Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Riding the Christmas Train

Today on the way home from work I caught the Chicago Transit Authority's Christmas Train, which is decked out with holiday decorations and lights inside and out, has seasonal music playing, and has CTA employees who are dressed like elves passing out info about the train and posing for pictures, and generally getting people in a much better mood than they usually are on the way home from work. The train only makes one run a day, and for only a handful of days through Christmas, so it's pretty cool to see on the tracks, and much cooler to actually ride on, which I got to do for the first time ever, today.

Sometimes this city doesn't totally suck.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Remembering JFK

47 years ago today, Nov. 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Was he a perfect president or a perfect man? No, but no one is. He did bring hope and optimism and the world looked at the U.S. as it never had before. The following comments were made while he was president, some 50 years ago, but strangely, sadly, but not surprisingly, the remarks apply as much today as they did then. They also apply to those Republicans and Tebaggers and Democrats turned Republicans who who dare suggest that JFK was anything but a liberal. Here he is, in his words:

"I believe in human dignity as the source of national purpose, in human liberty as the source of national action, in the human heart as the source of national compassion, and in the human mind as the source of our invention and our ideas. It is, I believe, the faith in our fellow citizens as individuals and as people that lies at the heart of the liberal faith. For liberalism is not so much a party creed or set of fixed platform promises as it is an attitude of mind and heart, a faith in man's ability through the experiences of his reason and judgment to increase for himself and his fellow men the amount of justice and freedom and brotherhood which all human life deserves.

"I believe also in the United States of America, in the promise that it contains and has contained throughout our history of producing a society so abundant and creative and so free and responsible that it cannot only fulfill the aspirations of its citizens, but serve equally well as a beacon for all mankind. I do not believe in a superstate. I see no magic in tax dollars which are sent to Washington and then returned. I abhor the waste and incompetence of large-scale federal bureaucracies in this administration as well as in others. I do not favor state compulsion when voluntary individual effort can do the job and do it well. But I believe in a government which acts, which exercises its full powers and full responsibilities. Government is an art and a precious obligation; and when it has a job to do, I believe it should do it. And this requires not only great ends but that we propose concrete means of achieving them.

"What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label "Liberal?" If by "Liberal" they mean, as they want people to believe, someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer's dollar, then the record of this party and its members demonstrate that we are not that kind of "Liberal."

"But if by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people -- their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties -- someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal," then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Robbie Williams' new song, new video

He's a little bit country. Of course people will call it his "Brokeback" video, but I like the "Butch and Sundance" touch at the end. Nice song, neat video. Now why is this man not a superstar in the U.S.?

Monday, August 23, 2010


Disgrace | The New Republic

"I am speaking to you as an American, Mr. Obama."

What is disgraceful has been this president's failure to lead, on what the New Republic calls, rightly so, one of the most important civil rights issues of our time.

Friday, July 2, 2010

D-Bag of the Day: Tony LaRussa

Today's Douchebag of the Day is St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa. The drinky, and now nutty, skipper (he who allowed a steroid user and abuser to play on his team) has voiced his support of Arizona's anti-immigrant law.

LaRussa (that doesn't sound like an AMERICAN name, does it?) said that "I'm actually a supporter of what Arizona's doing," the skipper said. "You know, people don't fix your problem, and the government, national government doesn't fix your problem, and you've got a problem, they've got to take care of it themselves."

He also had kind words for the Tea Party activists: "This is America, right? You're supposed to be able to have opinions and disagree, and a lot of things they do I think are correct."

Fine, you're a nut and unintelligent and you drive drunk and you enable cheaters. Fine. But then, then, when reporters dared to question him further on his public statements, LaRussa told them to back off, since their questions didn't involve sports and he doesn't talk about politics and they were pissing him off.

Excuse me? You go off publicly on a political subject, lend your vocal support to the nutjob tea-baggers then bark at anyone who wants you to explain yourself? Tony LaRusso (as Harold Washington called you) you are not only a drinky douchebag, but a spineless, cowardly one at that.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

"Hey, Douchebag!"

(in which I begin a new feature of my blog, sure to become world-renown and a favourite feature of all of my readers. Essentially, it asks the rhetorical question, "Hey, douchebag, what's with that?" Where debate or intelligent engagement just wouldn't matter, all you can do is tell someone, "Hey, douchebag!")

The first "Hey, Douchebag!" honor goes to:

The d-bag who felt the need to stick a "Don't Blame Me, I Voted For the American" bumper sticker, (which included a mock Obama campaign logo), on the inside of the elevator door at my doctor's office. So, to that dimwit I'd say, "Hey, Douchebag!" then make him or her stand in that elevator and take the offending bumper sticker off the door with their fingernails, then make them clean the door of the sticky residue, until it was clean.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Thin Ice

I type this on the eve of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers. The Blackhawks have a 3-2 lead and if they win on Wednesday night, in Philadelphia, they will capture the Stanley Cup, for the first time since 1961. This is a pretty big deal.

The competition between the two teams has been quite heated at times -- the two teams have been playing very scrappy, tough hockey, leaving quite a bit of blood and sweat on the ice.

One of the more renown players on the Flyers is Chris Pronger, a well-traveled NHL player, who is tough, (some might say dirty), scrappy, and smart; the sort of player who gets away with a lot because he is nice to the officials, and who fans of every other team hate, but they'd take him on their club in a second.

During the last game, at the United Center in Chicago, Blackhawks fans showed their displeasure with Pronger by booing every time he touched the puck. Silly, maybe, but harmless, really.

