Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Touring in Chicago Athlete

Cyclo-Chris took a break from playing in the dirt to write about bicycle touring in his monthly Chicago Athlete column. It's a pretty good article considering its brevity (after all, entire books have been written about the topic). The article is illustrated (in the magazine, not online) with a picture of me from my cross-country tour in 2002. Incidentally, it's the only photo of 2,000+ from that trip that I did not take myself. Anyway, I appreciate the shout-out. Who knows, maybe it will sell another book or two.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Good Deals Come to Those Who Wait

We've been on the fence about renewing the News-Star, our local weekly newspaper. I like to keep informed about neighborhood news, but the paper has noticeably declined in quality since Pioneer Press bought out the Lerner chain.

First Pioneer Press unceremoniously dumped Ed Schwartz. I threatened to cancel my subscription but ultimately did not. Several familiar staff writers also disappeared without explanation. Then the News-Star went to a tabloid format like the Chicago Sun-Times (except stapled). I'll admit my complaint there is a matter of personal preference -- having been raised on the Chicago Tribune, I've never liked tabloids.

Worst of all, the copyediting descended to new lows after Pioneer Press took over. Granted, I have an eye for proofreading, but I shouldn't find errors in nearly every story. And I'm not talking about misspellings (though there are more of those than modern spell-checking software should allow). At least once a week, I will be reading an article to my wife and stumble over the words. A closer look explains why: the sentence as printed makes no sense. A word or phrase is missing, subject and verb disagree, the verb is in the wrong tense, or a modifier is misplaced. It's just awful -- high school level at best.

So when the News-Star sent renewal offers this summer, I was torn between my desire for news and my desire for a quality newspaper. The best deal they offered was $33 for three years. That was much better than their $18.50 annual rate, but I hesitated to commit to three more years of atrocious copyediting. Then I applied the same analysis I use with the Sunday Tribune: I can clip enough coupons in the Sunday paper to equal or exceed its price, so it's like getting the paper for free. The News-Star doesn't have a coupon section, but Monastero's, an excellent northwest side Italian restaurant where we had our wedding reception, is a regular advertiser. They usually offer a coupon good for $10 off a second entree. Since we eat there several times a year, that would more than justify the News-Star subscription. But despite my reasoning, I still didn't mail a check.

Last night we got a phone call from the News-Star. They asked me to renew. How much? "Five ninety-nine. We'll invoice you, and your subscription will continue uninterrupted." With the cost of the subscription appropriately reduced to the sale price of a 12-pack of Charmin Ultra toilet paper (big rolls), I accepted their offer.

Now if only they would hire me to be their copyeditor...

Sunday, August 27, 2006

A Happier Anniversary

Today is the second anniversary of the DJWriter blog. Like many bloggers, I started because I needed a creative outlet from a job that made me miserable (let's not talk about how many billable hours I may have spent blogging -- probably no more than I would have spent socializing if I'd had more friends at work). Now that writing is my job, this blog has become a way to distill my thoughts, share my experiences, and occasionally pontificate. It's been mostly fun, though I have had a few irritating encounters with disgruntled readers. Along the way, this blog has shifted focus many times, which perhaps means it has no focus at all. Most recently, it has been a diary of my summer book tour. Even I don't know what's next, so stay tuned...

Coincidentally, two of the very few blogs I follow regularly also have August anniversaries. Eric Zorn preceded me by a year, and Jen Garrett has been blogging 2.5 times as long as I have. So happy anniversary to them, too.

Lyrics of the Day

Today's lyrics come from Texas legend Jerry Jeff Walker:
He danced for those at minstrel shows and county fairs throughout the South
He spoke with tears of fifteen years how his dog and him traveled about
His dog up and died he up and died
After twenty years he still grieves
I thought of those words from "Mr. Bojangles" a lot after Teddy died and imagined myself grieving for a long time. Today is the first anniversary of his death. I'm feeling a little better, slowly but surely, to the point where thinking about him doesn't automatically bring up painful memories of his last days. But I'll still think of him in 20 years, assuming I'm still here. If not, maybe I'll be feeding him ham sandwiches in heaven.

