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Monday, January 30, 2006

Monday Woes Indeed

Ouch! Right in the shorts!

My wife called me just a bit ago. "Oh, I'm mad," she said. "I called that dumb CableOne place to see why our bill is so high. They raised our rates eighteen dollars a month!"

"You gotta be kidding me!" I expostulated. "That's not fair! They didn't tell us they were going to do that!"

"I know," agreed my beloved Viennese Snowflake. "The lady said it was explained on our bill." We have it set up so they just take the money out of our account; we've gotten out of the habit of reading our bills unless there's a price change. "We must have missed it."

So, we're paying almost twenty bucks a month more for the same service we've always had. I'm upset that they didn't warn us better - they could have sent us an e-mail, or mailed us a flyer, or sent a message through the TV menu, all of which they've done before to tell us about deals they offer. So now I'm going to find a way to reduce my bill by twenty bucks. I just don't wanna pay it!

We use the Internet quite a bit (I update and maintain several websites, and we spend several hours a day on the net for various other activities - ordering digital photo prints online, doing the occasional crossword, reading the news, blogging, etc.) so we're loath to lose our high-speed cable modem. I'd switch to a different company or go to DSL if I could, but all the research I've done tells me that CableOne has a monopoly in my area - I have no option. I'm constantly getting junk mail from Qwest and Earthlink offering me high-speed DSL, but neither seems to want to deal with my neighborhood. It may be simple logistics (I think you have to live next door to the phone company for DSL to work), but I really wish I had an option. If anyone in Sioux City knows of any other high-speed Internet providers in the area, please let me know!

That leaves me cutting twenty bucks worth of programming, which doesn't bother me in the least. I pay about that much to get the Science Channel, which I enjoy, but they really only show three shows a day - they just repeat those three over and over again. I can live without the Science Channel. I'm just sad that they raised the rates without any warning...

Upset, I am. Upset. Kinda like pulling up to the gas pump with five bucks in your pocket, putting five buck's worth of gas in your car, then finding out at the cash register that they raised the price of gas while you were standing in line and you now owe them seven dollars.

Iowa Tobacco

I just read on the Woodbury County Democrats' blog that Iowa House Speaker Christopher Rants received $138,497 from RJ Reynolds Tobbacco's political action committee. Mr. Rants has been consistently blocking state legislation to raise the tax on cigarettes. The cigarette tax increase is supported by a majority of Iowans, and is also supported by our governor. It seems, though, that Mr. Rants is getting enough money from tobacco companies that he doesn't need to concern himself with issues in Iowa any more. He certainly does not represent me or my values.

We gotta remember stuff like this when we go vote.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

A whole Sunday's worth of thinkin'

The Poll Star

I woke up this morning just in time to hear the TV proclaim, "Sixty-five percent of Americans support wiretapping phones to prevent terrorism." No kidding. To say otherwise would be to appear unpatriotic, especially to those on the Republican side of the room. That poll is misleading, and has Carl Rove's fingerprints all over it.

What would your answer be? "Do you believe the U.S. government should use electronic surveillance to track Al-Queda activities?"

How about this? "Do you believe the U.S. government should be able to place wiretaps on American citizens' phones?"

Or this? "Do you believe the U.S. government should be able to illegally eavesdrop on your conversations with neither search warrant nor reason?"

Personally, my answer to the first question is yes. To the second question, I'd answer an unequivocal "Um, I dunno." To the third, I'd answer "No, and any government that would try should be removed - it smacks of Nazi Germany or the cold-war-era Soviet Union. We don't do that here." (Unfortunately, though, we do do that here. Now what are we going to do about it?)

My point here is that it is my contention that out government is twisting public opinion through vaguely-worded polls. They're doing this to bolster U.S. President George Walker Bush's image in defense of his policy of spying on American citizens. They're doing it to get Judge Sam Alito nominated to the Supreme Court. They're doing it a lot. Unfortunately, the other side does it too. When you see one of those "quick polls" flash up on the TV screen, please don't believe it until you analyze what the results really mean.

Do I support anti-terrorism? You betcha! Do I support a sneaky government putting bugs on my phone? Heck no. Please, ask me that question in a meaningful manner and make me think.

The Best Ex

I saw former U.S. President Jimmy Carter on TV this morning as I was slurping my daily cuppa coffee (Cub Food generic instant - try it, it's really good). Mr. Carter has always impressed me, but, as has been pointed out myriad times before, he may be a better ex-president than he was a president. Since leaving office, he's done a LOT for charitable causes, has written numerous books, and has won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work overseas. Clearly a man who thinks.

Mr. Carter disagrees with Mr. Bush's policies.

Cleaning Day

Today is cleaning day at our house. Dagmar's been busily dusting, straightening, folding, washing, moving, and cleaning for the past three hours or so. I've been busy working on a project on the computer. So, no more time to blog right now... With luck I'll be able to write more in a few hours. I have things what need sayin' - some important, others not so important.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Lotsa Pictures

Things that make me happy...

As always, you can click on the photos to see a larger version. All the photos are either at my brother's or in my neighborhood, such as it is. I like taking pictures. I put my camera in my "cigarette pocket" so I have something to fumble with when a craving hits. It's worked well so far, though I've driven most of my friends and family batty by constantly flashing my camera at 'em.

The beloved Goddaughter.

A nice picture of my wife, my brother, and his kids.
Five of my favorite people in one room. Cool.

