Saturday, December 30, 2006


There is an old myth that famous people die in threes. It is probably busted here, but you know you've heard it. In any case, James Brown, Gerald Ford, and Saddam Hussein? I wonder if any one of them would fail to disdain being grouped with the other two.

Saturday, December 23, 2006


Don't be expecting me to entertain you next week. You're on your own. I am on a holiday sabbatical, baby.

Just to send you off in the right frame of mind, here is some holiday joy for you. First, the Sun-Times reports that in the Turkish town of Demre a huge plastic Santa is on display. Pretty interesting in a Muslim country. More interesting is the fact that the town is aghast. Apparently the plastic Santa replaced a solemn statue of Saint Nicholas, who was the bishop there in the fourth century. The statue showed the tall, thin Nicholas standing with an open Bible. This of course, echoes the story about the Czechs being upset with Santa replacing the Christ child we discussed last week. Who says American consumerism can't unite the world?

Also in Christmas-related news, apparently as a birthday present the Polish parliament is working on a bill to make Jesus Christ the honorary King of Poland. Happy birthday! Surprisingly enough, the Catholic Church in Poland thinks this is stupid. Of course, given the bad luck Poland has had being independent, what with all of the partitioning and all, they may just be looking out for Jesus's interests. I mean, once you are king, you are more or less obligated to fight against future partitions, and odds are Poland is about ripe for another one of those.

So, anyway, Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


So, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has determined that the value of marijuana grown in the United States exceeds that of wheat and corn combined. California, Hawaii, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Washington State each produce more than $1 billion worth of pot each.

Of course, this is true in large part because the value of marijuana is artificially inflated by the fact that it is illegal. The report cited a value of $1606 a pound for weed. This means that weed is currently worth almost nine times what silver bullion is.

The stoner who heads the NORML is quoted as saying
Marijuana has become a pervasive and ineradicable part of the economy of the United States. The contribution of this market to the nation's gross domestic product is overlooked in the debate over effective control. Like all profitable agricultural crops marijuana adds resources and value to the economy. The focus of public policy should be how to effectively control this market through regulation and taxation in order to achieve immediate and realistic goals, such as reducing teenage access.

Actually, you could wipe out cultivation by legalizing weed, and flooding the market with any seized weed the government has, and taxing it at a low enough rate to discourage bootleg weed from hitting the market. The value of pot would fall from $1606 a pound to something much, much lower, and cultivators would have to make an economic decision about whether pot was worth growing. The market would stabilize, a level of illegality would be removed from many otherwise law-abiding stoners' lives, the police could pursue purveyors of hard drugs, instead of weed, and everything would be mellow.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


I wish you'd either put waylafoto on your blog aggregator or just look at it so I did not have to say when I put stuff there. Can you do that for me? Anyway, there is a new picture and commentary there.

Did you see the front page? Almost 50% of the pages were ads. Perhaps the concern about the demise of the mainstream media is overblown, if they can still sell so many full page ads. Anyway, not a great day in the paper. Looks like the world is winding down for the holidays.

In the business section there is an article about old people using life insurance policies as a way to get rich. For instance, an 80 year-old buys a seven million dollar life insurance policy. He gets two million dollars from investors, and names them as the beneficiaries of the policy. The investors pay the premiums and wait for the old guy to die. Apparently Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, and Warren Buffet all have "investments" in other people dying. The insurance companies hate this, although for a reason as cynical as the investors loving them. See, apparently the insurance companies bank on people paying for life insurance while they have young families, then closing the policy down when their families are grown. Out of 19.8 million policies, they actually pay on about 2 million. So, once again, the poor, poor insurance companies, who were swindling people, are now in danger of being swindled.

Second, there was a pretty scathing article about the reaction of the Transportation Security Administration to any public showing of the faults in the security system at airports. The assumption seems to be that the terrorists are unable to think creatively to thwart the security system, so in behooves us all not mention what we, as normal, non-criminals notice when we fly. This, of course, is idiotic. Kudos to those people who make public the inadequecies they discover so that TSA is forced to address them.

Third, the right is ascendant in Japan right now, and that seems to be bad news for everyone. They have apparently made the abductions in the 1970s and 1980s of Japanese citizens by North Korea the centerpiece of their campaign to get rid of the pacifist constitution, and otherwise build a more nationalistic, military Japan. While the abductions are a terrible story, this trend towards a more militant Japan may be even worse. At the end of the day, Japan is an island with a small population (compared to chief rival China), no natural resources, and surrounded by neighbors still upset about Japan's last foray into power politics. With China on the rise, it is hard to see how Japan would benefit from getting in a pissing match with the Chinese in military terms. As Admiral Yamamoto says in Tora! Tora! Tora! "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve." The Japanese rightists should make sure they do not have to say that of Beijing in the future.