As for Walker and his famous song, I found this tidbit written by Tom Gascoyne:
This Saturday I get to go to the Feather Falls Casino to see Jerry Jeff Walker. When I tell people this, most draw a blank and say "Who?" Then I tell them, "He wrote 'Mr. Bojangles.'" And they think of Sammy Davis Jr. and his smarmy version of that great song. But Walker is like Willie Nelson or Waylon Jennings, only more grounded. You get the feeling he's really lived the things he sings about... As for "Mr. Bojangles," Walker's friend David Bromberg explained in a 1972 recording that Walker met Bojangles in a drunk tank in New Orleans while doing a little "field research."

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman

After enjoying Killing Yourself to Live, I was anxious to read more from Chuck Klosterman. When I found this book as part of a Borders "buy 2 get 1 free" deal, I had to get it. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs is a fascinating and entertaining read for anyone who pays attention to popular culture, be it music, movies, television, sports, or celebrities. It is a collection of essays, and since the brief essays were my favorite parts of Killing Yourself to Live (even when they were tangential to the plot), I love this book.

Klosterman addresses issues like whether Pam Anderson is the Marilyn Monroe of our time, why soccer will never be as popular in the U.S. as its proponents predict, and what's wrong with contemporary journalism. He throws in an article about touring with a Guns N' Roses tribute band and a meditation on serial killers. The longer essays are separated by brief "interludes," which run the gamut from slice-of-life observations to "The twenty-three questions I ask everybody I meet in order to decide if I can really love them," which is like a twisted version of the game Scruples.

While I can't completely identify with every essay (I've never watched MTV's Real World or paid any attention to Saved By The Bell, for example), Klosterman injects enough cultural references and humor into his writing that I can still figure out what he's getting at. I don't necessarily agree with all of his analyses, but Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs is one of the most hilarious and insightful books I have ever read. My next stop on the Klosterman train: Fargo Rock City.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Am I the Odd One?

I recently discussed two topics with family members who handle them differently:

Wedding rings - My wife has lost her wedding ring, though she is certain it is somewhere in the house. My mom and my brother both reacted the same way, wondering why she would take it off. They even sleep with their rings on. I, on the other hand, always take off my wedding ring -- when I get home, the ring comes off when I take off my watch and empty my pockets. It never occurred to me to keep it on all the time. So, am I the odd one here? Do most people wear their wedding rings 24-7-365?

Frozen pizza - My brother was complaining about a brand of frozen pizza that doesn't include a piece of cardboard. He puts the pizza on the cardboard after it's baked. This seems strange to me. I always use a pizza pan, a housewarming gift that I got when I moved into my first apartment twelve years ago (from my mom's sisters and their husbands, if I remember correctly). My brother also has a pizza pan, but he doesn't want to get it dirty. I just throw the cardboard away; I thought it was meant to keep the pizza from bending and breaking in transit or in the freezer. Isn't that why most boxed frozen pizzas don't have cardboard but most shrink-wrapped pizzas do? Pizza joints use cardboard for carryout and delivery, but they use pans for those who dine at the restaurant. Again, am I the odd one here? Do most people use their frozen pizza cardboard as a serving dish after baking?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A Planet No More

It's official: the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has demoted Pluto from planetary status. Readers may recall that I noted two months ago that this would be a huge story, way back when the Chicago Tribune thought new names for Pluto's moons were more worthy of a headline. In fact, today's news was important enough to warrant an e-mail news alert from the Tribune (CNN, too, but they send out alerts for everything).

The click poll attached to the Tribune's story is ridiculous. It asks whether readers agree with the decision, as if the average yahoo viewing the Tribune's Web site knows a damned thing about astronomy. This isn't a JonBenet Ramsey story; it's science. So far the vote is nearly two-to-one against the IAU. I'd like to ask those "no" voters if they can even name the eight planets in our solar system -- in order, starting with the closest to the sun. Maybe they are just lazy textbook editors who don't want to update their publications.

Here's the funniest paragraph in the Tribune's article:
It was unclear how Pluto's demotion might affect the mission of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, which earlier this year began a 9 1/2-year journey to the oddball object to unearth more of its secrets.
Huh? Maybe NASA will say, "Oh hell, Pluto's not even a real planet anymore. Let's just turn this thing off and forget about it!" Seriously, I cannot imagine how the IAU's decision could have any impact whatsoever on a space probe. Just because Pluto isn't classified as a planet doesn't mean it isn't worth investigating.

