Friday, September 29, 2006

Lyrics of the Day

I guess this is week-old news, but I just found out:
Singer and songwriter James McMurtry took home album of the year and song of the year honors, and veteran rocker Neil Young was named artist of the year Friday at the fifth annual Americana Honors and Awards... McMurtry, 44, won album of the year for Childish Things and song of the year for "We Can't Make It Here Anymore," a pointed commentary on the economy, war and other issues.
I've been a James McMurtry fan since his 1989 debut, Too Long In The Wasteland. In his honor, today's lyrics are from "We Can't Make It Here Anymore." The seven-minute song builds from seething anger to outrage. These words are toward the end:
Should I hate a people for the shade of their skin
Or the shape of their eyes or the shape I'm in
Should I hate 'em for having our jobs today
No I hate the men sent the jobs away
I can see them all now, they haunt my dreams
All lily white and squeaky clean
They've never known want, they'll never know need
Their shit don't stink and their kids won't bleed
Their kids won't bleed in the damn little war
And we can't make it here anymore

Will work for food, will die for oil
Will kill for power and to us the spoils
The billionaires get to pay less tax
The working poor get to fall through the cracks
Let 'em eat jellybeans, let 'em eat cake
Let 'em eat shit, whatever it takes
They can join the Air Force, or join the Corps
If they can't make it here anymore
Congratulations to McMurtry and Young, as well as the duo/group of the year, another favorite of mine, the Drive-By Truckers.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Life In The Fast Lane

Last night I was looking at EarthLink's Web site and noticed that they now offer 6.0Mbps DSL. I also saw that their regular monthly rate for my current service, 3.0Mbps DSL, is $34.95-$44.95. This came as a disturbing surprise since I have been paying $49.95. (Perhaps they just recently lowered the price and my next invoice would automatically reflect that, but somehow I doubt it.)

I called EarthLink today planning to ask first whether 6.0Mbps service is available here and second why I am paying $5 more than their Web site says I should for my current service. For once, I was pleased with the results of a call to customer service. Not only is 6.0Mbps DSL available in my area, but it's only $39.95. Finally, I don't have to listen to people with cable carry on about how their service is sooo much faster than DSL, and I still don't have to subscribe to cable TV. I didn't bother to compare that price with other providers, but it doesn't really matter since I don't want to change my e-mail addresses. So in three to five business days, I should have double the speed for ten bucks less per month!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

An Empire Of Wealth by John Steele Gordon

This book is far more interesting and engaging than one would expect from its subtitle, "The Epic History of American Economic Power." Economics isn't exactly the most colorful subject matter, but Gordon does a good job of making it not only entertaining, but also easy to read for those without background in the field. Gordon retells the familiar story of American history from an economic perspective. To every reader's relief, he does this without resorting to even one chart or graph. He also has a knack for injecting an interesting factoid or two whenever the story starts to drag a bit.

His description of early settlements and agriculture from an economic perspective sheds new light on the standard narrative. Gordon highlights and explains the wisdom of Alexander Hamilton's central bank, along with Andrew Jackson's foolishness in dismantling it and the economic instability its absence caused for decades afterward. He takes issue with the portrayal of men like Cornelius Vanderbilt and J.P. Morgan as "robber barons," observing that the original robber barons of medieval times were more like muggers who simply collected money, whereas Vanderbilt and Morgan created wealth and contributed to America's economic power. Gordon details the financial aspects of the Great Depression well, and he explains the tactics used by Hoover and Roosevelt to try to stabilize the economy. He tells how Donald Nelson, chairman of the War Production Board, "changed the world's largest capitalist economy into a centrally planned one," playing a critical role in winning World War II.

An Empire Of Wealth is not without flaws, though. Most glaring is Gordon's strong bias toward the East. The Midwest and the West are practically ignored. Chicago doesn't merit a mention until Samuel Insull's arrival in the 1890s. It seems peculiar that an American economic history would leave out a critical development like the Chicago Board of Trade and how it revolutionized commodity trading. Even the Great Depression is almost exclusively an east coast issue. The California Gold Rush and the first transcontinental railroad are just about the only economy-oriented events to occur west of the Mississippi by Gordon's reckoning.

