Thursday, May 24, 2007

Wildfire weary city places 60-day ban on fireworks

Weary from extreme drought and a record wildfire still burning after five weeks, the Chicago Fire Department on Thursday banned fireworks for the next 60 days--a period including the Memorial Day and Fourth of July holidays.

"Fireworks by design are somewhat volatile and sometimes unpredictable," a spokesman said. "They have a proven track record of causing fires, and that's in conditions less dry than this."

The largest wildfire recorded in Chicago since the Great Fire of 1871 started in a south side warehouse April 16. Since then, numerous fires have destroyed property and caused traffic nightmares, shutting down interstates and Metra lines.

The current blaze, now centered in Hegewich, has burned 496,785 acres--or 776 square miles--of low income housing and shuttered factories. It has destroyed countless homes and lives.

A spokesman for the Fireworks Association of Illinois said the city has unfairly singled out fireworks when cigarettes, barbecue grills and lawn mowers can also start fires.

"We can ban fireworks and that's not going to stop wildfires," the spokesman said. "It's an inappropriate response, targeting one product when we should be looking at general fire safety. A more appropriate response would be banning lightning strikes within the city."

The fire commission is undeterred, noting that more than half of the city faces "extreme" fire danger--the most severe rating. At the current rate, if the fire is not struck, the entire city will be burned down within a month.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Gimme five

  • five more terms
  • five more corruption scandals
  • five more miles of unenforced bicycle lanes
  • five more minutes to explain myself
  • five more dollars for Christmas this year
  • five chocolate-covered cicadas, please

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Ideal cricket pitch

Tucked away in the southeast corner of Warren Park, between the golf course and the neighborhood, is an ideal cricket pitch. (I think it's called a pitch. I was told that the spot is ideal.) A long, straight sidewalk allows the "bowler" to run and bounce the ball towards the wickets. The batter then can swing and send the ball in any given direction.

I know very little about cricket. I did try playing once a couple of years back, and on the very first ball thrown to me, I made an out. There I was, swinging this odd, flat bat, leaning over uncomfortably, and the kid threw the ball right at me. Naturally, I jumped out of the way. The ball hit the wickets. I was out. Apparently, you're supposed to protect the wickets by swinging and hitting the ball. For someone growing up playing baseball, however, the natural reaction is self-preservation, jumping out of the way. Anyway, I was out. On defense I was useless because I had no idea what to do with the ball once I caught up to it.

At Warren Park on Saturday, I saw a few kids setting up the wickets, swinging that odd bat of theirs. What happened next shows how communal the game is. An older man with three little girls walked past. He paused, asked the kids to show him the ball. Then, he started pitching to them. He played for 10, 15 minutes. I took a couple of pictures. He left.

I can't imagine an older man approaching a bunch of kids and joining a sandlot game of baseball or a pickup game of basketball. Kids and adults don't mix that way. Maybe this says something about the games. Or the cultures playing the games. Or maybe it doesn't mean much of anything.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Once you start mocking, you just can't stop

From the Tribune: Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama mocked President Bush during an appearance on ABC News' "This Week with George Stephanopoulos":

"It's not just talking tough, because the truth is nobody's talked tougher than George Bush over the last six years. Being tough means, first of all, not having to talk about it all the time," Obama said.
Of course Bush wasn't in the room when Obama mocked him. If he had been, what might it have looked like? Perhaps like this ...
"Oooh ... mission accomplished, huh, W.?"

With the favorable news coverage, Obama could then go on to mock other opponents:
"Oooh ... you've got Secret Service protection, huh? Well, so do I."

And he could hit other Democratic hopefuls, like John Edwards:
"You and Kerry couldn't even beat the Worst President Ever!"

Then, on to Joe Biden:
"I'll give you 'articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.'"

Why stop? It's the primaries, but might as well hit those Republicans:
"Oooh ... why don't you and Bush get a room, McCain?"

And let's not forget Rudy:
"What's a-matter? Your ex-wives giving you a headache?"