Things that make me sad...

Graffiti at work. It's all over the neighborhood, including on my back door.

They tore out all the trees to widen Perry Creek, but the garbage is still there.

This is a park just around the corner from my house.
If you look closely, you can see a pretty "KEEP OUT" sign in the background.

Here's a nifty barbed-wire fence around the company kiddy-corner across the street from my house. It makes me sad that they feel they need barbed-wire in my neighborhood.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Friday the Twenty-Seventh

Hooray for Me!

Yesterday marked my six-month anniversary. No cigarettes for six whole months. Half a year. Oddly enough, it's getting easier, though I still have some mighty powerful cravings. The good thing is that the cravings are relatively short. Most of the time if I distract myself for just a few seconds I'm fine.

It's still hard to drink beer, though. Luckily enough, I don't drink beer all that often.


I was watching the news yesterday as they reported the Palestinians electing Hamas into power. U.S. President George Walker Bush seemed pretty flummoxed by that turn of events. I don't remember the exact quotes, but I heard him say something like, "Democracies don't start wars." Tell that to Iraq. He also said something to the effect of "No government dedicated to the eradication of another nation should be recognized," meaning that the U.S. will not recognize Hamas because of their desire to take over Israel. I guess Bush's own administration didn't really eradicate Iraq, they just took it over and rebuilt it in it's own image...

Something that I found interesting was that there were a bunch of people there watching the elections, making sure everything was fair. Outside observers. We need those. We absolutely, positively need to have outside observers at the polls in our next few elections - especially 2006 and 2008. Most especially 2008. I think the Democratic, Libertarian and Green Parties should get together and make sure there are United Nations people hanging around the polling places. I never thought I'd see the day when the United States of America would need outside observers to make sure our elections are fair, but that day is here. It was already too late in November, 2000. And much too late in 2004.

Common Sense, Ain't It?

We should pay our politicians differently. They should get paid the average salary of their constituency. They should get two weeks' vacation a year in their first term, three weeks vacation in their second. If they take more time off than that, it's unpaid. They should get the same medical benefits (or lack thereof) their constituency gets.

We'll fly them back and forth to Washington D.C. a few times a year for free (coach) - if they need to travel more, well then, they get to take their own vehicle. We'll give them eighteen cents a mile or whatever the going rate is, but they must get the trip okay'd first. Actually, now that I think of it, maybe ALL government travel should be by public transportation or military transport (not the fancy kind - the kind enlisted men and women in uniform use). Maybe that'd make the trains run on time...?

I've worked at the same job for twelve or thirteen years, and I get no retirement package, no 401k, nothing. Why should our politicians? I'm not sure what retirement package (if any) they get now, but I do NOT think working at a job for a mere four years should count for much. Granted, we'll provide ex-presidents with whatever security they need, unless they make more than, say, $250,000 a year on their own. Then they can afford to take part of that responsibility on.

Just a few rather grouchy thoughts on a nice Friday afternoon...

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Art, Lungs, and Neighbors

Art with Dirty Fingernails...

Hoo boy, that was fun! Yesterday Dagmar and I wandered uptown, donated some old clothes to Goodwill, and headed to Historic Fourth Street for a nice frosty beverage.

"Do you tink ve'll be able to find a place to park?" my beloved asked me. "Dey have the Swap Meet at the Convention Center, the new motorcycle exhibit at the Art Center, und there's a rodeo or something at the auditorium."

I shrugged. "I dunno. You know what bothers me, though? They plan all these things to happen on the same day, but yet they tore out the only parking lot in the area and built yet ANOTHER movie theater there. Now there's really no place to park." By this time we were on Fourth Street, scanning back and forth. There are at least six bars on the two blocks of Historic Fourth Street, and three or four restaurants, not to mention the other shops and stores. It's a busy place. Each establishment has three, maybe four parking spaces out front. So, there really is no place to park... And of course, there are the people who actually live in the apartments there, too - they need to have somewhere to park, too. So I wasn't surprised when we couldn't find a place...

"We can park in there," said Dagmar, pointing to a private parking lot. "They let people park in there when the business is closed." So, without further ado, I pulled into said parking lot and parked. "What do you vant to do?" asked my wife as we got out of the car.

"Well, I was thinking of having a beer and calling the Okoboji guys to see if they want to go to the Art Center when they're done at the Swap Meet," I said. A couple times a summer I try to hook up with the Okoboji contingent of the Vulcan Riders and Owners Club to go scoot about the countryside, terrorizing innocent gas station attendants with our nasty habit of stopping every thirty miles or so for chocolate milk and twinkies. I suppose I could hang out with the Omaha guys, but the Okoboji guys treat me nice and I've already learned some of their names, so I hang out with them when I can. "It'd be nice to see them," I added.

"Dat sounds nice," my beloved said, leading the way to the nearest drinking establishment. "Who came to Sioux City?"

By that time I was on the phone... "Hi Streak, this is HippieBoy..." (Ever notice that if you get a group of five or more guys together for more than half an hour, they'll all come away with nicknames? Why is that?) I confirmed with Streak that they were indeed going to head to the Art Center and made plans to meet them.

