Monday, December 31, 2007

Looking back? Why? (And looking ahead is scary,too)

This is Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and endings -- the deity who survives in the name we give the first month of each new year, January. (And, Wikipedia tells us, Janus, as the caretaker god of doors and halls, survives also in the word 'janitor.' Who knew?)

"What would you like to do tomorrow?" Long Suffering Spouse asked me. We were alone. We had retired for the evening. Middle Son was still out. Younger Daughter and Youngest Son were still awake as well, doing whatever it is that teenagers do when their parents are not present. (I like to think they secretly read books. Wouldn't that be nice?)

"I'm going to work," I said.

"No, later."

"Well, Middle Son is going to go down to Champaign, so I'll worry about him. And Younger Daughter is going to insist on going somewhere. Anywhere. Anywhere but here -- "

"No, what do you want to do?"

"Nothing in particular. Maybe we'll put on a Fred and Ginger movie." If Bing Crosby is the 20th Century image of Christmas, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are the dual spirits of New Year's Eve. In my opinion.

Long Suffering Spouse was unhappy with my answer. We're both happy to see 2007 out -- for many, many reasons. But I see no point in celebrating it. I don't want noisemakers or champagne. I don't look forward to being awakened by the phone ringing at midnight as Older Daughter and Abuela check in. (And, yes, I probably will be asleep.)

Nor am I looking forward to next year. Why should I? Changes will come; they always do. But they won't occur because the page turns on the calendar; changes will come, for good or ill, in their own time and for their own reasons. Wednesday will be very much like today -- a second Monday in the same week, in fact -- except that, on Wednesday, the public holiday decorations will be taken down.

There are reasons to be hopeful; if there weren't we couldn't go on. But New Year's Day doesn't make me hopeful and it doesn't make me happy. It just reminds me that time is passing... and I must face the reality that there's less and less time to do the things I'd hoped to do... or dreamed of doing....

No. Look too far ahead and you'll see only the waterfall. I'm in the rapids now, and I must concentrate on where I am right now and on what I need to do right here lest I be swept over the falls prematurely.

Happy New Year. In 2008 I resolve to be funnier.
Brewster Rockit expresses a good deal of my ambiguity about New Year's -- and does so in a way that's much funnier, thank you.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

What if they gave an historic football game... and nobody watched?

On Saturday evening, the New York Football Giants will play the New England (nee Boston) Patriots in the last regular season game for both clubs.

There is something unusual about this particular game: The Patriots are 15-0 and have a chance to become the first team ever to go 16-0 in the regular season, the first undefeated team since the Miami Dolphins went 14-0 in 1972. In 1972, the Dolphins went on to win the Super Bowl; the Patriots hope to duplicate that feat as well.

Thus a ho-hum game has become imbued with special significance... but there was a problem. The game was slated for the NFL's own cable network, the imaginatively named "NFL Network." Under the latest TV contract, beginning on Thanksgiving night, the NFL Network gets Thursday and Saturday night games to showcase before the entire country.

Such was the theory.

But it hasn't worked out that way. Cable channels charge cable systems for the right to show that channel's programs. That's one way they make money. Another is by selling commercials. Some of the "premium" channels don't sell commercials, as such (although one wonders whether the "documentaries" about the "making of" some shlock picture can be seen as anything else). These premium channels charge lots more for their rights than the so-called "basic" channels that sell commercials and time for infomercials. The rights to some "basic" channels may be had for less than some others; it all depends on the audience the cable companies hope that a channel will draw. Because the cable companies sell commercial time, too.

After buying all these rights, the cable companies offer packages of channels to their customers: The "premium" movie channels, like HBO and Showtime, are included in "premium" packages. Then there's basic ("CSI: Miami" and "CSI: New York" reruns), extended basic ("CSI: Miami", "CSI: New York", "CSI: Dubuque", "CSI: Timbuktu" reruns and 11 different flavors of "Law and Order"), and special interest tiers (you want international soccer? Music channels with actual music?).

I pay somewhere between a King's Ransom and the GNP of a developing nation each month to my cable company (I'll call it "Comcast") for two History Channels, four or five variations on the Discover Channel and the White Sox games. I can see the "Naked Archeologist" on three different channels. Whoopee! On the other hand, there's something called "The Dog Whisperer," and channels I'd never watch: Lifestyle, Oxygen, HGTV, The Food Network, The Game Network....

Last year, I also had the NFL Network. Except for the eight or 10 games that it showed live (of which maybe I watched parts of a few), I had no reason to watch that channel either: I have no interest in watching reruns of a football game, nor do I crave the latest news coming out of the Tennessee Titans offseason mini camp.

This year, Comcast took the NFL Network away.

And so began the battle of the ads. This is one that I got in the email from the NFL. The cable companies have ones that are equally shrill. It comes down to this: The NFL Network wants to set a price for its channel and dictate that its channel be included in cable customers' "basic" package. The price it wants to charge is based on those eight or 10 nights a year when it shows games live -- but the price would be the same for the cable companies on each of the other 355 days of the year. The cable companies want to bundle the NFL Network into a "sports tier" so that they can squeeze even more money from their customers.

These are multimillionaires battling to see who can take the last bit of lint out of my pocket... and I'm supposed to choose sides?

So Thursday and Saturday nights have passed in the Curmudgeon home since Thanksgiving without hearing Rich Eisen -- except for the Bears-Redskins game, that is, since the NFL Network makes games involving local teams available for broadcast.

And you know what?

I have not perceived any diminution of my quality of life. The world still spins on its axis; the Sun still rises and sets. Apparently I was not alone in this.

I believe this is why the Patriots-Giants game will be simulcast this Saturday night on the cable channel nobody gets and NBC and CBS. And local stations in Boston and New York. Because the NFL is afraid we might stop caring.

Too late?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Curmudgeon installs a new printer

The time stamp on this post will tell you that I was in the office before 9:00 a.m. this morning, and it's no lie.

I was actually here before 8:00 a.m.....

It all started last Friday. I had a lot of work to do and high hopes of getting some work done before the weekend craziness. Thursday afternoon, since my printer ink supplies were getting low, I restocked.

Anyone with an inkjet printer knows that the cost of replenishing the ink is equal to, and sometimes greater than, the cost of a new printer. And there are some other hard and fast rules, too:
  • No two inkjet printers take the same size refill cartridges;
  • Inkjet printers are so cheap that, when they fail, they are never worth the cost of repairing; and
  • Inkjet printers will fail unexpectedly, usually when you have a lot of work to do and never until after you've stocked up on new ink cartridges.
And now you see my situation on Friday. To summarize, I tried to print a single page letter and fax cover sheet for about five hours before I admitted defeat and headed home.

Long Suffering Spouse said I looked numb, like I was in shock. But I roused myself to get out to the store on Friday night to buy a new printer.

I had sought a new printer on Friday afternoon, mind you, in the course of my five hour try-to-print-one-stinking-letter odyssey, but all the stores downtown were selling "all in ones" -- printers, fax machines and scanners. I already have a dedicated scanner and my fax machine is in the office kitchen. I just wanted a printer -- but nothing was available beyond the toy printer stage that I could carry across the Loop back to my Undisclosed Location. So I had to go by car.

My plan was to take my new machine into the office on Saturday and install it.

But I could not face the task. And there were many things to do at home. And I knew I could always come in on Monday.

My mother-in-law plans her Christmas Eve dinner months ahead of time. It would be an exaggeration to claim that she has begun preparations for 2008 already -- but she will start them soon. Thus, I was obliged to decide, weeks ago, that I would not be going into the office on Monday and, with that declaration, dinner was moved up to 2:30 p.m.

I had once again failed to correctly forecast the future.

I took Youngest Son with me on Monday morning. He came as security, of a sort, that I would return promptly and certainly in time for dinner. Also, Youngest Son could carry the large printer box into the building in which my Undisclosed Location is situated whilst I went and parked the family van.

