Sunday, December 23, 2007

She Caught the Katy and Left Me a Bike to Ride

You remember that song from the Blues Brothers movie, right? If you don't, go rent or buy it, for goodness' sake. You can see what Chicago was like before Richard M. Daley started sanitizing it with planters in the medians and wrought iron fences everywhere.

The Katy was a railroad, officially the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad. Most bicyclists know that much of the Katy right-of-way between St. Louis and Kansas City has been converted into a bike trail. It's probably the most famous rails-to-trails conversion in the country, and perhaps the most popular bicycle touring route in the Midwest.

Now the Katy Trail needs your help, quickly:
Time is short to urge the state of Missouri to extend the Katy trail so that it can be ridden between St. Louis and Kansas City. Comments are due by 12/27. It currently stops about one hundred miles from KC. A recent settlement with a power company provides money and rights to the vacant railroad bed to be used. It may not happen. Some opposition to the Katy Trail portion of the settlement has surfaced--so if riders would like to see the KC connection to the Katy happen, please spend a couple of minutes voicing support.
If the Katy Trail goes to Kansas City, cyclists can more easily connect with Amtrak, including the Southwest Chief. Plus, trails are a lot more useful when they connect major cities. The Missouri Bicycle Federation has set up a page where you can compose a short e-mail supporting the trail extension.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Just in Time for Christmas: Wacky Christians

This story from Dallas is just too strange:

Campaign linking Bible, I-35 takes on sin with prayer marathon

From Duluth, Minn., to Laredo, Texas, houses of prayer are opening their doors around the clock to welcome those who have taken up the call to Light the Highway, a movement started by international ministry leader Cindy Jacobs. The idea for the Light the Highway movement began two years ago with Mrs. Jacobs – a self-proclaimed charismatic prophet and founder of the evangelical ministry General International, based in Red Oak. Mrs. Jacobs believes there's a correlation between Interstate 35 and the Bible verse Isaiah 35:8 (New International Version):

"And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it."
As a result, there's a 35-day prayer marathon going on now that is intended to shine light on vice and sin – such as pornography, abortion, drug abuse, government corruption and workplace injustices – that participants believe are corrupting today's society, said Ryan Hennesy, the project's coordinator.
Actually, this story is a few weeks old; the marathon ended December 1. A few thoughts:

  • If their goal is to get "wicked fools" off the highway, I guess I can support that. Can they pray over the Kennedy Expressway here in Chicago next?
  • It's a good thing we have these people "to shine light on vice and sin." Otherwise, we'd never be able to find it when we need it.
  • Notice that Mrs. Jacobs is a "self-proclaimed charismatic prophet." Heck, if that's all it takes, then I declare myself a prophet, too!
  • Could Mrs. Jacobs have chosen a less descriptive name for her ministry than General International? It sounds like something out of a comic book, a company whose secret, sinister plan is to take over the world... Oh, now I get it.
  • I wonder if Mrs. Jacobs ever considered that there could be a correlation between Isaiah 35:8 and Interstate 8 instead of Interstate 35. Repent, San Diego!

Many Protestants criticize the Roman Catholic Church for insisting on certain interpretations of Bible scripture. I think Mrs. Jacobs is a good example of why the Vatican believes such guidance is necessary.

UPDATE 12/23/2007 - Here is another story from the northern end of the "Holy Highway":

Many believers are convinced that the collapse of the bridge on Interstate 35W was a sign from God that more prayer is needed across the nation.

Of course, the bridge collapse was a sign from above. It was God's way of telling us the bridge was structurally deficient! I love the way people turn any old event into "prophesy" and use it to further their objectives. This article reminded me of something I read in The Onion's year-end issue last week: "Nation's Crumbling Infrastructure Probably Some Sort Of Metaphor."

Roadgeek trivia: What makes I-35 different from any other interstate? Answer posted in first comment.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Dead People Make Easy Targets

I've been on a roll maligning dead people this week, but I didn't find anyone in today's headlines worthy of invective. I'll have to pick someone from the past, I guess...

Joseph Stalin -- what a bastard!

At least that sentiment shouldn't be too controversial. Or is it?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Astronaut's Mom: No Rocket Scientist

As astronaut Daniel Tani orbited the Earth in the International Space Station yesterday, his mother was doing something supremely stupid down below:
Police said Rose Tani was stopped at railroad tracks on Elizabeth Street behind a school bus carrying students from her son's alma mater when she honked her horn, then went around the bus and past a lowered crossing gate... Police said a westbound Union Pacific train heading from Illinois to California slammed into Rose Tani's 1998 Honda Civic about 3 p.m. and pushed it 50 to 100 feet before coming to rest on the tracks.
Now, in the midst of what is probably the most fantastic experience of his life, Daniel Tani must grieve. The incident surely scarred the train engineer as well, not to mention the kids who watched from the school bus. And it was completely avoidable.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Pigeon Feeder Dies

The "Pigeon Man of Lincoln Square" is dead, struck by a van at Devon & McCormick. As a Lincoln Square resident, I saw him feeding pigeons around Lawrence & Western many times. Frankly, I will not miss the man, despite whatever "character" he gave the neighborhood. Whenever I had to run the gauntlet of fat birds and shit, I wanted to yell at him to stop feeding the little bastards. But then I felt a little sorry for him, figuring he was a lonely old man if he had only pigeons for friends (and even then, he had to bribe them with food). I guess I'm in the minority, according to the Tribune's always-brilliant commenters, but I hate f***ing pigeons. As far as I'm concerned, they are the carp of the sky, an abundant nuisance.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not happy that the Pigeon Man is dead, especially since the inattentive bastard in the van could have just as easily killed me or any other pedestrian (or cyclist). And I believe the people who write of his kindness and compassion, misplaced though it was. But they want to erect a statue in his honor? They are getting teary-eyed because they'll miss dodging pigeons and their shit on the sidewalk? I just don't get it.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Always a Class Act

Tonya Harding is not exactly "America's Sweetheart," so I guess I shouldn't be surprised by the content on her official Web site. It begins innocuously with the usual bio, photos, movies, and links. There is even a movie of Harding thanking her fans for their support and for visiting her official site (which is why I think it's legit). But there's more.

What is "Fantasy"? Is it about her dreams of winning the Olympics? Oh no, it's fan fantasy, mostly about having sex with her. You won't find that sort of thing on Sasha Cohen's official site. There are 63 pages -- over 3,300 detailed, X-rated fantasies, some more graphic than Penthouse Letters. I can go for erotic fantasies like any other red-blooded American male (though I'd prefer Cohen over Harding), but isn't it unsettling -- or downright creepy -- to have them on one's official site? Outside the world of porn, I've never seen a woman encourage the Internet's one-handed typists. Maybe I'm just jealous that I never get fantasy letters from my readers.

I think the most amusing pages are the 800+ rejected fantasies. First of all, it's funny that these fantasies are "rejected" but still published regardless. Several reasons are given for rejecting these fantasies, and no, lewdness is not one of them. But "The message was poorly written, poor punctuation, grammar, spelling, etc." is. After reading a few of the accepted fantasies, I presume that this standard is quite lenient.

Hat tip to for pointing to the fantasy pages.

UPDATE - In a coincidence reminiscent of last month's post about Charmin coming right before I learned that Dick "Mr. Whipple" Wilson had died, I found out just hours after posting this that Tonya Harding's former bodyguard, who was involved in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan, died Wednesday. Comments from Chicago Tribune readers are not charitable, to say the least.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Bastard of the Day

Julie Deardorff tells how to avoid slipping on the ice, courtesy of Mark Grabiner, director of the Clinical Biomechanics and Rehabilitation Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago:

Look where you're going.

<sigh> I guess in this age of cell phones, iPods, and complete obliviousness to one's surroundings, people have to be told to just pay some freaking attention.

So why is Grabiner's name boldfaced above as today's bastard? Deardorff adds this:
Grabiner, by the way, is uniquely qualified to dispense advice: He is one of the only researchers in the country who deliberately trips senior citizens to study how they fall.*
Okay, so he's not really a bastard since he's doing it in the name of science and helping others. But if you met a guy at a cocktail party and asked him what he does for a living, and he said, "I trip old people just to watch them fall," what would you think?