I favored demotion two months ago and still do. As technology improves, we will probably discover many more Trans-Neptunian objects, each one supporting the IAU's decision. After all, we can't call every little rock in orbit a planet or the designation becomes trivial. Pluto is as consequential as the asteroid belt (a few asteroids were also once classified as planets), and the IAU is recognizing that, designating it and some asteroids as dwarf planets.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Downers Grove

I had a decent weekend signing in front of Anderson's Bookshop in downtown Downers Grove. They provided a table and a chair; the rest was up to me. I felt like Jonathan C. Miller in Amarillo in August (an obscure reference I hope to clarify with a future book review). It's too bad the store isn't located a bit further south near the expo where everyone else was selling things. There was still a fair amount of foot traffic, however, since I was between the parking lots and the race course.

Saturday's best moment: A guy walking down the sidewalk pointed at Biking Illinois and said to his companion, "That's a great book!" as they passed. I'm not sure he even knew I was the author; a lot of people seemed to think I was a bookstore clerk. In retrospect I should have made "meet the author" signs. People inevitably became much more interested when they found out I wrote the book and wasn't merely selling it.

I stayed for 3-1/2 hours although I had planned on only two. A friend who recommended 3:00-5:00 gave good advice, though -- I sold eight books during that timeframe. On the other hand, the woman who bought the ninth book was so happy, it would have been a shame to miss her.

I returned at 12:30 on Sunday. This time I just grabbed the table (which still had my books from Saturday) and carried it outside myself. I didn't do as well as on Saturday, selling five books despite talking to a lot of potential customers. I hope to get some future sales for my efforts. Sometimes people don't have any money (though one guy on Saturday actually went to an ATM to get cash!), and other times people just need to think about it for a while. A bike shop owner asked me how to order books to sell at the shop. I had to refer her to my Web site because I didn't have the wholesale info handy.

Sunday's best moment: A young man came up to me with a piece of paper. "Can you sign this for me? My parents have your book, and they love it. They're doing every ride. They check them off as they go. Last weekend they went to Channahon." He wanted to give them the paper to put in their book, so I happily signed. I enjoy feedback like that even more than I enjoy selling books.

The street became pretty empty once the USPRO championship race started a little after 3:00, so I left at 3:30. All in all, my Downers Grove signings went well. When I spoke to the manager of Anderson's on Tuesday, he seemed pleased (he did nicely for a minimal investment of time and a table). He invited me to return next year. If I do, I'll make signs so people know who I am.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Bastard of the Day

Today's bastard is Michael L. Jackson, truly a despicable person. A jury convicted Jackson of second-degree murder yesterday for repeatedly running over a cab driver in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood after a fare dispute. To be honest, I was just waiting for a verdict to give him this "honor" (I started BotD long after he committed his crime).

Jackson is such a bastard, let's enumerate the reasons...
  1. He killed a cab driver in a dispute over an $8 fare that he felt was $4 too high.
  2. He ran over the cabbie three times.
  3. His defense called witnesses to portray the victim as an asshole. If being an asshole qualified a person to be run over, there would be several inches of dried blood caked on my wheel wells. And I probably wouldn't be here to write this anyway.
  4. His defense also argued that Jackson just "attempted to flee the scene" and had to use the taxi to do so. I still haven't figured out how that explains the second and third times he ran over the cabbie.
  5. Although he hasn't been tried for it, Jackson was charged with reckless assault for allegedly spewing his HIV-infected spit at a nurse in a Downers Grove hospital several months after the cabbie incident.
  6. He has also been charged with reckless conduct for allegedly having sex with DuPage County Jail inmates without telling them he is HIV positive.

Sentencing is September 19. The defense wants the judge to consider Jackson's philanthropic activity. But how much philanthropy does it take to make up for murdering someone? And if Jackson is such a swell guy, why are those other charges pending from subsequent incidents? Let's hope they put this bastard away for the maximum of twenty years. That isn't nearly enough for such a heinous and wantonly committed crime; he could be out in ten years with good behavior. Then again, fellow inmates have ways of handling bastards like Jackson.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Lyrics of the Day

Last night we watched Racing Stripes. It was a fun movie with a predictably upbeat conclusion and a positive message about believing in oneself and being whatever you want to be. In other words, it was an unusual selection for a cynical bastard like me. When I see a feel-good children's movie like this, I inevitably wind up depressed about how life isn't full of happy endings. I think that's the real reason people have kids -- to try to remember what it was like to be happy and innocent, and to forget how cynical we all become as adults.