Physically, the installation was a snap. Oh, I had to buy a different cable and all that, but I had other errands to run Downtown anyway and we were set to begin the installation routine shortly after 9:00 a.m. on Monday morning.

The installation program cautioned that anti-virus software might slow the installation routine and might result in a number of pesky questions about whether to allow access to the Internet during the installation. The program suggested that I answer all such inquiries in the affirmative. I was perfectly willing to accept that advice but, in the event, I was never required to act upon it.

The installation program also warned that sometimes -- sometimes -- an active anti-virus system might cause the installation to fail.

But I am a cautious person. I did not immediately turn off the anti-virus because I am connected here at all times to the scary, scary Internet and I would not want my computer hijacked by pornographers or Nigerian exiles while I was innocently engaged in the installation of a new printer. I figured that if the pesky access questions became too pesky, then I could temporarily disable the anti-virus software.

But, alas, as I have already disclosed, the questions never came. The installation proceeded in seeming good order... and then it failed. An ominous message flashed on the screen that the computer would shut down in 45 seconds... 44... 43....

Unhappily, when this computer shuts down and restarts, one has time to read the morning newspaper, have a cup of coffee, and go out for breakfast. And I had already done all these things on Monday morning. But the computer shut down anyway.

And when it shut down, and rebooted, the install routine began again. This time, however, it did not get nearly so far before the ominous shut down screen again sprang to life. By this point I noticed that the little anti-virus icon on the lower right hand corner of my screen was festooned with an 'x' in a red circle, suggesting, I thought, that the computer had disabled the program on its own. I let it restart again... and now the install program started... and hung.

I don't know how many times this happened. I lost track. I lost patience. I nearly lost my mind. I soft-booted. I hard-booted. I manually restarted the install program. I eventually removed the install disk from the disk drive. I searched in vain for some uninstall program... but the installation had not progressed so far as to install the uninstall.

Eventually, however, while I was on the phone with Long Suffering Spouse during the noon hour -- she had noted the time, as I feared she would, and was pointing out that I had brought lunch for neither myself nor Youngest Son -- a new screen came up. This one said that I could uninstall by clicking this button... and when I did so the computer would have to restart. Again.

By the way, do not feel sorry for Youngest Son in all this: He spent most of the morning sleeping in a chair in my office. At other times, he slept on the floor.

I was quite jealous.


But, now, finally, the endless loop seemed broken. And when the computer finally restarted... finally... restarted... I disabled the anti-virus and only then inserted the install disk back in the disk drive.

Hurrah! The installation program began as it had begun only on the first try, and never since, and the percentage of installation completion began to grow. Youngest Son, awake now, perched over my shoulder to watch the number climb... and then we were at the point where the program had hung the first time... and then we were past it! Finally!

And then the computer announced that the installation was complete... and that I must restart. Again.

Yes, this is repetitive. But you're supposed to be laughing at my frustration. And lack of technical skill. And I'm supposed to be laughing with you... even if I'm still crying on the inside. And all the while Youngest Son was telling me what I already knew: "Mom," he said, over and over again, "is going to kill you."

Well, I thought, when the computer was finally back up and running, I should print a test page. Just to be sure. And I should register the new device. I printed the test page without incident. The registration process failed....

But here is the important thing: I made it home by 2:00 p.m. I was already dressed for dinner. Youngest Son dressed hurriedly. And we beat Long Suffering Spouse's sister and her family to Abuela's house. So it all worked out well in the end.

On Monday.

Which brings us to this morning. At just before 8:00 a.m., when I arrived.

The computer announced that there were printer software updates available. (Mind you, it had said there were none available on Friday.) I looked at the list -- and one would (allegedly) help me complete the registration process. O joy!

I clicked to begin installing the updates.

And then the computer said I would have to restart to make the changes effective.

AGAIN!

But here we are now -- I've vented my spleen and I am now ready to begin my day's work.

If today were Friday. Last Friday.

*Sigh*

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Closed for the Holiday

With this morning's post (see below), absent some sudden, irresistible inspiration, I'm out of here until Wednesday.

You are encouraged to hang around, however, as long as you like. Browse among the archives if you're in the mood. Chat among yourselves. Leave comments.

Please don't spill.

Merry Christmas to all. Or Happy Holiday. Accept whichever greeting makes you happier.

Long Suffering Spouse prepares for the hospital

Long Suffering Spouse had her gall bladder removed Tuesday. She's home now and doing as well as may be expected. Pain pills are wonderful things. But today's story is about how Long Suffering Spouse got ready for her date with the surgeon. And it's about Christmas cookies, too....

Long Suffering Spouse's Christmas cookies are legendary in our neighborhood. She makes all sorts of breads, coconut bars, date bars, brownies, wreath cookies, Christmas trees, gingersnaps, gingerbreads, three different kinds of sparkle cookies, all sorts of cookies.... Let's put it this way: People are even nice to me in the hopes of getting a tin of her Christmas cookies.

One group of people that is usually favored with Long Suffering Spouse's cookies are our doctors. The list has changed from year to year; this year may be the first that the pediatrician's office didn't get any. Well... the kids are getting too old for a pediatrician... and the doctor who took care of our kids has retired. The doctor who removed most of my colon at the end of February used to be on the list when I was getting annual colonoscopies... then he dropped off the list for awhile. He was back on this year. And my internist was on the list, too, particularly since he recently signed on also as Long Suffering Spouse's internist -- and he's the one who figured out that she was likely suffering from gallstones.

The gallstones complicated the baking schedule this year.

Usually the baking doesn't finish up until school lets out, or just before. Often, my wife brings her tins for school on the last day before Christmas break... and there still might be one or two varieties as yet unbaked. But this year we knew there'd be surgery, so Long Suffering Spouse was bound and determined to get all the baking done beforehand.

She can be very determined.

The teachers and staff were pleasantly surprised that the cookies came in on Monday. The Rectory and Monastery don't care when the cookies come... so long as they do. And Long Suffering Spouse even let me bring a few tins downtown to distribute to offices where lawyers send me cases....

That left the doctors' cookies to be distributed Tuesday morning. This was made possible by the rescheduling of Long Suffering Spouse's surgery: It had been scheduled for early Tuesday morning, but late last week it got moved into Tuesday afternoon. It wasn't my wife's idea, but this was how she took advantage of it.

So I chauffeured her around Tuesday morning on our way to the hospital. And when we were all done, and on our way to check in, I realized there was still another tin.

"Who's that for?" I asked.

"The OR staff," she said.

"What? You're bringing bribe-o?"

She may have been a little embarrassed by that characterization.

So, naturally, I exploited this. Checking in, she was trying to conceal the tin from prying eyes. But she pulled it out when we finally got to the assigned pre-surgery area. What's this? she was asked.

"Bribe-o," I said, flinching in an effort to avoid the elbow that Long Suffering Spouse sent my way. Not that I didn't deserve it....

And it almost worked: No one could have been tended to better. Or by so many. Almost all of whom offered praise for this variety of cookie or that one.

The plan failed in this respect, however: The hospital still kept her overnight. She didn't want to stay... but she was in no condition to leave.

The bad part? The surgeon and the hospital humored my wife; they said "we'll see" when she voiced her desire to go home on the day of surgery. They told her it sometimes happens. I think it was the anesthesiologist who wasn't in on the plan. She confirmed my suspicions when she told my wife (who had made it a point to tell anyone wearing scrubs that she wanted to go home Tuesday night) that it wasn't her call to make. "It's up to the surgeon," said the anesthesiologist, "but usually for this kind of operation patients are kept under observation for 23 hours after surgery."

