Thursday, September 30, 2004


The Houston Chronicle reports that a movie theater in Houston is closed because a maintenance man cleaning at two in the morning saw an eight foot snake slithering through the auditorium. They think it might be a Burmese Python, but they are not sure. The sighting was eight days ago, and they still have not been able to confirm that a snake lives in the building, let alone catch it.

Unless this theater can show an eight foot snake they caught on television, they might as well knock the building down, because they are getting nobody to sit in a dark theater for two hours any time in the future.


On September 22, I blogged about Germany and Japan wanting United Nations Security Council seats. I thought it was a bad idea. Now comes word that . . . Libya is seeking a Security Council seat. One of the rationales the Libyans put forth is “there can be no Mediterranean without Libya.” I don’t even know what to say, other than there was a Mediterranean when Libya was a Roman province, when it was an Ottoman province, when it was an Italian colony, and now, so apparently the Mediterranean is more adaptable than the Libyans realized.


The Japanese Major League (the Central and Pacific Leagues) have agreed to begin playing interleague games next year. This is as tough a decision for them as it was for Major League Baseball in the United States, and will probably create the kind of buzz interleague games did in the U.S. However, what I am really struck by is that each league in Japan only has six teams. They play in excess of 130 games per season (their leagues are still going and teams are at about 133 games) against FIVE other teams. I wonder if they get to know each other.

I also have found a number of missing former Cubs in researching this item. Who can forget these guys:

Roosevelt Brown, who was supposed to solve the center field problem on the North Side once and for all;
Tuffy Rhodes, who hit three home runs for the Cubs on opening day, 1994. The Cubs still lost the game, and Tuffy ended up tying the single season home record in Japan with 55 for the Kinetsu Buffalos;
Matt Franco, who played sixteen games in the 1995 Cubs infield;
Rodney Myers, who is allegedly with the Dodgers this year, but is shown on the Hanshin Tigers in Japan. His best ERA with the Cubs was 4.38 in 1999;
Dan Serafini, who went 3-2 for the Cubs in 1999 (what a glorious year that was); and last but certainly not least
Julio Zuleta, who was supposed to replace Mark Grace, and couldn’t hit a breaking ball.

Makes me nostalgic for the time when I was happy to have Julio Zuleta, instead of tearing my hair out over the 2004 version of the team.

Friday, September 24, 2004


The Chicago Tribune carried a story saying that the Los Angeles counterterrorism chief was detained because he tried to board a plane at LAX with a loaded 38. He was authorized to carry the gun, but "didn't realize he had it with him." Similarly, a Texas (anti-gun) legislator tried to take a loaded gun on to an airplane because he "didn't realize he had it with him" in 2000. In 1998 a Kentucky state legislator did the same thing. In June 2002 a business man in Tampa did the same thing. In 2003 the police chief in Detroit did the same thing.

I understand that these are really very few examples of this phenomenon, but for every gun enthusiast who talks about gun training and safety, I have to ask how all of these people forget they are carrying loaded weapons.


This morning the local Fox affiliate sent out a reporter to talk about the St. Alphonsus Oktoberfest. The reporter was very nice, and very enthusiastic, and L and I were probably on live TV. Given our newly exaulted status (i.e. television stars), we will have to start being more selective in our appearances and get head shots taken.


I was listening to an old Abbott & Costello routine. Lou Costello says, "that girl's got a Supreme Court figure." I can honestly say, I had NO idea what the punchline would be. Bud Abbott says, "Spremem Court figure?" Costello replies, "yeah, no appeal."

Thursday, September 23, 2004


The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which appears to be the voice of clueless authority, is reporting that insurgents could attack America if we pull out of Iraq. When I apply reason to this statement, seeking to give the statement meaning, I conclude that insurgents could not attack America if we do not pull out of Iraq. Thus, we can go to alert level green as long as we stay in Iraq. If the President does not mean what I've interpreted here, our presence in Iraq does not keep insurgents from attacking the United States, and his statement is completely without meaning, except that it appears to provide justification to stay in Iraq.

