31 January 2004


Yesterday I took a trip from El Paso to Marfa, Texas, a small town truly in the middle of nowhere.  It took three hours to drive there, and once I left the Interstate after the first hour I saw nothing but desert and mountains until reaching Marfa.  I had never heard of the town before I happened to see a small write up about it in a recent magazine.  In my never ending goal of seeing places just for the sake of going, I decided to check it out.

The film "Giant" was filmed in Marfa in the 1950's, though the town doesn't do a lot to promote it.  The main hotel pays tribute to the cast and crew since they holed up there while filming, but that's it.  I got the impression that while Marfa acknowledges it's "Giant" influence, it would much rather live in the present.  There's a heavy modern art influence in the town, most apparent in its architecture.  Riding into town Marfa looks like a typical small, economically bleak farming town, but once you hit the main drag, it explodes into a bright, modern example of what a little paint can do.  Many of the buildings have been refurbished.  The county courthouse in the middle of town is especially impressive, a structure five stories tall built with a heavy Spanish influence.

The strangest thing about Marfa is that is looks like it is trying so hard to urbanize itself while so far away from anything else.  It's definitely the most remote place I  have visited in this country.  Right smack in the middle of town is a bookstore that doubles as a coffee and wine bar, completely with wireless interent access.  The book selection is a little small, and it looks like a lot of the locals have yet to grasp the concept of a wine bar, but I enjoyed the hour or so I spent in the store. 

Marfa is a place to go back to in a decade or so, when it has had more time to figure out what it wants to be.  I have a feeling that one day I will look back on my day there and realize that I saw it before it became the newest place to be.


30 January 2004

If you insist

I don't care much about the Super Bowl this Sunday, mostly because by the time the game gets here, I will have tuned out the hype accompanying it.  I dislike the fact that the league takes a week off in between the conference championships and the Super Bowl.  There's no advantage to either team by waiting a week.  I'm sure the Houston chamber o' commerce doesn't mind it though, and I have to believe that the NFL gets a cut of that business somehow.

Anyway, if forced to pick a winner, I'll go with the Patriots.  My late, great NFL guru always said never to bet against a team with more than a five game winning streak going, and the Patriots are up to fourteen.  I think it will be closer than most people expect, within a touchdown or so.  New England 20, Carolina 14.

I probably won't see the game as I will be making my way back across the plains back to the land of ice and snow.  Ugh.  I haven't seen a cloud in three days.  I hadn't seen the sun in Chicago for ten days before I left.  It pains me to think that I will not experience temperatures like I have the last week (mid 60's) at home until possibly May.

28 January 2004

Two buildings to see

I've spent the last five days in Houston and San Antonio before coming to El Paso today.  Both cities are hosting major sporting events soon with the Super Bowl in Houston this Sunday, and the NCAA Final Four in SA in April.  Both will be played in fairly new stadiums that I was able to see up close.

Reliant Stadium is Houston is a palace.  I never thought I'd say that about a football field, but it's true.  I couldn't get inside obviously, but from the outside it is a spectacular piece of modern architecture.  The retractable roof alone make it a gem.  I remember the buzz about the Astrodome in the early 1970's.  Reliant was built right next to the Astrodome, and makes it look like a high school gym.

My hotel in San Antonio was right across the street from the Alamo Dome, and I got a chance to explore this place a little bit better than Reliant.  It is an impressive structure as well but lacks the flexibility of a retractable roof, so I doubt the folks in SA will see a football team there anytime soon, but the dome hosts an annual college bowl game and is on the regular rotation for the Final Four.  It has a unique structure that puts it above the domes that I have seen in New Orleans, Minneapolis, Atlanta and Indianapolis.

As impressive as these sights were, it makes me realize what a shame it is that a city like Chicago doesn't have structure like it.  The "new" Soldier Field is an old stadium that was given a spit polish, and the United Center is about three times smaller than the structures in Houston and San Antonio.  Nothing against the folks in Detroit (next year's Super Bowl is at Ford Field, which I have heard is another great place) and San Antonio, but events like these should be in Chicago as well.  For the money that it cost to build Soldier Field and the UC there could be a facility in Chicago that could host both events. 

