Sunday, May 28, 2006
Friday, May 26, 2006
Thursday, May 25, 2006
But yesterday, Stone had the gall to call for a $20,000 pay hike for aldermen over the next five years. But before you think, Oh, those poor, overworked aldermen must be so underpaid, consider that the current salary is $98,125 for what is officially a part-time job.
"I think we deserve it," asserted Stone, who was first elected in 1973. "At least I know I deserve it ... I think my constituents think I am entitled to it."Stone is a career politician -- he's been an alderman since I turned three years old. Unsurprisingly, all those years in the City Council haven't taught him a lick about humility. What Stone deserves is to have his self-important ass tossed out of office. Shame on all you voters in Rogers Park who keep re-electing this putz, especially if you agree that he is "entitled" to a 20% pay raise.
My alderman, Gene Schulter, knows how ridiculous his salary has become. That's why he has refused several pay increases, drawing $82,000 instead of $98,125. That begs the question, Why does Bernie Stone need so much money? It doesn't cost $118,000 a year to live in Rogers Park. Conspiracy theorists, please comment...
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
"In the past year, we invested in new water vacuum-cleaning machines to deep-clean upholstered seat inserts," CTA spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said. "These are used during intense cleaning and may also be done if there is a wet spill on the upholstery or a biohazard incident."A "biohazard incident" is most likely a homeless person urinating or even defecating on the seat. Or maybe it's just blood splattered from a stabbing or shooting victim. At least now you have something worse to think about than merely picking up a few bacteria while holding onto the pole.
Of course, swabbing the seats and poles is literally scraping the surface when it comes to risk of illness on the bus or train. What about the guy sitting next to you who has been coughing for fifteen minutes? Or the woman behind you who is holding her coffee and a book, leaving no hand free to catch the sneeze that just moistened your neck?
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
CitiBank business - This was the only activation process that did not offer to give me instructions in Spanish. It seems that they are assuming that someone holding a business credit card speaks English. I had to punch in my entire card number and my entire social security number. Activation was fully automated, and the call ended after I was activated.
CitiBank personal - I punched in my card number and the number of cards I was activating. Next I was transfered to a person who asked how many cards I was activating (again!). Then she tried to sell me credit insurance, which just annoyed the heck out of me. After all, I had already received a pitch in the envelope with my card -- I didn't want or need to hear it from her. She even countered my first refusal with a second pitch. This was the only activation that required human interaction, and apparently it was only to try to sell me something.
LL Bean (MBNA) - I was asked to punch only the last four digits* of my card number. I was not asked how many cards I was activating, although I had received three. Here's the disturbing part: two came in one envelope and one came in another. So if I had received only one of the envelopes and activated the card, someone else would have had my other activated credit card(s). This was the only activation process that sent me into the regular call system with current balance, available credit, etc. after it was finished.
I was surprised that none asked for the three-digit security code on the signature strip. Plus, only one asked for any part of my social security number. If all they use is card number and home phone number, that isn't very secure. They tell you to call from home, and I assume they determine phone number via caller I.D., which is relatively easy to fake nowadays (I can't imagine them doing an FBI-style trace to verify that the call is coming from your home address). Someone intercepts your credit card in the mail, uses your name to look up your phone number, and tells the caller I.D. it's calling from your number. A thief could rack up thousands in charges while you're scratching your head and wondering why your cards haven't come yet.
* I worked with a woman who claimed that the last four digits of your credit card uniquely identify you. Apparently she came to this conclusion because her credit card company asked for only those digits. It was so ridiculous that I didn't even bother to argue. This woman was being billed out to a client at $125/hour to design software, and yet she lacked the logic skills to figure out that a company could issue just 9,999 cards if those four digits were the only ones that mattered! This was the same woman who wantonly abused the word "literally." Once I overheard her tell a friend, "I literally died." Hallelujah, she must have been resurrected!
Saturday, May 20, 2006
He was sad in ways he couldn't tell herI guess that kind of sums up why I don't socialize more. Actually, I have been in an uncharacteristically good mood lately. I'm not sure why; maybe something awful is about to happen.
Though she could make his sadness all her own
He couldn't see the use in spreading sadness
So he took his dark depression and went home
As for the album, A Blessing and a Curse, I'm not sure what I think of it yet. While it certainly is good, better than 99% of the crap on the radio, I can't say how good. Considering that its predecessor, The Dirty South, is my nominee for album of the decade (so far), I had some pretty high expectations for the new CD. I'll have to listen to it a few more times before I decide. In the meantime, you can't go wrong with The Dirty South.
