Friday, June 30, 2006


This is the best e-mail I have gotten in a while. At least since the Kerry Wood e-mail buddy F sent me from DC yesterday.

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I can't even look at it without smiling. From the "diminutive john-doe" making someone "yelp" with pleasure to having a "fiancée" this e-mail is perfectly targeted to getting me to order on-line from you.

In Romania Senators apparently open investigations into the possibility of a "metereological attack" on the country. It appears that certain far right Senators in Romania believe that "a great power east of Romania which is increasingly annoyed by Bucharest's policies on the Black Sea region" may be causing extreme rain in Romania that has caused massive flooding and deaths. The news report thinks this is a reference to Russia.

Of course, the guy who said this may not be the most stable member of the Romanian Senate.

Last night I was reminded of this quote from The Jerk: "The new phone book's here! The new phone book's here! This is the kind of spontaneous publicity I need! My name in print! That really makes somebody! Things are going to start happening to me now."

My Tante E was in town. She is not very interested in computers, the internet, blogs, etc. etc. For the first time last night she witnessed her name being googled. She was so excited. It was charming in its own way. Kind of like Navin R. Johnson's excitement. And by the way, given her reaction, I feel perfectly safe blogging this story. I mean what are the odds of her reading this and wanting to "discuss"?

I think the next time I go to New York I want to go to two places that nobody will be willing to go to with me. The first is Milan's Restaurant at 710 5th Avenue, Brooklyn. It is a Slovak restaurant. The menu looks great, and Slovak restaurants are not very common. From there I want to go to Bohemian Hall at 29-19 24th Avenue, Astoria. They are about 12.6 miles apart, but I am sure it will be explained to me that "Queens" and "Brooklyn" might as well be as far from Midtown as the moon is, and that I don't want to go there. But they are wrong. I do want to.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that there has been an increase in English, as opposed to British, nationalism recently. Said one England enthusiast "'we have had a reawakening of what our nation is all about.' In his eyes, that includes family values, Christian values, tolerance, free speech, common sense - 'everything that is good about England.'" Wait, wait, wait. Does that list feel "tolerant" to you? It doesn't to me, and apparently does not to immigrants from Asia and the West Indies who "did not identify themselves as English, which they took to mean indigenous white people." Interesting.

The most fascinating aspect of this is the political argument. Apparently a survey that was recently conducted found that 23% of people wanted a separate parliament for England and 43% believed only English MPs should be allowed to vote on English issues in parliament. Said one enthusiast "England must have its parliament returned to it." Indeed. Well, England's parliament was never taken away. However, it did grow to swallow the political independence of Scotland, Wales, and for a time, Ireland, as well as a quarter of the globe during the colonial era. To complain now about the influence of the countries the English spent centuries fighting wars to conquer seems unsporting, which seems very, very un-English to me.

That's what I think.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Today I posted some pictures from Wolf Point on the foto side. I also took a few pictures of the railroad bridge that stands, apparently, eternally open at Carroll Street.

I have never seen that bridge in operation, although I remember being told that a train used to run once a day across that bridge to the old Sun-Times building (the under-construction Trump Chicago deal) with newsprint. I never saw it happen though. I assumed it would happen in the middle of the night. A little googling this morning shows me that I was in error about the time, and this page has very, very cool photos and narration of the bridge in operation, as well as a freight train snaking through the loop.

Of course, now the Sun-Times printing facility is at Damen and the south branch of the river (or so) and their offices are in the Apparel Center at Wolf's Point. It seems unlikely that anyone will ever build a supply chain in the loop that requires a freight train to get to the door again, so this activity is almost certainly history now.

Sunday, June 25, 2006


Another week, another summary of what you should have read, had you read Sunday’s New York Times. This was actually a pretty good week in the paper, so you might want to settle in. In no particular order . . .

First, the South Koreans apparently have a boot camp (for want of a better term) for defecting North Koreans. This is probably a good idea, given the utter isolation of North Korea. If the East Germans thought (and think) they had difficulty integrating when the wall came down, can you imagine the denizens of the Hermit Kingdom? One of the interesting things was that the North Koreans are treated as if they made a shameful decision to be North Koreans. For instance, the Times relates this tale

One 37-year-old defector who had lost his North Korean accent did not hide his origins at work, a large auto parts maker. In fact, the Chinese he had learned during his three years of hiding in China now helped him in doing business with Chinese partners.

But his South Korean wife's parents had initially objected to their marriage because he is North Korean. They relented only after her father had a stroke and then decided that he wanted to see his daughter settled in a marriage as soon as possible. Today, his wife still hides his roots from their friends.

