:: Ray's Periodic Rantings ::

Political blurtings, personal notes, musings and more from a Chicago area Mac guy, neon artist, Burner, remarried widower, and now father.
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:: Friday, February 28, 2003 ::

Sound Again
While I strongly believe that as a society we ought to be devoting vastly more resources to independence from fossil fuels, the sad truth is that for the forseeable future we are stuck with them. I try to use as little as I can, but I have to admit that when not stuck in traffic, I do enjoy driving. There is something about being safe inside my tin can with wheels, with control over my audio and temperature environment, free to go wherever I want, or just able to think about other things while I drive a familiar route.

Today I drove the Kennedy Expy down to Wicker Park, as I do on occasion. A song came on the radio that reminded me of something an acquaintance had told me a long time ago. He had a PhD in electronic music, and I respected his thoughts on music in general. He described pop music as an attempt to create something that sounded both new and yet familiar. For a song to succeed, it must be catchy and original, yet not so unlike anything the intended audience has heard before that it alienates them.

So when I heard the song by Coldplay, this idea instantly came back to mind. I don't even know the name of it, but it is getting a lot of airplay currently, and I am even considering buying the CD. It sounds very much like a cross between U2 and Bruce Hornsby (with apologies to the Coldplay guys). The vocals and chords are very Bono-like, punctuated by Hornsby-like piano, with lush synthesizer washes under it all. I like the sound, but I wonder how it will hold up over time. Will it endure, or will it sound cheesy and dated? I suspect the latter, but I may end up buying it anyway.
:: Ray 2:07 PM [+] ::
:: Thursday, February 27, 2003 ::
Money Speaks
On Tuesday we endured the conclusion of the sham that is Chicago's mayoral election. There were three challengers to the venerable Mayor Daley. They got plenty of press time, and spent it criticizing the mayor and his administration, and talking about how they would improve the city once they were elected. All of this is exactly what the mayor wanted. He didn't even bother to challenge the signatures on their ballot petitions. Why?

Even in a dictatorship like Chicago, it is important to keep up appearances. There are currently no politicians out there capable of challenging Mayor Daley, but it wouldn't exactly look like democracy if he was the only choice on the ballot, would it? That would be like one of those Iraqi-style elections. "99.9% of the vote!" claims Hussein, running, as I understand it, unopposed. Here in Chicago, the mayor got 79% of the vote. Of course, that is with a 34% voter turnout, but who is counting?

Where am I going with this? Let's talk about money. One problem that bedeviled all three challengers, and betrayed their lack of viability as serious candidates, was their inability to raise money. The frontrunner of the three managed to raise about $11,000, if I recall correctly. Compare that to the mayor's warchest of $4 million. Daley didn't lift a finger to oppose them, because he never had anything to worry about. I am no fan of his, and hope to see him overthrown before I go completely gray, but I submit that for any candidate to demonstrate his or her viability in whatever election he or she is campaigning, he or she must be able to raise a few bucks. I hate to be harsh, but these folks just didn't have it.

Neither does Carol Moseley-Braun. Frankly, I am appalled to see that she is getting both press and consideration from the Democratic Party, now that she has declared her candidacy for president. This is a woman who blew it, big time. She got herself elected as the first African-American woman in the Senate, and we in Illinois (including me) supported her and congratulated her on the accomplishment. Then she proceeded to fritter away her term, accomplishing little and making visits to Nigerian dictator General Sani Abacha, as if they were pals. She lost her re-election bid to a conservative lunatic millionaire named Peter Fitzgerald, and with it any and all political capital that she ever held here.

