Saturday, August 25, 2007

Bastard of the Day

It's America's favorite bowhunter, the Motor City Meathead, Ted Nugent. Over the years, his right-wing tirades have become more and more ridiculous. I suppose it's his way of staying "relevant" without having a hit song for a couple of decades. Nugent graduated to complete bastardhood with this outburst from an Anaheim, California concert. "Uncle Ted" was walking around with what looked like a machine gun in his hand as he said

Hey Arnold, suck on this one time, you putz.* I was in Chicago last week, I was in Chicago, I said "Hey Obama, you might want to suck on one of these you punk!" You know what I mean, that Obama, he's a piece of shit, and I told him to suck on my machine gun. Let's hear it for him. And then I was in New York, I said, I said hey Hillary, you might want to ride one of these into the sunset you worthless bitch. And since I'm in California, how 'bout Barbara Boxer, she might want to suck on my machine gun. Hey Diane Feinstein, ride one of these you worthless whore... Any questions? FREEDOM!!!!!

Yes, Ted, in America you have the freedom to say whatever you want, but you're still a bastard. Nugent's apologists will say he was just joking, and there is an obvious pseudo-phallic element to "suck on my machine gun." But joking about killing politicians -- particularly senators who are presidential candidates -- isn't particularly funny, especially within 30 miles of where Senator Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1968.

* For those who wonder why the Republican governor was included in Nugent's rant against Democratic senators, it's no doubt because he supports the Brady Bill and other gun control measures.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Lyrics of the Day

I was listening to an Old 97's* radio appearance from 1996 today. They played "Doreen," which includes this chorus:

Doreen, Doreen, last night I had an awful dream.
You were laying in the arms of a man I'd never seen.
Come clean Doreen. Come clean Doreen.
It's just a superfluous detail included for the sake of rhyme, but the phrase "a man I'd never seen" irks me. Does that mean it would be okay if the singer dreamed of her sleeping with his best friend instead?

* The grammar freak in me says there shouldn't be an apostrophe because the band name is plural, not belonging to Old 97, but that's how they punctuate it on their Web site. If you look at their album covers, however, they seem to alternate between using and omitting the apostrophe (for example, see the two albums "Doreen" appears on below).

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Economic Naturalist by Robert H. Frank

If you're looking for a very readable introduction to economics, The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas is an excellent choice. Robert H. Frank asks dozens of intriguing questions and offers economic explanations. The idea is that once you start to think like an economist, you can see economic reasons for virtually everything. The answers are fairly brief, making the book very easy to digest. Frank groups questions together by economic concept so the reader can see how one concept has a variety of applications. Perhaps best of all, The Economic Naturalist is free of the profound arrogance that many economists express when writing for the "common" people.

Here are some examples of the questions Frank asks:
  • Why do color photographs sell for less than black-and-white ones?
  • Why do women endure the discomfort of high heels?
  • Why does the rookie of the year in baseball often have a less successful second season?
  • Why is the proportion of aluminum cans recycled in Brazil much higher than in the United States?
  • Why did kamikaze pilots wear helmets?
Frank took many of these questions from essays written by his students, writing new answers in his own words. At the end of the book, he includes two students' papers. The first answers my favorite question: "Why do animal rights activists target fur-wearing women but leave leather-clad bikers alone?"

The Economic Naturalist isn't perfect. Frank admits in the introduction that many of these questions are not answered completely by economics but asserts that all have an economic component. Some commenters at Amazon have criticized some of his answers, but I think they miss the point. Frank's objective is not necessarily to have all the right answers, but rather to change the reader's way of thinking to consider an economic perspective.

Bookstores have been blitzed with several popular economics books in recent years. Freakonomics shows the value of economics outside the marketplace, but it gets too esoteric at times (the chapter about names bored me to tears). The Undercover Economist, which I reviewed last week, covers more traditional applications but over-explains them. The Economic Naturalist is the best and most readable of the bunch. It takes on common questions from the marketplace and beyond, using the answers to teach the concepts of economics in a fun and intriguing way.

