Animal Control, which planned to make them available for adoption.
I guess I have mixed feelings here. First, to that "heroic" puppy, way to go! On the other hand, it's sad that he shot three other pups. Why didn't he take them to a shelter in the first place? The shelter might have euthanized them, but that would have been more humane than shooting them. And how the heck could anyone look a puppy in the eye and pull the trigger?

For Once, I Agree With Keyes

Truth Girl posted an excerpt from Scott Thomas' interview with Alan Keyes on WYLL regarding his now infamous "selfish hedonist" remarks:
THOMAS: I contend that when someone buys a $70,000 luxury car when a $18,000 Saturn will get you where you need to go, that that's selfish hedonism. When I have a second piece of cake for dessert when I really should go out and walk off the first piece, that's selfish hedonism. One way or another, we're all selfish hedonists, aren't we?
KEYES: Couldn't it be, though, that part of the reason why that phrase kind of makes people uncomfortable is because it reminds us of the fact that the decision we're taking in this area of marriage actually reflects a larger problem that exists in this society as a whole, where we need to start asking ourselves--and there are large problems, like deficits and other things like this, where we would look around saying, "Are we sacrificing the future for our own short-term interest? Are we putting a burden on our future generations because we want to indulge ourselves today?"I think that that problem of selfishness is one of the key challenges on a lot of these public policy issues in our time, and maybe it's one we're uncomfortable with.
Selfishness is a huge problem in modern society. When people cut off other drivers or refuse to let them merge, that's selfishness. When people want to lower their own taxes and cut welfare programs for others, that's selfishness. When people shop at Wal-Mart to save money despite knowing that the store is screwing over its employees, that's selfishness. It keeps getting worse. People are so selfish that they cannot be bothered to interrupt their cell phone conversations to interact with the grocery store cashier. Self-interest has always been a prime motivator for humans, and capitalism is the ultimate in selfish economics, so I suppose this was inevitable. Still, it doesn't take a genius to recognize that the world would be a better place if we were all less selfish.

This is something that has been bothering me for quite a while now (probably since the 1980s), so kudos to Keyes for having the audacity to call us on it. It is certainly not a popular stance for a politician, as it offends nearly everyone. But it only offends us because we know he's right.

That said, I still don't agree with Keyes' moral opposition to gay marriage. However, I think the whole issue is a red herring that the Republicans are using to draw attention away from the administration's many failures in economic and foreign policy. One can easily see Karl Rove telling Bush to make this a constitutional issue in order to get Iraq off the front pages. The media bought it; the plan worked brilliantly. Rove is scum-of-the-earth, but I hope he writes a book someday.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Wal-Mart & Chicago

The City of Chicago has been fighting Wal-Mart's attempts to open a store here. For decades, the company has ruined the commerce of one small town after another. With rural America conquered, they moved into the outer suburbs, then the inner suburbs, and now they want to build in the city. Alas, their reputation precedes them. Wages even lower than their prices, sexual discrimination, and the aforementioned destruction of local businesses are just a few of Wal-Mart's less endearing business practices. The City made demands regarding wages and benefits among other things. The latest I've heard is that Wal-Mart has given up on a south side location, but they are still hoping to open a store on the west side.

As a preservationist and a traveler who often visits small-town America, I have a considerable grudge against Wal-Mart. On the other hand, the bargain hunter in me has a hard time paying an extra 25% at another discount chain or even more at a local store. I recognize that this self-interest is harmful to society overall (if one person really does make a difference, as the cynic in me often wonders), which brings up an interesting dilemma. The same inner city people whose jobs are going to be impacted by Wal-Mart are the very people who need to stretch their dollars. The question is whether to accept the short-term gain of increased buying power knowing that the long-term result will be higher unemployment and/or lower wages.


Ultimately, it is a Faustian bargain that is impacting the entire retail sector. The Wal-Mart influence is encouraging or forcing other retailers to follow suit in order to offer competitive prices. One tactic is to revise (i.e., downgrade) job titles for long-term employees. The "new" jobs have a lower maximum pay rate, so employees have to accept a severe pay cut (for example, from $14/hour to $11/hour, a 20% cut, which translates to $6,000 a year less for doing the same job) or find a new job elsewhere.