Although the author's back-of-the-book material expresses distaste for partisan economic writing, Gordon contributes his share. In An Empire Of Wealth he makes several pointed jabs at Democrats, liberals, and especially "intellectuals." He uses a humorous, non-partisan quote from The Nation, and yet he needlessly brands the publication as "leftist." Toward the end of the book, he gives Reagan far more credit than he deserves for defeating inflation and the Soviet Union. At the same time, Gordon portrays the Democratic Congress negatively even though they implemented ideas credited to Reagan -- some of them during Carter's administration!

Gordon also makes the ridiculous claim that economic classes don't exist in America, contending that they are simply arbitrary definitions created by intellectuals. Here is one of his weakest supporting statements: "For generations now, more than 90 percent of Americans have defined themselves as 'middle class.'" Self-perception is notoriously flawed. Just look at polls where people overwhelmingly describe themselves as "good drivers" despite accident data to the contrary.

Alas, by its very nature, An Empire Of Wealth is the story of the victors of capitalism, not the victims or even the foot soldiers. And like most history books, it unravels a bit at the end -- it is impossible to put the events of recent decades into proper historical perspective. But from the arrival of the first Europeans to the 1970s, An Empire Of Wealth is a very informative and surprisingly entertaining book.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Great Retail Porn Cabal Exposed

If my recent musings about breasts, necrophilia, and Vagisil haven't made my mother proud of her blogging son, well, this won't either.

Recently, I was casually perusing the classified ads in the Chicago Reader when I saw this:
FINALLY, A JOB that will excite you! We are a national retail adult entertainment business looking for bright, creative and enthusiastic individuals to join our team. Sales Associates: Full- and part-time positions available. Starting pay $8/ hour, plus commissions. Applicants must be 21+ years of age. Apply in person Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm at one of our Chicago locations: Adult Fantasy, 2928 North Broadway; Erotic Warehouse, 1246 West Randolph; Frenchy's, 872 North State Street; Hubbard Books, 109 West Hubbard; Lamours, 3901 West Lawrence; Over 21, 1347 Wells; Wells Books, 178 North Wells. http://www.loversplayground.com/.
I was shocked. I always assumed that adult bookstores were independently owned, but apparently that retail sector has had its share of mergers and acquisitions over the years. I never would have guessed that the porn shop across the street from my friend Jean's condo, the porn shop I used to walk past on the way to work, and the porn shop by the Admiral Theatre were all tentacles of the same corporate beast.

A little research showed that Lover's Playground (LP) dominates several Illinois markets, particularly college towns. If University of Illinois sorority girls are looking for a gag gift, they'll probably find it at one of the three locations in Champaign-Urbana controlled by LP. Ditto for students from NIU (DeKalb's venerable Paperback Grotto) and ISU (Risque's on old Route 66 in Bloomington). Even Denmark II (the nearest porn shop to where I grew up) is just another cog in the great porn wheel of LP.

Alas, what has happened to the "mom and pop" porn shops?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Those Nutty Copywriters

Check out this advertisement for Vagisil from a recent Sunday coupon section:
Yeast infection itch?
It can take days to cure the infection.
But, with Vagisil...
...just minutes to relieve the itch.
Anytime. Anywhere.
Anytime? Anywhere? You're on a crowded bus. The woman next to you whips out a tube of Vagisil, squirts some on her finger, and plunges it you-know-where. You're in a business meeting. A colleague casually removes the packaging from a Vagisil anti-itch wipe and shoves her hand into her slacks. You're watching the WNBA. A player stops at midcourt and... Clearly this isn't the type of product that women are going to use without regard to their surroundings. I mean, it's not like taking a cough drop. What was the copywriter thinking?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Proud Parents

The word "necrophilia" in a newspaper headline always gets my attention. And mention of our Cheesehead neighbors to the north piques my interest. After all, Eddie Gein and Jeff Dahmer have given Wisconsinners a notorious reputation for defiling corpses. The TV show Picket Fences, set in Wisconsin, had a memorable episode in which a man kept his deceased bride in the closet, occasionally dancing around the room with her to "Let Me Call You Sweetheart."