Not so harmless was the Photoshopped poster of Pronger in Tuesday's Chicago Tribune. The poster referred to him as "Chrissy" and the Tribune "artist" who produced the picture put Pronger in a pair of women's figure skating tights -- all together, it insinuated that Pronger was a sissy, or a woman, or a fag, or somehow not a real man. That's the impression that I got, and as much as the people at the Tribune might deny it, that's the impression many got. This is the "journalistic" equivalent of shouting, "Pronger, you fag!"

I was instantly infuriated once I saw this poster. So infuriated that when I got home from work I didn't just put it up on my Facebook page or e-mail it to a bunch of people, I called the Tribune Sports department because I had one question, above all else: What was the point of this poster?

To their credit, the folks at the Trib seemed to be expecting my call (I wonder how many calls like mine they got on Tuesday). I was put on hold briefly, then a polite gentleman (I did not get his name) answered and after I told him about my objections to the poster, he said, "The point was just to try to have a little fun with who Chris Pronger was." he talked about Pronger's reputation and how Hawks fans hate him, and I told him that I am aware of that, because I am a Blackhawks fan, but that the poster was really offensive. He apologized and said that it was not their intention to offend women or gays or figure skaters or anyone else beyond Mr. Pronger (well, you failed at that, didn't you, Mister?). He then thanked me for calling and said they appreciated that I called and that I read the paper and that I listened to him. He did not give me the brushoff -- maybe that was because I did not get angry at him and I tried to be polite, though my voice was shaking at times. I then told him that I appreciated that he took the time to explain it to me and answer my question, though I still did not like that poster.

Not only is this in poor taste, but it only emboldens the meatheads who yell stuff such as "Pronger (or Crosby or Ovechkin or Thornton, et al) you fag!" at Blackhawks games. I know this because I have been there for games when, after scoring on the Blackhawks, these players have been treated to the above cries. (As if it makes it easier for one team's fans to deal with if they call the player that just scored on their team a fag.)

The good news is that most of the comments I saw on the Trib's website, as well as on some other blogs, really gave the Tribune hell for this boorish, stupid, juvenile, homophobic, misogynistic poster. The bad news is that it ever saw the light of day in the first place. I hope the sounds of the phone calls from angry readers are still ringing in the ears of the Tribune's sports editors.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Birds are Pissed

and when the birds get pissed, terrible things will follow.

I blame my irrational fear of (some types of) birds on my childhood. This was shaped by two things: the superstitions of my grandmother and her sister, and bible movies, like The Ten Commandments.

My maternal grandmother lived in our house, in the apartment above us, with her sister, well into their old age. For a while, theirs was the place to be, as my cousins and aunts and uncles would drop by for lunch, seemingly every day, to a spread of mortadella, prosciutto (before it was gourmet food), capicola, ham, etc. It was usually quite loud and there was always laughter, but one thing I remember, and I can't quite remember the occasion -- maybe someone died or someone had noticed a bird outside the window -- but it was either my grandmother or my aunt who said that when a bird appears outside your window, then someone's going to (or already has) die. They were southern Italians, as if that explains it. For some reason I've always remembered that.

Then of course there were those bible movies, where birds were the harbingers (no pun intended) of disease, death and darkness. That affected me quite a bit, as did a certain poem by Mr. Poe.

I like many birds -- little birds are cute, exotic birds of unusual colors fascinate me, I'll always stop to watch a cardinal (especially if they are beating the Chicago Cubs!), and I was in awe the other day when I saw a bluejay atop a stop sign. But dark birds with their dark eyes, give me the creeps, especially if, you guessed it, they're outside my window.

For the past year we've had some nesting birds on the back porch. The same back porch where I like to hang out late at night, on my 'weekends,' and have a cigar, watch the airplanes heading into O'Hare (yeah, I know, I'm a good 10 miles east of the airport but still, they come in pretty low around Uptown/Andersonville), and tool around Facebook and the Internet on my ipod Touch. For the most part they didn't bother us and we didn't bother them, since our schedules are the opposite - by the time I enter the outdoor smoking lounge at night, they're all sleeping.

But lately -- this is their second year here -- things have been getting out of hand, with bird poop all over the porch, the railings, the steps, and pieces of nesting materials strewn about, as well. So, the landlord was notified and while I haven't heard from him, it appears his handyman may have plugged the hole in the rotting beam about the porch, where the birds were nesting. Because when I got home tonight I found one bird, at the top of the stairs, chirping, incessantly, and occasionally looking up in the direction of where that hidden nest was. But no chirps came back at him. But he's still there. On the porch railing, pooping, and chirping, and looking right at me. And I think he's pissed.

I may need to self-medicate tonight to avert the inevitable nightmares. Then there will be the full-fledged attack of the surviving birds once I step outside. Better get the umbrella...

(NOTE: The bird pictured in thsi post is not the bird on my porch today. But I know that look ...)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

How Great is Glee?

This great. Sure, the music makes it a unique, really great show, but moments like this, where Kurt's dad goes off on Finn when he hears him using the word "faggy," are what make it truly great. Kurt's dad speaks the same language as Finn, he played sports in high school, he's a "guy's guy," and he won't stand for someone using those words in his house. This is great television.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Alberto Zoppe, Part II

My favorite part of my interview with Alberto Zoppe -- done about six years ago by phone, with me in Chicago and he in Arkansas -- was when he recalled sleeping in his family's circus trailer, which was pulled by horses, on Italy's unpaved roads, at night when he was a child. “Sometimes it was raining,” he said, and the sound of the rain, along with the sound of the steel wheels on the unpaved country roads, “made such a nice sound, and I slept so well. That was so beautiful.”