Costco is a notable exception to the low wage strategy. Naturally, Wall Street doesn't like their approach (also check out the chart and commentary here).

Sleep Deprivation And Drunkenness

I don't get much sleep. I know that I should, but it just doesn't happen. My thinking is that if I die tomorrow, I would hate to have wasted most of my final hours asleep. On the other hand, if I die because I am drowsy, I guess that would ruin my logic. I usually sleep four-and-a-half or six hours a night. I seem to get away with it as long as I hit the 90-minute REM cycles. My wife says that a lack of sleep makes me irritable, but I think it's just my nature.

She doesn't understand because she sleeps all the time. If we go to bed at 2 AM, I get up at 6 AM and she gets up around noon (this is great because I get a few hours in the morning to do whatever I want, as long as I don't make too much noise). Last night, my wife went to a seminar at work where the instructor said that if you sleep less than four hours, you will react as if you have a blood alcohol content of 0.10. Alertness could be important to a police officer. In my current consulting position, however, it is not as critical. Since I sleep a little more, my BAC would be lower, maybe 0.05--just a little tipsy. Tipsy is how I make it through my work day. With the demise of the three-martini lunch, not to mention the hip flask, I need a little sleep deprivation to deal with what work throws at me. In three more weeks this job will be finished and I can get back to writing full time. But I still won't get enough sleep.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Bush On Health Care

I don't want to compete with Slate's Bushisms page, but I cracked up when I read what Dubya said in a speech in Poplar Bluff, MO yesterday: "We've got an issue in America. Too many good docs are getting out of business. Too many OB/GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country."

Jesus Is Back!

Well, at least that's what the tabloid I saw at CVS/pharmacy this morning said. To the tabloids, Jesus is the ultimate celebrity, even bigger than the Beatles.

I am so happy to see CVS gaining a foothold in Chicago, where there is a Walgreens on every other block. Why? Because Walgreens stinks. It is the only store where I have to carry around the weekly flyer to know what is on sale. In this respect, they have improved slightly in the past few years--now they mark perhaps 60% of the sale items, whereas they used to mark 5%. Even if the sale item is marked, however, the shelf is probably empty. A friend owns Walgreens stock, and he raves about what a great company it is and how well they manage inventory. I don't know what he buys there, but his shopping list can't be the same as mine. When I enter a Walgreens, the odds are 50-50 that I won't find anything, even when there are several sale items on my list. If it's on sale, you'd better be there on Sunday morning or it will be sold out, and they rarely restock sale items during the week. Sometimes I'll find one thing and get so irritated about not finding anything else that I put the first item back and walk out.

I have none of these problems at CVS. The sales are labeled, the shelves are nearly always full, the environment is more comfortable (carpet, what a concept), the employees are friendlier (almost to a fault--sometimes I am greeted by three or four people in one visit), and to top it off, they sell Diet Rite for thirty cents less per 20-ounce bottle than White Hen Pantry. Walgreens doesn't even have an empty shelf for Diet Rite. If Jesus really is back, then maybe Walgreens should hire him. They need help.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Who's The Big Spender?

In his acceptance speech last night, Bush had the nerve to brand Kerry as a spendthrift. I found this amazing considering that the Bush administration has been anything but fiscally conservative. Andrew Sullivan agrees:
And Bush's astonishing achievement is to make the case for all this new spending, at a time of chronic debt (created in large part by his profligate party), while pegging his opponent as the "tax-and-spend" candidate. The chutzpah is amazing. At this point, however, it isn't just chutzpah. It's deception. To propose all this knowing full well that we cannot even begin to afford it is irresponsible in the deepest degree. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the only difference between Republicans and Democrats now is that the Bush Republicans believe in Big Insolvent Government and the Kerry Democrats believe in Big Solvent Government. By any measure, that makes Kerry - especially as he has endorsed the critical pay-as-you-go rule on domestic spending - easily the choice for fiscal conservatives.
That's a great distinction: insolvent versus solvent. After Bush squandered Clinton's budget surplus, I think that difference really makes the case for Kerry. I hope his campaign pushes that.