In "Charges Dropped in Wis. Necrophilia Case," we learn that Wisconsin has no law against necrophilia. If you're filing that info away for future reference, well, I don't want to know about it. But another part of the story begs for comment:
Twins Nicholas and Alexander Grunke, 20, and Dustin Radke, 20, were arrested after an alleged attempt to dig up the body of a 20-year-old woman who was killed Aug. 27 in a motorcycle crash.
Yes, twins. Can you imagine how proud their parents must be, having two children who want to have sex with a corpse? If that doesn't inspire thousands to get vasectomies, I don't know what will.

Oops

Yesterday around 4:40 PM I decided to take the Netflix DVD we watched on Saturday night down to the post office. While talking to my wife, I grabbed the DVD and stuffed it into the envelope. It's only a five-minute walk to the post office, so I made it with ease.

This morning I got an e-mail message confirming that Netflix received my movie... except it was the movie we didn't watch, not the one we saw on Saturday. As Homer Simpson would say, "Doh!" Oh well, my wife didn't seem particularly enthusiastic about The World's Fastest Indian anyway, although I wanted to see it. I guess I'll have to put it in the queue again. And of course, I'll have to mail back the other DVD today. Surely I'm not the only person who's done this, am I?

Meanwhile, I've been preparing materials to apply for a writing assignment I've wanted since fifth grade. I hope to be making an announcement in a week or two; otherwise, I'll just post the writing sample I submitted (I'd hate to see it disappear into the 400 GB abyss of my hard drive).

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The End Of The Tour

Friday night at Barnes & Noble in Geneva marked the end of my summer book tour. That's a shame because my signings have been getting better and better.

I drove out of the city early to avoid the worst of Friday afternoon rush hour traffic. I ate dinner at Bennigan's, passing IHOP and Steak N Shake after the bad experiences I noted earlier on my tour. My monte cristo was especially greasy and sat in my belly like a sack of potatoes, but the hurricane I drank went down smoothly. If I hadn't been doing a book signing, I would have ordered another.

As usual, I got to the bookstore about 15 minutes early. The community relations manager (the B&N person who handles events) said my book has been selling very well lately. In fact, she panicked a bit last week when she was down to only one copy. Fortunately, more books came in time for my signing. She won my heart when she asked me up front to sign any left over books for stock (that's a vote of confidence -- it means, "I'm not going to ship them back the minute you walk out the door"). It was good that I came a few minutes early because there was a Winnie the Pooh storytelling event starting at the same time. She got me all set up and headed back to Pooh, checking up on me a few times throughout the evening.

A tandem-riding couple came in to buy my book and decided to get another for their son. Everyone who came in was enthusiastic. Oddly enough, they all shook my hand, too. My brother and my sister-in-law came to visit, keeping me company between signings. Later, my uncle stopped in briefly to buy a book. Over the course of two hours, I signed about eight books for customers, which was especially good considering how many copies had sold there in the weeks before my signing. Since no one mentioned the Fox Valley Bicycle and Ski Club or the QuavR Cycling Club although both publicized the event, I assume interested members bought their books beforehand. I signed about ten more copies for stock. The community relations manager said she was pleased. It was a far cry from the downstate double-debacle of Normal and Peoria exactly two months before.

I might do a couple of holiday signings (Biking Illinois makes a great gift!), and I'm already planning a spring book tour. My strong sales at Geneva should help me schedule more events at Barnes & Noble stores. In the meantime, a bike club has invited me to make a presentation at their monthly meeting, so I might do a winter speaking tour of some sort. I also have a (non-cycling) book proposal in the works.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Sometimes The Wrong Word Is The Right Word

Job listings often list the pay rate as "commensurate with experience." This morning I was looking at a listing for a technical writer at Dice.com:
Pay rate: Commiserate with exp
That describes most of the jobs I've had!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Chicagoland Lists

The Chicago Tribune published a bunch of lists today. I didn't read all of them, but I found two glaring omissions.