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Chicago celebs hope to save city's Olympic logo

News Item: Chicago’s 2016 Olympics logo must be trashed in favor of a new one. Whatever billboards, T-shirts and stationery that are still left over bearing that symbol will be deep-sixed as well.
Chicagoans are in a tizzy about the International Olympic Committee's demand to redesign our logo, and prominent area residents have even started a Save-the-Logo campaign. So far, three celebrities have amputated their thumbs and replaced them with the Flaming Sears Tower, as it's officially called.

Studs Terkel makes history with his new thumb and turns 95.

Oprah knows she can't single-handedly change the IOC decision.

Ebert gives the logo the Torch-Up

Road Rage part 1: Three cars, three near-misses

News Item: Miami has rudest drivers, Portland has fewest cases of road rage, Chicago ranks number 7 in annual list.
Two places I would consider moving to without ever having visited--Miami and Portland--are at opposite spectrums when it comes to anger on the roads. Neither city has a nasty winter, yet they are opposites. Miami I'd move to for the heat, the sun, the beaches, the bikinis, the hurricanes; Portland for the environment and environmentalists, the mountains, the cool weather and cool kids, the rain and the manic depression. Opposites--like my moods in any given week, or day, or hour.

This road rage survey, though, has got me thinking. Of how Chicago compares to some places I'd like to move to. Of my own driving experiences. Of the times I've come close to dying. They're connected.

I love to travel. And I love to drive. However, when I travel, I hate to drive. But still. I've done some adventurous stuff on my travels--white water rafting with non-English speaking guides, hiking up mountains here and there, cycling on Beijing streets. But I'd say the times I've come closest to death all happened here in Chicago, while driving, while antagonizing or being antagonized by other drivers.

These must have been significant events because I remember details clearly. Usually I have a hard time remembering who I talked to and what we said 10 minutes ago. So, when something stands out, there must be a reason.

Here are three near-misses, all while driving different cars at different points in my life:

Car 1: 1980 Buick Regal
Age: 16

What happened: I had probably been driving for a month. So, of course, I sucked. Heading east on Addison, over the Kennedy expressway, I quickly (and without really checked) switched lanes to avoid getting stuck behind some people turning left. I heard screeching brakes, a blaring horn, and someone yelling. Oops. Thankfully he stopped in time. However, he didn't stop there.

The other driver gunned his engine, cut around me, and slammed his brakes, cutting me off and stopping perpendicular to sidewalk right in front of me. Sort of like a cop stopping a suspect. The other driver jumped out of his car and came running at me, screaming his head off. With cars piling up behind me, I had nowhere to go.

Here's the thing: The guy was probably 5-5, maybe 5-6, 150 pounds, balding, wearing glasses and a shirt and tie. Red in the face, about to have a heart attack, giving me hell for cutting him off. I've never been a big guy, or a fighter, but I probably could've kicked his ass. Then again, in his state, he looked pretty violent and plenty scary. I rolled up my window and just sat there, hoping everyone else would at least serve as witnesses. Eventually, because there was enough honking and I guess because I ignored him long enough, he jumped in his car and screeched off.

Other than the memory of this event, what I took from this experience was this: always use your turn signal. Also: Ignore maniacs and eventually they'll go away. This is what I now recommend to anyone complaining about our current president. Patience, friends.

Car 2: 1995 Honda Civic VX
Age: 29

What happened: You know, long before the hybrids came out, there was this Civic. I was pretty fanatical about it when I first got it, so this I remember: Several times, I got more than 50 miles to a gallon. This was highway driving, it wasn't that great in the city, but seriously, I don't see what's so great about the current hybrids getting 40, 50 miles to a gallon when my Civic was getting that in the mid-90s.

Whatever. When I moved to Japan, I kept my trusty Civic in my parents' garage. When I returned, I was almost a new driver again. I kept wanting to drive on the wrong side of the road. No, that's a lie, because I only drove once in two years in Japan. But I guess I did a lot of cycling on the streets there, so maybe I did get used to going the opposite direction.

