Wednesday, August 31, 2005

More Constant Gardener

On Rotten Tomatoes, The Constant Gardener is looking ripe (that's a good thing, by the way).



One of the best descriptions from a reviewer:

"The Constant Gardener is a thriller with plenty on its mind. It leaves us wondering how well we know the world around us, not to mention the people we love. It's appropriately unsettling."
-- Robert Denerstein, DENVER ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS

Tribune gives The Constant Gardener Four Stars

See it!
An old Hollywood adage about movie adaptations says that good novels make bad movies and bad, pulpy novels make great movies.

It's a fallacy, of course. Good books make good movies all the time. David Fincher sharpened and expanded Chuck Palahniuk's "Fight Club," and Robert Redford captured Norman Maclean's pathos and poetry in "A River Runs Through It."

Very seldom, however, do movies illuminate a print work, mine from it new emotional resonance and thematic tensions. Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles accomplishes exactly this in his translation of John le Carre's "The Constant Gardener," a sweaty, vital masterpiece that's always one step ahead of its audience. Read More (though beware of spoilers!)

And on the film's social relevance:
But whatever Meirelles loses with the omission, he gains in political potency. Seldom have African landscapes and culture been portrayed with such intimacy and power. Unlike the abstract consequences in le Carre's Cold War novels, the politics of African debt and disease in "The Constant Gardener" are horrific and breathlessly immediate.

Nearly 1,000 dead in bridge collapse in Iraq

What a sad couple of days. Mass deaths on both sides of the world today, as a bridge stampede killed nearly 1,000 in Iraq:
Almost 1,000 people are known to have died in a stampede of Shia pilgrims in northern Baghdad, Iraqi health officials have said.

So far, there have been at least 965 confirmed deaths, making the incident the single biggest loss of Iraqi life since the US-led invasion in 2003.


The incident happened on a river bridge as about a million Shias marched to a shrine for a religious festival.

New Orelans federal emergency money was drastically cut since 2001

One of the most frustrating things about the upheaval in New Orleans is that it might have been preventable. As I mentioned earlier, New Orleans was flagged as one of the top three potential disaster sites in the nation in 2001. More on that:
Since 2003, FEMA gave no money to Orleans and Jefferson Parishes in Louisiana, even though it recognized the flooding risks from a hurricane or levee breach as reported here about four hours ago.

Maestri [the local EM director] is still awaiting word from FEMA officials as to why Louisiana, despite being called the "floodplain of the nation" in a 2002 FEMA report, received no disaster mitigation grant money from FEMA in 2003 ("Homeland Insecurity," Sept. 28). Maestri says the rejection left emergency officials around the state "flabbergasted."

It is times like these when lack of a competent government becomes fatally clear. On a day to day level, assessing and ensuring preparedness for an emergency does not seem pressing, and thus receives little political or media attention. A competent leader will still ensure that funding and personnel are available for a worst-case scenario, even if such preparedness goes ignored or even lambasted by people such as tax-cut activists and political opponents; a wasteful, reckless leader will also go unnoticed should he deprive emergency services of money and personnel. Sadly, it is not until after the fact that these deficiencies become comprehensible in the loss of lives, property, and livelihoods that we are seeing today in the Mississippi Delta.

What's more, the money that could have prevented one disaster was being put into another disaster:
Over the next 10 years, the Army Corps of Engineers, tasked with carrying out SELA, spent $430 million on shoring up levees and building pumping stations, with $50 million in local aid. Yet after 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA dropped to a trickle. The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security -- coming at the same time as federal tax cuts -- was the reason for the strain.

Here's one stressed out weatherman

Everyone must watch this. Thanks to Crooks and Liars for this one.

Don't interrupt Chad the weatherman when he's trying to explain hurricane patterns...



Video-Quick Time
Video-Windows Media Player
Ew, this is just sick. Who are these people? (Well, they're Fred Barnes, Brit Hume, and Mort Kondracke of FoxNews):

BARNES: ...But my problem with it is that, in some of these areas, like a below- sea-level city like New Orleans, they're not -- they want the rest of us to insure their risk. As people who live on the San Andreas Fault in California, where they know there are going to be earthquakes, people who live along the Mississippi River in these low farmland areas...

HUME: Floodplains.

BARNES: ... near the river, the floodplains. They know they're going to flood. And when these things happen, they want the taxpayers all over the country to pay, and they do.

HUME: So they can rebuild, right?

(LAUGHTER)

BARNES: Yes, right, exactly.

(What about his house?)

KONDRACKE: Yes, well, the question is, where do you draw the line? And that's the problem. Do you draw it at the Barrier Islands? Do you draw it at Vero Beach, you know, where Fred has a beach house?

HUME: How did your house, by the way, do over the weekend?

BARNES: Well, it did fine, because we were on the Atlantic coast and the hurricane went to the Gulf Coast. So it missed it entirely.

HUME: It got rained on, right?

BARNES: But last year, when there were two hurricanes, and I got a new roof, I paid my part. My private insurance company paid the other part. The federal government and taxpayers paid no part.

HUME: What about the cover on your swimming pool? Did the government...

BARNES: I paid all of that.


This shouldn't even be dignified with a response.

Red Cross accepting donations for relief efforts

First, Red Cross Hurricane relief effort fund if anyone would like to donate.

The spectacle of devastating flooding in New Orleans feels dismally similar to September 11th in the incomprehensible destruction it has brought to peoples' lives and to an entire city and less directly for most of us but still palpable, to the rest of our country. What is so sad is that like the occurrence of a major terrorist attack on New York, the likelihood that a hurricane could wreak devastation on New Orleans was out in the open several years ago:
In 2001, the Federal Emergency Management Agency ranked a major hurricane strike on New Orleans as “among the three likeliest, most catastrophic disasters facing this country, directly behind a terrorist strike on New York City.

The article linked to in the Americablog post is eerily prescient.

What's more, funds for the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which controls hurricane and flood protection, were cut by a record 71.2 million for fiscal year 2006. I don't know what funding was like this past year, but a well-known threat was fatally under-estimated, to say the least. Boy, this is awful.

My heart goes out to the people and city of New Orleans, but where my heart goes out isn't worth a damn. My donation isn't worth that much either, but hopefully small donations from people across the country will be worth something.

New Orleans and Biloxi

New Orleans is 80% flooded from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and Biloxi, Mississippi is 90%. Such devastation is hard to comprehend, yet it seems at the same time closer to home when it happens on our shores. If the tsunami in Southeast Asia seemed distant to Americans, the flood on the Gulf seems near, and it's hard to imagine an American city resembling, as CNN says, a "war zone" to the extent New Orleans now does. An editorial from the Times:
Disaster has, as it almost always does, called up American generosity and instances of heroism. Young people helped the old onto rafts in flooded New Orleans streets, and exhausted rescue workers refused all offers of rest, while people as far away as Kansas and Arizona went online to offer shelter in their homes to the refugees. It was also a reminder of how much we rely on government to imagine the unimaginable and plan for the worst. As the levees of Lake Pontchartrain gave way, flooding New Orleans, it seemed pretty clear that in this case, government did not live up to the job.

But this seems like the wrong moment to dwell on fault-finding, or even to point out that it took what may become the worst natural disaster in American history to pry President Bush out of his vacation. All the focus now must be on rescuing the survivors. Beyond that lies a long and painful recovery, which must begin with a national vow to help all the storm victims and to save and repair New Orleans.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Movie review: Broken Flowers

I saw the new Bill Murray film Broken Flowers this weekend. I have conflicted feelings about the movie, but overall I recommend it.