If John Kerry loses to this guy, he will go down as a worse politician than Dukakis.

Happy birthday to loyal reader (as in THE loyal reader) G. It takes a special kind of guy to quit drinking and make it through a birthday that starts the same day as Oktoberfest. That special kind of guy is a masochist, but they are special too.

Today I rode the el from Western to Southport on the Ravenswood line in the little kid seat. This is the seat in the first car that faces the front of the train at the front, so you get the same perspective as the driver.

On the platform I was looking down at Rockwell waiting for the train. I had a distinct sense that the train would be there, then here. In the little kid seat, I got the distinct sense that the rails go on forever, with these strange little spots where people climb up next to them and the train stops. My perspective went from the point-to-point station-based perspective, to the ad infinitum, occasionally interrupted train-based perspective in ten seconds.

Then U and M got on at Southport and I talked to them all the way into the loop. And so it goes.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004


Report one: Long Walks Stave Off Dementia

Report two: Rosa Parks Suffers From Dementia

For those of you who are historically challenged, Rosa Parks helped trigger the civil rights movement by refusing to give her seat on a bus to a white person, sparking a bus boycott, causing boycotters to walk to their destinations. Is that what they mean by one step forward, two steps back?

As any diligent reader of the news now knows, police in southern Minnesota arrested a man for going 205 miles per hour on his motorcycle. That’s pretty fast. However, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune had a great quote from a cop about the speed. Said Kathy Swanson, “’I'm not entirely sure what would happen if you crashed at 200 miles per hour,’ Swanson said, ‘but it wouldn't be pretty, that's for sure.” Do ya think?


The Washington Post had a story last week about schools in Philadelphia doing an inventory of the art they have. Turns out they have about 100 museum-quality pieces worth roughly $30 million. It makes sense that Philadelphia would have done this, since they now have the former Chicago schools chief, Paul Vallas, and he did a similar thing in Chicago. In fact, the article says that Philadelphia has more easel paintings, while Chicago has many more murals.

As luck would have it, I am familiar with at least one school full of murals. Lane Technical High School has been blessed with a number of WPA-era murals, frescoes, paintings, and carvings. They were pretty cool to go to school with, although because they were WPA, they were very Soviet Realist, which we got a kick out of.


BBC reports that Germany, Japan, Brazil, and India are jointly seeking permanent seats on the UN Security Council. Isn’t this why we have the UN? Because Germany and Japan acted together to achieve their foreign policy goals? Besides, with France and Britain already having permanent seats, why not just give each EU country a seat. Jeez. If they want integration, we ought to start there, with a seat for the EU and France and Britain being removed.

By the way, I understand how the world’s most populous democracy and nuclear power believes it merits a seat. I can understand Japan arguing that they are powerful enough economically, and Asia is underrepresented. I can sort of see Germany saying “if France has a seat, we CERTAINLY deserve a seat.” What is Brazil’s thinking? Hard to imagine.


The Washington Post apparently reads this blog and picked up the story about covered by WAYLA on July 9 about the monarchy both country’s claim as their own from the 700s. However, the Post tried to be original and used the story as a springboard into an article about how China’s version of history makes China the center of many, many inventions and discoveries. The following are attributed to China in official Chinese histories:
• Genghis Khan was not a Mongolian marauder who conquered China, but the founder of the Yuan Dynasty.
• Native American (Indians) are Chinese people who wandered to North America.
• Pizza is “bing-zi” and was brought to Italy by Marco . . . Polo.
• Spaghetti, and pasta in general, was brought to Italy by Marco . . . Polo.
• Golf may have been invented in China, as well as soccer.
• Buddhism was founded in India, but popularized in and by the Chinese.
• Gunpowder, the compass, paper, and moveable type all come from China.