Lyrics of the Day

I've been listening to a bunch of Robert Earl Keen concert recordings lately. A very good songwriter in his own right, Keen chooses exceptional cover material, including James McMurtry's "Levelland," Dave Alvin's "4th of July," and Townes Van Zandt's "Snowin' On Raton." On his 1994 album Gringo Honeymoon, Keen recorded a song Steve Earle wrote almost 20 years earlier, "Tom Ames' Prayer."

Tom Ames is a small-time outlaw sent away by his father: "I can tell you're headed for trouble son and your momma wouldn't understand." He takes off and graduates to robbing banks. The song finds Ames in a precarious situation where he contemplates praying, something he never tried before. He begrudgingly asks God for help and then remembers a previous encounter with the clergy:

Judge Parker said guilty and the gavel came down just like a cannon shot
And I went away quietly and I began to file and plot
Well they sent the preacher down to my cell, he said, "The Lord is your only hope
He's the only friend that you gonna have when you hit the end of Parker's rope"
Well I guess he coulda' kept on preachin' 'till Christmas but he turned his back on me
I put a homemade blade to that golden throat and asked the deputy for the key

Earle finally released his own version the next year on Train A Comin', his first album after getting out of prison. He wanted to make an album fast, so he dug up half a dozen old tunes and a couple of covers to complement a handful of newly written songs. Amazon calls the album an "essential recording," and I concur. Then again, I think most of Earle's albums are essential. Hardcore Earle aficionados can find a 1970s "songwriter's demo" of "Tom Ames' Prayer" on a bootleg known as Mexican Demos (17-track version).

Monday, August 20, 2007

Bike Tours

Since I haven't spent much time in the saddle this summer, I'd like to share a few other cyclists' tours that I've been following:
  • My friend Jene-Paul set out from Vancouver, Washington to ride through every state on the perimeter of the lower 48 (his original plan was to visit all 48 contiguous states, but he scaled back a bit). Unfortunately, things went terribly wrong in the first week of his tour. In his text-only journal, Jene-Paul gives vivid, verbose descriptions of the good, the bad, and the ugly entitled "A Toil Of Pleasure."
  • An American Singlespeed in Paris documents a series of dayrides, showing that not all tours actually have to go somewhere. This is one long page with brief text and lots of large photos.
  • GIT/GITAP blogger Jennifer recently visited Yerkes Observatory, a forgotten and endangered treasure, in Williams Bay, Wisconsin via Metra and bicycle. Check out the rest of her blog for other Chicagoland daytrips, including a few in the Lake Calumet area.
  • If you have lots of time, check out Mark Boyd's 38-day tour across the United States.
Maybe someday I'll have another bike tour of my own for your reading pleasure. For now, I'm finishing up the pages for our 2007 Pacific Northwest Auto Tour.

Friday, August 17, 2007

GIT for Spina Bifida

A recent Chicago Tribune article mentioned this Grand Illinois Trail tour benefiting the Spina Bifida Association of Illinois. The two riders started yesterday and plan to finish on August 26. They are asking for pledges, and donors can win raffle prizes.

When I was riding across the country, people often asked me what cause I was riding for. I was almost embarrassed to say, "Um, just because I want to." It seemed so selfish. On the other hand, I'm just not the fundraising type. I really hated being forced to do that stuff when I was younger. At least when I was a kid, people would give me money just for being cute. Nowadays, they'd tell me to buzz off.

Smart Kid

DELAND, Fla. -- An 8-year-old DeLand girl reported missing was found by police riding her bike as fast as she could to leave the state of Florida, fearing a massive Hurricane Dean was on its way.
The girl's family had just moved to Florida from Columbus, Ohio. She's a smart girl; I wouldn't want to live in Florida either.

Lyrics of the Day

I finally got around to listening to Jason Isbell's debut solo CD Sirens of the Ditch last night. Isbell was a member of the Drive-By Truckers for six years and three albums but left the band a few months ago. The songs he wrote for the Truckers were exceptional, and his bandmates knew all along that he was destined to strike out on his own. Like Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley (the Truckers' other songwriters), Isbell is an excellent storyteller who injects details of Southern culture into his lyrics.

