Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Deadly Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the house
Not a creature was stirring
Not even a ...

Actually, there was a mouse stirring in our house last night. In fact, there were two. After a week of temptation, they were lured by peanut butter into running a gauntlet of glue traps and medieval, spring-loaded, spine-snapping devices on our kitchen counter.

This morning, one mouse was still stirring, struggling in vain to break free of a tenacious glue trap. His comrade had met a quicker, albeit ghastlier end, his lifeless body extending from a snapped trap with head inside, a final taste of peanut butter on his cold lips.

My wife loves all animals and naturally felt sorry for the dead and dying pests. I reminded her that she didn't feel sorry for them when they nibbled a loaf of bread or a sack of flour. She had screamed as they boldly skittered across the kitchen floor. She didn't think their droppings on the counter were cute, either. How soon some forget. But I did not forget.

Little bastards. Dead little bastards. Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Bastard of the Day

Senator Dick Durbin is a bastard for even thinking of asking for a commuted sentence for that hopelessly corrupt former governor of ours, George Ryan. In 2006, Ryan was convicted on 18 counts of corruption and sentenced to 6-1/2 years in the pen. He's been incarcerated for little more than a year, but Durbin apparently thinks that's enough:
"His family name has been damaged," Durbin said. "He has, at an advanced moment of his life, been removed from his family. He has lost the economic security which most people count on at his age. And he is separate from his wife at a time when she is in frail health. To say that he has paid a price for his wrongdoing, he certainly has. And the question is whether continued imprisonment is appropriate at this point."
First of all, any damage to his family name cannot compare to the damage to the families of those killed by unqualified truck drivers who stuffed cash in Ryan's hole to get their licenses.

Second, what is this crap about losing "economic security"? If Ryan hadn't squandered all of his savings trying to defend his corrupt ass in court, he'd still have that security. And how would freeing him make any difference in that respect? If he's broke, he's better off in prison where he doesn't need money to live. If he gets out, what is he going to do, be a Wal-Mart greeter? I wouldn't trust him in a job handling cash.

Third, sorry about his wife, but what kind of reason is that to let him out? Do we routinely set criminals free because of a "frail" family member? Would we commute the sentence of a gang leader so he could take care of his aging mother? Why does Ryan deserve special treatment?

Yes, Ryan has "paid a price." But the law doesn't say criminals must pay "a price" -- it says they should pay whatever and however the court decides (although policies like "good behavior" let them off easy). Can I mail in $5 for a $75 speeding ticket and argue that I "paid a price" and shouldn't owe a penny more? Durbin shows a wanton disregard for the criminal justice system with such reasoning.

Finally, why should Ryan -- or any other criminal -- get off essentially for being old? It isn't like he has spent decades behind bars and now he's a changed man; it's been less than 13 months. It took many years for the scumbag to be exposed and prosecuted -- years when he lived not only as a free man, but as governor of our state being paid with our tax dollars. Heck, if Ryan had been caught while he was still secretary of state, he would have finished serving his sentence years ago. Now Durbin thinks we should set him free because he's old. Well, plenty of old scoundrels languish in prison, and there's no reason Ryan shouldn't be one of them.

Maybe Ryan should have thought about all of the above before he committed the crimes that landed him in the joint. I mean, 18 counts -- that's not a careless, isolated slip-up, that's a culture of corruption.
But three former federal prosecutors who prosecuted Ryan in the licenses-for-bribes scandal said they opposed executive clemency for the former governor and noted he has never accepted responsibility for committing a crime. [emphasis added]
Excellent point. The man won't even admit he screwed up. Sit and rot, Ryan. Durbin, you should be ashamed of yourself.

I've generally supported the work Durbin has done in the U.S. Senate, but if he had floated this trial balloon a month ago, I probably would have voted for his opponent.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

DJWriter's Endorsement for President

Screw that lying, senile bastard McCain, Caribou Barbie, and everyone foolish enough to support them. I'm sick of all this Repugnican bullshit.

Vote Obama or I'll slap your mama!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Skating Illinois: Illinoistocht

As Governor Blagojevich threatens to shut down several state parks along Illinois' historic canals this winter*, consider Illinoistocht. This Web site ponders the potential for marathon ice skating events on the Hennepin Canal and/or the Illinois & Michigan Canal. Similar events are held in the Netherlands, Austria, Canada, and sometimes Japan, but there are none in the U.S.

I think it would be a great way to use and publicize these historic and scenic resources during the winter when they are largely ignored (one may argue that much of the Hennepin Canal is largely ignored year-round). If the idea gains traction, I'll bet IDNR and the Illinois Greenways & Trails Council would be enthusiastic, although I doubt that they'd be able to contribute financially given current budget realities.

The dream of Illinoistocht is still in its infancy, but if you're interested in long-distance skating, keep an eye on the Web site.


* The League of Illinois Bicyclists questions the legality of these closings. Since the Hennepin Canal Trail was funded with $15.4 million in federal funds, the state is obligated to maintain it. Not only could Illinois retroactively lose that $15.4 million, but the Federal Highway Administration could cut off all transportation funding to the state.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Freaky

I've never read any of the Fletch novels. I didn't even see the movies, although I remember they starred Chevy Chase. I have seen the books, though. I think my dad owned at least one of the series.

Anyway, last night I had a dream that included a discussion of the Fletch books. One of my wife's friends and I talked about the distinctive title font (which, unbeknownst to me, has become italicized over the years).

Then this morning, I saw this -- Fletch author Gregory Mcdonald died on Sunday. I'm sure I hadn't seen the news before my dream.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

A Forgettable Anniversary

The DJWriter blog turned four years old late last month, but I didn't even bother to commemorate it. As you can tell from the infrequency of posts, this blog has barely stayed alive this summer. I've been thinking about where it's been and where it's headed, but I'll save that navel-gazing for a future entry.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Trouble With Hell

The trouble with Hell isn't the eternal damnation... It's all the assholes you'd have to live with.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Poor Bastard of the Day

Today, for a change of pace, I'm naming a Poor Bastard of the Day. The difference, of course, is that while the regular Bastard of the Day deserves scorn, the Poor Bastard elicits sympathy. From the Chicago Tribune:
Caleb Kosek, 24, showed up for his first day of work as a Bennigan's server to find the 225 North Michigan location locked. He circled the building for a few minutes before passersby informed him that they had heard the restaurant chain was closed as of that morning. "Wow," he said wide-eyed as he peeked into the empty restaurant.
Man, what rotten luck! Caleb, you poor bastard, I hope you find another job soon!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Knowing Your Market

Ad Age interviews Andy Puzder, president-CEO of Carl's Jr./Hardee's. When asked, "Why don't you have more healthy products on the menu?" he replies
My job is not to tell you what to eat, but figure out what you want to eat and offer it to you. I can tell you from our sales, it's not the ultra-healthy no-taste food. At Hardee's we sell 130 to 150 Thickburgers a day per restaurant and probably two salads. But they're there. I think if we fried the salads, they would sell more.
Come to think of it, maybe Hardee's and Carl's Jr. should partner with Hostess to offer fried Twinkies.

Puzder also attacks his competitors' 99-cent double cheeseburgers. He points out that one can't purchase the basic ingredients for a good burger at that price, even without paying rent, utilities, and labor (although some may counter that these are "loss leaders" intended to attract customers). Then he puts it bluntly: "People are looking to sell this garbage and trying to out-garbage each other."

I wish the interview hadn't been so short. I think I like this guy.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

CTA Goes SRO

The CTA will introduce seatless "L" cars within a few months, starting with the Brown Line. In other words, "Brown Line riders, we know you've tolerated several years of construction zones and station closures so we could improve service by running 8-car trains instead of 6-car trains. Here's your reward: reach for a pole because those new cars won't have any seats!" Gee, thanks.

CTA President Ron Huberman knows the limits of what the Chicago commuter will bear:
Huberman assured CTA riders that he is not looking to Asia or the Third World for ideas. He said CTA customers won't be asked to ride on the roofs of trains, as riders frequently do in India.
At least the bar is set low enough for riders to grab onto.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bastard of the Day

I went for a midday bike ride today. Coming south on Gross Point Road in Skokie (or maybe Evanston), I was almost killed by a bastard in a 3/4-ton pick-up truck.