Without getting into the merits of some of the claims, it is interesting to read this in an American newspaper. For instance, I grew up understanding that Americans had absolutely invented the gasoline automobile. Turns out it was Karl Benz of Mercedes-Benz fame, and a close follower was Gottlieb Daimler of DaimlerChrysler fame. They were both German. Similarly, I had learned that Americans invented the helicopter. Turns out the French and Germans each had helicopters before Sikorsky, but his was the most commercially viable, though not the first.

Hmmm, seems like we might have a little bit of Middle Kingdomism in us.


Yusef Islam, nee Cat Stevens, was on a flight to the United States that was diverted because his (Muslim) name was on a terrorism watch list. All I can say is, there are a number of good reasons to not allow Cat Stevens into the United States and terrorism is not one of them.


This weekend is Oktoberfest at St Alphonsus Catholic Church in the Chi. Go. Drink. Be merry. My mom, our friend K, L, and I are all in a picture on the page.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004


CNN reported the other day that governors in Montana, Idaho, Nebraska, Washington state, and Utah received letter that were rigged with matches. When the letters were opened, it was supposed to light the matches. There did not appear to be any explosive or anything. Just matches and the ensuing fire. The letters were postmarked from the Ely State Prison in Ely, Nevada. There were return addresses with prisoners’ names on them.

I knew this story reminded me of something. Then I remembered a story L told me from when she was a really little kid. She got mad at her younger sister, and decided to get her in trouble. Being a clever kid, L decided to create indisputable proof that her sister was doing something bad. She wrote in pencil on the wall, “Rachael did this.” Somehow her parents saw through that ruse and L got in trouble anyway.


L and I are apparently in a favored demographic. We receive Newsweek, although for the princely sum of $20 per year (apparently 9000% off the cover price) and receive U.S. New and World Report completely unbidden. We have no idea whatsoever why U.S. News and World Report comes to us, and couldn’t really even cancel it, given that we don’t actually subscribe. Interestingly, neither of us is impressed with either magazine, and anxiously await the day we pass into a demographic that allows us to stop receiving them.

This week, however, I am glad that we receive these magazines. This week, each had a major feature piece on children as consumers. They quoted many identical statistics, and each did little vignettes with families who have kids and consume goods. After that, they could not be more different. For Newsweek, this is the cover story, with the headline “How to Say ‘No’ To Your Kids.” The picture is an angry looking mom and an angry looking 10 year old (with iPod headphones on) forehead to forehead glaring at each other. For US News, it is a little corner of the magazine cover with the headline “Why Kid Consumers RULE.” You get the sense the conclusions reached in the magazines might not be identical.

Without belaboring every difference in the reporting, there is a quote from each article that clearly sets forth their respective agendas. Newsweek says, “while it is certainly true that affluent parents can raise happy and well-adjusted children, the struggle to set limits has never been tougher. Saying no is harder when you can afford to say yes . . . Kids who’ve been given too much too soon grow up to be adults who have difficulty coping with life’s disappointments. They have a distorted sense of entitlement that gets in the way of success both in the workplace and in relationships.” In other words, consumerism is the root of all evil. Give your kid an iPod and they will grow up to be maladjusted, underachieving whiners.

US News sort of obliquely references the doctors and studies that form the bulk of Newsweek’s thesis. However, it makes short shrift of them with the following quote, “of course, saying yes once in a while won’t cause the ill effects Schor reports. Amanda Bacopulos, 15, calls her Coach purse her ‘prize possession,’ and says, ‘I have always wanted to get married in a Vera Wang dress.’ But hers is not a case of stuff spoiling the child. A cheerleader, Amanda is enthusiastic. Like her sisters, her manners and her grades are excellent. She likes her parents. And shopping, she says, boosts her self-esteem. ‘If I’ve had a good shopping day, I feel kind of beautiful.’” Wow. Amanda is not maladjusted at all. She LIKES the parents that buy her Coach bags. She feels BEAUTIFUL (kind of) when she buys stuff. After all, she IS a cheerleader, and IS enthusiastic (which seems like part of being a cheerleader).