"One part of me says it's convenient," he said of his wife's decision. "Another part of me is sad. I know there's no advantage in telling everyone I'm North Korean, but it's who I am."

What the hell? I mean, it seems like you ought to get props for defecting, if nothing else.

Second, our President was in Vienna the other day. Like the U.S., Austria has a female foreign minister. Our President showed his Stanford-trained, PhD Secretary of State and Austria's lawyer Aussenministerin the ultimate respect by referring to them as "roses." Very nice. I don't even know what to say. At least there's no glass ceiling at the White House.

Third, speaking of glass ceilings, the Times magazine did a photospread on female Russian tennis players. I could be way off base here, but do the three pictures below make these professional athletes look like streetwalkers?

Maybe we can blame Kournikova for this, but shouldn't the Times at least try to prepare itself for Russian women to actually be noticed for their tennis, and not the extent to which they will allow themselves to be tarted up?

Fourth, the Week in Review section had a niffty graphic on the evolution of a number of corporate symbols. ADM's logo shift was a good move. The NHL's was, how to say this, a little too subtle. Kodak's looks like the last gasp of a company whose market changed. Interesting stuff.

Finally, the Business section had an interesting article about the cause du jour. If only sea roaches, also known as "lobster," could be more humanely killed! There were at least three references in today's paper to the plight of the live lobster. Jeez, how many of these are really being prepared at home? Anyway, I always learned that it was humane to put them alive in warm water over heat. By the time the water boiled they were dead and never knew what hit them. I have heard of chefs who brain them with kitchen knives. Well, the newest innovation is a $3600-$4600 device that electrocutes the lobster. It is inelegantly named the CrustaStun, and takes 5-10 seconds to kill the lobster. L and I have not ordered ours yet.

And that's what was in today's paper.

Saturday, June 24, 2006


I read this article called What Roosevelt Took. It was an economic analysis of the benefits to the Panamanians of the Panama Canal. As I am sure nonody will be surprised to learn, the canal did not really benefit the Panamanians at all. Nevertheless, there were some interesting tidbits in the article. For instance:

People no less famous than Alexander von Humboldt, Ferdinand de Lesseps, and Alexandre Gustav Eiffel were interested in building a canal in Central America. It took Theodore Roosevelt to steal Panama and have the canal built.

When the Columbian government (which owned Panama at the time) rejected a U.S. offer regarding the building of a canal, the aforementioned Teddy Roosevelt is quoted as calling the Columbians “blackmailers,” “homicidal corruptionists,”
and “cut-throats,” ending with, “You could no more make an agreement with the Colombian rulers than you could nail currant jelly to a wall.” Currant jelly? Why currant jelly? Why not cherry, or grape, or strawberry? Are they easier to nail to a wall?

The Panama Canal cost $302 million to build in 1903-1914. That was calculated in the article to be $4.4 billion in 2004 dollars. The cost overruns on the canal were by about a factor of 2.1, which is to say that the Panama Canal cost just more than twice as much as estimated. The article put this in context by comparing it with other cost overruns, including, "the Erie Canal (1.5), Hoover Dam (1.1), or BART (1.6), although Panama Canal cost overruns did compare favorably to the Big Dig (5.2 and counting)." Thank God for the Big Dig, which will be the basis for all comparative cost overruns from now on.

Finally, it is not in the article, but M at work once mentioned to me that "A man, a plan, a canal: Panama" is a palindrome. And so it is.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


It sometimes appears to me that some of President Bush's advisers believe in deterministic history as much as any Marxist ever did. However, while the Marxists viewed history as an inevitable march of the proletariat to ownership of the means of production, the Bushies appear to view the predetermined course of human history to be toward representative government, and personal freedom. This is inherently sensible to those of us raised with the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the United States Constitution. After all, we "hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." This is our civic Lord's Prayer. We may not agree on much across the political spectrum, but we all know and believe these words.

The problem with this is that it leads to interpretations of history that lose their subtlety. We see only the dimension we are looking for. Today, for example, the President said that the 1956 Hungarian Revolt should "inspire" Iraq. Indeed. That may be a problem. See, the Hungarians do not appear to have revolted because they wanted an American-style consumerist republic. In fact, the government during the revolt was a socialist government. Imre Nagy was not a democrat. He was a Communist who thrived in Stalin's 1930s Russia. Thus, maybe the Hungarian Revolt had more to do with Hungarians not being bossed around by Russians than about a free Hungary. This is one interpretation that is reasonable. It is not the only one. However, if the Iraqis so understand the Hungarian Revolt, they may be taking entirely too much inspiration from the Hungarians at this point.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


This morning on my way to the el I decided to stop at the farmers' market next to the el stop. I always regret the fact that they are there in summer on Tuesdays from 7-1, which makes it effectively impossible for me to actually utilize most of the fresh vegetables, etc. they offer. Nevertheless, I took a stroll through this morning.