Maybe the anesthesiologist didn't like cookies.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Heads or Tails #19 (Memorable Gift)

This week, Barb, the Nobel Prize winning inventor of Heads or Tails, the mysterious fuel additive that has dramatically increased gas mileage in several recent tests, asks us to talk about "a memorable gift."

There was one gift I really, really wanted one Christmas.

I can't remember exactly when this was... I was young... 10? 11? 9? Thinking about it, I can't remember which house we were living in: We moved when I was 11, so that would have been a big clue. I'm hoping this was at the old house; I could better plead my extreme youth as an excuse.

No, it wasn't a BB gun. (That's been done, anyway.)

I wanted a cane.

I can't remember, now, why I wanted one. I may have been in a Fred Astaire phase. It wasn't because of any physical problem.

I just wanted it, that's all.

And I got it: It wasn't a cane for white tie and tails, though. It was part cane, part shillelagh. But I was very pleased. And it's still around here somewhere....

Not a rollicking, hilarious story, though, is it? Well, there is the gift I didn't get....

It was my 16th birthday and my mother and father were already sitting down to breakfast. I was late, as usual.

I ran down the stairs but didn't go to the kitchen. Instead I threw open the front door and ran outside.

My parents were confused... but there was more to come.

I ran back in, glowing and breathless. "It's wonderful, it's exactly what I wanted!"

"What is?" they said.

"The car, the CAR," I cried. "Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you! And with a bow, too," I embellished. "That was a nice touch."

"There's no car in the driveway with or without a bow on it," they said.

And, of course, they were right: There was no car there.

But I thought I was terribly amusing.... They just thought I was nuts.

And not for the first time, either.

I hope Santa brings what you ask for: Even if it's a little strange, you may get it, as long as it doesn't cost too much. Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 17, 2007

At the Mall with the Grinch Curmudgeon

Older Daughter called my cell phone as Long Suffering Spouse and I were shuffling through the Mall on Saturday.

One seldom proceeds at more than a shuffle in the Mall: No matter how slow you go, there's someone in front of you moving slower. And, though America is supposedly getting wider each year, each year the aisles in the stores are made more narrow. To slow traffic even more.

It was cold in Chicago Saturday and Long Suffering Spouse wondered why I wasn't wearing my down jacket -- I would not have lasted five minutes standing still outside with the light jacket I chose. But I would have stalled traffic in the Mall even more, as the down jacket brushed against display items knocking them on the floor. Then I'd have to stop and pick them up... and even if I didn't, those poor unfortunates behind me would have to navigate around them, right?

Didn't they shoot one of the many remakes of "Night of the Living Dead" in a shopping mall? All they'd have to do is film the Christmas shoppers at actual speed -- traffic therein moves at the exact same soul-deadened, zombie-like crawl.

But -- back to the phone call from Older Daughter. She was just checking in to let us know she'd completed a trip safely. "Where are you?" she asked. "In the Mall," I told her. "I'd rather be at the dentist than here."

Long Suffering Spouse shot me the Death Glare. Honesty, it seems, is not always the best policy.

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Later, we were in a store searching for something called "Webkinz" -- the current successor, it seems, to the Beanie Baby craze of a few years back. Webkinz are apparently the favored playthings of our young nieces.

Webkinz are stuffed animals, similar to Beanie Babies, only more costly. This is the result, not just of the passage of time, but also of the fact that each stuffed creature comes with a computer code. You can visit the website, register, and play with your new toy on the screen at the same time as you play with the actual toy.

And you can buy it outfits, too. And even the outfits come with a computer code -- so your sicky-icky-sweetums little kitty or doggie on screen will wear the same outfit as the sicky-icky-sweetums little kitty or doggie in your lap.

If I sound jealous, it's only because I am: Somebody is making a mint on this. At the store we visited, little girls from toddlers to teens were ooohing and aaaahing over the Webkinz display. (And buying, too.)

One of the newest Webkinz offerings is a little baby seal. The store clerk was trying to be helpful, telling us which items were new and which had been around for awhile because Long Suffering Spouse's sister didn't tell us what critters the girls had collected already.

"Baby seal, eh?" I asked -- and Long Suffering Spouse whirled around to shoot me the Warning Look.

Which I ignored. I pressed on instead: "Does it come with its own ba---"

And that's when I received the Death Glare again. And an elbow.

Friday, December 14, 2007

All juiced up about the Mitchell Report?

Bee, I know you're real busy with all those appointments and getting ready for the family cruise, so I'll save you some precious time: This one is about sports, OK? But the one beneath is about bubblewrap... and you may find that more to your liking.
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I downloaded the Mitchell Report yesterday afternoon.

I can't say as I've read it yet -- it's 409 pages long, including exhibits, and I don't get paid for looking at stuff like that. But I've glanced at it, anyway, and I've listened carefully to a lot of blathering from the talking heads I saw on TV yesterday or heard on the radio this morning.

There are a lot of names named in the report: Roger Clemens, his trusty sidekick Andy Pettitte, Miguel Tejada.... For the record, Clemens has strongly denied any steroid use and he has never failed a drug test.

So it's the big names in the headlines and all the sanctimonious baseball writers who are publicly vowing never to vote Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens or any other actual or suspected steroid user into the Hall of Fame.

That's crazy talk.

Clemens and Bonds -- whatever their human failings -- are the ultimate stars of this era. Keeping them out of Cooperstown would be like keeping out Pete Rose.

Oh, yeah, that's right: Rose isn't in either.

Can we all take a big, deep breath here?

Yes, some big names were named. But mostly there were little names named. This article from the Chicago Tribune summarizing those named in the report who were, at some point in their careers, connected with the Chicago White Sox illustrates the point.

There's Jose Canseco, of course. That's the biggest name named, and probably also the only name connected with both the Sox and the Mitchell Report that the casual fan, not from Chicago, would know. And his involvement is no surprise, given that he's trying to make a living these days talking about his steroid use.

Or do you all claim to remember left handed pitcher Jim Parque? He was pretty good for awhile, then wasn't so good (because of arm trouble), and then he got traded to Tampa Bay and (allegedly) dabbled in HGH after the 2003 season in Tampa trying to hang on. The accusations against Scott Schoenweis are recent, so maybe that name will ring a distant bell. And you probably know Jeremy Giambi's brother -- but maybe not Jeremy.

Unless you're the sort who has gone nearly blind reading the fine print in The Sporting News every week, you almost certainly haven't heard of the other ex-Sox properties named. (For the record: Mike Bell, Randy Velarde, Marvin Bernard, Stephen Randolph. See?)

So: Some big names were named. But mostly little names.

This means one of two things -- and it might mean both of them: First, that the 'juice' is not a magic potion that will turn any marginal player into a superstar, and second, maybe the use of the 'juice' was so widespread that (from a competitive standpoint) there was a level playing field.

If the 'juice' were a magic potion, everyone named in the Mitchell Report would have been a superstar. But it's not so. Thirty years ago, if I started shooting up, I wouldn't have become a major leaguer. Because I had no talent to begin with.

Scott Schoenweis was most recently with the Mets. He went 0-2 last year, with a 5.03 ERA in 70 appearances. He's just not as talented as Roger Clemens, whether they're both 'clean' or they're both 'dirty.'

I have no problem with the calls to clean up the game, and to rigorously enforce anti-doping rules from now on. In fact, for purely personal selfish reasons, I really and truly hope they do clean up the game.

Because long-term steroid usage will mess you up. Big time. It may kill you. It will change you... and not necessarily for the better, even in the short term. And my son (Middle Son) plays college ball. I don't know that he has that mysterious combination of luck and desire and talent that will allow him to progress to the next level. He's a 6'4" lefty pitcher pitching in a Division III school (and he's not a fireballer, which makes Middle Son even more doubtful of his chances to move on -- although Mark Buerhle seems to have done alright without ever attaining high velocities....)