Much to my parents' disappointment, that's not a good enough reason for me to have kids. It wouldn't work anyway. I'd just project my own dark attitudes on them, and they'd turn out to be the moodiest tikes in the history of the world.

Before this devolves into a pathetic Bob Greene-esque column reminiscing about the good old days of youth that never existed, let's get to the lyrics. Tom Waits' "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" naturally comes to mind:
When I'm lyin' in my bed at night
I don't wanna grow up
Nothin' ever seems to turn out right
I don't wanna grow up
How do you move in a world of fog
That's always changing things
Makes me wish that I could be a dog
When I see the price that you pay
I don't wanna grow up
I don't ever wanna be that way
I don't wanna grow up

Okay, I'm heading over to Netflix to promote some grim documentary to the top of my queue. Somehow, seeing the worst of the real world doesn't bother me as much as yearning for an idealized, nonexistent one. I have lower standards for reality.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Random Thoughts

When I ride my bike, weird thoughts pop into my head and then out so quickly I can scarcely remember them. Here are a few I managed to retain long enough to type...

  • Everyone knows Gatorade got its name from the school where it was developed, the University of Florida. But what if it had been created at Florida State University? Would we be drinking Seminade instead?
  • Beyonce's new album is called B'Day. Is that the hip-hop spelling for a French bathroom fixture?
  • The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority should give away promotional bumper stickers that say "Gas, grass or I-PASS -- no one rides for free."

My Night as a Star

After signing books at six other Borders locations, I thought I knew the routine pretty well. Each store has its quirks, but they are similar enough: walk in, introduce yourself, sit at the table, and sign books, answering questions along the way. Lincoln Village, my last stop on the Borders Across Illinois Tour, was much different.

I must admit I had high hopes for this signing. It was mentioned in several newspapers, most notably the area's top alternative weekly, The Chicago Reader. They even put it on "The List," a day-by-day calendar of featured events. In other words, The Reader declared it the thing to do on Wednesday, August 16.

When I arrived, I saw a display rack advertising my appearance, but I didn't see a table anywhere. So much for attracting people as they walked in the door. Then I went upstairs. Several employees were setting up chairs, a table (no black cloth this time)... and a sound system. Yikes, a microphone! When I introduced myself, I was invited into the back room, behind the "staff only" door. An ice bucket filled with bottled water was waiting for me. It was like sitting in the green room. I talked with an employee for a while, and then she made an announcement on the PA system. She escorted me out to my table and read a brief introduction. There were about 15 people there, and they applauded me!

Since I don't really have a presentation as such, I asked if anyone had questions. Fortunately, I spoke loudly enough that the microphone was unnecessary. We had a pretty good discussion that managed to stay on-topic (i.e. about the book, not about a broad range of cycling issues). On reflection, I am glad this type of event happened now instead of a couple of months ago. I have talked about the book enough that I speak much more easily and confidently than I did during my first signing.

The crowd was genuinely enthusiastic. One couple had just completed the Grand Illinois Trail, and they were anxious to explore the places in my book. Another reminded me that one of the trails in my book was just beyond the Borders parking lot (somehow I had forgotten to mention it). One highlight of the evening was talking with a man raised in Metropolis. He was looking for rides he could do on the way home. I took great pleasure in pointing out the index subheading "Along I-57" followed by six rides. He smiled. "Yep, that's me, 300 miles down I-57!" Lots of people asked questions, and there were several employees on hand to help me with everything. This was definitely the most professionally executed and organized signing I have done. I really felt like a star.

So what was my total for the night? I'm not sure. I was so busy talking that I didn't keep count very well. To my surprise, not everyone who bought a book wanted an autograph. I signed about six books but probably sold twice as many.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Rockford Files

My Rockford adventure got off to a lousy start. I drove out there early to get out of Chicago before rush hour. Along the way, I recalled that this signing was very near the site of one of my biggest failures on a bike -- the day I aborted my five-day Grand Illinois Trail tour after only two days. Great, now I had demons to get rid of.

Dinner certainly didn't help. Both the food and service were disappointing. One of these days I'll learn my lesson and swear off Steak n Shake forever. I was too annoyed to order a shake for dessert although that was my primary reason for choosing that restaurant in the first place. Since I still had more than an hour to kill, I tried to console myself with a Snickers Blizzard at Dairy Queen instead. I ate half and then lost interest -- I don't think that's ever happened before. I was reading Chuck Klosterman's Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, which was funny but not in a way that raised my spirits. I recognized that I was in a funk. As I drove to Borders I hoped I could shake it, or else it would be a very long night.