I was about 15 feet from an intersection when a pick-up truck behind me suddenly accelerated hard, swung out to my left (I wasn't quite "taking the lane," but I was well away from the curb) and turned right in front of me. When I was 16, someone did that to me and I ended up with 15 stitches in my knee, so I am hyper-aware of the so-called "right hook." I braked when I saw the truck in my peripheral vision because I sensed what he was about to do. If he had waited just a few seconds, I would have been out of his way. If I hadn't anticipated his actions, I would have plowed into the side of his truck and maybe slid underneath.

The bastard obviously saw me and consciously chose to endanger my life. That wasn't my only close call today, either. What the Hell is wrong with these people?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Farewell to a Boyhood Hero

I was saddened last night to learn that baseball player Bobby Murcer died. Everyone remembers him as a Yankee, but I remember him as a Cub.

My first sports memories are from the late 1970s. Baseball was my favorite, and in my family there was -- and is -- only one team that matters. Murcer played for the Cubs for only two and a half seasons, 1977-1979, but those were critical years for me, a brief time when athletes were heroes (I think I started to become cynical around fifth grade). I remember Murcer as the Cubs' leading home run hitter in 1977. In fact, his 27 homers were more than twice as many as anyone else on the team hit.

Then the Cubs got Dave Kingman. I think I liked him better than Murcer mostly because we shared a name, the sort of thing that matters to an eight-year-old. Kingman had a great year in 1979, leading the National League in home runs, runs batted in, runs scored, and slugging percentage. Now I know everybody hates Kingman, but I was too young to understand it then.

In mid-1979, Murcer was traded back to the Yankees, where he finished a solid career. Since that was long before inter-league play*, he disappeared from my world except on Topps baseball cards (this columnist's Murcer memories began when mine ended). I didn't even know he became a broadcaster until I read his obituary. By all accounts, he was a great guy, a Yankee legend, and he will be missed.


* Except for the World Series, of course, but that's unknown territory to a Cubs fan.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Lyrics of the Day

On a bike ride this morning, I had this Steve Earle song going through my head. "More Than I Can Do" belongs on a Stalker's Greatest Hits compilation (which would also include "Every Breath You Take"):
You told me that I got to stop
But it's more than I can do
And that ain't nothing new
'Cause we both know that I'm crazy about you

You said you're gonna call the cops
But I ain't gonna run
Because you're the only one
There ain't no way I could live without you
Earle has had half a dozen wives (he married one twice), so I can't help wondering who this song is about.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Creepy

It was bad enough when I dreamed last night that my wife had died. Then I woke up to this. Although there was no mention in my dream about whether she died in the line of duty, it made today's sad news that much more disturbing.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Bastard of the Day

I would be remiss if I didn't name Cook County Board President Todd "the Toddler" Stroger as the bastard of July 1st. Today his 1% county sales tax increase went into effect. One percent doesn't sound like much, but it makes Chicago sales taxes the highest of any major U.S. city.

Want to go shopping for a new wardrobe on Michigan Avenue? Now you'll have to pay 10.25% sales tax on your purchase. In the face of such depressing news, some people will go out for a nice dinner to raise their spirits. They'll have to pay the county's new tax, too. And speaking of spirits, you can't even drown your sorrows in booze without handing over that extra 1% tithe to the Toddler.

Stroger's timing is impeccable. Sales taxes are going up at a time when gas prices are high enough to discourage residents from traveling outside the county to make their purchases. And with the economy in the toilet (if you care to argue that point with me, buzz off), what better time to stick it to Cook County residents?

Honorary bastard awards go to the fools who voted for the incapacitated incumbent, Todd's dad, in the 2006 Democratic primary instead of Forrest Claypool, who wouldn't have raised taxes (I could say the same for those who chose Stroger over Tony Peraica in the general election, but Peraica is kind of a goof with his own set of issues). The Tribune suggests that we hunt down everyone responsible and force them to repent or run them out of office.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Bastard of the Day

Fifteen years ago, it happened to my best friend's dad. Ten years ago, it happened to my wife's dad. On Tuesday, it happened to mine.

Here's your reward for 35 years of loyal service: pack up your things. You're fired.

Anybody in the western suburbs looking for a warehouse manager?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

I Called It

For anyone curious how long I will milk a lame joke, here's a news item:

Laws injured in training

British rider Sharon Laws, tipped to join team-mate Nicole Cooke in the Great Britain women's road race team in Beijing, is to see a specialist to assess the implications of an ankle injury sustained this week after a heavy fall while training with her Halfords-Bikehut team near Abergavenny in Wales.

"Breaking Ms. Laws, breaking Ms. Laws..."

Friday, June 20, 2008

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bicycle Funeral

I had a dream last night. My mom took me to a bicyclist's funeral Mass. It wasn't anyone I knew personally, but that didn't matter. Several men in suits wheeled a riderless bike covered with white flowers down the aisle of the church to the altar. The priest gave some sort of blessing over the bicycle and said a few words about the cyclist. Then the men solemnly wheeled the bike back up the aisle and out of the church. I cried through the whole thing.

Afterward, we went back to, um, somewhere -- it wasn't my house, and it wasn't my parents' house. Then Jennifer came over to mourn with me (though we have never met face-to-face). I recounted the Mass I had attended in vivid detail and began sobbing again. By the end of my description, Jennifer was crying with me.

Then Gracie jumped on the bed and barked in my ear, so I woke up.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Oh, Crap! I&M Canal Trail Damage

A visitor to Dave's Bicycling Pages recently asked me for tire advice for Illinois' two historic canal trails, the Hennepin and the Illinois & Michigan. He rode those trails on May 28-29. Although he enjoyed the Hennepin, the I&M was a bit too damp. Worst of all, he encountered this just east of Utica:


With all the flood damage in the region and Illinois short of money, who knows when IDNR will get this repaired? According to their Web site, the Tunnel Hill State Trail still isn't completely open, and that damage dates back to mid-March 2008.

Bastard of the Day

This goes to Mayor Daley's 33 sycophants on the Chicago City Council who voted today to desecrate Grant Park with the new Chicago Children's Museum. Score another victory for clout and another defeat for the citizens of Chicago. As the Chicago Tribune made abundantly clear, there are plenty of other locations in the city that would benefit more from a museum development than the already overcrowded downtown area and particularly Grant Park.

On the other hand, thank you very much to Gene Schulter, my alderman, for opposing the museum location. He recently e-mailed constituents asking for opinions about this controversial topic (he must have read my response!). I wonder how many of the 33 "yes" voters bothered to do the same.

UPDATE 06/12/2008 - Here's what a Trib editorial said about a perpetual bastard:
Ald. Bernard Stone (50th) said it would be wrong to survey Chicagoans about this hugely unpopular move. Why not take a poll? Because, Stone suggested, citizens oppose this taking of Grant Park only because they've been "brainwashed by the media."
If he believes it's okay to override the local alderman's wishes, then why didn't he put the North Shore Channel bicycle bridge up for a vote before the City Council? I don't live in Rogers Park, but I may have to volunteer for whoever runs against that bastard next time. He just pisses me off too often.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Jerry Springer's Favorite Cyclist

Just about any well-informed "all-time top ten" list of cyclists would have to include Jacques Anquetil. He was the first to win the Tour de France five times, and he was one of only four men to win every three-week Grand Tour (France, Italy, Spain) at least once. He even led the 1961 Tour de France and the 1963 Vuelta a Espana from the first stage to the finish.

Anquetil was controversially frank about doping:
"If you want to accuse me of having doped, it's not difficult. All you have to to do is look at my thighs and buttocks – they're veritable pin cushions. You have to be an imbecile or a hypocrite to imagine that a professional cyclist who races 235 days a year in all weather can keep going without stimulants," Anquetil said bluntly.
But the Frenchman's love life is what would interest Jerry Springer. He met his doctor's wife, Jeanine, they had an affair, and she left the doctor to marry Anquetil in 1958. Things became much more interesting after Anquetil's retirement in 1969:

His greatest desire was to father a child. He had two stepchildren, Jeanine's son and daughter from her first marriage, and she could have no more... A surrogate mother was needed, and one was found: his 18 year-old stepdaughter, Annie. The result was daughter Sophie. Anquetil stayed together with his wife, stepdaughter and daughter in one household for some 12 years. There was, as might be expected, much friction in the house, and matters weren't improved in 1977, when his stepson Alain brought his new wife Dominique home. By 1983, things came to a head. Annie moved out, to be followed by Jeanine, when Anquetil and Dominique became lovers. They eventually had a son, Christopher, in April 1986.
Alas, Anquetil died in 1987, four years before Springer made such twisted liaisons seem commonplace.