But I won't digress. My point is very simple: I don't want my son thinking he should try any of this junk. I don't want my son feeling any competitive pressure to try this junk. I want my son to make it, or not, and still have a long and healthy life.

I don't think that's too much to ask. But, again, let's not get all sanctimonious about it. Let's be honest, instead: The owners knew this was going on. The sportswriters knew. The fans knew. They all saw skinny kids turn into muscle-bound behemoths virtually overnight. Jose Canseco (among others) called them out on it.

I'm glad it's out now because my son (I hope) won't get caught up in it.

No asterisks. Better drug tests. Turn the page.

Virtual bubblewrap!

The absolute best thing about shopping online is that stuff gets shipped to your house in bubblewrap. And you can spend entire minutes popping the bubbles -- and annoying the heck out of anyone within earshot, too.

Yes, that's surely the best thing about shopping online -- aside from not having to drive.

Or park.

Or stand in a checkout line.

Or get carried away by the tide of surging humanity at the local mall.

OK, so bubblewrap isn't the best thing about shopping online... but it's a lot of fun nonetheless.

And I was therefore pleased to stumble upon this link to virtual bubblewrap that you can pop with the click of a mouse. Then I noticed that this link had been recommended to StumbleUpon by our old blogfriend, Claire.

(Claire's had a tough year. Her mother -- the infamous Cupboard Monster -- has had a worse one. You may wish to 'toodle pip' over there and offer good wishes. But don't say I sent you. I have an image to uphold.)

Anyway, then it was necessary for me to verify the spelling of the word "bubblewrap." I mean -- one word or two? Which is it? (I know you hold us to very high standards here at Second Effort. What I can't understand is why.)

A Yahoo! search revealed (a) that "bubblewrap" is indeed the correct rendering of the term and (b) there are still more bubblewrap links and games out there on the Internet just awaiting your inspection. Another site even allows you to download virtual bubblewrap to your own blog.

You will note that, so far, I have resisted this temptation.

So far.

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DISCLAIMER: The management at Second Effort is not responsible to any visitor, or to the employee of any visitor, for lost productivity of the visitor or time wasted by the visitor on or because of the use or visitation of any site linked herein. All responsibility for lost time and productivity remains with the user of the linked site or sites. Further, the management at Second Effort specifically disclaims any and all liability to any user who is set upon, beaten, or otherwise injured by his or her colleagues, family members, or fellow cubicle dwellers on account of their making "pop" noises with their virtual bubblewrap. So there.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

An insight into what a lawyer sometimes does?

Searching for the intent behind the printed word... get it? (Click to enlarge.)

Although, come to think of it, that's also what conspiracy theorists and gnostic heretics do also....

(From a site called Neoformix and post called "Big Small" -- stumbled upon here. This is the combination of words I chose; you can make your own.)

Who says you don't learn stuff in the Comics?

From a comic called "Real Life Adventures." I obtained this image here; I saw the comic in this morning's Chicago Sun-Times.

I wish I were this smart.

Although, actually, in my case, it wouldn't work: Long Suffering Spouse would not be thrilled at the prospect of having to face the after-Christmas returns. Even a couple of weeks after Christmas. This is a very attractive quality, in my opinion.

But the comic is still funny.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Primal scream therapy -- or -- Getting the morning started on the wrong bumper

Last night's promised ice storm did not materialize here in Chicago. There was even the barest glimpse of the Sun at times this morning. You might think this might soften my curmudgeonly temper.

You might think that, but you'd be wrong. Read on....

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The backstory: Younger Daughter drives Youngest Son to his school, then continues on to her school for the 7:00 a.m. Band class. Because the bus doesn't get there in time for it.

Regular readers will know of my extreme reluctance to permit this, my various stalling strategies, and my inevitable (and probably graceless) capitulation.

Since shortly after we started on this, Younger Daughter has also undertaken to drive a neighbor girl. Which has been fine. They're going to the same place. Recently, after the neighbor girl's older brother totaled his car while driving to school, he's tagged along, too. Well, he goes to the same school as Youngest Son... so there's no frolic or detour required.

On the other hand, Younger Daughter has been kind of sweet on this neighbor boy for many years now. She has invited him, in fact, to three dances at her all girls' school over their respective high school careers. He has never reciprocated. Not even once.

Still, the all-knowing females believe the boy is sweet on Younger Daughter, too. This does not explain to me why the neighbor boy invites girls other than Younger Daughter to his dances at his all boys' school -- but, then, I'm also a clueless male.

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Fast forward to this morning: The kids are supposed to leave at 6:15 a.m. This has maybe happened once. This morning at 6:15 a.m. both Younger Daughter and Youngest Son were still upstairs getting dressed. The neighbor girl doesn't even bother to drop by before 6:20. What's the point?

By 6:30 or so -- 15 minutes late as usual -- they were, allegedly, off.

The phone rang at 6:45. Long Suffering Spouse answered. "What?" she said. "WHAT? WHAT?"

She handed me the phone. "She's had an accident," Long Suffering Spouse said, as if I hadn't already figured that out for myself.

On some things, I'm not totally clueless.

We covered the basics in our brief conversation: Younger Daughter claimed there was no damage to our car, nor to the rear of the car she ran into. But that impact propelled the car that Younger Daughter hit into (and underneath the bumper of) an SUV. No one was hurt. The police had not been called.

"Call the police," I said. I also got her to tell me where she was.

I refrained from the profane expostulations until I hung up the phone. If you felt a disturbance in the Force at about 6:46 a.m. CST today, that was just me screaming. After I hung up the phone.

I'm mellowing in my old age.

I finished dressing while still screaming and lit out for the street corner where Younger Daughter said she'd had her accident.

The location provided was still in the neighborhood. She hadn't yet left the neighborhood for school. In fact, she was doubling back to pick up the neighbor boy... who was moving too slowly this morning to make it to our house on even the relaxed schedule followed by the other teenagers. Younger Daughter had gone to a gas station and purchased an energy drink -- I guess so we wouldn't be yelling at her about why she hadn't gone already -- and was then planning to swing back and pick up the neighbor boy.

But she wasn't at the intersection that she told me she was at.

Oh, yes, she got the street wrong, too. But I called Youngest Son on his cell phone and asked where they were. And he told me. It was still in the neighborhood -- but on a busy arterial street at an intersection that I try and avoid whenever possible because everybody there drives like a crazy person.

Even at 6:30-ish, traffic is very heavy on that very narrow, very busy street. And the intersection she was approaching is also an expressway entrance.

There's a reason why I drove with Younger Daughter all those times figuring out the best route for her to take to school. I was figuring where she'd have the least challenging traffic. This intersection was definitely not on that route.

Have I mentioned she wasn't where she was supposed to be?

And here's the best part: Younger Daughter was right about the damage to our car: There wasn't any. Nor was there any visible damage to the rear bumper of the car she hit. But that car, remember, was pushed into and underneath the bumper of an SUV.

The driver of the SUV was a Class A jerk. He screamed profanities at my daughter and the driver of the car she hit, demanded their insurance information, and got back in his giant vehicle.

Naive young people that they are, Younger Daughter and the young man whose car she hit assumed that the SUV driver was going to come back with his own insurance information.

But, no.

No, the SUV driver appears to have backed up a bit -- unlocking the tangled bumpers, yes, and also crumpling the hood of the vehicle that was in contact with his -- and then, without so much as a backwards glance, rocketing away into the gray morning light. In its haste to depart, the SUV nearly took the other car's bumper with him... it certainly detached the bumper from its moorings. Neither Younger Daughter or the the driver of the mangled vehicle even got the SUV's license plate number.

Despite the initial misinformation, I got to the scene about the same time the police did. I had to find a legal parking space, so I walked up after the police had already started getting the necessary information from Younger Daughter and the poor man whose car may have been totaled by the SUV.

So the police were in their cruiser. I could then speak with my daughter and son. As the neighbor girl watched.