Fourth, the city council in Coolorado Springs has refused (again) to allow a menorah on public grounds, since it is a religious symbol. The Christmas tree next to it? That's secular. You know, for all Americans, while the menorah is foreign, and religious. Of course, as the Damned Lawyer has said before, the Christmas tree may not be "Christian" as such, but it ain't there to celebrate the secular holiday of . . . what? What other holiday would it be than the birth of Christ? Come on Colorado Springs. Put up the menorah.

Finally, the Times has an article about a man who is essentially creating a new discipline in crime solving. He is, by the way, obsessed with the statue of Blessed Ludovica Albertoni in Rome and has some interesting things to say about it. Anyway, the discipline is trying to use art history, current crime trends, psychological profiling, and an understanding of what art is where in the world to predict who would steal different art, and predict what is most at risk for being stolen. He has worked with the F.B.I., Scotland Yard, and the Italian National Police to start to develop some of the knowledge it would take to do this. Apparently you can't just go to Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones and demand the art back.

A dinner with the governor of Louisiana was recently auctioned off in Monroe, Louisiana for $1. In and of itself that is not crazy, since many politicians have regional bases, and perhaps Monroe was not the governor's strong region. What is crazy is that news like this may not be important throughout Louisiana, but I got the story from a British newspaper. That's crazy.

A man driving in Wisconsin hit a deer with seven legs that may also have been a hermaphrodite. Keep in mind, this seven legged deer was not a John Madden turkey creation with a bunch of legs, this was actually produced in and lived in nature. "It kind of gives you the creeps when you look at it . . . and by the way, I did eat it. It was tasty" said the man. That's crazy.

The Prague Post carried a story about some Czechs who are upset that Santa Claus has been introduced into the Czech Republic. It seems that in the Czech tradition, Christmas presents are delivered by Ježíšek, which translates as the Baby Jesus. Apparently on Christmas Eve "after a traditional meal of fried carp and potato salad, children wait anxiously in a separate room. Ježíšek magically delivers the presents, a small bell is rung to signal he's left, and the children rush in to unwrap their haul." Wait, you don't have to stay up asembling presents all night? You just send the kids to another room and tell them the Baby Jesus will ring them when the gifts are ready? That's brilliant. This tradition is out there, there are millions of Czechs in the United States, and we have not adopted this ritual? That's crazy.

Finally, the Chicago Sun-Times ran an article on the business of selling church buildings. Interesting article, etc. etc. but the best part? There is a Roman Catholic Church in Milwaukee built in 1847 has a "For Sale by Owner" sign out in front because the area around the church has, over time, become industrial and commercial and the parish wants to move to a more residential neighborhood. For sale by owner? The parish priest is trying to sell the building? It's too bad that the Catholic Church doesn't have a hierarchical structure that would allow professionals to be on staff to help ensure a good return on sales, and allow the priest to focus on being a priest. That's crazy.

Friday, December 15, 2006


I am not under the illusion that the Chi is a mean, nasty city. As different as we are from the rest of the Midwest, we have a lot in common with the rest of the Midwest. In a very fundamental way, this translates as being just a little nicer than the New Yorks and Philadelphias of the world. A low threshold to be sure, but nevertheless, one we can exceed.

I was reminded of this this morning when I got to work. Last night I took a cab home with a Christmas present. I forgot the present in the cab. It was an off-brand cab and I could not find the name anywhere. I did realize that the package had my name and work address on it, but I was not very hopeful that I would get it.

Lo and behold, this morning the package was on my chair with a note saying that cabbie 989 found it in his cab and returned it to the address on the label. Unfortunately the only way the City of Chicago will give me contact information associated with the medallion number is by filing a FOIA request. Instead, I filed a compliment through the 311 system and they apparently will pass it on to the driver.

So, let me say, "thanks 989, and happy holidays."

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


There is no New York Times post this week. I was on the road to, ironically, New York City on Sunday and left the paper with L. Instead, I bring a travelogue for a short, easy trip. It is funny to me that even on a one day trip there is stuff to notice and appreciate. There are also a bunch of pictures from New York on the foto side. Anyway, most of the below was done on by Blackberry in more or less real time:

About noon, Sunday

I have never blogged from an airport before. Technically I will be blogging from home, since I am just tapping this into my Blackberry. Let's not get overly technical. I am waiting to get on a flight to Newark. Newark is good to fly into and get into New York from, and Midway, ironically, is easier to get to on public trans than O'Hare, although O'Hare is much closer to my abode. So here I sit.