When I clicked on "Snifff! 8 great smells," I expected Blommer's Chocolate factory to be at the top of the list. When the wind is right, the smell of fresh baked brownies sweeps through the Loop and River North, a nice contrast to the stink of diesel exhaust (I am assuming Blommer's reopened after being cited for pollution violations -- cocoa particulates floating in the air, yum! -- a year or two ago).

Then when I saw "4 great restaurant bathrooms," I figured that the women's restroom at the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor of the John Hancock Center just had to be on the list. Situated along an outside wall, it offers a breathtaking view of the city (a date invited me in to see it one night when there was no one else around). A tip for Chicago visitors: go to the Signature Lounge instead of the John Hancock Observatory. You get the great view plus drinks for the same price that less-informed tourists pay just to look. Incidentally, the Signature Lounge women's restroom is also at the top of my "blown opportunities for a memorable kiss" list.

The Tribune called for suggestions for other lists. Someone named Helen asked, "How about best places to ride your bike (BESIDES the lakefront)?" Since I have become a preeminent authority on where to ride a bike in Illinois, I had to respond. My book features 21 rides in northeastern Illinois, so I narrowed it down a bit. In no particular order:

  • North Branch Trail
  • Des Plaines River Trail (Lake County)
  • Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve
  • Fox River Trail
  • Moraine Hills State Park
  • Illinois & Michigan Canal State Trail
  • Busse Woods
  • Illinois Prairie Path
  • Salt Creek Trail
  • Almost any street at 5:30 AM on a summer Sunday

That leaves out the hardcore mountain biking spots and specific road rides, but I figure most lakefront riders are more interested in bike paths than singletrack or roads anyway. Unfortunately, the Tribune's comment system only allows 300 characters, so I had to cut the last entry and shorten a few others.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Book Reviews! Book Reviews! Book Reviews!

My blogging has been sporadic because I've been reading a lot. These books deserve separate reviews, but I need to catch up...
  • Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words by Bill Bryson - For anyone who writes or simply loves language, this is a great book. Bryson wrote it when he was a newspaper editor, before he became a popular writer. He does not declare himself a linguistic expert; he wisely consults the works of others, sometimes tracking changes over the course of centuries. This book will help you distinguish between historic and historical, flaunt and flout, and many other oft-confused words. It also tells you that James Joyce's Finnegans Wake has no apostrophe. It is particularly ruthless in exposing tautological phrases and dead weight. I love this book -- it has earned a place on my desk.
  • Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton's Little John?: Music's Most Enduring Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed by Gavin Edwards - Edwards has been answering weird questions about rock and roll for many years, most notably in a column called "Rolling Stone Knows." If you've ever wondered how many states are mentioned in Bruce Springsteen songs, why Guns N' Roses named an album The Spaghetti Incident? (including the question mark), whatever happened to Cynthia Plaster Caster, or what the German-sounding phrase that introduces Def Leppard's "Rock of Ages" means, this book is for you. It's a quick and fun read that even a casual rock fan will enjoy (but the more you already know, the more questions will be relevant for you). Although it doesn't have an index, it does list sources in the endnotes for further reading.