My conflicts begin over the movie's premise: a middle-aged man is called to reexamine his love life after years of remaining devotedly single. When I first heard the idea, my thought was, hasn't this been done before? Movies like About a Boy, Alfie, and High Fidelity come to mind. However, just because we've seen the plot before doesn't mean the movie cannot be good; after all, when it comes to love or romance, there are only so many stories. So I was willing to accept at least the premise of Broken Flowers.

However, minutes into the movie, after a girlfriend played by Julie Delpy broke up with him, I found it slightly implausible that this washed-up middle-aged joyless man with a wardrobe of jogging suits could attract women half his age. Unlike in Alfie, Murray's character, a former computer executive named Don Johnston, seemed to no longer find enthusiasm in short-lived relationships, but what would cause a young woman to invest any enthusiasm in Johnston?

All through the movie, I felt both the sense of a void that Johnston seems to be confronted with as he visits girlfriends he had from an era of his past, but I also felt there was a void in writer/director Jim Jarmusch's script. Johnston seems to be hollowed out, empty, by his inability or unwilligness to have established a meaningful romantic relationship through his life, but it's hard to feel totally invested in Johnston's story. Why should we feel strongly either way about someone who appears to have done this to himself?

Despite these reservations, Broken Flowers was an engaging movie and probably one of the better ones out there right now. The music in this movie is great, by the way. Any soundtrack that includes my favorite song by Marvin Gaye, "I Want You," plus a lot of what I believe was Ethiopian jazz, has to be good. Not only is "I Want You" a good song, but it is used in one of my favorite scenes in the movie: Murray sits behind a glass of champagne that is slowly bubbling down as Gaye's song plays in the background; its sensuality emphasizes even more Johnston's contrasting lack of passion.

Friday, August 26, 2005

X-treme Health Insurance for Extreme Subsets of the Population

"The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" always finds a funny way to bring light to things that, though absurd, can pass as completely normal in our society. Take for example Ed Helms's report this week on a new health insurance plan for adults ages 19-29. The plan, ridiculously called Tonik ("with a K," as its marketer says) is offered by Blue Cross of Califorinal and is but one glaring example of the business trend of offering marketing over matter.

In the segement, Helms interviews a Blue Cross associate who proclaims that Tonik is "not your parents insurance plan." It is marketing lines like this, sponsorships of an "X treme" skier, and plan names like "The Thrill-Seeker" all presented on a colorful website, on which Tonik seems to base its appeal. The premise behind it seems to be that young adults find insurance plans too boring to research and read about; they just want something simple.

However, the attracitve simplicity of Tonik unsurprisingly belies any financial or coverage benefits of the plan. For one, the Tonik website only displays the most basic information about the insurance program: copay, deductible, and monthly premium. Secondly, it seems to be a worse deal than a regular old insurance plan: as I found from getting a hypothetical insurance quote online for someone my age who lives in San Francisco, the deductible and insurance premium for a regular Blue Cross of CA plan appears to be less than Tonik's premiums vis-a-vis an even higher deductible. Additionally, as the registered nurse interviewed by Helms in "The Daily Show" segement points out, if you have a "pre-existing condition" (Helms uses the example of ass herpes)-- insurance bureaucratic speak for an ailment or disease--Tonik won't cover you.

Anyway, here's a link to "The Daily Show" videos if you are interested in their humorous take on this absolutely dreadful health insurance scheme. Yet another illustration of why health insurance in our country is so screwed up.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Last night I got home from work late, at 7:45 (I usually get home at around 6:15), because of a delay on the El from a fire that broke out on a train further north. When I got home, curious what exactly had happened, I thought that I had found my answer--
A fire was reported Wednesday afternoon on a Purple line train at 1600 North Burling.

The fire was reported in the rear car of the train. NBC5's Phil Rogers reported that the rear wheels on the train's last car caught fire, and the flames spread to the tracks.The fire was quickly put out, but power was subsequently shut off on the line between the Sedgewick and Fullerton stations. The train was removed from the area, and passengers were bussed between the Merchandise Mart and Belmont stations.

--until I realized that the story was dated August 3, 2005. Which makes me wonder: how often does this happen?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Lunch hour spots in the Loop

There was a period of time when I didn't understand what the big fuss was about when it comes to the Chicago Loop. When I thought of the Loop, I thought of handsome but improperly maintained older skyscrapers, the unfortunte CNA Building and Mies van der Rohe monstrosities such as the one that I work in. Working in the Loop this summer however, has given me an appreciation for how nice an area Chicago's downtown is and how well-maintained and aesthetically pleasing a good portion of the buildings are.

One of my favorite exercises in Loop exploration is finding a nice place outside in which to sit and eat lunch. I will list some of my favorites below (I'm sure there are places I have not unearthed, so any additional suggestions are welcome!):
  • Garden just south of the Art Institute, Northeast corner of Jackson and Michigan Ave: This is my favorite place to spend a lunch hour, because it is filled with shady trees, fountains, and flowers; is nice for people watching; and feels very distant from the urban life all around it.
  • Plaza next to the Bank One building, Northwest corner of Madison and Dearborn: Lots of people congregate around this plaza's giant fountain to eat, read, and sunbathe. If you are sitting facing towards the Bank One building, look up and prepare to be overwhelmed by the skyscraper.
  • Millenium Park lawn around Pritzker Pavillion or benches just west, East of Monroe and Michigan: It doesn't take me to tell you that Millenium Park exists, nor does it take me to tell you that it's a fine destination point. Although it is not my favorite for lunch hour because of distance and crowds, if you're far enough east, a jaunt to Millenium Park can be more of a stroll, and it's fun to see the kids playing in the fountains (ahh, my youth).
  • The small park just east of the Chicago Symphony Center's Rhapsody restaurant, Southeast corner of Adams and Wabash: Depsite it's proximity to the "El" tracks and its small size, this park is a peaceful area with nice flowers and plants all around. There are several benches for your sitting convenience.
  • Along the Chicago River in the West Loop, walk west on any central Loop street until you hit the river (unless you are already west of the river): Good for West Loopers, people-watching, and boat and bridge-watching. Some restaurants have nice outdoor seating along the river.
  • Small plaza in front of the new Barnes and Noble, southeast corner of Jackson and State: This is a nice spot for people-watching in an area filled with nothing if not interesting people.

Need Advice II: The LSAT

Good morning readers. I am curious for feedback from anyone who would like to give it on the following:

Yesterday evening, after work, I attended a free introductory LSAT class given by one of the several LSAT prep course companies. For the bulk of the class, we were administered an actual LSAT test, to be used in this instance as a "pre-test" to gauge our starting scores. For the rest of the class, one of the partners of the LSAT prep course firm gave us pointers on how to study for the LSAT, a few "traps" to watch out for, strategies to know, etc.

The test which we were administered was from 1991, and I found it pretty difficult, though my only real barometer for measuring its difficulty was comparing it against practice argument questions I had worked on earlier and a few argument sections from other previous LSATs that I had taken in my own time. I had done no "Puzzle" questions, and I found those especially hard.

So my question is: am I supposed to leave the class feeling defeated and thus wanting to sprint as fast as I can to the nearest LSAT prep class, particularly one administered by the group whose free intro course I attended last night? Is their's a superb strategy for getting people who go to one of their free classes enrolled in their $1,000+ course? Or was it worthwhile to get an idea of how a prep class might help me perform better on the LSAT?