I suspect that my (unchilded) opinions fall somewhere between the root-of-all-evil Newsweek types and the happiness-through-purchasing US News types. Still, I think I would cry if my daughter ever told me a good shopping day made her feel kind of beautiful.


Today the Washington Post carried a story about the problems the city of New Orleans will face if, and when, a big hurricane hits the city straight on. It seems that the entire city is below sea level, and the levees that protect it are degrading the barrier islands that help weaken storms as they approach New Orleans. At the same time, the city’s levees are only rated to withstand a category 3 hurricane, while the hurricane scale goes up to category 5. Meanwhile, the Red Cross refuses to even set up emergency stations in the city because of the extreme danger if the city does flood. It turns out that the city’s pumps can remove only about one inch of water an hour. Therefore, if say, ten feet of water were to inundate the city, there would be a substantial amount of time where everything would be covered with a mix of snakes, chemicals, rats, dead people, and other very bad stuff. That would be extremely bad.

Still and all, isn’t all of this part of what makes New Orleans the city it is? Isn’t part of the feeling you get in New Orleans that everything is always on the edge, and could break bad at any second?


I had Chinese(ish) food for lunch. It came with a fortune cookie. My fortune is, "There is a true and sincere friendship between you both." Does that mean the cookie can hear the voices in my head too?

Thursday, September 09, 2004


The Financial Times has an article about a worldwide poll that shows that the rest of the world favors Kerry over Bush in the presidential race. I find that the most useful polls are really those conducted among people who have no say in the race. How come no pollsters have asked me about the race in the Third Congressional District in Virginia yet?

By the way, no link, since the FT only keeps them open for two days.


I spend lots of time on this blog unmercifully mocking the Houston Chronicle. I only do this because the Chronicle is a terrible paper. Yesterday they ran a story about a Venezuelan ice cream parlor that has unusual flavors. The flavors include ham and cheese, asparagus, smoked trout, and hamburger and fries.

This is not news. This is a condensed version of Iron Chef, where Japanese chefs seem to take it as an affront if they cannot use the ice cream maker, regardless of the theme ingredient. Just as I was ramping up to really let the Chronicle have it on this one, I noticed that the byline indicated that they lifted the story from the Chicago Tribune. I don’t get the right-wing, union-busting rag that is the Tribune, but what a blow to civic pride.


The San Diego Union-Tribune, which makes the aforementioned Chicago Tribune look like Soviet era Pravda in its politics, ran an interesting quasi-book review about a book called “Coined by God.” The book traces a number of words and phrases that appeared in English first in various translations of the Bible. Among the words are brokenhearted, communication, cucumber, ecstasy, horror, and blab. These are all good words, but if they appeared for the first time in the language in the Bible, how did anyone know what they meant? Particularly cucumber. I mean, you’ve had a cuke, or you haven’t, and there’s no explaining it if you haven’t, right? How does this work?

As for the phrases, they include all things to all men; eat, drink, and be merry; my cup runneth over; and two-edged sword. With particular reference to eat, drink, and be merry, the book attributes this to Luke, but the same language appears in Ecclesiastes and Isaiah. I guess judge not lest ye be judged (Matthew) would be an appropriate caution for me here. Anyway, the article is sort of interesting.


I like geography. I like when there are geographic tidbits in the news. Here are two of the kinds of stories I really like.

In rural France, women have been leaving the villages for the cities. This has left the men to work the fields alone, and has created a dearth of marriageable females. As anyone who has ever seen Pepe LePew knows, you don’t want a situation where the French have too few women. In such a situation, one of three things can happen. First, the men can follow the women to the cities and depopulate the countryside. Second, the men can lead a life of sexual frustration and work the fields until they die. Third, the men can put a pox on the French women and import a bunch of third world women who don’t know about the bright lights of Paris. This is the Eddie Murphy solution, named in honor of his joke about getting a woman from Africa who didn’t know what alimony was before he would get married.

