Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Every so often I see a story that leaves me flummoxed. For whom do I root? It's like when Notre Dame and Michigan play in football. There is not an obvious lesser evil in that game.

I saw such a story today. Apparently Starbuck's workers in Logan Square joined a union. Really. Click on the link. The Industrial Workers of the World Starbucks Workers Union. Really. "Baristas" are "industrial workers" in our postmodern economy. They seem like service workers to me, but what do I know? Anyway, the Starbuck's Union is demanding the following (per their web page):
  • Increased pay and raises (from $7.50/hr. to start to $10-WAYLA)
  • Guaranteed hours with the option of fulltime status
  • An end to understaffing
  • A healthier and safer workplace

The unionists also noted that Starbuck's apparently insures 42% of their workers, while Wal-Mart ensures 47% of its workers.

So, here's my problem. Starbuck's is very proud and loud about its "good coffee, doing good" ethos, as evidenced here. However, I think their coffee is crap. I will give them credit for the proliferation of independent cafes in many cities, but their cookie cutter approach to their stores effectively makes it necessary to go to an independent coffee purveyor just to figure out where you are. On balance, I have very little use for Starbuck's. On the other hand, when I am in a Starbuck's the "baristas" are too often snotty little shit-wits with run-of-the-mill piercings and tattoos. It makes me want to slap the taste of the mouths of the "baristas" who roll their eyes when I order a medium latte. You know damned well and good what "medium" is. It is the size between the smallest and biggest. At $4.00 a cup, I'll call it whatever I want. The tip jar they put out is the last straw for me. This joint is McDonald's with less selection and I'm supposed to tip someone for rolling their eyes at me?

So I guess you can see that I am torn. Seeing Starbuck's getting it stuck to them would be sweet. However, having the "baristas" I encounter do it would suck. So, Starbuck's, no more lecturing me about fair trade coffee until you insure your workers ("fair trade" or "eternal servitude to Starbuck's" is a rant for another post). "Baristas," please keep in mind that jobs where you stand behind a counter and have to wear a name tag are not generally considered "good" or "high skill" jobs. As such, it is unlikely that you will get $10/hour and great health insurance in one of those jobs anytime soon.

Sunday, August 27, 2006


Today was a decent Times day. Not like the tremendous days we have seen in the past, but worth the $5. First, they did their college football preview. Oddly enough, my Illini were not mentioned at all. I guess that's what happens when your program falls to the point where a five win season would be a major achievement.

Second, the Times did a short piece on Grigory Perelman. He is the math guy who recently refused the (apparently) highest award that can be given in math. Not an "A," but rather, a Fields Medal. He won the Fields Medal for solving Poincaré’s Conjecture. You know that conjecture, right? I mean, I have been puttering around with it, but I was distracted by the crossword puzzle this week, and didn't get back to it in time. Anyway, Perelman's (apparent) position is an admirable one. He did not "solve" anything. He worked in the context of a bunch of people and says that he was the last person to write what a bunch of people were working on. Very interesting. And eccentric, which ensures even more publicity than taking whatever the Fields Medal is.

Third, there was a nice piece on the budding debate regarding cul de sacs. Some suburbs and people who live in them swear by cul de sacs. They say they are safe, they create a neighborhood feel. They are great. Other people say that they are difficult to navigate, mandate the use of cars for essentially all activities, and create an insular mindset. I think that both might be correct. They have those benefits. They have those problems. On balance, people need to decide how they want to live. Do you want to walk to the store, meet people on other blocks, and have the relative insecurity of through traffic? Cul de sacs are bad for you. Do you want to know a group of people who live around you, and have the relative security of restricted traffic flows? Get you a cul de sac. In any case, the article is one of the most even-handed discussions of cul de sacs I have ever seen.

Finally, George Vecsey argues in the sports section that the Mets should name their new ball park for Jackie Robinson. The rationale appears to be that the Mets are New York's National League team, and the Dodgers were one of New York's National League teams until they moved to Los Angeles. Robinson played for the Dodgers in Brooklyn. Also, the new Mets Stadium is supposed to have a facade similar to the Dodgers' old Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. Those two rationales (New York NL team, Ebbets Field facade) are not sufficient for the Mets to name their stadium Jackie Robinson Field. Jackie Robinson was a Dodger. The New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Browns, Washington Senators, Kansas City A's, Boston Braves, Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, New York Giants, and Pittsburgh Pirates all could have signed Robinson. Only the Dodgers did, and only the Dodgers should have the right to name their stadium for him.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