My final question, which is more a thought, is whether test companies and prep courses have wrought a Graduate School/Law School/Medical School-Standardized Test Complex (a similar idea to Dwight D. Eisenhower's description of coporations' use of contracts with the military to yield never-ending profit as a "militay-industrial complex")? Both the testing services that administer the tests and the centers that claim to help students "ace" the tests have what appears to be an increasingly lucrative and reliable source of income, not only from the mere requirement that students take the GRE, MCAT, LSAT, GMAT, etc, to be eligible to apply for graduate school but because of the fact that these tests are often weighted heavily by graduate school admissions boards.

As undergraduate students, haven't we spent enough time and money on a college education for purposes such as obtaining our Bachelors degree, increasing our job marketability, using it as a stepping-stone to graduate school, and maybe even...for the enrichement gained from higher education (or is that no longer considered important?) ?

I will acknowledge that standardized tests are probably the most uniform measure a school has by which to compare all of its prospective students. However, it may not be much good of a measurement, or at least not one of the better measurements, as studies have shown, of whether a student will do well in their graduate studies, and I don't see why an admissions board can't get a good idea of a student from weighting more heavily a sample of some sort, in writing, for intance (or research sample for someone in science), or another sort of measurement of what a student has done while in college along with a CV, grades, etc, or what an adult has accomplished during their career.

Anyway, that's my diatribe. I'm curious to hear what you all think about this.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Here's an appeal that all tax-hating Americans can get behind...

If the estate tax (or "death tax" in the Republican lexicon), which affects less than 2 percent of the population, is repealed, the plan is to shift that burden onto a much more sizeable portion of the population. Therefore, it is much more likely that while Paris Hilton and Bill Gates will get more tax relief, you, me and all of your friends and family who will inherit any kind of capital gains will get taxed more. This should scare anyone who hates paying taxes to an administration and Congress that is squandering our money. Here is what will happen in more detail if the estate tax is repealed:
But when the estate tax is completely repealed, along with it will go a little feature called the "stepped-up basis," which basically forgives, at death, the capital gains tax on all profits accumulated during a person's lifetime. As a result of the repeal, every American who leaves appreciated property to children and grandchildren will send their descendants a 15-percent tax bill as well. Nobody mentioned that? Darn, they forgot.We're talking about all kinds of things people routinely inherit - a house, stocks and bonds, vacant land, rental property, family homes and farms, and small businesses.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

News of the week

Weschester County District Attorney Jeannine Pirro has thrown her hat in the (rather empty) ring of Republican contenders vying to run against Hillary Clinton, and she has let out a resounding battle cry against the junior Senator from New York: at a press conference, Pirro, getting ready to take a dig at Clinton, began her litany with her opponent's name, only to be forced to search through her papers for whatever it was she had to say, a process which took, according to "The Daily Show", at least 32 seconds.

A former top advisor to Colin Powell says that his involvement in Powell's famous Iraq presentation to the U.N. was "the lowest point" in his life. Of course, CNN is broadcasting this remark in a television special called "Dead Wrong -- Inside an Intelligence Meltdown," alternately titled, the "The Biggest Case of C.Y.A. Ever." Anyway, CNN's suggestion here that the Bush White House's decision to go to war can be blamed on the CIA's having given the White House bad intelligience is ridiculous, considering there were plenty of people in the CIA who could have told you Iraq had no WMDs.

In more important news, Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, Sean Combs, is now just Diddy. The Daily Show has a funny bit about this (see the clip entitled "Tome Delay").

I love Republican infighting (see Trent Lott's new book)

...Although it rarely seems to amount to anything. Still, I found this interesting:
August 21,2005 | WASHINGTON -- When Sen. Trent Lott decides which GOP presidential candidate to support in 2008, it apparently will not be Sen. Bill Frist, the Tennessee Republican who Lott says betrayed him at a low moment in his political career.

Asked Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" whether Frist, who challenged and succeeded Lott as Senate majority leader in 2002, has the character to be president, Lott paused before answering.

"I think I'd have to think about that," said Lott, R-Miss.

Lott said "a lot of good people out there" are thinking about whether to run and that "I probably would lean toward some of the others, let me just put it that way."

Although the other people that Lott would lean towards probably won't be named Rudolph Giuliani or John McCain. Or maybe not.


More tales from the El

Well, I had my own CTA Tattler moment on Saturday night. Heading downtown on a red line train from Howard, I was witness to an incident that makes it easy to understand why El riders--among many others--feel animosity towards privileged, suburban white kids.

A group of girls boarded the Red Line at Howard from the Purple Line train that ends at the station. They first made a big squeal about whether they were on the right train, which seemed pretty dense, because the train that goes in the other direction is on an opposite platform and would take them back from whence they came (which would have been nice).

When they finally figured out what they were doing, these girls, all sporting Abercrombie-esque wardrobes boarded, two or three of them holding pint glasses half-full with beer. They made a lot of noise about going to an O.A.R. concert (surprise, surprise) and continued squealing and yelling and acting like the train car was their own private room. They made the garden-variety public drunk seem like a reserved sophisticate.

Two fairly young, African-American woman sat down not far from these girls, and one of them started staring out into space and rapping about the weekend. Then the suburban girls, clearly excited that they were seeing a real, live black person who probably conformed to their every stereotype (look, she raps!) focused their squeals on this woman. Noticing she had a cigarette, one of them, a blonde Budweiser-sipping girl, offered her a light. Unfortunately, the woman took the offer, and the two started smoking, which caused one rider to tell them that there is "no smoking on the train." The girls started challenging the man. (As one blonde so cogently challenged me with this well-reasoned thought as I was leaving the car "Don't you go to bars and clubs? There's smoking there." Whatever I could have mumbled about that not being the point, there's no smoking allowed on the El, and that smoking in bars is becoming endangered anyways would have been lost on that one).

The woman who had been rapping began singing a Christmas song while puffing away and filling the car with smoke and cigarette fumes. The suburban girls wanted her to come over and rap more, and in a sad sight, this woman obliged.

Another woman in a nurse uniform had been sitting by these girls, and they were chiding her a bit, I guess for not being as lively as the public singer, to which this woman responded that she had just gotten off of work. I can only think that such a concept was probably foreign to these girls.

A younger man and I both switched cars soon after, and I remembered that sometimes the best El stories are the most unpleasant to endure.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Richard Posner

I found this interesting article about Judge Richard Posner, one of history's most prolific judges. I can't say I agree with his legal theories, or at least what I know about them, but I do like some of the things he says in the article, especially this:

Half a dozen times a year, Posner and Charlene will have people over for dinner - often the Chicago economist William Landes, Posner's best friend, and his wife - but, on the whole, Posner prefers to avoid social life. "People don't say interesting things," he says. 'A lot of socializing is just dull - I'd rather read a book. I have a friend, an economist who's Swedish, and he told me that Sweden has terrible television, so people there spend their time visiting each other. But that's worse, because when you watch television you get some information, you even get some moral instruction, you learn to be nice to single mothers or what have you, but socializing, particularly family - well, that is deadly. When you're just talking with your friends about trivia, what's the point?"

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Should it really be Bush v. Sheehan?

George W. Bush is looking more and more like Richard Nixon every day. Okay, so I can't detect any jowls or five-o-clock shadow, but the paranoia and callousness is easily discernable. Bush's decision not to meet with Cindy Sheehan, a mother who lost her son, Casey, in the Iraq War who has been waiting outside of his "ranch" in Texas with this request is sad but not surprising.

