Saturday, April 30, 2005

What Are Treasury Bonds Worth?

During his sixty-day, taxpayer-financed, propaganda tour aiming to "fix" social security through privatization, Bush repeatedly stated that the social security trust fund doesn't really exist. Here is the latest example from his prime time press conference on Thursday night:
You pay into the system through your payroll taxes and the government spends it. It spends the money on the current retirees and with the money left over, it funds other government programs. And all that's left behind is file cabinets full of IOUs.
In that press conference, Bush also talked about the investment options that people might have:
I know some Americans have reservations about investing in the stock market, so I propose that one investment option consist entirely of treasury bonds, which are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government.
But wait a minute... What are those "file cabinets full of IOUs" comprised of? Yes, those IOUs are U.S. treasury bonds! So if they are just worthless IOUs in the social security trust fund, what are they in my "personal account?" How can the bonds in my account be backed by the "full faith and credit of the United States government," whereas the bonds in the trust fund are not?

Bush's argument that the trust fund is just full of IOUs implies that when those funds are needed, the United States government will, for the first time in its history, go into default. Do you realize what that would mean to the U.S. economy? China and Japan have been buying piles of our bonds this century as our national debt grows unabated, exacerbated by Bush's tax cuts. Will they continue to buy our bonds if we default on the bonds held by the trust fund? I cannot understand why our President would publicly undermine our ability to pay our debts.

In order to privatize social security, Bush needs to borrow trillions of dollars to finance these "personal accounts." How will the U.S. get that money? We'll issue treasury bonds, of course! But if the bonds in the trust fund are just IOUs, what will the bonds issued to pay for the new scheme be?

If Bush wasn't so stubborn, this issue would have died months ago.

(If you aren't already sick of reading about this, Jim Hightower's "Neutering Social Security" is an excellent analysis and history.)

Athletic Advice I Wish I Had Followed

A couple of months ago, Lance Armstrong's coach, Chris Carmichael, discussed Armstrong's delayed decision to attempt a seventh consecutive victory at the 2005 Tour de France:

“… A healthy sign for an athlete is when he sets a goal and achieves it, then takes time to enjoy it. I think that's a healthy sort of habit, because if you achieve and immediately go to the next thing, you're never satisfied. You're always thirsty. That doesn't lend itself to a long career.”
Although I couldn't afford to retain Carmichael as my own personal trainer, it sounds as if he has been watching my life over the past decade. I started running regularly in 1998. It was my first serious attempt at a sport since high school gym class, even though my body would be better suited to being a hockey defenseman or a football lineman (except that I'm a little too short). I was truly doing it for personal satisfaction since there was no chance that I would ever be remotely competitive with the ectomorphs who ran twice my speed. I started racing 5Ks, then in November I finished my first 10K.

For 1999, I set my sights on the Chicago Marathon. I picked a training program and followed it religiously. My preparation paid off in October when I finished my first marathon in less than five hours. First marathon? Does that mean that I have run others? Well, no. And therein lies the problem. I fully intended to run more marathons, even 50K and 50-mile ultramarathons. Alas, my left knee had other ideas. As I was building up to a 50K in spring of 2000, the pain in my knee became too much to ignore. Although I tried several "comebacks" since, my knee problems returned after a couple of months each time. I have managed a couple of 5Ks, but at this point my chances of ever running 26.2 miles again look pretty slim. Because I always wanted to run more marathons and beyond, I didn't take the time to reflect on my success like Carmichael suggests.

With my running career prematurely ended, I took up bicycling. I was pleased to find that my knee didn't hurt a bit when I pedaled. Remembering my obsessiveness about running, I vowed not to follow strict training plans or keep meticulous logs. Although I stopped writing things down, my (mentally) unhealthy behavior didn't magically disappear. I repeated the process of building up to ever greater distances, not pausing to savor any of my achievements. After two years, my cycling career culminated in a 3,000-mile cross-country bike tour in early 2002.


With little interest in circumnavigating the globe, I had reached my limit. Even then, I didn't really sit back and enjoy my achievement so much as I sat around wondering what I could do next. I found myself goalless and unmotivated. I could have used Carmichael's sage advice, but would I have been too stubborn to listen?

