Sunday, July 31, 2011

Skokie Valley Bikeway

On Friday I rode the Skokie Valley Bikeway in Lake County for the first time. With the recent heavy rains in mind, I chose it because 1.) it's asphalt and 2.) it isn't close to a river. It's not the most exciting route; the most enthralling scenery is the variety of utility poles. There are parallel railroad tracks, but the trains are hard to see through the small trees lining the path. I was glad that I waited until early evening to start because there would have been very little shade midday.

I parked at the north trailhead in Lake Forest. I spotted this sign near the tiny parking area:

Someone is missing out on a great business opportunity here because despite the sign, I did not seeing anyone hawking weed. I suppose Gatorade would sell better anyway. After riding 16 miles in the heat, I would have bought a bottle.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Creative Cropping

This kind of misrepresentation in the media happens disturbingly often. I saw the coverage of this story on Channel 2 (CBS) last night.

In covering a story, the media ask the family for a photograph of the person involved. In the case of a 13-year-old boy shot by police the other night, the family provided this. Channel 2's coverage showed just the square of his face, while the complete photo shows the boy flashing gang signs.

  • The media excuse will probably be that they didn't want to show gang signs on TV. But when those gang signs are being flashed by someone you portray as an innocent victim of over-zealous police, doesn't cropping that photo change the entire tenor of the story? Shouldn't you at least mention that the kid was flashing gang signs in the photo even if you don't want to show the whole photo?
  • Channel 2 also showed the mother carrying on about how she never saw her kid with a BB gun. Of course, a kid would never hide a BB gun from his parents... especially if he probably used the gun to shoot out windows at the local school.
  • What was this kid doing out on the streets after 11 PM anyway?
  • And while I'm ripping on the mother, what kind of parent's only photo of her kid shows him flashing gang signs? (Surely if she had a different photo, she would have provided that instead, right?)
Kudos to Walter Jacobson whose "Perspective" piece noted that attacks on police have more than doubled in the past ten years. With stats like that, police aren't to wait until they can get close enough to tell a BB gun from a real gun.

When a police officer shoots someone, particularly a teenager, it's a given that people will get upset and put 100% of the blame on the police. They often try to portray the victim as a model citizen or an "honor roll student" (I remember one supposed "honor roll student" who had actually dropped out of school 14 months earlier!). Amid the neighbors and family members moaning about how a shooting victim was "a good kid", keep in mind that a significant part of the back-story may have been cropped out.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


I can't decide whether to make my big comeback or disappear completely.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cheap Gift Idea

Last week, the Bureau of the Public Debt announced that they will stop printing paper savings bonds at the end of the year. Here's the best part:
You can, however, download a “gift certificate” from the TreasuryDirect Web site, indicating the amount of the bond you have purchased, and for what occasion.
I had a hunch when I read that sentence, and I was correct: You can download those gift certificates regardless of whether you actually purchase savings bonds.

Cheap gift idea: print out the gift certificates and send them to little kids for their birthdays. Parents probably won't know how the paperless system works at first. If they do, just blame everything on bureaucratic red tape and assure them their confirmation e-mail is coming "any day now." They'll probably forget about it in a few weeks.

This is even better for senior citizens, most likely the biggest segment of savings bond gift-givers. By the time those kids try to redeem their savings bonds, the giver will probably be dead. No one will want to accuse the dearly departed of cheating their kids, so they will just assume that the giver didn't understand what he or she was doing online (like many seniors) and surely intended to buy those savings bonds.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Saddest Industry

Is there a sadder industry today than phone book publishing? Here in Chicago we have competing publishers offering more citywide phone books than ever, plus neighborhood books, but does anybody use them anymore?

I can tell you the last time I used the phone book, and this is quite illustrative. The last time I used the phone book was when my Internet connection was down and I needed someone to check my phone wiring!*

I understand that not everyone has Internet access, but I think it's safe to assume that most of the consumers that businesses are trying to reach by advertising in the yellow pages do. So here they are publishing more and more books, trying to draw interest from an ever-shrinking market. Meanwhile, piles of unwanted phone books linger on porches and in apartment lobbies all over the city.