* Deardorff (or her editor) gets credit for not using the tautological "fall down" (in what other direction would one fall?).

Speaking of gravity, that reminds me of a teacher I had in high school. I took a class called "Principles of Technology," which was touted as a bold, new, interdisciplinary course merging the concepts of math and physics with the practical applications of a shop class. I fondly recall it as "Physics for Burnouts." I only took it because my best friend wanted to, and he thought it would be an easy "A." He was already taking real physics and pre-calculus on his way to becoming president (at age 36) of a steel fabricator's engineering department, so the course was quite basic for him. I was just looking to pad my GPA to help get a college scholarship. Fortunately, it was an easy "A," and we had a good time interacting with the burnout subculture. We even learned about Guns N' Roses before they became phenomenally popular. Anyway... our teacher was a good guy who seemed to know what he was talking about, but he relied on the word tends a bit too much. One day, he explained to the class, "The Earth's gravity tends to pull things downward." Uh, dude, aren't the laws of physics a bit more definite than that?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

"Almost Heaven, West Virginia"?

Do you have any idea what is happening in West Virginia these days? Check out this sobering slide show featuring the "mountaintop removal" method of coal extraction -- along with several residents turned activists desperately fighting to save their land and their own lives. Be sure to click "captions" on the bottom right to read the devastating details.

To extract large quantities of coal, companies clear-cut forests (sometimes without even harvesting the wood), blast away up to 1,000 vertical feet of rock, fill valleys with mountain rubble, turn headwater streams into chemical spillways, and poison the groundwater. The totals are staggering -- 470 mountaintops blown apart, 800 square miles of forest denuded and leveled, 675 ponds filled with toxic coal sludge. And the government predicts the destruction will triple by 2012, only five years from now.

Are we willing to sacrifice Appalachia -- the land and its people --to sate our appetite for fossil fuels?

John Denver would surely weep.*

* For more about "Take Me Home, Country Roads" -- including the original verse about "naked ladies" -- click here.

It Took Me 20 Years to Figure Out...

...that Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' "Runaway Trains" (1987) and Don Henley's "The Boys Of Summer" (1984) are remarkably similar. I guess that isn't too surprising considering that Heartbreaker Mike Campbell co-wrote and played on both songs. But even knowing that, I somehow never made the sonic connection.

This morning I was trying to remember "Runaway Trains" and started conflating it with the Henley song. It got to the point where I was interchanging the instrumental breaks in my head. After my epiphany, I played both of the records (yes, I still have them on vinyl) to make sure I wasn't imagining it. Then I went back to a book I read last year called Conversations With Tom Petty (I re-read the sections about both songs just to make sure I hadn't already read about the similarity and forgotten). In it, Petty says that Campbell offered him the music for "The Boys Of Summer" (Campbell writes music, not lyrics), but he didn't like the chorus and never got around to rewriting it. Of course, it was a huge hit with Henley's lyrics.

If you didn't figure it out for yourself 20 years ago, check it out. And if you like Petty, you'll enjoy the exhaustive Conversations book (unfortunately, the biggest Petty fan I know doesn't like to read!).

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Advertising Age notes that the greatest impediment to selling absinthe may now be its strongest selling point:
Aspiring absinthe marketers spent the last few years trying to convince government regulators that the mystique surrounding the long-banned liquor -- cited as the cause of Vincent Van Gogh's madness and even linked to murders -- was mostly urban legend that ought to be disregarded.

Now that the wormwood-based liquor is being marketed legally again, look for those same marketers to raise that mystique at every opportunity.
The spirit was banned in 1912, but the newly approved imports "have levels of thujone -- the hallucination-inspiring chemical that derives from wormwood -- that are below the long-held government limit." I'm sure the importers don't want you to know that.

Monday, December 10, 2007

News Items

  • 2 shot in north suburban pizza parlor robbery - I've consumed a ridiculous quantity of pizza in my lifetime, so I always read stories with headlines like this just to see if it's somewhere I've been. This shooting occurred at the Silo on Illinois 176 (Rockland Road), and yes, I've been there (you can even take a bike path there, though I didn't). The Silo looks cool, but I didn't think the pizza was good enough to go back again.
  • Surinamese authorities probe trap-death of Peace Corps aide from Illinois - This just sucks. A 25-year-old woman was killed when she accidentally set off an animal trap that was rigged with a gun. She got shot in the thigh, and she bled to death before she could get help. I was surprised to read that more than 260 Peace Corps volunteers have died since the program began nearly half a century ago under JFK, and this woman is the fourth this year. I guess that number isn't so shocking when you consider that more than 187,000 people have served in the Peace Corps (in countries with poor health care, dirty water, tropical diseases, etc.), but still... These are people with huge hearts just trying to help people get basic human needs -- it's karmically unjust for them to die in the process.
  • Big-box store, hotel plans still in running for downtown Oak Park - The novel thing about this big-box store is that it will be underground. The article doesn't mention it, but Oak Park officials have also floated a $1 billion plan to bury the Eisenhower Expressway in their town. I'm imagining an entire subterranean city with highways, ramps, parking lots, stores, etc.
  • Tour rumors swirl on Led Zeppelin eve - Will Led Zeppelin play Bonnaroo? Sorry, I don't care. There was a brief time about 17 years ago when I actually liked those vastly overrated and chronically overplayed mystical goofballs, around the time their four-disc box set was the hottest thing on CD (still a relatively new medium at the time). "Kashmir" was one of my favorite songs for a while. But I got over them.
  • Nun Reads List of Curse Words to Kids - When I saw this headline, I pictured George Carlin wearing a habit!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Occupational Hazard

It's going to be a very long day.

There aren't many occupational hazards in copywriting. Off hand, carpal tunnel syndrome and some other ergonomic injuries come to mind, but that's about it. I don't even leave the house most of the time; I've only had one face-to-face meeting with a client. But there is at least one other hazard.

My brother is coming over in less than three hours. We are going to watch a movie this afternoon (on VHS, how retro!), and then we're going to a concert at 7 PM (Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers). I'll probably be home by 10:00, but it will still be a long day. I've had one hour of sleep since 2 PM yesterday.

Last night I went out to dinner at Rockwell's down the block. I had a couple of bowls of chicken tortilla soup and about five glasses of Coke. I came home buzzed on caffeine and ready to work on a copywriting project that's due early next week. By the time I settled in at the computer, I figured I could work for a couple of hours and then get a solid seven or eight hours of sleep before my brother arrived.

There was just one "problem." I was on fire. I mean, I was kicking some serious rewriting and copyediting butt all over those brochures. Five productive hours later, I had to force myself to go downstairs to bed.

Still buzzed, I had trouble falling asleep. I finally did, but only an hour later, I awoke to use the bathroom. I couldn't fall asleep again. I'll probably crash around 3:00 this afternoon, but there's nothing I can do except have a few toothpicks handy to pry open my eyelids. Later, the excitement of the concert should keep me awake.

But given the chance, I wouldn't do anything differently. That's the nature of creative work -- when you're on a roll, you have to ride it out as far as it will take you. You never know when that inspiration will come again. It may not return until long after the project is due.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

2008 Tour de Georgia to Honor DJWriter's Legendary Ride

Why else would the race be starting on Tybee Island if not to commemorate the sixth anniversary of my coast to coast bicycle tour? Of course, the pros are unlikely to begin with a wheel dip in the Atlantic, but by golly, they should! I guess the mechanics wouldn't be too thrilled with the sand -- I sure wasn't.

The racers also won't have to contend with traffic on the series of virtually shoulderless bridges from Tybee to Savannah, although they won't be able to avoid the wind. Alas, by heading up to Statesboro to start Stage 2, they'll never learn that "Everything's Better in Metter!"