It's ironic that someone like Bush, who will stand with troops when he thinks it makes him look good will try to avoid their families members if it threatens to make him look bad. Fundamentally, if Bush had concern for the grieving families and the lost soldiers, he wouldn't care whether associating with someone who wants to know what her son died for indicted his war. In fact, maybe it would help him re-center his idea of the "mission" in Iraq.

What is so troubling about Bush though is that he doesn't seem to care about the lives he is putting on the line as Commander in Chief. It seems doubtful that he has any trouble sleeping at night. He self-centeredly said of seeing people like Sheehan,"it's important for me to be thoughtful and sensitive...it is also important for me to go on with my life."

As this article points out, Bush's investment in the Iraq War is much different than Lyndon Johnson's was in Vietnam, and though Johnson might have initially stood up to the military establishment on Vietnam--admittedly not an easy thing to do for someone who had unexpectedly become president--at least he was deeply concerned and aware that he was putting men's lives at risk:
According to Nick Kotz..."[O]ften late at night [Johnson] would go down to the White House situation room to check the casualty reports. At times, when Johnson sat with visitors in the Oval Office, he would weep openly as he read from the previous day's casualty lists."

...Bush doesn't go to funerals for our dead soldiers. Until last week, his administration had refused to release photos of the flag-draped caskets coming back to the United States. (The Pentagon caved as a result of a Freedom of Information Act suit.) When it comes to the second Iraq war, Bush displays no doubt, no anguish.
This brings me back to Nixon, whose main concern was investigating political enemies like Paul Newman and making peace activists and anti-war veterans look bad, all the while justifying continued fighting in Vietnam as the only way to ensure that America didn't look weak, never mind that thousands of people were dying for this petty reasoning.

I know there are families of Iraqi soldiers who support the war and would disagree with Sheehan (I myself am troubled by and have to strongly take issue with her linking the U.S. withdrawing Iraq to Israel leaving the Palestinian territories), but the most compelling thing about Sheehan isn't her politics, as the smear machine would have us believe, but the fact that she and countless others want an answer as to the question , why are we in Iraq?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

More Irksome Riders: In My Own Backyard

Oh, I also have to say that I'm reading about Sox v. Cubs fans according to CTA Tattler folks, and one guy has this to say:
My favorites: Northwestern kids and people from the northern burbs who gawk out the windows at Argyle, Berwyn, etc. and make comments about what a 'ghetto' the neighborhood is.
Sadly this person is RIGHT. So many Northwestern students have not the slightest clue what they're talking about when they say something is "ghetto." Fercryinoutloud, they think the El is "ghetto" when they're on the purple line. Plus, the average Northwestern student (excluding the ones from the city) know Chicago about as well as I know Swahili.

Also the folks on CTA Tattler are right concerning another fact: Cubs fans today S-U-C-K. Having been to a few games in the last two years and being able to recollect and compare them with games I went to in many years past, I can pretty soundly concur with the guy who says that Wrigleyville has become "the largest beer garden in the world."

The 'Transit Theater'

As I mentioned yesterday, I have been deriving great enjoyment from reading the CTA Tattler, a blog about anything and everything seen on Chicago's El and buses. I tried very hard to think of the strangest pieces of "Transit Theater," as they call it on the website, that I've seen and finally came up with these two:
  • One night last summer I was coming home from Chicago on the El with a few friends at a late hour. As our train pulled into the last stop on the line, I happened to glance over at a very pale man wearing a baggy blue jumpsuit who I hadn't noticed before. Kind of a strange sight in general, this man now made himself even more memorable: he had a certain body part out and was pulling what can most euphemistically be called a George Michael. It turned out that one of my other friends had seen the what I had seen, so as we got off the train, we both started running, with our two friends who were spared the horror left to confusedly trail after us until we could explain what we saw to them on the car ride home.
  • Last week, I was waiting for my train at Adams. Usually, the train cars are not very crowded until they make it a little further around the Loop, to Quincy or Washington & Wells. For some reason though, the car that I got ready to board looked completely full. When the doors opened, people started filing out...and then more people, and more people, and more people, all of them Asian. It was the longest time I must have ever waited to let everyone out of a train car. It turned out all of these people were part of what must have been one large tour group, but all I could think of was the clown car at the circus.
That's all for now, but hopefully I'll think of more later. In the meantime, do yourself a favor and read about the Gordita Eating Trannies. Also, please share any good transit stories you have!

Monday, August 15, 2005

Scrutinizing Carnet's creators for sign of a soul

The husband and wife duo who created a new luxury travel website, Carnet, are featured in this uncomfortable article called "Scrutinizing Boston for tony elegance" from the Boston Globe which provides a disgusting glimpse into their travel "research." Raquel Brulé is the entitled younger wife to Eric de Lavandeyra's aging, nabob husband. These two give no illusions about their lack of tact. The article chronicles one episode where Brulé gets huffy over a latte gone wrong at a hotel café:
"Can I have a plate?" she asks the waitress. When it promptly arrives, Brulé spoons off the foam, clanking against the china loudly, a pained expression on her face. "This is a cappuccino, not a latte," she says politely, as the waitress watches her empty the cup. "Can I have a latte, please?"
In a similar crisis, chronicled by an article run in the New York Times, de Lavandeyra shows a waiter who's boss when it comes to his bagel:
During breakfast last week at the Hotel Plaza Athénée, Mr. de Lavandeyra had a fine fit when his $20 bagel arrived with cream cheese and smoked salmon splayed on the side. “Can you please put my bagel together?” he nearly barked to the waiter. “If I have to work, you should pay me for service.”
The husband and wife, who seem to believe that their lives of privilege were their birthright, claim the noble duty of searching out only the most tasteful elegance, all the while exhibiting their absolute lack of taste. Amazing, isn't it?

Ridiculously, the Boston Globe writer spins an incident where Brulé is turned away from an upscale Boston restaurant for wearing jeans as an example of a "fine line where dress codes can go overboard." Excuses, excuses!

As online travel blog Gridskipper says:
[T]he Times piece is full of so much retch-inducing blue-blood entitlement bullshit, it makes one want to man the barricades and restart the guillotine program.

How to sleep on your ride to work

I just went to the site I mentioned below, CTA Tattler, and it is incredibly amusing. The blog entry entitled "Various CTA sleeping styles" really hits home. I used to reliably conk out on the CTA every day over the course of several summers that I worked downtown. The comments offer even more observations of types of sleepers seen on the El. This one is definitely me:
I always admired the people with makeshift pillows, such as the book or balled up jacked propped between the shoulder and wall, or (as I am known to do on occasion) wrapped around a duffle bag on the lap.
And this one is hilariously well thought out:
I have found that by far the most comfortable sleeping position for me is due to the incredibly convenient positioning of the two rear rows at the back of the car. Behind these last two rows (1 on on each side) and the inward facing seats behind them is a window, the interior ledge of which provides a great armrest. The upward bend in the ledge lets you comfortably lock your upper arm in at the elbow...

CTA Watch

More interesting articles from the Tribune today. The Metro section features a piece on a new system that regular citizens and CTA El riders are using to alert one another about delays. The system is in response to inadequate communication from the CTA about rider delays, something that has really stood out this summer with all of the hold-ups that were caused by bomb scares.

The article describes the system, which really evidences the power of information combined with the abilities of communication technology:
The system, at www.ctatattler.com, uses e-mail, cellular phones and personal digital assistants to help commuters fill in the blanks during CTA service breakdowns and emergencies.

The eyes and ears of the real-time reporting system are its subscribers, who send text messages to group members when they see problems on trains and buses.
The article also describes the CTA's communication insufficiencies:
CTA riders are complaining more than ever this summer about being transported into an informational void when service screeches to a halt.

