Sunday, November 26, 2006


Here's hoping that everyone had a good holiday. I know that we did. Michigan, and all that. Anyway, this was a good week in the New York Times. And away we go.

First, in a topic near and dear to my liver, the Times carried an article about the fight in the European Union over the definition of "vodka." Poland, Finland, Sweden, Latvia, and Estonia all say that "vodka" is made only from grains, potatoes, and sugar-beet molasses. On the other side are Italy, France, the U.K., and the Netherlands. They say vodka can be made out of whatever you want. What's funny is that the sides do not seem to really be arguing about the characteristics of "vodka," but rather the ingredients. They also seem to be arguing about tradition, history, and money. While I favor the traditional vodkas, it will be interesting to see if the French grape vodkas, for instance, can be accepted as "vodkas" in the mass American market.

Second, the Times had an article about a subculture of home schoolers called "unschoolers." Apparently in unschooling the kids do what they want, and learn as they need to. Thus, math is learned to calculate allowance, interest on allowance, etc. As kids experience things, they learn about them. Frankly, I suspect that the New York Times must have done this theory of teaching dirty, since if that's all it is, it is idiotic. While there is something to be said for running with a child's interests, one important point of school is to learn things you don't generally encounter in your young life. There is at least one academic who hates the idea:

As school choice expands and home-schooling in general grows, this is one of those models that I think the larger public sphere needs to be aware of because the folks who are engaging in these radical forms of school are doing so legally,” said Professor Huerta of Columbia. “If the public and policy makers don’t feel that this is a form of schooling that is producing productive citizens, then people should vote to make changes accordingly.

Third, the Times has an article about scams. The interesting thing is the parts about the psychology of the scammed. The schemes they are presented with all seem plausible. Many involve flipping property for significant profits. However, on A&E you can watch four hours straight of people making $100,000 per episode flipping houses. Seems like free money, and if the scammers put together a good enough story, it is easy for people to believe that they are getting in on these good deals. Sadly, the con artists hone right in on this and have robbed some of these people blind.

Fourth, apparently Los Angeles is abandoning the iconic palm tree. Apparently the palm trees are lousy at providing shade. Los Angeles is, on average, less shaded (18%) than "the national average" (28%). I question the "national average" because it seems to me that the vast majority of the country from the Rockies to the Mississippi is "unshaded" except by corn, wheat, beans, and livestock, but that is not the point here. In addition, palm trees do not convert carbon monoxide to oxygen as well as other trees, and do not groom themselves very well. Other than that they are super. Anyway, Los Angeles is cutting bait on the palm tree.

Fifth, the Week in Review had a quick little hit that pointed out that weekly pay for financial sector jobs in Manhattan is $8,323, up $3,000 in three years. Also, the 280,000 workers in the financial sector collect half of all Manhattan wages while constituting 1/6 of all employees in Manhattan. That is a tremendous disparity between haves and have-nots. It also points out how vulnerable New York is to a downturn in the financial sector.

Finally, Murray Chass wrote an article about the saga of Barry Bonds. Bonds is very unlikely to go back to the Giants, is 42, and has bad knees. He half-asses fielding, and is a public relations disaster. Nevertheless, his agent has already said that Bonds does not want to be a designated hitter. He'd apparently rather lose his new team a few games a year in the field than just hit. Apparently being a DH would tarnish his reputation. What an ass.

Monday, November 20, 2006


Big day in the paper of record on November 19. Several articles on the front page, race in sports, then an interesting only-in-New-York piece on the Yankees.

First, there was an interesting article on the state of the Yellow River in China. It seems from the article that the Yellow may be iconic for China like the Mississippi is for the United States, or the Rhein for the Germans. However, apparently the Yellow is now so controlled, with so little regulation of diversion for irrigation that aquifers are being drained downstream, and the river often does not reach the sea. This is sort of like the Colorado River in the U.S., except that the Colorado's use is heavily planned and regulated. It is distinctly possible that China, in its current boundries, may simply not be able to sustain the growth it needs for its population. If that's true, the great issue of our times may be China's efforts to get these resources. I'm looking at you big, rich, empty Siberia.