To learn more about Anquetil's achievements on the road and in the velodrome, plus his colorful personal life, check out Sex, Lies And Handlebar Tape by Paul Howard, due to be released in the United States on November 1, 2008.

Bastard of the Day

Today's prize goes to the bushy-white-haired bastard down the block. I was walking Rosco alone (my wife took Gracie to the horse stables to play with another insane puppy), and he squatted to do his thing. As I whipped out a grocery bag and started dutifully scooping it up, the old man came up to me and asked, "Did you get it all?"

Dog walkers recognize this as code for I don't trust you to pick up after your dog. As a responsible dog owner who has lived here for ten years, I don't deserve that. Bite me, you dumb, old bastard. Congratulations, you've just made yourself a new enemy for what remains of your rotten life. Next time, maybe I'll be the one squatting in your yard. Or on your porch.

Here's the kicker. This bastard's house is the eyesore of the block. The stucco is deteriorating by the minute. There is exposed wood on the front where the stucco is gone completely. The west wall has been covered in Tyvek sheeting for at least five years. And he's worried about a stray chunk of dog crap on his precious lawn? Fix up your damned house and then f*** yourself.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Congratulations to a Great Champion

Alberto Contador's overall victory in the Giro d'Italia, sealed with a good performance in today's final time trial, harks back to the cycling champions of the past.

In the modern peloton, particularly since Lance Armstrong began his seven-year Tour de France winning streak in 1999, cyclists follow complex training schedules designed to peak for certain races. In fact, Armstrong's training was so carefully tailored that he didn't just peak for the Tour de France; his peak coincided specifically with the toughest few days of that three-week tour. On top of that, Armstrong and several teammates rode the hardest mountain stages months in advance so they would know exactly what to expect. Many fans criticized Armstrong for this focused approach, saying that his specialized preparation made him a one-trick pony, especially since he tended to take August and September off while others continued racing. In fact, once he started winning the Tour, Armstrong never rode the Giro or the Vuelta a Espana, the sport's other grand tours.

In contrast, Contador's Astana team wasn't even invited to the Giro d'Italia until a week before the race began.* The grateful team sent its three best stage racers, but none had planned or trained for the race. Contador and American Levi Leipheimer were on vacation when they learned they would be racing three hard weeks in Italy. Andreas Klöden was designated as the team leader on the strength of his victory in the week-long Tour de Romandie, which ended on the same day Astana was invited to the Giro. While his form was good, he was no more prepared for the Giro than the rest of his team.

In the end, Leipheimer finished 18th, about as well as one might expect under his circumstances, and Klöden dropped out after getting sick during the race. But Contador had shockingly good form and became the team's sole leader. Although he didn't brutally crush his opponents like Armstrong did in the Tour de France, he defeated men who trained for the Giro, talented riders (particularly Italians) for whom this was the race of the year. To do it without specific training to peak for the race is an awesome achievement. As far as I'm concerned, this proves without a doubt that Contador is not only the best stage racer in the world, but head and shoulders above the rest. Oh, and I forgot to mention that he fractured his elbow in a crash before the Giro's halfway point and still outclassed the rest of the field. What a champion!


* Despite being the team of Tour de France winner Contador and third-place Leipheimer, Astana was excluded from the Giro and the Tour as part of a political struggle between race organizers and pro cycling's governing body. The Giro organizer decided to drop another team, which opened up a slot for Astana, but Contador most likely won't get to defend his title in France this July.

An Abt Description

After hearing about the place for many years, I went to Abt Electronics in Glenview for the first time on Thursday. Although I could have ordered the same stuff online, it was worth driving out there once to experience the place. I'm not really a technology freak -- yet another reason I didn't fit into the IT world -- but damn! Abt makes Best Buy look like a 7-11. Beyond the rows upon rows of TVs and appliances, there is a spacious indoor courtyard with a fountain. The courtyard is surrounded by specialty "shops" (actually, just different rooms in one big store) for featured brands like Bang & Olufsen. Somehow I missed the 7,500-gallon aquarium -- so big that a diver in a wetsuit cleans it! I wish I could say more, but I was so overwhelmed that I went directly to the things I wanted to buy instead of exploring the place.

I'm always curious to see how "mom & pop" retailers manage to compete with the ubiquitous chains in the 21st century. The store was founded in Chicago in 1936, but it moved to Glenview where space was cheaper. Today, Abt has a 350,000 square-foot showroom, covers 37 acres, and features a fleet of 200 trucks and vans providing delivery, installation, and repair service. Still family-owned, the company employs 1,100 people whose hometowns appear on their black uniform vests below their names.

Service was very efficient. A salesperson punched my order into the computer, a cashier processed my credit card, and my stuff was waiting for me when I walked directly to the pick-up area. I was a little disappointed with the salespeople, however. When I said, "I think I want this one," while pointing to an item, I expected the salesman to talk a bit about what made that one better or worse than similar models. I thought I'd get more expertise at Abt than at Best Buy, but I just got an order-taker. I don't know -- maybe I sounded too sure of myself (after all, I had researched this purchase ahead of time) so the salesman didn't think I wanted his input.

Overall, Abt is a place that every electronics geek should visit at least once. Their selection is huge, their prices are competitive, and the building is a temple of technology. On the other hand, a customer doing his/her own research would be just as well served by using their Web site since delivery and shipping are free in Chicagoland.

UPDATE 06/03/2008 - Someone called from Abt this morning at 8:20 to let me know my appliance will be delivered "sometime between ten and four." Sheesh, that's a six-hour range! Why bother calling me at all? The salesman could have said, "Just plan to be home all day Tuesday for whenever our truck shows up." Heck, even the freaking utilities can usually narrow it down to a three-hour window. Is six hours really the best Abt can do?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Picking a Name

In the midst of our young dog's trials, we reconsidered the name she got at the shelter, Gracie. I lobbied vigorously for Underfoot, but my wife hated it. She came up with Wendy, but that was mainly because she was craving lunch at the time. I tossed out a bunch of ideas, and the only serious contender was Rosie. My wife didn't like it because it made her think of AC/DC's "Whole Lotta Rosie." I, on the other hand, thought of Bruce Springsteen's classic concert closer "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" and, to a lesser extent, "Oh Rosie" by Robert Earl Keen, Jr.

Alas, my wife could not shake "Whole Lotta Rosie" from her mind, and she insisted that our innocent little dog "is not that kind of girl." We decided to stick with Gracie, a name already well known among Chicago's veterinary community.

Viagra: the New Cycling Performance Drug?

A cyclingnews.com report titled "Riders using Viagra for altitude?" examines medical research about the little blue pill's effect on cycling performance in the mountains.

This reminds me of the controversy surrounding hypoxic tents, which simulate the low-oxygen environment of high altitude. This encourages the body to create more red blood cells, improving aerobic capacity and endurance. Two years ago, the World Anti-Doping Agency considered banning such tents because they achieve results similar to blood doping.

Now there is another way to improve cycling performance by pitching a tent.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Lyrics of the Day

Jennifer's comment about the "very bad idea" of arguing with police made me think of this verse from "Guitar Man Upstairs" by Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers:

When I was sixteen I had a little trouble with the law
He said "Boy come here" I said "Boy yourself
I ain't done nothing wrong"
He grabbed me by the arm and he went upside my head
Nobody saw nothing
But I got a little spot where my hair ain't grown back yet
That's from Southern Rock Opera. If you don't own it yet, you should.

Close Call for Gracie

Wednesday, I awoke to the phone ringing. My wife had been walking Gracie along Lawrence Avenue when the little girl darted out into the street and took a few licks from a green puddle of antifreeze.

Ethylene glycol, the primary ingredient in antifreeze, is horribly toxic to dogs (actually to all animals including humans). At first, the animal may appear to be drunk, but this passes after several hours. The next stage gets ugly. When the liver processes ethylene glycol, it creates substances that permanently damage the kidneys. Untreated, an animal will die within days. It only takes two ounces of ethylene glycol to kill a medium-sized dog. At 36 pounds, Gracie might be on the light side of medium.

Fortunately, Gracie ingested the antifreeze only a block away from a veterinary clinic called Animal House of Chicago. My wife walked her there and called me. First they made Gracie vomit, and then they made her swallow activated charcoal. The bill was only $135, but her treatment was just beginning.