My first impression was not encouraging. My signing was at 7 PM, but at 6:30 there was only a table covered with a black cloth. Without books or a chair, it looked funereal. I perused the shelves and generally lurked around the information desk; I'm never sure exactly what time I'm supposed to introduce myself. I noticed the obligatory display rack of hometown heroes Cheap Trick (their latest album is even called Rockford). When I overheard two customers asking about me, I figured it was time. This was a very good sign -- people actually arrived early in anticipation of the event!

Once I announced myself, a clerk brought out some books, a chair, and a bottle of water for me. Perhaps they have a lot of no-shows and didn't want to over-prepare? Actually, my biggest fear hasn't come true yet -- I am always afraid that the bookstore might not be expecting me at all. Or worse, that they were expecting me yesterday. Anyway, I was already signing books by 7:00. Once I shifted into author mode, my bad attitude disappeared. I lost count of how many books I signed during the first 15 minutes, but I'm pretty sure the total for the night was about ten. Several of the clerks were impressed. "A lot of authors don't do that well signing here," one said. She proceeded to introduce herself, and I got the sense that she was flirting with me. I should have become an author when I was single. Chicks dig it.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Dreaming Is Free

Last night I went to bed at 7:30 and slept straight through until 6:30 this morning. This was highly unusual; I normally sleep about 2-3 hours, get up and screw around on the computer, sleep a few more hours and get up. I don't sleep six hours straight, much less eleven.

Anyway, I had lots of dreams. The longest and most vivid involved Anne Hathaway, she of the big smile and even bigger -- well, you know. We were taking a college class, and she was sitting near me. I talked to her every so often, even flirted a little, and I was hoping for something more. This went on for weeks (I told you it was a long dream). Finally, she told me basically there was no chance I was going to get anywhere with her. Damn. Moral of the story: I'll never score with a Hollywood starlet, not even in my dreams.

Lyrics of the Day

I've been listening to a lot of bootlegs from the current Ween tour, and I'm becoming a fan. Today's lyrics are from my favorite song at the moment:
Sancho brought a message from the Fat Man
"Sorry, boy, to leave you high and dry,
but I went to see my mom in Ensenada,
and I left a little something to help the time go by
Just a little something to help to keep you high"

Bananas & blow (oh - oh), bananas & blow
Stuck in my cabana, living on bananas & blow
"Bananas & Blow" has been going through my head constantly on bike rides this week. It has a catchy, calypso sort of rhythm, and the mental image of a guy sitting around eating bananas and snorting coke is just absurdly funny to me.

Friday, August 11, 2006

A Greasy, Wet Night in Orland Park

My first task in Orland Park was to find Orland Park Cyclery. There I bought a desperately needed pair of cycling gloves and made a good pitch for my book. The clerk was excited, but of course he'll have to talk to the boss. With an hour to kill, I went to IHOP for an awful ham and cheese omelette. Although it's usually my favorite breakfast meal, IHOP spoiled it with too much cheddar, jack, and Swiss cheese. Those are all too greasy, and the cheese flavor drowns out the ham and egg. American cheese is much better. At least the new corn pancakes were tasty (they replaced the Cream of Wheat-infused Country Griddle Cakes on the menu). After a trip to the bathroom to make sure no food was stuck in my teeth, I headed over to Borders.

When I walked in, I was surprised to see a dozen chairs set up in front of my signing table. Wow, these people are expecting me to draw a crowd. This was my fifth Borders signing, but it was the only one with audience seating. I hoped they knew something that I didn't. They had a nice set-up with a tall display rack of books and a stack of flyers advertising the event (I took some for my souvenir collection). When I asked for water they gave me a bottle, much to my relief (usually I get a glass of water, and I'm always worried that I'll knock it over and ruin a bunch of books!).

Shortly after 7:30, I saw an older man and woman enter the store. The man was wearing cycling clothes, but he was also wearing a back brace and using a walker. It turned out to be Bill, an online acquaintance who writes entertaining reports about his bike tours. He was recently diagnosed with spinal cancer (unbeknownst to me) but exhibits an incredibly positive attitude. "I just have to get over this hurdle, then I'll be on the bike again soon." Wow. Here I had been thinking of something so trivial as how awful traffic was on my drive to Orland Park, and this guy made a special trip to meet me despite his illness. Had he not been a fit cyclist, he probably would have been unable to even get out of bed. I wasn't the only person inspired; a woman who bought my book had Bill sign it, too!