Friday, April 29, 2005

No More "Indiana Time"

Those of us who travel through Indiana know about their wacky refusal to acknowledge daylight-saving time (DST). While I can understand Arizona's argument that they already have enough daylight in the desert, Indiana's situation is more complex:
Seventy-seven counties in the Eastern time zone portion of Indiana remain on standard time year round, while five in southeastern Indiana ignore state and federal law and change their clocks. Five counties each in the northwest and southwest pockets of the state are in the Central zone and observe daylight time.
Needless to say, this can be a bit confusing. When driving through Indiana it is wise to eat dinner early because you can't be sure when closing time is. And if you make an appointment with someone, you have to ask what time it is there so you can synchronize your watch. The Indiana House finally voted yesterday to start following DST statewide next year. While House Speaker Brian Bosma may have been going overboard to describe the vote as "heroic," he was right about this: "I can tell you that the rest of the nation, the rest of the world, knows that Indiana doesn't get it."

For any Hoosiers who haven't been paying attention, let me spell it out: in Illinois we make fun of your goofy, seemingly backward clock habits. Sorry, but it's true. About ten years ago I worked with a guy from Indiana. He would often show up at the wrong time for meetings or lunch. Instead of accepting this as a personal trait, we joked that he was "on Indiana time" (though he wasn't necessarily off by a whole hour or two).

The bill also requires petitioning the U.S. Department of Transportation to determine whether to include more Indiana counties in the Central time zone (as shown incorrectly on this map). That makes sense to me; it is odd that all of Alabama is on Central time while most of Indiana is not. In fact, Indiana was in the Central time zone until 1969 (here's the whole history).

The shocking thing about this bill is that a lot of constituents opposed it, and it only passed the House with the minimum of 51 votes. Rep. William Crawford groused, "This is not the second coming that is going to take Indiana into a brighter future." No, but at least we won't look at our watches, shake our heads, and make fun of you anymore. Now if only you could legislate away Dan Quayle...

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Tribune Mobster Confusion

In a huge crackdown, a dozen Chicago mobsters were indicted on Monday in connection with murders dating back to 1970. The Chicago Tribune's coverage has been embarrassing. Yesterday a story came out that the photo the Tribune used of mobster Frank Calabrese in Tuesday's paper was actually a different Frank Calabrese who is an upstanding citizen. Oops. Although they ran a correction along with a story about the man whose photo was accidentally used, he filed a lawsuit yesterday seeking damages of $1 million for each of two counts. Okay, so people make mistakes, even people working for a nationally respected newspaper.

In another correction, the Tribune noted that it mislabeled a photo as mob murder victim Nicholas D'Andrea when in fact it was a picture of his brother. Okay, so some brothers look alike.

Then I saw today's Tribune. A photo from Wednesday's front page of a mobster riding a bicycle turned out not to be a mobster after all. The paper claimed that the man was Joseph "The Clown" Lombardo, asking in a headline, "Have you seen this 'Clown?'" It turned out to be just an ordinary Chicagoan who rides his bike to the lakefront to fish for perch.

Three strikes, you're out! The Tribune screwed up three photos in the coverage of one story! Naturally, a Chicago Sun-Times columnist is having a field day with this, and he doesn't even mention the mistaken brothers. The next time the Tribune covers a mob story, be sure to read the newspaper--you just might see your own picture!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Diplomacy That Dare Not Speak Its Name

This is the funniest newspaper layout I have seen in a long time. Yesterday's Dallas Morning News published two stories side by side on the front page. The first is headlined "Bush, Saudi prince talk oil." Underneath is a photo of Bush and Prince Abdullah strolling hand in hand in front of a lush, lovely field of purple wildflowers. Not that there's anything wrong with that... Next to this photo is an article titled "House bans gay unions."

I always wondered about that term "gay unions." I imagine a bunch of leather-clad Teamsters on strike or something (not that I'm opposed to them--quite the opposite, I think gays should have the right to be as miserable as most married heteros are).

Nico (not the Velvet Underground chanteuse, as far as I know) points out that while Abdullah and Bush took time to walk among the flowers and call for democracy in Lebanon, they didn't say anything about bringing democratic reforms to Saudi Arabia. It must have slipped their minds.

UPDATE 06/02/2005: I just saw a repeat of Letterman's Late Show that included a hilarious Top Ten list regarding this photo.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Squeezing The Charmin

I saw a silly Charmin ad in the Sunday paper. And I'm not even talking about the hooka-mega-monster roll that uses special hardware so you only have to change the roll once every month or two depending on your regularity.

The product is Charmin Basic. Its practical value is demonstrated in an ad showing two coins resting on a wet piece of Charmin Basic toilet paper followed by two coins falling through an "other leading comparably priced" brand. Just in case you didn't understand the point of the illustration, the ad copy informs us that "Charmin Basic can support the weight of two U.S. Half Dollars after being wet with 1 mL of water."

