Thursday, January 31, 2008

Pro-Choice Water?

A few minutes ago, I got one of those loathesome automated political campaign calls. But this one was rather perplexing. A woman who described herself as a nurse (I think she gave her name, but I forgot it) wanted me to know that Mariyana Spyropoulos supports a woman's right to choose. Okay, I was already planning to vote for her anyway since she has picked up some meaningful endorsements.

But wait a minute... Spyropoulos is running for commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. So I have to ask... What does abortion have to do with wastewater treatment, and why should that affect my vote? Frankly, that phone call is giving me second thoughts -- why are Spyropoulos supporters so desperate that they are dragging a completely irrelevant hot-button issue into the campaign? It's too bad the call was a recording because I really wanted to ask that nurse what her point was.

UPDATE 02/04/2008 - Today we got another automated call reminding us of Spyropoulos' position on abortion! After a weekend of reflection since the first call, it still didn't seem even remotely relevant.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Bastard of the Day

One night in 2004, a driver traveling 100 mph in a 55-mph zone killed a 17-year-old cyclist in Spain. Now Tomas Delgado is suing the victim's family for the damage to his Audi A8. Actually, he wants 20,000 Euros for damage to the car plus 6,000 Euros to cover the rental costs while his car was being repaired. What do the two parties have to say?

Until the lawsuit, the boy’s parents said they had pitied Delgado, feeling sorry for the guilt they assumed he felt over the accident. But Delgado told El Pais [a Spanish newspaper]: "I'm also a victim in all of this, you can't fix the lad's problems, but you can fix mine."

What's the Spanish word for chutzpah? I suppose bastardo will have to do.

Duh! Trib's "Neighborhoods For Sale" Series

How cash, clout transform Chicago neighborhoods
DEVELOPERS: Many give to aldermanic campaigns in quest to build bigger, pricier projects.
ALDERMEN: They decide who can build what. Money, not planning, often drives process.
HOMEOWNERS: They are often left out of the decision-making and boxed in by towering structures.

Community input an illusion
ALDERMEN: They decide who can build what. Money, not planning, often drives the process.
ADVISORY GROUPS: Billed as neighborhood's voice, they are often stacked with developers.

This is the latest investigative series from the Chicago Tribune? Who assigned these stories, some out-of-towner who's never read Mike Royko? I thought everybody already knew how things get built in this city. The Chicago Reader's Ben "TIF" Joravsky has been writing about this sort of thing for years. The Tribune casts a wider net than Joravsky by creating a database to cross-reference zoning changes and campaign contributions, as well as including graphics that aren't in the Reader's budget, but it's really just the same old story that's been told since the golden days of boodle.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Didn't Think This Was Possible

Pizza Hut deep-dish crust has gotten greasier since the last time I ordered it. I thought it was already completely saturated, but I guess I was wrong. Maybe they reformulated the dough so that it could hold more. If I had one of those biofuel cars, I could wring out a slice into the gas tank and get 50 miles out of it.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Lyrics of the Day

I've had an odd song going through my head today, "Jesus Mentioned" by Warren Zevon. It's from The Envoy, an underrated album that finally became available on CD in the United States last year. I always thought of "Jesus Mentioned" as a throwaway song, so I was surprised that I even remembered the words:

I'm going down to Memphis
Memphis, Tennessee
I'm going down to Graceland
Thinking about the King
Remembering him sing
About those heavenly mansions
Jesus mentioned

Can't you just imagine
Digging up the King
Begging him to sing
About those heavenly mansions
Jesus mentioned
Then, with typical Zevon irreverence, he sings, "He went walking on the water... With his pills." Like I said, it isn't a great song -- Zevon's "Porcelain Monkey" is a far better song about Elvis -- but it's been stuck in my head. I wonder how many people today, people who didn't grow up with Elvis, even know about his gospel side. His roots were in gospel, and he returned to the genre throughout his career. In fact, all three of the Grammy awards he won in his lifetime were in the gospel category. I have linked to a selection of Elvis' gospel material below.

Oddly enough, nearly two decades after he wrote this song, Zevon said in an interview, "I've never been to Graceland. I wouldn't dream of going to Graceland."