In any case, the women in question are from Madagascar. It is a former French colony, so they speak French, and it is poor, so rural France seems like a pretty good deal. It started with one guy who had been stationed there in the military, and now her friends and family are marrying French guys from this village and emigrating to France. This is creating a remarkable little demography where the local grade school is 30% interracial. Very interesting. I guess LePen won’t be winning this area any time soon.

Meanwhile, east of France, past Madagascar, and around the Straight of Malacca are the Kuril islands. Japan and Russia have disagreed about sovereignty over these islands since at least 1946. However, with Russia’s current distress, the Japanese are really stepping up their efforts to get the islands back. The history of the conflict goes back to 1855, and is full of ambiguity, Yalta deals, and war. However, the Russians will not give them up because there is a very basic element of sovereignty over the Russian Far East they are anxious to assert, lest the Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans start eyeing this territory. Retaining the Kurils sends the signal that Russia is on the Pacific to stay. Japan won’t give up because . . . I don’t know why. Only 17,000 people lived on the islands at the end of World War II. Still, Japan has pushed the issue for a few years now, and doesn’t look like it will be moving on any time soon.

Friday, September 03, 2004


The Christian Science Monitor ran a story today about the beaches in Chicago. It is not anything new to people who know Chicago history, but it is OK. What scared me is the woman at Oak Street beach (of course) who said that "this is the Fort Lauderdale of the Midwest." What is that all about?

Thursday, September 02, 2004


I don’t blog more than a few times a month for the summer, and suddenly I have stuff every day. Good thing I’m not a columnist. I’d be screwed. Anyway, we’re off to the races . . .


I won’t even bother to discuss Alan Keyes and the Illinois Senate race. The Illinois GOP is an inept as any party organization I’ve ever seen, and the indictment of former Governor George Ryan just goes to show the corrupting influence of power. However, Keyes recently hit upon a fascinating opinion it appears many social conservatives share. Namely, he said that homosexuals were “selfish hedonists.” defines “hedonist” in three senses. They are: “Pursuit of or devotion to pleasure, especially to the pleasures of the senses. Philosophy. The ethical doctrine holding that only what is pleasant or has pleasant consequences is intrinsically good. Psychology. The doctrine holding that behavior is motivated by the desire for pleasure and the avoidance of pain.”

The inherent assumption in these definitions and in Keyes’ statement is the pleasure of homosexuality, and homosexual sex. That is very odd to me. Is Alan Keyes constantly showing his resolute morality in not blowing guys and having anal sex with them? I mean, I am pretty sure I’m hardwired to be straight. Thus, gay sex does not seem very inherently pleasurable to me. It is fine for people who are gay, but it is not attractive to me. I guess I’m no Alan Keyes though.


I have regularly ripped the Houston Chronicle. Now I see the error of my ways. The Chronicle appears to be the sole newspaper that ran this story (although it is an AP story). It seems that in the ethnically divided Bosnian city of Mostar, a statue of Bruce Lee is to be erected. This is because he embodied the values of “loyalty, friendship, skill and justice.” As such, he is an international hero that all ethnicities can agree on. One of the planners, Gatalo, an ethnic Croat, hopes the statue will help erase the city's tarnished image as a place of bitter ethnic rivalries. “We want that people, when you say Mostar, to respond, 'That's the city that has a monument to Bruce Lee,'” he said. Couldn’t hurt, right?


Today there was a very interesting story indicating that because different parts of the brain are used to process different kinds of written language, disorders like dyslexia are different in different cultures. For instance, the parts of the brain used to process this sentence, and the part of the brain used to process Chinese characters are not the same. Thus, dyslexia cannot (likely) be treated the same way for people from different writing traditions.

Brains are cool.


The Poles are proving to be difficult partners for the new European Union friends. Just as the French have spent decades bullying other EU members, the Poles are now making the most of being the biggest of the new entrants. First the Poles supported the US in Iraq, which the French in particular disapproved of. Next the Poles bought Boeing planes instead of Airbus, pissing the French off again. Then they temporarily blocked the “Constitution” for the EU, which pissed the French off yet more. Now the Poles are planning to strongly support EU membership for Turkey and Ukraine. The poor French and Germans. They’ve spent 50 years explaining why Turkey could be a NATO ally, but not an EU member (i.e. you can die for us, but not share a tariff), and Poland kicks the door in. Don’t they know a “gentlemen’s agreement” when they see one? The Europeans are going to keep the Asiatic, Muslim Turks out of the EU. They just have to change their rationale periodically.