In any case. One time I was turning right onto Clark, waiting for a space in traffic, when a taxi behind me decided to swerve around me and make the turn ahead of me. He did it very maliciously, angrily. And so it pissed me off. I gunned my trusty VX engine, cutting him off and speeding south towards Peterson. Clark is wide on this stretch, so the taxi driver decided to pass me on the right. I cut him off before he had a chance, so he bounced into the left lane, tried passing, and I cut him off again. Eventually we were both stopped, side-by-side, screaming, him about me being a complete asshole and me about him going back to his country where he could drive however the hell he wanted because here we don't cut people off.

I could describe him in detail. But I won't. I'm a bit embarrassed about this situation and I'd like to think I wouldn't do it again. My evidence is that I haven't done anything like it since.

Car 3: 2004 Toyota Corolla
Age: 36

Whatever: Returning from a party one recent Saturday at about 10 p.m. (yeah, I can be that lame), I realized some guy was tailgating me. This was on Devon around Harlem, heading east. I don't think I did anything to him, but anything's possible I suppose. I sped up a bit. He sped up. I slowed way the hell down. He stayed right there on my bumper. So I did what I thought was most proper: I signaled, pulled over into the parking lane, and let him pass. When he was about a half-a-block ahead of me, I pulled back into traffic, expecting to continue on my merry way. I figured he just wanted to pass me, so this would make him happy. Was he happy, though?

Nope. As soon as I was driving again, he slammed on his brakes. In the middle of the road. I was still well back of him, but I slowed down, looking for escape routes. He pulled over, did exactly what I had just done, so I passed him and kept driving. He pulled back into traffic and once again got up right behind me and stayed there, mere inches from my bumper, gunning his engine and slamming on his brakes, trying to intimidate me to do ... something. I went into ignore mode. I drove the speed limit. I drove 5 over the limit. When the road became two lanes, other drivers passed me on the left. My friend stayed right behind me.

At one red light, I glanced in my rearview mirror. He was yelling, wagging his finger at me. Youngish guy, hair buzzed, that's about the best way I could describe him, although I would say he definitely looked Polish.

I had a ways to go, but I figured if he was still behind me when I got to my neighborhood, I'd just pull up to the local police station. We could go from there. Eventually, though, at Kedzie, he unexpectedly turned left, and sped off.

Lesson learned: None.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

$50 million -- for what? CPS study shows gangs gain little

CHICAGO (ap) -- The Chicago Public Schools spent $50 million in federal money on after-school target practice for 56,000 gang members last year but police reports show it got limited bang for its buck.

Just days after five students were hit by a spray of bullets when one gang member opened fire at another on a CTA bus, CPS officials publicly wondered whether the target practice is worth the money. It's mandated by the federal No Criminal Left Behind law to improve the accuracy of gang members who have trouble shooting their intended targets. The state approves the target practice firms and can remove them after two years of poor performance.

"It's a minimal impact, at best," said one official who oversees target practice for CPS. "On the micro level, I believe there are kids who need it and it's doing great things. But at the macro level, for the amount of investment, I would want to see more output, more actual rival gang members getting killed and fewer innocent bystanders getting caught in the crossfire."

Forty-one private gun clubs, plus CPS worked in 324 schools last year. CPS analyzed data from 10 firms, mostly the larger ones that ran target practice at least 30 hours.

Which firms helped gang members make the biggest gains in accuracy? The following list ranks firms that showed a small but "significant'' uptick in shooting performance compared to gains by other low-life, low-accuracy gang members who didn't receive target practice.

1. Ed's Solutions, Inc.--You got a problem?

2. Shooting Specialities, Inc.

3. School Shooting Systems

4. SCORE! Shooting Centers, Inc.

5. HeadWound Home Tutoring (online)

6. One-to-One Combat Center

7. Ready, A.I.M. High, Fire - CPS

8. NCLB Target Centers

9. Club .22! Target Services

10. Failure Free Shooting

* With apologies to the real study.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Community alert: 'Tank' emerges from County a new man

A Bears spokesman says, 'Here's the situation you're in Tank; you can go either way, and it's up to you.' "

His mom expects him to "resume his life without much interruption."

And so it's off to the gun show!

Tank you very much!