As returning champion, will Janez Brajkovic and his Astana team get dibs on Cecil B. Day's first Days Inn?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Lyrics of the Day

I've been in an Old 97's mood lately so here's another one, "Murder (Or A Heart Attack)" from Fight Songs (1999). See if you can guess what it's about:

And the hole
In the screen is barely big enough for you
And not near enough for me to go
And the whole damn complicated
Situation could've been
Avoided if I'd only shut the window

And I may be leavin' myself open
To a murder or a heart attack
But I'm leavin' the back door open
'Til you come back, 'til you come back
And I may be movin' myself closer
To a real untimely end
But I'm leavin' the back door open
'Til you come home again, 'til you come home again
It's about lead singer Rhett Miller losing his roommate's cat! It seems obvious from the lyrics now that I know, but for years I had no clue. I thought maybe his girlfriend got mad and left him because he forgot to close the window. Relationships have fallen apart for dumber reasons.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Lyrics of the Day

In anticipation of this weekend, here's "Barrier Reef" by the Old 97's:
The Empty Bottle was half empty, tide was low, and I was thirsty.
Saw her sitting at the bar, you know how some girls are,
Always making eyes, well she wasn't making eyes.

So I sidled up beside her, settled down and shouted, "Hi there."
"My name's Stewart Ransom Miller, I'm a serial lady-killer."
She said, "I'm already dead," that's exactly what she said.
I love this song, which first appeared on 1997's Too Far To Care. That pick-up line is so cheesy, and the comeback is perfect. The Empty Bottle above is indeed Chicago's Empty Bottle, and I'll be going there for the first time this weekend to see Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers play a solo acoustic show. Someday I want to see the Old 97's live, too. Their double CD Alive & Wired is one of my favorite commercial live releases.

Seeking Cycling Clothing

My friend Chris works for a charity called World Bicycle Relief that distributes bicycles to countries devastated by poverty or disaster. Chris visited Zambia last month:
Currently, World Bicycle Relief has partnered with a coalition of relief organizations to address the HIV/AIDS crisis in Zambia. We will provide 23,000 bicycles to community home-based care volunteers, disease prevention educators and vulnerable households. We are also training and equipping more than 400 bicycle mechanics in the field. The program will reach more than 500,000 adults, orphans and vulnerable children.
While he was in Zambia, Chris participated in the country's national championship road race. Now he's collecting cycling clothes -- jerseys, shorts, gloves, etc. -- for Zambian riders (this is independent of WBR's work).

Fortunately for the Zambians, Chris kicked off this "kit drive" during a major decluttering project here at DJWriter World HQ. Consequently, last night I stuffed two grocery bags full of unworn and barely-worn clothing to donate. I drew the line optimistically -- I donated everything I never wore and anything I don't want to wear again, but I stopped short of donating anything I hope to wear again, however remote the odds may be (hey, it wouldn't be the first --or second -- time I've yo-yoed back into size medium).

I recommend Chris' blog entries about Zambia which include many photos and a video: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. And if that's not enough, he also writes a blog for WBR -- most of the November 2007 entries are about the trip.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

I finished reading The World Without Us a month ago. Incredibly, every day something triggers a memory about something in the book. It stays with you. To imagine a planet without people, Weisman draws on virtually every realm of science from biology to astrophysics, not to mention a healthy dose of engineering, archeology, and social sciences. What would be the immediate consequences of our absence? Which man-made structures would last the longest? How long would it take for decimated animal populations to recover? Would another race of humans someday evolve?

On this speculative journey, the reader visits the New York subways, Houston's petrochemical plants, the "horse latitudes" where ocean trash languishes, the English birthplace of modern fertilizers, an Arizona nuclear power plant, and the radiation-poisoned -- but not lifeless -- area surrounding Chernobyl. Along the way, tour guide Weisman imparts fascinating tidbits. For example, when he describes how weather would break down the average house in the absence of a diligent homeowner, he notes that ceramic bathroom tiles will last the longest because they are chemically similar to fossils. Elsewhere, he describes how newspapers fill up landfills -- we think they break down quickly, but they last much longer buried without air or sunlight. While discussing the relative permanence of polymers, Weisman says "biodegradable" plastic bags don't really degrade completely; they just separate into minuscule particles of plastic. These plastic pieces do not break down, and they turn up in plankton and other small organisms.

Some reviewers claim the book says the world would be better off without us. Weisman never says that, however, so perhaps those people have guilty consciences. Also, science deniers need not apply -- evolution and global warming come up repeatedly.

The World Without Us is written in easy-to-understand language, which is important for a book that veers from chemical engineering to anthropology to oceanography. If the book has a flaw, I suppose it is its non-linear organization. Instead of a narrative moving from the present into a humanless world, the author jumps from topic to topic, shifting back and forth between now and the future.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the environment and our role in it. It does all the things a great book should: it entertains, provides a lot of information, and makes the reader think.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Lyrics of the Day

Bruce Cockburn week concludes...

If you've heard one Bruce Cockburn song on the radio, it was probably "Wondering Where The Lions Are" from 1979. Even his "big hit single" has an underlying sense of impending doom despite the pleasant, upbeat music. He wrote it after someone (a relative in the intelligence field) warned him that the USSR and China were on the verge of nuclear war. It describes his joyful realization the next morning that the war hadn't started. Also, he'd had a nightmare about lions, but then he had another dream where they were harmless.

Sun's up, uh huh, looks okay
The world survives into another day
And I'm thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

I had another dream about lions at the door
They weren't half as frightening as they were before
But I'm thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me
And I'm wondering where the lions are...
I'm wondering where the lions are...
If you haven't heard "Wondering Where The Lions Are," well, even Cockburn's "hit" only reached number 21 on the Billboard charts. I'd say Cockburn is the best Canadian songwriter to be ignored in the U.S., but maybe Leonard Cohen deserves that title -- he hasn't had any U.S. hits. Incidentally, the same friend introduced me to the music of both artists, and no, my friend isn't Canadian.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Lyrics of the Day

Bruce Cockburn weekend continues...

I've never been a big fan of free verse. When I read it, I can't help wondering why the writer couldn't either rhyme or form sentences. Most Cockburn lyrics stick to a meter, even if it's sometimes endearingly clumsy (he'll squeeze in odd words or phrases at times). But "If A Tree Falls" is sort of Cockburn's 1988 experiment with rapping. Inspired by the clear-cutting of rain forests, he sings the chorus but speaks the rhymeless, rhythmless verses:
Rain forest
Mist and mystery
Teeming green
Green brain facing labotomy
Climate control centre for the world
Ancient cord of coexistence
Hacked by parasitic greedhead scam -
From Sarawak to Amazonas
Costa Rica to mangy B.C. hills -
Cortege rhythm of falling timber.

What kind of currency grows in these new deserts,
These brand new flood plains?

If a tree falls in the forest does anybody hear?
If a tree falls in the forest does anybody hear?
Anybody hear the forest fall?

Cut and move on
Cut and move on
Take out trees
Take out wildlife at a rate of a species every single day
Take out people who've lived with this for 100,000 years -
Inject a billion burgers worth of beef -
Grain eaters - methane dispensers.
Although I am an unrepentant carnivore, that's one of my all-time favorite lines: "Grain eaters - methane dispensers." That really describes cattle in their most basic form, don't you think? An interviewer presumed this song was inspired by a trip to Brazil, but there is a clue in the lyrics: "mangy B.C. hills." That's a reference to British Columbia; Cockburn was thinking of the Pacific Northwest rain forests that he had visited.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Lyrics of the Day

Bruce Cockburn week continues...

"Dust And Diesel" is a Stealing Fire song inspired by Cockburn's experiences in Nicaragua. He tells a vivid tale about traveling the Interamerican Highway:

Headlights pick out fallen sack of corn
One lone tarantula standing guard
We pull up and stop and she ambles off
Discretion much the better part of cars
Rodrigo the government driver jumps out
He's got chickens who can use the feed
We sweep the asphalt on our hands and knees
Fill up his trunk with dusty yellow seeds

Dust and diesel
Rise like incense from the road
Smoke of offering
For the revolution morning
I love the imagery in this song -- the corn and the spider. Another verse describes a "Smiling girl directing traffic flow/.45 strapped over cotton print dress."