Here's the rest of my chat with him, along with some recollections by his son and his wife.


By the mid-1940s, the Circo Fratelli Zoppe had reached a pretty serious level of renown throughout Europe. Orson Welles witnessed firsthand Alberto’s riding act, and afterward told Alberto about a circus movie the director Cecil B. DeMille was working on, called “The Greatest Show on Earth.” He asked Alberto to come to the U.S. with his horse act, and become a part of this movie. Alberto, declined Welles’s offer, since, with family circuses in post-war Europe suffering from a lack of animals, his circus needed his act, as well as his guidance, to survive.

Welles was undeterred, and enlisted the help of John Ringling North, who, at the time, was owner of the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus, to convince Alberto to come to the U.S. Welles brought North to Italy to see Zoppe, and beginning in 1947, North regularly pitched the idea of leaving Italy for the U.S. to Alberto. Zoppe would be part of DeMille’s film, as well as a featured performer in the Ringling Brothers circus.

“For three years he tried to get me to come to America,” Alberto says by phone from his home in Arkansas. “I was 20, 21 years old, and I didn’t care to come to Ringling’s show.” But North and Welles implored him to reconsider, telling him, “You have to come to America; we need you.”

By 1949, Zoppe told both North and Welles that he’d take them up on the offer to come to the U.S., but that he wanted to wait a year, “because they need me another year in Italy.” He also had a stipulation for his leaving the Zoppe family’s circus to join North’s circus and appear in DeMille’s film. He says, “I find out, from talking to people, that (the Ringling Brothers circus) had 40 elephants, and in Italy we had no elephants. I said, ‘OK, if you want me to come to America, you can send an elephant to my show in Italy to replace me.’” Ringling’s responded by telling Alberto, “‘if I give an elephant to every performer, I wouldn’t have any more elephants!’”

Alberto Zoppe’s family circus got their elephant, in exchange for his services, but Alberto didn’t get the year he wanted in Italy before he moved to the U.S. He met with Welles and John Ringling North at the airport in Rome one morning after they had agreed upon his coming to the U.S. and the elephant exchange, but to Alberto’s surprise, he was told that he had to leave much sooner than he had expected to.

“We were at the airport, and John Ringling North said, ‘you can’t wait another year. I talked to Cecil B. DeMille and he wants you for the movie. You have to go now.’”

Soon afterward, Alberto left for the U.S., where he trained horses for, as well as appeared in, “The Greatest Show on Earth.” He also then spent four years with the Ringling Brothers circus, specializing in horse riding and horse tricks. And the elephant that was given to Zoppe’s family circus in Italy in exchange for him? Her name was Mary, and became famous in her own right. One time, the Zoppes put on a circus parade through an Italian town they were performing in, and Mary got loose, ran through the town market, and didn’t stop running until she got to a church, which she went inside. One of Alberto’s brothers, aghast at the fact that their elephant had run away but realizing the promotional potential of the episode, “called everybody; the newspapers,” Alberto says, “and they took pictures of the elephant in the church. It was good for the show, good publicity.” The Italian newsmagazine Oggi soon featured Mary the elephant in the church on its cover. “She was a great elephant,” says Sandra Zoppe.

His work on “The Greatest Show on Earth” led to decades’ worth of film and television work for Alberto Zoppe. Other movies that he either appeared in, worked as a consultant on, or trained actors to ride horses in, include; “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (which Sandra and Alberto’s sister Ruggera were also in), “The Great Barnum,” “Trapeze,” and “Toby Tyler.”

Alberto also has the distinction of being the first person with an animal act to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show. “It was a horse,” Alberto says, and its name was Pacha. Pacha would tap out answers to mathematical questions Alberto asked. Alberto also appeared on the Tonight Show With Johnny Carson, Circus of the Stars (where he did all of the horse training, as well as lion and dog acts), and scores of other TV shows throughout the U.S. and Europe. In addition, he also kept doing regular circus work, either as an equestrian or with animals such as lions and bears.

Giovanni talked about some of his father’s work with wild animals. Most of the time the acts went off flawlessly, but there were a couple incidents where Alberto was injured. Giovanni doesn’t blame or say they had bad animals; the animals just may have misunderstood what was going on.

“My father had a bear one time that chased him all around the circus area,” he says. Giovanni explains that at one point of an act with a bear, Alberto would give the bear a baby’s bottle to drink from. Somehow, though, the bear evidently “thought my dad was taking the bottle away,” and because of that, the bear chased Alberto around the circus, but did not harm him. Alberto also performed with a lioness “when I was growing up,” Giovanni says. The lioness would stand up when she heard music, and she’d run up to a horse, jump onto the horse, and ride it, he said. One other thing she did was to “take meat out of my father’s mouth,” Giovanni said. One time, though, when the lioness was doing this with Alberto, “she got her tooth stuck in his lip and he jerked his head back,” tearing his lip apart, and requiring plastic surgery to his face, Giovanni says. The family has a realization that incidents such as that happen in the circus, and the animals aren’t punished or put down when such things happen. Giovanni mentioned that that lioness was part of their family for ten years, then given to a zoo.