Friday M was in my office, waiting to go get some lunch. I was trying to get an e-mail out, se he looked out my window. It looked like there was some sort of environmental spill on the river. From what we could see, there was a boom, like the one's they use to clean up oil in water, and there was certainly a lot of boat activity in the area:

We went to the north end of the office to get a better look. Then it was becoming clear. Chicago has having a duck race on the river. A duck race! On the essentially currentless Chicago River. Unfortunately, but perhaps foreseeably, the ducks did not appear to be moving on their own. Thus, the fire department was using a fire boat to push the ducks along. Unfortunately, but perhaps foreseeably, the fire department stream effectively pushed the ducks to the two banks of the river:

When we finally left for lunch there was a Streets and San boat gathering ducks that had jumped the boom and throwing them back into the middle of the river. I assume the duck race has had a winner by now...

Thursday, August 24, 2006


I was at a meeting atop the Hilton & Towers this morning. It was hazy, but I got some good pictures. They are posted in the fotoblog.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


I saw four things today that seem to me to be signs of the times. These are not things I spent all week gathering. These are today! Good grief.

In the first, a man named Mardin Azad Amin was arrested last week at O'Hare. There was something in Mr. Amin's bag that the TSA folks thought looked like a grenade. And, let's be honest. His name is Mardin Azad Amin. So TSA asked him what the thing was. Amin told them it was a bomb. He was promptly arrested. What was the thing really? A component from a penis pump. Why did Mr. Amin say that this was a bomb instead of saying what it was? Because his mom was nearby, and he didn't want her to know he was taking a penis pump to Turkey with him. Apparently in that family a bomb would be OK, but a sex toy would be waaaaay out of bounds. P.S. Mardin: she found out anyway, dumbass.

In another sign of the times, the United States has apparently ended a practice known as "catch-and-release." Analogizing people crossing the border to fish, the catch-and-release practice was to allow non-Mexicans caught sneaking into the United States while requiring them to show up for a hearing later. Naturally these people promptly disappeared into the United States without regard for their hearing date. In what is billed as "getting tough" but is really "applying common sense" these people will be detained until they can be returned to their home country. Don't get me wrong, I am a big critic of many of our immigration policies (see the May 2 post), but telling someone committing a crime, with no permanent U.S. address, and posting no bond, to show up for a hearing that will lead to their deportation is a better deal than even low-level criminals get. If you are going to bother to patrol the border, you can't just let people in this category walk away after you catch them. By the way, this change in practice is irrelevant to most Mexicans, since they are immediately returned to Mexico anyway. Oh, and by the way, 1,000,000 sneak across the border a year, according to the article. In six years the number of illegal aliens has risen by 3,500,000. Either (a) there is tremendous mortality among illegal immigrants, or (b) we are getting some repeat customers.

In a third sign of the times, apparently the new New Orleans telephone book was issued. Somewhere Navin Johnson is ecstatic. However, because New Orleans is still down roughly half of her population, the phone book is much smaller than it was. The article does an interesting analysis of the change in the sorts of ads that are thriving. "Antiques" are way down. "Roofing services" are way up. However, that is not so much the sign of the times as the fact that the "district sales manager" knob quoted in the article was somehow unable to turn off sales-lady mode for three seconds for a quote. She is quoted as saying "every single thing that people need to rebuild their lives is literally in that book." Yes, and if I let my fingers do the walking, I will find what I need. Jeez. Marketers never stop, do they?

In the last sign of the times, Japan has apparently proposed an Asian free trade zone, which would include Japan, India, Australia, China, and 12 others, including Malaysia and Thailand. What is interesting about this is the definition of "free trade." Japan just failed to move forward in the Doha round with some of these same countries. Also, do the Japanese really want duty free movement of goods between China and Japan? I am pretty sure they do not. Anyway, one sign of the times is unrealistic, grand trade proposals. See also Middle East Free Trade Area Initiative, Free Trade Area of the Americas.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


I hate to say it, but lately the New York Times has not been very satisfying for me. There are a few must reads, but not as many as before summer. Maybe that's the problem. Summer. Anyway, below are some must reads, with an interesting twist at the end from the international Catholic press. By the way, this post is experimental, as I am doing it using google's Writely program. We'll see how it works out.