Italian Air Travelers Must Laugh at Us

I recently completed a copywriting project that included a brochure about Florence, Italy. The brochure said that some visitors choose to fly into other Italian cities and mentioned a few airports: Leonardo Da Vinci International Airport in Rome, Guglielmo Marconi Airport in Bologna, and Galileo Galilei Airport in Pisa. I was awestruck by these heavy hitters -- Da Vinci, a true "Renaissance man" of art and science; Marconi, the inventor of radio; and Galileo, one of the ten most famous scientists of all time. Just for kicks, I searched online for more Italian airports and found Venice (Marco Polo) and Genoa (Cristoforo Columbo).

Then I thought of the United States. Atlanta's airport, now the world's busiest, is named for two former Atlanta mayors (William B. Hartsfield and Maynard Jackson). Chicago's airport is named for a minor World War II hero (Butch O'Hare), while Boston's airport is named for a relatively obscure general (Edward Logan). Houston's airport is named for a forgettable president (George H.W. Bush), and Washington's airport is named for an overrated twit of a president (Ronald Reagan).

Italy's airports are named for enduring giants of history. Ours are named for politicians. I doubt that any of America's airport namesakes will be heralded in history books several hundred years from now (no matter how much other crap the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project gets named after the B-movie actor).

Note: One could argue for Wright Brothers Airport, but that's in Dayton, Ohio, hardly a major destination. Plus it's not even the biggest airport in Dayton (which is named for a former Ohio Governor).

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bathroom Reading

I don't read in the bathroom much, but certain books are ideal. Unlike novels, the following books can all be read a few pages at a time without losing their continuity.
  • Rock & Roll's Most Wanted by Stuart Shea - "Most Wanted" is a series of books that presents material in the format of "top ten" lists. The lists in this book are pretty good, and Shea provides ample background about each item. Sample lists include "new Bob Dylans," suicides, famous haircuts, bands with unusual instruments, and songs with controversial lyrics. Generally, the content is skewed toward "classic rock" and "top 40" from the 1960s and 1970s, but some more recent entries sneak in. Although several selections are rather arbitrary, I enjoyed reading this book and wished it was longer.
  • Rock and Pop Elevens by Simon Trewin, Tom Bromley and Michael Moran - Taking their cue from Spinal Tap, the authors go with lists of elevens instead of tens. This book is decidedly British, and as such is skewed toward UK music with much more 1980s and 1990s content than Rock & Roll's Most Wanted. I think I have fairly broad tastes and knowledge about music, but sometimes I only recognized one or two names on a list. Also, the book's tone was more smart-alecky and snarky rather than informational. It was a chore to finish. If I had read more of it in the store, I probably wouldn't have bought it. Note: My copy has a much better cover -- an artistic rendering of Elvis' sequined jumpsuit from behind -- than the one pictured below.
  • From Altoids to Zima: The Surprising Stories Behind 125 Famous Brand Names by Evan Morris - It's pretty much what the subtitle says. The brands are sorted into five chapters such as "Cars" and "Food and Drink." Some stories will be familiar to most American consumers, but many were new to me. This book is fun and easy to read, and you can make conversation at dinner parties with the trivia you learn.

  • Why Do Men Have Nipples? by Mark Leyner and Billy Goldberg, M.D. - This book would have been pretty good had it stuck to its mission. The questions and answers are entertaining and educational. Unfortunately, the authors go astray in a misguided effort to amuse. To tie in with the book's subtitle, "Hundreds of Questions You'd Only Ask a Doctor After Your Third Martini," a serial excerpt from a cocktail party opens each chapter. Even worse are the transcribed instant messaging conversations between the authors -- online correspondence is never as funny to the rest of the world as its participants think it is. I put this book down after 40 pages because I found the interludes boring and/or intrusive. Six months later, I finished the book, skimming those parts to get to the questions and answers. Also, the "hundreds" in the subtitle is misleading; I didn't count them, but a sampling suggests that there are fewer than 200 questions. The cynic in me cannot help but wonder whether the party and IM filler was used just to stretch the material enough to make this book's sequel (Why Do Men Fall Asleep After Sex?) viable.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Go Fourth and Multiply

I found out yesterday that my wife's cousin named his baby Charles Smith IV.* Maybe I don't get it because I have no desire to pass on my genetic material, much less my name. But why keep using the same name for four generations?

Junior is okay, I guess, though I'm very glad not to be one myself (how can you grow up when you're always called "Junior"?). III is pushing it, except maybe for rich kids whose only achievement in life is being born into grandpa's wealth. But IV? Well, that just shows a lack of creativity.

I hope this kid doesn't have a son and name him Charles Smith V. V is only acceptable for distillers.