I'd give up the Bears, Bulls and Blackhawks for it as well. 

Why does the dial only go right?

One thing I enjoy about long trips in my car is sampling the different types of radio out there.  Radio in Chicago has steadily diminshed in quality recently, so I'm always interested in hearing what other parts of the nation sound like.  And even out in the middle of nowhere you can get something on AM.

This trip south is different though.  This afternoon I turned off the AM dial for good, because all I can get down here (Texas) is country, Spanish and right wing talk shows.  Nothing against country, it's just not my style, and  I can't understand Spanish anymore depsite six years of it in school.  What's driven me from AM is the proliferation of the right talk shows.

Did I say talk shows?  Allow me to correct myself.  It's not talk.  It's rant, rave, yell, scream and preach shows.  It's Republicans-can-do-no-wrong-and-all-democrats-are-pigs shows.  Pravda was more objective than this stuff.  And their fearless leader, one Mr. Rush Limbaugh? He's desparately trying to avoid a felony rap on drug possession.  How does this man have any credibility?

Last Sunday afternoon in Houston I took a drive around the loop, a highway that circles downtown for about thirty miles, and noticed that the two main talk stations were playing "best of" bits of their conservative shows, the aforementioned Mr. Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, and a few others that I had never heard of.  In the span of one trip around the loop, I heard the following gems:

"John Kerry?  He looks French!"- Limbaugh

"Howard Dean's speech in Iowa was the scariest video I've seen since Hitler in 1932"-Sean Hannity

"If Al Gore had won the 2000 election (Um, excuse me, but he did win, right?) every major city in America would have suffered there own 9/11 by now"-Michael Savage

I'm all for political discourse, but I'm tired of people telling me why the other side is bad instead of why their side is good.  And I can't understand why this tripe is so popular.  I must be incredibly out of touch with mainstream America.

A new Texas two step

I fell into the San Antonio river Tuesday.  Sort of.  If by "fell" you think that I was completely submerged in the water, then technically I didn't fall into the river.  I guess you could say that my right foot fell into the river, but there's really no reason why I did not go completely in.

Downtown San Antonio is beautiful, and the highlight is the River Walk.  It's a loop of paths that run under the streets next to the San Antonio River.  It's a neighborhood among itself with shops, restaurants, bars and hotels.  The river is about fifteen feet wide and isn't very deep.  It's not particularly guarded either.  I walked about five miles around it today and saw nothing that would prevent anyone from going in.  The Final Four is going to be in San Antonio in March.  Given the revelry that I assume takes place in this town, I would think more than a few Blue Devils, Tar Heels, Wildcats and Huskies might find themselves taking a wrong turn while trying to get back to the Hilton and end up in the drink instead.

Who says you have to be drunk to take a splash at the River Walk?  Certainly not me.  I was walking back towards my starting point this afternoon around two when I had my brush with wetness.  I wasn't paying attention and stumbled on a crack, lost my balance, and started to fall into the river.  My right foot went into the water.  My thoughts were that I was going to actually fall into the river with a blood alcohol reading of .00, and I wondered what would kill me first, drowning or embarrassment?  Somehow, my left foot remained flat on the pavement, and I was able to propel the rest of my body in its direction and save myself from falling completely in.  I have no idea how this happened.  I have a theory, though.  It just wasn't embarrassing enough.  I think that there is a level of embarrassment that brings you to the point of no return, that is, if you reach it, it kills you.  In that situation, if you actually go into the water, you die of embarrassment.  Sure, your lungs might be full of water, but that's only because you decided to suck it all in and drown rather than face the fact that twenty people just saw you fall into a river. 

Not that any of the twenty or so people who saw this asked if I was OK, which was fine with me.  Anyone know how to say "I meant to do that" in German?






26 January 2004

grumble grumble

I realize I'm six days late, but I have some thoughts on the State of the Union speech last week:

1. The President's vision of taking care of the environment was breathtaking!  One of the best policy initiatives I have ever heard!  He should be re-elected solely on this issue alone...wait a sec, I just woke up.  Apparently I was dreaming when I heard him address ANY environmental issues.  No matter your political affiliation, can we all please agree now that this president doesn't give a damn about environmental issues if money for energy companies is not involved?  Please?