Second, the Times had a great article about the growth of the wine industry in Iowa. Yes, Iowa. The grapes are different varieties than the California grapes, or the European grapes, but apparently some of the wines are decent. To me the most interesting thing about this is the interplay between two kinds of foodie snobbery. First, there are the buy fresh, buy local types, as exemplified by the James Beard Foundation and the Chez Panisse types. On the other hand, there is the snobbery regarding wine from flyover country. Which snobbery will win? Can people bring themselves to drink a decent, rustic wine that is local? This will be fun to watch.

Murray Chass had an interesting piece on the disparity in treatment between fired minority and white managers in Major League Baseball. It is interesting that Tony Peña, Luis Pujols, Carlos Tosca, Jerry Royster, Lloyd McClendon, Jerry Manuel, and Davey Lopes have all managed, been fired, and not gotten a second chance to manage. Also, guys like Dusty Baker and Don Baylor are without third managing jobs right now. Meanwhile, there are white guys who seem to never be without jobs, no matter how much they sucked. In fairness, several of those guys seemed like stretches when they got the jobs. Lloyd McClendon and Davey Lopes were both pretty undistinguished in their tenures. Dusty and Baylor are both cursed by being former Cub managers, so they are done. Still, some of the other guys are inexplicable.

Finally, the sports section had an article saying that the Yankees are pulling back on the "win at any cost" mentality that they have exhibited since 2000 or so. One cited piece of evidence? The Yankees bid "only" $30 million for the right to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Red Sox "won" this competition by bidding $51.1 million. This is only for the right to negotiate a contract with the guy. Also, keep in mind that the entire Devil Rays payroll in 2006 was $35.4 million. While the Rays are no model for professional sports, the fact that the Yankees are pulling back by bidding the Rays' payroll is not good.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Once upon a time, everyone in the world realized that a very small strip of land was keeping trade from flowing between two great water basins. I know that you assume that I am talking about the Chicago Portage, which separated the Great Lakes/Atlantic Ocean watershed from the Gulf of Mexico watershed. You're wrong. Besides, that problem has gotten plenty of thought, in the old days, the slightly less old days, and now. How Chi-centric do you think I am?

Today we are talking about Central America. As some of you may know, Central America separates the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and going the long way 'round is really long. Thus, people have long dreamed of cutting a hole in Central America to let ships through. This was first accomplished in 1914, after Teddy Roosevelt helpfully found enough Panamanians willing to form a govenment to wrest the area from Colombia. This meant that the other likely route, through Nicaragua became irrelevant. Thus, Nicaragua lost the opportunity to have a United States-controlled canal zone through the middle of the country, and had to settle for periodic invasions by U.S. forces instead.

All that may be changing though. Nicaragua is thinking about building a rival canal. Of course, Panama has a canal, and the proposed canal would cost about four times Nicaragua's gross national product. Still, those are mere details. Because two things are at stake here. First, Panama cannot upgrade the Panama Canal enough to transit the biggest container ships. Thus, there may be demand. Second, it would be expected to make Nicaragua a Big Country. With a canal, people would care about Nicaragua. It would be a playa.

I don't think anyone should show Nicaragua this study that shows that the Panama Canal has never really enriched Panamanians. Or tell them that unaffordable, uneconomic "national pride" megaprojects have not always worked out very well.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


There are three articles in today's New York Times that I want to discuss, not counting the Ethicist. I am not counting the Ethicist because it is clear that the world is out of ethics questions. It is the ethical equivalent to Fukuyama's end of history. I say this because someone actually wrote in to ask if it was ethical to get a public document to find out information someone was not forthcoming about. Well, there's an ethical dilemma! I can't even rip the Ethicist for that.