Friday, May 19, 2006
The 1215 has been crap from the day I bought it. Unfortunately, I didn't learn that until it was too late. I ordered it when I bought my first digital camera in late 2001 because I assumed I would be printing lots of pictures. I was wrong -- I didn't print any pictures because I displayed my work on the Web instead. During and after my cross-country bike trip, I pretty much forgot about the $300 paperweight, still looking pretty in the box. Since my LaserJet is better at text than any inkjet printer could be, I never bothered to install the 1215 until I had a color project. It was a disaster. I spent about six hours getting those four critical pages to print, cursing a blue streak until I was hoarse. Oh, and did I mention this was on Christmas Eve from 10 PM to 4 AM? Even if I had been able to contact tech support, the printer was already out of warranty.
I have tried everything to get this printer to work. Right now I need to print a few photos to mail to someone, and I'm going to have to do it at the drugstore because I'm giving up on the 1215. It is currently in a state of perpetual paper jam. Never mind that there is nary a shred of paper in it, jammed or otherwise. Every tip I can find online fails to solve my problem, even a "solution" passed along from HP tech support: "push the cartridge carriage to the left, disconnect the printer, pick it up and shake it back and forth upside down." If a good shake can't fix it, then there is just one thing left to do: leave the damned thing in the alley and let someone else try to fix it. I'm finished.
This experience has soured me on HP in general. When I was shopping for a new laptop, I was literally within a mouse click of buying an HP a dozen times. Then I'd look at the 1215 gathering dust and reconsider. I had no problem dropping an extra few hundred dollars to get an IBM instead.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
I think I lost itWouldn't you know, within an hour of posting those lyrics, I discovered that I also had lost something: one of my credit cards. Damn. I had it at the grocery store on Sunday night, but now it's gone. Fortunately, a quick check of my online account showed that there haven't been any charges on it, but I still had to cancel the card just in case. Besides that, the signature strip on my other credit card is completely worn off. This sort of thing always happens right before a vacation, just when I really need credit cards. After all, I don't want to hike around Colorado with a two-inch-thick wad of twenties stuffed in my pocket. With a little luck, I made the phone calls early enough that I will get replacements before we leave. Coicidentally, I figured out my card was missing as I was about to call to reserve Craig Ferguson tickets. Now it turns out that delaying our departure by a few days to see him may help me get my cards in time!
Let me know if you come across it
Let me know if I let it fall
Along a back road somewhere
Money can't replace it
No memory can erase it
And I know I'm never gonna find
Another one to compare
Before my wife's work schedule changed, I used to watch Ferguson every night. I still think his monologue is easily the best on television, both in content and delivery. The way he takes one topic and runs with it for 12-14 minutes every night is amazing. When we got Netflix, his movies were among the first in our queue. Saving Grace and The Big Tease were both funny movies, even if they covered some familiar ground (a gay hairdresser isn't exactly a novel character). My wife likes him, too, and she keeps saying we need to see the Late Late Show live sometime. While I would like to, I've been to Los Angeles once, and I don't intend to ever return (see Death Cab For Cutie's "Why You'd Want to Live Here").
Needless to say, we're both looking forward to seeing him do stand-up, even though we'll have to postpone our trip to Colorado for a few days.
Jeroen van der Veer, chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell, has warned that the increasingly nationalistic position of oil-rich countries and their redrawing of contracts is a "new reality" that international energy companies have to accept... [He] told the Financial Times: "The higher the oil and gas price is, the more national thinking you get. This is a new reality. In the end, governments are always the boss." (emphasis added)You silly Dutchman! Haven't you learned from our example? If the oil-rich countries try to get your oil company to pony up more for exploiting their natural resources, there is a simple solution... Invade them! Host governments may be "the boss," but you can always install a new boss more to your liking. Surely you can find a few thousand young Dutchmen you'd be willing to sacrifice to achieve those ends. Or maybe you guys should just stick to tulips and leave the exploitation to us.
Monday, May 15, 2006
Just one problem: the sale runs from May 5-14. Today is May 15!
Friday, May 12, 2006
Bush apologists will try to spin this one as, "It shouldn't concern you if you're not doing anything illegal." But if you aren't doing anything against the law, shouldn't you expect privacy? Think about all the phone calls you've made in your life and ask yourself if you would like to know that the government has a record of all of them. Bush defenders might point out that at least the government is not recording the content of your calls. But that could work both ways -- the data mining operations performed by the NSA may simply make assumptions about the content of calls to certain numbers. The potential for abuse of this data is huge.