"Which ones came to town?" Dagmar asked again, signaling to the waitress. "Rock?" I nodded. "Bartman?" I nodded. "Streak?" I nodded. "That guy with the hat that never says anything?" she asked. I shrugged. "I don't know," I said. "I just know the three of them are here. I thought Kioti was here, but maybe not." About that time our frosty beverages appeared at the table. Mine was beautiful, golden, bubbly, and had a lemon floating on the top. Dagmar's was some evil-looking concoction of a thimbleful of beer mixed with about two gallons of tomato juice and olives. (Yes, she puts ketchup on her steak, too.) We put our attentions to our drinks for the next few minutes, paid our bill and headed for the door to meet the guys.

"Shall we walk," asked my wife. "I doubt we'll find a parking place again..."

I nodded assent and up the street we strolled, hand in hand. A mere four or five blocks later we were at the Art Center. I had to suppress a grin when we went through the front door - the lady at the desk looked like she was about to have puppies. I doubt she'd seen so much leather and so many bearded gents in one room before... We paid our ten bucks (never had to pay at the Art Center before, oddly enough), found Streak, Rock and Bartman wandering around the atrium, and off to the bike exhibit we went.

It was well worth seeing! They had a good number of bikes on display - most borrowed from local people (I was happy to see my buddy Ed Anderson's chopper there). The majority of the bikes were either old-school choppers or the newer "half-melted" choppers that are popular today. About a third of the bikes there were old Indians, antiques, drag racers and bikes deemed historically or artistically important. All of 'em were pretty! I am going to make it a point to go back again and take more time - we got there at four and the Center closes at five, so we were a bit rushed.

"Where's Streak?" I asked as we wandered out of one of the third-level exhibits. "I haven't seen him in a while."

"Oh, that poor man," answered Dagmar. "He has de flu."

I looked over the railing and peered down to the atrium, just in time to see a green Streak bolt for the restroom. "Oh." I said. "Poor guy..."

With that we wandered down the stairs to the atrium, where we eventually hooked up with Bartman and Rock. By this time the green Streak was sitting on the bench, looking a shade or two paler than before.. So we all sat there for a while, gawking slightly slack-jawed at the bikes around us until we all wandered over to the door and started on the four-block trek back to the Convention Center. (By the way, if you poke at the pictures with your mouse they get bigger and you can actually see what they are.)

"Where's Kioti?" asked my Austrian Snowflake. "He's usually around somewhere if you guys are here."

"He and his wife were here earlier," answered Streak. "They had their grandkid with them, so they didn't stay long."

"What about dat other guy?" asked Dagmar, stepping off the curb. "That guy who wears that hat and never says anything. Where's he?"

"Oh, Mag? He couldn't make it. Neither could Bonzzo." We fell to talking about various members of the informal group until we got to the Convention Center, where the Okoboji guys bid us a nice fare-thee-well and tootled off to get Streak back home before he started turning colors again.

With that, Dagmar and I wandered back to our car and headed off to Da Kao, where we proceeded to munch, nibble and slurp our way through a Vietnamese soup and a Mongolian beef 'n onion concoction. (Why do they give you chopsticks with soup?) It was a good day!


"Do you have a smoking history?" my doctor asked, poking through my paperwork.

"Yeah," I answered. "I just quit about six months ago."

"That's right," she said. "I remember now. You were at a pack a day, weren't you." She riffled through my paperwork some more. "I just want to make sure that the pneumonia has cleared up," she continued. "We're going to have to take an X-ray..." She busied herself listening to my chest with her half-frozen stethoscope, and I busied myself breathing deep. "Well, your lungs sound clear," she said. "How did it go with the quitting smoking?"

"It sucked," I answered. "I took those no-smoking pills for a while. I gained a little weight, too."

"I noticed," she said. "Well, it's better to be overweight than to smoke."

It wasn't until I was sitting in line, waiting for my X-ray to be taken, when that last phrase filtered through my remaining brain cells. Overweight? Me? What? I used to wrestle at 105 pounds... In high school. How can I be overweight? Sure, my belly's been pooching over the top of my britches lately, but I am pushing forty after all... Don't I get some sort of credit for that? Hmmm...

"Next," hollered the X-ray lady, breaking my fat-centered reverie. I made my way through the procedure and went back to the little waiting room to cool my heels until the doctor remembered I was there.

"Hey, Chris, come here and look at this," said the doctor, poking her head in the door. I grabbed my coat and followed dutifully along to the place where you look at your X-rays. "This is your lung," she said, pointing to a blob. "Everything looks good, except for this." She pointed to a shadowy line on the blob. "I think what happened is that your lung may have collapsed or compressed when you had pneumonia and hasn't quite expanded back to normal yet. It looks like that's just a bit of flattened-out lung there." I nodded while she continued. "Or it could be scar tissue. That happens sometimes. But, with your history of smoking..." I felt the blood drain from my face at this point. "I'd like you to come back in again in a month for another X-ray. If that spot's gone, good. If it's still there, it's scar tissue. If it's bigger, we may not have gotten all the pneumonia... Or... Well, let's hope it's not bigger."


Good Neighbors

I just got a phone call from my dad. Seems the guy who lived a farm or two down the road from the family farm passed away yesterday. Good guy. When I was growing up I walked beans for him and I spent a lot of time playing with his kids... I was always impressed with the whole family's work ethic. It made me sad to realize that I've not seen any of those particular neighbors since I graduated from high school twenty years ago.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Pork Chops from Heaven

Gastronomic Delights Abound!