Intravenous hydration was the next step. Since Animal House was closing at 2 PM, we had to transport Gracie to Chicago Emergency Veterinary Services on Clybourn Avenue, which is open overnight. The last time I was there was "the beginning of the end" for Teddy, so it brought back a lot of painful memories. Sometimes I still wonder whether it would have been more humane to let him go that awful night instead of trying in vain to prolong his life (he died a month later after great expense and I hope not too much suffering).

Gracie's prognosis was relatively good since she didn't drink much antifreeze and received treatment immediately. The vet ran tests to get a baseline on her kidneys, and then they began the IV. They retested her at 4 AM Thursday, and her kidneys were still fine. The emergency vet closed at 8 AM, so we had to pick her up first thing in the morning. In addition to the bill (another $609), they gave us a bag of IV fluid to take back to Animal House so they could hydrate her for the rest of the day. Gracie was surprisingly lively considering what she had been through.

The 15-minute car ride from the emergency vet to Animal House was like a scene from a horror movie. Gracie was in the car for less than a minute when she started gnawing at the dressing on her leg. By the time I said, "I'd better sit in back with her," she had torn out her catheter. Luckily for us, the furniture pad I use to keep the car clean when transporting my bike was still in place. As blood flowed from her leg, I struggled to hold her head to keep her from doing more damage. By the time we arrived at Animal House, there was blood on her front legs and chest, and the furniture pad was saturated.

We were the first ones in the door when Animal House opened. Gracie made quite an entrance, leaving bloody paw prints all over the lobby. They took her in back and inserted a new catheter. Then they put an "idiot collar" on so she couldn't bite her leg again. We left her there for more IV treatment and went home. Since I had to take the car in for service, we removed the blood-soaked furniture pad. Imagine what a mechanic would have thought if he'd seen that!

We called to check on Gracie late Thursday afternoon. They said she was doing well, but they wanted to give her another IV. Fortunately, they had a vet there overnight so we didn't have to transport her back to the emergency vet. We picked her up at 2 PM today and paid another $250. At that point, poor Gracie had spent more time at the vet than in our house since we adopted her. So far there are no signs of kidney damage, but they gave us some pills and asked us to come back Saturday for one more blood test (another $120).

Incredibly, she seems none the worse for wear; she was quite spirited on the half-mile walk home. Rosco greeted her with a wagging tail, but a few minutes later he growled at her to back off. It will take a while for those two to work things out, but right now we're just glad Gracie is still alive.

While I could fault my wife for not keeping a tight rein on Gracie (she'll definitely be more vigilant in the future), at least she did the right thing by getting the dog to a vet ASAP. I'm glad we could afford to spend that $1,120 -- there goes our economic stimulus check -- but I hope Gracie will be less expensive in the future!

The Value of Visibility

Jennifer wonders what else she can do to make herself more visible to motorists. From the photos I've seen, I think she has done an excellent job of making herself and her bicycles garishly impossible to ignore. She doesn't need most of the following advice, but many others do...

What should a cyclist do to increase visibility? Following the law is a good start:

Every bicycle when in use at nighttime shall be equipped with a lamp on the front which shall emit a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front and with a red reflector on the rear of a type approved by the Department which shall be visible from all distances from 100 feet to 600 feet to the rear when directly in front of lawful lower beams of headlamps on a motor vehicle. A lamp emitting a red light visible from a distance of 500 feet to the rear may be used in addition to the red reflector.
That's Illinois law (Chicago's is similar). Blinking taillights are fairly common in Chicago, but I am amazed how few cyclists use headlights (note above that taillights are optional while headlights are mandatory). My wife is a police officer. When she tells cyclists to get headlights, they actually argue with her. That's pretty nervy considering that she could give them tickets instead of verbal warnings for such equipment violations.

Additional reflectors on pedals and wheels help to draw attention (although the law requires new bikes to be sold with them, it doesn't say bicycles must have them to be operated at night). Light colored clothing, including a white helmet, is good, and reflective clothing is better. You can put reflective stickers all over your bike.

At some point, however, the extra expense isn't worth it. Jennifer's post reminds me of something written by experienced bicycle tourist Peter Saint James on the Touring e-mail list:

When I lived in Colorado, I found an amazingly high number of Front Range motorists doing things like turning in front of me or cutting me off. On occasion I would catch one and confront them with their illegal, dangerous, and impolite act. The answer I always got was, "I didn't see you." I thought about doing things to become more visible until I heard about a woman who crashed into a full-sized, bright yellow, school bus and gave the same excuse. I gave up.
That is not to say that making yourself highly visible is a waste of time and money. But visibility only goes so far, so don't obsess about it. I know of a Chicago cyclist notorious for using multiple headlights and taillights -- proverbially "lit up like a Christmas tree" -- who was critically injured when a car hit him one night.

The most important ways to avoid nighttime accidents are the same as to avoid daytime accidents:
  • Ride defensively.
  • Follow the laws.
  • Watch other traffic closely.
  • Always assume no one can see you, no matter how much reflective gear you have.

Dress yourself and your bike to be seen, but don't forget that how you ride is more important than how you look.

Dear Self in 2005:

It looks like Jennifer started a meme, which makes her way cooler in Bloggerland than she probably thought she was.

Dear Self in 2005:

Don't stop exercising and start pigging out to mourn Teddy.

Lard-assedly,
Your Self in 2008

P.S. Watch that travel budget; you'll never sell enough books to cover it.

Her letter is thankful while mine is loaded with regret, but I'll leave the analysis to someone else.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Go David!!!

In the Chicago Tribune's "Ask Amy" advice column today, there is a letter from "David in Northern Illinois:"

I'm a 19-year-old male college student. I'm planning a bicycle trip from Illinois to Oregon with a male friend this summer. My parents are worried about my safety, and they are considering not letting me go.
I rode across the country alone at age 31. Some people told my wife that she should forbid me from going (even strangers I met along the way asked me why my wife let me go). As I told her, "If you were the kind of wife who would try to stop me, I wouldn't have married you!" My only concession to the worriers in my life was to carry a cell phone, which at least was handy for making motel reservations.

Bicycle touring only scares people who haven't done it. People are so paranoid about the dangers of the world. Someone who has done ample planning and is in reasonable physical condition should be fine. Sure, bad things can happen on a bike trip (David, don't let your parents see this book), but bad things can happen anywhere, anytime. I am sure a lot of great things will happen on David's trip, and those memories will stay with him forever.

Amy gave David the right advice, basically saying, "You're 19 years old and your parents need to 'let go' and let you go." Have a great trip, David!

Our New Dog

We got her at the Anti-Cruelty Society on Monday. They named her Gracie, but we might change it. She's only eleven months old. I wanted a dog that was a few years older and a little less crazy, but she and Rosco got along well at their "meet & greet." Now that she is home, Rosco isn't quite so friendly. She won't leave him alone -- she's the obnoxious younger sibling that Rosco was when we got him nine years ago. I hope this wasn't a mistake.

Note: I've been trying to post this since Tuesday, but Blogger wouldn't upload my photos. I finally had to do it the old fashioned way -- I uploaded the photos to my Web site and coded the HTML for them.

Biking Illinois at CBF Events

Speaking of sponsorships, I am donating books again for numerous Chicagoland Bicycle Federation events. Signed copies of Biking Illinois will be among the raffle prizes at Bike the Drive and the Bicycle Commuter Challenge in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

DJWriter, Inc. Sponsors MC200 Runners

DJWriter, Inc. is proud to announce its sponsorship of the ChiADeads running team in the 2008 Madison-Chicago 200 Relay on June 6-7. Ever since I became a business owner 12 years ago, I have wanted to sponsor an athletic team or event. This is a prime opportunity since I've been involved with the ChiADeads group since its inception. I can't wait to see the team t-shirts with DJWriter, Inc. plastered across the back!

The 203-mile race is divided into 36 relay legs. Starting at 8 AM on June 6 in Madison, Wisconsin, each of the team's ten racers will run three or four legs ranging from 3.0 to 8.6 miles. They expect to finish around 4 PM on June 7 at Montrose Harbor on Chicago's lakefront.

The Chicago Area Dead Runners Society started in 1999 as a sublist of the Dead Runners Society, an international online running club founded in 1991. Although I stopped running years ago due to recurring knee problems, I still participate in the group (in 2000 I started a bicycling sublist called ChiACycle). I miss running very much and wish I could be racing in this event. Sponsoring the team is the next best thing.