  • Amarillo In August: An Author's Life On The Road by Jonathan Miller - I bought an autographed copy of this on vacation in Colorado. Miller is a minor legend in the Southwest since he's been signing his novel Rattlesnake Lawyer at every bookstore that will let him. This book chronicles his adventures while creating and promoting that book. I gleaned vital information from Miller's introduction:
    This is not a how-to-market-your book because the secret is already out there. The secret to marketing your book is to get distribution, then get reviews, then get media, then keep doing book signings until you are sick of them. Then rinse. Then repeat. You will feel like a homeless person begging for money on some signings, except it is worse because homeless persons don't have to give plot summaries to passers-by.
    I successfully applied those strategies to marketing my own book when I got home. Most beginning authors will enjoy this book, and Miller's humorous style should appeal to non-writers as well. The book is rather short but inexpensive.
  • Armed Madhouse by Greg Palast - This is easily the best current events book I have read all year. Palast really does his homework as a BBC reporter, and this book synthesizes that work (which most Americans never get to see), adding depth and background. Many of his conclusions will surprise readers. Did the U.S. invade Iraq for oil? Sort of, Palast says, but the objective wasn't to take the oil, it was to keep it from being pumped. He looks at the concept of "peak oil" from several perspectives, too. This isn't a leftist screed; anyone who hasn't been completely brainwashed by the Bush administration's version of the truth will find interesting material here. I strongly recommend it to anyone who wants to understand what those in power are doing and why. Palast explains complex concepts clearly and injects just enough humor to keep it from getting too heavy.
  • Oops: 20 Life Lessons from the Fiascoes That Shaped America by Martin J. Smith and Patrick J. Kiger - The authors previously wrote a book called Poplorica, and Oops is similarly rooted in pop culture. The "fiascoes" range from fads (paper dresses, leisure suits) to follies (the Spruce Goose, flying cars). Remember the XFL, Vince McMahon's football league that only five years ago promised to change the world of sports? That's another chapter. I don't agree with all of the authors' choices, though. They include "the Y2K scare," claiming it was just hype that made doomsayers rich. But just because there were few problems on January 1, 2000 doesn't mean Y2K was all hype -- it means a lot of programmers busted their tails in the late 1990s to make sure life would continue smoothly into the new millenium. Also the first two chapters, though entertaining, don't quite fit in since they precede the third chapter by decades (the rest of the chapters are closer together chronologically). The recipe cards ("Recipe for Disaster") at the end of each chapter are redundant and goofy, but overall Oops is an interesting look at some notable screw-ups.
  • Living in the Runaway West: Partisan Views From Writers on the Range - This book is a compilation of pieces by numerous authors for the "Writers on the Range" column in High Country News. Another book purchased on vacation (at The Book Mine in Leadville), this has limited appeal for Midwesterners but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Columns range from humorous to experiential to informational, and anything about the American West is fair game. Naturally, a favorite topic is the influx of outsiders and developers over the past few decades and their impact on the "real" West. Other articles in this potpourri discuss ecology, guns, public lands, water, ranching, coyotes, prairie dogs, wolves, cowboy poetry, and casinos. As in any anthology, there are a few misses, but the editors did an admirable job of including multiple viewpoints on a broad array of issues facing the region. If you are interested in the modern West and all facets of life there, you will like this book.