* Actual surname changed.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Tummy Ache

Was it the eight warm, butter-slathered rolls I ate at lunch?
Was it the serving of lasagna thicker than War and Peace?
Was it the two glasses of fine single-malt Scotch?
Was it the minestrone soup or the lemon Italian ice?

No, I think it was the 64-ounce "Double Gulp" of Coca-Cola from 7-11 that I drank in record time after I got home. But once this passes, I'll need a refill...

UPDATE - I'm not sure what's sicker -- that I wanted to drink an entire gallon of fountain Coke today, or that I was willing to walk three quarters of a mile in the cold, wind, and snow to get it (don't tell me to buy bottles or cans for home -- the only Coke I like is fountain Coke; otherwise I drink Diet Rite). At least I saved 44 cents by refilling my original cup.

Geez, it's no wonder I weigh a gazillion pounds these days.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Sign Me Up for the "Century"

In their latest membership drive, the League of Illinois Bicyclists is offering an LIB cycling jersey to members who join at the $100 "century" level. I've been eying that jersey for quite some time, long enough that I need to order a larger size than when I first thought about buying it. In the past, I've signed up at the "advocate" level to get a T-shirt , but now I have enough of those. So this year, I'm going for the "century" (yes, I know my advocacy dollars go further if I forgo the premium, but like I said, I really like the jersey).

By the way, I was reading through the membership list in the latest issue of "Illinois Bicyclist," and I was disappointed by how few names I recognized. Either y'all are shy and asked the LIB not to publish your names, or you're a bunch of freeloading bums who are benefiting from the LIB's work without supporting them! Most of you ride a lot more than I do, so what are you waiting for? Join the LIB! And while you're at it, join the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, too. You'll make up the cost with their extensive member discount program at dozens of bike shops, restaurants, etc.

Now the question is, where will I be riding this year with that fancy, new LIB jersey on my back? Stay tuned...

Friday, January 11, 2008

Duh! Don't Leave Your GPS on the Dashboard

CBS Channel 2 ran this as their third story on the 10:00 news:
One of the most popular gifts for the holiday season turns out to be a very "hot item" targeted by thieves. Global positioning systems hang from a windshield or sit up on a dashboard. They're easy picking for gadget thieves. Since the first of the year, police in Aurora have had nine reports of stolen GPS units.
Do people really need to be told this? I bought a radar detector 20 years ago, and even as an innocent, far-west-suburban teenager, I knew better than to leave it attached to the windshield when I left the car. I suppose nowadays people are so distracted by their other personal electronics (cell phones, iPods, etc.) that they can't be bothered to consider that somebody might want to steal the compact, expensive hunk of technology sitting on the dashboard. Thank goodness Channel 2 is here to remind them.

But there was more shocking info to come:
Police say mall parking lots are perfect places to get away with the crime.
People break into cars at shopping malls? Hmm, I knew that 20 years ago as well (coincidentally, my local mall back then was the same one mentioned in the story). And yet, this was supposedly the third most important "news" that Channel 2 had to share with viewers tonight. I suppose it's better than telling us about Hillary Clinton's tears, Barack Obama's middle name, or John Edwards' haircut.

Book Reviews! Book Reviews! Book Reviews!

I've been reading instead of blogging for the past few months,and now I am surrounded by huge stacks of books awaiting reviews. Most will get the "quickie" treatment, starting with these:
  • The Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subcultures by Louis Theroux - If you ever wondered what it's like to hang out with UFO believers, militia men, a (legal) Nevada prostitute, former Heaven's Gate cult members, a porn star, or a struggling gangsta rapper, this book is for you. The people and their lifestyles are fascinating, and Theroux's writing style is engaging. He discovers that despicable beliefs don't make a person "bad." For example, when Theroux lost his laptop, the white supremacist he had been interviewing went the extra mile to find it for him. Such tales challenge the reader's predisposition toward Theroux's subjects. Although some characters are inherently more interesting than others and his attempt to tie everything together into a tidy conclusion falls flat, The Call of the Weird is an enjoyable read.
  • Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins - As one who keeps abreast of world affairs, I didn't find this book as shocking as some people did. But one thing amazed me: no matter how underhanded and manipulative you think U.S. foreign and economic policy is, the truth is that it's worse. I liked the book, but I was hoping for more details of what Perkins did and less about his personal life. Also, I tired of his repeated assertions that he felt what he was doing was wrong -- they rang hollow, like they were inserted later to assuage his guilt or mitigate his destructive, unethical actions. Remember when author and professor Ward Churchill controversially asserted that the World Trade Center was full of "little Eichmanns"? He was talking about people like Perkins.
  • As Seen on TV by Lou Harry & Sam Stall - This entertaining book is full of stories, facts, and anecdotes about 50 of the most popular products sold directly via television. Ginsu knives, Flowbee, Pocket Fisherman, Mr. Microphone, Garden Weasel, Soloflex, ThighMaster, BluBlockers, The Clapper, Chia Pets, Girls Gone Wild, Time Life Books... They're all here. I learned a lot, though the authors wisely don't take the subject matter too seriously. Anyone who has spent too much time watching late-night TV in the past 20-30 years will love this book.