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Bastard of the Day

The Pentagon is taking bastardry to a new level:
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) ― The U.S. Military is demanding that thousands of wounded service personnel give back signing bonuses because they are unable to serve out their commitments.

To get people to sign up, the military gives enlistment bonuses up to $30,000 in some cases.

Now men and women who have lost arms, legs, eyesight, hearing and can no longer serve are being ordered to pay some of that money back.
Can you believe this? Those bastards are burning up $11,000,000 per hour in this war, and they want to take back $3,000 from a wounded soldier because he is unable to return to combat for the last three months of his commitment. Are they afraid soldiers are going to throw themselves on top of IEDs just so they can pocket their bonuses without serving their full terms? Hell, the wounded deserve those bonuses more than anyone. Does the Pentagon try to get bonus money back from widows, too?

UPDATE 11/24/2007 - Keith Olbermann is reporting that the Pentagon says this was a mistake that should not have happened.

Lyrics of the Day

Bruce Cockburn week continues...

"Call It Democracy" is Cockburn at his angriest and most overtly political. It's probably the only song ever written about the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which promotes "development" in the Third World while serving the monied interests of the First World. I'm sure Bono likes this song.
Padded with power here they come
International loan sharks backed by the guns
Of market hungry military profiteers
Whose word is a swamp and whose brow is smeared
With the blood of the poor
North South East West
Kill the best and buy the rest
It's just spend a buck to make a buck
You don't really give a flying fuck
About the people in misery

IMF dirty MF
Takes away everything it can get
Always making certain that there's one thing left
Keep them on the hook with insupportable debt

See the paid-off local bottom feeders
Passing themselves off as leaders
Kiss the ladies shake hands with the fellows
Open for business like a cheap bordello
And they call it democracy
This song inspired me to learn about the IMF and what they do. If you're one of the naive masses who wondered after 9/11 why people in other countries would hate us, the IMF is one answer (in particular, see the Wikipedia subheadings IMF/World Bank support of Military Dictatorships and Criticism). Cockburn was singing about Central America in the 1980s, but it could just as well have been Africa, South America, or Asia.

A funny story about this song... The album came out in 1986 when Tipper Gore's PMRC was pushing for record labeling. When the sleeve for the vinyl LP was printed, not only were the lyrics printed on the back, but also the "offensive" words were highlighted in yellow! I think it was intended as a big middle finger to Tipper, something I wholeheartedly support (I had a hard time voting for Al knowing that Tipper would be First Lady, and I guess the Supreme Court agreed).

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

It's a Bit Drafty in Here

Every so often, I go through my blog history and try to prune out the draft entries. Usually, a few are only a sentence or two long without being thought out, especially since Blogger saves drafts automatically now. I delete most of those. Others are rants that seemed important at the time but don't mean anything to me anymore. I kill those, too.

But when I read some drafts, I wonder why I never "pulled the trigger" and published them. For time-insensitive entries, I revise them and publish them with the current date. If they are tied to a specific time period, I make a few revisions and publish them to the original date. Regular readers won't see them, but they will make their way into the search engines so somebody may read them eventually.

For anyone who wants to read recently published old stuff, here are some that I put out last night:
February 16, 2006 - The Doors
June 05, 2006 - June: Time to Buy a Ski Mask
July 20, 2006 - How Not to Frame an Argument
December 03, 2006 - Roadtrip Notes
June 22, 2007 - Rand McNally Gets It Wrong
September 09, 2007 -Wisconsin Road Trip Revisited

Lyrics of the Day

Bruce Cockburn week continues...

"A Dream Like Mine" was inspired by a Canadian novel by M.T. Kelly. The book is about a Native American tribe trying to protect their land against corporate interests. Cockburn says

They're losing, so an old man of the tribe, kind of a shamanistic character, conjures up out of dreams a sort of eternal warrior figure to come to life to try and right the wrongs that are being done. The implication is that he is always in the background waiting to be called up when the need arises. It was that sense of community, that sense of an unbroken link to the past that caught my attention.
Cockburn was also moved by the Oka Crisis at the time. Never heard of it? It was big news in Canada but virtually ignored in the U.S., probably because the corporate media didn't want to give Native Americans any ideas. Basically, in 1990 the town of Oka wanted to expand its golf course onto land claimed by local Mohawks without their consent. The Mohawks formed a barricade and resisted against police and the army for several months.

After all that background, here are some lyrics:

When you know even for a moment
That it's your time
Then you can walk with the power
Of a thousand generations

When you've got a dream like mine
Nobody can take you down
When you've got a dream like mine
Nobody can push you around
I love the line about walking with the power of a thousand generations. This song is from Nothing But A Burning Light, the most recent Cockburn album I have purchased. Since it's from 1991, I have some catching up to do!

Politics Where You Least Expect It

I was reading a blog entry at The New Republic's site when I came across this comment from "epackard-02":
Has anyone else seen the Charmin commercial where the red bear wants the *strong* Charmin and the blue bear wants the *soft* Charmin.

Subversive, I tell you.
That's the funniest political observation I've heard in months. So was Mr. Whipple a Republican?

UPDATE - I wrote the above before learning that Dick Wilson, who portrayed Mr. Whipple for decades, died on Monday at age 91. Here's some interesting stuff from the AdAge obituary:
Mr. Wilson also received an unusual stipend from [Procter & Gamble] -- complimentary rolls of Charmin shipped each month. He made the "Guiness Book of World Records" for the longest-running TV character with 504 ads, and a 1979 poll (conducted for P&G) pegged him as the third best-known American behind Richard Nixon and Billy Graham.
And I know he was better-liked than at least one of those guys (that poll doesn't say much for President Carter, does it?). Wilson also did a lot of television and movie work (read the list and try to think of a TV series he wasn't on in the 1960s and 1970s).

Monday, November 19, 2007

Lyrics of the Day

Bruce Cockburn week continues...

Stealing Fire is one of the best albums I ever found in the cut-out bins. The first Cockburn song I ever heard on the radio (I've heard a total of three, all on WXRT) was "If I Had A Rocket Launcher." I only caught some of the words, and my teenage mind decided it was a cool song about how this guy wants to blow up a bunch of people with a rocket launcher. I even started a mental list of people I'd like to shoot with a rocket launcher.

Of course, Cockburn, being a generally peaceful dude, didn't mean for the song to be taken that way. When I bought the album, the song's true meaning became obvious. Cockburn spent time in Central America in the 1980s and saw the ravages of civil war firsthand. "If I Had A Rocket Launcher" speaks of the frustration and powerlessness he felt in the face of the armies.
Here comes the helicopter -- second time today
Everybody scatters and hopes it goes away
How many kids they've murdered only God can say
If I had a rocket launcher...I'd make somebody pay
On the Rio Lacantun, one hundred thousand wait
To fall down from starvation -- or some less humane fate
Cry for Guatemala, with a corpse in every gate
If I had a rocket launcher...I would not hesitate
Since Stealing Fire is my favorite Cockburn album, we'll come back to it later this week.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Lyrics of the Day

I've been listening to some Bruce Cockburn concerts this weekend. Cockburn (long "o", silent "ck") is a brilliant Canadian songwriter whose work is under-appreciated in the U.S. Not coincidentally, his songs are often politically at odds with U.S. policies. Since he has over 35 years of material to draw from, let's do "Bruce Cockburn week" for LotD...

Our first selection is one of my all-time favorites, "The Trouble With Normal." It was written in the scary days of Ronnie and Maggie, but it's eerily topical in the post-9/11 world:
Strikes across the frontier and strikes for higher wage
Planet lurches to the right as ideologies engage
Suddenly it's repression, moratorium on rights
What did they think the politics of panic would invite?
Person in the street shrugs -- "Security comes first"
But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse
Those words capture the essence of the USA PATRIOT Act, wiretapping, Guantanamo, etc. so well. And the person in the street is the average American, naively accepting it all in the name of safety. All three verses of "The Trouble With Normal" are packed with meaning like this one, but I don't want to over-quote.