Today President Bush is making the predictable claim that no laws have been broken (of course, the administration has repeatedly operated under its own interpretation of the law), along with the patently ridiculous statement he has made with every new revelation of widespread spying on ordinary Americans -- that whenever these tactics are revealed, it makes it harder to fight the "war on terror." Terrorists are not the issue here -- any terrorist with half a brain should fully expect that his calls and actions may be monitored. But regular Joes and Janes don't.
Add to this the fact that cellular companies record every "ping" to your mobile phone, and things get even scarier. As your phone moves, "pings" are how your phone picks up a signal from a tower. You don't need to make a call for your movements to be tracked. Carrying a cell phone is like wearing the electronic transmitters some criminals and parolees must wear on their ankles -- someone knows where you are at all times. The cellular companies sometimes share this information with police, and by extension the government.
The government could conceivably know every call you made, where you were when you made them, and where you went between calls. Do you trust the government enough to let them know your every move?
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Bastard update: Knock on wood, two-time bastard EarthLink DSL has been pretty reliable over the past three weeks.
Monday, May 08, 2006
Sunday, May 07, 2006
This morning I was having a dream about urinating in a toilet at a roadside rest area. It was the nastiest thing -- I had to hold the lid up, and lots of previous visitors hadn't aimed well. This just went on and on until I finally woke up. Fortunately I hadn't wet the bed (I wouldn't tell if I had!), although I had to make a beeline for the bathroom.
That was nothing compared to the dream I had when I took a nap this afternoon. I woke up speaking aloud (I've never had a speaking wake-up after a good dream) to a 911 operator, reporting a home invasion, saying, "I think someone is still here in the house." It scared the hell out of me.
Maybe I really should throw my pillow away.
Charlie had to take his medicineLike many rock stars, Zevon had his share of substance abuse problems. It's rather ironic that plain old tobacco killed him.
Charlie got his prescription filled
I came to say goodbye
I'm sorry Charlie died
I came to finish paying my bill
Last Christmas, I bought my brother a Zevon compilation called Genius that he absolutely loves. It doesn't include "Charlie's Medicine," but it's a good place to start your Zevon collection. By the way, his son Jordan has generously permitted Archive.org to freely share his live recordings via FTP and bit torrent (66 performances so far). That is a great move on Jordan's part -- a way to help his father's songs live forever.
We should, if anything, raise the state tax on gasoline. Illinois is about to leave mega-millions of federal transportation dollars on the table for lack of a 20 percent state "match." ... That means federally approved projects like the rebuilding of South Wacker Drive, the CTA's proposed Circle Line and Metra's circumferential Star Line are indefinitely sidetracked, just when they'll be needed the most. The way gas prices are rising, who'd notice another penny or two to improve our region's public transportation?After explaining what government should not do, he returns to what individuals should do: buy more efficient vehicles, drive more smoothly (I've been trying to teach this to my wife for years!), keep tires inflated, and try not to blame the oil companies -- despite their record profits, they aren't the ones setting the price of oil (I'll admit that ExxonMobil is a fabulous scapegoat, but deep inside I know McCarron is mostly right). His last point is obvious, wise, and hard to imagine for many:
We should change the way we live. It sounds drastic--not driving anywhere, anytime on a whim; not air-conditioning our homes to 68 degrees and toasting them to 72.Frankly, that doesn't give me much to work with -- I walk or take public transportation wherever I can, I only run the air-conditioning when it's so hot that 80 degrees inside feels cool, and in the winter our thermostat ranges from 65 when we're awake to 60 when we're asleep. There is plenty of room for improvement for others, though. Like my parents -- occasionally I make the mistake of wearing a long-sleeved shirt to their house in the winter, and within minutes of entering, I'm burning up. Mom argues that their energy bills aren't that high, but that doesn't mean they couldn't be lower (I shouldn't pick on them too much; at least they have some compact fluorescent light bulbs).
A lot of Americans seem to look down on energy conservation as something they should only do if they can't afford to pay. After all, consumption is the American way. But the truth is that conservation helps everybody. Maybe you can afford your gas bill, but if you use less and the price goes down, maybe your retired neighbors will be able to afford their gas bill, too.