Those were the only books I sold, but it was a fun night. I have discovered the real reason to do book signings -- it's not about selling books, it's about meeting people. Since I bought five books, Borders made more money from me than from my book. At least they let me sign their entire inventory, about 20 copies.

The torrential downpour probably had something to do with the small turnout. Midway Airport reported 2.28 inches in only 78 minutes. The worst of it hit Orland Park as I was leaving Borders. I waited a few minutes in the vestibule, talking with an attractive young woman who was headed to Florence, Italy for school. She found my book interesting, but I couldn't persuade her to buy one since she's leaving the country.

The rain let up a bit and I ran to my car (I had parked in the back of the lot to leave the closer spaces for my hordes of fans). As I jumped in, the rain got heavy again. Fortunately I didn't have to pick up my wife from work until midnight so I read my new books in the car for an hour (at least I had parked under a streetlamp). Finally the rain stopped, so I headed back toward Chicago. I hadn't gone far when I noticed the streets were dry -- for such a deluge, the storm had traversed a pretty narrow path.

My First National Championships

Suburban Downers Grove hosts the National Criterium Championships every August. Criterium bicycle races are known for "high speeds, short courses, multiple laps, a tinge of danger and heart pounding sprints." And this year, I'll be a part of it.

But Dave, you're just a cyclotourist, and a darn lazy one lately.

I won't actually be participating. Heck, I might not even see any of the races. But by golly, I'll be signing books! Anderson's Bookshop in downtown Downers Grove will be hosting me on Saturday, August 19 from 3-5 PM and Sunday, August 20 from 1-3 PM. I'll have a table in front of the store on the sidewalk.

I can even work the hometown angle like I did in Champaign since I spent some of my (worst) formative years in neighboring Woodridge. I just hope I don't run into my second grade teacher -- I thought she was a witch. Hey, maybe I'll see the girl who barfed on my coat during recess... such fond memories!

So if you're attending the races, stop by between events to get your very own autographed copy of Biking Illinois: 60 Great Road Trips and Trail Rides. Anderson's Bookshop is on Main Street between the race course and the train station.

Other upcoming events:
  • August 15, 2006 Rockford, IL 7:00 PM @ Borders, 199 Deane Dr.
  • August 16, 2006 Chicago, IL 7:30 PM @ Borders Lincoln Village, 6103 N. Lincoln Ave. -- This one could be big. It's been listed in the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Reader.
  • September 15, 2006 Geneva, IL 7:00 PM @ Barnes & Noble Geneva Commons, 103 Commons Dr.

Bastard of the Day

For once again using the tactic of fear mongering for political gain, George W. Bush is the Bastard of the Day. I might as well make Jimmy Greenfield my guest blogger today because his column in Red Eye hits all the important points. He talks about Bush's brief speech yesterday in Green Bay after the foiled terrorist plot became big news. Bush mentioned 9/11, naturally (doesn't he always?). Then he set up another of his infamous straw men:
"It is a mistake to believe there is no threat to the United States of America," he said. "And that is why we have given our officials the tools they need to protect our people."
Well, of course that would be a mistake. Greenfield saw through this as quickly as I did:
Now, even if you're a great admirer of President Bush, do you really think Democrats or any adult in this country believes that "there is no threat to the United States of America" from terrorists? It's a patently absurd statement, but with just a short time allotted for his speech, President Bush chose to try to scare the public into believing that Democrats, if in charge, would fight terrorists with love beads instead of guns.
Like Greenfield, I hope the American public can finally smell the genuine Texas bullshit in Bush's words.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Bastard of the Day

The Chicago Tribune's editorial board earns today's Bastard of the Day award for completely misrepresenting the issues in "Joe Lieberman, still standing." Of course the Trib likes Lieberman -- he's the best Democrat they could ask for in a blue state like Connecticut. They repeat the tired slogan, "He votes his conscience." How could anyone with a conscience support the giveaway to Big Pharma known as the Medicare prescription drug plan? (Did I mention that his wife is a lobbyist for a drug company?) I won't belabor that point with more examples, but you can find them easily enough. Besides, if a man votes his conscience but rarely agrees with his party, why the hell is he in that party in the first place?