Anyway, for the last few months that Isbell toured with the Drive-By Truckers, I kept reading praise for a new song he was performing called "Dress Blues." It's about Matthew Conley, a Marine from his hometown who was killed in Iraq. He didn't know Conley well, but such tragedies hit hard regardless (a bicyclist I met only once was run over by a semi, and years later I still think about him).
Your wife said this all would be funny
when you came back home in a week.
You'd turn twenty-two and we'd celebrate you
in a bar or a tent by the creek.
Your baby would just about be here.
Your very last tour would be up
but you won't be back. They're all dressing in black
drinking sweet tea in styrofoam cups.

Mamas and grandmamas love you.
American boys hate to lose.
You never planned on the bombs in the sand
or sleeping in your dress blues.
I can't say the whole CD measures up to that, but how could it?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Who Blogs for the Bastard Polluters?

Today the EPA helpfully suggests seven ways Bastard Polluters could help the environment without changing their plans to dump toxins into Chicago's drinking water. Buried in the article is this disturbing nugget:
BP, which has taken out full-page newspaper advertisements and paid Internet bloggers to defend the permit, says it needs to discharge more pollution...
As a public relations tactic, paying bloggers to say nice things about your deadly discharge ranks lower than refinery sludge. I'd like to know who these spineless, pathetic, corporate-butt-kissing bloggers are, and not so I can shake their dirty hands.

I know pay-for-posting isn't new. But shilling for a product to generate "buzz" is relatively harmless; advocating the rape of our lake is entirely different. If BP wants to spread bullshit in its own blog, that's fine. But integrity-deficient "independent" bloggers who take cash to kiss ass deserve to rot in Hell.

Bastard of the Day

The majority of murderers probably qualify for bastardhood, but Hans R. Peterson deserves to be singled out. Peterson has confessed to killing Dr. David Cornbleet in his downtown Chicago office last October. Why?

Even though he had no contact with his dermatologist for almost four years, Hans R. Peterson allegedly believed that a drug prescribed by the doctor to treat acne caused him to be impotent, sources say.
Peterson killed Cornbleet because he couldn't get it up. There are plenty of good or at least understandable reasons to kill someone, but that is one of the lamest I've ever heard.

Oh well, Peterson's cellmates won't care whether he can get it up or not. The prison team can always use another catcher.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford

As introductory economics books go, The Undercover Economist isn't a bad choice. Unlike the wildly popular Freakonomics, which is about surprising or unusual applications of economics, The Undercover Economist explores more traditional topics: prices, scarcity, markets, taxes, government influence, and globalization, to name a few. The book covers those concepts more clearly than the typical economics textbook, making it fairly accessible to the layperson (note: my experience with economics textbooks was in 1989, but I have the impression that they haven't changed for the better since). My favorite chapter is the final chapter about China. It describes the disastrous economic policies of Mao Tse-Tung and how Deng Xiaoping reversed them.

Less convincing is the chapter enumerating the glorious benefits of globalization. Although Harford's perspective as an economist made me consider that globalization isn't quite as evil as progressives like me are inclined to believe, his environmental arguments fall flat. For example, Harford naively trusts multinational corporations to install the same pollution controls everywhere regardless of whether the law requires them.

Harford's writing style is okay, but sometimes he belabors points (you could say his writing could be more economical, heh-heh). There are times when the book drags, but considering the subject it usually moves along at an acceptable pace. Another fault of the book is that the "undercover economist" persona employed by Harford is alternately forced and poorly developed. I got the feeling it was a gimmick grafted onto the manuscript late in its development.

All in all, The Undercover Economist is a better place to start than Freakonomics for someone interested in learning about economics. However, I don't think either is the best choice. For that, stay tuned (note: the answer is not Freedomnomics -- John R. Lott, Jr. is a tool)...