My wife and I tried a new recipe for supper tonight. The following is a letter I e-mailed to America's Test Kitchen, a group of intelligent-looking people who have a cooking show on Public Television. (The recipe in question can be found on their website.)



My beloved Viennese bride and I have been watching your show every week on Iowa Public Television for a few years now. Generally, I watch the show simply because as a musician I've usually been out playing my bass in various clubs until the wee hours and I need something gentle to gawk at in my slack-jawed way on a weekend morning. My wife, however, comes from more refined stock than I - her family has been running restaurants in Austria and throughout Europe for generations. She knows fine food when she sees it. (My idea of a fancy meal in a restaurant is getting something I don't have to unwrap myself.)

In any case, after years of watching your show, we decided to take the plunge and actually try one of your recipes. The show that inspired us so was "Porkapalooza," or something to that effect.

"Are you vatching dis?" my Austrian Snowflake asked, nudging me gently in the ribs. "Look - they're cooking a pork chop. You like to cook pork chops. But look - dey don't use Tabasco Sauce, und nothing's on fire." I gamely tried to focus both bleary eyes on the TV. Indeed, when you guys cook there's no smoke. Odd.

"That does look good," I said. "Wait. Did they just put ANCHOVIES on a pork chop? Ew... That looks miserable!" I looked over to see my wife taking notes. "Can we substitute 'anchovies' with 'Little Smokies' maybe?" I asked hopefully. "No," she replied. "Now hush."

A week later, armed with chops, anchovies, vinegar, etc., my beloved bride headed to the kitchen. I took my appointed position in front of the computer. "Pork Chops with Vinegar and Sweet Peppers," read the recipe on your web site. My job, full of responsibility indeed, was to call out the directions. My wife's job was merely to do the preparing, cooking, cleaning, thinking, measuring, and all that stuff. Eventually my better half came trotting proudly out of the kitchen, steaming plate in hand. She set the plate down on the table. We sat down, staring at the plate. "Vell," she said. "Try it."

Hands slightly a-tremble, I applied knife and fork to the chop in the time-honored manner. "Do you want the first bite," I asked. "You cooked it." She shook her head and motioned for me to hurry up and eat. At the first bite all thoughts of ketchup fled. I sat, slowly masticating (which is not as obscene as it sounds, honest - you can look it up if you don't believe me) and sighing in awe and glee. "Vell?" my vife asked. "How is it?" I looked at her, wide-eyed. "MMmmmm-mm-mmuuurrrf," I told her, "Mmmuuunnngllee mmeierrggg nnnog." My wife looked at me. "Goot?" she asked. "Does dat mean it's goot?" I nodded enthusiastically.

I don't know how you guys did it, but through the miracle of that recipe you have transformed the lowly pork chop into a slice of heaven! It's a thing of beauty. Truly. We finished eating hours ago, and we're still talking about those chops. I find myself saying things like, "such a delicate hint of spice on the back of the palate," and "the roundness of the acidity counteracts the squareness of the sweetness nicely," like I know what I'm talking about. But gee, that chop was good!

So good, in fact, that we're probably gonna end up buying your cookbook. And another can of anchovies.

Thank you!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Just a few photos

This is a picture Dagmar took out the car window
whilst on a trip to Primghar with her mother.
It's proof that there is indeed a summer...

Fruitloop, the wompus cat extraordinaire.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Mid January Blues

Anyone Remember Summer?

It seems like we've been 38 degrees and cloudy for about three years now. We have had variations, so I can't complain - some days it's been 36 and cloudy, other days it's been 39 and cloudy. I aimed my bloodshot peepers at my photos of summer and was surprised that it's only been winter for 2 months. Only 17 more months until spring...

Here's a pretty picture of the mighty Platte River - biker buddy Dan and I paused here on a motorcycle trip last August.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

It's a GOOD day!


Former United States Vice President Al Gore stood in front of the nation and the world on Martin King Luther Day and declared that President George Walker Bush acted illegally and called for an independent counsel to investigate the president's use of unwarranted wiretaps on U.S. citizens. Bush appointee Alberto Gonzalez, the U.S. Attorney General, plans to testify to the Senate in the next month or two, giving the administration's legal justification for the wiretaps.

"A special counsel should be immediately appointed by the attorney general to remedy the obvious conflict of interest that prevents him from investigating what many believe are serious violations of law by the president," said Mr. Gore. Later, on a nationally televised talk show, Mr. Gonzalez said he didn't know why there would be a need for a special counsel. Mr. Gore continued in his speech:

"We still have much to learn about the NSA's domestic surveillance. What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compels the conclusion that the president of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and insistently... A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government."

The administration's response came through Republican National Committee spokeswoman Ms. Tracey Schmidt, who said, "Al Gore's incessant need to insert himself in the headline of the day is almost as glaring as his lack of understanding of the threats facing America." I find that odd as I've not heard anything from Mr. Gore in years - he hardly seems to be a headline-grabber.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights are also planning lawsuits against the Bush administration regarding the wiretap issue.

My source for all this is Reuters. (Interesting side note - my spell-checker saw "NSA" and tried to change it to "Nazi." Somehow I wasn't surprised. It's easy to get them confused these days.)

Monday, January 16, 2006

Graffiti Sucks


Well, I've finally been hit. For the past year I've been taking pictures of graffiti in my neighborhood. I guess it was my turn. They got my back door. Not bad, but bad enough that I've filled out an on-line police report, and I need to re-paint my door. (It was on my to-do list anyway, but I was hoping to wait until a nice warm summer afternoon to do it...)