Note: The second album below is a compilation of many of Cockburn's most popular songs. Although I don't have that particular CD, most of the songs I'll feature this week can be found there. One song on that disc that I haven't heard is "My Beat," which is about riding his bicycle around Montreal.

Bastard of the Day

I got an e-mail recently from someone wishing to exchange links with my copywriting Web site. While this seemed like a friendly gesture that supposedly would boost my search engine ranking, I smelled a rat. First of all, he offered to put my link on a page that I could not access from elsewhere on his site; I can't see how a search engine spider would ever even find it.

But the most galling thing was the content of his site, which was written in broken English -- it was encouraging businesses to outsource their copywriting to India! I yelled so loud at my screen that my wife thought something terrible had happened. One major reason I abandoned information technology was the outsourcing of work to Indian companies at rock-bottom rates. In fact, my later years in IT were devoting to fixing the garbage those cut-rate Indian programmers generated.

Now this guy expects me to help him get work for Indian copywriters. Why would I want to encourage my potential clients to hire Indian hacks instead?

Interesting New Books

I have a bunch of reviews to write, but first, here are a couple of new books I found on AlterNet that I haven't read yet.
  • The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs - The mostly agnostic author (he's Jewish "in the same way that the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant") writes down every law he can find in the Old Testament and tries to live by them in modern times. This is relevant because a huge percentage of Americans claim to do just that (except Christians use the comparatively lax New Testament instead of the Old). Although the book is written and classified as humor (a detail lost on some Amazon reviewers), Jacobs learns a lot about spirituality along the way. In the end, he finds virtue in sacredness, regardless of whether there is a God. See this AlterNet article for more.
  • Shopping Our Way to Safety: How We Changed from Protecting the Environment to Protecting Ourselves by Andrew Szasz - This book looks at the green consumer phenomenon and suggests that we are feeling a false sense of goodness from buying organic and such. His argument is that buying green products is a self-centered act that has little impact on the environmental destruction that made those products viable in the first place. In other words, just because my veggies are free of chemicals doesn't stop farmers from dumping chemicals on crops for everyone else, and buying bottled water doesn't keep polluters from spewing toxins into Lake Michigan. I suppose it's "the American way" to turn activism into just another flavor of consumerism. Reviewer Erin Wiegand is quick to point out that shoppers shouldn't think buying green is meaningless, just that we should realize that it is only a small part of solving our environmental problems.

I'll probably put The Year of Living Biblically on my Christmas list. I expect it to be entertaining along the lines of Joe Queenan's My Goodness. On the other hand, although I agree with the premise of Shopping Our Way to Safety, I don't feel a need to read about it in depth.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Brief Visit to Hell

My wife's cousin is having a baby soon, and somehow it fell to me to procure a gift for the shower.* I don't have kids, I don't want kids, and I don't particularly like kids.** Consequently, I would rather shop for feminine hygiene products (and I have) than for baby gifts.

Friday night, I drove to the nearest Babys "R" Us, which appropriately is located beside my least favorite corporate villain, Wal-Mart. I entered with trepidation. Although I wanted to complete my mission quickly, the bright lights and unfamiliar merchandise overwhelmed me. I fell into a daze.

Fortunately, the registry business is huge at Babys "R" Us. Therefore, it merits lots of square footage. Right in front where no one could miss it was a long, curved table with several comfortable chairs. A woman behind the table stood ready at a computer. I told her the mother's name and that I didn't want to spend a lot, and she printed the registry for me with only the items under $50.

Okay, this shouldn't be too hard. I picked out two $12.99 items to fit our $25-30 budget. Aw shit, where the Hell is this stuff? Confronted with aisle upon aisle of assorted baby goods, I felt like an illiterate in a bookstore.

I tried, I really did. I was even in the right department, but I couldn't find a darn thing. Shit. Maybe I'll get something else on the list instead. I started walking toward the back of the store. Then it hit me. Oh my God, somebody give me a knife! I'll do it now! No, I wasn't feeling suicidal. I've been putting off that damned vasectomy for too long. I swear, someone should open a clinic right next door to Babys "R" Us.

Fortunately, an associate recognized the mix of horror and confusion on my face. He set aside a couple of stock carts and asked if I needed help. I replied that I had no clue what I was doing here, but (pointing at the registry page) I was looking for these. Then he not only told me where the items were, he walked over there with me and picked them off the rack. I was done shopping in two minutes, and I thanked him profusely.

After a very short wait in line, a friendly clerk rang up my purchase and sent me on my way. So although every fiber of my being resisted Babys "R" Us, I have to admit they have really great customer service. But I still hope I never have to go there again.

* Since I work at home, I leave the house as frequently as the post-Vegas Howard Hughes. But I love to listen to CDs in the car. So whenever an errand comes up, I figure the quality CD time -- in this case paired with a visit to the Corner Bakery for a club panini --makes it worthwhile. Besides, this effort excuses me (as far as my wife is concerned) from having to attend the shower, a fate slightly worse than being post-Vegas Hughes' favorite enema giver (Hughes needed help with his plumbing due to codeine addiction -- and yes, he did have a favorite enema giver). When I heard my wife R.S.V.P. on the phone, I could barely suppress my laughter as she said, "Um, no, I don't think Dave will be able to make it that day." Yeah, I'll be washing my hair or something.

** I don't hate kids; I'm not that much of a bastard. But I do hate my in-laws when they drop unsubtle hints about grandchildren. Anyone who knows my ambivalence toward kids ought to realize I'd make an awful father. If birth control didn't exist, I'd be a virgin. And while I'm being overly dramatic, curse you Jennifer for getting me into this ridiculous footnoting habit.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Lyrics of the Day

Bicycle tourists are treated differently from the rest of the traveling public in the United States. Jennifer's tale of a lousy weekend in Carbondale brought back some not-so-fond memories from my cross-country bike tour. While some people were intrigued and asked lots of questions, others simply shunned me. Many assumed I was poor because I wasn't driving, treating me with the same disdain afforded to bums and homeless people. For every person curious about my journey, another acted like I didn't exist. Even off the bike, my lycra cycling shorts and brightly colored jersey marked me as an outsider.

A touring rock musician, at least one who isn't famous yet, has similar experiences. Rather than one of the obscure genres I usually draw from, today's lyrics are from classic rock -- Bob Seger's "Turn The Page:"

Well you walk into a restaurant,
strung out from the road
And you feel the eyes upon you
as you're shakin' off the cold
You pretend it doesn't bother you
but you just want to explode.

Most times you can't hear 'em talk,
other times you can
oh, the same old cliches,
"Is that a woman or a man?"
And you always seem outnumbered,
you don't dare make a stand

Oddly enough, I only felt lonely in the presence of others. I never felt that way while I was riding my bike all day, and at night in my motel room, I was happily occupied with route planning, writing my journal, or watching TV. But in a restaurant, a store, a museum, or a train, I never felt like I belonged. Even people whose job was to be friendly were not always so. Convenience store clerks would eye me suspiciously. Motel clerks would get upset when I didn't write down a license plate number on the registration form (though I had already told them I was on a bicycle). Waitresses could hardly be bothered to come over to my table (and they knew I was there because everyone had stared at me as I walked in).