Anyway, two things. First it is Sunday afternoon. The flight is delayed one hour. Everyone in the waitng area is on their cell phones talking like a Saprano (we are flying into Jersey), bemoaning the brutality of a one hour delay. Who are these people? Where do they need to be Sunday evening? Can so many people in velour track suits really be that busy?

Second, what happened to people that a one hour delay causes 45 minutes of phone discussion? Good God, half of these people don't appear to have brought reading material. They can read, right?

About five (Eastern) on Sunday

And now I am on the train that goes from the airport in Newark to Penn Station in New York. I wish it were light out so I could see what was happening outside. Inside, I was walking to a seat and passed a guy sitting in a seat staring intently at a full-nude centerfold type picture of Pamela Anderson. He had it spread out on his lap and was just staring. This is not to say that you don't see that sort of behavior in the Chi, but it is always surprising to see.

Monday morning

This morning I got up extra early to walk around the neighborhood a little. I was staying across the street from Madison Square Garden, and started walking west. The little map they gave me made it look like I was walking into Chelsea. I thought "Chelsea" sounded nice. However, the neighborhood was pretty thuggish. Turns out that I was perhaps technically in "Chelsea" but really in Hell's Kitchen. Very nice. That was funny, but I got a great picture of a church for my church collection. I also came across this mixed message:

See, Christ is saying "Come to Me All of You That Labor and Are Burdened and I Will Give You Rest" while the city makes clear that you cannot come to Christ by car from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. The message here? Go to Christ at night unless you take the subway.

Walking back I got to see lots of fun stuff. For instance, the rats really are bigger in New York:

This rat must have started life in a domesticated environment though, because there were lots of construction guys standing aroung this rat. Just up from the rat I learned a little Korean. In specific I now know how to write Weimann in Korean:

I think this is Korean. In retrospect I guess it could be an Ank and some squiggels. Very confusing symbols, although not as confusing as these guys in Murray Hill:

I particularly like where it says on the bottom that they were founded in 32 A.D., give or take a year or so. Still, aren't Jews for Jesus called pre-Pauline Christians?

About eight (Eastern) on Monday

I am on the plane to go home. Thankfully we are "on time" since we pushed away from the gate on time. Now we are sitting on the tarmac for two plus hours. Fantastic. Oh, and I finished my fantastic book delayed in Chicago. D'oh! Thankfully I am in 7C, and the guy in 8D is buddies with the guy in 8C. It only adds to the joy that the guy in 8D sounds EXACTLY like Steve Buscemi. Whose voice makes me want to punch him. As if life weren't perfect enough, these two guys are low level salesmen. They are headed to a sales meeting. And they are full of shit. The level of bravado about dis guy and dat guy (they *are* from Jersey) and amping each other up. Right behind me. On the positive side, once we take off we are only two hours from home. Kill me, please.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Today I saw this picture of Jack Abramoff. He was convicted of corruption-related chatges. That's plenty bad, although hardly noteworthy in the Chi. I mean, George Ryan, Dan Rostenkowski, Otto Kerner, Dan Walker, etc . etc. etc. No my issue with Abramoff is that damned hat. What the hell, Jack? Get a team hat. Better yet, live by the old baseball rule, no hat with a coat and tie!

I have heard stories of the government working on wonder weapons. For instance, plasma weapons have been explored. So have laser weapons. Some of these are to be non-lethal, while others are to be lethal only through very specific targeting.

Today a new threshold was crossed. Today gas took an airplane down. More specifically, a woman's farts caused an airliner to land prematurely. Actually to be even more specific, the matches she lit to cover the ass-stank freaked other passengers out, and the plane landed. Now that's a bad flight.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


Today was a particularly good day in the New York Times. I am not even going to blog the fantastically stupid Ethicist. It is not in the top five articles in today's paper. That is something. By the way, the Ethicist is really tremendously stupid this week. Really. In any case, I will try to gather this week's articles by theme.

First, we have a very interesting article on a man in Queens who carves for Greek Orthodox churches. He carves the iconostases in Greek churches, as well as bishops' thrones, baptismal fonts, pillars and other wood in orthodox churches. The story also describes carvings of symbols largely absent in the Western church, such as two-headed eagles and peacocks with furled tail-feathers. They must be incredible. By the way, the two gentlemen who work in his shop are Romanian and Ecuadorean, respectively and carve for Greek Orthodox churches. God bless America.

Next, speaking of religion, the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, California has voted to leave the Episcopal Church and seek "alternative oversight" in the Anglican Communion. The article runs through the opposing sides of the issue, and can be read here. The part I really liked was this quote:

The step is likely to provoke legal battles in civil and ecclesiastical courts over whether the diocese has the right to divorce itself from the denomination and over who owns the diocese’s assets. Another pressing issue is what will happen to parishes and clergy members in the diocese who do not want to disassociate from the church.