By making a few basic changes this winter, I cut our electric bills by 35%. We now use about 250 kilowatt-hours per month, which costs $32 (just wait until we get rid of that 16-year-old refrigerator!). Even allowing for 1,000 kWh during four summer months, we're 25-40% below the U.S. annual average. I'm not saying this to brag (okay, maybe a little); I want people to realize how wasteful we are and how easy it is to minimize energy usage. One person can't make much of a difference, but what if every residential customer reduced electricity usage by 35%? What if every motorist drove a little more smoothly and a little less often?
Friday, May 05, 2006
Naturally, Grandma came to mind when I saw this headline: "Bush administration refuses to talk directly with its main foes." Bush won't let his people meet with representatives from North Korea, Iran, Syria, and others with whom he disagrees. What the hell kind of "diplomacy" is that? How do two parties reach an understanding without communication? I'm not the only one who sees this as wrongheaded at best, fatal hubris at worst.
"I believe that diplomacy is not simply meant for our friends. It is meant for our enemies," said Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state in President Bush's first term. "In fact, our enemies need diplomatic engagement more."Condoleezza Rice argues, "We have people who know our views who talk with the Iranians. I don't think that the absence of communication is the problem here." Yeah, at least Grandpa still talked to my mom. But should the most powerful nation on Earth engage in critical discussions solely by proxy? I just don't get it. Maybe Grandma can explain it to me.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
June 15 - I will be in Davenport, Iowa for Quad Cities Bicycle Week. I'll get to meet Bob Morgan, author of Biking Iowa, in person (we've been corresponding by e-mail for some time since we are both on the bicycle touring e-mail list). We'll be signing books at noon and in the evening -- click here for details.
July 20 - My local book store, The Book Cellar, will be having a sports-themed local author night. Someone else who lives on my street has written a book about golf, and another author has some kind of adventure book.
That leaves my entire month of May open, if anyone has any ideas!
In other book news, my hometown newspaper, the Oswego Ledger-Sentinel, is interested in doing a story. I e-mailed them and got a response from John Etheredge. I mention this because I have been reading newspaper stories by Etheredge since I was an aspiring journalist in high school. Needless to say, he's been with the paper for a long time. Does anyone know whether the Champaign News-Gazette has run their story about my book yet?
Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.
Neil Young wrote "Ohio" after seeing photos of the massacre in Life magazine. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young recorded it in one night, and it hit the airwaves just weeks later. Well, it didn't hit all of the airwaves, as many AM radio stations refused to play it (FM was still in its infancy). Young's lyrics were scathing for the time. Few people dared to name names, but Young laid those four dead at President Nixon's feet. For his part, Nixon said, "This should remind us all once again that when dissent turns to violence it invites tragedy." In other words, those kids should have known better; they were asking for it. The song ends on a haunting note with the ad-libs "Why? Why?" and "How many more?"
This anniversary finds Young about to release Living With War (full coverage here), a protest album that has already upset the current Establishment. Of course, many of the people responsible for the Iraq War thought Vietnam was a good idea, too, even though most of them weaseled out of it one way or another (TANG, anyone?).
Decades later, the spectre of Kent State still looms over every war protest, indeed every peaceful demonstration, in America. It is a reminder that violence can unfold and escalate suddenly and without warning or just cause. We're really never more than an itchy trigger finger away from violent suppression.
I can only imagine the emotions I would have felt hearing "Ohio" in its day. Four weeks after Kent State, in another college town less than 400 miles away, I was born. Three weeks after that, "Ohio" hit the Billboard charts.
UPDATE 05/05/2006 - Bob Geiger wondered yesterday what it would take for Kent State to happen again. He said it comes down to five letters: D-R-A-F-T. If college students feared that their own butts might wind up dodging IEDs in Iraq, they would be just as agitated about this lying administration's war as those Kent State students were about Vietnam 36 years ago. Judging from the current regime's feelings about dissent, the authorities would react as the Ohio National Guard did. And Limbaugh, O'Reilly, and Hannity would be cheering them on, claiming that the students hated America and deserved to be shot.
- The Shah, Part II - Reza Pavlavi, the son of the Shah of Iran, wants to overthrow the Iranian government. Then who would lead the country?
- Americans are still ignorant - A new poll shows yet again that young American adults don't know much about geography. Only 37% of Americans 18-24 could find Iraq on a map, and only 25% could find Israel. My wife points out that I'm sort of a geography freak, so I shouldn't be surprised that people don't know this stuff. But a third of them couldn't even find Louisiana. Of course, it took our president a few days to find that state last year. Unfortunately he knew where Iraq was all along.