See, this is the problem with having forced the Poles to throw off the Soviet yoke without European support. Poles seem to perceive the United States and the Vatican as the only two powers willing to support them as they worked to free themselves (again). Meanwhile the Germans and the rest of western Europe were willing to consign them to the role of historical victim. Now the Poles aren't beholden to any of their new partners, but seem to have the crazy idea that they are . . . gasp . . . equals. The Poles just need to be careful if the Germans, Austrians, and Russians starting having meetings about the troublesome Polish behavior. That never works out well for Poland.


Say what you want, but with Kobe’s last big contract from the Lakers he can probably pay his accuser to write a book saying that he never raped her. Since it appears she was never going to testify against him, this all starts to smeel like an expensive ATM trip to the Bank of Kobe. I am starting to get the feeling that the woman who accused him may not be entirely stable (see also, William Kennedy Smith’s latest accuser).

Wednesday, September 01, 2004


Well, Fall clean-up is upon us, and I just found this old, partially completed entry from May. It is not complete, but it is sort of interesting.

The New York Times had an article about the city's plan to take over management of seven private bus lines that operate under a franchise from the city to provide mass transit services on the fringes of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. I have not provided a link because the article itself is not very interesting. However, it does highlight a modern remnant of a strange period in the history of our cities.

It turns out that in some of the big cities of the late 19th century, the building of mass transit systems was taken on by private companies. Below is a very brief compare and contrast among three cities in how that worked out. In Chicago you first had the Chicago and South Side Rapid Transit Railroad Company, which built on the . . . wait for it . . . South Side. Next came the Lake Street Elevated, which went straight west. So far, so good. Then came the Metropolitan West Side Elevated, which went straight west, then split to serve the Southwest Side (Douglas Park), the west (Garfield Park), and the Northwest Side (Logan Square and Humboldt Park). Some overlap with the Lake Street Elevated, but still generally OK. Next came the unification of track downtown in what was called the Union Loop, and is today just "the Loop." This was a vast service improvement, since previously the various trains ended at terminals outside downtown, and transfers among them were difficult. Finally, the last elevated line in the private company era was by the Northwestern Elevated Railroad Company. This line went to Wilson and Broadway on one branch and Lawrence and Kimball on the other. Again. No problem. Thus, in Chicago there was competition, but very little overlap. Once again, the city that works.

In Boston the story starts in 1631(!) with a ferry from Boston to Charlestown. However, we jump in around 1880. At that time, streetcars had just begun in Boston, and were run by private firms. This led to a situation in which, "over-duplication of existing services, fares were not regulated, and competition for passengers was fierce." Thus, in 1887 the General Court of Massachusetts passed a law consolidating all streetcar lines into a single operation.

The history of New York is at the attached link (hey, I said it was unfinshed).

Of course, one consequence of competition is that there are losers. This can be functioning lines that lost the competition for customers, or private groups that simply could not complete what they had started. Sometimes the losers can be integrated into the unified system. Sometimes, cities are left with strange and interesting materials embedded in their landscapes. Here are links to pages that show some of this material in a variety of cities. These are sometimes failed attempts, sometimes competitive losers, and sometimes simply what is left over when upgrades are made. The pages are generally pretty good: London; New York; Chicago; Boston; Cincinnati; LA; Rochester; and Buffalo.

One of the Germans in this very picture could have been involved in these stories!!! Posted by Hello

Two stories in one day. In the first, two Germans in Essen were having such loud sex that they awoke an entire block. The police had to ask them to close their window and dial it down a notch. In the second, a man in Stuttgart had to be forcibly separated from the inflatable doll he was having sex with in the middle of a mall.