Now she expects to run for president, even if only to gain a platform for voicing her opinion on the issues? I, for one, won't listen, and I am offended at the attention she is getting. She is diluting a pond from which a strong challenger must emerge to challenge our wonderful President Bush, before we are all out of work, being spied on by the government, and hated by the rest of the world. And her candidacy is pretty much moot. She attended a women-in-politics meeting here in Chicago, several days ago. According to an acquaintance of mine that was there, Moseley-Bruan was virtually ignored at the meeting and admitted in a chat with my friend that she hadn't been able to raise any money. Perhaps she ought to pay attention to her donors.
:: Ray 10:12 AM [+] ::
:: Monday, February 24, 2003 ::
Too much TV!
I was going to whine about how crappy Sunday was. I was exhausted from playing laser tag all night with the boy scouts from the troop the boy I mentor is in, my legs were sore because of a heavy leg workout that I did on Saturday, to the point that it hurt to move, and I had to run to the WC every half hour or so because of something I had eaten. Not a great way to pass a Sunday. But instead I am going to write more about TV. Not Battlestar Galactica -- thank God that marathon is over. It was torture, and I loved it, but it was way, way too much. Sadly, there are now 5 episodes of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century waiting for me. I am self conscious about admitting that fact here, and what it implies about just how much TV I watch. But even that isn't what I am going to write about.

No, today I am going to write about Saturday Night Live. SNL has been weak in recent years, and hasn't inspired me to watch regularly. But for the past few weeks, I have watched it a day or two later, thanks to the wonders of Tivo, and the opening sketches have done a masterful job of lampooning world events. A week or two ago, it was the UN Security Council, on the completion of Colin Powell's presentation of Iraq evidence, resolving that the situation was very serious, and they should do nothing, and do it as soon as possible, then proceeding to debate where they should go to lunch, whether it was expensive enough (since the UN was paying for it), and how they could screw up traffic in New York by double parking their UN-provided limos.

This week it was Darrell Hammond's Chris Matthews interviewing Christopher Walken's French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin (with a great Frenchish accent)...
Chris Matthews: Jacques Cousteau, will France ever support military action?
Christopher Walken: Certainly. The truth of the matter -- we don't wish to prevent war. We hate Saddam, but we know how much Bush wants war, so we want to make it as hard as possible, just to be, how you say, douchebag.

When is the last time you applauded TV? I just did.
:: Ray 9:44 PM [+] ::
:: Friday, February 21, 2003 ::
Space Nazis!
I had forgotten about the Space Nazis. The "Eastern Alliance" as they were called on the show (and just which way is East in space?) were featured in a double episode of Battlestar Galactica (see the 2.16.03 and 2.20.03 entries). They are a militaristic bunch, wearing black uniforms, flying around in ships whose interiors look remarkably like submarines (as opposed to Galactica, whose interior is like a very spacious aircraft carrier), and generally not being nice to civilian populations. I saw the beginning this morning -- Starbuck and Apollo are about to encounter these bad guys for the first time -- and I will watch the conclusion tonight. I don't usually say this, but I can't wait!
:: Ray 12:56 PM [+] ::
:: Thursday, February 20, 2003 ::
I am about halfway through my week of Battlestar Galactica, 25 digitally remastered episodes in all. I was an impressionable kid of 11 in 1979, when these shows originally aired. Back then I thought they were really cool...I mean, not as good as Star Wars or anything, but great for TV (that is the 11 year old talking). So how do they hold up 23 years later? To be honest, they are awful. Lame scripts, cheesy special effects, wooden acting, I mean these things are so bad, they are almost good. I am getting a huge kick out of the sheer camp value. I have a lot more to say about the show, but I don't know how much energy I really want to put into a critique, or even an explanation of what I find amusing. We'll see.
:: Ray 1:36 AM [+] ::
:: Sunday, February 16, 2003 ::
Serious Trouble
Oh man, am I in trouble. I am talking about a major, painful dilemna. Sci-Fi network is airing a Battlestar Galactica marathon this week -- five episodes every night. My aging Tivo can only hold 8 hours, so I can't just grab them all and spread the viewing out over a month or so. No, I am going to have to bite the bullet and watch a crapload of bad seventies sci-fi for the next few days. There is no escaping it. Pity me.
:: Ray 7:26 PM [+] ::
:: Saturday, February 15, 2003 ::
V Day
I didn't make a fuss about it yesterday, but Valentine's Day 2002 was the second anniversary of my asking Mary to marry me. V Day sucks for all single people, and the double whammy of being single and widowed makes it especially suck for me, but at least it wasn't as bad as last year, and I wasn't melancholy or anything. I ended up having a wonderful evening, going for really good sushi with friends at a place called Midori, on Bryn Mawr. Shumai (steamed dumplings), one of Mary's favorites, were on the appetizer menu, so I ordered them and sort of quietly toasted Mary to myself, not wanting to make a big deal of it, though I think everyone acknowledged the occasion. They were pretty darned good dumplings, I must say.