Bastard of the Day

Well, of course it has to be Karl Rove, or Turd Blossom, as our Commander in Chief calls him. While I am happy to see him go, I must honor his previous achievements -- he's committed enough bastardly acts over the past 15 years to fill several books (see below). He's second to Dick Cheney in responsibility for the mess known as the Bush administration.

Rove's worst contribution to the world is his conflation of politics and policy. Every policy enacted by the administration is orchestrated for maximum political benefit. Rove doesn't let Bush wipe himself in the bathroom without weighing the political ramifications of both wiping and not wiping. I guess I might admire that approach as a cynic, but it doesn't seem like the wisest or most efficient way to govern a nation.

Although Rove has been hailed as "the architect" and "Bush's brain," his electoral successes haven't been as great as the hype. Let's face it, the Supreme Court decided the 2000 election, and riding the coattails of 9/11 won the 2004 election.

Finally, as Kathleen Reardon has already written, haven't we heard this "spending more time with my family" excuse for resignation just a few times too many? Rove's son is in college. If he really wanted to spend more time with his family, why didn't he resign before his son's summer vacation? Unfortunately, I'm sure we haven't seen the last of this bastard.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Bastard of the Day

I called out the cheating bastard Barry Bonds 14 months ago when he surpassed Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list. Unfortunately it's time to do it again now that he's broken Hank Aaron's record. Everyone knows about the steroid controversy clouding the most productive years of Bonds' career, and most of us are pretty sure he's guilty. On top of that, Bonds is also the consummate sports prima donna and an all-around jerk. There couldn't be a worse ambassador for baseball. That he kept playing once exposed shows his true character; someone with any respect for the game would have retired rather than continue playing to achieve a record under such dubious circumstances.

For another reason to brand Bonds a cheater, read this.

Monday, August 06, 2007

How to Be a Bastard

You may read my blog and wonder, How can I be the Bastard of the Day? Ever helpful, I will offer advice from time to time to help you achieve that.

While finishing The Undercover Economist this weekend, I read:
India... remains so poor that half a million citizens are disfigured by leprosy, a disease that can be cured for the price of a beer.*
As a bastardly-minded person, this was inspirational.

If you want to be a bastard, you can go around buying beers for lepers instead of curing them. Better yet, tell them after they finish drinking, "You know, I could have cured you for the same cost as that beer. Hope you enjoyed it."

* This statistic appears to be outdated since the World Health Organization has made progress fighting the disease recently. In fact, they've been giving the drugs to afflicted countries for free.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Unsettling Epilogue to DBT Suicide Week

Over the past week, I have featured six Drive-By Truckers songs that explore the topic of suicide. Yesterday, my wife told me she had a dream where she walked into the house to see me hanging lifelessly from a rope -- just like Uncle Frank. Considering that she had no idea that I've been writing about suicide all week, that's a really creepy coincidence.

I tried to allay her fears: "That's strange because whenever I dream about suicide, it's always with a gun in my mouth." That wasn't an attempt at dark humor; I was serious. For what it's worth, "Welcome to the Jungle" is always playing in the background, too. Try going back to sleep after a dream like that. No wonder I blog at all hours of the night.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Bastard of the Day

I was nice to her throughout her pathetic gubernatorial campaign, but today's award goes to Judy Baar Topinka for trading on her diminishing fame to skewer the Berwyn Spindle in today's Chicago Tribune. If we cared about her opinions, we would have elected her.

She loses credibility with her opening line: "Berwyn is a west suburban treasure." My father-in-law lives in Berwyn, so I go there regularly. It's not a bad town, but a treasure? I suppose it is if you compare it to neighboring Cicero, but that's not saying much. If Berwyn is a treasure, what would Topinka call the really nice towns in the western suburbs like Riverside, which was designed by legendary landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted?

That's enough about her op-ed piece. The funniest thing about Topinka is how people liked her less the better they got to know her. She rose to a statewide office (treasurer) with broad support. My lifelong Democratic mom even liked Topinka, and she certainly was easier to stomach than right-wing nuts like Alan Keyes (to Topinka's credit, she opposed him from the start). But once she won the primary, her image went straight downhill. It wasn't only incumbent Rod Blogojevich's "What's she thinking?" attack ad campaign. She just came across as a goof. That's why Blagojevich stomped all over her in the general election.