The entire premise of the editorial is wrong, based on the right-wing board's skewed view of America. They blame "activists" for throwing out Lieberman because of his support for the Iraq war as if only activists are against it. A CNN poll released yesterday said 60 percent of Americans are against the war, and surely that number is higher among Democrats. How can the editors portray this as a matter of activists controlling the party when they are part of a clear majority? I will credit activists for pushing the issue in the media, but surely activists weren't the only ones voting for Ned Lamont. You have to remember that although Lamont's victory margin wasn't huge, he had a lot to overcome to defeat a well-funded, high profile incumbent like Lieberman.

The Trib editors compare Lieberman to Colin Powell:
...many people thought he might be able to convince the country to elect him, but he wouldn't be able to convince the Republican Party to nominate him. That is, Powell's moderate views were in step with the nation's but out of step with the core activists of his own party.
But Lieberman is not the same because, let's say it again, 60 percent of Americans are against the war. That means Lieberman is not in step with the nation's views (he is in step with the Tribune editorial board's views, but I'm sure that's merely coincidental). And now that he's running as an independent, he's just another baby crying because somebody took away his candy, i.e. the lucrative perks of being senator.

The Trib closes in a nonsensical, contradictory fashion:
It's shaping up to be a quirky year in U.S. politics, perhaps a dangerous year for incumbents of all stripes. Democratic Rep. Cynthia McKinney lost in Georgia and Republican Rep. Joe Schwarz lost in Michigan on Tuesday. A recent poll showed a majority of Americans call themselves "anti-incumbent." Sounds like they've had it with that partisan nonsense. So "independent" may be a good thing to be in November. And Joe Lieberman may just get the last word in Connecticut.
So it's a bad time to be an incumbent, but "independent" may be a good thing for Lieberman. But just because he shed his party affiliation doesn't make him any less of an incumbent. Sorry, I just can't follow their logic. It may be a bad time to be an incumbent (though I have my doubts because of how the system is rigged in their favor with fundraising, gerrymandering and such), but that doesn't mean independents are going to make a great showing in November. A more obvious conclusion to draw from the Connecticut primary is that the Iraq war could be a huge issue. This editorial practically ignores it with only one mention, probably because they don't want it to be an issue. But despite what the Trib and The New Republic want you to believe, anti-war sentiments are no longer exclusively held by "liberal elitists."

Let me be clear: the Tribune's editors are not bastards for having an opinion that doesn't agree with mine. Heck, they would be bastards every day if that were my only criterion. They are bastards for misleading and misinforming their readers in order to make their point. Such fantasy-world reasoning may work for Limbaugh and Hannity, but I expect better from a major newspaper.

Bike Editorial Okay Until the End

A Chicago Tribune editorial today encourages bicyclists and motorists to coexist on city streets. They make some good points, particularly that traffic laws are too often flouted by cyclists and that many drivers are ignorant of safe cycling practices. Of course this is nothing new; they could probably rerun the same editorial every summer.

For what it's worth, one reason I do not like riding in the city is my fellow cyclists' behavior. Not only do they make me look bad by association (which affects how drivers treat me), but nothing is more annoying than having to pass the same red light-running idiots over and over because I obey traffic signals and they don't. I am a firm believer in "equal rights, equal responsibilities," a mantra that says cyclists who want respect on the roads must obey the laws. So I can understand some of the complaints of motorists regarding bicyclist behavior (oddly enough, I find law-breaking cyclists much more irritating when I am on two wheels than when I am in a car).

On the other hand, when a motorist is riled up about having to "wait" behind a slower-moving cyclist, well, I have no sympathy whatsoever. I don't care if you're late for work; you're just a bully in a steel cage if you can't respect the rider's right to be there and accept that maybe you'll have to spend an extra 10-15 seconds driving to work. Studies show that for all the whining from motorists, they are rarely impeded by bikes for much longer than that. Besides, as soon as you aggressively swerve around that bicyclist and scare the hell out of him or her, you'll have to stop for another of Chicago's gazillion stoplights or stop signs anyway (I am only slightly exaggerating -- one local street has eight stop signs in one quarter of a mile, including four three-ways with block-long, dead-end streets).