Desecrating Baseball's Hallowed Bricks

I suppose it was inevitable that the Cubs would try to place advertising on the bricks behind home plate at Wrigley Field. After all, at least one television station already superimposes their own computer-generated ads on the wall during broadcasts. Still, the overt commercialization of sports has been a major factor in driving me away from them.

The team complains that player salaries keep going up, so they need more revenue. This is a problem that Major League Baseball must resolve. Let's face it, nobody deserves a million dollars a year for any kind of work, especially in sports. I will allow that if someone is willing to pay it, then they should get it (this is capitalism, after all), but I can't see why the owners are willing. Salary caps make a lot of sense. Tell the players they can't make more than, oh, $1.5 million a year (rather generous, I think). If they don't like that, they can always go work at McDonalds or Wal-Mart like people who can't hit or pitch do. I'm amazed that the average American sports fan tolerates this whacked-out salary scale, especially when the teams want to wallpaper the ballpark with advertising to support it (read
Jim Hightower or Naomi Klein, and you'll discover just how much advertising has infiltrated our every activity).

Wrigley Field's traditional look is a huge draw in these days of bland, antiseptic stadiums. I don't think it is wise for the Tribune Company (owners of the Cubs) to desecrate the ballpark by selling off its nostalgic value to the highest bidder. Allowing ads behind home plate is the beginning of a slide down a slippery slope that will someday see the ivy ripped from the centerfield wall, replaced by assorted corporate logos.

Flip-Flopper-In-Chief

I thought the Republicans' "flip-flop" accusations against John Kerry were ridiculous the very first time I heard them. There is no law against changing one's mind. It is natural to revise an opinion when new information is available or circumstances change. Besides, many of Kerry's alleged flip-flops were really just a matter of supporting/opposing similar bills because of differences in their details, such as funding. This is a common practice in Congress among both parties.

The main reason the accusations bother me is that I know Bush has "flip-flopped" on many issues, too. One obvious example is that he said gay marriage was an issue for the states, then he decided to push for a constitutional amendment. Thanks to
Eric Zorn, I now have a list of thirty Bush flip-flops from the American Progress Action Fund. Anyone who thinks Kerry is the only politician to change his mind ought to read this: President Bush: Flip-Flopper-In-Chief.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Cold Beer And Crocodiles

I'm still working my way through the Nixon years in The Sixteen-Trillion Dollar Mistake, but I wanted to mention a great book that I finished just before I started this blog, Cold Beer And Crocodiles by Roff Smith. As an American journalist living in Australia, Smith decided to ride a bicycle around the perimeter of the continent. He met a lot of great people, encountered some brutal weather conditions (140-degree heat!), and discovered much more about the country than he had known from his years of living in Sydney.

The hospitality and friendliness of Aussies is a recurrent theme. For example, once while he was riding, a pick-up pulled up alongside him and someone offered him a beer. This is a suspicious situation for a cyclist, since a lot of beer cans get thrown at cyclists from pick-ups. These guys were sincere, though. After a little conversation and a couple of beers, they invited the author to join them for a week of camping and fishing. He was far braver than I because he took them up on it and had a great time. That's just one of many entertaining episodes.

Perhaps the best endorsement for this book is that my wife, who has little interest in bicycle touring, enjoyed reading it, too (she only made it as far as Louisiana in
my cross-country journal). Smith has also written a couple of Australia guidebooks, but I have not seen them. Special thanks to Trucker Buddy Tom for lending me this great book.

Illinois GOP Reaction To Keyes

Big Jim Thompson, who was my governor from second grade through junior year of college, said this:


"I think those views are not only extreme but offensive. I think the people of Illinois will find those remarks offensive, and I think it's an offense to the political process that we have to suffer a candidate on our ticket who says things like that."

Ouch!

Judy Baar Topinka finally cracked, apparently seeing that others in her party didn't expect her to keep being nice: "I think it's nasty, and I don't like nasty politics," she said. "You don't pick on people's kids. Kids are off limits."

They really would have been better off keeping Jack Ryan. I think Obama would have won no matter what, but Ryan would have made it a lot closer. That is, unless uneducated voters confused him with that other Ryan, George, who was so crooked that he made Richard Daley look like George Bailey.