  • The Plot Against America by Philip Roth - When I first saw the title, I feared this was some post-9/11, right-wing manifesto; I was relieved to learn that it was fiction set 60 years earlier. As a fan of "counter-factuals," I found the premise of a Charles Lindbergh presidency and its ramifications for the U.S. in World War II intriguing. But the story itself is largely a Jewish coming-of-age tale with the alternate history relegated to the background. I essentially tolerated the main story and characters just to get to the sections of macro-level speculation. The historical aspects were not as well developed as most counter-factuals, and aside from some insights about growing up Jewish in the 1930s, the rest didn't offer me much. As such, the book was unsatisfying though not bad.
  • Where Do Nudists Keep Their Hankies? by Mitchell Symons - This book wasn't nearly as interesting or entertaining as it could have been. Symons comes up with a few interesting questions and answers, but much is just filler. He relies too often on friends for answers, which aren't exactly authoritative. At worst, he falls back on his own opinions, which are even weaker. Sometimes he tries to be funny and it just sounds forced. Despite the potentially titillating subject matter, this book was a waste of my time.

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead by Crystal Zevon

The title is brilliant. I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life And Times of Warren Zevon makes use of song titles from the beginning and end of Warren's career, effectively bracketing his life. At first blush, it appears to be a sleazy ex-wife tell-all, but Crystal wrote this book at Warren's request, and he told her to include "even the awful, ugly parts." There are plenty of those. For many years, Warren was a terrible alcoholic who would black out and abuse his wife. Even when sober, he could be very moody, and he was consistently unfaithful to the women he cared about.

The book is written in an engaging "oral history" format. Crystal interviewed 87 of Warren's friends, lovers, and associates. Her narrative weaves together their recollections with Warren's own diaries. The result is that the reader feels as if he is in a large room full of people reminiscing about Warren's life.

Warren was one of my favorite artists. I saw him in concert three times, and of course I have all of his albums. The book doesn't tell as much about his songs as I had hoped, but then, it is about his "life and times," not specifically his songwriting or recording. Although I found the 450-page book interesting, seeing all the warts tarnished his image somewhat in my mind. He often acted like a spoiled baby, especially during the drunken years, and it's hard to reconcile his lyrical depth with the shallowness of his behavior.

If you admire Warren Zevon for anything other than his songwriting or performing abilities, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead will tear apart that image. But if you're willing to acknowledge that it takes a flawed man to create such memorable work, the book is a fascinating insight into virtually every facet of his life.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Zell to Demolish Former Tribune Competitor?

The ink is barely dry on Sam Zell's purchase of the Tribune Company, and now he wants to tear down the former Chicago Daily News building, known as 2 N. Riverside Plaza. Apparently, he isn't happy just owning the largest newspaper in town; now he wants to erase all memories of its competitors. Too bad Donald Trump flattened the old Sun-Times building before Zell got the chance.

The article notes that 2 N. Riverside Plaza has served as Zell's headquarters for many years (I guess he isn't the sentimental type). I interviewed there with one of his companies in 1996. American Classic Voyages ran riverboat cruises on the Mississippi and its tributaries (after a sale or two, I think it is now part of Majestic America Line). I found it odd that the recruiter gave me more material about Zell than about the company. I guess I was supposed to be impressed by his maverick personality -- the recruiter certainly was.

I love all of Chicago's Art Deco architecture so I hope Mayor Daley talks Zell out of demolishing 2 N. Riverside Plaza.