“This is unprecedented territory and will take the careful consideration of all parties involved,” a spokesman for the Episcopal Church, Bob Williams, said yesterday.

Ah yes, unprecedented. In fact, no Anglican has ever figured out how to hash out ownership of Church property or even how to suppress dissidents. Truly, this is unprecedented territory.

As long as we are talking about religious leadership, the Times had an interesting piece on B16's visit to Turkey last week. Apparently the writer was expecting B16 to go to Turkey and cast all of the Muslim demons into hell with a flick of his wand. Instead, B16 went into a mosque and prayed, and generally had a visit that people compared to being parallel to JPII's prayer at the Wailing Wall, with the leader of the billion Catholics reaching out to the Muslim world as his predecessor did to the Jewish world. Hot tip to the New York Times: one of the reasons that Ratzinger's name changed to B16 when he became Pope is that it is a different job, and the Pope is expected to be a peacemaker and a man who seeks dialogue. Meanwhile there is a Cardinal whose job it is to constantly remind us all of the Church's doctrine.

If we are talking Turkey, we should talk about this piece, which thoughtfully talks to a few of Germany's (B16's home country) 2.7 million Turks. The Turks have some interesting opinions. For instance, only 60% of Turks in Germany favor Turkey's entry into the European Union. Apparently it would be too expensive and would take resources from . . . the Turkish community in Germany. Some people interviewed are against membership for Romania and Bulgaria too. In other words, I am in the first world now, and I gots to keep my green! This may actually be a better sign of integration into German culture than any I have heard in a long time. More Turks in Germany than ever before (perhaps) identify their interests with Germany's interests, and not Turkey's. If only the French could say this of their minority populations.

Speaking of immigrants, this piece explores the possibility that heavy immigration has actually cut crime in the United States. This is counterintuitive to many of us, with Asian and Latin gangs seeming to have arisen in the last 10 or 15 years. However, some statistics have indicated that places like El Paso, San Diego, Little Village in Chicago, and parts of New York and Miami, violent crimes among Hispanics is lower than among non-Hispanic whites or blacks. There is a lot of controversy about this thesis. For instance, are crimes in Latin neighborhoods under-reported? Maybe. In fact probably. Also, second and third generations of immigrant families are much more likely to commit violent crimes than the first generation. In other words, they assimilate to American culture all too well. Long and the short of it? Interesting article fleshing out an interesting point, so read it.

As long as we are talking about ordering society in the United States, this is a funny article about the regulation of alcohol in Maine. Maine has apparently banned beer with obscene labels from being sold in the state, including Santa's Butt Winter Porter, and Les Sans Culottes French blonde ale. The Santa's Butt was banned because it might entice children (apparently kids into asses), while Les Sans Culottes was banned because its label showed a woman not wearing a shirt properly. Of course, the name Les Sana Culottes is closely associated with the topless broad in question, but Maine apparently has not chosen to over-fund art history in the state. Jeez Louise.

Now that we mention unloved masterpieces, the always fantastic Keeping Score column actually has a statistical argument for the Minnesota Twins to sign Barry Bonds. The argument is that statistically speaking signing Bonds is likely to create about five wins for a team next year. Thus, parameter one is that a team that need five wins to move up a notch should sign Bonds. Minnesota, check. Second, Bonds is likely to be a draw if he approaches Aaron's home run record. Bonds is 21 homers behind Aaron, and the statistics predict a twenty-five home run season for next year. Thus, parameter two is that the team need to fill seats at the end of the year. The Twinkies had over 20,000 empty seats a game in August and September. Minnesota, check. Finally, the Twinkies are typically unwilling to commit lots of money over a long period of time. If Bonds plays two years, it will be surprising. Minnesota, check.

Well, if we are talking about finding unusual deals, this article about the real estate market is next. The article is about problem houses, mostly costing over one million dollars. One, this is sweet, is painted like the inside of a medieval tent, with jungle scenes in the hallways. Yours for only $2.3 million. The article also discusses the fact that houses with expressways for backyards, houses with illegal additions, and houses with asbestos insulation are harder to sell. Very informative. Who knew that having asbestos-lined pipes with the Garden State Parkway rolling through the backyard would cause you to have to lower your asking price?

Finally, as long as we are discussing property, the Times carried this piece on street grids in New York and the boroughs. It is an essay that a guy wrote about riding his bike from Manhattan, land of the street grid, to Queens, which is apparently a free-for-all. The writer equates the diversity of Queens with the lack of a grid, which probably overstates the issue, but it is a nice essay and worth your time.

Friday, December 01, 2006


I posted some shots from the way to work this morning on waylafoto. Enjoy.