Other sponsors of the ChiADeads team include Runners Grove, New Leaf Technologies, and R.J. Foster & Associates.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Bastard of the Day

One of my wife's f***ing cats crawled into the corner behind my desk and turned off my computer's power strip tonight. We're talking about getting another dog. I hope it eats those little bastards.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

And People Think City Cyclists Are Crazy?

No, this is crazy: today I saw a guy roller-blading down Lincoln Avenue while pushing a double-wide baby stroller. Sheesh, somebody ought to call DCFS or something.

Another observation: I was eating a leisurely lunch at Costello Sandwich & Sides while reading a great book (so far, at least), Ogallala Blue by William Ashworth. The Cubs game was on the overhead TV in the corner. Occasionally, I looked up from my book to see the Cubs beating the tar out of the San Diego Padres. Having been emotionally scarred as a child by the 1984 National League Championship Series, I still love to see the Cubs whip them, even though that slimy bastard Steve Garvey is long gone. But I digress.*

Anyway, over the two hours that I was there (I told you it was leisurely!), I saw at least half a dozen women wearing Cubs jerseys or t-shirts come in to buy sandwiches. Strangely, every one of them sat at a table outside instead of sitting inside where they could watch the game. Granted, it was a beautiful day, but still. I couldn't imagine my mom -- a real Cubs fan** -- choosing a little sidewalk sunshine over a good Padre pummeling.


* I'll make this a footnote to avoid digressing even more. In 8th grade, I had a history teacher who would use that phrase several times an hour. The word digress will forever remind me of him, as will any mention of the Civil War -- he was a reenactor, and he'd often wear his uniform to class.

** My definition of a real Cubs fan: someone who goes to Wrigley Field to watch the game, not to get drunk on ridiculously overpriced beer.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Lyrics of the Day

Here's a special Mother's Day edition of LotD featuring "Mama Tried" by the legendary Merle Haggard:

And I turned twenty-one in prison doing life without parole
No one could steer me right, but Mama tried, Mama tried
Mama tried to raise me better, but her pleading I denied,
That leaves only me to blame, 'cause Mama tried

70 Years, 70 Miles... And $70,000!

The local cycling scene has been full of bad news, anger, and sadness lately, so here's something good from the Southeast...

I got an e-mail earlier this week from Katherine Jeter of Spartanburg, SC. She had read about my Grand Illinois Trail tour, and she was wondering if I could give her some bike-friendly directions for an upcoming visit to Illinois (thanks, Chris). I don't think she'll mind if I quote her:

Loved reading about your 2000 trip. I am a 69-year-old grandmother, training for a 70 mile bike ride on my 70th birthday, on October 25th, to raise $70,000 for my two favorite charities. We've already surpassed $31,000!
This woman has more ambition at 69 than I had at 19! In another e-mail, she forwarded a newspaper article about her efforts. She is raising money for the Yellow Ribbon Fund, which assists soldiers and their families while the soldiers are receiving medical treatment, and Jack's Place, which provides housing for patients at Shaw Cancer Center in Colorado.

One thing that Jeter liked about my GIT tour was that I did it on a hybrid bike. She said that "bike snobs" give her a hard time, but she loves her Trek hybrid. Although she was probably disappointed to learn that I now ride a touring bike most of the time, I told her I know a Trek hybrid rider who will enjoy hearing her story.

If you want to help Jeter reach her fundraising goal by supporting these worthy causes, scroll down to the bottom of the article and look under "More Information."

Friday, May 09, 2008

Bastard of the Day

Perennial bastard Alderman Bernard Stone is at it again. This time he wants to put a senior center in Warren Park.* This sums it up nicely:

"Parkland is not a land bank for other government agencies," said Erma Tranter of the Friends of the Park organization.
It's Rogers Park, for goodness' sake. There are plenty of vacant lots and dilapidated properties that would be ideal for a senior center rather than stealing parkland from the general populace.

This might be the best comment on a Tribune story I've ever read:
For years we've screwed ourselves "for the sake of the children." Now that the boomers are getting up in years it's time to screw ourselves "for the sake of the seniors."
Speaking of seniors, I wish that crusty, old bastard Stone would just retire already.


* Although the article doesn't mention Stone until the last few paragraphs, anybody who knows Chicago politics knows that an alderman is always responsible for what is or is not built in his ward. Recall how Stone ridiculously used another senior project to deny a pedestrian/bicyclist bridge. If the Chicago Children's Museum desecrates Grant Park, it will be a rare example of an alderman not getting his way -- bowing to the ultimate clout, Mayor Daley.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Lyrics of the Day

A special treat for those who saw the Drive-By Truckers at Metro on Saturday was "The Tough Sell," a song from their second album, Gangstabilly, that has been played only one other time this year (and only seven times since 2004). The protagonist describes making a purchase from stereotypical used-car salesman EZ DAN:
I shifted my weight from one foot to the other;
It certainly wasn't the car of my dreams, but the price was right.
And EZ DAN assured me that the mid 70's were a particularly nice period for Chrysler products in general,
"and this one is a Volare."
EZ DAN doesn't fare well in the next verse, but let's say he probably deserved what he got. My first car was a 1977 Plymouth Volare, and I assert that the mid 70s were not "a particularly nice period for Chrysler products," except perhaps for desert dwellers. That car never ran worth a damn in the rain, no matter what I fixed or replaced. At least I was fortunate to have the V-8 (318 c.i.) instead of the standard straight six.

I had some good times with that car, no matter how many times it broke my heart.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Lyrics of the Day

In "Women Without Whiskey", Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers ponders love and liquor:
If morning's a bitch with open arms, then night's a girl who's gone too far.
Whiskey is harder to keep than a woman and it's half as sweet,
but women without whiskey?
Women without whiskey?
Whiskey is hard to beat.
Whiskey is hard to beat.
Much to the dismay of 12-steppers everywhere, the booze wins.

Friday, May 02, 2008

I'm Stumped

There has to be a good homophone-related joke here, but I can't think of one right now:
HONOLULU - May Day was Lei Day in Hawaii. Volunteers hoping to set a record for the world's longest lei strung together flowers that stretched for more than a mile at Kapiolani Park in Waikiki on Thursday, organizers said.
On a related note, I must confess that, despite being a stickler for grammar, I tend to misuse lie and lay just to amuse myself. Here is the depressing part of the story:
Success seems all but certain, because organizers say there currently isn't a Guinness record for the world's longest lei.
Damn! That means that until now, I could have made a much shorter lei -- because I'm always stringing up flowers in my spare time at DJWriter HQ anyway -- and claimed the record. Another blown opportunity to get into the Guinness book!

The Government Is Experimenting On Me

I've been gassed:
Calling it the most effective tool to date in the War on Terror, the Pentagon announced Monday that it had developed a new chemical weapon called "ennui gas," a nerve agent that overwhelms its victims with sudden philosophical distress over the meaningless tedium of human life and a sinking sense that everything they have ever accomplished ultimately amounts to dust... Symptoms include uncontrollable sighing, repeated utterances of the phrase "What's the use?" a confusion and bitterness regarding one's place in the universe, and an increased proclivity to listen to Lou Reed records.
At least now I have an excuse. And I do have a lot of Lou Reed* records.


* Speaking of Lou, no one told me he got hitched again last month.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Bastard of the Day

My life has rarely been enriched by the Chicago Tribune Web site's message boards, but combative commenters have reached a new low arguing about the death of bicyclist and teacher Amanda "Mandy" Annis.

Cyclists and motorists have been duking it out on the Trib's message boards frequently this spring. Every article about bicycling draws hostile responses where each side condemns the behavior of the other. Discussions get especially heated regarding articles about cyclist deaths. Most commenters don't even pay attention to the facts behind each story -- they just trot out a tired litany of reasons the other side must be to blame.

I've grown used to the hatred and ill-formed arguments by now, but the comments about Annis really struck a nerve. For most of the day, the Tribune had a brief article about the incident. Anti-motorist and anti-cyclist commenters faced off in page after page of often mean-spirited messages. Then this afternoon, the Tribune replaced the brief with an in-depth article about Annis -- her kindness, her achievements, and perhaps most heartbreaking, her pending engagement. The Tribune included a photo of the smiling young teacher in her classroom. This was a woman who had already done good things in her 24 years and had an even brighter future.

After the updated story was published, a wave of comments from friends and family remembering Annis appeared on the message boards. Alas, they were interspersed with those of the warring factions who were unable to give up their pointless dispute, people who'd been quarreling all day and probably didn't even know the Tribune had posted a new version of the story. I wish those grieving for her didn't have to plow through such malicious nonsense.