Sometimes I could go to my motel room and forget about it, but other times it really bothered me. I was used to traveling alone, but I was not accustomed to being a pariah. When it's just a weekend, as in Jennifer's case, it is frustrating and annoying. But dealing with 11 weeks of alienation and passive hostility became almost as challenging as pedaling the bike 3,000 miles.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Role Model

Today's Tribune article about the opening of the I-355 extension says:
Officials predict it will attract retail malls that could transform New Lenox into "the Schaumburg" of the southwest suburbs.
Is that supposed to be a good thing? Schaumburg has only one redeeming quality, and even that is rather dubious.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Lyrics of the Day

I've been listening to my two Fred Eaglesmith CDs this week (I keep meaning to get more, but my CD wish list is pretty long these days). One of my favorite Eaglesmith songs, "Alcohol and Pills," was recently covered by Todd Snider (no slouch himself as a songwriter). The song is a retelling of a common theme: performers who overdose (see also Robbie Fulks' bluntly titled "She Took a Lot of Pills (& Died)"). Eaglesmith begins with Hank Williams, moves on to Elvis Presley, and then name-drops Janis Joplin, Gram Parsons, and Jimi Hendrix just for good measure. The third line of the chorus is my favorite:
Alcohol and pills, it's a crying shame,
You'd think they might've been happy with the glory and the fame
But fame doesn't take away the pain, it just pays the bills,
And you wind up on alcohol and pills
People are driven to create for all sorts of reasons. Some are chasing fame or fortune. For others, strange as it may seem to those who crave stardom, it really is just a way to pay the bills.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Bastard of the Day

Did you know that Exxon never finished paying for the Exxon Valdez environmental disaster which occurred 18 years ago? Check it out:
The Supreme Court's recent decision to hear ExxonMobil's reasons to void the $2.5 billion punitive award in the Exxon Valdez case hit the town of Cordova, Alaska, hard. This small coastal fishing community -- my hometown -- along with the Alaska Native villages in Prince William Sound have borne the brunt of the largest crude oil spill in America's waters; a spill that took place more than 18 years ago, but one that continues to hold the region hostage. The second painful blow was the high court's decision to not even hear our reasons why the award should be restored to the full $5 billion that a jury of peers decided was necessary to punish the corporate giant back in 1994.
Here's some more rotten news...
It shouldn't surprise anyone that Exxon paid $2.5 billion for its cleanup and another $1 billion for penalties. But, it might surprise people who live outside Alaska to learn that taxpayers, not Exxon, paid a majority of that bill.
You always knew those unctuous bastards were going to weasel out of paying their fair share.

Just a few days ago, ExxonMobil posted a profit of $9.4 billion for the past three months! And those greedy bastards can't cough up $2.5 billion -- or even the full $5 billion -- for destroying the economy of an Alaskan fishing village? Do these oil people ever sit up at night wondering why everybody hates them? Surely they know.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Rolling the Tollway

Well, it looks like my book will be rolling on the tollway without me. Roll the Tollway is a Bike the Drive-style event that is part of the Veterans Day* opening ceremonies for the southern leg of I-355 between I-55 and I-80. Last week I dropped off two copies of Biking Illinois for the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation (CBF) to give away at the event.

I was planning to do this ride, but by the time I got around to taking my credit card upstairs to my computer, it was sold out. To be fair, a CBF e-mail warned me last Wednesday when the ride was 80% full; I just waited too long. I suppose I could try to scam an entry through my CBF connections, but I don't do that sort of thing. I could volunteer, but things always go wrong when I volunteer for something. Besides, on the morning of November 11, I'll probably be happy to sleep instead of driving out to the southwest suburbs. I guess they'll just have to open the road without me.

* For anyone inclined to add an apostrophe somewhere in Veterans Day, don't!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Lyrics of the Day

I like almost every Drive-By Truckers song, so I went into Monday's concert with no particular "must-hears." But if push came to shove and I had to name one song I really wanted to hear them play, it would have been "The Living Bubba." The song is about Gregory Dean Smalley, an Atlanta guitarist who got AIDS in the mid-1990s. As Hood describes it in this excellent article he wrote about Smalley, "He responded to his death sentence by joining several more bands and playing constantly, sometimes several nights a week." Playing was his reason to keep living.

Although the two were not very close, Smalley was clearly an inspiration to Hood. I could imagine Hood at age 60 still singing "The Living Bubba" with all the conviction he had when he first wrote it. That's a story in itself: "While out in the field behind my house, a song hit me and I ran back inside to write it down before it slipped away. I wrote it in about the same length of time it takes to play it live." But playing it live was a problem:

I was, at first, hesitant to play “The Living Bubba” live, as I really didn’t know Greg all that well and felt I had no right to write anything so personal (from his point of view, no less). But I did confide it to a few close mutual friends who were always very complimentary and all said I should play it for Greg’s Mama. In May of 1997, we played Bubbapalooza in front of a packed house that included “Mama” (as everyone affectionately called her). As we began “The Living Bubba” she walked up to the front of the stage and stared me square in the eyes as I sang Greg’s song. When it was over, she walked up on stage, threw her arms around me and said “You done my boy right.” No review or compliment that my band or me ever get will ever equal that.
Here's a sample of the lyrics:

I wake up tired and I wake up pissed
wonder how I ended up like this
I wonder why things happen like they do
but I don't wonder long cuz I got a show to do


I ain't got no political agenda
Ain't got no message for the youth of America
'cept "Wear a rubber and be careful who you screw"
and come see me next Friday cuz I got another show...

Some people stop living long before they die
Work a dead end job just to scrape on by
but I keep living just to bend that note in two
and I can't die now cuz I got another show...

Friday, October 26, 2007

Lyrics of the Day

Here's another Drive-By Truckers song from Monday night's show. "Zip City" from Southern Rock Opera was written by Mike Cooley from the perspective of a teenage guy.
Your Daddy was mad as hell
He was mad at me and you
As he tied that chain to the front of my car
And pulled me out of that ditch that we slid into
Don't know what his problem is
Why he keeps dragging you away
Don't know why I put up with this shit
When you don't put out and Zip City's so far away
Zip City really exists. The Alabama Ass Whuppin' blog, which is written by an Alabaman transplanted to San Francisco, includes this photo tribute to "Zip City."

I don't normally like when the audience sings at concerts (I paid to hear the guy onstage sing), but I loved belting out the last three lines of "Zip City" at Cooley's request:
I got 350 heads on a 305 engine
I get ten miles to the gallon
I ain't got no good intentions
I had a 318 engine myself at that age and got slightly better mileage, but the last line was pretty accurate.

UPDATE 11/17/2007 - Someone shot video of "Zip City!" And it's pretty good -- decent sound and a steady hand.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Lyrics of the Day

The Drive-By Truckers concert Monday night at the Park West was so awesome, I can't even write about it without gushing like a lovestruck schoolgirl. Let's just say they would have blown the doors off a certain band from New Jersey that was playing across town that night (and DBT played acoustic (mostly)).

Instead of carrying on about the show, I will feature some favorite lyrics over the next few days from songs they performed. Anybody who wants to hear the concert can get it free at the Live Music Archive (the band is "taper friendly"). You can even play the streaming version at the top of the page if you don't want to download any files.

The second song in the encore was "Angels and Fuselage." As a special treat, Kelly Hogan, who sang on the studio recording, joined the band onstage for this and one other song*. In addition to being probably the only rock song ever to use fuselage in the title, this song is the climax of DBT's breakthrough double-CD Southern Rock Opera. The album follows a band named Betamax Guillotine** whose career parallels that of Lynyrd Skynyrd. In case you don't know your rock history, three members of Skynyrd were killed when their plane ran out of fuel on the way to Baton Rouge, LA on October 20, 1977. Now the members of Betamax Guillotine are about to meet the same fate...

The engines have stopped now.
We all know we are going down. Last call for alcohol.
Sure wish I could have another round.

And I'm scared shitless of what's coming next.
Scared shitless, these angels I see in the trees are waiting for me.
Waiting for me.
The imagery puts tears in my eyes almost every time I hear it. Angels waiting in the trees below. Powerful stuff.

* Legendary keyboardist Spooner Oldham has been touring with the Truckers this year, and earlier in the show Hogan came on and sang "I'm Your Puppet," which Oldham cowrote with Dan Penn some 40 years ago.

** The name is from a story that Lynyrd Skynyrd bandleader Ronnie Van Zant was decapitated by a video recorder when the plane crashed. From Wikipedia:
[Skynyrd drummer Artimus] Pyle did confirm (from Pyle's interview on the The
Howard Stern Show on Sirius Satellite Radio, February 12, 2007
) that Van
Zant's cause of death was trauma to the head caused by equipment, such as
Betamax tapes and Trinitrons, flying forward in the plane's cabin.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Bastard of the Day

Come on ABC, are the fires in California really so important that you have to preempt prime-time programming? They have wildfires there every freaking year. That's not news. "News" would be if those idiots decided to move away from the darn forests before they inevitably burn. Stupid Californians.