Alberto Zoppe can’t talk about the past for prolonged periods of time these days. He remembers the conversations he had with Orson Welles and John Ringling North, the times his family’s circus performed for the Pope before he left for the U.S., he still remembers the mechanical details of the advantages of his four cupola tent over the tents that circuses previously used, he remembers how his circus family fled Cuba in the days immediately following Castro’s takeover, but he gets frustrated when he can’t remember dates and years. He’ll apologize for this, then will have to call on his wife to fill in the blanks. But when asked about his remembrances of the circus life from when he was a very young child, Alberto Zoppe’s memory is crystal-clear, and there’s one thing that he’s able to recall in the same wistful manner that ordinary working folk recall a great vacation they’ve taken. He remembers that his mother, the same women who rode horses in the ring, was in the driver’s seat of the circus’s horse-drawn trailers as they made their way from town to town in Italy. “That was about 70, 80 years ago,” Alberto Zoppe says, but he has no trouble remembering it today. “My mother was driving, and the streets were just gravel. The steel wheels made such a nice sound,” and Alberto would be lying in the trailer, sleeping, as his mother drove. “Sometimes it was raining,” he recalled, and the sound of the rain, along with the sound of the steel wheels on Italy’s unpaved country roads, “made such a nice sound, and I slept so well. That was so beautiful.”

Alberto Zoppe, Part I

This is out of order as far as the piece I wrote on the Zoppes, but I only today, while browsing obituaries, saw that Alberto Zoppe died last March. More people should know about him -- his was an incredible story. I regret I haven't been able to tell his story to a large audience, but maybe it'll get passed on now, via this blog and those who read it.


Alberto Zoppe didn’t want to come to the U.S.

In the late 1940s, partly out of his own talent as a performer and horse-rider (he was called “The Prince of the Riders”) and partly out of necessity (the animals that circuses had always made a staple of their repertoire were pretty scarce in post-war Europe), Zoppe was the star of his family’s circus, the “Circo Fratelli Zoppe.” Their circus traveled throughout Italy, setting up shop whenever townspeople would let them. Established in 1842, in Venice, the Zoppe Circus was formed when Ermenegilda Zoppe, a French clown, met a Hungarian ballerina, Napoline, while he was performing in Budapest. The two fell in love, married, and moved to Italy, where they established their circus.

Alberto Zoppe is the fourth generation of the Zoppe circus family. Alberto now lives in Arkansas, which serves as a sort of base for the current Zoppe Family Circus, their trucks and equipment and horses being kept there when the circus isn’t on the road. He was born in 1922 in the Veneto region of Italy, but he says that he was part of the circus before he was born.

Alberto Zoppe’s mother, Emma, in a tradition that continues down to Giovanni’s sister, Tosca, did a ballerina act on horses, riding a horse around the ring while also standing on the horse, jumping up then landing back on her feet on the horse, and other such feats. According to Alberto, his mother was riding horses in their circus up to her eighth month of pregnancy with him. “So I was working the horses before I was born,” he says in his Italian-accented voice.

“My father and my brother taught me how to ride the horses,” he adds. “We all became circus stars,” he says, referring to himself, his two brothers and two sisters. One feat that Alberto became famous for was a horse-to-horse somersault.

Besides becoming a circus star, Alberto Zoppe has made an even more lasting effect on circuses throughout the world. He invented the four-pole cupola tent.

For a circus, the tent is their stage, their calling card, their home turf even as they find themselves in a different town every few days. It can also determine their income, as the size of the tent determines how many paying customers can fit inside. The tent that the Zoppe Family Circus had been using had two pulleys at its top, with a 16-ft. crossbow to support the top of the tent. Alberto Zoppe said that one night in 1936 “I went to bed and thought about it and thought about it,” going over the tent style and how it could be made bigger. He determined that they could double the size of the center of the top of the tent, making it 16 feet by 16 feet, and secure it by a pole in each corner of the top crossbow. In addition to doubling the size and crowd capacity of the tent, the four poles also made it easier to set up and tear down. “Just pull them up and down,” Zoppe says.

Even with such logistical innovations, traveling through Europe with a family circus in the 1920s through the 1940s wasn’t an easy ride. The small towns wanted the entertainment and diversions of a circus, but these towns weren’t in the most accessible regions of Italy. Alberto Zoppe remembers small mountain towns in Italy asking his family to bring the circus to their towns, but there were no roads into the towns that their trucks could travel down, so the circus performers, along with volunteers from the town, had to strap chests of their props and costumes, as well as every piece of equipment and they would need to set up their circus, onto their backs and carry them up the mountains into these towns. “We had to carry everything up by hand,” Zoppe says, yet just as soon adds, “That was a very enjoyable time. That was fantastic.”

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Boehner, Remixed

Whoever produced this is brilliant. It is brilliant because it is true. Hate never wins. Fear never wins. They may capture the occasional victory, but such victories are always short-lived.

I don't want to gloat or celebrate in the wake of the passage of the healthcare insurance reform bill. I find it hard to celebrate because there is so much work to still be done. And it's tough to celebrate something like the guarantee of a basic level of healthcare insurance, which is no big deal in other, civilized countries. And it's not a single-payer system, so much of the burden is still on employers, for one. But it's a giant step in the right direction. I don't want to gloat, or sing, but then I remember the text message I got from my former friend on the night Barack Obama was elected president, which stated, "Hope isn't any good when planes fly into buildings." I also think of the lies that were spread by those who opposed reform from the start, and I think of all those who from the moment he was elected, devoted their lives to derailing the presidency of Barack Obama.

