Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Bastard of the Day

I have an unusual choice today, Consumer Reports. Normally I wholeheartedly support the efforts of this venerable, not-for-profit publication and its parent, Consumers Union. They are a rare organization that isn't in bed with corporate America, presenting product evaluations unbiased by advertising dollars.

But this week Consumer Reports has put me in a quandary. On Friday morning, my wife is flying to Dallas to visit her aunt and uncle. The March 2007 issue of Consumer Reports arrived Monday, and it includes an article titled "An accident waiting to happen? Outsourcing raises air-safety concerns."


The gist of the story is that outsourced maintenance has less oversight (fewer licensed mechanics, weaker employee screening, etc.), plus the Federal Aviation Administration is doing fewer visual inspections of aircraft. So, do I share this article with my wife? If I do, it's liable to make her nervous or worse, and there isn't anything she can do about it (aside from cancelling her trip). But if I don't tell her, then what if a wing falls off or something? I'd have to live with the possibility that she might not have been on that plane if I had passed along the scary story from Consumer Reports. Great timing, you bastards.

UPDATE 02/01/2007 - Although I booked the flight through Southwest, the flight is actually on ATA. Consumer Reports lists ATA as the airline with the least outsourced maintenance (only 18% compared to 46-92% for other airlines), so I'm not going to worry about it.

Monday, January 29, 2007

R.I.P. Barbaro

Today's news that Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro has been euthanized really hit me hard. I feel a kinship with Roy and Gretchen Jackson, Barbaro's owners, because we went through a similar trial with our dog Teddy. To suddenly and unexpectedly be faced with a critically ill/injured animal. To spend a lot of money on medical care despite the slim chances for success. To have the initial treatment apparently succeed. To have your animal be such a good patient, one who does everything he should to get well. To get your hopes up every time you hear good news yet always be bracing yourself for bad news. To have complications arise. To do everything possible to heal your animal and still fail. And ultimately, to decide to let go for the animal's sake. For that experience to go on for eight months instead of the four weeks that we endured is that much more heartbreaking.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Word of the Day

The word is sitzpinkler, one that I somehow never heard before today. The Urban Dictionary defines it as "In German, the phrase for someone who sits and urinates; a 'Sitzpinkler' is equivalent to wimp, wuss or pussy."

I discovered it in the context of The BEAST's list of the 50 Most Loathsome People in America, 2006, a hilarious must-read (hat tip to Eric Zorn for the link). Person number 42 is Joe Lieberman, aka the crybaby who couldn't accept that he lost the Democratic primary and ran as an independent in the general election. The BEAST says, "For a brief, shining moment in ‘06, it looked like the nation might finally be rid of this sniveling sitzpinkler, but Joe Lieberman just keeps coming back, like herpes."

I actually know of a literal sitzpinkler, courtesy of my wife. In fact, it was her ex-boyfriend, a druggie Loser (note the capital L). She asked me one time if I ever peed sitting down (besides while conducting other "business"). I was aghast. I mean, peeing standing up is one of my favorite things about being a man. After all, the oft-cited corrollary, writing one's name in the snow, is only useful in certain climates, but being able to avoid physical contact with nasty public toilets is a great thing everywhere -- not to mention the ease with which a guy can turn any roadside ditch into a bathroom (you women wrinkling your noses right now are just jealous).

After I unleashed my speech about the glories of peeing erect (and you know which sense of the word I mean because peeing doesn't work so well in the other sense), my wife mentioned that Loser sat down to pee. I never met the sitzpinkler because he died of a heroin overdose only weeks after I met my wife. At the time she said, "You would have liked him." Several years later I said, "Remember when you said I would have liked him? You knew I'd think he was a total @sshole." And that was before I even knew he was a sitzpinkler. I'm kind of glad he's gone for a number of reasons, foremost being that I don't have to suppress the urge to kill him myself. Unfortunately, that bastard got the last laugh -- I got stuck living with the dead sitzpinkler's cats.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Crossword Crazy

Once or twice a month I attempt the Chicago Tribune Magazine's Sunday crossword puzzle. Some weeks are pathetic; I fill in a dozen squares and quit. Other times I get off to a great start, completing an entire quadrant before getting stuck on a cluster of obscure clues. I have never finished one. I've learned to be happy if I can count less than ten empty squares.