I did not yell. I did not swear. I did talk up a storm, though, and the young police officers soon thought to inquire who I might be and what my business was there.

I think I saved Younger Daughter a ticket. The responding police officers were both female and they recognized a sister in need. They tried to reassure me that it really wasn't Younger Daughter's fault, that she tried to stop with plenty of room, and it was just unfortunate that she made contact. There was, apparently, just a thin coating of 'black ice' on the street; that's why Younger Daughter couldn't stop in time. The guy in the middle shouldn't have been so close to the SUV, they said, and that was why his car was so badly damaged.

Right.

Of course, I did not contradict the officers. They have guns. And, besides, they wouldn't know that Younger Daughter wasn't driving anywhere near her assigned route to school.

I took Youngest Son in tow when the police were finished. He was already late for school and he needed to change clothes. (No, not that: However, in the event, he did manage to distribute the hot chocolate he'd been drinking fairly uniformly upon his entire person. Next time, I suggested to him, use a cover on any cup you drink from in a car.) Long Suffering Spouse was by this time late for school. And I was very much afraid I'd be late for court -- naturally today I needed to be in Waukegan by 9:15. So I had to let Younger Daughter continue on to school. On her own. Driving.

But I did twist the knife. "Enjoy the drive," I told her. "This is your last time for a long, long time."

So Long Suffering Spouse and I will have the pleasure now of driving Younger Daughter again, at least until the upcoming Christmas break. Maybe after the first of the year we can reevaluate. If we can put an ankle bracelet on Younger Daughter to monitor her position on a moment-by-moment basis.

Sure: We'll punish her by us getting up another hour earlier.

Who's really getting punished here?

And the neighbor boy? The neighbor boy that Younger Daughter was surreptitiously dropping back to pick up? He'll probably ask someone else to Prom anyway.

Aaaaaaaaaarrrrrrggggghhhhh.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Heads or Tails #18 (Sky or Space)

This week, Barb, the scientific genius behind Heads or Tails, the revolutionary breakthrough in weekly meme technology, gives us a choice. We can write (heads) about something in the sky or space or (tails) about something underwater. Since we haven't seen the sky here in Chicago for sometime now, I'm feeling nostalgic. Therefore I choose "heads."

(Unless otherwise indicated, these pictures are all obtained from "How Stuff Works" -- for individual photo credits, see that site and follow the links -- and don't blame them for the captions here.)

We'll start our tour of the Solar System with the Sun.

The Sun is a big ball of gas that gives off light and heat everywhere in the Solar System except, lately, in the Midwest.

That blue object in the background here is the Planet Earth. Scientists are divided as to whether intelligent life may exist there. Although many of the conditions for intelligent life as we know it seem to be available on this planet, it also has Paris Hilton.

This is an illustration of how a solar flare can impact the Earth's magnetic field. Charged particles from solar eruptions can disrupt cell phone service, particularly if they scramble your brains and make you forget to pay your bill.

This is Uranus -- and if you just responded by saying "no, it's not," consider yourself on report. Uranus is the third largest planet in the Solar System. Oddly enough, Uranus was not known to the Ancient Greeks -- wipe that smirk off your face immediately! -- but is the only planet that every single modern school child is guaranteed to remember on the quiz.

Can we get another slide here?


Please?


This is Mars, the Red Planet. This is where John Carter and his wife, the beautiful Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, live.

Or aren't you familiar with the Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars series?

OK, this image was not obtained from "How Stuff Works." Instead, I found it here.

I remember reading the Barsoom books (that's what the Martians called their planet) when I was a kid -- and thoroughly enjoying them. I remember Heinlein working the John Carter saga into one of his books -- in an alternate timeline, I think it was, Barsoom was real. Some of these books, at least, have slipped into the public domain; here's a link to the Project Gutenberg edition of "A Princess of Mars."

I'm tempted to go and read it again -- but I have a reason to be hesitant.

As long as we're talking about proto-science fiction, I'll close with a confession that will explain my hesitation. I recently finished reading Jules Verne's "From the Earth to the Moon" and "Around the Moon." I never read any Verne as a kid. While I appreciate the remarkable parallels between the voyage as he imagined it and actual Apollo voyages to the moon... well... I found the books tedious. Boring, even. I know that's not supposed to be the way it works. And I'm afraid my jaded adult self won't like John Carter anymore either.

And I'm also afraid that I will still like Burroughs. That would prove that I'm just a Philistine. And I'd rather suspect it than prove it.

Anyway, please remember: Keep looking up -- unless there's pigeons in the vicinity.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Finding a silver lining in the dark clouds over Chicago

The weather has been miserable in Chicago for almost a week now and the forecast suggests it's going to stay partly to mostly terrible for awhile yet.

I realize it's been worse elsewhere -- but our little bit of ice on Sunday was quite scary enough, thank you. It was the lowlight of the crumby weather week.

Actually, it's in crumby weather like this when it truly pays to live in Chicago: Sunday morning, if you could get to your car without breaking a hip or an ankle, and if you could get the car to a main street without running into a tree, you were home free as long as your destination was within the City proper. At least since Jane Byrne beat Michael Bilandic in 1979, Chicago's snow and ice removal on arterial streets has to be better than any city anywhere this side of Alaska. You know when you leave the city limits during a Chicago winter: Your car begins to skid. We even got salt down the sidestreets this weekend, so all we had to do was get to the car.

If our ice storm on Sunday wasn't enough to snap power lines and so forth, as happened downstate or in Missouri, it was still quite enough to modify behavior. My mother-in-law, like all the other seniors in the parish, went to the anticipatory Mass Saturday evening. They were all anticipating the ice on Sunday. She said she hadn't seen so many people in church since Easter.

Younger Daughter had to work Sunday morning and we wouldn't let her take the car. That meant that we had to drive her. Once we got out, we went to the grocery, too, and on our way back saw the newspaper delivery van slowly working down our street, about three hours later than usual.

Foolishly, I slid out to the end of the driveway to receive the paper, rather than make the poor delivery kid risk her neck. I almost paid for my chivalrous gesture with a bruise on my tokus.

We thought we'd wait out the weather and attend the last Mass of the day on Sunday evening. But the church parking lot was no better for having sat, open and receiving freezing drizzle -- frizzle? -- all afternoon. There may have been more praying going on in the parking lot than inside the church.

The cable weather channel called the sleet and freezing rain that was falling on Chicago a "wintry mix."

Doesn't that sound festive? "Wintry mix" -- I'm thinking that's the kind of thing that Martha Stewart should serve to guests in hollowed out lacquered gourds that she grew in her own garden or something.

But there was one good thing about this crumby weather -- one thing that has provided me with no end of comfort as I set out into the gloom.

You see, Oldest Son was in California last week. For work. Training on some computer program or other. So he missed the first snow. And he made it a point to send IM's to Youngest Son about how he could eat lunch outside and walk down to the beach and how it was 70 or 80 degrees or something. And then to ask -- in wholly feigned innocence -- how the weather was at home....

But he came home this weekend. And he's stuck here with the rest of us all week long.... (*Insert evil cackle here.*)

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Photo obtained here.

Friday, December 07, 2007

It's my Blogiversary -- and, look, I got presents

This award comes from both Jeni and Hilda. I am very pleased that both of you thought to send this my way.

Looking into this a little, I see that Jeni got the award from Linda, another frequent visitor here. And, if you would like more information about the "Shameless Lions," you should click here.

Now, however, I'm going to be a big party-pooper and not send this along to five more blogs -- although there are many deserving in the Sidebar, believe me.

Instead, I'm going to get just a tad introspective, because, well, sometimes that just happens on anniversaries, even silly ones like "Blogiversaries."