I haven't written here about Mary much, recently. I still think about her every day, and say goodnight to her every night. I move on with my life, not forgetting, but occasionally I feel sad when I realize that her presence is slowly fading, as it must. Every once in a while, however, she seems to make her presence felt in wonderful, subtle little ways. This happened again, tonight. If I were to describe the circumstances of these occasions, a skeptic (such as I once was) could easily dismiss them. I choose not to, preferring what I would like to think is an open-minded, hopeful, and loving outlook on life and death. Cheers.
:: Ray 10:45 PM [+] ::
:: Friday, February 14, 2003 ::
Chicago Bloggers and Byrd Speaks Again
Last night I met with several Chicago area bloggers for tropical drinks and conversation at Hala Kahiki, a tiki bar in the Western suburbs. Concoctions such as the Chief's Calabash, Prince Kikohiko, and Volcano, were consumed in abundance, and a smashing time was had by all. I attempted a few Lomo shots, the result of which I will see tomorrow, and post if they are any good. Among the attendees: Paul, Heather, Andrew, Cinnamon, Brian, Dave, Sour Bob, Rachael, and Barb.

The elder statesman of the Senate, a voice of sanity whom on this subject would, I believe, make the late Senator Paul Wellstone beam with pride, and a hero of mine for speaking out the way he has, Senator Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, spoke on the Senate floor on Wednesday, February 12, about the ominous silence of that body in the face of a potentially horrific conflict into which the Bush administration seems hellbent on leading us. His remarks, diplomatic and eloquent as always, can be read on Salon, here.

And Happy Valentine's Day!
:: Ray 1:20 PM [+] ::
:: Tuesday, February 11, 2003 ::
Obviously not from the Midwest
Last night I made a winter vegetable soup from the New Basics cookbook. It came out quite tasty and hearty, but I have to chide the authors. The recipe called for rendering the fat from four chopped slices of bacon, then discarding the bacon. Why would I do a silly thing like discarding perfectly good bacon? It stayed in.
:: Ray 11:53 PM [+] ::
:: Monday, February 10, 2003 ::
Speak of the Devil
Tom Tomorrow's This Modern World in today's Salon approximates how I feel about the Bush administration, especially in light of the fact that I work in the travel industry, and people are growing more and more reluctant to book travel because of what they percieve as the impending war. If things don't change soon, Bush's private little war to avenge his daddy, which nobody else wants, could cost me my job.
:: Ray 10:14 AM [+] ::
:: Sunday, February 09, 2003 ::
Playa Time
At long last I have finished. Burning Man 2002 photos and story are now online, for your viewing pleasure. I have been procrastinating about this since September, but for the past couple of weeks and in particular this weekend, I have worked at it, and finally posted the result this afternoon. What finally got me moving was that tickets for 2003 are already on sale! I had to finish and close out last year so I could start planning for this year, which I hope to make bigger and badder. Faithful readers will be kept up to date on all developments.

Said readers may also have noticed that I haven't been very political here for the past couple of weeks. Rest assured, it isn't because I have lost interest. On the contrary, I am so stunned and dismayed at the Bush administration and its perpetrations that I am actually at a loss for words. I am gravely concerned for the future of our country, and right now, I am not sure what to do about it. I am working on this personal dilemna, and as I figure it out, you will be among the first to know.
:: Ray 10:25 PM [+] ::
:: Wednesday, February 05, 2003 ::
Sound Again
Today in the car on the way to work I surfed the dismal radio waves again (WNUR is not as interesting during the day), and landed on one of the rock stations. Then a song came on that took me way back: Def Leppard's Foolin'.

I am not a big heavy metal/arena rock fan, by any means. But back in the twentieth century I worked for a few years at a planetarium in Michigan doing laser shows. One of the shows that I did was a history of rock and roll, which finished with, you guessed it, Foolin'. So of all the heavy metal songs out there, this is the one I am most familiar with (with the possible exception of Zebra's Bears, but that is another blog entry).