Newspaper Outsourcing Revisited

Last January, I debated Eric Zorn here about newspaper outsourcing. I started out just rattling his cage, insisting that journalists should have the same anxieties about being outsourced that so many others do. His reply developed into an interesting discussion. But this entry isn't about outsourcing content; it's about outsourcing telemarketing, which almost every major business does nowadays.

This afternoon I got a phone call. Caller ID said it was "Strategic Mktg" from the 623 area code, which is in Arizona. Usually I let the machine take those calls, but I was bored so I answered.

"Hello, this is Greg from the Chicago Tribune."

"Okay..." I replied, wondering why they would be calling since I already subscribe.

"Uh, the Chicago Sun-Times, I'm calling from the Chicago Sun-Times."

Oops! When companies outsource, I'll bet they don't expect telemarketers to drop the names of their competitors!

On the bright side, he politely ended the conversation when I said I wasn't interested -- most telemarketers rudely hang up. Plus I got a good chuckle (and a blog entry) out of his faux pas.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

How Hitler Could Have Won World War II by Bevin Alexander

In this intriguingly titled book, Bevin Alexander offers some great theories about how Hitler pursued the wrong objectives or executed the wrong strategies in many cases where he could have achieved a potentially unassailable advantage. Here are a couple of examples:
  • The Suez Canal was a critical objective that Erwin Rommel and Erich Raeder recognized, but they could not convince Hitler. In fact, Hitler viewed the North Africa campaign as a political rather than military exercise -- his only objective was to toss Mussolini a bone to keep Italy in the war. Alexander posits that if Germany had secured the Suez Canal, the Mediterranean Sea would have become an Axis lake, the Nazis would have secured all the Middle East oil their war machine needed, and Hitler could have pressured the Soviet Union from the south instead of head-on from the west. This also would have impacted Britain greatly by severing the fastest route to colonial India. Yet even when Rommel achieved stunning victories with minimal forces, he could not persuade Hitler to spare a few divisions for a crushing blow against the British in North Africa.
  • Turning against Russia is generally cited as Hitler's worst mistake, but Alexander digs much deeper. He discusses Hitler's three objectives in Operation Barbarossa, noting that Germany only had the resources to accomplish one of them. It is a tribute to the leadership on the ground and the skill of German soldiers that Hitler came so close to attaining all three. Clearly if Hitler had concentrated on one, he could have achieved at least a commanding position if not outright victory. Also, though he hated communism, Hitler somehow failed to recognize how oppressed and unhappy many Russians were under Stalinism -- had he invaded as a liberator rather than as a conqueror, he could have gained the critical support of Russian civilians. Even after making these errors, Hitler had other opportunities to turn the tide in Russia, and Alexander looks at a few of those, too.
Unfortunately, many of Alexander's insights get buried in a difficult text overwhelmed with the dry details of troop movements. Instead of sticking closely to the title, this book is mainly a narrative of the European Theater with some emphasis on decision points where Hitler erred (he notes the Allies' bad decisions as well).

In fact, I cannot determine the audience for the book as written. My wife has an interest in World War II but not much background. For her, this book is just too hard to read. The battlefield actions of the 2nd New Zealand and 6th Panzer divisions are of little interest to her. I know a lot about the war (I was fascinated/obsessed with World War II as a ten-year-old -- as I've said before, I was a weird kid), but it doesn't appeal to me, either. I already know the basics of European operations, and frankly, I don't care to drill down to the division level (I actually fell asleep numerous times trying to plow through it). I wanted to read more about Hitler's decisions and their consequences. Lastly, a scholar would already know all the troop movements by heart, making much of the book redundant. So no one is really served by this regurgitation of the information contained in hundreds of books from the past 50 years.

It's a shame because the subject had great potential before Alexander buried it in unnecessary details. He could have created a much more readable, albeit slimmer, volume by concentrating on big picture what-ifs rather than plowing through minutiae with limited appeal.

Lyrics of the Day

When I wrote, "Let's put two and two together here," in my last entry, it reminded me of a great Bob Seger anti-war song from his first album in 1968, back when he made controversial counter-culture music. "2 + 2 = ?" is one of the best Vietnam protest songs you've never heard:

Yes it's true I am a young man but I'm old enough to kill
I don't wanna kill nobody but I must if you so will
And if I raise my hand in question you just say that I'm a fool
Cause I got the gall to ask you, can you maybe change the rules
Can you stand and call me upstart, ask what answer can I find,
I ain't sayin' I'm a genius, 2 + 2 is on my mind

The Bob Seger System's first album Ramblin' Gamblin' Man is best known for its title track, but it's full of weird, psychedelic material typical of the era. Unfortunately, it's difficult to find on CD. Apparently Seger feels that it doesn't represent his best work; it certainly doesn't conform to his popular image from the late 1970s through the present. In other words, this isn't your parents' Bob Seger, unless your parents are Michigan hippies.

Jailing Governor Ryan

Former Illinois Governor George Ryan was sentenced to a mere 6-1/2 years in prison yesterday. I am not alone in using the word mere; a Chicago Tribune online poll (unscientific as always) currently shows 62.4% of respondents agree that his sentence was "too light."

Ryan wants to serve his time in Oxford, Wisconsin, not far from the upper Midwest's preeminent tourist trap, Wisconsin Dells. Of course, he won't be the first disgraced Illinoisan to be held there:

Because of its proximity to Chicago, the medium security facility has over the years become a highly sought after address for a who's who of crooked Illinois politicians. Former U.S. Rep. Dan Rostenkowski spent time there, as did former Cook County undersheriff James Dvorak and former 1st Ward Ald. Fred Roti. So did former Judges Richard LeFevour and Reginald Holzer, convicted in the Operation Greylord scandal.
The sad thing is that the dishonor roll of convicted Illinois politicians is many times longer than that.