2. I am sure the leaders of France, Germany and Russia regret their decisions not to be part of the "coalition of the willing" when the President ran off that impressive list of countries that have joined and contributed.  I think Mr. Bush should have shown a bit more emotion, like Howard Dean in Iowa.  That would have had Chirac, Schroeder and Putin looking out their windows longing for a prom date with the likes of Tonga and El Salvador.

3. Was this the first SOTU where the President says the words "sexually transmitted disease"?  I realize he had to sprinkle some ultra conservative salt into the speech, but how is teen abstinence an issue?  Think about it: what parent doesn't want their teen to abstain?  Why do you need to spend a billion dollars emphasizing it?  One of the things that drive me NUTS about politicians is when they forget what it was like to be an adolescent, because I'm sure ALL politcos that preach abstinence as the only acceptable sex education for teens were virigns until they married.

4. Anyone remember the animated skit on "The Electric Company" where a man in a coffee shop orders a cup of coffee and a sweet roll, only to hear the waitress say that they are out of sweet rolls?  He changes his order to orange juice and a sweet roll, the waitress again tells him that they are out of sweet rolls, and so on it goes until he says "OK, I'll just have a sweet roll."  That's the feeling I got listening to the President demand that Congress make his tax cuts permanent and then segue into a lot more spending .  I get that the President wants us all to have a sweet roll, but you better eat yours now because they aren't going to be any around in a few years.

5. No matter your feeling on gay marriage, you cannot refute this: statistics say that the amount of the US population that is homsexual is around ten percent, which means that there are around 3.5 million gay people living in this country.  I find it puzzling that the President of the country that treasures freedom and liberty above all else would use this speech to tell 3.5 million people that they aren't worthy.

So the President believes marriage needs to be saved from becoming unsacred.  Great!  Can't wait to hear his ideas on getting the divorce rate among "sacred" couples below 50%...

6. Someone please give Ted Kennedy a bogus date for next year's speech.  He really, really does not need to appear on television anymore. 

25 January 2004

On the road again

I'm currenty in Houston, visiting my best friend from college.  I left Tuesday morning from Chicago and drove here, stopping in Kansas City, Oklahoma City and Austin on the way.  Feel bad that I haven't had a chance to update this since Monday and feel the urge to get caught up all in one sitting. 

For me, there is nothing quite like the feeling of getting into my car and driving to places that I have never been to before.  As long as time is not an issue, it is my preferred method of travel.  Since the fall of 2002 I have driven over 30,000 miles through the U.S. visiting cities and places for the first time.  Except for the occassional visit with relatives and friends, and one pilgrimage to Boston to see the Red Sox play at Fenway, I've done it all alone.  And what a time it has been.  I feel like the luckiest man alive for I know that this truly has been a once in a lifetime opportunity.

I've created a lifetime of memories for myself in a little less than a year and a half at an age where most people are focusing on their career and their family.  The travel opportunities usually come later in life, after retirement and an empty nest.  I seem to be doing things in reverse.  At least I hope I am.

19 January 2004

Have yourself a raucous caucus

I don't care how close the caucus is in Iowa today, it can't beat my experience in 1988 when as a freshman at the University of Iowa I decided to take part in the democratic caucus.  One did not necessarily have to be a registered voter in Iowa to participate in the caucus, though no one mentioned the fact that by voting as a registered Illinois voter I would be violating the law.  I hope the statue of limitations on that particular law is less than sixteen years.

A friend and I arrived at the auditorium of the chemistry building on campus soon after the start time.  The place was fairly full but with no sense of organization.  At each doorway were a gaggle of folks that I assumed to be official sponsors, since each was plastered with stickers and buttons for a specific candidate.  To get to a seat we had to wander through them, and they approached us saying the name of their candidate as a question ("Dukakis?" "Gephardt?").  If you've seen "Finding Nemo," think of the scene where Dori and Marlin encounter the seagulls ("Mine? Mine?").  We sat in the section designated for Illinois Senator Paul Simon, and a hyper woman immediately confronted us screaming "Are you a Simon supporter?"  When I answered yes, she was quick to slap a circle shaped sticker on my leather coat with no regard to the time and dexterity that it would take later to remove this sticker with no residual damage.  For those of you appalled that I would take part in this process while not a registered voter, my coat was permanently scarred.