- We trust the government - That's the collective we, not including me specifically. A BBC/Reuters/Media Center poll found that 67% -- yes, 67% -- of Americans trust their government. Heck, I didn't trust our government when I was in fifth grade, and I've piled 25 years of cynicism on top of that. Only 59% trust the media. While our media have made their share of mistakes recently, I cannot imagine that more people trust our leaders than trust their watchdogs. Worldwide, 61% trust their media and 51% trust their governments, so the U.S. clearly bucks the trend. But wait, it gets worse. Who are the most trusted news sources in the United States? It's a tie between FOX News and CNN.
After the revolution he envisions, Pahlavi said, he would be willing to become a constitutional monarch in Iran if an Iranian constitutional convention offered him that role. “I’m ready to serve in that capacity,” he said. “If the people so choose, it would be my greatest honor.”Um, thanks for offering, but I think they'll pass. On the bright side, he doesn't want the U.S. to invade, he wouldn't develop nuclear arms, and he doesn't feel threatened by Israel or demand its destruction.
On a lighter note, RedEye columnist Jimmy Greenfield warns women, "We're gonna look if you show cleavage." Lewd dude that I am, I had to write to ask why he hadn't mentioned a helpful accessory: sunglasses!
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
With ____, _____, and _____ going on in the world, why would anyone care about this?Or something along those lines. Random commenter, if all those bad things are going on, why are you sitting there reading blogs when you could be out saving the world? I mean, really. And more important to me, as a reader, is why are you wasting everyone's time with a comment that contributes nothing to the discussion? In fact, I'll go on the record: if anyone posts a stupid comment like the one above to my blog, I'll just delete it instead of wasting my readers' time (unless it's really funny).
Let me answer the rhetorical question posed by the random commenter above. There may be an AIDS epidemic in Africa, a war in Iraq, genocide in Darfur, and hemorrhoidal itching in the White House, but the odds are pretty good that the author or subject of the blog entry really can't do a damn thing about any of them (I'm way too cynical for that "change the world" stuff). If a guy figures the best he can do to influence anything is to wear a T-shirt encouraging pitchers to walk Barry Bonds to thwart his drive for a steroid-enhanced home run record, then good for him. There is more to life than tragedy. Drop the self-righteous indignation and enjoy it a little.
A logical exception is when the blog's author or subject can do something about those big problems. So if President Bush is playing a guitar while New Orleans drowns, feel free to make comments similar to the one above.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
I tried to collect my thoughts as best I could, but I felt about as coherent as Ozzy Osbourne after four hours on a Tilt-A-Whirl. Hours later, it feels like I dreamt it all. Truth be told, I may as well have, since no one I know has a chance of hearing it.
The radio station is located in Herrin, Illinois. Unfortunately, I was too nervous to catch the call letters. Thanks to Google, I figured out later that the station is WJPF-AM 1020 and 1340. The only reason I know the interviewer was Rick Gregg is because I wrote it down yesterday. He interviewed me for three minutes or so, or at least that's how he intended to edit it. I hope he's a good audio editor because I gave him a lot to cut!
What did I talk about? Let's see... My favorite trail, what I learned about southern Illinois, something about Giant City and Horseshoe Lake... Gosh, I hardly remember what was asked, much less what I answered. Too bad I can't hear the interview myself. I might learn something.
By the way, I have to say that WJPF wasn't a station I ever listened to, despite nearby Marion being my home base for southern Illinois. Just look at their line-up: Neal Boortz, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Laura Ingraham, and Michael Reagan. In other words, most of my favorite contenders for a battle royale to the death. At least then there would only be one of them left to spew disinformation over the airwaves. Too bad they don't carry Michael Savage instead of Michael Reagan.
My interview should be on The Morning News Watch between 6 AM and 9 AM, before the hot air starts spewing out of the radio. Probably Wednesday, but maybe later this week. Let me know if you hear it.
Still, the best you can do is to permit drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? You guys know damn well there isn't enough oil there to make an appreciable difference in our supply over the long term (of course, oil supply isn't the problem right now anyway -- just ask the Saudis). And you know that contrary to your statements, Dr. Frist, Americans do not "overwhelmingly support" wrecking that environment for an extra trickle of crude.
Above all, just how long do you expect Americans to buy this "blame Clinton" schtick? You bastards really need to come up with some new material.