A bigger prison story broke yesterday -- President Bush announced that suspected terrorists have all been moved from secret CIA prisons throughout the world to the now-legendary facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Words cannot express my pride upon hearing details of America's secret prisons. It makes me feel so Soviet.

Let's put two and two together here. The absence of those suspected terrorists means the lonely CIA prison operatives don't have anyone to waterboard anymore. Governor Ryan needs a place to serve his brief prison term. Maybe 6-1/2 years would be a suitably long sentence after all.

As the soiled stars of Ryan and Bush cross paths here, this is a good time to remind people that a St. Louis Post-Dispatch poll released this week found that despite Ryan's conviction (and pending sentencing at the time), the old guv is still more popular than our widowmaker-in-chief:
Only 32 percent favored Bush in Illinois, while 35 percent had a favorable opinion of Ryan, also a Republican. Ryan had a significantly lower negative rating, 56 percent, compared to 67 percent for Bush.
Although the positive rating difference was within the poll's margin of error, the spread between negative ratings is more conclusive. Pollster Del Ali offered this interpretation: "Some of the thinking may be, 'Ryan can't hurt me anymore. Bush still can hurt me.'" Yes, he can.

Why Can't We Celebrate This Here?

Fayreform, an Australian lingerie brand, is celebrating the 2nd annual National Breast Pride Week in the United Kingdom (Australia and New Zealand each had their own weeks last month):

Created to be an intelligent celebration of big boobs and to encourage women with fuller cups to wear their breasts with pride, Fayreform National Breast Pride Week is set to get the nation’s women talking about their breasts!
Why not -- I'm sure the nation's men already are! Next check out this press release (PDF) titled "The 2006 Fayreform Breast Report:"
The survey, which delves into how British women feel about their breasts, reveals that over ¾ of UK women are proud of and comfortable with their breasts and that 67% of bigger busted women stand proud when walking into a room of strangers to show off their assets. Emma Chapman, Fayreform Braologist™, comments: “It is really fantastic to know that the majority of British women are proud of their breasts – that is after all what Fayreform National Breast Pride Week is all about. It is such a positive statistic – I am not sure there would be such an overwhelming response for any other body part – we’re never that happy with our bottoms, legs or stomachs! This just proves breasts are best!”
I don't know about that last point -- I've always been rather partial to "bottoms" myself (is there a National Booty Pride Week?). For more titillation, read the Fayreform Boob Bible (9 MB PDF). This helpful publication includes topics like "Bra Etiquette," "History Of The Bra," and "How to get the best from your breasts."

We can only hope Fayreform brings the festivities Stateside one of these years...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

What Would Nancy Reagan Say?

Despite all the medieval, wrongheaded views held by the Taliban, they accomplished one good thing: in July 2000 they banned opium, punishable by death. Needless to say, the lucrative opium crop declined. When the United States invaded Afghanistan, many warned that poppy production would make a stunning comeback. After all, desperate times call for desperate measures, and in a war-ravaged economy, illegal drugs are one of the few dependable exports.

According to the United Nations, Afghan opium production increased 60 percent this year.
The record crop yielded 6,100 tons of opium, or enough to make 610 tons of heroin -- outstripping the demand of the world's heroin users by a third, according to U.N. figures... The trade already accounts for at least 35 percent of Afghanistan's economy, financing warlords and insurgents.
Great! At a time when everyone is concerned about the scarcity and rising cost of resources like oil and natural gas, it's nice to hear we have a surplus of heroin. Lastly, here's a "duh" quote from Afghan President Hamid Karzai: "Our efforts to fight narcotics have proved inadequate."