In time everyone was seated and the process began, standard procedure except for the intermittent cheering that would erupt from each candidate's section.  The most vocal group were the supporters of Jesse Jackson, who gave us a predictable yet raucous chant of "J-E-S-S-E" with a slight pause between the S's for accent.  Soon our group countered with "S-I-M-O-N" ( I chose not to participate, though in hindsight I should have chanted "WHO'S-GONNA-FIX-MY-COAT?").  Soon the groups for Gary Hart and Al Gore figured out that they could participate in the battle by combining their candidate's first initial and last name.  

The Babbit, Dukakis and Gephardt groups were out of luck with this particular cadence, though my friend did suggest that we approach the Babbit group and convince them to drop the second "b."

Eventually the groups quieted down and we were polled for our votes.  Aside from some spontaneous candidate spelling, the next hour or so was peaceful.  I had cast my support to the senator from my home state and waited patiently for the final results to be announced.  However, I was not aware of the caucus rule that declared that any candidate that failed to draw a certain percentage of votes cast would not have these results reported in that precinct.  We had one candidate who did not garner the minimum support (who would go on to serve eight years as vice-president, for those of you addicted to irony) and the supporters were then offered a chance to vote for a "second choice" candidate or to declare themselves uncommitted.  This led to another encounter with the gulls that we stationed at the entrances to the auditorium for those in that group.

I did not stick around until the end of the process.  After two hours I made sure that my vote had indeed been counted and chose to leave.  I don't know who "won" that particular precinct, but based upon numbers of people and decibel levels, I have always assumed that it was Jesse Jackson.  And in case John Ashcroft is reading, when I voted in the general election in November, I was a legally registered voter in Iowa.

That is what I remember from sixteen years ago.  I have been impeccable in the care of any leather coats I have had since.



Bet it's ugly in Philly today

So much for "Dononvan McNabb beats Jake Delhomme."  How did this happen?  I have to admit that I saw very little of this game, but after reading the paper it seems clear that the Eagles have sports' largest choking complex (yes, even more so than my beloved Cubs).  At least I was right about the Patriots, and the Colts inability to win a big January game outdoors.  Didn't do too bad on predicting the final scores as well.

My father/NFL guru always advised me never to go against a team that had a winning streak of more than five games, so I have to go with New England in the Super Bowl.  If the Pats win, they'll finish 17-2 with a 15 game winning streak.  Think about this: they lost to Buffalo and Washington this year, two teams that combined for less regular season wins than the Patriots.  I'll have to do some research, but I'd bet that no other team that had a chance to go 19-0 lost to one or two worse teams. 

Read before you rant

Seems I did not do as much reading about NASA and their decision to let the Hubble space telescope go obsolete as I should have.  If I had done a little more research, I would have found that they already had plans to scrap Hubble by 2011 and launch a new, improved version named for James Webb.  The decision NASA made last week only speeds up Hubble's demise.  As for now, it does nothing to change the plans for the Webb telescope.  I'm still not a fan of going to Mars, but as long as we continue to explore the parts of space we will never visit, I can live with it.

18 January 2004

Say goodnight, Hubble

I'm more than a little dismayed at the news NASA dropped Friday, that they have canceled all servicing missions to the Hubble Space Telescope.  And I have more trouble with the reasoning, that the money committed to Hubble needs to go instead to the president's initiative to go back to the moon and put astronauts on Mars.

I've been an astronomy junkie most of my life.  I would be spending my life sequestered in the catacombs of a huge radio telescope somewhere if I ever could have grasped the concept of physics.  Nothing I've done or accomplished on this Earth quite compares to looking up at the stars while standing in the middle of nowhere trying to contemplate what it all is.  I still have newspapers chronicling the achievements of the Voyager and Pioneer spacecrafts as they photographed the outer planets of our Solar System, events we had to wait years in between for, as the vessels crept towards their next destination.