UPDATE - I just had a thought... I wonder if Zell will use 2 N. Riverside Plaza as leverage to get the state to take over Wrigley Field. So far, Daley is against that, but maybe Zell is willing to "save" 2 N. Riverside if Daley has a change of heart. Or maybe Daley already has.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Not Your Typical Promotional Puff Piece

In the run-up to the release of Brighter Than Creation's Dark, Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers sat down with Chris Hassiotis of the Flagpole, the local weekly of Athens, GA. He had this to say about their label, New West Records:

What support have we gotten? At this point I don't feel they've done shit for us, really. To hear them talk, they took a band that was playing 50-seaters and have grown us to this great touring act, but I beg to differ. I feel like that's something we've done on our own very much, and we've drug them like a ball and chain around.
Ouch! Needless to say, the band will be looking for a new label once this album runs its course. According to Hood, New West has a "major label" attitude, which I wouldn't expect from a label with about 20 artists. I was disappointed to read this because I had a positive impression of New West, mainly because their roster looks a lot like my CD cabinet: Steve Earle, the Drive-By Truckers, Jason Isbell, the Drams, the Old 97's, Slobberbone, Warren Zevon...

Hood also intimated that the label was to blame for Isbell's departure because they held back his solo record for so long. In fact, everyone was so miserable in fall of 2006 that Hood and longtime partner-in-crime Mike Cooley discussed breaking up the band:
We sat there and drank and discussed it, and I said to Cooley, "Okay, if we break up, what'll I do? As much as I've swore I'd never have another band besides the Truckers, I'd probably put together another band. And hell, the first person I'd ask would be you. And hell, Brad [Morgan] plays in the band and is the perfect drummer for what I do and what you do. And damn, I really like playing with Shonna [Tucker, the bass player]…" We worked ourselves through it step by step that way. We took some time to decompress, fix a few things that were broken and start over, but, more or less, it's still this band. Because there's a lot that's really good about this band. So then it was just making it through the tour without killing each other.
Those are just a couple of highlights. The whole interview is worth reading, although New West might disagree.

UPDATE 01/11/2008 - It hasn't appeared on Flagpole's site yet, but Hood responded to the interview:
I'm afraid Chris caught me on a particularly bad day during a very stressful and heated time of bad relations between us and our label. While my rant reflected how I felt that day and some of my anger and frustration was from issues simmering for several years I would like to clarify a couple of points that were lost in my heated tirade.
Those points were that George Fontaine (who wasn't mentioned directly but apparently is affiliated with New West) and the Black Crowes' organization (he had spoken of the Truckers' miserable time opening for them) are all great people, and he didn't intend to slight them with anything he said. He added
This is a messy business and I never got into all of this to be a businessman. In the month since my interview, we have all attempted to move forward in good
faith and for the mutual good of both label and band and for the benefit of our new album, which I am fiercely proud of.
Let's hope New West will forgive him. From his work with Bettye LaVette, Hood knows well the potential for caprice and artist sabotage in the record industry.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Sleeping Around

As Jen Garrett reminded me yesterday, it's time for my list of places where I slept in 2007. I only left Chicago twice all year, but one of those times was a three-week, 12,800-mile, whirlwind tour of the northern and northwestern U.S.A. with my wife. In fact, we nearly crossed paths with Jen as she was heading west to start a new life -- she and her Seattle guy hit Missoula only a couple of days after we did.

Chicago, IL
St. Cloud, MN
Dickinson, ND
Great Falls, MT
Missoula, MT
Cottonwood, ID
Yakima, WA
Kelso, WA
Wood Village, OR
Salem, OR
Waldport, OR
Roseburg, OR
Grants Pass, OR
Ukiah, CA
Klamath Falls, OR
Prineville, OR
Boise, ID
Pocatello, ID
Cheyenne, WY
Des Moines, IA
Duluth, MN

With three nights in Idaho, I have now slept in every state west of the Mississippi, excluding Alaska and Hawaii. The best place we stayed was surely Dog Bark Park Inn in Cottonwood, Idaho. Not only did we sleep in the belly of a beagle, but since I did some work there, it was also DJWriter World Headquarters for a night.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

My Mother Is Slowly Killing My Father

From BBC News:
Failing to make your bed in the morning may actually help keep you healthy, scientists believe. Research suggests that while an unmade bed may look scruffy it is also unappealing to house dust mites thought to cause asthma and other allergies.
They say that making the bed traps humidity inside, which helps dust mites thrive. I knew I had a good reason for never making the bed!

My dad has asthma and allergies, and my mom makes the bed every morning. So when he can't breathe, it's all her fault.

Note: I know this is "old news" from the dateline on the story, but I just found out about it.

UPDATE 01/28/2008 - I was horrified to learn last night that my dad is the one who makes the bed each morning, not my mom. So he's killing himself, I guess. I just hope this doesn't give my wife any ideas about making me make the bed.