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Misquoted

From cyclingnews.com today:

Di Rocco told La Gazzetta dello Sport, "I'm surprised at McQuaid's comments. First I would say that our process of sporting justice needs to run it's course and now (McQuaid) seems to be speaking for the Spanish investigating judge (in Operacion Puerto)."
I don't care about the content, but look at what cyclingnews.com did: they used the wrong it's. If somebody ever quoted me and made that mistake, I would be furious! It would look as if I didn't know the right word. Incidentally, the site confuses its and it's regularly. This is not an obscure usage rule, nor is it difficult to interpret -- use an apostrophe in the contraction and omit the apostrophe in the possessive pronoun. (Since the Web site is Australian, I verified that misuse is not an Aussie English anomaly -- look here and here.) Cyclingnews.com also mangles sentences with misplaced modifiers and such. Competitor VeloNews isn't any better in that respect, as painfully illustrated by this recent gem of a sentence:
Unlike T-Mobile - which fired star riders Jan Ullrich and Oscar Sevilla after alleged links to Fuentes were disclosed ahead of the Tour - Basso is still part of Team CSC.
A good tactic for checking one's grammar is to remove extraneous words and phrases to see if the basic sentence is correct. Do that here, and you get "Unlike T-Mobile, Basso is still part of Team CSC." But T-Mobile is a team and Basso is an individual, so the sentence is nonsensical -- it implies that T-Mobile was once part of Team CSC. Some of you may be thinking, Well, I can figure out what they meant. But with good grammar, you wouldn't have to "figure out" anything -- it would be as clear as Lance Armstrong's domination of the Tour de France.

Am I wrong to expect cycling journalists to know how to write good sentences? Should I not expect editors of cycling Web sites -- these are for-profit enterprises, not "fan" sites -- to catch common mistakes like its versus it's? Am I the only person who would be really upset about someone using the wrong its/it's when quoting me?

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Bastard of the Day

Today's award goes to the guy riding a tandem bicycle on Montrose Avenue this evening. He was the captain (front seat), and a woman was the stoker (back seat). So what makes him bastard-worthy? He was wearing a bulky backpack -- the stoker had about three inches between her nose and the nylon sack. As if a stoker's normal forward view isn't bad enough, I'm sure she loves having that backpack right in front of her face. I presume she is his wife; a girlfriend would never put up with that!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Bastard of the Day

Our replacement mail carrier wins today's award. When our regular mail carrier goes on vacation, we get our mail late, around 7 PM. I can accept that, and I haven't complained about it for the past two weeks unlike my wife, who lives for catalogs and magazines. In fact, I rarely kvetch about the U.S. Postal Service except when I have to wait in line for 25 minutes to mail a package. All things considered, it's a pretty good value to be able to send a letter from here to California for only 39 cents.

But for two Saturdays in a row, the stupid bastard has left behind my Netflix return envelopes. There's just no excuse for that. I do my part, leaving them sticking prominently out of the mailbox. And it isn't like a Netflix envelope (in eye-catching red!) is an unusual sight for a postal carrier; the USPS must make millions carting those things back and forth. Last week he or she mixed it with our new mail, and this week the idiot left it hanging out of the mailbox lid despite lifting the lid to put in our new mail! How freaking incompetent can a mail carrier be? It's not rocket science -- take the outgoing mail out of the box and put the incoming mail in the box. Maybe if the weather was dreadful, I could forgive this person, but today was one of the most beautiful days of the year. I intended to write about this bastard last Saturday, but I decided not to since anyone can make a mistake. But two weeks in a row is pure incompetence.

In other Netflix news, the DVD that I was supposed to receive on Tuesday finally arrived today. That's also the postal service's fault because Netflix shipped it on Monday. There's no reason for something mailed from Chicago to take five days to deliver to a customer in Chicago. I could view several more DVDs a month if the USPS didn't screw around with my mail so much (keep in mind that I pay Netflix a flat fee regardless of how many discs I get to watch). If Netflix didn't have a PO box, I could just go there and pick up the DVDs myself (which is precisely why they do have a PO box -- to avoid having people like me show up constantly).

Lyrics of the Day

Today's lyrics should be familiar. "Folsom Prison Blues" is one of Johnny Cash's most recognized songs. It's probably his most covered song, too -- it seems like every alt-country band has performed it.
I hear the train a comin'
It's rollin' 'round the bend,
And I ain't seen the sunshine,
Since, I don't know when,
I'm stuck in Folsom Prison,
And time keeps draggin' on,
But that train keeps a-rollin',
On down to San Antone.

I'd like to dedicate today's lyrics to my brother. Only because he likes Johnny Cash, of course.