Anyway, the first article is about the town of Hamilton, Washington. Hamilton is on the Skagit River north of Seattle. The Skagit River periodically floods the town. It flood regularly enough that residents have their basic flood plan, which apparently starts with loading valuables into RVs and driving up a hill after putting nice furniture on the second floor (where applicable). Apparently lots of people live in "manufactured housing" so there is no upstairs. Anyway, apparently there is a movement afoot to move the town a quarter mile away, which is up a hill. That would mean the end of flooding. However, because the locals are assisted by FEMA after each flood, there are a number of residents unwilling to move the town. Understand, this isn't New Orleans, with a catastrophic flood every century or so. This is like every couple of years. Not good. FEMA ought to pay to move the town and save money, frustration, possessions, and maybe lives.

Second, there was an article about the tremendous spike in the number of bags lost by the airlines. This is due, in part, to the fact that people who insist on carrying liquids and gels (stupid tooth paste!) are required to check them. This means more bags. The average bags lost per 1,000 passengers has doubled, so it is not only a matter of more bags. It is also a greater efficiency at losing bags. This represents a real step forward for an industry that almost had people actually expecting to have their bags travel with them. Cramped, late, and bagless-God bless flying.

The Realty section had an article about the parking space/no parking space debate for condominium developments. I know that in New York it is common that condos not have deeded parking. However, in the Chi and many other cities there is a requirement-generally stated as a ratio of units, bedrooms, or other factors to provided parking spots. In other words, for each unit you must provide 1.2 parking spots, etc. The article points out a very interesting theory. Maybe one way to alleviate traffic congestion is to not require any spots. In fact, apparently San Francisco bars you from providing too much parking. This could, theoretically, allow more people to purchase housing, since the price is not artificially inflated by including parking. It also pushes the cost of car ownership on to car owners. In theory, it makes housing prices cheaper and parking costs higher. It is an interesting idea, although it requires a good public transit system. Still, intriguing.

Friday, November 10, 2006


Saturday is November 11. Veterans Day. It also commemorates the end of the Great War, although manyEuropeans insist on listing the end date of the Great War as 1919, rather than 1918. Apparently they think wars end with treaties, rather than cease fires. Takes all kinds.

In the middle of a war (or two), the American Movie Channel has decided to honor Veterans Day by showing a bunch of war movies. They started with Patton, which is brilliant. Really brilliant. I am an American. I love a winner, and I will not tolerate a loser (unless wearing Cub pinstripes). How about this quote about his "pearl-handled pistols": "they're ivory. Only a pimp from a cheap New Orleans whorehouse would carry a pearl-handled pistol." The movie makes me want to invade Sicily!

Later they will show Tora! Tora! Tora!, which actually does a pretty good job of showing a Japanese perspective on Pearl Harbor. Look at the cast. Japanese characters are played by men with names like Masuda, Yamamura, and Tamura. They are Japanese. Another great, great flick. Incidentally, both this and Patton are from 1970.

Sadly, like the turd in a turd sandwich, they are also showing The Green Berets, with John Wayne. I don't know if this movie is more sad or humiliating. For instance, George "Mr. Sulu" Takei plays a pidgin-speaking, Communist-killing Vietnamese captain named Nim. It actually made me sad to hear him talk in a phony Vietnamese accent. He just said, in his best Sambo grin, "we no win war without helicopters." Well, Nim, no win war with or without helicopter. They also have a loveable Vietnamese ragamuffin named, seriously, Hamchunk, whose IMBD quote is "was my Peter-san brave?" Peter-san? Where the hell did this kid learn Japanese? The best thing about this movie? It's 141 minutes long. Two hours and twenty-one minutes you'll never get back. Ever. Oh, and in 1968 John Wayne was about as fit to be a Green Beret as I am.

So, anyway, thanks again Vets.

I started to write this post in response to the headline I saw that said "Bush supports hybrids, flex-fuel cars: spokesman." I thought what you thought: someone crept into the White House a replaced George W. Bush with a pod person who actually supported trying to end our dependence on foreign oil. I was shocked and was ramping up the mockery.