The National Senate Candidate?

It occurred to me today that I have never seen a Senate candidate make as many appearances on national television and radio as Alan Keyes has in the few weeks of his campaign. Keyes said he didn't want to speak at the Republican convention because he was more interested in delivering his message to the people of Illinois. Is that why he did an interview with a Seattle radio station? I'm sure there were a lot of Illinois voters listening to that!

The Illinois Republicans have been duped. Keyes is using his campaign as a way to get more airtime than he could ever manage as an also-ran presidential candidate.

Incidentally, right now I can overhear the bosses in the conference room down the hall yucking it up over how ridiculous Keyes is as a candidate--and these are the sort of guys who normally vote Republican!

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Free Salad

Today I turned in my Cosi lunch card for a free salad. Yippee! I just walked up to the counter, handed the man my stamped card, and walked away with my lunch (no tax, either). Getting the eleventh salad free almost justifies paying seven dollars for the first ten. There is some interesting psychology at work there. I surely enjoy turning in my card for a completely free meal more than I would appreciate saving seventy cents on each salad I buy, even though the cost would be the same. I guess it's because just once I can thumb my nose at the old saying, "There ain't no free lunch" (or as a grammar maven, I can turn that double-negative into a positive).

For anyone who cares, I get the "make-your-own" salad with mixed greens, tandoori chicken, bacon, hard-boiled egg, parmesan cheese, and caesar dressing. They toss it for you, too.

McCain Calls Illinois Senate Race

Alan Keyes continues to lose friends and disappoint people. He will provide some much-needed comic relief for the next two months. I could get mad about some of the things he says, but he is so far out there that there's no point. Yesterday, John McCain, one of the few Republicans I like, was asked whether Republicans could hold onto the Senate: "I think it's clear we lose Illinois."

Yesterday, Keyes said to Tribune reporter John Kass, "You are acting as a media surrogate for the Democratic Party!" I read his columns occasionally, and Kass is anything but. Even a fellow reporter rushed to Kass' defense: "You call Mr. Kass an agent of the Democratic Party? You're the first politician I've ever encountered who has called him that!"

Of course, Keyes got much more attention yesterday for saying that Dick Cheney's daughter, Mary, like all gays, is a "selfish hedonist." From the Tribune:
Informed about Keyes' comments from the radio program, McCain said, "I don't think that's appropriate, but it's not the first inappropriate remark Mr. Keyes has made. He made a remark the other day that people who perform abortions are the same as terrorists. That's a very unique take on that issue and one that's very seldom espoused."
McCain cracks me up. Another Republican, Judy Baar Topinka, is having a really hard time lately. As the chairman of the Illinois Republicans, she is the one who must clean up the messes Keyes leaves behind. She didn't even want him as a candidate, and now she has to (sort of) defend him. It's fun to watch her support her party while trying to hide her displeasure. "Without social moderates this party cannot win. It has to be center-right, it can't be right-right," she said, obviously criticizing Keyes, who is right-right-right-right. Then later, she pledged loyalty: "He is on the ticket. We will support the ticket." Poor Judy!

Why My Wife Doesn't Have My Phone Number

Years ago, I shared a telephone at work with two other consultants. One was married, and his wife called him several times a day, usually for no good reason. Since the phone lived on my desk, this quickly got annoying. I vowed that if I ever got married, I wasn't going to talk to my wife about nonsense all day at work.

Now, my wife is a terrible time-waster on the phone. She'll complain that I don't call often enough when I travel, but when I do, she just recites the plot of a movie she saw or some other garbage (really irritating when we're paying for long distance!). Two months ago I started a short consulting engagement. From the start, I have resisted giving my wife my phone number. After a few weeks, it started to bug her. She gave me the old, "What if there's an emergency?" line. Well, odds are good that I can't do anything about it until I get home anyway.

A few days ago, my wife woke up with a tight spot in her upper back that made it painful to turn her head. Being a caring husband, I called her a few hours after I got to work (she works nights) to see how she was feeling. She proceeded to tell me all about the cases that Judge Judy was hearing on TV that day. I had to interrupt her to find out that she felt better.

Needless to say, she still doesn't have my work phone number.