Some people may wonder what's so bad about graffiti... Well, there are several things. The first is that it takes time, money, and resources away from the neighborhood (which is struggling anyway). Every time someone gets tagged, someone else has to take time off work, go out and buy paint that may or may not match the wall, take the time to re-paint the affected area... The secondary effect is that buildings that have been tagged often lose resale value - who wants to buy a target? A tertiary effect is that graffiti acts as a blight on a neighborhood. It saps our pride.

The following are a few of the photos I've taken around the neighborhood. Record Printing (where I work) has been hit four or five times in the past year - I'll spare you the photos of that.

My back door, January 16, 2006

My neighbor's garage, January 16, 2006

A block and a half up the street from my house.

The same building as above.

Same building, front view, different day.

Across the street from the last building...

The same fence after the "fix."

My neighbor's garage...

Same neighbor, same garage

Different view...

One last shot of that garage...

This is the garage next to my neighbor's garage...

Why tag a dumpster?

I'm not real sure what this building is... It's just a block west of my house.

This one's been fixed. It was like this for about a month, though.

This isn't graffiti, but it upset me anyway. Someone broke my fence.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Weekend's End

Hitchcock's Revenge

Those aren't leaves, they're birds. Birds at dusk. Eerie.


Yay for the Seattle Seahawks. They deserve it... They won yesterday, you know. So did the Denver Broncos. I spent a good portion of my adult life loathing the Broncos, but now I find myself hoping they'll win once in a while. As good as quarterback John Elway was throughout his career, I didn't like him - I thought he was too cocky and full of himself for some reason. The current quarterback for the Broncos, Jake Plummer, is kind of fun to watch... He reminds me of a big goofy hippie who happens to be able to throw a football. I am cheering for the Steelers next week, though...

The first game today was the best of the bunch - the favored Indianapolis Colts lost to underdog Pittsburgh Steelers. Two classy teams led by two good coaches - it was a hard-fought nailbiter. The surprising part of the game was that there were no fights, no showboating, no spitting - it was very refreshing! Kudos to both teams and their coaches. I am, however, a little disappointed in the officiating - there were several questionable calls (including one head-scratcher that still has me wondering what in the world could have distracted every official on the field at the same time - UFO's in the dome?), and all of them seemed to go against the Steelers. I'll sure there will be some fallout over that... But, to be fair, both calls were rather obscure rules, and the refs may be one-hundred percent correct for all I know. But it sure didn't look that way to me. This is the first time in years I've wondered if the officials had a handle on the game - the NFL truly does have quality personnel.

At the moment I'm watching the Carolina-Chicago game, which is not so classy. It's a close game, and both teams are good, but there are plenty of scuffles, players yelling at their own teammates, receivers doing strange and unnatural little dances in the endzone... But, all in all, I've seen worse. No one's spit on anyone yet today, and thankfully I've yet to see a player moon anyone since Mr. Randy Moss (formerly of Minnesota) pretend to wiggle his skinny posterior at the Green Bay crowd last year.

Looks like my beloved NFC North is pretty much through for the year. The Packers only won four games and fired their coach. The Lions won five games and fired their coach before the season was even over. The Vikings did better, in spite of losing all sense of morality, but still fired their coach. Chicago made it to the playoffs, relying on backup quarterback Kyle Ortmann, a solid running game, and a stellar defense. They are currently losing their playoff game, though, after putting in a different quarterback, abandoning their running game, and generally ignoring all the aspects of the game that got them into the playoffs in the first place...

Shoot. I just saw the officials make a mistake that cost Chicago possession of the ball (trailing by eight points with two minutes to go). That's disappointing.

After all these years...

In the 1970s the United States was hit hard by a shortage of oil, leading to the now-infamous gas lines. Since then we've invented such environmentally friendly devices as the Dodge Ram pickup, which gets nine miles per gallon source, and the Hummer, which gets about eight miles per gallon source (though that's just a guess - the Hummer is so large it's exempt from having to post mileage figures). Since we inexplicably went to war with Iraq, gasoline prices have soared. I just saw a commercial on television touting a car that got an astounding 30 miles per gallon. Wow. Thirty miles per gallon...

Shouldn't we be driving electric cars by now? We've had 30 years notice, for gosh sakes! We should at least be exploring the hydrogen economy... There ARE cars out there that get sixty miles per gallon (the Honda Insight and the Toyota Prius, for example), the problem is that no one buys them because if you buy an Insight or a Prius, you can't see around the @*%($& Hummer that's sitting in that cloud of smog next to you at the intersection. A quick glance at my company's parking lot tells the tale - four very large trucks, four SUV's, one ten-cylinder Jaguar (owned by the boss of course), and my little four-cylinder Geo Prism. (Side note - I often walk to work anyway. With all those behemoth vehicles in the parking lot I often lose my little car.)

The government NEEDS to do more to discourage the public from buying large vehicles. We NEED to re-invent public transportation. We NEED to encourage hybrid cars until we can switch to a hydrogen-based economy. We ARE going to run out of oil in my lifetime - and I smoked for twenty-five years. It's gonna happen soon, and we're going to be completely unprepared.