Then I saw this article. I didn't realize there were still races ongoing, so I started skimming it. This is beautiful!

  • "In the Columbus, Ohio-area, elections officials are delaying the count of more than 9,000 provisional ballots by one day so it doesn't disrupt the much-vaulted Ohio State-Michigan football game on Nov. 18."

Much vaulted? I know that "vaunt" means "boast about or praise." Is it a "much-vaunted" game? For the descriptivists out there (L), "much vaulted" has 2,160 Google hits. "Much-vaunted" had over 600,000. Of course, the author could have meant "vaulted" and we can expect to see a bunch of this over the game. Oh, and do they count the ballots in the middle of the stadium at Ohio State? How will counting ballots disrupt the football game? How do they count votes in Ohio?

  • "Rep. Barbara Cubin, who threatened to slap her wheelchair-bound Libertarian opponent after a debate, is ahead by fewer than a thousand votes in her Wyoming contest."

Wow. What do you have to do to lose a Congressional election in Wyoming? Kill a man just for snoring?

  • "In Florida, a recount is set to begin Wednesday in Rep. Katherine Harris' former district. Republican Vern Buchanan has a 373-vote lead and has declared victory over Democrat Christine Jennings. The Associated Press has declared Buchanan the winner."

Well, if AP has already declared a winner, why are the jerking around with the voting?

Anyway, there are a couple of new shots on the fotoblog.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


One of the conceits of this blog is that I assume that the simple things I "discover" and am fascinated by are also interesting and fascinating to you. Or not. The other conceit is that anyone reads my blog.

In any case, L and I make a soup called Curried Cauliflower soup. The recipe is basically roasted cauliflower, onions, chicken stock, water, salt, pepper, and curry. It is pretty easy. However, it has always been a very messy soup, since the roasted cauliflower and onions are supposed to be liquefied. This gives the soup the consistency of being Cream of Cauliflower, but involved no cream. Just liquefied vegetables. To liquefy the cauliflower and onions we would put batches into the blender and liquefy. This meant that there was drippage going into the blender, coming out of the blender, and use of unnecessary containers to hold the liquefied soup. It always destroyed the kitchen. For years L and I discussed the need to buy an immersion blender. That would make this all easy, we thought.

Well, last weekend I bought an immersion blender. And last night we used the immersion blender to make the soup. And it took all of four minutes to liquefy the soup, the kitchen stayed neat, and clean up took about ten minutes. And it was all because after taking about getting an immersion blender for five years, we finally spent $49.99 on one.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


There are a lot of things that can be said about the elections on Tuesday. They will mostly be said elsewhere. What is interesting is the change the election wrought on politics right here in the Chi.

See, Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Luis Gutierrez are both Congressmen representing districts that are partially in Chicago. They both have made noise in the past about running against Richie for mayor, and this looked like a particularly good time to be doing so. Richie's administration has been beset by a few scandals and convictions, and it is not clear whether the taint of corruption makes it (literally) into the mayor's office. Of course this report says that Richie is still viewed positively, and he is expected to have an $8 million war chest for the election. Nevertheless, there may never be a better time to go after him.

Like many people, I had considered it a foregone conclusion that Jesse, Jr. would run for mayor in 2008. However, in the wake of the elections on Tuesday he expects to

become a 'cardinal'—the powerful chairman of a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. Gaining that spot would “exponentially” increase his ability to bring money and projects to his South Side/south suburban district, Mr. Jackson said.

Meanwhile Gutierrez expects to be a powerful member of the banking/finance committee structure. Now neither seems interested in giving up life in the majority for an uphill fight in which they will be outspent by roughly 8 to 1. Said Jackson about his ability to raise money "'If Chicago isn’t willing to fund an effort to have a conversation about our future, it’s very difficult' to run." Because it's our fault that he can't raise money. Anyway, suddenly Richie looks likely to be almost unopposed instead of having to battle solid local politicians. Who knows what the ripple has been for people planning to run for Jesse, Jr. and Gutierrez's seats.