My Blogger profile says I adopted the nom de plume Curmudgeon in January 2005. I did it because it appeared to be the only way I could comment on Older Daughter's blog. Older Daughter had gone to Europe for a semester, during her junior year of college, and had started a blog as a way of communicating with everyone back home.

Then her computer acted up and her internet connection turned out to be not so well connected. In the meantime, I'd started my own blog. I don't remember what it was called. No one read it -- except Older Daughter, on occasion, because she knew about it and was embarrassed by even anonymous references to her. Because she knew it was me making those references. I deleted that first blog before starting this one.

I'm sort of sorry I did that, now.

I'd like to see some of those first posts again.

Then I started up this Second Effort (the name thereby explained) two years ago today. Why? For one reason, I'd become more and more Internet conscious -- I had just signed up for a second professional website that wound up giving me a couple of useless phone calls a month and cost me about $2,400 per year. (I finally discontinued it within the past couple of months.)

But I wanted that site then because I was moving my office and I was afraid that people -- prospective clients (i.e., other attorneys who might hire me) -- would not be able to find me when my address and phone number changed.

I'd had a good year in 2005 -- I went to trial on a case I'd been handling since 1996. Unfortunately, because I was almost exclusively devoted to that case for some considerable time before the trial, I wasn't building other business. And the carrier who'd sent that case to me was no longer writing business. I had finally settled the last part of my one substantial personal injury case -- but I couldn't cash the settlement check. So I was worried -- worried about the uncertainties ordinarily attendant to moving and worried, too, about how to replace a consistent source of income.

Well I moved, but I didn't replace the income in 2006. I didn't have a bad year on paper -- in part because I couldn't cash the check from the settlement of that PI case until well into January... and even then there was a major problem. Oh, I blogged about that.

I did have a couple of good hourly cases in 2006 -- one shot deals -- but, would you believe I have already billed more billable hours in 2007 (billable as in I have reasonable expectations of being compensated for that time at some point) than I did in all of 2006? And I had cancer this year. My total income for this year will lag behind my wife's -- and she teaches in a Catholic grammar school.

The uptick in hourly work is a recent phenomenon, a (very, very welcome) development during the course of my recuperation. It portends well for next year. I hope.

Through it all, I've been blogging -- blogging to try and preserve my version of the family history (anonymously, so as not to embarrass anyone in my family), blogging to make smart-aleck observations about the news, blogging just to try and be funny. To hone my chops as someone who can write funny stuff, and not just dry and serious legalese. Sometimes I get up on my soapbox and holler. And, also, I blog for company.

I work alone. And I miss my former Undisclosed Location where there were 20 or 25 people milling about on a common floor. Four of us moved here when the firm we were renting from decided it wanted to get out of the subleasing business. But that was too small a group. And one of our group died five months after we moved.

No, it wasn't me.

Anyway, blogging has also provided a world-wide water cooler for me, where I can swap lies and truths and jokes and shaggy dog stories with people of all walks of life and backgrounds. That's been a great comfort for me, too, even if sometimes I spend too much time at the water cooler and not enough time with my nose to the grindstone.

Nor have I been holding up my end of the bargain, lately. My return visits have, in many cases, slowed dramatically -- no longer once a day, or even once a week. I can only apologize.

It's not just that I'm working more. I have a new project -- a blogging project, actually -- where I'm putting to use some of the great advice I've absorbed in these past two years. I won't say more than that. But the project may be working. There weren't 400 visitors to that other blog two months ago... there's over 4,000 now and the numbers may (should?) really go up soon. That will absorb most of my blogging time, particularly in the next 60 days.

But it's not as much fun as this blog has been for me. And it won't be, even if it takes off as I hope it may.

That's why I wish this blog were on the cusp of a great growth spurt. But it isn't. In two years it's gone from zero to something. And there are people who stop by regularly, or semi-regularly, and seem to enjoy what I'm doing here. And I'm happy about that.

So, it's me who should say Happy Blogiversary to all of you.

Thanks.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Chicago gets ready for the Holidays

Hanukkah started this week. Here's the giant Menorah in the Daley Center Plaza erected for the holiday.

For devout Christians, the Daley Center Plaza also has a giant Nativity Scene.

In yesterday's Sun-Times, columnist Richard Roeper mused
As you may have heard, the city of Chicago is taking no chances with the Baby Jesus in the Nativity scene at Daley Plaza. He's been stolen in the past, but now there's a cable wrapped around his waist and bolted to the floor.

Somebody jokingly suggested wiring Baby Jesus with an electric shock. That would have been so great. Some hooligan grabs Baby Jesus -- and gets tasered to the ground. The city could have added a James Earl Jones/Godlike voice recording booming out, "DON'T TOUCH MY SON, NON-BELIEVER!!!"
If only such a moment could be captured on video... it would be a sure-fire hit on You Tube.

And it wouldn't be Christmas without a giant Christmas tree, would it? This is on the other end of the Daley Center Plaza, near the corner of Clark and Washington Streets. (Actually, these are a number of trees bundled together to look like one giant tree.)

Santa's house on the lower right, behind the tree. Santa wasn't in this morning when I came out of the courthouse.

And, finally, here's the Daley Center fountain.

There's no water now -- it was less than 10° F here in Chicago this morning -- but even if we can't dye the water a funky color, we can still celebrate corporate sponsorship... but I didn't photograph that panel.

The Christkindlmarket opens up around lunch time and stays open until 8:00 p.m. These striped booths you see in this picture (which I didn't take) are partially visible in some of the other shots here. But all the booths are pushed together for security after closing. Maybe I'll get some of my own shots there tonight on my way to the Subway.

Maybe.

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This marks post no. 600 for Second Effort -- and on the eve of my second Blogiversary, too....

American math and science scores lag behind the world... again

It's an old, familiar story, perhaps, but one that must be told again and again until it is studied only as ancient history: Bloomberg.com reports that, according to a new study, "Eighth-graders in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia trail their counterparts in Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan in math, and lag behind Singapore and Taiwan in science."

U.S. students as a whole finished 10th in math and 12th in science in a survey of students in 46 nations, according to the Bloomberg.com article.

Broken down by state, the scores were even more sobering: "Nine states were below the basic level in science -- Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada and New Mexico -- putting them in the same category as Jordan, Romania, and Serbia." Also according to the article, "The District of Columbia had the lowest U.S. performance in mathematics, on a par with Macedonia and Jordan, with the average student scoring 'below basic.'"

"The U.S. has no states where students were considered proficient in math, though Massachusetts eighth graders fell just short," the article said.

As I get older, articles like this scare me more and more. I worry that the United States is on track to become a really big Portugal -- I know I've used that line before -- famous for pioneering innovations in technology and exploration... and utterly irrelevant to current developments.

I've been to two of my children's college graduations now, and I've reviewed the book-length graduation programs. I am astounded by many Asian and Oriental names among the engineering graduates... and the paucity of American ones.

And here's the sad truth: Moms and Dads, if your child doesn't get through Algebra I in 8th grade, he or she will pretty much have no chance to become an engineer.

I've had five children graduate 8th grade. Only one placed out of Algebra I in high school. So far, only one has an engineering degree. Guess who?

The reason that your child needs to place out of Algebra I is so he or she can take Calculus in high school. (I was allowed to double up on Algebra II and Geometry in high school and thereby stay on the Calculus track -- but none of my kids have been permitted to do this in their high schools.) High school calculus seems a prerequisite for engineering majors. Oh, sure, you can stay in school the extra year -- but somehow English or Psychology or Law becomes more attractive then.

Yes, I took a path of least resistance myself: Actually, the only science majors at my undergraduate school were pre-meds... and I never wanted to be a doctor. Thus, my choice of college shunted me off the technical track.

Look, not everybody needs to be a scientist or an engineer, just as not everyone needs to be a doctor. But some people have to do it... and too many of our best and brightest aren't.

This Christmas, give your kid flash cards.