Passenger trains between major cities (by major I mean Sioux City, Sioux Falls, and Omaha) - wouldn't that be nice? I'd take advantage of that... Sioux City needs to abandon the full-sized buses they use for public transportation and go to smaller buses or vans. That would save fuel money AND allow the city to run more routes and offer more services. Some cities, such as Seattle (I think), bought a bunch of butt-ugly bicycles (ugly enough that no one would steal them) and put them in the downtown district where anyone can borrow one to ride whenever they want. We really, really need to start thinking like that. Maybe we should put more resources into high-speed Internet access so more people in rural areas can telecommute. Maybe we need to go back to boarding schools to save on the cost of driving children around all the time. (I know - that's probably a bad idea, but have you ever driven past a school at 3:30 and seen all the "soccer moms" sitting in their SUV's waiting for their kids? Have you noticed that almost all the SUV's are running, either to keep the air conditioner going or to keep the heat on or so the driver can listen to the radio...? It's insane! Idea - put a solar panel on the top of every car to generate enough power to run the radio or the AC while the car is off.)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Lost Confidence

Et Tu, Mr. Grassley?

Iowa Republican Senator Charles Grassley ran a commercial several years ago when he was up for re-election. The commercial painted Mr. Grassley as a simple man from Iowa who likes to mow his own lawn. That appeals to Iowans, actually - we like people who do their own work and lead simple lives.

However, yesterday Mr. Grassley made some comments that did indeed make him sound simple. While sitting on the Senate committee to evaluate potential Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito, Mr. Grassley told Mr. Alito, "Your critics are grasping at any straw to tarnish your record." source My immediate thought to this comment was that if Mr. Alito's record were to be clean, there could be no tarnish - therefore he must have a tarnished record already.

Mr. Grassley also stated, "Judge Alito has a reputation for being an exceptional and honest judge devoted to the rule of law, as well as being a man of integrity." source I have nothing against stating a man's reputation. I just hope that Mr. Grassley also looks at Mr. Alito's record. I have a good reputation as a graphic designer, but that does NOT mean that I'd make a good surgeon. Mr. Alito has a good reputation in his legal dealings thus far, but that does NOT mean he'll automatically make a good Supreme Court Justice.

Some of the touchier portions of the hearings thus far involve the Supreme Court's views regarding presidential powers (how much authority the United States President really has). Mr. Alito's views are that the president's authority should not be fettered much by the courts. According to Mr. Grassley, the president's critics "are trying to make a case that President Bush is assuming more power than presidents over a long period of time have assumed ... and it's simply not true." source This makes Mr. Grassley look like President George Walker Bush's lapdog, as the Bush administration has taken it upon themselves to assume the power to illegally imprison U.S. citizens, secretly eavesdrop on U.S. citizens, authorize hidden secret prisons in Europe, and condone torture.

I have a sinking feeling that Mr. Grassley is going to rubber-stamp President Bush's wishes regarding Judge Alito, and I have a feeling that should Mr. Alito become a Supreme Court Justice the United States will change for the worse. I had respect for Mr. Grassley, but that respect is waning. Especially as I just learned that Mr. Grassley has taken money from lobbyist Jack Abramoff (who pleaded guilty to federal fraud and corruption charges) and has no intention of returning the dirty money. source (incidentally, Representatives Jim Nussle, Tom Latham and Steve King each took $10,000 from Abramoff in 2004. I've heard rumors that Democratic Senator Tom Harkin also received "Abramoff money," but I've not found out if he returned the funds, or how he came across them in the first place.)

There is a short funny blog about Grassley here.

Daily Pics

I took off work at four today and went to the riverfront and wandered around the Anderson Dance Pavillion. I needed to see the sun...


According to BBC News, Amnesty International found more claims of torture and abuse at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. source They say that 500 detainees are being held without charge or trial, and listed several atrocities (people being subjected to physical, sexual and religious abuse) in the prison. "There's no middle ground regarding Guantanamo," said Amnesty International official Stephen Bowen. "It must be closed and there must be an investigation into the dozens of torture reports that have emerged since 2002."

I have no love of terrorists. I think that they should be held accountable for their actions, just like everyone else. But it's been four years, for gosh sakes! Can't we at least charge these people with a crime and let them see a lawyer? We NEED to follow the Geneva Conventions, whether we like them at the moment or not. Failure to do so leads down a slippery slope to a very cruel place, and I don't wanna go there.

Why are these people held in Cuba, anyway? Why are we afraid to bring them to the U.S.? Or shouldn't they be held as war criminals and tried by the International Criminal Court (founded in 1998 by the United Nations for just this sort of thing source) at the Hague in the Netherlands? Doesn't that make sense? We wanted the rest of the world involved when we attacked Iraq, why can't we have the rest of the world involved when we try these suspected terrorists in a court of law? Speaking of Iraq, why isn't Saddam Hussein being tried by the ICC at the Hague? I just don't understand... I don't understand.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Oh, for gosh sakes...

Football Thuggery

Mr. Michael Vick has been a great success in the National Football League as quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons. Since he's entered the NFL he's created quite a stir with his ability to scramble, his strong arm, and his quick thinking.

Too bad his little brother lacks the "quick thinking" part of the equation.