I generally really enjoy the main New York Region story. It is often introspective (on a citywide basis) and charming. And I am not a guy who uses "charming" often. Today's was about apartments that every major city has that you really wonder about. Apartments that are directly against expressways, next to the el, or otherwise in a location that seems bizarre. In specific the Times talked to people who lived at the mouth of the Holland Tunnel, next to the Gowanus Expressway, at the top of a very steep hill on Staten Island, and in the middle of an industrial zone in the Bronx. It turns out that people often value these apartments for their . . . well . . . value. They are often well-situated, but relatively cheap. It also seems to take a certain type of person to live in a place like that. I have a better idea of who that is now than I did before. Plus the apartments are pretty wild.

Also, the really fantastic Keeping Score column had a piece today on overuse of young pitchers in the major leagues. The spot focused not on total innings pitched, but on the extent to which the total innings pitched exceeded previous career highs. In specific, when innings get to be 30-40 more than previous career highs, the player is heading for a breakdown. Of course, they could not resist the old pure innings analysis, giving us this graphic, which is theirs, not mine:

Third, the Times had an article about a town an hour east of Eugene, Oregon. The town was prosperous when the local timber industry was thriving. However, the wood was cut down, the timber was milled, and regulations changed to allow the forest to grow back. People made $15-$21 an hour in the mill. Now the mill is closed and people are camping in the forest because they are homeless. All that one hour from Eugene, home of the University of Oregon. I am guessing that there should be a financial transition program at Oregon . . .

Finally, at least from the Times, there is an article about the fact that people don't take two week vacations in summer anymore. I wonder what a two week vacation is like. It's long, I bet.

Moving on the special National Catholic Reporter bonus coverage, apparently Pope John Paul II (aka JP II) left some unpublished writings that were not completely unsympathetic to Marxism while bad-mouthing elements of American-style capitalism. Shocking! The Pope was critical of American-style capitalism?!? Economic disparity is a problem? See the following from a 1998 speech by JP II to see why it is hard to be shocked:
One is aware of the need to look beyond the mere economic dimensions of human labour, and to overcome the opposition of the inflexible laws of capital, to the urgent need to defend the dignity of the human person. These values must be safeguarded in a "market" that is always in danger of forgetting that "the goods of creation are meant for all. That which human industry produces ... with the contribution of work, must serve equally for the good of all" (Sollicitudo rei socialis, n. 39).

In actual shocking news, apparently Pope Pius XII, aka "Hitler's Pope," ordered that Jews and others the SS might be looking for be hidden in convents. The Tablet, a very good English Catholic paper reported it. I am struck by the fact that Pius XII's record is in such disarray that ordering that "more than ten Jews and non-Jews" were sheltered. More than 10? Wow. That rivals the work of some Belgian farm families!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Last night the Cubs, played an 18 inning game against the Astros. The Cubs are 51-68 and are 12.5 games out of first place and 10 out of the wild card. Their season is over and has been for a while. So, you might ask, why did the Cubs play 18 innings, using all of their players to win this game.

The answer is easy. They are rivals. Every Cub win against the Astros hurts the Astros. That makes it worth it to win at any cost. Sweet.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


L and I thought we were going to see something pretty obscure when we decided to go to Tug Fest. Well, we were wrong. Not only were there television advertisements for it in the Quad Cities, but this AP piece was in the Sun-Times today:

Rope burn: Illinois wins Mississippi tug-of war
August 15, 2006

LE CLAIRE, Iowa -- They pulled and tugged and tugged and pulled, and when it was over, Port Byron, Ill. had reclaimed the Great River Tugfest title.

2,700-foot rope spans river

It was the 20th annual tug-of-war across the Mississippi River between the western Illinois town and the eastern Iowa community of Le Claire.

A 2,700-foot rope spans the river. On each side, teams compete in 11 matches. On Saturday, Port Byron came away with an 8-3 victory, recapturing the alabaster bald eagle trophy from Le Claire.

''It was awesome to be out there and show them what Illinois is all about,'' said tugger Dusty McKeag.

The win ties the overall series at 10 victories apiece. Angela Mapes, president of the Iowa Tug team, said she was surprised at how far the Illinois teams pulled.

''They had seven pulls over 50 feet,'' Mapes said. ''I'm glad for Port Byron. Now we're tied and I think that'll make next year's competition even better.''
That pretty much sums it up.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


There was really only one thing in today's paper that I was really into. In the New York Report they had an article about Staten Island. The reporter walked the perimeter of the island over just under a week. The article is very interesting, and there is also a video available.