As an aside, there are a lot of things you can say about Jesse, Jr., many of which are negative, but he knows why he was sent to Washington. He actually has this page on his web page that touts the exact amount of pork he's brought to the district each term he's been in Congress. Of course, even in touting his pork he is full of crap. In 2004 he claims to have brought home $80 million in pork. Of that $29,000,000 was for the Deep Tunnel project reservoirs, and $21,000,000 was for reconstructing the lake front. Neither Deep Tunnel, nor the Lakefront Reconstruction are Jesse, Jr. programs. That's over half the total! They just happen to happen (in part) in his district. What an ass.


Today is Jose Offerman's birthday. He turns 38 today. Offerman played for the Dodgers and Royals for the best parts of his career. Offerman played over 100 games per year at shortstop for the Dodgers in 1992, 1993, and 1995. His fielding inspired my favorite baseball joke of that era. See, Offerman was not good in the field. At all. In 1992 he had 42 errors. In 1993 he had 37. In 1995 he had 35. Good shortstops make about half as many errors per season as Offerman did.

Anyway, the joke is:

Q: Do you know how to spell "Offerman"?

A: One "O" two "F"s and 42 "E"s.*


* "E" is the baseball abbreviation for "error." Now laugh.

Monday, November 06, 2006


I am reading a book by the author Henning Mankell. He is a Swede, and writes mystery books. I read one when L and I were in Germany for our honeymoon, but that one was German. I guess I did not notice what I am about to say, perhaps because I was reading in German.

The book is set in southern Sweden. Swedish names/words include (but are not limited to) Hansson, Martinsson, Högland, Björklund, Åkeson, Styrbordsgången, Forsfält, Elkholm, Smedstorp. As I was reading, I kept getting the urge to buy inexpensive home furnishings. And maybe wooden toys. And possibly a nice kitchen. Why? I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then I realized. It’s like reading the IKEA catalog. In fact, look at this version of the IKEA catalog, which is even more like my book. I have enjoyed both Mankell books I've read, but I keep wondering if the Björklund comes in white, and how many pieces there are in the Styrbordsgången. Is the Forsfält on sale, or only the Högland?

Damn you IKEA!

Today I awoke with a headache. I was a little late. I went to a Continuing Legal Education class that was brutal. It was at 2:15, when the CLE got out that my day started looking up. See the picture below.

See all the cool stuff? I got flowers (because I rock), and the two buddhas (two for a dollar), the two Star Wars Episode One erasers (four for a dollar), and the Sphinx ashtray, all after 2:30.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


So, Saddam was sentenced today to hang for his conviction of committing crimes against humanity. The lawyer in me says that even if Saddam's trial was imperfect, there cannot be a realistic reasonable doubt that Saddam is guilty of terrible crimes that are eligible for the death penalty under Iraqi law. That being said, I have issues with it.

First, hanging, as described here, is not a humane way to commit an inhumane act. It seems better than death by insects ("There are many variations on the scenario in which the sentenced was staked to the ground, smeared with something sweet like honey, and left out to eventually be eaten by insects"), or garrotting ("It consists of a bench in which the sentenced sits. He leans on a pole around which there is an iron circle that grips him around the throat; a screw handle tightens harder and harder until he dies by strangling, while an iron wedge causes the breaking of cerebral vertebrae.
Garrotte was used in Spain until a few decades ago.") Still, it would be tremendously preferred (by me) if Saddam could die of a heart attack after conviction but before execution.

Besides, killing people seems to perpetuate a cycle of violence that it was meant to end. In fact, I suspect that Iraqis would probably be better off if Saddam were to rot in a jail cell for the next 20 years. That, in some ways, would emasculate him more than execution.