Gee, that's pretty darn useful. I'm always dropping my change on wet toilet paper and losing it! Come to think of it, that might have come in handy for my brother. When he was a kid, he swallowed a quarter. He was about to have it removed by surgery, but they did a last-minute x-ray and discovered that he had already passed it. Maybe if he had been using Charmin Basic, he'd still have that quarter as a souvenir today!

Another thing I found on the vastly entertaining Charmin web site... I've never seen or heard of this before, but I think marathon runners would love Potty Palooza! It's basically a super-fancy port-o-let:

The Potty Palooza restrooms are adorned with all the amenities you would find at home—from wallpaper and skylights to hardwood floors and televisions. And, of course, there’s always plenty [of] Charmin Ultra!
And finally, from the FAQs page:

Q. Is there a right way to hang the Charmin roll on my holder?

A. There's no right or wrong way to hang the Charmin roll. Some people prefer that the sheets roll over the top toward the front. And others prefer that the sheets roll out from the bottom toward the back. We'll leave that battle up to your household!
Sorry Charmin guys, you are wrong. Over the top is the only way. My wife is ambivalent about this subject (sometimes over, sometimes under), and it drives me nuts. You could call me anal-retentive, but then I guess I wouldn't need Charmin, would I?

Friday, April 22, 2005

Ann Coulter and Time

The Wicked Witch of the Right is on the cover of Time magazine this week, featured in a powder puff article by John Cloud that glosses over her many errors, false accusations, and inflammatory statements. The article teases that "you don't know the real Ann Coulter," but as Media Matters says, anyone who reads it still won't know the real Ann Coulter. Alas, poor Ann never made it past the cover--she felt that the cover photo was unflattering and shreiked that it reeks of liberal media bias (I'm not making this up). I am amazed that people still listen to this woman. If she's ever had a single good idea pass through her brain, it never made it out of her mouth.

Along with material from the print edition, Time's web site offers "an unscientific, informal survey" that asks, "Does Ann Coulter make a positive contribution to American political culture?" Apparently Coulter's legions of fans (mostly conservative, under-sexed men, I would guess) haven't been visiting the site enough because only 23.0% of 2,363,749 voters say "Yes" while 76.9% say "No."

Biking Illinois Web Site

As some of you know, I am writing my first book, Biking Illinois: 60 Great Road And Trail Rides. It will be published by Trails Books in April 2006. Along with the book, I am creating a web site that I describe as "DVD bonus footage." While the book will describe the routes and provide excellent maps, the web site will be about my personal experiences on the rides, including lots of photos. It will be similar to Dave's Bicycling Pages, except that it will focus on the rides in my book.

Two weeks ago, I pedaled the route of the Hillsboro-Roubaix bike race (about 50 miles south of Springfield), and then I watched the race. Visit
http://www.bikingillinois.com to read all about it.

Pickle Park Perils

Truck drivers call interstate rest areas "pickle parks," particularly those where gays "hook up." Every time I veer onto the exit ramp to stop at a rest area, it has become a running joke for me to say, "I hope this isn't a pickle park."

One afternoon last week I pulled into the Green Creek Rest Area on northbound I-57 near Effingham. I parked and walked into the building. A man was walking in front of me, and I followed him (at a distance) toward the bathroom door. As he neared the door, he stopped, turned around, and asked, "You want ice cream?" *Gulp* I have heard a similar euphemism before, but surely this man wasn't propositioning me--was he? I mean, I would have showered the night before had I known...

I looked over my shoulder to see that he was addressing his wife who was standing in front of an ice cream bar vending machine. *Phew!*

Actually, there is a whole subculture of gay truckers and men who want to, um, meet them. Here's
one example. If you ever wanted to know how to cruise for trucker studs via CB radio, the Naked Trucker offers this guide (note: my brother drives a big rig, but he is not the Naked Trucker, at least as far as I know). By the way, for those of you who last used CB radio in its 1970s heyday (think "Convoy"), don't call other truckers "good buddy" anymore--nowadays it almost always refers specifically to a gay driver. A homophobic, redneck trucker will probably run you off the road if you call him "good buddy."

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Mid-Life Name Crisis

One of my wife's friends, a single woman in her forties, has decided that she wants to change her last name. "I know it would upset my dad, but I never liked my name." Her dad is in his eighties. Is it really worth doing this now? Not to be crude, but couldn't she wait him out?