Cover it on Nightline for anyone who cares; don't deprive me of Boston Legal, you bastards.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

My Tasteless Joke of the Day

If you lend a screwdriver to a Chicago police officer, don't ask for it back.

Bastard of the Day

I've been a loyal Jewel shopper all of my life. One thing I love about Jewel is that they always accept my coupons regardless of expiration date (Walgreen's doesn't, just one reason why I hate those bastards). Today I got my hair cut and went to the nearby Jewel at 2940 N. Ashland Ave in Chicago.

"Uh, this coupon is expired," said the clerk.


"Well, we don't take expired coupons."

"What? I've been shopping at Jewel for 20 years, and I've never had an expired coupon refused." I had a wall-eyed fit right there in the line. I made him call the manager on duty.

"Sir, that's been our policy since I've been here, and I started eight years ago."

"That's bull. I've used expired coupons here before. No one at any other Jewel has rejected my expired coupons. If I wanted that crap, I'd shop at Walgreen's." I shop at six Jewels regularly and a dozen more occasionally, so I am speaking from broad experience (I am somewhat of a grocery store fanatic). Heck, I've used crumpled-up coupons that were obviously long beyond their expiration date, and no one ever cared.

When a local Osco (the drugstore side of Jewel) became a CVS/pharmacy and started enforcing expiration dates, the manager, who had been the Osco manager before, acknowledged that it was a policy change and even accepted my old coupons that one time just to make me happy. The bastards at the Jewel on Ashland obviously are not concerned with customer satisfaction.

If I hadn't spent an hour shopping, I would have left the cartful of bagged groceries and walked away. As it was, I spent $100 there. I told them I was never shopping there again. "Have a nice day, sir." Bullshit. I hate "have a nice day" even when it is pseudo-sincere, so F*** YOU, you patronizing bastards. You just lost a $100 a week customer over a lousy $1 coupon. I hope you're proud of yourselves.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Dead Flowers

I took the car in for work again today. A stupid piece of trim around the windshield is loose, and apparently the Ford dealer can't handle it so they need to have a glass shop come and fix it. I wouldn't even bother with it if I didn't have a bumper-to-bumper warranty. My brother asked me a very good question this weekend: "Why don't they just have the glass guy come to your house?"

I decided to walk home from Western & Devon since I could use the exercise. Going by way of the North Shore Channel path is probably 3.5-4 miles. As I walked under Bryn Mawr Avenue on the path, I saw something drop into the water from the bridge. my first reaction was to curse about litterbugs. Then I realized what it was -- a small bouquet of flowers wrapped in plastic. This was intriguing.

I conjured up various scenarios that would have led to the flowers being tossed off the bridge. They ranged from sentimental (a loved one drowned there years ago on this day) to pathetic (unwanted flowers from a lover who can't accept that it's over) to cynical (a guy went to give them to his lover and found her with another man). In fact, it would be a perfect example for a writing exercise:

Someone tosses a bouquet of flowers into the river. Write 500 words about what precipitated this event.

I'll never know why it happened, but my money is on the cynical end of the spectrum.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Thoughts on Al Gore

By bestowing the Nobel Peace Prize, probably the highest honor in statesmanship, on Al Gore, could the Norwegian Nobel Committee have sent a bigger "F*** you" to George W. Bush? This is even better than 2005, when the International Atomic Energy Agency and Mohamed ElBaradei won (another jab at Bush, who refused to believe their claims that Iraq didn't have nukes).

Of course, the big question now is whether Gore can be convinced to run for president again. I doubt it, but if he ran, I'd probably vote for him.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Bastard of the Day

The real enemy in this summer's "Battle for Lake Michigan" wasn't BP. It was Indiana. Here we go again:

Indiana is moving to scrap, relax or omit limits on toxic chemicals and heavy metals dumped into a Lake Michigan tributary by the sprawling U.S. Steel Corp. mill in Gary, according to environmental lawyers and former federal regulators who have reviewed a proposed water permit.
I've had enough of their crap. It's time to declare war on those Hoosier bastards. You know we'd win.

A Buffalo in the House by R.D. Rosen

I'm not generous with superlatives, but this is the best book I've read all year. R.D. Rosen interweaves the story of Charlie, an orphaned baby buffalo raised by a couple in Santa Fe, with the tragic history of the species in North America. The result is a fascinating and gripping narrative. Reviewers often describe a book as a "page turner" that they couldn't stop reading, but rarely does a work of non-fiction reach that level. I read A Buffalo in the House in one day.

The buffalo (the author uses buffalo and bison interchangeably, as most Americans do) is the last of several very large animals that used to roam North America, the only one to survive into the modern era. Although thought of as a phenomenon of the Great Plains, bison once traversed the entire U.S. except a handful of northeastern states -- English settlers encountered them in Virginia. Rosen tells the familiar, awful story of how 30 to 50 million bison were hunted to near-extinction in just a few decades in the late 1800s, but he also details the lesser-known efforts of the men and women who preserved the handful of wild herds remaining today.

The book begins with sculptor Veryl Goodnight, whose great, great uncle was the legendary cattleman Charles Goodnight. She wanted a baby buffalo to model for a piece called "Back from the Brink" honoring Charles' wife Mary Ann, who bottle-fed buffalo calves to create a herd of bison that lived in Texas' Palo Duro Canyon for a century (in 1997 they were relocated to nearby Caprock Canyons State Park).

The calf, named Charlie, was much more than just a model for Veryl's sculpture. Veryl's husband, Roger Brooks, developed an extraordinary relationship with the rapidly growing buffalo. Having Charlie in their lives led Veryl and Roger to discover many things about the past and present of the species, much of it revolving around Charles Goodnight. Some of the story lines don't have satisfying conclusions, but life is like that.

If I had to find a flaw in this book, it would be Roger's brief criticisms of the Iraq War. Although I agree with him, the comments seem unnecessarily divisive and incongruous (though not out-of-character) in a book that easily could have stood without them. But my wife didn't see them that way, so maybe I'm wrong.

Anyone who has ever loved an animal will enjoy A Buffalo in the House, as will anyone interested in bison or the history of the American West.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A New Perspective on "Pro-Life"

This morning I took the car in for service at Napleton's Northwestern Ford in Rogers Park (RIP Bert Weinman Ford; I still miss you, especially your convenient location). Since I had at least 90 minutes to kill, I went out for breakfast.

There was a couple seated across the aisle from me, and although I was reading an interesting book, I couldn't help eavesdropping. The woman was upset because she had given a guy (it wasn't clear whether he was a relative or a good friend) some money to get the brakes fixed on his car. "He spent it on drugs," she said.

Later, she was talking about the same guy (I think). She said, "When I talked to him, I thought he was okay. He was talking pro-life. He wasn't talking pro-crackhead." Apparently, in some American subcultures, "pro-life" has nothing to do with abortion. It's about keeping oneself clean and staying alive.

Lyrics of the Day

This is one of my all-time favorites. It's from "Strike While The Iron Is Hot" by the Vigilantes of Love:

These days I feel so impotent
These days I'm so depressed
I got hate mail coming to my door
via Federal Express
Imagine people hating you so much they are willing to cough up $15-20 for FedEx because they can't wait a few days for regular USPS mail. I suppose it's a bit dated (from 1992) because nowadays people would send hate e-mail instantly instead. But just like writing a letter to your congressperson carries more weight than sending an e-mail (so I'm told), hate mail is more effective in hard copy, don't you think?

"Strike While The Iron Is Hot" is from the third Vigilantes of Love album, Killing Floor. The album has been released twice, the second version adding three live tracks (the second and third Amazon items below include the extra tracks).