I'm not pleased with Blagojevich these days, either (how about signing those bicycling bills on your desk, Governor?), but that's a topic for another day.

Lyrics of the Day

It's time for the thrilling conclusion of DBT Suicide Week!

All week I've been featuring Drive-By Truckers songs about suicide. For the grand finale, here are two Patterson Hood songs from the band's most recent release, A Blessing and a Curse. The title track is the second-to-last song:

When it all comes down
There'll be nothing left to catch you but ground
It's calling your name and filling your head
With delusions of glory

Is that how you're gonna write your story?
Down in your time as a high-flying flame out?
Sucking on what's left of your trust fund?
Sucking on the end of a shot gun?

Finally, that album and DBT Suicide Week finish with "A World of Hurt:"

I was 27 when I figured out that blowing my brains out wasn't the answer
So I decided, maybe I should find a way to make this world work out for me
And my good friend Paul was 83 when he told me that "To love is to feel pain"
And I thought about that then and I've thought about that again and again
From there, Hood continues in a conversational manner leading up to this:

So if what you have is working for you, or you think that it can stand a reasonable chance,
and whatever's broken seems fixable and nothing's beyond repair
If you still think about each other and smile before you remember how screwed up it's gotten
or maybe dream of a time less rotten
Remember, it ain't too late to take a deep breath
and throw yourself into it with everything you got

It's great to be alive.
Surprise! I'll bet you weren't expecting DBT Suicide Week to have a happy ending.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Lyrics of the Day

Today we continue toward the exciting conclusion of DBT Suicide Week!

Since most of the band hails from northern Alabama, the Tennesee Valley Authority (TVA) is a topic of several Drive-By Truckers songs. The TVA brought many changes to that region, not all of them good. In "Uncle Frank" from the DBT's second album Pizza Deliverance, Mike Cooley explores the dark side of the TVA's impact. Uncle Frank lost his land when it was submerged by a new dam, and the promises of economic development were greater than the reality.

The cars never came to town and the roads never got built
and the price of all that power kept on going straight uphill
The banks around the hollow sold for lakefront property
where doctors, lawyers, and musicians teach their kids to waterski.

Uncle Frank couldn’t read or write
so there was no note or letter found when he died.
Just a rope around his neck and the kitchen table turned on its side

This song interests me because I read about the TVA recently in Water Wars by Diane Raines Ward. In its early days, the TVA served as a model for water development. It lessened the flooding along the Tennessee River, which in turn helped combat malaria and other maladies. It provided cheap, clean hydroelectricity for a region where many homes didn't even have power and those that did had been powered by dirty coal plants. It provided jobs during the Great Depression in a region sorely in need of economic development. Its hydropower fueled some of the aluminum plants -- as well as Oak Ridge National Laboratory -- that helped the U.S. win World War II. While some critics complained about too much government control, the TVA showed how important it is to manage a river as a whole system. TVA consultants were sought by developing nations wishing to control their water resources in a similar manner.

But by the time those countries came calling, the TVA was already heading downhill. Instead of staying true to their charter, they decided their business should be power generation rather than river management. Consequently, the TVA started building nuclear power plants and even coal plants (keep in mind part of their original mission was to replace coal plants). The nuclear plants crippled the TVA with debt, so "the price of all that power kept on going straight uphill." Now the TVA is an example of a good idea gone wrong, or at least a good idea that lost its focus. Of course, "Uncle Frank" is looking at the TVA from a "micro" point of view. While overall it did a lot of good, the lives of some people were deeply affected and even ruined in the name of Progress.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Bastard of the Day

It has to be EPA administrator Stephen Johnson, who claims that Indiana's BP butt-kissing is good for the Great Lakes. This article is so full of bullshit that it defies critical analysis (although Jennifer tries). It's no surprise that the Bush administration is against the environment in general (which is why Christie Todd Whitman quit the EPA), especially when it's sucking up to the oil industry. But like Senator Dick Durbin said, that doesn't make it acceptable.