And yet, it got worse. As family and friends wrote of this young life taken too soon, some bastards had the audacity to say, in essence, "Save your remembrances for the obituary. This is a news story, and you can't stop us from fighting about it."

For a sense of the intensity of the debate, look at how many comments were posted and the ID number of the last comment. As of 11:30 PM, there were 255 comments, and the last ID number was 319. That means 64 comments -- 20 percent -- were removed by Tribune editors for crossing the line of decency.

Annis' death is tragic by any measure. Shame on the bickering bastards who can't set aside their conflict for a little compassion.


UPDATE 05/02/2008 - In a Tribune commentary, Kevin Williams offers a suggestion:
...Wheel Freedom Day. No wheels. No skates, bikes, cars or cabs. Everybody's on foot until we all calm down. Because everybody is mad, and nobody is thinking.
Naturally, his commentary has drawn even more argumentative bastards into the fray. Meanwhile, Annis' smiling, young face graces the top of the Tribune's homepage this morning.

Quote of the Day

"Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose honest arrogance and have seen no occasion to change."
--Frank Lloyd Wright

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bastard of the Day

Reverend Jeremiah Wright is overdue for this award. He can say whatever he wants, but I wish he'd shut the hell up until mid-November. Whatever his objectives, I can't see how sabotaging Barack Obama's campaign will help achieve them.

Obama is really getting screwed regarding religion. Early in his campaign, he got labeled as a Muslim. That didn't stick well enough, so now he's being tightly coupled to Reverend Wright and his controversial statements. Muslim or Christian, Obama gets hammered regardless. He might have better luck as <gasp> an atheist.

Book Reviews: Twinkies and Meth

Twinkies and meth, the breakfast of champions!
  • Twinkie, Deconstructed by Steve Ettlinger -- This is a fascinating look at the modern world of food manufacturing. The author works his way through a Twinkie's ingredients list, visiting processing plants all over the U.S. -- sometimes under high security -- to see how each is created. I learned a lot from this book, and I was particularly surprised that some nasty petroleum products such as naphtha and benzene are involved in food production. Ettlinger explains how food scientists use chemicals to overcome the shortcomings and inconsistencies of traditional baking ingredients; a homemade Twinkie would have little in common with the Hostess variety. Most baked goods contain the same ingredients, so the book is not solely for Twinkie aficionados. To my relief, the author remains objective throughout rather than ranting about "fake" foods as is the fashion.

  • No Speed Limit: The Highs and Lows of Meth by Frank Owen -- I usually provide my family with a list of books I want for Christmas, but I decided I'd rather buy this myself than field questions about why I was so interested in crystal meth. Owen tells the history of meth, discusses its influence on certain subcultures, and considers whether it is truly the demonic drug that media hype makes it out to be (in a word, no -- despite the scare campaigns, it's not any more addictive or difficult to quit than other hard drugs). Most people don't know that amphetamine and methamphetamine were provided to soldiers on both sides during World War II, and many are too young to remember that they were commonly available in pill form in the U.S. fifty years ago (over 3.5 billion pills were manufactured in 1958, enough to give 20 doses to every American!). The author describes several methods of producing meth (he does not provide recipes) and how the market changed as these methods were perfected. He visits the infamous Uncle Fester, who figured out how to make meth as a Marquette chemistry student and wrote a book about it while in prison. Owen even "takes one for the team" by using the drug and describing its effects. No Speed Limit takes a restrained, unhysterical look at the "meth epidemic." It includes an extensive bibliography but unfortunately lacks an index.

  

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Economically Stimulated

This morning: Received economic stimulus rebate via direct deposit.

Tonight: Hookers and booze!

Monday, April 28, 2008

How I Wasted My Monday Morning -- PNW 2007 Updated

The most attentive readers of my Web sites (everything except this blog) may have presumed that I am fond of double spaces between words and extra spaces after quotation marks (like " this" ). Actually, those extra spaces bug the hell out of me, but for some reason, my HTML editor inserts them willy-nilly.

Last night I was going to send someone a link to my 2007 Pacific Northwest road trip. Then I clicked on a couple of the pages and noticed way too many of those stray spaces. I also saw that the page headers wrapped in an ugly way if the browser window wasn't wide enough. So this morning, I removed every double space from every single page. Then I did the same for unnecessary spaces following quotation marks. Along the way, I reread parts and made a few other corrections (why didn't anybody tell me Kahlua was misspelled?). Then I used a nifty little HTML trick to fix the headers (created a table sized by percentages with three cells justified left, center, and right with hidden borders). I don't know why I didn't do it that way in the first place.

Why am I writing about this? Mostly to justify the two hours I spent, I guess. Also, after poring over my Web site statistics this weekend, I want to draw more attention to this under-visited neighborhood of my little Web empire.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Bastard of the Day

As some of you may know, I share DJWriter World Headquarters with two little bastard felines. Since they don't get along with our dog on the first floor, they live down the hall from my swanky top-floor office. Despite my sympathy for cougars, I think the world would be a better place without household cats. I utterly despise them, and I'm embarrassed to admit that I live with them, lest someone think otherwise.

It's bad enough that these particular cats once belonged to my wife's sitzpinkler ex. Sometimes I think he O.D.'d and died just to curse me with their presence. Now they are getting older (not fast enough -- those damn things live forever), and the vet told my wife to feed them canned food to help keep them hydrated. Needless to say, it reeks to high heaven. The stink drifts right down the hall, casting a fetid pall over my office. Additionally, the cats regularly regurgitate those malodorous meals on my floor.

Sadly, I'm used to all of that, so that's not why they are today's bastards.

I came home from the grocery store -- where I even bought @#$%& canned cat food -- to find one of the cats comfortably snuggled in a pair of my cycling shorts! Oh, how cute! Yeah, and how convenient that the cat is football-sized because I wanted to punt that little bastard into the next county. Instead, I just yelled at her until she ran away. Tonight (just minutes ago, in fact), the little bastard did it again. This time I launched her decisively across my office and out the door. One might suggest that I put my cycling shorts elsewhere, but that would be surrender. I'll just keep smacking her until she takes the hint.

Only one cat has been in my shorts, but I'm giving this award to both so the other won't feel neglected. I loathe them with all my canine-lovin' heart.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

I Always Associated Him With Motorcycles

Here's some pro bicycling news from earlier this week:

Halfords signs Laws

Britain's leading women's team Halfords Bikehut has strengthened its squad with new signing Sharon Laws. The 33-year old, who has returned to the United Kingdom after working in South Africa and Australia, will ride her first major race for the Team at Flèche Wallonne on April 23.

Judas Priest fans are probably wondering if Halfords will break her.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Two Musicians

Two lines of lyrics come to mind today:

I woke up this mornin' and none of the news was good
--"Jerusalem" by Steve Earle

Seems everyone I know is gettin' cancer every year
--"Puttin' People On The Moon" by Drive-By Truckers
I got up at 7 AM and saw the second most viewed story on the Chicago Tribune's Web site: E Street Band member Danny Federici dies at 58. Federici wasn't the most famous member of the band, but he was one of the first to work with Springsteen -- they started playing together before I was born. I haven't kept up with the band since I saw them at U.S. Cellular Field in 2003, but I learned from the obituary that Federici had been fighting melanoma for three years.

While reading e-mail, I learned that another talented musician, guitarist Chris Gaffney, died yesterday of liver cancer at age 57. My familiarity with this relatively obscure Californian stems mainly from his playing with Dave Alvin, the former Blaster who is one of my favorite songwriters. I knew Gaffney was sick because I had read about the "Help Gaff" site soliciting donations for his costly treatment, but I had no idea the end was so near.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

My New Favorite Color: TEAL

By TEAL, I mean the Typo Eradication Advancement League:
This March through May, we, sworn members of TEAL, will be taking a road trip around the country to stamp out as many typos as we can find, in public signage and other venues where innocent eyes may be befouled by vile stains on the delicate fabric of our language. We do not blame, nor chastise, the authors of these typos. It is natural for mistakes to occur; everybody will slip now and again. But slowly the once-unassailable foundations of spelling are crumbling, and the time has come for the crisis to be addressed. We believe that only through working together with vigilance and a love of correctness can we achieve the beauty of a typo-free society.
A Quixotic journey and a love of language -- a great combination! Follow along on their blog.