It isn't just the music that I remembered in the car today, but the show that went with it. As we did them then, laser shows required quite a bit of human interaction with prerecorded signal to make them interesting. The operator and an assistant had up to four images to move around with a joystick, change size in X and Y axis, adjust brightness, and apply a variety of filters, together with auxilliary, non-laser effects, such as the planetarium starball projector (see notes 1 & 2, below). Foolin' was the big finally, and as such called for a particularly kinetic series of actions to make the imagery as big and bold as the music.

So in my minds eye, as I drove on the Kennedy this afternoon, I was once again at the control panel, manipulating two sliders with each hand, reaching over to hit a button or two at key moments, and seeing the result. It was more interesting than the traffic I was in, that's for sure.

Note 1: This sentence isn't up to my usual grammatical standards, but at the moment I don't have the time or energy to figure out how to correct it.
Note 2: They don't generally do this at genteel planetarium shows, but those projectors can spin the starfield fast enough to make people heave from motion sickness, particularly people that were drinking out in the parking lot before they came in.
:: Ray 6:35 PM [+] ::
:: Tuesday, February 04, 2003 ::
Tonight, in the car on the way to drop off the boy I mentor at home, I found myself tuning to WNUR again, out of dismay at the dismal state of commercial radio in Chicago. I was rewarded with a fascinating piece played on obo and percussion. It wasn't terribly musical in the traditional sense, but I enjoyed it. At one point, the oboist did the best impression of a fast analog white noise sample-and-hold that I have ever heard. He also made sounds that resembled a squeaky wheel on a cart, and a flock of geese. This was all punctuated by seemingly random explosions of percussion.

I knew it was good, because my mentee got so worked up over it. I don't recall his exact words, but he was fairly articulate about how it was the most irritating, screeching thing he had ever heard on the radio. This, of course, drew a smile from me and made me like it even more. Not that I like to torture him, but I do think that exposing him to unconventional things he hasn't experienced before can only be beneficial. So bring on the cacophanous obo.
:: Ray 9:11 PM [+] ::
:: Saturday, February 01, 2003 ::
A friend just told me on the phone that it appears the shuttle Columbia broke up over Texas a while ago. For the first time in my life during an event like this, I didn't run and turn on the TV, and I probably won't. Why not?

Maybe I am getting old. I have been through enough events like this to know that right now nobody knows anything. There might be some footage of debris or something, or the last transmission received, that they are showing ad nauseum, but the anchors are sitting there repeating the same small bit of news, speculating with hastily procured experts about what might have happened, what might have gone wrong. I can imagine enough of those scenarios myself.

I have an active imagination, and it has considered many aspects already. For instance, can you imagine the pallor on the faces of the people watching the telemetry when it stopped coming in? Can you imagine the mood in Israel right now, with the Israeli astronaut on board? For that matter, can you imagine the mood in the rest of the Middle East? I really hope they aren't celebrating in the streets anywhere. That would be a really sad indication of just how tragically misguided this administration's foreign policy has been. For that matter, I also really hope that it does not turn out to be a terrorist that somehow caused this to happen. Having lost my wife suddenly and unexpectedly, I genuinely empathize for the families of the astronauts presumed dead as they realize and then mourn their loss. I don't need TV to sugggest any of these things and, in fact, I think it would be obscene if somewhere, right now, someone was sticking a camera in the faces of family members to get their reactions.

My cats, of course, don't now any of this. They are contentedly sitting with me in bed, having had their morning meal. Somehow, I think a far better use of my time that watching all this on TV would be to spend some of it with them, celebrating the miracle of love and life, and then to get on with my day, being produtive, all the while silently acknowledging the graveness of what just happened.

Finally, there is a terrible irony that occured to me right when I heard this news, one thing that could have made it far, far worse on the national psyche. I say this in all seriousness and no attempt at sick humor: at least it wasn't the second teacher in space.
:: Ray 10:01 AM [+] ::
The Wrigley Building is green! Not actually green, but it is being lit that way for a little Winter light festival that they do on Michigan Avenue. Of course, I took a photo. A few years ago I took a polaroid of the Wrigley Building in blue for the same event. The next time I come across it, I will scan it and post it right here.
:: Ray 1:59 AM [+] ::

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