Thank you, Mr. Hussein Ibish

I do not know Mr. Ibish or his other opinions on other matters, but at least yesterday, in the Chicago Tribune, Mr. Ibish, described as the executive director of the Foundation for Arab-American Leadership, said some things I've longed to hear said.

In an op-ed piece entitled "Muslim extremists constantly insult faith," Mr. Ibish commented about a number of recent cases so much in the news, such as the case of Gillian Gibbons, the second grade teacher in Sudan who was sentenced to jail (and eventually pardoned) and exiled from the country because her seven year old students voted to give a name to the teddy bear they took turns taking home.

At least one of my kids, at a similar age, had custody of Clifford, the "Big Red Dog" of Public Television fame, for a weekend and a similar assignment: Write about her 'adventures' with the stuffed animal while it was visiting our home.

No one ever said the stuffed bear in Ms. Gibbons' classroom was supposed to be a representation of the Prophet. The toy was named Muhammad -- but so were several of the boys in the class.

Mr. Ibish wrote, "This isn't a case of cross-cultural misunderstanding, in which a better-educated Westerner would have avoided an error that would predictably have caused offense to Muslims. Rather, it is a case of fanatics once again finding offense over something that is no insult at all to any sensible Muslim anywhere in the world. After the verdict, the most extreme of these radicals publicly protested, with several hundred actually calling for her execution."

Mr. Ibish went on to address the scandalous case of the young Saudi woman who (*horrors!*) broke Saudi law by meeting -- alone -- with a man who was not her husband. A gang of deeply religious toughs happened on the couple and administered their version of street justice: They gang raped the woman.

For this, the woman -- the victim -- is to receive 200 lashes. Her sentence was actually increased when word of her trial leaked to the Western press. Writes Mr. Ibish, "the Saudi court and its apologists have attempted to justify this travesty on religious grounds, citing 'Islamic law' and values."

He concludes:
Such judicial abuses illustrate that a corrosive and morally blind form of religiosity has spread much too far in the Islamic world in recent decades.

This is faith shorn of spirituality and religion reduced to a vulgar and often vicious punitive code that bears no resemblance to the principles of traditional Islam and the God who is continuous[ly] referred to in the Quran as "the compassionate and the merciful" -- two values almost completely missing from the mind-set of the present day ultraconservatives in the Muslim world.

These scandals not only damage their own societies, they also promote the worst possible impression of Islam and Muslims and contribute greatly to the false impression in the West that they somehow typify the Islamic faith in action and the generalized attitude of Muslims around the world, including American Muslims. Bigots and Islamophobes could not wish for a more generous contribution to their campaign of hatred against all things Muslim.

While extremism is always present in any society, the present fit of politicized religious dementia gaining ground in the Islamic world is a relatively recent phenomenon. This is a version of Islam that was all but unknown to me as a boy growing up in the Middle East in the 1960s and '70s.

Like the rioters who considered violent rage to be an appropriate response to offensive cartoons in a Danish newspaper, or those who misuse religion to justify attacks on civilians, the ones who are inflicting the most serious damage to Islam and the Muslims are the religious extremists seeking political advantage by promoting a version of the faith that is devoid of human values and common decency.

What bigger insult to Islam could there possibly be?
Mr. Ibish: I don't want to be a bigot, nor do I wish to be an "Islamaphobe." So I am grateful to you for speaking out and I want to do my little bit here to see that your voice is heard.

Today, though, your voice seems to me like a lonely voice in the wilderness. I hope and pray the views expressed in your December 5 column become more widely shared by your fellow Muslims around the world.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Top pay for Chicago's new top cop

This is J.P. "Jody" Weis, late of the Philadelphia office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, newly appointed as Chicago's police superintendent.

According to a story in this morning's Chicago Sun-Times, Weis will command a salary of $310,000 -- big money indeed for a public employee (and made possible, according to the linked article, only by appointing him to the positions of both police chief and homeland security chief).

Over three hundred grand for a public employee? That's almost football coach money. In fact, I bet there isn't a public employee in the entire country who gets more than $310,000 from the public trough other than football or basketball coaches at State universities. (If anyone knows different... leave a comment.)

Football coach money for a cop. Kind of makes you wonder... did he get a shoe contract and a weekly TV show deal too? And what brand of shoes? Nike, Converse and Adidas have the jock market tied up... what sort of shoe company would enter into an endorsement deal with a cop?

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Weis photo obtained from the Polish News.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Which of these is really news?

This is Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan President and strongman. He held an election down there this past weekend which would have rewritten that country's constitution in a way that would have allowed him to perpetuate his reign over that nation.

He lost the election. (That's a link to the New York Times article -- genuflection optional -- about the election outcome.)

Not only did he allow the world to find out that he lost the election, Chávez has indicated -- at least so far -- that he intends to abide by the results.

This, I am told, is Don Imus. He's on the air again in New York. (That's another link to the New York Times. I don't think you have to genuflect twice.)

He used to get high ratings and make lots of money for his former employers. Thus, it was inevitable that someone else would eventually rehire him, hoping that he can recapture those ratings and profits.

It is said that news is 'man bites dog' not 'dog bites man.'

Chávez losing an election -- and admitting it -- is definitely 'man bites dog.' That is not how a traditional caudillo acts -- his mentor Castro would never have done this.

The only way the Imus story could rise to the 'man bites dog' level would be if his return to the airwaves was as play-by-play announcer for the Rutgers women's basketball team.

Heads or Tails #17 (Three)

This week, Barb, the inventor of Heads or Tails, the new dance step that's sweeping the country, gives me props for math skills. Honest. This is very nice -- but, of course, entirely undeserved. After all, I'm a lawyer -- and the only math a lawyer knows is how to divide by three.... Wait a minute, we got the theme in the actual intro? How about that?

And, even better, we can tie the number three to something very much in today's news.

Our junior senator here in Illinois is running for President of the United States. You may have heard of him: Barack Obama.

Recently Obama's poll numbers have trended up in next-door Iowa, whose upcoming caucuses supposedly signal the start of the presidential campaign (begging entirely the question of what we've been enduring lo these past many months...).

Senator Obama has recently suggested he's not been planning his presidential run for nearly as long as some other candidates. This apparently hit a colleague of his, the junior senator from New York, in a sensitive area. You may have heard of her, too, Hillary Rodham Clinton, once of Park Ridge, Illinois, one-time wannabe "co-President" with William Jefferson Clinton.

She put her issues team to work... and they came up with this press release which reveals, inter alia,
"In third grade, Senator Obama wrote an essay titled 'I Want To Be a President.' His third grade teacher: Fermina Katarina Sinaga "asked her class to write an essay titled 'My dream: What I want to be in the future.' Senator Obama wrote 'I want to be a President,' she said." [The Los Angeles Times, 3/15/07]

In kindergarten, Senator Obama wrote an essay titled 'I Want to Become President.' "Iis Darmawan, 63, Senator Obama's kindergarten teacher, remembers him as an exceptionally tall and curly haired child who quickly picked up the local language and had sharp math skills. He wrote an essay titled, 'I Want To Become President,' the teacher said." [AP, 1/25/07 ]
And I bet you thought the nuns were kidding about that "Permanent Record" thing, didn't you?

Anyway, Senator Clinton's research skills have not produced the results for which she hoped. Instead of shock and outrage that Senator Obama had tried to conceal his life-long, naked ambitions, she's gotten horse laughs....

For example, The Capitol Fax Blog opined yesterday that, "If this doesn’t get Clinton laughed out of Iowa, I don’t know what will."

In the Chicago Tribune today (online here), columnist Eric Zorn also picks up on that "Permanent Record" idea (honest, I wrote my nun line before I found his column), writing that he called "called the Obama campaign’s Chicago headquarters on Monday... checking into rumors that" Obama "used to write his R’s backwards." He said Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt "refused to go anywhere near the penmanship issue," but quoted him as adding, "All I'll say is that we’re preparing for the charge that Obama flip-flopped when he decided in second 2nd grade that he wanted to be an astronaut."