It happened Aug. 2 when evening rush-hour service on the Brown and Purple Lines was interrupted for 90 minutes by a small fire under a train near the Sedgwick station. It would've been nice if the CTA did a better job of letting more people know about temporary shuttle-bus service and other ways to get home.


...Riders also say the CTA has failed to keep them informed during bomb scares, including one July 18, when someone called in a bomb threat for the Red Line's Roosevelt stop. It shut down the station for 45 minutes and snarled service on the Red, Orange, Green, Brown and Purple Lines.

The CTA responded to six reports of a bomb threat or a suspicious package from July 7 through July 20, officials said.
I want to end by saying that I do like the El--in fact, I think, given its relatively meager funds, it is a great system: affordable, expansive, fast enough, offers nice views of the city. Every great city has a comprehensive transportation network, and every subpar city doesn't (e.g. Chicago v. Dallas). I just hope our great city's transportation network gets the investment it deserves.

Let the Blogger Beware

Today's Chicago Tribune had a front page story on the dangers of blogging, or more specifically, the dangers of venting on one's blog. The article features several bloggers who lost their jobs for criticizing corporate employers and bosses online. One woman called her boss "Her Wretchedness," another revealed the luxurious gifts her boss received. The funny thing about these articles, is that both women have now made a name for themselves on the "blogosphere" and realized success from what should have been career-ending mistakes. It's not as if any old blogger could get fired for criticizing his boss only to realize success via blog--these women probably have engaging blogs--but it is easy to find some unintended irony in the cautionary article.

The article also mentioned the incident earlier this year where Medill School of Journalism students retaliated at a professor who took issue with ill-conceived Facebook groups that criticized aspects of the college. Although I was opposed to the threatening tone that the professor and some of her colleagues took towards the students at the time, I can now understand that it was reasonable of Professor Michele Weldon to warn students that they got off relatively unscathed for what they did, free of the serious sanctions they would have encountered in the "real world." Also, the students took the totally immature step of creating a retaliatory group against Weldon. Real mature guys. (In fairness, there may have been students who went through the proper channels to tactfully respond to Weldon and her colleagues' greivances).

Anyway, the article is an interesting read.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Here's but one reason CAFTA is hurting the people it claims to help.

In November 2004, Guatemala's Congress repealed a law that gave brand-name prescription drugs protection from generic competition. The law had allowed brand-name companies to conceal data that generic companies would use to bring their own versions to market, and public health activists hailed the move as a step toward greater access to essential medicines. But four months later, legislators reversed themselves and put those protections back in place. The protests that followed led to many injuries and one death. Why did this small nation, where cheap generic drugs have been key to treating one of Latin America's largest HIV-positive populations, change course? In a word: CAFTA. Guatemala changed its laws in order to become part of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which encompasses five Central American countries and the Dominican Republic.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Movie Review: The Constant Gardener

Last night a friend and I went to a free screening of the soon-to-be-released film The Constant Gardener starring Rachel Weisz and Ralph Fiennes and directed by Fernando Meirelles who also directed City of God. The screening was followed by a Q&A session with Weisz and Meirelles.

First of all, I will say that the movie was almost unflawed. Usually, I can come up with something that I feel could have been done better or differently in a film but not so here. A few of the reviews on IMDB offer good critiques, but I am not totally convinced by what flaws were found (e.g. someone thought the premise of the love story was unconvincing; I disagree).

Anyway, the film begins with Weisz's character Tessa and her friend and colleague Dr. Arnold Bloom leaving on an unspecified health mission in Africa. Then it cuts to London, where Fiennes's character, British Diplomat Justin Quayle, meets Tessa for the first time. I don't want to elaborate on too many other plot points, because I think the film is best appreciated when one comes in without knowing anything about it, as I virtually did. If you do want more information about the film, check out the synopsis at IMDB.

The Q&A session after the movie was great, definitely the best Q&A session I have been to. (I remember leaving a free screening of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind disappointed at writer Charlie Kaufman for being terse with his answers and acting like a lot of things he worked in the script weren't intentional. Director Michel Gondry was not as anti-social. Kaufman did say one interesting thing about the film, when asked why he chose to end it happily. I believe he said, "Well, I don't know, is the ending happy?" If you've seen the movie, you'll understand what he means).

Anyway, the audience members asked good questions, and a couple vented concerns that the film provoked. One woman said the film brings up a larger problem that in every industry it seems "m-o-n-e-y" (as she said) trumps morals. Another man said he was a native of Kenya, where the movie is filmed, and that the slums portrayed there really are that bad, and that he's glad the film is revealing this.

Director Meirelles seemed very nice and informative, not at all like Charlie Kaufman. He hung around to speak with people who approached him after the show, and he seemed to have a deep understanding of the film's power and the relevance of its themes today, even though he signed onto the production after another director dropped out. Weisz seemed nice and did a great job with the role, but she didn't have much to add about the meaning of the film or her character besides saying that she was "in awe" of Tessa.

Also, Bill Nighy, probably best-known for playing washed up rocker Billy Mack in Love Actually demonstrates his versatility in The Constant Gardener, undertaking the very different character of British High Comission bigwig Pellegrin.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

More rider gripes

This one is hilarious:

127. It's "dispersed," More annoyed Cubbie fan. Aside from Cubs fans shoving their way onto an overcrowded train only to belch beer in my face for 20 minutes ... my pet peeve is the people who would knock down their great grandmothers for a chance to make it through the turnstile one split second sooner. Submitted by: Don't run on the stairs, idiot3:05 PM CDT, Aug 9,
2005

Gripes about fellow "L" riders (that aren't just from me!)

In today's RedEye: Some 'L' riders should hit the road
Writer lists "Cell Yell"ers, "Radio Rage"rs, "Mobile Makeup Artists," and "Train Tightrope Walkers" as some of these offensive riders. I would add loud conversers: people who have loud conversations with their buddies on the train. This morning three ladies were amplifying their already loud conversation by sitting behind one another (presumably so each could have two seats two herself, another example of inconsideration) therefore requiring that they practically screamed to one another to be heard.

Oh also today a pregnant woman got on, and no one near her offered their seat up, so I went over and offered her mine, but someone else had already taken it. Finally, another woman near us noticed and offered the pregnant woman her seat. What's next: make the 95-year old suffering from heat-exhaustion stand?

RedEye Readers are also invited to express their gripes with fellow riders. I like this one: 56.
Tourists who yell across the train cars at each other like it was their personal limo. Hey Goober! Shut up! Fine you're drunk and going to a Cubs game! SHUT THE HECK UP!Submitted by: 773 Forever3:32 PM CDT, Aug 9, 2005.
Even though I am a Cubs fan, I see this person's point.
However, I don't know if I share this person's feelings:
59. That person who is clipping his or her fingernails, and letting the clippings fall on the ground.Submitted by: Amy3:29 PM CDT, Aug 9, 2005
Does that ever happen??
One thing I like about where I work is that something out-of-the ordinary is bound to happen over the course of any given week. For one, the location of our building is such that protestors often assemble outside or across the street. When Aaron Patterson was on trial, protestors would gather across the street daily in support of his acquittal. Today, when I was waiting outside of the building, I heard a drum beat that belonged to a group of Cabrini Green residents and supporters protesting their eminent, city-mandated relocation from the housing project. I have to say, using the drums to call attention to their cause was a good idea.