I came across a stand selling, among other things, granola. One flavor they offered was cherry vanilla bean. I was intrigued. Then I remembered that I was on my way to have Dunkin' Donuts for breakfast, and that I didn't actually want that. I bought a bag of the granola. The guy who sold it had just enough character to be funny, but not a pain in the ass (he kept calling me Senator, which I think is hilarious), and it was clear that I was supporting a small local business. The granola was really outstanding, with great dried cherries that give it a super kick. Great breakfast and lunch so far today.

I was so taken with the granola that I actually looked at the label. It turned out that they have a web page. First, they have a woman names Siobhan making scones. Granted that Siobhan is an Irish name and scones are generally considered to be Scots, but I figure better the wrong kind of Gaelic person than no Gaelic person, right? I did not try anything else but the granola, which at $9 a pound is apparently a decent deal, but check the peanut butter. "If you need organic, no taste, no fun peanut butter you'll have to grind your own." Nice.

Also, their coffees look interesting, although I have very basic economic and social questions about the "Fair Trade" movement. Not the least of which is, aren't you just incentivizing just-above-subsistence farming? If that life is so great, why don't you go lead it? I mean, if it is good enough for a Salvadoran peasant it ought to be good enough for an American "activist" right? I think lots of people emigrated to America to avoid having to live as "Fair Trade" farmers in Europe...

Sunday, June 18, 2006


Once upon a time I planned to do a Sunday column that dissected the column in the New York Times magazine called The Ethicist and came up with the errors in logic that the Ethicist employed. Sadly, the New York Times set up a discussion board related to the column. As such, it seemed as if it might be . . . unethical to bitch about the advice in that column here instead of there. Plus, I don't want to give a hack like that guy space on my blog.

Instead, my weekly installation of what was in today's New York Times follows. First, there was an article about fan fiction taken to an extreme by Trekkies. Apparently people are creating, writing, acting in, and filming their own episodes based on Star Trek. One of them uses a a $6,000 digital camera to film the actors, a few of which actually have some acting training. Obviously a $6,000 digital camera and a few actors who are trained makes it very likely that the production quality for these endeavors is higher than the original show. Really beautiful pages (whether you take them ironically, or drank the Trekkie Kool-Aid) can be seen here, here, here, here, and here.

Next on the hit parade, the Times reported about an exciting new tool developers are using to sell houses. Apparently in SoCal they are hiring actors to portray families living in model homes. You walk in the door, and there is a nice family made up of a Daddy, a Mommy, a Boy Child, and a Girl Child. That way you can envision yourself having the joy in the house that they have. I have seen enough shows on cable (Sell this House!) to know that you need to furnish the house and take pictures of yourself off the walls to sell a house, but this is nuts. The best part is when they talked to the actor who plays Daddy. Or should I say Daady, since his name is Jaason Simmons. See, I was reading this article thinking the same thoughts I have when they have musicians in my building's lobby for the holidays. Sure, the gigs may pay pretty well, but they must deaden the soul of people who really love their craft. Apprently I am wrong. Jaason Simmons says that the experience is great. "There's not much live interactive theater in L.A. You can stretch as an actor." Stretch? Yes, Mr. Richards, your table is ready. I don't know much about acting, but if this is a stretch you might want to shoot for a higher end waiter job.

Daniel Altman has a column in the business section about immigration and the effect of immigrants. Interesting stuff. It turns out that the children of immigrants "complete more years of education than their native-born counterparts of similar socioeconomic backgrounds." Immigrants and their children also maintain very low unemployment levels. The second generation is more likely to be in a management or professional position than are their parents. There are some negatives too, in that even with the fact that the kids get decent jobs, etc. they lag behind native born Americans. It is also not clear that today's immigrants have as many opportunities as did the Poles and Italians at the turn of the previous century. Very interesting. The best part was the professor who said "you could argue that the only immigrants you'd want in the United States were those 'whose children are going to get Ph.D.'s' and would therefore be economically productive."

Finally, technically this is from Saturday, but the beginning of the end is upon us. Wikipedia has ended its "anyone can edit" system with regard to a number of specific entries. They apparently tend to be the sorts of entries that all sorts of jack-asses want to perpetrate jackassery on (Islam, George Bush, Emo, PlayStation 3 etc.) That's not the beginning of the end though. The article also says that Wikipedia is the third most popular "news and information" page, after Yahoo! and CNN. Good grief. I like Wikipedia just fine, but folks, for all of the information sources out there, this is number three?