The Tribune editorial strikes a sour note at the finish: "Let's try not to kill each other." That line would make as much sense in an editorial about wolves and sheep. When was the last time you heard about a cyclist killing a motorist? I suppose it has happened, but the Trib's statement implies a false equality. Motorists kill cyclists all the time; that's the reality. Most times it's accidental, but sometimes it's not. A car is a two-ton weapon in the hands of an impatient, road-raging driver. I suppose they thought it was a cute statement to write figuratively, but I've read about too many dead cyclists to ignore its literal sense.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Bastard of the Day

Shed a tear for poor Joe Lieberman, the ousted Connecticut Democrat. It's hard to believe this DINO (Democrat In Name Only) was actually a vice presidential candidate six years ago. I hated Lieberman then for maintaining his Senate seat -- holy Joe, often called the most religious senator but more accurately the most sanctimonious, didn't have enough faith in the Gore/Lieberman ticket to give up his Senate seat. Sure I'll be your VP, Al, as long as I don't have to put anything on the line. That hedge alone demonstrates his bastardhood. And while Al Gore has spent the intervening years rededicating himself to progressive values and causes, Lieberman has aligned himself more and more with Senate Republicans. When he took such a ferocious pro-war stance that some tipped him to be Donald Rumsfeld's successor, Connecticut Democrats decided they were sick of his DINO routine.

Yesterday Lieberman lost the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont despite having name recognition and a huge war chest (Joe has served his corporate backers well). But instead of accepting defeat graciously -- dare I say democratically -- he has decided to finally turn away from the party he failed to represent and run as an independent.
"The old politics of partisan polarization won today," Lieberman told supporters in a hotel ballroom in Hartford, Conn. "For the sake of our state, our country and my party, I cannot and will not let that result stand."
I hope you're wearing hip waders because pious Joe is piling it pretty deep. Partisan polarization? If 80% of Democrats (60% of Americans) oppose the war in Iraq, then which candidate best represents their views? Certainly not Lieberman. Lieberman describes partisan polarization as "old politics;" I suppose he thinks obsequious fealty to the opposition party is "new politics." Clearly, Connecticut Democrats have had enough of sycophant Joe.

And how can Lieberman say he is doing this for the sake of his party? He lost his party's primary fair and square, but it's in his party's interest for him to run as an independent? It's about time he started thinking about the Democratic Party, but his logic is plainly flawed. This strategy is much more likely to split the Democratic vote and hand the seat to a Republican than to result in a Lieberman victory.

Personally, I favor tossing out the fat and happy incumbents at every opportunity. Aside from completely dissolving both parties and starting over, that's the only way anything is going to change in Washington. It's appropriate that Bush-backing bastard Lieberman's head is the first to roll.

For more on Lieberman, I recommend David Sirota's commentary.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Lyrics of the Day

Arthur Lee died yesterday at age 61 of leukemia. If you are not an aficionado of late 1960s rock and roll, you may not know him. But if you are, you probably revere Forever Changes by Lee's band, Love, as a psychedelic masterpiece. Indeed, it often appears on rock critics' lists of the top 100 albums of all time.

If the Beatles had come from the Los Angeles scene that spawned the Doors, perhaps Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band would have sounded a lot like Forever Changes. Flourishes of horns and strings supplement the largely acoustic instrumentation, creating a beautiful tapestry that contrasts starkly with the lyrics, which are often bluntly dark. This is not surprising considering Lee's frame of mind: "When I did that album, I thought I was going to die at that particular time, so those were my last words." Unfortunately for Love, their album didn't have nearly as much success as Sgt. Pepper, though it eventually went gold as a cult classic. While Lee managed to eke out an existence for almost 40 more years (including six years in jail), his musical output was sporadic and virtually unnoticed. The last song on Forever Changes, "You Set the Scene" could serve as Lee's epitaph:
This is the time and life that I am living
And I'll face each day with a smile
For the time that I've been given's such a little while
And the things that I must do consist of more than style
There are places that I am going

This is the only thing that I am sure of
And that's all that lives is gonna die
And there'll always be some people here to wonder why
And for every happy hello, there will be good-bye
There'll be time for you to put yourself on
Forever Changes is on my must-have list; it's one of the few vinyl albums I have replaced with a CD, the 2001 reissue with seven bonus tracks. I recommend that or Love Story, a two-disc set that includes Forever Changes in its entirety, split in the middle just like the LP. That collection also has the best songs from other albums, including a great cover of "My Little Red Book" (played during the credits in the movie High Fidelity).