Presidential campaigns are so silly in this country that they will go back to an opponent's third grade and kindergarten teachers in search of dirt! I doubt that Senator Clinton's staff is unique here -- what is unusual is that no one stopped her minions from publishing the fruits of their research to the Internet. And this research was done (we trust) without the massive resources of the Federal government. Can you imagine any of these people getting access to the files of the IRS?

Yikes!

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If you've stayed with me this far, you may say, all well and good -- but how does this tie in with "three"? Well -- did you notice? One of those essays was from the third grade? Too much a stretch?

Monday, December 03, 2007

We still have no Christmas tree up

And Younger Daughter and Youngest Son are getting quite upset about it, too.

Not so upset, mind you, that they'll actually help put the tree up.... Well, this may not be strictly true: Saturday afternoon, in the middle of an ice storm, when attempting to walk from the house to the garage would have been foolhardy even with both hands free and both eyes glued firmly on the surface, Youngest Son volunteered to go out to the garage and bring down the tree and all the ornament boxes.

I didn't want to put up the tree on Saturday. I wanted to go to the Emergency Room even less. So I vetoed the idea.

And all the kids claimed that they wanted to help with the tree on the day after Thanksgiving. Not that they would have modified their plans to go out or anything -- they just wanted that Norman Rockwell moment... unwrapping a favorite ornament... arguing with a sibling about where to hang a souvenir from long ago Cub Scout days or Sunday Pre-School... watching Dad lose his temper when checking a string of lights -- a string that had worked perfectly when the string was tangled up in a ball -- but when finally untangled refuses to light in whole or in part.... Once these timeless rituals have been observed, our children would quickly scatter to their various individual interests -- video games in the basement, sporting events in the den, or maybe someone else's home or (now that we have some of age) even a gin mill. Long Suffering Spouse and I would be left with the task of actually putting up the tree.

The traditional place for our tree has been cleared, now, in the living room. That spot by the front window is ordinarily occupied by a large potted shrub. This is a plant that Long Suffering Spouse had before we were married, I believe. It's certainly much larger now than it has been. It must be five feet tall.

It's increasingly difficult, I've noticed, for Long Suffering Spouse to find another corner of the living room to which the shrub may shifted for the duration of the holidays.

This morning, I had an inspiration. "Why move it at all?" I asked. We could put ornaments and tinsel on that? It seemed to me a very practical solution.

Long Suffering Spouse was not amused. Younger Daughter's screams of protest probably alarmed the neighbors.

Loud as my daughter's protests were, though, I'll bet my screams this coming weekend will be louder when the untangled lights no longer light....

Friday, November 30, 2007

Holiday movie favorites: An Unscientifc Survey

Whilst sojourning at our home a week ago, Older Daughter's Boyfriend claimed not to have seen "Miracle on 34th Street". I immediately undertook to remedy this, although we were interrupted by the start of the Thanksgiving Day football schedule. Now that she knows, however, I'm certain that Older Daughter will take up the cause and make certain that he sees it all the way through.

And if he knows what's good for him, he'd better like it, too.

I know "Miracle" has been remade at least twice, but the original, with Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, and Natalie Wood, stands head and shoulders above the latter day imitations. In fact, I have arbitrarily assigned it the No. 1 position in my own Top 5 Christmas Movie list.

What a great movie: The lawyer's the good guy! Even opposing counsel (the prosecutor) is a good guy -- and so, too, the judge. (Hard to believe I'd like this, then, isn't it?) If you, like the Boyfriend, for some reason (perhaps you were raised by wolves?) haven't seen this movie, buy or rent it now.

The judge, by the way, was played by Gene Lockhart. He was June Lockhart's father. That would make him... Lassie's grandfather? (I wonder how young you can be and still get that joke. I probably wouldn't like the answer.)

Any Top 5 List like this is completely arbitrary and I'll probably disagree with it by next Christmas -- and maybe even this one -- but, if it serves as a starting spot for a stimulating discussion, why the heck not play along?

For no. 2 on the list, I recommend the original version of "Christmas in Connecticut" starring Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan.

The plot twists and turns agreeably until the principals get together, as they must, in any good comedy.

But, for me, the movie succeeds because of the performances of the wonderful character actors, such as S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall and Sydney Greenstreet. Yes, they were both in "Casablanca" as well (my nominee for greatest movie of all time), Sakall as Carl, the German headwaiter, and Greenstreet as Signor Ferrari. And Greenstreet was Kasper Gutman -- the Fat Man -- in "The Maltese Falcon". It's Sakall who steals the show in "Christmas in Connecticut" as Uncle Felix, who isn't Barbara Stanwyck's uncle at all.

If you buy or rent this movie, I'm pretty certain you'll agree it's "hunky-dunky."









No. 3 on my list is "The Bishop's Wife", with David Niven, Loretta Young, and Cary Grant.

Our kids were confused by this one, when they were younger, since they knew that Catholic bishops do not marry. They got over it.

It's hard to imagine, but David Niven is actually ruffled in this movie, even a tad flustered, as an overstressed bishop who prays for help in erecting a new cathedral and receives instead Cary Grant -- who seems to have a very un-angelic interest in Loretta Young. This may be Long Suffering Spouse's favorite Christmas movie. (Another of her favorites would be "My Favorite Wife," with Cary Grant, Randolph Scott and Irene Dunne. There's a great role for a judge in that movie, too -- played by Granville Bates -- as well as a Christmas ending... although it doesn't end on Christmas....)

The principals can't be upstaged in "The Bishop's Wife," but the supporting cast sure tries. I particularly like Monty Woolley as the old professor and James Gleason as Sylvester, the cab driver. Gleason you may remember as Max Corkle in "Here Comes Mr. Jordan" (later remade as "Heaven Can Wait") or for his parts in two great Frank Capra movies, "Aresenic and Old Lace" and "Meet John Doe".

"Meet John Doe," by the way, is a very dark movie, especially by comparison to Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life" -- which isn't on this list, but only because it's been done to death. "John Doe" seems to have slipped into the public domain, just as "Wonderful Life" did a few years back. That's when it was on one TV station or another all night long on Christmas Eve.

And just to contradict myself, I'll nominate as no. 4 on my list, a movie that is shown continuously every Christmas Day -- all day long -- "A Christmas Story".

Consistency, I remind you, is the hobgoblin of little minds.

I admit, however, that it wears on me by Christmas afternoon... when the kids are watching it for the sixth time. But still -- the first three or four times you see it every year -- it's great.

There are so many other wonderful Christmas movies, but I may have overstayed my welcome in the Golden Age of Hollywood... so for No. 5 I'll go with Bill Murray in "Scrooged".

That's Carol Kane here with Bill Murray. Kane plays a most unorthodox Ghost of Christmas Present.

I think of "Scrooged" as a cross between "Newtwork" and "A Christmas Carol." And no antlers were actually stapled on any mice during the course of the filming of this movie.

Now I turn it to you: What unforgivable omissions have I made? What are your top 5?

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Note: The still from "The Bishop's Wife" was taken from this site which offers stills for sale... presumably without the 'www.carygrant.net' overlay.

Back after a brief intermission

(Non Sequitur comic from this site.)

No, I didn't really miss posting the last couple of days because I was acting in solidarity with the striking Writers Guild -- I've actually been doing other things.

Actually, I have it on good authority that it's perfectly permissible to post to one's own blog during the strike -- I mean, if Ken Levine can do it, then surely I can as well.

If you're interested in Levine's hot-off-the-picket-line posts on the strike, click here, or here, here, or here. There are more strike posts on Mr. Levine's blog... but if you've clicked all these you can find the rest yourselves, can't you?