Mr. Marcus Vick, Michael's little brother, led his college team (Virginia Tech) to victory in the Gator Bowl January 2nd. By the following Monday he'd been kicked off the team. Evidently he showed poor sportsmanship whilst stomping on someone's leg during the game, lied about apologizing to the other team, was arrested for speeding and driving with a suspended license, and was charged with three misdemeanor counts of waving a gun in some kid's face at a McDonald's. source

Was Mr. Vick abashed at his unlawful and irresponsible behavior? Did he make amends? No... Instead he decided that he will skip the rest of his college career and declared himself eligible for the NFL draft. It's possible that a professional football team will draft him, and instead of being held responsible for his actions he will make millions of dollars.

If the NFL has any social conscious, any morals, any sense of decency, they will ban Mr. Vick from playing in the NFL until he has finished college and paid his debts to society. This man must learn that he cannot run from his mistakes simply because he's a good football player.

Mr. Vick, however, is not the first person to do such things. Mr. Randy Moss, famed wide receiver, had woes in college, was caught with illegal drugs, and tried to run over a police officer in Minneapolis. Instead of being punished for his actions, he continued to get paid millions to play a game on Sunday afternoons. (His NFL team, the Minnesota Vikings, did trade him to the Oakland Raiders. Since becoming a Raider, Mr. Moss has been rather quiet.)

The NFL used to be a classy operation. Players wore suits and ties to the games. Coaches wore suits and ties on the sidelines. Team rules meant something. Players listened to their coaches. These days players wear whatever they want, coaches look rather shabby, players know the owners will fire a coach before they'll fire a "franchise" player - so why listen to the coach? And if a player does something wrong the league fines them instead of benching them. This is not a good deterrent to a player who makes millions of dollars. Last week a NFL player spit on his opponent. He was evicted from the game and fined $17,000. I'm willing to bet that he was more concerned and embarrassed about being evicted than he was about the fine.

The Minnesota Vikings sunk to new morality lows this season as many of the players went on a cruise and are now charged with "lewd or lascivious conduct, indecent conduct and disorderly conduct." source The problem is that these players (who make millions per year) are facing a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail. All bets are that none of them will see jail time, which is a pity; fining a millionaire a thousand dollars does NOT teach any lessons.

If the younger Mr. Vick does indeed get drafted by a professional team, I will not be surprised, but I will be disappointed.

Picture of the Day

Mr. Fruitloop kept me company when I had pneumonia.
I'm not sure why my oh so masculine puddy-tat has a teddy bear, but he seems to like it.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Pictures and Quotes

Pictures o' the Day...

Ill as she was, my beloved came to see my band play New Year's Eve.
At the stroke of midnight, we hobbled home, took our medication and went to bed. Wheee!

Beloved goddaughter Maddie on Christmas.

Goddaughter Maddie with Grampa Radloff...

Recent Quotes...

"But here he's [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon] at the point of death. He was dividing God's land, and I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the European Union, the United Nations, or the United States of America. God says: 'This land belongs to me. You'd better leave it alone.' "
- Marion "Pat" Robertson source

Mr. Robertson has a history of saying dumb things. There are entire web sites devoted to Mr. Robertson's strange utterances. He called for the political assassination of Mr. Hugo Chavez (a fine thing for a man who considers himself a preacher to say - "hey, let's go kill that guy"), and he told a town in Pennsylvania that God was going to punish them via natural disaster for not teaching "intelligent design" in their schools. Quite frankly, if Mr. Robertson's god is that vindictive, I want no part of it. The God I've been praying to all my life has a bit of compassion. After spending his parishoner's money on a diamond mine for himself and sexually abusing Asian women whilst avoiding combat duties during wartime, source Mr. Robertson should hope for a compassionate god too. One more Robertson quote...

"When I said during my presidential bid that I would only bring Christians and Jews into the government, I hit a firestorm. 'What do you mean?' the media challenged me. 'You're not going to bring atheists into the government? How dare you maintain that those who believe in the Judeo Christian values are better qualified to govern America than Hindus and Muslims?' My simple answer is, 'Yes, they are.'"
- Pat Robertson, "The New World Order," pg. 218 source

That's just plain unconstitutional and ignorant. Mr. Robertson also attacked Mahatma Ghandi. I have a feeling he sacrifices kittens in his basement. Okay, just one more...

"You say you're supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense. I don't have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist."
- Pat Robertson, January 14, 1991 source

Okay, on to some other people...

"I don't know that atheists should be considered citizens..."
- U.S. President George Walker Bush source

Okay, I'm scared now. In order to be a United States citizen we all have to go to Mr. Bush's church? Ye cats!

Republican Representative Tom DeLay announced today that he will not attempt to reclaim his post as majority leader due to campaign finance charges in Texas and possible fallout from lobbyist Jack Abramoff's guilty pleas to corruption and tax evasion charges. The reaction?

"We don't just need new leaders, we need a course correction. This is deeper than just who stands at the head of the party. We have created a system here ...that just breeds corruption."
- Republican Representative Jeff Flake source

"For years, at the expense of the American people, the House Republicans have enabled and benefited from the Republican culture of corruption engineered by Tom DeLay. The culture of corruption is so pervasive in the Republican conference that a single person stepping down is not nearly enough to clean up the Republican Congress."
- House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi source

"My belief is that Tom will eventually be cleared and exonerated, and my hope is that our conference will one day again benefit from Tom's rare commitment to the principles of smaller government and freedom for which all Republicans fight."
- Representative John Boehner, who is considering taking Mr. DeLay's job source

Mr. DeLay is in trouble. Senator Bill Frist is in trouble. Now with the Abramoff scandal, it turns out that even President Bush has taken thousands of dollars in dirty money. Our vice-president, Richard Bruce "Dick" Cheney is advocating torture. Our government is falling apart, to the surprise of no one.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Thoroughly Unsatisfying

All I Want is a Pizza...