I think of the Congressman who shouted, "You lie!" at the president. I think of Rep. Boehner shouting "Hell no!" in Congress. I think of smug John McCain, who though he lost to Barack Obama, couldn't get the smirk off his face during the president's bipartisan meeting on healthcare reform, the same meeting in which the Republicans went to and treated as a campaign debate then got their asses handed to them, wrapped up quite nicely, by this president. I think of the police officers I sometime hear on the police scanners late at night saying things like, "tell Obama to take care of them," when a dispatcher or another officer says someone has been injured or wounded on the city's streets. I think of the editorial writers and cartoonists who have been saying for the past year that freedom as we know it would cease if Obama got his way (of course none of them offered any workable alternatives). I think of the racist imagery so often used to criticize the president, and on, and on, and on, and I can't help but think ... you lost. You all lost. You lost the election, you lost on healthcare reform, and you're going to lose again and again. "Hell no!" sounds like the last words of a movement going down in flames. We've said it before, we can say it again -- Yes, we can.

Where I Stand

I'd rather stand with those being spat on, screamed at, called names, than those who spit, scream and call others names. I'd rather aspire to people's better angels and work for something better and occasionally fall short than to play on and play to their fears for short-term victories. The win is so much sweeter when it does happen and it's easier to keep fighting the fight if you know in your heart that it's the right fight and your world, or someone's life can be somewhat better through your efforts.

When mouth-breathing, drooling hateful people scream "faggot" at Congressman Barney Frank, when they yell "nigger" at Congressman John Lewis, when they boo and scream at Speaker Nancy Pelosi, when they spit at other Congressmen and Senators, when they put the word "KILL" uncomfortably close to their caricatures of President Obama, when they vow revenge on any elected official who supported healthcare insurance reform, I stand proudly with the screamed at and spat upon.

And I know that even if Obama, Pelosi, Frank, Lewis, Reid, Dingell, Schakowsky, Quigley, Weiner and every other one who worked to make reform a reality hadn't wiped the floor with the "no" crowd, they'd still be right.

The arc is long, Dr. King said, but it does tend toward justice.

Friday, March 19, 2010

They Have No Shame, Do They?

The following is a McClatchy story today (3/19/10) out of Washington state:


State of health care debate: Pundits attack 11-year-old

Conservative talk show hosts and columnists have ridiculed an 11-year-old Washington state boy's account of his mother's death as a "sob story" exploited by the White House and congressional Democrats like a "kiddie shield" to defend their health care legislation.

Marcelas Owens , whose mother got sick, lost her job, lost her health insurance and died, said Thursday he's taking the attacks from Rush Limbaugh , Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin in stride.

"My mother always taught me they can have their own opinion but that doesn't mean they are right," Owens, who lives in Seattle , said in an interview.

Owens' grandmother, Gina, who watched her daughter die, isn't quite so generous.

"These are adults, and he is an 11-year-old boy who lost his mother," Gina Owens said. "They should be ashamed."

Sen. Patty Murray , D- Wash. , told Marcelas Owens' story to President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at the White House health care summit last month. Murray also has spoken about it on the Senate floor. Last week, Owens was in the nation's capital to speak at a health care rally and to meet with Senate Democratic leadership.

Limbaugh, Beck and Malkin are skeptical about the story, saying there were other forms of medical help available after Owens' mother, Tifanny, lost her health insurance. They lambasted Democrats for using the story.

"Now this is unseemly, exploitative, an 11-year-old boy being forced to tell his story all over just to benefit theDemocrat Party and Barack Obama ," Limbaugh said on March 12 , according to a transcript his show. "And, I would say this to Marcelas Owens : 'Well, your mom would still have died, because Obamacare doesn't kick in until 2014.'"

Beck, according to a transcript of his March 15 show, pointed out that Owens' recent trip to Washington was paid for by Healthcare of America, a group that has been lobbying for a health care overhaul.

"That's the George Soros-funded Obama-approved group fighting for health care," Beck said. "Since all of the groups are so concerned and involved now, may I ask where were you when Marcelas' mother was vomiting blood?"

Beck, who's from Mount Vernon, Wash. , said there were plenty of programs in Washington state that could have helped Tifanny Owens .

Malkin dismissed Marcelas Owens as "one of Obama's youngest lobbyists" who has been "goaded by a left-wing activist grandmother," promoted by Murray and has become a regular on the "pro-Obamacare circuit."


This would be even more sickening if it was not so unsurprising.

Beck, Limbo, Malkin and any who would defend them on this are all a-holes.

If you disagree that health insurance reform is desperately needed in this country, if you don't like this kid's story, fine. Either present an intelligent alternative, convey your sympathy toward the family then lay out just how the mom could ha
ve been helped under the current healthcare 'system,' or ... stay quiet, let them have their moment, then come out with your plan later, so you don't look like a complete jerk. At the same time, if these folks cared at all about how they are perceived in the public eye, how decent people view them, and that, they would show some class. But they're not interested in constructive debate, are they? They don't care about the sick, the uninsured, the poor, the people who watch their shows and live in their congressional districts. All they care about, all they have cared about since the night Barack Obama won the presidency, was tearing him down and defeating everything he has tried to do and defeating him and his party in ensuing elections. What a classless, despicable lot they are.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Planet Earth's Flipside

Here is the text of the story that I wrote for the Sun-Times (Feb. 12) on Late Bar, the new nightspot run by Dave and Kristine, who I've mentioned here recently.