I also found out today that a lawyer, Demitrus Evans, who had twice walked out of a courtroom during proceedings refusing to defend the aforementioned Patterson is now being brought in front of the judge who presided over that trial next week to determine whether she should be held in contempt of court and fined. According to a Chicago Sun-times article, this hearing is scheduled for the upcoming Monday, and, according to the Judge who Evans will appear before, Evans' series of bizarre activities "borders on delusional."

J. Edgar Hoover: What Mafia?

I'm currently reading Ernest Volkman's Gangbusters: The Destruction of America's Last Great Mafia Dynasty, which chronicles how the Lucchese Family of New York was brought down by FBI agents and police detectives after decades of flourishing virtually free of government inquiry into their criminal activities, which ranged from trafficking millions of dollars a year in narcotics to leveling a hidden "Mafia tax" on every garment bought in the U.S., stemming from Gaetano Lucchese's ownership of the garment industry in New York.

Part of the reason for the Mafia's amazing immunity to law enforcement was J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, which Volkman describes in detail. Under Hoover, the FBI didn't even acknowledge the existence of a Mafia until the late 1950s. At least Hoover's willful ignorance, sheer idiocy, and unabashed self-preservation make for some funny anecdotes:

  • When Hoover's power is first threatened by then Senate Rackets committee Member Robert F. Kennedy by Kennedy's increasing reliance on Hoover's enemy Harry Anslinger at the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (who does believe in the mob), Hoover decides to finally take action against the Mafia:
    Confronted with the evidence, Hoover finally gave up...His next two moves were pure Hoover. First, he ordered every FBI field office in the country to begin a 'Top Hoodlum Program.' Each office was to prepare a list of ten 'top hoodlums'--no more, no less--and target them for investigation and prosecution. The arrival of this order in such disparate FBI field offices as Butte, Montana, and New York City created two very different reactions. In Butte...the field office desperately searched for hoodlums to put on the list. Finally it listed ten local juvenile delinquents and vowed a full investigation of their 'criminal activities.' Headquarters praised Butte for its diligence. (81)
  • Once Hoover actually starts directing some FBI resources to the bugging of meeting places of mob men, he is preoccupied not so much with their criminality as with the gossip they divulge about various public figures. As Volkman says:
    Few in the FBI knew that for many years Hoover had maintained what he called a 'personal file,' actually several filing cabinets' worth of derogatory or incriminating material culled from FBI reports about leading public officials and assorted movers and shakers.' This collection of dirt, gossip, and rumor was intended as potential blackmail material...Hoover had paid special attention to the transcripts of one particular bug, which had been planted in Meyer Lansky's home. The bug was unproductive..., and the tape transcripts were mostly idle conversations with his wife. But among those conversations was one in which Lansky told his wife of hearing 'rumors' that Robert Kennedy was having an affair with an unnamed woman in El Paso. 'Oh dear,' a shocked Mrs. Lansky replied. 'And he has seven children!' Actually, the rumor was false, but the tidbit was added to a new secret file Hoover had opened on Kennedy. (83)
  • And more investigative difficulties because of Hoover:

    However inane, the Top Hoodlum Program nevertheless had the effect of diverting an increased number of FBI agents into organized crime investigation for the first time...[but] there were several Hooveresque dictates from headquarters: no cooperation with local police, no contact with the hated[Federal Bureau of Narcotics], and no deviation from the FBI's strict codes governing agent conduct--including the Bureau's rigid dress code of white shirt and dark suit, hardly the kind of outfit suitable for agents to get down in the trenches with the Mafiosi. (83)
  • When Robert F. Kennedy, Hoover's most recent nemesis, becomes Attorney General in 1961, Hoover is irritated by Kennedy's assertion of his authority:
    Impervious to Hoover's usual tactics of bureaucratic end run or outright intimidation, Kennedy presented a real problem...In one afternoon visit, he announced his intention of interrupting Hoover's regular 2 P.M. 'security conference.' Barging into Hoover's office past the furious protests of the director's secretary and gatekeeper, Helen Gandy, Kennedy discovered the 'conference' was in fact Hoover's regular afternoon nap. (89)
  • When an important mobman, Joseph Valachi, becomes an inadvertent Mafia informant on various details that undergird the structure of the mob, Hoover and Kennedy have conflicting ideas on how to handle his informative but ultimately unhelpful information (because it can't be used to prosecute any Mafia members):
    Valachi's information was useless. But Hoover grasped the larger significance: for the first time, a member of the Mafia had provided details on the mysterious organization's inner workings. Hoover sought to use this for the FBI's advantage: he ordered that his aides ghostwrite an article under Valachi's name, entitled, 'The Inside Story of Organized Crime and How You can Stop it,' to be published in Parade, the nationally distributed Sunday newspaper supplement. And, coincident with release of the news of Valachi's defection, Hoover planned an article under his own name that would claim Valachi's testimony 'corroborated and embellished facts developed by the FBI as early as 1961.' An appalled Robert Kennedy vetoed the idea. (92)

And one time when Kennedy found out that J. Edgar Hoover's close aide and "rumored lover" Clyde Tolson had been hospitalized, Kennedy replied "For what? A hysterectomy?" (90). J. Edgar Hoover: proving that the cream does not always rise to the top, as the saying goes.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Need Advice

I'm in a bit of a dilemma right now about how many courses to take this fall at school. I just decided to swap a class I was enrolled in on Modern French History (circa French Revolution) to a class called Deviance and Crime in the Sociology Department. I did this because my current internship has provoked my interest in crime and its sociology. I feel bad about dropping the French History class, which I wanted to take sophomore year, but at the same time I feel like I know more about French History than crime sociology because of my background in history and because I've already taken a European History class (granted that was high school, but it was a good class).

My other option is to take four classes, but I am only wary of that because I am starting my thesis next quarter which is accompanied by a mandatory Senior Thesis Seminar. I am also continuing French language class. So, I am only taking three classes, and my schedule is embarassingly light (one class each day except Thursday, when I have two classes, and NO CLASS on Friday). Maybe someone who's written a thesis or done independent study work or something can help me figure out whether that takes up so much time that balancing a fourth class would be difficult. I know a lot of people take 3, 2, or even 1 class while they're writing their thesis; at the same time, I'll be working on my thesis ALL SCHOOL YEAR (we don't start writing until the second quarter, I believe). That means I would take three quarters of three or fewer classes. This seems too easy now, but I don't know. In my favor, I've always taken four classes per quarter. So should I take four classes or three? Any suggestions? Your help will be received with tremendous gratitude.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Mass transit!

I love blogs about mass transit. This woman has a great looking blog with categories, one being mass transit. Even more exciting, she's from Chicago, so she takes a lot of pictures of the El and writes about it.

That's not golf

I found out about this over at another Chicagoblogs site.
As the blogger, Brendan McKillip says,
This morning on the WGN news I saw the report they ran about a golf course in Naperville hosting a event run by a local strip club. (The Chicago Tribune also ran a story about it as well.) Residents whose houses back up to the golf course videotaped some of the activities going on at the golf event and contacted Naperville police. They also sent a copy of the tape to WGN.
I have to say, I find it kind of voyeuristic of the neighbors of the golf course to record the events that went on at the golf course, detailed here on this WGN newscast (who am I kidding? I might watch out my window for awhile. It's just so twisted). I guess the neighbors were also making a video copy for the police. As McKillip also says,
On a side note, you have to love the final quote in the Trib article on this story:
Naperville Police Lt. Ken Parcell told WGN, "We're going to continue to review (the tape) and try to identify if there's any activity which would be worth prosecuting and meet with our state's attorney to once again discuss it."