And that's what was in today's paper.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


Today I was in Walgreen's. The guy two people in front of me paid with his debit card. The 200 year old lady behind the counter asked him for his zip code. He said "57." That made sense. We were in 60657. Oh, and all Chicago zip codes start with 606. All of them. Look. I'm not lying. I'm only 35 and I figured this out. In fact, I knew it about 25 years ago.

As you can imagine, I was very surprised when the old lady was extremely confused about his zip code. He said "57" a few times, then said, with exasperation, "60657." She responded "oh, I didn't know. They keep adding them all the time." Everyone just sort of froze and I could hear crickets suddenly. Still adding them? Um, like when we annex another country? Oh boy.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


I know that Route 66 started in the Chi and ended in LA. Later in life I understood that it passed through Boogie to do so. I understand that in the Grapes of Wrath Steinbeck dubbed the road "the mother road." I have never, for the life of me, understood the fascination people have with Route 66. Nevertheless, in the last couple of days I had the opportunity to check in on the Route 66 market at a few different points between the Chi and Boogie.

As I wrote the other night, I was crossing the prairie by automobile. I took I-55 (the Stevenson for my people in the Chi) because time was of the essence. However, this evening I reversed my course and came home. Time was still pretty much of the essence, but not as urgently as Monday night. Besides, I had just spent a day and a half in Litchfield, Illinois, where I crossed both Old Route 66 and Historic Route 66 several times a day, and ate a restaurant that believes that it may be the oldest restaurant on (Historic) Route 66. This got me thinking about my kicks, and where I have been getting them.

I started in Litchfield. Litchfield may have had better days. For instance, they have a Carnegie Library that looks to be in good shape, a cool former Elks Lodge (as shown on the foto page), and parts of State Street look like they were nice, as pictured below.
Carnegie Library, Litchfield

Litchfield State Street

Unfortunately for Litchfield, both Old Route 66 and Historic Route 66 are on the western edge of town. A part of town largely given over to Hampton Inns, Ruby Tuesday restaurants, and other indicia of interstate-driven development. In other words, the Route 66 marketing is pretty minimal.

Further north, just south of Bloomington-Normal is a town called Atlanta. Atlanta has embraced Route 66 with its heart, and whatever is left of its soul. Atlanta does not seem to actually have any businesses downtown (see below).

Atlanta does have a giant Paul Bunyan holding a sausage (see the foto page), as well as a pair of mill stones (see below) that frankly are just not very interesting. There may also be a grain elevator museum, but the eerie quiet of a village without commerce was starting to freak me out.

Admittedly, Atlanta does have a very nice library. However, the library does not counteract the extreme reliance on Route 66 for the town's tourism plan.

Finally, there was Chenoa. Chenoa did not really seem to care about Route 66. I did not notice any Route 66 Diners, Route 66 Car Washes, or the like. In fact, there does not seem to be much to Chenoa, although the building below is pretty cool.

My personal verdict? It does not seem to avoid being frightening and market yourself on the Route 66 tip. Thus, if you are into the ironic, kitsch value of the Route 66 deal, towns like Atlanta are sooooo for you. Otherwise, you will get that children of the corn feeling when visiting these towns. By the way, a number of pictures are in the foto side (besides those referenced above), as well as here.

Monday, June 12, 2006


This evening I had the opportunity to drive the prairie that gives my state its nickname. Near the end of the drive the moon rose. It was huge and pink and full-looking, and symmetrical. As I looked at it (don’t worry—the cruise control was on), I remembered a discussion with my mama-san back in the day. I was drawing, and she told me that it was not necessary for everything to be symmetrical in my drawing.

Driving through the prairie, I had time to think about this. Lots of time. Actually, nothing else to do but steer. I realized that I do have a problem with symmetry. I have made an affirmative effort to dip my hand in each of the five Great Lakes. I have driven out of my way to visit each of the capital cities of Illinois in a single trip. Extra points if you already knew that Kaskaskia was accessible only from Missouri, since it is west of the Mississippi. I went places I did not want to go to in order to ride each of the T lines in Boston. I have taken unnecessary trips to ride each line of the el in Chicago. I reveled in realizing that I had driven the entirety of I-55 between Chicago and New Orleans. See what I mean?

The one thing I will say about my disorder is that it is extremely well balanced.