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A New "Blog" to "Check Out"

The Tribune's Nathan Bierma "interviews" the author of The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks. I'll have to add it to my blogroll because I think unnecessary quotes are hilarious. Here's my favorite -- it was painted on the window of a nightclub (I wish I had taken a picture):
Wednesday - "Ladies" Night
I don't think it was a transgender place, but the quotes imply that cross-dressers are welcome.

Here's another fun blog that I found in the above blog's links: Literally, A Web Log. My favorite personal example, which I've shared elsewhere, is from a former co-worker. I overheard her tell a friend on the phone, "Omigod, when I heard that, I literally died!"

Bastard of the Day

I generally don't bother reading the sports pages, but as a former marathoner, I've been following coverage of Sunday's Chicago Marathon fiasco. Ignorant bastard columnist Mike Downey seems to think he knows all about the marathon because he saw it on TV or something. He says marathoners should blame themselves for having the nerve to think they would be reasonably accommodated by a race organization to whom they paid $100 (IIRC) to race. This typifies Downey's ignorance of the event:

Nearly 10,000 of the people who filed entries for this 30th annual race were smart enough not to run it... Of the 45,000 who intended to take part in the city's marathon, only 35,867 actually showed up to run. The ones who did not showed good sense.
While it is true that nearly 10,000 registered runners did not participate, I am certain that a much smaller number based their decision on the weather. The Chicago Marathon is a very popular event, and as such, it reaches its registration limit early. How early? So early that this year, the event closed in April -- before runners even began training for it! (Most marathon training programs are 14 to 18 weeks.) Needless to say, a lot can happen between April and October. Some people lose their enthusiasm and decide not to even train for the race. Some people get injured along the way and cannot race. People move, people get busy with work, scheduling conflicts arise... Most of those 10,000 people knew long before the weather forecast that they wouldn't be at the starting line. Downey arrogantly declares that those people were wiser than everyone who lined up for the race on Sunday, though he knows nothing of their actual circumstances.

If the race organizers were short on water -- and I believe they were because I trust fellow runners more than I trust professional spinmeisters covering their butts -- then Downey has no basis for blaming the runners themselves. A race registration is a contract of sorts -- you pay your money with the expectation that the race organization will provide whatever is promised. If they say there will be water and Gatorade, then you should expect to get water and Gatorade. Otherwise, you may as well just run 26 miles on your own and save your money. Downey seems to think those expectations should go out the window just because it's hot.

Downey buys the race organization's spin that they procured 200,000 extra servings of water. Do the math. That works out to less than six extra servings per runner, and those cups are pretty small -- I'll say eight ounces to be generous. So the temperature was 15 degrees higher than normal, and they thought runners would only need an extra 40-48 ounces of water during four to six hours of running? (The organizers weakly claimed they didn't expect people to dump water on their heads -- yeah, because no one has ever seen that before.) One friend reported that he drank three gallons of fluids in order to finish on Sunday. Downey seems to think that by providing a few extra servings of water, the race organizers were off the hook. And, of course, that leaves only the runners to blame.

The marathon organization's attempts to shirk responsibility for what happened on Sunday make me sick. Downey's victim-blaming makes me sicker. Stick to team sports, you ignorant bastard.

For a better comment on the controversy, read Eric Zorn's blog.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Trying to Hit a Moving Target

I drove down to Matteson Friday afternoon to ride the Old Plank Road Trail (OPRT). As I headed south on Cicero Avenue from the Lincoln Highway, however, I felt disoriented. There was a sign for a Target on the east side of the road along with a JC Penney. Hmm, my starting location in Biking Illinois for Ride 32 on the OPRT is the northeast corner of the Target parking lot. And I'm sure Target is on the west side of the road.

Well, it was on the west side of the road. But sometime since July 2005, a bigger Target sprouted up on the east side of the street. Consequently, the Target parking lot where Ride 32 starts is now a big, empty parking lot in front of a vacant building with features reminiscent of a Target. I expected things to change after I wrote my book, but this caught me by surprise. I will add it to the "Book Updates" page soon. The built environment changes so much that writing a guidebook really is like trying to hit a moving Target.

My ride was excellent. For the first time since 2000, I rode west beyond the segment I used for Ride 32 . Needless to say, much has changed as development has run rampant in northern Will County. The OPRT has more street crossings now, and the streets that existed in 2000 are much busier. I continued to the west end of the trail in Joliet and turned around. On the way back, I had time for a couple of detours. First, I pedaled around the north side of the lake in Frankfort Prairie Park. Later I rode up the bike path/sidewalk along Schoolhouse Road to the Hickory Creek Trail. Although it's only three miles long, this is one of my favorite paths. After 43 miles Sunday on the DPRT and 36 miles Friday on the OPRT, I am getting my biking legs back.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Paul Simon & Sammy Hagar, Please Reply

On my bike ride today, I pondered this question: Why are there 50 ways to leave your lover, but there's only one way to rock?

Still the Same

When I attended Oswego High School in the 1980s, I thought the administrators were a bunch of out-of-touch, clueless, overbearing bastards on an authority trip. For example, once a guy (one with serious psychological problems) punched me in the chin for no apparent reason. Although several bystanders (his friends, no less) testified that I didn't do anything, we were punished equally with Saturday morning detentions. Such was justice, Oswego style.

I assume the people who ran Oswego High twenty years ago have moved on or retired by now. Fortunately, they've been replaced by more out-of-touch, clueless, overbearing bastards on an authority trip. That's my reaction to the ".08 T-shirt controversy" there.

And people wonder why I refuse to go to high school reunions. Hell, I hated high school so much that I won't even watch TV shows about it, no matter how many people laud "Friday Night Lights." If those were "the best days of my life," I would have killed myself by now.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Bastard of the Day

As I've said before, murderers are easy targets for BotD awards. The deciding factor is the killer's motive. That said, Jeanette Strowder is eminently qualified as today's Bastard:
A Chicago woman who became enraged after discovering her longtime boyfriend's stash of pornography shot and killed him in their South Side home over the weekend, prosecutors said. Jeanette Strowder, 58, is facing a first-degree murder charge in the Sunday shooting of Jesse Martin, 54, her boyfriend of about 15 years, police said.
Maybe those billboards in the Missouri Bible Belt that say pornography destroys lives are right after all.

If you enjoy porn and don't have a psycho bastardess girlfriend, this is your lucky week. Just troll the alleys of Chicago. I'm sure you'll find many boxes of stuff being thrown away by guys who don't want to meet Jesse Martin's fate!

Hybrids Too Quiet for Blind People

I've seen other stories like this one:

Because hybrids make virtually no noise at slower speeds when they run solely on electric power, blind people say they pose a hazard to those who rely on their ears to determine whether it's safe to cross the street or walk through a parking lot.
They want hybrids to make more noise, and that makes sense to me. The problem is that anti-noise advocates disagree:

"To further expose millions of people to excessive noise pollution by making vehicles artificially loud is neither logical nor practical nor in the public interest," said Richard Tur, founder of NoiseOFF, a group that raises awareness of noise pollution.
Geez, you just can't do a darn thing in this country without pissing off some special interest group! And here's a guy with his head in the sand:
"The only way to function driving any car, forgetting the fact that it's a Prius, is to just be very careful and see who's around you," said George Margolin of Newport Beach, Calif., who runs a club for Prius owners with his wife. "We have to be as careful as anyone else and perhaps even more so."
Sure, that would be nice, but it's just not going to happen. Pedestrians, bicyclists, and other motorists get injured or killed hourly by inattentive drivers. Telling drivers "to just be very careful" isn't going to change anything. I don't trust the guy in his car to protect me. The people on the other side of the windshield -- with or without sight -- need all the help they can get to look out for themselves.

Fortunately, I have a simple solution for the auto industry that will save them millions of dollars in research. Simply install those little plastic tickers like my Big Wheel used to have! The anti-noise people won't like it -- my dad even refused to install that part when assembling later Big Wheels -- but keeping the blind from getting run over is a little more important. Don't they already have it hard enough? (I believe the bravest people in Chicago are the ones I see tapping their way through the El stations.) We can't make the blind see, but we can give the anti-noise people ear plugs.