I bet you'll continue to review the tape Lt. Parcell - you and all the boys down at the precinct will take a good close look at the tape. Preferably over at Jimmy's house with a couple cases of beer down in his basement while his old lady is out.

GWB on Palmeiro: He Has a Good Heart (So do organ donors, George...)

George W. Bush said of baseball playing buddy Rafael Palmeiro before the Baltimore Oriole (and former Texas Ranger--the team that Bush owned) tested positive for steroids that
He's the kind of person that's going to stand up in front of the klieg lights and say he didn't use steroids, and I believe him. Still do.
Uhhh, about that...
And this
[Palmeiro] was one of the few people that came before us who spoke with conviction and decisively that one, he didn't take steroids, and two, anyone who did was making a mistake. And for him now to be held accountable for having steroids in his body is really sad. He almost makes Canseco look good,
--Chris Shays, Republican vice-chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform.
Honestly, Congress investigating steroids in MLB ranks right up there in importance with making a law that protects gun manufacturers from getting sued...what's that you say? Such a bill did just pass? Phew, and here I thought Congress wasn't taking care of the business of the American people.

The Daily Show: Miracles and Boycotts

I love this show. Just love it. On Stewart's August 4th show, he cleverly and hilariously made a couple of great points. One point had to do with the media's hailing the survival of everyone on on an Air France flight that was struck by lightening a "miracle." As Stewart says,

That is bulls--t. A miracle...defined in my dictionary is 'a marvelous event manifested in a super-natural act of God.' To me the only thing that was a miracle in that situation was the lightening that hit the plane. That was the act of God. If anything, God was trying to kill these people. His plan was foiled by the crew's Satanic competence. Can't someone take some human credit for a job well done? (Watch here).
In the same episode, "correspondent" Stephen Colbert does an interview with Ben Jones the guy who played a character named Cooter on the 1970s-80s TV show "Dukes of Hazard." Jones is trying to lead a boycott of the movie because it doesn't live up to the decency of the original TV show, where a car named General Lee with a Confederate Flag painted on its roof was driven around the county on missions to blow things up. According to Jones, that was good, clean family fun while the movie is filled with "hoochie coochie." Colbert then interviews three frat guys, as members of the youth that Jones is trying to protect from the movie, as Colbert says, who are instead very eager to see the film because of Jessica Simpson.

It turns out, as Colbert finds, Ben Jones has an unlikely ally in the NAACP, whose President in South Carolina, Lonnie Randolph Jr., objects to the film(and the TV show) though for a different reason: its display of the Confederate flag on the General Lee. Ben Jones defends the flag as something that means "different things to different people," and for some it symbolizes "the spirit of the South." Colbert suggests back to Randolph that the flag is fun to some people, and Randolph remarks back that lynching was once considered "fun" in the South. Colbert humorously says he has to disagree with Randolph on that. Randolph (and all of the interviewees on that show) is a good sport. Oh sadly, but not surprisingly, Ben Jones served in the U.S. Congress.

It's late

...And I can't fall asleep because of a bad cough among other things. And here I came home kind of early to "catch up on sleep." Anyway, I was thinking about dance clubs in the 1970s versus dance clubs now and how the music then was so much nicer and less antagonistic.

Take the lyrics of 50 Cent's "Candy Shop" (I take you to the candy shop/I'll let you lick the lollypop...etc. you can read the rest here if you wish) versus Sister Sledge's "We are Family (Living life is fun and we've just begun/To get our share of the world's delights/(HIGH!) high hopes we have for the future/And our goal's in sight). I don't mean to comment on quality of the music but just the very different atmoshpheres these two songs might create on a dance floor. The former song promotes, misogynistic attitudes towards women ( though I will admit, I do like the song's rhythm), the second promotes optimism and unity. I have a feeling men weren't trying to get all up behind a woman while "We are Family" was playing in some club, and maybe that's a good thing.

Hell, I'd go back to the 1970s minus the inflation, hair, and interior design. I'd even take bitter, vengeful Richard Nixon over ignorant, vengeful George W. Bush. At least Nixon did a few constructive things while in office and knew the meaning of hard work. But I digress...

Saturday, August 06, 2005

I love 'Rich Girl' (not the Stefani version!)

Rather, the Hall & Oates version (which is not a rendition of the song from Fiddler on the Roof):
You’re a rich girl, and you’ve gone too far
’cause you know it don’t matter anyway
You can rely on the old man’s money
You can rely on the old man’s money

It’s a bitch girl but it’s gone too far
’cause you know it don’t matter anyway
Say money but it won’t get you too far,
Get you too far
Such a good beat! Hall & Oates: so underappreciated.

Dual Sightings

Today I saw the same car in two different parking lots: once when my friend and I were pulling into the Walgreens parking lot and later when I was locking up my car at the local library. The car was a Volvo with a bumper sticker about getting rid of the Bushes and voting, plus a New Trier sticker and a University of Wisconsin sticker. That's how I knew it was the same person parked there as in Walgreens.

It brought me back to a day in Paris when I saw the same girl on the Metro at two different points in the day and at two different underground locations. I had made a note of her outfit earlier, which is how I remembered her the second time. Those odds were even stranger than today's dual sightings of the Volvo.

Coffee!

This morning I made myself a very good cup of coffee with either a Sumatra or Sulawesi blend. Usually, because I feel bad about using too many coffee beans, I don't end up with a full-bodied cup of coffee, but I guess absent-mindedly I put a lot in this morning and came out with one satisfying cup of coffee!

I know it is the tendency to think of coffee-drinkers as people who just do it for the caffeine, to get themselves through the day, but this ignores the pleasure that can be found in coffee. For instance, I drink the most coffee on the weekend, and I like to do it while reading the newspaper or sitting by my computer typing blogs entries like these. Anyway, bottoms up.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Trial of an Accused Former Nazi

Yesterday I was able to view the closing session of a trial brought against an 86-year old Ukranian immigrant alleged to be a member of the Ukrainian Auxiliary Policy in World War II, a group that answered to the German Nazis and committed all sorts of atrocities against Jews, a hallmark being rounding them up and sending them to concentration camps. The man on trial, Osyp Firischak, is accused of covering up his time in the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police in the town of Lviv on immigration papers to get into the U.S. If found guilty, he would be deported.

Sitting in the courtroom through this trial was a trying experience. For one, the man on trial, Osyp Firischak is an old, grey-haired man who walks with somewhat of a stoop and the assistance of a cane. He doesn't look the part of one who could have committed the cold-blooded crimes that he most probably did if he was indeed a member of the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police. On the other hand, if he did lie about his past--and his story that there was another Osyp Firischak in the Ukrainian Police while he was meanwhile living the life of an itinerant in a city where the police supposedly enlisted any able-bodied man they could find seems improbable--he broke the law.

I met a woman who was a bit younger than Firischak who was a Ukrainian Jew who had hid out in the town of Lviv during that time. She said much of her family had been killed. It was interesting to be in the same room as people who are a testament to the atrocities that went on in Europe under the Nazis, and it caused me to wonder what it must have been like to live in a world where so many people lived with survival first and foremost on their minds.

For more information about the trial of USA v. Firischack, look here.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Bush=Lame Duck?

This is a good article from a college student over at Campus Progress about how Bush has had a difficult time during his second term in translating Republican ideology to successful policy proposals and legislation.
The Republican Congress adjourned last week for its August recess and patted itself on the back for a job well done. It scored victories this summer on gun-manufacturer liability, CAFTA—having made so many bribes and side-deals that the agreement promotes free trade only in name—and energy and highway bills that had almost nothing to do with actual energy and transportation policy, and everything to do with rewarding big contributors and influential legislators. But in what sense are these actually victories for conservatives? They certainly aren’t steps toward implementing any coherent ideological program. They don’t make government smaller or more market-oriented. They’re only victories if the GOP considers its sole purpose in governing to be distributing spoils to its friends and supporters.