Sunday, June 11, 2006


Today I went to the Sam's Club. The Sam's Club really captures my yin and yang. On the one hand, I really love the collection of stuff I don't need. The impulse buying possibilities are close to endless. It is really the sort of place that I tend to buy things I don't need. That would be the yin.

The yang is when I realize that the pure volume available for purchase makes most people absolute morons. It probably does not help if back at home they did not really have "stores" so much as Five Year Plan Central Plan Shops with one exemplar of each item. This really makes people go nuts. Which makes me want to kick them. This would definitely be the yang.

And so, I buy 32 bottles of water for under $5, and other assorted crap at great prices, but it takes years off my life every time I do it. Yin and yang.

There are a number of interesting things in today's New York Times. First, and most importantly, L and I confirmed today that we jointly, completely, properly completed last week's Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle. First time. Complete. Every letter right.

Second, apparently there is a ringtone circulating among people younger than me. It is very high pitched. Apparently as people get older they become less able to hear the tone. Thus, it is a perfect ringtone for young people when they are not allowed to have cell phones on. The Times has an mp3 here. I would not so much say that I hear it as much as I feel an irritation in my ears when I play the mp3. Interesting. Clever. Annoying.

Third, the Times reports on businesses making hiring decisions based on people's web profiles. Myspace, Xanga, Facebook, etc. I hope I don't get fired for my blog.

Finally, the wonderful, excellent, fantastic column Keeping Score in the sports section had an article on an odd statistic in baseball. The statistic is reaching base on an error. I actually had not realized that OBP did not include reaching by error. Seems like it would be a good fast guy statistic, and it is. However, it turns out that slow guys who hit lots of ground balls to the left side and do not strike out (think Jason Kendall, Joe Girardi, Bob Horner) do very well in this category. Who knew? Why isn't this stat counted in OBP?

And that's today's paper.

Sunday, June 04, 2006


Summer is here. Some people think that Memorial Day is the kick off for summer. They don't live in Lincoln Square in the Chi. I have written about the end of summer before, but the following tune signaled the beginning of summer for me.

In heaven there is no beer (no beer!)
That's why we drink it here
And when we are gone from here
Our friends will be drinking all the beer

Im Himmel gibt's kein Bier,
Drum trinken wir es hier.
Denn sind wir nicht mehr hier,
Dann trinken die andern unser Bier.

That's right. This weekend was Maifest. L and I only went last night. However, we were chock full of Gemutlichkeit by the time we left. I got to sing In Heaven There is No Beer at least twice, as well as the E I E I E I O song they do, the Ole song they do (we ARE the champions, ole!), and participated in at least five Prosits. It was great. L was very tolerant of my singing.


By the way, the fest is 1.5 blocks directly down our street. That means that there has been tremendous foot traffic up and down our street this weekend. Two of the members of the street traffic group were two kids about seventh grade. L and I were sitting out on the balcony enjoying a drink and the nice air. I heard our buzzer buzz and immediate footsteps on the sidewalk. I knew we had been ding-dong ditched. I knew this because I was a practitioner of the ding donging arts as a youngster. I also knew the anxiety of the ditch. So I stood up, and in my deepest voice (which is pretty bass) I barked, loud and proud after the kids "BUSTED!"

It was great. The one kid let out a little yip, and they both got a little extra speed in their run. I watched them run a solid block, which is much further than is generally respectable for the ditch. L and I were laughing so hard we were crying. Those kids probably shit themselves. Which reminds me of the next sight seen.

A kid of maybe 12 is in his traditional German costume walking a puppy. About two minutes after he walks by an older, grandmotherly woman walks down the street behind him toward the fest. Suddenly she bellows "hat der Hund Scheiβ gemacht?" Literally, she has just hollered a block ahead of her "has the dog made a shit?" To her grandson. L and I were dying at how funny it sounded to have an old Oma ask if the dog had taken a shit.

L's dad is (or was) in Romania for work. He spoke to L's mom on the phone and she sent an update e-mail to L. It was pretty interesting, until I got to a couple of key sentences. First, she said "the driving is worse than Chicago and DC -- it seems everybody has a tiny car and there are no distinct rules." I will freely admit that folks in DC can't drive, but how did we in the Chi get dragged into this?

Later she says "he said he was getting used to the way the drivers pull in and around each other and squeeze into tiny spaces to pass each other. He said they all drove like [WAYLA]." Wha!?! Besmirching my driving? Where did this come from? Sure, sometimes when they have visited we needed to get places quickly, but I always, always drive responsibly. I mean, most of the time.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


Given my acknowledged readership, I will not add any commentary. It can only break bad. Still. Uhm. No really. Uhm.