For two decades, Dave Roberts has kept the New Wave music torch alive in Chicago. Residencies at Club 950, Spin, Neo and Holiday Club gained him a legion of followers for his weekly “Planet Earth” night.

But when he was asked where he went when he wasn’t working, he’d say, “I stay at home,” because there was no place he knew of “where I could go to have a nice drink and hear music I wanted to hear.”

Late Bar, which he and his partner Kristine Hengl opened on Dec. 26 in the Avondale neighborhood, may be that once elusive place.

The two have “always wanted a nice place for people who didn’t like to go to sports bars or Top 40 places,” he says. “A nice bar that’s comfortable and you can still hear the music.”

Late Bar is open late (until 4 a.m.) but the name has a more significant meaning.

“Late Bar” was the flipside to the Duran Duran single “Planet Earth,” and “this bar,” Roberts says, “is the flipside” to his “Planet Earth.”

He still spins New Wave, on Saturdays at Late Bar, but there’s also an array of alternative and independent music throughout the week there, be it ska, psychedelia, electronic, industrial, or 50s and 60s rock and soul.

“This is the house that Planet Earth built,” Roberts says, but the music, avant garde videos and d├ęcor (subdued shades of purple and framed black and white photos of the likes of Louise Brooks, Marlene Dietrich and Siouxsie Sioux) span the generations of what he calls “subcultural.”

The look is a far cry from the carpeted, wood-paneled neighborhood bar that had been there for the past 40 years, but Hengl says what they liked about the space was its neighborly vibe, something that they’re working toward in their own way, for a different crowd.

It’s a place to hear alternative music and have a beer, but where you can order “a martini and not have the bartender roll their eyes at you,” she says. The bar also stocks gluten-free and organic beers, as well as soy milk, for vegan-friendly cocktails.

“We know there are people out there who are looking for something like this,” Roberts says. “The vibe and the reputation are just what we want them to be.”


Late Bar, 3534 W. Belmont Ave., is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9 p.m. to 4 a.m.

Friday, February 19, 2010

I'm not gay, but my column is

Chicago Sun-Times ports columnist Rick Morrissey should just come clean and confront the issues he has with how he sees other males sometimes. In his column on Friday, Feb. 19, he once again wrote hundreds and hundreds of words which left left the reader wondering, "huh?" at its end. And, once again, he showed that he has some issues with what he sees as a lack of masculinity in male athletes sometimes.

The column this time around started off innocently enough, as he praised Chicago-area native Evan Lysacek for winning the gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics the night previous. But he couldn't simply congratulate Lysacek for his gold and get on with it. He had to attack the man's sport, as well as the effeminate nature of some who participate in it and watch it.

In discussing the matchup between Lysacek and the Russian who came in a very close second to him, Morrissey noted that, "Thursday wasn't an arms race. It was style vs. might." He added, "There's a raging battle in figure skating between the people who want athletic jumps to be rewarded more and those who think artistry should be recognized more. Some want higher and faster. Some want more chiffon."

"Chiffon." He was just getting started, though.

"I don't presume to speak for all men, but I will say that many of us would enjoy the sport more if one's vertical leap were valued over the spangled piping on one's pants."

A little uncomfortable watching the figure skating, are we?

But wait, there's more.

"Here's an added bonus, football fans. Lysacek managed to look halfway OK in his outfit."

"Football fans"? Why should anyway give a rat's ass what "football fans" think of figure skaters? Do people who like, say, hockey, worry about what those who like tennis think of their sport, for instance? That's almost like saying, "Here's an added bonus, steak eaters. The salad is halfway OK." It makes no sense at all and there is no reason to draw such an analogy.

Are you steamed, yet, readers? No? Well, what about this, then?

"This is sport as envisioned by college theater majors."

Attention theater majors, theater professionals, and theater schools: The offices of the Sun-Times are at 350 N. Orleans St., if you need to find it for your protests. It's in a building called the Apparel Center, which is next to the Merchandise Mart -- you know the place, where dozens, if not hundreds, of interior designers, kitchen and bath places, tile, rug, antique and decorative glass wholesalers work out of. It is also the home of an art and design school, as well as a couple high falutin tea and coffee shoppes. It's a really gay place -- wonder how comfortable Rick feels working there.

He then wrote, about the outfits, "I also know that there was a skater wearing a tuxedo with spangles (he fell) and another dressed like a swashbuckler (down went Errol Flynn!).

The Czech Republic's Tomas Verner, in a rhinestone-studded vest, skated to the music from ''The Godfather,'' bringing to mind what Luca Brasi said to Don Corleone: ''And may their first child be a masculine child.''

I know! He cannot help but write about the figure skaters' costumes, but he qualifies his comments by saying, more or less, that these skaters are soooo gay.

There's more: "Jeremy Abbott of the United States smacked the ice hard while attempting a quadruple toe loop, but at least he tried. However, points should be taken off for the blue satin shirt buttoned to the top.

Why doesn't somebody break out and wear something different? Jeans and a T-shirt. Muscle shirts. Anything."

So, let me get this straight (ahem) here -- Rick Morrissey seems to be saying, in this pointless column, in effect, that "figure skating is so gay. It kind of makes me feel a little gay, which I don't like. Maybe if I just could root for figure skaters to fall down and snickered about their outfits and wished they wore more masculine clothes, I wouldn't feel so uncomfortably gay."