...Bush has no one but himself to blame for his agenda’s trouble. His problem is a much more fundamental one than a bungled burglary or a blowjob. His agenda is stuck in the mud because he wasn’t elected to implement it. Had Bush spent the campaign trumpeting, at every stop, his plans to privatize Social Security and eviscerate progressive taxation—and had he been elected on such a platform, the prospect of which is admittedly dubious at best—then the reaction of Congress and the public to his proposals would be very different. But Bush waged no such campaign. His campaign was about one message, and one message only: “I am not John Kerry.”
My main problem with the article is that it seems to subscribe to the belief that Republicans in Washington actually do care about paring down the government. In fact, what's so worrisome about the current state of the Republican party is that they really do seem to consider their "sole purpose in governing to be distributing spoils to its friends and supporters" which the author finds hard to believe. I don't.

The author also seems to write off Democrats' fear during the 2004 election that a "Republican Congress would team up to enact change so drastic that the country would become unrecognizable" as "much ado about nothing" which is easier said by a privileged person who is probably unaffected by Republican legislative successes. As the writer says, at one point:
This is not to say that everything is rosy for progressives. Being in the minority inevitably means suffering lots of small injustices. When bankruptcy laws are rewritten, at the behest of credit-card companies, to punish unlucky middle-class families, that’s a small injustice.

Hm, I think the new bankruptcy laws or CAFTA are a little more than "small" injustices.

Dispatches from a Commuter

This actually happened last week, but I kept on forgetting to mention it here. I was on the CTA Purple line when a woman got on and prepared to take the seat next to me by taking out a folded square cloth, opening it up, setting it down on the seat, and sitting down. Have any of you commuters out there ever seen such a thing?

Mainstream Media

David Sirota on media conventional wisdom in all of its brainlessness:

A lot has been written about how, when reporters spend too much time in Washington, D.C., their brains start to rot, and they start spewing back insider gossip and stereotype that is so removed from reality, you think you are reading the rantings of patients in an insane asylum. Case in point is Washington Post reporter Dan Balz - one of the most intellectually impaired reporters working today.

Balz has made a career parroting whatever Beltway conventional wisdom is out there, regardless of how polls show it is totally disconnected from reality. He regularly writes declarative statements that have literally no connection to anything other than what he and his insulated cocktail party friends have decided in a vacuum is what America believes.
Read more.

"Moral Hazard" and the War

This article by Uwe Reinhardt from Monday's Washington Post makes a good point about how Americans have a very low, if any, sense of the cost of the wars abroad--emotionally, financially, etc.
The administration and Congress have gone to extraordinary lengths to insulate voters from the money cost of the wars -- to the point even of excluding outlays for them from the regular budget process. Furthermore, they have financed the wars not with taxes but by borrowing abroad.

The strategic shielding of most voters from any emotional or financial sacrifice for these wars cannot but trigger the analogue of what is called "moral hazard" in the context of health insurance, a field in which I've done a lot of scholarly work.

...Moral hazard can explain why, in wartime, the TV anchors on the morning and evening shows barely make time to report on the wars, lest the reports displace the silly banter with which they seek to humor their viewers. Do they ever wonder how military families with loved ones in the fray might feel after hearing ever so briefly of mayhem in Iraq or Afghanistan?

Moral hazard also can explain why the general public is so noticeably indifferent to the plight of our troops and their families. To be sure, we paste cheap magnetic ribbons on our cars to proclaim our support for the troops. But at the same time, we allow families of reservists and National Guard members to slide into deep financial distress as their loved ones stand tall for us on lethal battlefields and the family is deprived of these troops' typically higher civilian salaries. We offer a pittance in disability pay to seriously wounded soldiers who have not served the full 20 years that entitles them to a regular pension.

...When our son, then a recent Princeton graduate, decided to join the Marine Corps in 2001, I advised him thus: "Do what you must, but be advised that, flourishing rhetoric notwithstanding, this nation will never truly honor your service, and it will condemn you to the bottom of the economic scrap heap should you ever get seriously wounded."

...Unlike the editors of the nation's newspapers, I am not at all impressed by people who resolve to have others stay the course in Iraq and in Afghanistan. At zero sacrifice, who would not have that resolve?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Is Anyone Surprised?

"Palmeiro tests positive"

On Monday, nearly five months later, the Baltimore Orioles slugger became baseball's highest-profile player to be suspended 10 days for using steroids.

While he didn't deny testing positive for the drugs, he insisted that ingesting them was an accident.



Edited to add that as the guy working at the place I had lunch today said, "What's wrong with our country? Why can't you just come forward and say, 'I made a mistake'?" AGREED.

Monday, August 01, 2005

"I think it's kind of a sickness."

Lauren Bacall on Tom Cruise:
"His whole behavior is so shocking," she says. "It's inappropriate and vulgar and absolutely unacceptable to use your private life to sell anything commercially, but I think it's kind of a sickness."
I'm glad someone of her stature is commenting on celebrity opportunism.

Ms. Meyer Goes to Washington

Well my goals were not as lofty nor my accomplishments as hard-won as Jimmy Stewart's Mr. Smith, but I did get to see the Senate floor during my weekend visit to Washington D.C. John suggested that I get a gallery pass from one of my Senator's offices, a privilege which, unbeknownst to me, allows visitors to sit in the gallery above the Senate floor or House floor where bills are debated and voted on.

I got to watch as amendments were introduced by Democrats and Republicans to the Republican-sponsored gun bill, a piece of legislation that protects gun companies from lawsuits that implicate the company in gun violence. My two immediate objections to this bill were:
  1. It sets a dangerous precedent because it allows Congress to determine justiciability, which is whether the case is appropriate for settlement in a court of law, and which is better determined by a court rather than by a blanket law from Congress.
  2. It should not be a top priority. With all of the problems we have in this country right now, from state budgets to health care to education to a war, should a bill that panders to the NRA be anywhere near a top priority--one of the last bills that Congress grinds out before its August recess?
Anyway, it was still exciting to watch, and I spent about three hours watching among others Ted Kennedy, Orrin Hatch, Jack Reed (D-RI), and Larry Craig (R-ID) debate the bill. Kennedy was probably the best orator, and I thought it was just interesting to get exposure to the actual debate that goes on in Congress, even it doesn't cause many Senators to become apostates.

Since I also came during a time of several amendment votes and a vote on the bill itself, I got to see just about every Senator on the floor. For the most part, it seemed like the Democrats talked with Democrats and the Republicans with Republicans, but I saw Ken Salazar (D-CO) and later John Kerry talking with Orrin Hatch and Barack Obama talking with Craig. Obama was pretty social and said hi to most people. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), one of the leaders in making amendments to the gun bill, was walking around talking seriously to people. At one point she and Hatch sat down to look over something in a folder. Dick Durbin, the Democratic Senator from Illinois and Senate Minority Whip was on the floor a lot both smiling and appearing to work pretty hard. Majority Leader Bill Frist looked tense. Usually the whispers I heard in the gallery were from people pointing out John Kerry or Hillary Clinton and one woman who pointed out Obama as the guy "who gave that good speech at the Convention." I'm sure many Senators were hoping that recess would begin that evening rather than Saturday or Sunday, and fortunately it did.