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 Fl├Ęche 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.