My wife and I have been ill for over a month. Today I decided that I wanted something other than chicken soup for supper. Nothing against chicken soup, mind you, but it's getting a little old. All afternoon I've had pizza on my mind.

"I'm sorry," said the voice on the phone. "We don't deliver any more."

You know, I kind of want some buffalo wings, too. Next...

"You live where? Oh, we don't deliver to that part of town."

That's okay. Now that I think of it, I kind of want something cheaper anyway.

"Can you hold?"

No. Life's short. Next...

A recording. "Welcome to Domino's. You can get three large one-topping pizzas and three large breadsticks and three Pepsi's for ONLY TWENTY DOLLARS." Who can eat that much? Oh well, all I want is a medium pizza - it shouldn't cost much if they're giving all that away for twenty bucks... "And remember," the recording continued, "you can include wings for only six dollars..." My confidence is waning. A real person came on the phone.

"Yeah," said the lady.

"Um, I'd like to order a medium Canadian-bacon and pineapple pizza, please."


"No, I'd like a pizza."

"I need your phone number," the lady said. I gave her my number. There was a long pause. Then, "Whaddaya want?"

"I'd like a medium Canadian-bacon and pineapple pizza, please," I repeated. "On original crust, if you could." I don't even know what kind of crust they offer, but I do know that they all want you to make a choice, and they all have "original" crust.

"Is that all you want?" the lady said. I dreamt of buffalo wings, flying away at the cheap, cheap cost of six bucks per order. "That's all," I said. I gave her my address.

"That'll be $14.65," she said as she hung up.

Almost fifteen dollars for a medium pizza. I could have had three large pizzas for twenty bucks. That made me sad. What made me even sadder was when the delivery guy showed up half an hour later. "I forgot my change," he said as I was getting my seventeen dollars ready (I always tip a few dollars). "Is it okay if I just keep the change?" I gave him fifteen.

On the plus side, the pizza was pretty good. It wasn't fifteen-dollars-good, but I'd give an honest ten or twelve bucks for it. Too bad they treated me rudely on the phone and sent a greedy delivery guy over - I'll probably never order Domino's again, even if I do have to go pick my pizza up myself.

Monday, January 02, 2006

New Year's Eve (plus one)

Being ill sucks.

Dagmar and I have both been ill since November. It's starting to get old. I still have pneumonia and my beloved bride is at this very moment at the doctor's office yet again. In a few more weeks I'm gonna start getting whiny about it...

Say It Ain't So!

I just heard that the Green Bay Packers have fired head coach and former general manager Mike Sherman, just months after he signed a two-year extension to his contract. The Packers have had a miserable season, winning just four games and losing twelve - mostly due to injuries to key offensive players (at one point they were starting a running back whose claim to fame to that point had been being a third-string running back in college, but he, too, was injured and replaced). Future hall-of-fame quarterback Brett Favre has been making rumblings about possible retirement for three years now, so it's possible that we'll see the Packers with a new coach and a new quarterback next season. Favre has been the starting quarterback for the Pack for some fifteen years and has turned into an institution.

It seems a shame to me when teams fire coaches so quickly. Sherman had a winning record at Green Bay. The Detroit Lions fired coach Steve Mariuchi several weeks ago, and the Houston Texans have fired their coach as well. Both Detroit and Houston have been steadily improving the past few years, in my opinion. It would have been nice to see the coaches have a little more time to develop their system and their players.

Silly Software...

I use "Blogger" to maintain this silly little hobby of mine. I'm a tad upset at the moment - it won't let me upload any photos. Grrrr... What really irks me is that the software is free, so I can't really complain when it doesn't work.

Have we REALLY lost all sensibilities?

Since I've been down with pneumonia for the past five weeks or so, I've had plenty of time to stare vacantly at the TV, and I don't much like what I see.

There are good, entertaining, educational shows aplenty, but they're buried in nonsensical fluff, gore and smut. I've enjoyed watching shows on the Science Channel, but like all channels owned by Discovery, they repeat every three hours. So, you get three good, quality, educational, well-produced shows a day. If there's nothing else on, you get to watch those three shows over and over and over again. (I amuse myself by pretending I can see what's behind the annoying logo in the lower right hand corner.)

Public Television is, of course, almost always worth watching. But there are times when they're showing Sesame Street and I've already seen all three shows on the Science Channel. Hmmm... Click to the History Channel. Same thing as the Science Channel - three pretty good shows repeating themselves all day, half hidden by that silly logo in the lower right hand corner. (I absolutely, positively HATE that particular trend. I know what channel I'm watching. I don't really need to have a quarter of the screen covered in logos to tell me what I'm looking at.)

I've watched a few college bowl games over the weekend. Whatever happened to the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl? Why do we have things like the Alamo Bowl and the Capital One Credit Card Bowl and the Outback Steak House Bowl? Why do they always have to have their logo on everything in sight? Again, I know what I'm watching, for gosh sakes. Does everything need to have a corporate sponsor? Doesn't it weaken and dilute the honor of being invited to a bowl game if almost every college team in the nation gets to play in some bowl or another? (I keep waiting to see the Tidy Cat Kitty Litter Bowl or the Preparation H Bowl.)

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