Apparently Staten Island is kind of a freak show of a place, with a self-declared monarch, wild dogs roaming the island, a house full of poets and crazy people 45 minutes from Wall Street, and other odd people. Very interesting. Makes me want to visit Staten Island.

L and I were on vacation Wednesday evening through Sunday. We drove from Chicago to the Quad Cities (Moline, IL, Rock Island, IL, Davenport, IA, and Bettendorf, IA for the uninitiated). I know, I know. People are going to ask why we would go to the Quad Cities for vacation. Well, we only had four days, and did not want to spend a day of that in airports. Of course, as of Thursday morning airports around the world were thrown into chaos, and L were feeling pretty smart. We could also brush our teeth and use lotion, which is more than airline passengers could say. More on that some other day.

Anyway, here's how to make old Midwestern, rust belt cities a short vacation wonderland. Step one, set reasonable expectations. Step two, choose to seek out what that place is good at. Don't go to Toledo, Ohio and complain that they didn't have New Orleans cuisine. Step three, see if you can get a local to hip you to some things before you go. Step four, be flexible.

Wednesday night was exciting for me, but not so much for L. After holding out for over a year, we finally broke down and got an IPASS. This means that we could go through the fast lane at the four(!) toll booths on I-88 between Chicago and the Quads. Very exciting to me. Less so to L. The open in question is why in the middle of cornfields, long past DeKalb, are there tolls on I-88? I figure that since the Republicans named it the Reagan Memorial Tollroad, they want to pack as much government spending into it as possible. And thus do we honor Reagan. In a similar vein, check out the Reagan building in DC some time. Ron would have loved that monster.

Thursday L and I got up and explored the cities. We drove around and did what we always do in rust belt cities. We chased steeples. We drove to where we saw tall, old looking steeples. It is a decent way to see the older parts of a city, and we both like old churches. Of course, in the home of Augustana College, the old churches all seem to be Lutheran. Anyway, we did that for a while, then came back to the room to snooze. After all, we are on vacation. We woke up just in time to be hungry, which worked out really well, because we found a place called the Bierstube in East Davenport. Decent German food, although why they served gnocci instead of spaetzle is beyond me. In any case, a place well worth a visit just for the beer and bretzels. We went back to the room and watched The DaVinci Code. Kind of a hatchet job, but whatever. Anyway, Thursday was a day doing things the Quads do well. Old churches, Germanic food.

Friday we started with Mass at St. Paul the Apostle in Davenport. There sure are a lot of old folks who go to Friday morning Mass in Davenport. Anyway, here's my hot tip that St. Paul at least was Irish--windows sponsored by the Flanagans, Curleys, Gillespies, and a bunch of other Irish names.

After Mass we searched for a nice cup of Joe. L and I looked around the downtown Rock Island area and came across Coffee Hound at 2108 3rd Avenue, Rock Island. Apparently they are a local chain, with a few other locations in the area. The Rock Island location has a drive-thru, and a nice atmosphere inside. It is a little lefty, I think, as shown by the copy of the Socialist newspaper under my Blackberry below.

After Joe what could be better than the John Deere Pavilion? The John Deere Pavilion is in Moline, as is John Deere. The Pavilion has machinery, merchandise, and everything John Deere. They have machinery with tires taller than L:

It was pretty cool. I will say that the problem with committing your logo to a statue is that if you ever change it, it will look like you have a random statue with your logo flying above it:

Anyway, if you want to know why the quad Cities has more than 100 people, and why I-74, I-80, and I-88 all come here instead of somewhere else, visit the Deere Pavilion.
Deere is to the Quad Cities what Caterpillar is to Peoria, and what the Big Three was to Detroit.

Originally we had planned to go see some fireworks on Friday night. However, in perusing the Quad City Times, I discovered that the Swing of the Quad Cities were scheduled to play a double header on Friday evening. A double header?!? Are you kidding me? After a rigorous nap, L and I left for game one. It was 15 minutes before game time, we did not know where we were going, and we did not have tickets. God bless small towns life. We paid $2 to park, $7 each for general admission tickets, and got in to see the first pitch of game one. How can you beat that? Well, I'll tell you. You can sit in general admission with this view of the field and river:

The Swing lost the first game, but it was pretty well played and we had fun. We left the second game early, but we did get to see a guy hit a home run that almost assuredly ended up in the Mississippi. It is only 318 down the line, but it was a good poke. More Swing pictures on the fotoblog. Also, the satellite shot here shows the configuration of the park.