But I'm not happy. My dad can do the Sunday crossword, and so can my mom's mom. That means I should be genetically inclined to succeed, darn it!

Tonight I attempted last week's puzzle. After filling in a few random answers, I caught on to the theme, which is half the battle (if you can't figure out the theme that encompasses all of the longer entries, you're generally screwed). I worked steadily, occasionally got stuck, and then found inspiration. Slowly but surely, the squares filled up. I began to think this might be the one. Finally, I was down to two squares. I didn't know the name of an old German coin or a Swiss river, but I had a decent guess. Yet it didn't quite seem right. Ten minutes later, I came up with a much better answer. That must be it.

I could hardly contain my excitement as I opened this week's magazine to look up last week's answers. My guess was right! Now I had to at least take a cursory glance at the rest of the puzzle... looking good... widening grin on my face... butterflies in my stomach... Darn it! I got one letter wrong. Early on I had guessed an answer. The clue was "playwright Jones." I had L-E-R-O-_. I don't know more than half a dozen playwrights, and none are named Jones. The cross clue was "Taylor of Mystic Pizza," a movie I've never seen. For that one I had L_LI.

"Leroy" seemed like a good guess for the playwright even though "Lyli" would be a bit odd. I went with it anyway. I was wrong. The playwright is LeRoi Jones -- actually he was LeRoi Jones, having changed his name to Amiri Baraka forty years ago. In my defense, that was before I was born, so I've always known him as Amiri. Except I wouldn't know Amiri or LeRoi from Adam's house cat.

Of course, if I had known actress Lili Taylor, I wouldn't have guessed "Leroy" instead of "LeRoi." Well, here's a site dedicated to Ms. Taylor. In a nod to the Who, the photo gallery is titled "Pictures of Lili" (except the Who used the more common "Lily"). To feebly defend myself again, let me note that there is an actress in the IMDb named "Lyli," though she had nothing to do with Mystic Pizza.

One freaking letter wrong, all because some parents got creative naming their kids. Now instead of going to bed satisfied, I will once again cry myself to sleep as a crossword failure. Maybe next week...

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Everything's Relative and Other Fables from Science and Technology by Tony Rothman

Sometimes when I get home from the bookstore, I wonder why I bought a certain book. Everything's Relative was one of those, but I decided to give it a chance. The preface spells out the important ideas to be gleaned from the book -- discoveries sometimes happen simultaneously (who gets credit from whom can depend on nationality) and discoveries are almost always based on the work of predecessors, many of whom were pretty darn close to achieving what the "famous" discoverer did.

Although Rothman says Everything's Relative is written for a "popular" audience, he clearly assumes the reader is well versed in physics and other college-level science material. My recollections of those subjects are foggy at best. I spotted a familiar name or theory from time to time but generally floundered through the text. I valiantly plowed through the first chapter about whether Galileo dropped things off the Leaning Tower of Pisa and invented the barometer (disparate topics that involved the same group of scientific peers). I tried to read the next chapter but decided I could never finish the book straight through.

Instead I skipped ahead to topics that interested me, such as the discovery of the planet Neptune. The common story is that mathematicians calculated where it would be based on the gravitational effect of an unknown body on Uranus, and all the astronomers had to do was look where they were told. Like many topics in Everything's Relative, this story is sort of true but not completely. This sort of nitpicking really requires a more intense interest in the subject than most people have, but I used to be an astronomy enthusiast many years ago. While Neptune was indeed discovered where predicted, it was somewhat by luck because the mathematicians had made invalid assumptions in their calculations. There is also evidence that another astronomer discovered Neptune years earlier except he presumed that he had made a mistake in recording his observations.

Rothman tackles other great discoveries and inventions in this manner, but I couldn't stay interested. I read most of the chapter about the light bulb and half of the chapter about the telephone before giving up. I would recommend this book only to someone with a very strong interest and background in science, particularly physics; I really don't think it is appropriate for the layman as advertised on the book jacket.