* The company was Pacey Electrical and Technologies. The technician did a great job resolving an ongoing issue, and it didn't cost nearly as much as I feared. Also, thank goodness, my concerns about hiring a contractor sharing a name with a Dawson's Creek character were unfounded.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Silly Borders

Borders keeps sending me coupons for 20% off everything in the store, and they act like it's a big deal. A year ago, they would have been right. But just a few months ago one third of their stores were closing, and I could buy anything in the store for 40%, 60%, even 80% off. By visiting a dozen closing stores, I knocked out the bulk of my wish list and bought so many books that I filled several boxes in the attic (having already doubled up my bookshelves). Plus Borders has been offering 30-40% off one item almost weekly to help me pick up anything I missed.

So why should I be impressed or even mildly interested in those 20% off coupons?

Besides, the whole chain may be liquidating soon anyway. *sigh*

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Steve Almond on Depressing Music

Right now I'm reading Steve Almond's Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life and loving it (I was going to wait for the paperback, but the Borders bankruptcy sale made the hardcover affordable). The book is basically about being a "Drooling Fanatic" (or "DF") of rock music. One thing about DFs, he says "is that we're chronically emotional people who have trouble accessing our emotions" [emphasis his].
In my own case -- though I suspect this is broadly true -- repression was our family religion. I didn't admit to anyone else that I was feeling sad or frightened or angry because I saw little hope of being regarded or soothed, and a good chance of being mocked. And so I started to hide these feelings from myself; they burrowed inward and took cover under a sarcastic bravado. When I wanted to numb myself out, I watched TV. But songs had the opposite effect. They became a secret passageway to emotion, a way of locating what I was feeling before I entirely understood it myself.
This passage reminds me of so many times in my life when I've listened to certain songs -- not necessarily sad songs, per se, but emotion-packed songs --  just to reassure myself that I could still cry, that I could still connect with human emotions. I rarely cry in real life, except when something is very personal. Although 9/11 was a monumentally sad event, I never shed a tear over it. But whenever I hear Bruce Springsteen's "Into the Fire", a song about 9/11, I cry (even then I wonder whether my reaction would be so strong were I not married to a police officer).

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Lyrics of the Day

Today's lyrics aren't particularly stunning, but I'm citing them in service of a very bad pun. From James McMurtry's "Where'd You Hide the Body":
Where'd you hide the body?
Where'd you stash the loot?
Just keep your hands where I can see them
So I don't have to shoot
Okay, so do you think when Sting wants to get romantic with his wife, he invites her to play a game of "stash the lute"?

Slap the Copy Editor

This gem is from a Chicago Tribune article about potatoes:
Neumiller Farms in Savanna, Ill., has increased the number of potatoes it's growing this year to meet customer demand, owner Tom Neumiller said. The tuber comes out of the earth with no fat and containing vitamin C, potassium and fiber, said Neumiller, who eats them every day, adding, "My doctor says, 'I am in perfect health.'"
That's great for Neumiller's doctor, but we don't even know whether he eats potatoes!

(The last comma and the single quotes do not belong in the last sentence.)

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Interesting Location

Today I was walking home up Lincoln Avenue and saw a beauty school. I don't remember the name, but it had a memorable slogan: "It's not Just Hair...'s a Career!" Here's a photo (not taken by me). What made this place notable is that it was located just south of Berenice Avenue. Okay, so what's neat about that?
I know one of my readers might know this.
Don't let me down, Jennifer!
Answer: There is a relatively obscure constellation called Coma Berenices, meaning "Berenice's Hair". Its brightest stars are only fourth magnitude, so you probably can't even see it most nights in the city. I wonder whether anyone at the beauty school has made the connection. After all, there's just a two-letter difference between cosmetology and cosmology!

I would love to tell you that the street was similarly named after Queen Berenice II of Egypt. Alas, according to Streetwise Chicago, real estate subdivider Charles F. Ford named it for his daughter. Give Mr. Ford a little credit, though -- most Chicago real estate subdividers named streets after themselves, not their kids!