Mind you, this is the same guy who addressed the "scandal" that was a few of the Chicago Blackhawks players being photographed shirtless in a limo in Vancouver earlier this season by saying the thing he had the problem with wasn't that they were caught with their shirts off, literally, but that they looked like they belonged in a boyband, and not a hockey team. Morrissey wrote that he wants his hockey players to be hairy and have chipped and missing teeth and look like smelly mouth-breathing types, and not like young, smooth, wrinkle-less, doe-eyed boys that he ... well, I don't want to go all the way there, but why would he criticize hockey players for looking good with their shirts off if it didn't make him uncomfortable with the way in which he saw these men?

And, let it be noted that when he was with the Chicago Tribune, he spent a column-worth of prime newspaper space commenting on how he did not care for Chicago Bull Kirk Hinrich's very plain haircut.

Morrissey ended Friday's column by writing, about men's figure skating, "after (flamboyant figure skater Johnny) Weir, (Lysacek) looked like a wing-tipped businessman in a sleek, dark outfit. Maybe there's hope yet for this sport."

There may be hope yet for this sport, but not for Rick Morrissey.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"There's an all-night party..."

Sometimes -- OK, oftentimes -- I feel in a rut professionally. My efforts to be something bigger and better than what and where I am now meet small degrees of success, but these successes seem fleeting, and it feels like every time I get a rung up on the ladder, that rung breaks and I'm back to where I was. Every time it seems that I'm about to replace some nationally-known but not very interesting columnist at the Sun-Times, I quickly find myself back to the reality of calling far away suburban police and fire departments in the middle of a weekend night to get details on an accident or shooting, only to be told to call back on Monday.

But enough pity for today, because I need to remember that there was a time seven or eight years ago when I truly, truly hated my work circumstances, when there were times I'd be ill at the thought of going to work at a soul-sapping place, and the one place where I felt free and happy and still full of some sort of potential was at neo, on the new wave "Planet Earth" Thursday nights, with Dave Roberts spinning the discs and a bunch of wonderful, welcoming people working the bar and door and filling the dancefloor. And I need to remember, also, that I would not have believed anyone had they told me then that one day, only a handful of years from that time, that Dave and his other half, Kristine, would have their own bar, and that I would write about it for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Well, Part I of that dream happened just a couple months ago, when Dave and Kristine opened Late Bar, in Chicago's Avondale neighborhood. Part II comes true Friday, Feb. 12, when my story about the place is scheduled to be printed in the paper. The piece is small, only a few hundred words, and there is no accompanying art, but I feel as though I've actually achieved something here. My particular work situation often sucks, but the consolation is that old refrain about having your foot in the door...well, I guess that's true in a way. Now I just need to get the rest of my ample self through that damned door!

Excuse me for a couple days here while I pat myself on the back. In some ways this is a minor accomplishment, but in other ways it signals how far I've come, though there is still a ways to go.

Ghost in the Machine

The ghost is following us. The ghost that I was certain lived in my apartment now has decided to step outside and go for a ride every so often. Maybe he (I am thinking he is like Casper the Friendly Ghost) gets lonely in the apartment or he gets bored turning the lights off now and then or maybe he just likes to get some fresh air from time to time.

I say this because beginning back in oh, October of 2009 or so, my car began squealing and screeching, sometimes very loudly. But this only happened when I hit the brakes while going forward, so, naturally I surmised there was a problem with the front brakes. I took it to probably the worst mechanic on earth, at Ashland and Lawrence in Chicago, and though they charged me about $900, a couple days later the squealing was back. Yes, I should have taken it right back to that place,, but I was so infuriated and so afraid that a second trip would cost hundreds more, that I eventually just thought it wasn't worth the pain; that I'd just write a scathing Yelp review and go somewhere else, to get the brakes and nothing else, fixed, for my own peace of mind.

Eventually didn't happen until this past week, when relying on good reviews, I took it to a guy named Andy, at Damen and Montrose. Andy is a thin little hairy guy with a neck tattoo, but hey, if there's any line of work you can be in where a neck tattoo wouldn't matter, it would be his. The first time I met him, on a Friday, he said he was backed up and wouoldn't be able to look at the car for a couple days, but if I wanted, he could refer me to a buddy of his with a shop up the street. Um, no thanks there Kris Kringle, telling me to go to Gimble's, but thanks anyway. I took it back to him the following Monday, and he said that after driving it around abit, then taking it apart (!) he couldn't a) hear the squealing and b) there was nothing wrong with the brakes. And he didn't charge me a dime. If I found out anything this week it's that I will take my car, be it this one or the next one (I am lusting for a new Hyundai Tucson, Nissan Rogue, Ford Focus 5-door or BMW X3 ... hey, I can dream, can't I?) Andy's will be the place I take it to.

Until that new car comes along (I'm making the last loan payment on this one this month), if you're listening to that "Car Talk" show and you hear someone say, "Yeah, dis is Jim from Chi-caw-goh, and I got aToo Dousand Ford Fo-kiss," it may be me.

Of course, the car still squeals when I hit the brakes, so I have determined that it's just the house ghost, and he wants to go for a ride. Buckle up, Casper!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Rainbow Pancakes

These pancakes are soooo gay. In a good way, you know, because they are pancakes, after all.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

C60, C90, USB!

Since my next computer may may a few USB powered devices attached to it at any one time, I will need a new USB hub, a place where these devices can all connect, because such a device would be able to handle more devices than the computer, which may only have two or at most three, plug-ins, would have.