I can't call this a New York Times post. The paper is overwhelmed with election coverage. However, I live in Illinois. No Senator is up for election here, and I live in a safe Democratic district. In fact, the race is not even listed on this "major races we're covering" from our local public radio, and the guy running against him has THIS as the sole issue on his flyer (that he hands out at the 'L' stop). The guy says that progress has been too slow. Meanwhile, and this might be a surprise, the Federal government is not actually doing the construction on the Brown line . . . In any case, the election coverage is interesting like the Bears game (which was a disaster that will not be discussed further): I am interested in each, but can't control them and am not interested in reading about them when I can just wait and see the results.

On a more uplifting note, I saw Borat yesterday. L does not like "humor" that is made by exposing people's ignorance, or otherwise mocking them. She wisely decided that Borat was not something she would enjoy. Good call. The movie is very, very funny, but you have to understand what the humor is. Watch the two trailers here. Borat is relentlessly hilarious and embarrassing, and may have been arrested at least three times filming the movie.

I also bought a new Timex and a new video game. Good stuff.

Friday, November 03, 2006


The Sun-Times carried a story from Bellevue, Washington about a woman "surprised" by the birth of her seven pound child. I assumed that they meant that the child arrived prior to the calculated "due" date. Oh no. She went into the hospital for "sharp stomach pain." Her seven pound child was delivered by cesaerian. I guess I call either "bullshit" or "uh-oh."

Now, the lady says that she "didn't experience typical pregnancy symptoms, like a missed menstruation, morning sickness, fatigue or food cravings." What? I understand that morning sickness, fatigue, and food cravings can all be variable. L has not had morning sickness, and has not really had food cravings, as such (oh, yes. L is almost 18 weeks pregnant. I guess I didn't tell you yet. Well, there it is.). However, the little high school health class I recollect makes me suspect that you *must* miss menstruation during the pregnancy process. Hormones and all that.

Seems to me like there is something more to this story. If I were the Washington State Department of Health and Social Services I might keep an eye on this lady.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


The Chrisitan Science Monitor has two interesting articles today that are oddly related. The first is entitled "China Woos African Trade." The second is entitled "India Steps Up Trade Ties in Africa." Those two articles represent roughly 2.2 billion people interested in trade with Africa.

To be fair, the first article covers more of the problematic reality that the Chinese trade with the most repugnant regimes in Africa without taking any notice whatever of the human rights or internal governance issues the countries may have. Now that the cold war is over, the U.S. doesn't do that anymore (except for oil) . . . (or against terrorism).

Anyway, both articles mention the mineral wealth that Africa possesses and frame the issue as Africa being in the catbird seat between India and China (as well as the rest of the world). In addition, unmentioned in the articles are the trade benefits that the Europeans give to Africa, or either of the two programs the United States extends to African trade, as well as the free trade agreements the United States has negotiated (or is negotiating) in Africa. Seems like Africa is really moving forward!

Of course, even with all of these great friends, Africa still has a few issues. Thirty-four of the fifty least developed countries in the world are in Africa. Even as compared to all LDCs and other regions, Africa's LDCs have the lowest daily caloric intake, the lowest percentage enrollment in secondary schools, the lowest adult literacy, and the highest child mortality. Meanwhile this link shows the high incidence of A.I.D.S. in Africa. What the colonialist Belgians, French, English, Germans, Spanish, Italians, and Portuguese inadvertantly left in the soil in the 19th Century, the Chinese and Indians are now seeking. Whatever they don't get the United States will no doubt pursue. My guess, based on past history, is that this is not going to end well...

And so I say, if Africa's present is filled with friends, what would enemies do to it?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Check the foto blog.


The Christian Science Monitor had an article on November 1 about the old Jewish neighborhood of Shanghai, China. At one time, the area was known as Little Vienna because of all of the Central European Jews in the area. It turns out that the Jews who arrived fleeing Hitler mostly left by the time Mao took over. However, they and the Jews who lived in Shanghai before the war left quite a legacy.

This picture gives you an idea of why it was called Little Vienna. This page shows everything Shanghai and Jewish.