An overwhelming majority of the U.S. House approved a resolution asking Indiana to reconsider its decision to let Bastard Polluters dump extra toxins into my drinking water, but the state doesn't care. I've had enough of their crap lately (the Illinoisans-pay-full-boat-on-the-toll-road debacle is another example). It's bad enough they gave us Dan Quayle. Let's declare those Hoosier bastards a "rogue state" and attack. Or better yet, let's make Indianapolis draw its drinking water out of Lake Michigan, preferably within 50 feet of the BP refinery's drainpipe. Then we'll see whether it really poses no threat to people.

Grab a 40!

This morning I've been researching 40-ounce malt liquors (you're probably wondering where I come up with these ideas; I wish I could say it's for a copywriting job, but it's not). Wikipedia is a good place to get the basics. In fact, this is the sort of topic where Wikipedia excels -- when it comes to pop culture, the Encyclopedia Brittanica usually falls short. For anyone who doesn't get the "point" of 40-ounce malt liquors, this spells it out:
While ordinary beers in the United States average around 5% alcohol by volume, malt liquors typically range from 6% up to 9% alcohol by volume... American domestic "malt liquors" tend to be very inexpensive, although this is not necessarily true for foreign imports that are also labeled "malt liquor".
That's it -- a cheap buzz. For that reason 40s are associated with ghetto drunks, but that's an unfair stereotype. Kihm Winship's excellent, detailed history of the 40 explains
...While black Americans comprise 12-14% of the population, they consume 30-33% of the malt liquor brewed in the U.S. The statistic is important for two reasons. First, it shows why brewers of malt liquor advertise more heavily to black people: As a group, they buy more malt liquor. The second important fact is that if a third of all malt liquor is consumed by black Americans, two thirds are consumed by people who are not black.
The bottom line: cheap drunks come in all races. Further down that page is a lengthy discussion of charges that malt liquors are some sort of conspiracy against the black community.

I have to admit that when it comes to brand names, sometimes I confuse my cheap wines and malt liquors (look here for cheap wines). I guess I don't spend enough time perusing liquor stores. Adding to the confusion, some regular beers are sold in the 40-ounce size, including Budweiser and PBR. But when DMX raps about drinkin' 40s, he's not a Bud man.

Like everything else on this planet, 40s have inspired a community. Here's a guy who has collected 550 different bottles. The same site shows dozens of drinkers in their 20s enjoying their 40s and acting stupid.

Finally, I'll leave you with a favorite story. When I consulted downtown, I often went to White Hen Pantry (a convenience store) to pick up a quick lunch. One day I saw a man mosey up to the register and place his lunch on the counter: a 40-ounce King Cobra malt liquor... and a salad! Now that's healthy living!

Lyrics of the Day

DBT Suicide Week continues!

Yesterday we saw the song Mike Cooley wrote in response to a friend's suicide. Today it's Patterson Hood's turn with "Do It Yourself," the next song on Decoration Day after "When the Pin Hits the Shell."

My Daddy called me on a Friday morning, so sad to tell me just what you’d done
You tried so hard to make us all hate you but in the end you was the only one
Sick, tired, pissed and wired, you never thought about anyone else.
You tried in vain to find something to kill you
in the end you had to do it yourself.
In contrast to Cooley's slow, brooding meditation, Hood's song is a straight-up rocker that belies the anger in the lyrics:

And it’s a sorry thing to do to your sweet sister
It’s a sorry thing to do to your little boy
It’s a sorry thing to do to the folks who love you
Your Mama and Daddy lost their only boy
Some should say I should cut you slack, but you worked so hard at unhappiness.
Living too hard just couldn’t kill you
In the end you had to do it yourself.
It's interesting to hear the two approaches. In the end, "When the Pin Hits the Shell" comes across as more poignant, but mostly because the music overshadows the words in "Do It Yourself." Sometimes I wonder if Hood paired these lyrics with straight-ahead rock because it was too painful to sing them any other way.