And I have found just the USB hub I want. The Marc Jacobs-designed USB hub, which looks a lot like a cassette tape -- and not only does it hold a handful of USB devices to connect to your computer, it even measures to the same dimensions as a tape! How cool is that? 

I do not, however, long for a MacBook that resembles a TRS-80 laptop. 

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Reflect, Resolve (Part I)

It's time to look back over the past year, its resolutions and reflect, then look ahead and envision what I hope or intend to accomplish within this coming year. Not merely because this is the turn of the year, but also because it's just a good time to do such a thing.

My three areas to reflect and resolve are personal, professional and academic. I am addressing the professional today, because it is the easiest to do right now.

At the start of the last year, I resolved, as I often do, to get work in at least one place I had not previously written for. Meeting this happened pretty quickly, as I wrote a piece for the Chicago Sun-Times food section on the NHL wines and had a great time doing it, too. (One of the panelists I got to sit in for the wine tasting was then Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley, now a U.S. Congressman.) In the wake of that, I was offered the opportunity to become a part of the new Sun--Times' food blog, "Digging In." (I came up with the name -- that's something I do, I've come up with names for things since my college paper's sports column, events I've done, etc. It's an odd talent.) Even though I do not get paid (or get expenses reimbursed) for this work, I think it is a great opportunity to practice and hone my writing and I still harbor some hope that it can become a platform to other work, such as food writing, or appearing on TV or radio to discuss the food blog.

Toward the end of the year I took some uncharacteristic initiative in both responding to the paper's op/ed editor's call for end of the year guest columns and also by contacting a features editor about writing about a new bar started by Dave and Kristine, of "Planet Earth" new wave nights fame and whom I got to work with at the Holiday Club for a couple years.

Remarkably, my idea for a column was not rejected and after a minor bit of tweaking, it appeared, along with my photo, in the Sunday paper (!!!) the Sunday after Christmas. This thrilled me greatly. Additionally, a features editor OK'd my bar idea and I am currently (oh cripe, it's due tomorrow!) a short piece for the paper on that.

So, as far as that goes, I'm pretty content with these minor accomplishments. But therein lie my resolutions for the coming year -- I intend to build on these little achievements and want to do at least a couple more columns for the editorial page of the paper. I also want to do more features pieces. If the opportunity comes along to write in any other medium, I will take it. (Hell, I have to take five unpaid furlough days this year, in addition to a 5% pay cut, so I'd better take more work!)

My full-time job is still working as a crime/death/murder and mayhem reporter for the Sun-Times Media Wire. In February I will mark four years at this job. Notice I didn't say I will be celebrating it. I am thrilled that after enduring a year or so of not knowing if the following month would be last employed there, it now seems as though the company I work for is not going under anytime soon. But I think I have outgrown the position of wire service reporter. There is no room above that position in the group to move to, so I will continue to do the best I can do there, but all the time be on the lookout for whatever opportunities arise in the newsroom, or elsewhere. As far as a resolution for my full-time work, I'd like my current full-time position to be not my principal source of income by the end of 2011.

I seem to have lost my primary freelance job, as a writer/columnist for the Chicago-based Italian American monthly newspaper Fra Noi. To be honest, the work I'd done the past few years there, following the anti-defamation beat, got to be tedious, especially when I'd have to report on some folks getting angry about comments they construed as anti-Italian by some regional radio talk show host I'd never heard of. And I am so glad I got out of that gig -- mutually agreed upon by myself and the editor -- before this whole "Jersey Shore" thing got going. Oy. But I also lost a great deal of work for that paper doing celebrity profiles, since they now have at least one person who has the time and resources to track down and personally interview celebs, something I could do less frequently as my full-time job took demands on me time and energy-wise. I'm disappointed that I can't do anything remotely political or left-leaning for the paper because it might offend some old biddy who pays $14 a year for a subscription, but I still hope I can do a story at least once every couple/few months, because I like the people there and I like the direction they are trying to take (smaller format that is more newsstand friendly, getting rid of 'news' about social clubs and ladies' auxiliaries, etc.) to up the circulation.

So that's my 2009-2010 professional reflection/resolution. I've moved up a step or a step and a half on the ladder, gotten a splinter or two along the way, taken a hit in terms of pay, but like the song says, "I'm still here," and I believe I can keep moving up and moving on, and I ain't but hardly just begun.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Moon(ie) over Washington

I normally ache just a little bit every time I hear of another newspaper -- be it in Detroit, Denver, Seattle, etc. -- that is closing shop or cutting back its frequency or going to an all-Internet publication, but when I heard the latest case of what appeared to be more bad news for the industry, I shed not one tear -- in fact, I would not mind being around for its demise.

The paper here is the Washington Times, a relatively young publication, owned and operated by the Rev. Sun Young Moon and his Moonie church and a Right Wing, anti-Democratic publication, a la Fox News.

The paper last week published its last Sunday edition and since it has no Saturday edition, it will only be a five-day-a-week paper now.

The Washington Times also announced that it has ended a Web project called, "," which, according to the WaTimes, "was intended to provide a platform to allow allow "the Joe the Plumbers of the world to speak up to major thinkers, like Newt Gingrich..." (In case anyone doubted that the paper was run by Right Wing reactionaries.)

The paper is also completely cutting its sports department.

I realize that not everyone, and probably not many, of its staffers adhered to its crazy political agenda, and its never good to see professionals, especially in my profession, lose their jobs, but this particular employer is evil, and the world would be better off without it.