Hat tip to Andrew Mueller by way of AlterNet.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bastard of the Day

Today's award goes to the trigger-happy Chicago cops who killed a cougar in the Roscoe Village neighborhood last night. I'll bet those bastards fancy themselves as big game hunters now. Of course, taking down a cornered cougar with ten freaking shots isn't exactly expert marksmanship. Sorry, I just don't buy the excuse that it was ready to attack. That sounds like a story concocted to deflect public outrage. Too bad the cougar wasn't in my wife's district -- she certainly wouldn't have shot it (she probably would have fed it cat treats and brought it home!).

People are saying that the police couldn't have been expected to have tranquilizers, but that excuse doesn't hold water, either. The cougar was first reported in the morning. By 6 PM, when the big cat was killed, numerous police/animal care and control workers/game wardens/zoo workers/whatever should have been roaming the neighborhood with tranquilizer guns ready.

Somebody needs to control the squirrel and stray cat populations in this city -- not to mention the proliferation of yuppie toddlers -- and that cougar was just the one to do it.

UPDATE -- Before someone waves this in my face, let me note that just because experts say the killing was "justified" does not mean it was the ideal course of action or outcome.

Monday, April 14, 2008

More BikingIllinois.com Updates

Adding to BikingIllinois.com is my excuse for not posting much to this blog lately. Here are the newest additions:
11 - Ride the White Elephant
12 - End of the I & M
19 - Des Plaines River Trail
33 - Bring YourQuiver to the River
Please let me know if you find bad links, missing pictures, etc.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Money by James R. Phelan and Lewis Chester

Howard Hughes fascinates me. Not the brash, young aviator portrayed by Leonardo DiCrappio, but the codeine-addicted, neurotic, obsessive-compulsive, germ-fearing recluse whose business empire was nearly in shambles by the time he died. Then he weighed a skeletal 93 pounds despite being six feet and four inches tall. For all we hear about the mentally ill suffering in poverty, Hughes demonstrates the other extreme -- a person so wealthy that he built a surreal world for himself where no one dared intervene. One can't help feeling a bit sorry for Hughes as all his secrets, so closely guarded during his lifetime, were revealed for all to see in the aftermath of his death.

The Money isn't a biography. Rather, it is a study of virtually every complication that can arise in estate court. Although he was widely known as the wealthiest man on Earth, Hughes never signed a will and had no obvious heirs such as wives or children. The book details the search for legitimate heirs as well as several pretenders, most famously Terry Moore, who claimed to have married Hughes in two questionable ceremonies. Several alleged wills laid claim to the money, but the book explains how each was determined to be fake. The legal battles were expensive; they would have bankrupted a lesser estate. For starters, three states claimed Hughes' residency. While Nevada authorities didn't put up a fight (there was no state inheritance tax there, so why bother?), California and Texas had much to gain or lose. Hughes' hideous physical condition at death also spawned numerous legal actions against his doctors and handlers.

Along with the endless court battles fought in several states, The Money tells how one of Hughes' heirs, lawyer Will Lummis, struggled to repair the billionaire's financial empire known as Summa Corporation. First he wrested control from the men who had been running it into the ground during Hughes' later years. Then he set about straightening out myriad problems, taking the company from the brink of insolvency to a secure position that at least guaranteed that the heirs would get something of value.

Perhaps the most ironic part of this tale is the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). During the man's life, this organization was little more than a tax shelter. All of Hughes' stock in the Hughes Aircraft Company (a huge defense contractor that was successful largely because the U.S. government forced Hughes to install good management and leave it alone) was transferred to the HHMI to avoid paying taxes. During his lifetime, the HHMI spent very little on medical research. After the Hughes estate was sorted out, however, the organization began disbursing millions for important medical research worldwide. So this cynical tax dodge evolved into the lasting legacy of the peculiar billionaire.

If I taught a class in estate law, I would make this book required reading because it examines so many issues. Yet for all the complications in this story, The Money is quite readable for the layperson; the narrative never devolves into arcane legalese. It isn't an ideal introductory book about Hughes, but the authors (who have written other books about him) provide enough background that prior knowledge isn't necessary. I would recommend this book to anyone fascinated with Hughes and his wealth or curious about the many facets of estate law.

Monday, March 31, 2008

BikingIllinois.com Updates!

Two years after Biking Illinois was published, I still haven't "finished" the BikingIllinois.com Web site. I originally intended to put up photos of every ride along with a write-up of my experiences planning and pedaling each one.

After a flurry of work over the past week, I can at least say that I'm halfway done. I also added ride numbers to the main page and the individual pages. I'm sure I had a reason for omitting them before, but I've forgotten what it was.

The latest narratives aren't up to my usual level of verbosity. Frankly, I did these rides nearly three years ago and don't remember much beyond what I wrote down at the time (which is already in the book, of course). The new rides include photos and some background about how I chose or named the routes, but don't expect details like those in the day rides and tours at DJRider.com.

Here are the most recent additions to BikingIllinois.com:

18 - Busse Woods
34 - Goodbye Norma Jean
39 - Havana
49 - Greenville
50 - Watch for Wild Turkeys
59 - Lucky Horseshoe
60 - Give Peace a Chance

I also added an unfortunate update for Ride 13: the Chester Gould-Dick Tracy Museum in Woodstock will be closing in June 2008 due to a lack of visitors.

There's more to come, of course, but I know better than to set any firm deadlines.

Bastard of the Day

Some spamming bastard has been spoofing my Biking Illinois e-mail address to send ads for knock-off watches and handbags. I know this because I have received more than 1,200 "delivery failure" messages from e-mail servers around the world in the past week. However much you dislike spam, you won't know true hatred until a spammer starts using your address. If I could get my hands on this bastard, I'd do things even Dick Cheney would consider cruel and unusual.

God only knows how many of this bastard's messages reached their intended recipients. So far, I haven't received any hostile responses -- with the possible exception of a message in Czech that I can't translate* -- but I surely didn't make any friends this past week. Thanks a lot, you bastard.


*If anyone fluent in Czech is reading this, please tell me what "Tato schránka je trvale mimo provoz" means.

Friday, March 28, 2008

No More "Happy Endings"

From today's Alderman Schulter Reports e-mail:
Alderman Schulter is pleased to announce that, after requesting an investigation on a local business operating without a proper business license, Cook County Sherriff Tom Dart arrested four individuals in connection to a prostitution ring operated out of Bamboo Massage at 4351 N. Western Avenue. This establishment has now been officially shut down.
If you think about it for a moment, this really shouldn't have been too difficult to figure out. What is bamboo? According to Wikipedia, it's "the fastest growing woody plant in the world." Essentially, this local business of ill repute was named "Woody Massage."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Challenge to W. Axl Rose

If the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing aren't enough inspiration, maybe this will help:

PLANO, Texas (March 26, 2008) – Tired of a world in which Americans idolize wannabe singers and musicals about high schoolers pass as rock ‘n roll music, Dr Pepper is encouraging (ok, begging) Axl Rose to finally release his 17-year-in-the-making belabored masterpiece, Chinese Democracy, in 2008. In an unprecedented show of solidarity with Axl, everyone in America, except estranged GNR guitarists Slash and Buckethead, will receive a free can of Dr Pepper if the album ships some time -- anytime! -- in 2008. Dr Pepper supports Axl, and fully understands that sometimes you have to make it through the jungle before you get it right.
This marketing campaign is brilliant. No unreleased album has suffered such a long and twisted history as Chinese Democracy. Axl has hired and fired countless sidemen, thrown several tantrums, and remixed the whole mess a dozen times. I remember following this saga online ten years ago when the disc was already "long awaited." Since then, Guns N' Roses has done multiple tours supporting this legendary non-release. I'm surely not the first writer to quip that Axl is waiting until there actually is democracy in China.

Would I buy Chinese Democracy? My interest in GnR has been waning for so long that I probably wouldn't bother anymore. Besides, disappointment is almost guaranteed after 17 years of hype and anticipation. Even Appetite for Destruction, a genuine classic, may have collapsed under the weight of so many mixing sessions and band roster changes.

If I had a can of Dr Pepper for every supposed Chinese Democracy release date I've heard, I'd... well, I guess I'd really have to pee. Will Dr Pepper's challenge finally get Axl to stop remixing and start pressing CDs? You can follow all the exciting inaction on the Chinese Democracy When? blog.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Bastard of the Day

I've been against the Iraq War since before it started, and I have always supported free speech, even when it nearly got me booted out of high school. But Catholic Schoolgirls Against the War, the group who squirted fake blood on parishioners at Holy Name Cathedral during Easter mass, win the Bastards of the Day award.