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Bastard of the Day

A few times this year, I have had lunch at Philly's Best on Belmont. It's a quick ride on the L, they have great cheese steaks and cheese fries, and they have free refills of Coke. I eat a leisurely meal, sip a few Cokes while I read a book, and get back to the L station within the two-hour transfer window so my trip home only costs 25 cents. It's a little expensive for what it is ($15, not including the L fare), but I go rarely enough that it's a treat. Cheese fries probably shouldn't be a regular part of one's diet anyway. The last time I went there was on my birthday, before I learned of Grandpa's fall.

Today I walked into Philly's Best behind another customer and had to wait in line. Casually looking around the place, my eyes focused on the soda fountain. Sometime since my last visit, something evil had happened. The red and white script logo I've pledged allegiance to for all of my life was gone, replaced by a deep blue background and the single word "Pepsi." Betrayal!

As much as I had been looking forward to their food, I was also looking forward to my favorite drink. So I turned around, walked out, and ate somewhere else -- at a place that serves Coke.

For soft drink treason, today's bastard is Philly's Best. I pray that you fools come to your senses soon and switch back to the real thing.

Slightly off-topic: Seventeen years ago, a co-worker foolishly suggested that I couldn't tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi in a blind taste test (remember "The Pepsi Challenge"?). I assured him that I could. He went to all the trouble of setting up the test, but I recognized the first cupful as Pepsi by smell before it even touched my lips!

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Amazingly Stupid Jury

The good news is this guy got convicted for shooting a cop, but what kind of idiots were on the jury?
A Cook County jury Thursday night found a South Side man guilty of aggravated battery with a firearm for shooting and injuring a Chicago Police detective. But jurors weighing in on Bobby Selvie’s case acquitted him of the more serious charge of attempted murder. The jury sent at least one note to Judge Timothy J. Joyce that indicated they were “struggling” with whether “shooting a gun at someone means intent to kill.” [emphasis added]
WTF? Maybe these folks watched too many episodes of The A-Team, where they'd fire several hundred rounds at each other and no one got killed. Once you aim a gun at someone and pull the trigger, you're pretty much committed to the possibility of ending his/her life. Judge Joyce should have sent a reply to the jury saying, "Of course it does, you dumb-asses!"

Let's hope Judge Joyce makes this right during sentencing, putting this guy away for the better part of the 15-60 years his aggravated battery with a firearm conviction demands.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Happy July 1st!

My family is celebrating July 1st after a June we'd like to forget. But June wasn't a complete loss. Here are a few good things that happened last month:
  • I got two writing jobs totaling over $800 of work. It may not sound like much to those who are regularly employed, but if you looked at my earnings for the first five months of the year, it's notable.
  • In one of my writing jobs, I got to shake hands with Chicago's new mayor, Rahm Emanuel. Though I voted for someone else because Emanuel threatened to cut police pensions, it was still pretty cool to meet him and shake his hand. Also he's a much better speaker than his predecessor!
  • Although I didn't get to read much in June, I read an excellent book about the Cuban Missile Crisis by Michael Dobbs called One Minute to Midnight. It's scary how close I came to never being born, and we have both John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev to thank for being alive today (never mind that we also have both to thank for creating the crisis in the first place). Here's a discussion with Dobbs to pique your interest (SPOILER ALERT: If you know little or nothing about the crisis, the online discussion may detract from the drama of seeing events unfold in the book).
  • An old friend came to town on business for a few days last week, and we got to spend two evenings catching up on things (coincidentally, however, his last visit to Chicago was in late February so maybe he's actually the Angel of Death -- which wouldn't be surprising considering the friends I've had).
  • When we finally celebrated my birthday, I got a thoroughly modern microwave with a digital clock! (Our current microwave, 12 years old, has a dial labeled in two-minute increments. Needless to say, it's hard to set a time under two minutes with any accuracy. Our current microwave is also undersized and under-powered so it's hard to cook anything in less than two minutes anyway.) Sometime in July I hope to take it out of the box and put it on the counter. I also got some great CDs by the likes of Backyard Tire Fire, the Decemberists, and Ben Folds.
  • Last night's hail storm was really cool to watch. Best of all, although a hailstone shattered the floodlight on the garage, the CFL within remains intact. That will make it a whole lot easier to unscrew and replace, plus I'd rather not have mercury sprayed all over the backyard.
I feel better now that I've convinced myself the month wasn't all bad. But then, life never is.