Hubble changed all that.  Hubble brought the stars and nebulas millions and millions of years away to us, and did it in an astronomical heartbeat.  I'd rather continue seeing the edges of the Universe than Man's footprints on Mars.  I know Hubble was not meant to last forever, but it is wrong to speed up its demise.  Because of Hubble,  tonight I can go outside, find the Plaedies and know what color the gas is that radiates from its center.  I'm not prepared to give up that type of knowledge just so that someone can step on Mars probably after I have left this world. 

Some betting advice

Patriots 24  Colts 21

I don't think Zeus could perform better than Peyton Manning has the last two weeks, but I can't go against a team that has won thirteen games in a row and is dominant at home.  Factor in the history of dome teams playing big games outside in cold weather, and New England is the pick.  This should be a great game though.  Honestly, I hope my pick is wrong.  I'd rather see the Colts in the Super Bowl.

Eagles 21  Panthers 3

I just don't see how the Panthers can win this game with the matchup of QB's.  Donovan McNabb has been in these types of games before, though without much success (see pre-2004 Peyton Manning), but experience alone gives him an edge over Jake Delhomme.  Maybe this game is closer if Panther's running back Stephen Davis can play, but I still think the Eagles get a defensive TD and get to the Super Bowl (um, am I allowed to say "Super Bowl?"  I love the various radio and TV ads around this time of the year where they have to come up with clever names for the game, since the NFL won't let them use it for some reason) where they will lose to whomever wins in Foxboro today.

The NFL has to get rid of the off week before the Super Bowl.  By the time the game gets here, I'll have forgotten about it and will need to spend the first quarter reacquainting myself with the participants.

16 January 2004

Michael Jackson

Even if you're like me, sick, sick, sick of the media overhype to this wacko, if you haven't seen the footage of him arriving and leaving the courthouse today for his arraignment, you are missing something.  The "Mary Poppins" moments with the umbrella are worth it alone.

I understand that when he was asked how he pleaded, he responded "Mama say, mama sa, ma ma cu sa".

And I promise you that I will never grace the words of this blog with him ever again.

This is good

I swear, I have not laughed as hard as I did during the hour or so I spent checking out this website.  Make sure you go to the "strong bad emails".


How long til spring training?

I see where the Cubs have hired ex-Boston Red Sox manager Grady Little as a scout and consultant.  You may remember Grady's performance in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series last October against the Yankees when he let Pedro Martinez continue to pitch in the eighth inning with the Sox leading 5-2.  New York scored three runs to tie the game and eventually won it in extra innings.  The day before, of course, the Cubs lost Game 7 of their series to Florida Marlins.

A Cubs-Red Sox world series would have been the greatest sports event in recent history.  The fact that both teams were in a situation where they were only five outs away with a three run lead from advancing is a bit too coincdental for me, though I do not believe that either team is cursed.  Perpetually scorned, maybe, but not curse.  That being said, the irony of the Cubs hiring Little is too much to ignore. 

Think Steve Bartman has applied for the job of head groundskeeper? 

What's the use?

In my continuing jobless world (seventeen months and counting) I have spent a ton of time trying to hone my writing skills.  It's been tougher than I expected.  I write and then I edit, which tends to get rid of most of the writing.  I'm not going to do that here.  Whatever I post will stay, even if it makes me cringe when I go back and read it two hours later.  The proliferation of web journals lately makes it easy for anybody to get their ideas and thoughts "out there", and I am only too happy to join up. 

A few notes: first, it doesn't look like there is a spell check available on this, and while I am confident in my spelling and grammar abilities I am sure there will be many errors.  I'll do my best to keep it readable.  Second, I'm not trying to force any opinions on anyone who happens to stop by here.  Any thoughts expressed are my own and I don't expect everyone, or anyone I suppose, to agree with me.  Lastly, I'm still moronic when it comes to doing technical things like adding links.  I'm sure at one point I may try to refer you a news website that takes you to the home shopping network instead.  I'll get better as I go along.

If indeed anyone is reading this, I appreciate you taking the time to check this out.  I will read and respond to any comments you might have, and don't worry about offending me.