My ire stems from one paragraph deep within the Chicago Tribune's story:
Catholic Schoolgirls Against the War, however, may have been preaching to the choir—literally. Both Pope Benedict XVI and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have opposed the war since its inception, with the pope using his own Easter homily Sunday to renew calls for an Iraq resolution that would "safeguard peace and the common good." After the service, the cardinal reiterated the Catholic Church's opposition to the war, but he said mass is not the place to protest the U.S.-led invasion.
The Catholic Church does not support this war, so why disturb an Easter mass? That's like protesting at the French embassy. If the Schoolgirls (who aren't all female, btw) had any guts, they'd be squirting blood on Bush and Cheney, or at least squirting blood in those bastards' churches (aside from the issue of whether to politely respect religious gatherings in general). Or maybe they should have protested in the giant evangelical Christian churches -- those worshippers helped reelect Bush/Cheney, implicitly supporting the war. I have a hunch that most Chicago Catholics vote Democratic.

While Sunday's action succeeded as a publicity stunt, I can't imagine it helped the Schoolgirls' cause much. Naturally, they issued a statement that perfectly illustrated the ridiculousness of the protest:
The statement lauded protesters' efforts to remind the churchgoers that George and Daley met two months ago with the president, described as the "principal public figure responsible for initiating the carnage in Iraq."
So they protested at Holy Name because Cardinal George and Mayor Daley met with President Bush? Do they have any idea how many people meet with the president? Why don't they go squirt blood on the championship sports teams that get invited to the White House? Also, do they know what George or Daley might have said to Bush when they met? I sincerely doubt that Cardinal George gave Bush a big thumbs-up on Iraq. I can't imagine Bush cares how a cardinal and a mayor feel about the war, anyway.

For that matter, why didn't the Schoolgirls go squirt blood on Mayor Daley? I know why -- because he has police security, whereas Holy Name is an easy target. Sheesh, all they had to do was push past a 70-year-old usher with cancer! Wow, those Schoolgirl bastards sure are brave!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Thesaurus Fun

Ever try to find the right word in a thesaurus and come across something wildly inappropriate for the tone of the piece? I imagine that's what inspired this recent Onion article:
87 Killed In Violent Kerfuffle

ISLAMABAD—Eighty-seven people were killed and 114 wounded at an open-air market in Islamabad yesterday in one of the worst ruckuses to hit the Pakistani capital in years. Witnesses said that the bloody to-do occurred shortly before noontime prayers, and that dozens were instantly killed by the doozy of a shockwave. Many more were reportedly trampled to death in the rush to escape the foofaraw.
While visiting The Onion online, I also discovered that my favorite columnist, stoner Jim Anchower, has his own homepage!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Get a Life!

Literally:
SYDNEY, Australia - A painful breakup with his wife has prompted a man to put his entire life -- his house, his car, his job, even his friends -- up for sale online in an effort to start over. Ian Usher, a British immigrant to Australia, said Tuesday he would auction everything he owns and more on eBay starting June 22. "On the day it's all sold and settled, I intend to walk out of my front door with my wallet in one pocket and my passport in the other, nothing else at all," Usher says on his Web site. Up for bid is Usher's three bedroom house in the western city of Perth and everything inside it, his car, motorcycle, jet ski and parachuting gear. Usher says he is also selling a one-time introduction to his friends and a trial run at his job -- a plan endorsed by his friends and his employer.
If nothing else, Usher, 44, has set a new record for most extreme midlife crisis.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Bastard of the Day

Pro cyclists are tested regularly for illegal subtances. But sometimes a cyclist truly deserves privacy:
Belgian cyclist Kevin van Impe raised strong objections to being visited by anti-doping controllers while he was making arrangements for the funeral of his infant son this week. The Quick Step rider was at a crematorium in Lochristi, Belgium when a drug tester showed up demanding the rider provide a sample, and warned that he would face a two-year suspension if he refused.
Oh, sure. It's the old "burying my dead baby" excuse that cheating cyclists always use to evade testing! The drug tester was just following orders, so the BotD award goes to whichever heartless, inflexible governing body is responsible for this (the news brief isn't clear). Sheesh.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

My Six-Word Memoir

This meme, likely inspired by Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure, is making the rounds on cycling blogs. When I first read about the book a month ago, I had no idea what mine would be. Actually, Jennifer's memoir would work, but I can't just write, "Ditto ditto ditto ditto ditto ditto." Besides, if I wanted to copy someone, I'd probably go for my favorite entry from what I've seen of the book: "I like big butts, can't lie."

Sometimes the answer is that there is no answer. Hence
Brevity isn't my thing. Buzz off.
That's the clean version. I don't think I'll bother submitting it at www.sixwordmemoir.com.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Bastard of the Day

How many times is Alderman Bernard Stone going to win this award? He's the best reason not to live in Rogers Park... and that's saying something because I can think of an awful lot of reasons not to live in Rogers Park.

Some Chicago aldermen want home sellers to share the burden of the city's real estate transfer tax with buyers (don't sellers already pay a transfer tax to Cook County?). Stone, the same bastard who declared that he deserves a $20,000 raise ($98K/year isn't enough), and also the same bastard who refused to allow a bridge for a bike path just because nobody licked his boots in the process, says, "Prices have appreciated so greatly over the last few years I am really not going to cry too much for the sellers."

Look here, you bastard. Not everyone draws a six-figure salary for a part-time job like alderman. For most people, their homes are their primary, if not sole, retirement investment. Why should you be allowed to skim money from them? Most of those people need every penny they can get from selling their homes.

Worst of all, this is an "escape tax," a way to soak people one last time before they leave Chicago. When we sell our house, we won't benefit from any real estate transfer tax we pay because we'll be gone. How fair is that? At least buyers paying the real estate transfer tax will theoretically get something for their money.

Geez, I can't believe there aren't enough intelligent people in Rogers Park to bounce this bastard out of office.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Where Have All The Secretaries Gone?

I never thought I would feel sentimental for good ol' Secretaries Day!

It's bad enough that secretary was deemed too limiting a word and replaced with the obfuscatory yet tolerable administrative assistant. But while I wasn't paying attention, it changed again -- this time to administrative professional. Apparently, the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) is to blame:

IAAP defines administrative professionals as "individuals who are responsible for administrative tasks and coordination of information in support of an office related environment and who are dedicated to furthering their personal and professional growth in their chosen profession."
That's bull. You can't just make a term mean whatever you want it to mean. The critical "support" element is not inherent in the term administrative professional. By any normal definition (i.e., not the one promulgated by the IAAP), the term administrative professional is so vague that it would include administrators as well. Isn't a professional who administers something an administrative professional? Of course, National Secretaries Day was established to honor assistants, not bosses. By renaming it Administrative Professionals Day/Week®*, the IAAP just confuses everyone.

The more I read on the IAAP's site, the more I dislike the organization. For example, the IAAP belittles secretaries of the past with this self-serving description of how duties have "evolved," which supposedly justifies the renamed "holiday." I have a hard time believing that secretaries never fulfilled any of the duties in the "Now" column, just as I doubt that many of today's "administrative professionals" do everything described in that column. This "evolution" is just a function of downsizing anyway -- everyone in the workplace wears more hats than before.

The IAAP provides a FAQs page about Administrative Professionals Week. Oddly enough, the questions are not all answered, so I'll provide my own answers in italics:

  • Who qualifies as an administrative professional? Anyone we say; it's our definition.

  • Why was the event’s name changed from "Secretaries Week"? Because we changed the name of our organization in 1998.

  • Should my secretary feel slighted by the change? No, but he/she might not like our "evolution" press release, and not just if he/she is a creationist.

  • What is an appropriate gift of appreciation for busy assistants? We recommend giving them memberships in the IAAP.
Before the hate mail comes in, I want to make clear that I like secretaries or whatever you want to call them, and I have no problem with giving them recognition. My criticism is directed only toward the goofiness of the IAAP.


* I also have a problem with this being a registered trademark of the IAAP (scroll to bottom of this page). Any "holiday" that is trademarked doesn't belong in the greeting card aisle (notice that the store chose not to display the "®" in blatant violation of the IAAP's trademark claim, and if you look closely, apparently administrative professionals has not yet been translated into Spanish).