Saturday was our last active vacation day. We dedicated it to Tugfest in LeClaire, Iowa. Port Byron, Illinois is the other half of the fest, but we were in Iowa. Tugfest is crazy. The centerpiece of the fest is a tug of war across the Mississippi River between teams from Iowa and teams from Illinois. They have a 2600 foot rope that they pull on. The teams line up in a tug pit and on "go" they pull like hell. They pull for three minutes. Nobody comes close to going in the river. Instead, after pulling for three minutes, they stop and measure who pulled the furthest. 50 feet is really good. They do this 10 or 12 times with different teams, and whoever wins more individual tugs wins the Tugfest. Illinois won this year. Woo-hoo! I'll add pictures later.

Anyway, the highlights on Tugfest are several. First, I got a pretty excellent farmer's sunburn. Actually, the farmers there looked much better than I do right now. I guess its a city boy burn. Second, the cuisine was outstanding. Corndog, funnel cake, shish kebob, lemonade. It was all good. None of it would be good outside the context of a fair/fest (except the kebob, which was excellent), but it kicked ass. Third was the Buffalo Bill Museum. Bill Simmons has a concept called the Unintentional Comedy Scale. It's as if this museum was created with this scale in mind. Buffalo Bill was born in LeClaire. Then he left and lived his entire life outside of LeClaire. Thus, the Buffalo Bill Museum has almost nothing to do with Buffalo Bill. Instead it was a LeClaire, Iowa museum, with some Buffalo Bill-era crap at the beginning. Really worth the price of admission (free for fest goers). Finally, the Tugfest had carnival rides. With real carnies. I mean, guys with three teeth. Carnies leering at the 13 year old girls. Carnies snoozing in the rides when there was not a line. Really excellent.

Sunday morning we got up and came home. We were home by 1:00. We are unpacked, happy, relaxed, and still have our toothpaste and shampoo. Vacation in a rust belt Midwestern city rules.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Today I had jury duty at the Honorable Richard J. Daley Center. You might have seen it in the end of the Blues Brothers, when the brothers drive through it to get to the Cook County Assessor's Office. Anyway, jury duty was wildly boring, and my panel was not even called. We just sat. All day. While everyone else in the room at least got to go to a courtroom.

And now I don't have to do it again for 12 months. Score.

Monday, August 07, 2006


Once again, this week was not very interesting. The most interesting thing is that the New York Times apparently saw the Wall Street Journal article referenced here, and took the same trip. I guess that makes sense, since I also wanted to take that trip. I just wouldn't have made it the centerpiece of my Travel section...

So there. By the way, the Cubs are 7-3 over their last 10. Break 'em up!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Matt asked for my thoughts on Alfonso Soriano and the fact that he remains a National. To be honest, I have never been sold on Soriano. He strikes me as a sketchy glove man at any position. I think the bat he uses is too large. He's a lifetime .280 hitter, which is okay, but his OBP is lifetime is .325. I'd like to see an OBP around .375 for him to be the superstar everyone says he is. He is fast and has power, but he strikes out 125 times a year (at least). In other words, I am not sure he makes enough contact to be as productive as we think he his. He sucks in the field. I think the Nats should have sold in the hot Soriano market and gotten value for him.

I can't avoid saying a few words about Greg Maddux and his departure from the Cubs. Maddux was a tremendous professional, and I suspect that he has helped Carlos Zambrano enormously, and I wish him a World Series victory in Los Angeles. I don't think there is a prayer that will happen, but it would be nice for Maddux. Also, nice job by the Cubs getting Cesar Izturis for Greg Maddux.

Finally, there is Mel Gibson. As everyone in the world knows, Gibson was arrested for DUI, and apparently said to the arresting deputy "the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world . . . are you a Jew?" In the fallout from that Gibson was quoted as saying "as a public person, 'when I say something, either articulated and thought out, or blurted out in a moment of insanity, my words carry weight in the public arena.'" Yeah. Well, here's the thing. When I get drunk and meet people I don't know, I don't usually just start yelling racial/ethnic slurs at the person. It isn't that my sanity keeps me from blurting these things out. It is that I don't think them. That leads me to believe that Mel Gibson is facing one of three possibilities:

(1) he is insane (using his term)
(2) he is an anti-Semite
(3) he is an insane anti-Semite.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


This may be my new favorite headline: Internet blogs explode with Castro rumors. Of all the kinds of blogs that could explode with rumors, better it be the internet blogs in virtual space than the backyard blogs or the sidewalk blogs, either of which could have hurt some people when they exploded.