"People used to make jokes about my name," she said. I won't reveal her name, but it is not the sort of name that is obviously undesireable or hard to live with. I knew a woman whose married name was Moist--that might be hard to live with. This woman's name happens to be a fairly common brand name, but it's not something like "Massengill" that would make someone blush. I suggested that she change her name to that of a competing brand. Nor is her surname notorious like "Dahmer," "Manson," or "Coulter." Besides, didn't most of us get over having our names ridiculed sometime before high school?

Her future name is nothing special, in my opinion, although it is alliterative (my wife and mother both married into alliteration). She even realizes how silly this is, acknowledging that another friend told her upon hearing the news, "You're really into yourself." Maybe this is her way of saying she's never going to get married, so she might as well just pick a name she likes. From my wife's experience changing her name, I can't see why anyone would want to go through the hassle anyway. Heck, my only name crisis occurred when "Big Johnson" T-shirts disappeared from stores (I found them online, but I'm still waiting for the Norwegian "Big Johnsen" version).

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Hertz Versus Alamo

Two years ago I was driving an Alamo rental car in the Texas panhandle when I got a flat tire. My first thought was, "Cool, it's a rental so they'll fix it for me." I called Alamo and learned that a flat tire is considered "road hazard" damage, so they won't fix it or pay for it. I would have to put on the spare myself (not a big deal except that it meant unloading my stuff from the trunk on the highway shoulder--at least it wasn't raining or snowing). Then I could 1.) drive back to Chicago on the spacesaver spare which meant 55 mph maximum for a thousand miles, 2.) drive to the airport in Lubbock where I could exchange it for a different car (like throwing out the baby with the bathwater), or 3.) get the tire fixed myself and request reimbursement from Alamo although it was against their policy. As it turned out, the repair only cost $8, so I didn't bother to pursue it with Alamo. When I rented my next car from Hertz, I told them about the Alamo policy. They were shocked and said Hertz would have sent someone out to fix it on the spot for free.

Last week I rented another car from Hertz. I noticed that one of the tires was a little low on air. I filled it up the first time I stopped for gas and kept an eye on it throughout the week. Four days later it was low again, so I refilled it. When I returned the car, I mentioned that they should get the slow leak fixed. They said they appreciated the feedback and were sorry for the inconvenience it caused. What happened next really amazed me. They printed out a credit for $30 off my next rental! Heck, it only cost me 50 cents to get air for the tire--I expected nothing and would have been pleased with $5-10.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Close Call For Rosco

Our dog Rosco (named for Dukes of Hazzard character Rosco P. Coltrane) recently had knee surgery, but he is recovering well. We have been walking him a bit further day by day. Recently we walked him across the Chicago River bridge for the first time since he injured his leg. As we were coming downhill from the bridge, we saw a runner followed by a bicyclist coming toward us on the sidewalk. Rosco doesn't like runners much, and he hates cyclists (along with roller-bladers, skateboarders, and delivery trucks). I pulled our dogs onto the grassy parkway to wait for the two men to pass, shortening Rosco's leash in the process (our other dog has little prey drive).

As they approached, we recognized the runner... it was Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who lives just a few blocks from us (he stirred controversy by refusing to relocate his family to the Governor's Mansion in Springfield, but he didn't want to disrupt his children's schooling). He was being followed by a state trooper on a bicycle. He said hello to us, and Rosco lunged toward him. Fortunately, I anticipated this. I pulled hard on his leash and thwarted the assassination attempt. Rosco tried again as the state trooper rode by us.

No harm was done, but we were a little embarrassed. As we continued down the street, we realized what could have happened. If Rosco had bitten the Governor, the state trooper might have drawn his gun, and Rosco's $2,700 knee surgery would have been for naught. We further imagined that a veterinarian would perform an autopsy and tell us, "His knee was healing perfectly... until he got shot."

By the way, this weekend Blagojevich will become the first governor to run in the River to River Relay, an 80-mile race across southern Illinois contested by eight-person teams.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Want To Sue Your Pimp?

The Illinois House passed a bill yesterday that will allow prostitutes to sue their pimps. I've been following this story, but I never thought it would go this far. I'm sure Rep. Constance Howard, who sponsored the bill, has good intentions, BUT... isn't prostitution illegal? So aren't we legitimizing it somewhat by allowing sex workers to file lawsuits against their employers? Should we let johns sue prostitutes for giving them STDs or for "poor service?"

Maybe we should allow drug buyers to sue dealers when they get diluted dope. A friend of mine bought a bag of oregano at the high school state wrestling championships thinking that it was pot. How about a Contraband Consumer Protection Act for him?