Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

You asked for it: The New BlogFreeSpringfield

Hamburger Helper Potatoes Stroganoff

You will need:

1 lb. hamburger meat

1¼ cups milk

2 cups hot water


Brown hamburger meat in 10-inch skillet; drain.

Stir in milk, hot water, Sauce Mix and uncooked Potatoes.

Heat to boiling, stirring occasionally.

Reduce heat; cover and simmer about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender.

Remove from heat and uncover (sauce will thicken as it stands).

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Crap Tablet (edited) (updated)

Here's my latest SJ-R column. I liked it, by then again, I'm a partial to my own musings. If I were to be objective, I'd say that you could probably skip it and not miss much.

Update I was remiss in not linking to another SJ-R article, written by Chris Young and focused on local historian, amateur photographer, and keeper of massive amounts of trivial knowledge, Russ Friedewald and his Springfield Rewind Web site. No profanity was used in the making of that article.

Thanks to everyone who filled out the user survey. I haven't done an extensive analysis of the results yet, but a cursory glance suggests that most of you would prefer that I shut up about music and politics and just provide recipes suitable for a family on a budget. I have to admit, I'm a bit surprised as that's not what I thought BFS was about But I'm nothing if not accommodating so look for a "2,000 Ways to Make Hamburger Helper Work for You" feature to appear on a regular basis.

I'm "this much" closer to having a BFS T-shirt to give away to those who want one, but not everyone. Russ designed several killer logos and we have a shirt in the works.

The Firefighters Club trivia night is next Saturday. It's proven to be the most entertaining of trivia nights and emcee Allen Reyne is a local treasure. If you 'd like to come and compete for second place, click here for details.

I've never embedded a video before, but all the cool people are doing it, so I thought I'd give it a go. This is a totally captivating video by a cool chic goes by the name a' Feist. I'll leave you with this. Look for bigger and better things ahead.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

You won't want to miss out on this!

There’s still time to take the BFS User Survey. I forgot to mention it earlier, but if you make a wish before taking it, and then answer all ten questions, then your wish will come true or something. Don’t ask me how, but it works.

BlogFreeSpringfield User Survey

Monday, November 05, 2007

Take our survey . . . Please!

AT BFS, we’re committed to occasionally providing you with something to read when you’re bored at work. To better attune ourselves to your interests, we’re asking that you complete a brief survey that can be accessed through this link.* There are nine multiple choice questions and a tenth where you will be asked to comment on how we can better serve your blogging needs. Feel free to be blunt, our feelings aren’t easily compromised.

Take a moment, won’t you, and complete this important survey. All entries will be eligible for a prize, although you’ll have to be content with just being eligible as there are no plans to award prizes at this time.

With your help, we can build a stronger BlogFreeSpringfield.

BlogFreeSpringfield User Survey

*(The survey is hosted by Survey Monkey, by all accounts, a reputable concern. You can access it without fear of corruptive intrusions or inappropriate content. Trust me on this.)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

. . . in which I confess to the Almighty Gods of Rock.

Over yonder at Slate, they asked some authors to name the book they feel most guilty about having never read. Most of them picked a title that is generally considered to be a classic, written by an author generally considered to be a big dog in literary circles.

Many of the people interviewed have actually started to read the book at issue and they offer a litany of reasons for why they haven’t finished it. It’s interesting that none of them said, however, what is probably the real reason: they just don’t care for the book.

It’s not easy to admit that you don’t appreciate a work that your aspirational peers admire. There can be a certain shame involved because you end up not faulting the work, but your own inability to grasp its greatness. Perhaps you’re too simple or shallow. Maybe you went to the wrong schools. Maybe it’s genetic. Whatever shortcomings you lay at your own feet, it’s best to keep them to yourself and go along with what your “betters” have established to be true.

All of this set me to thinking about things I should like, but don’t. Not a guilty pleasure, but a guilty annoyance, if you will. For the interest of this blog, I’ll concentrate on music, since that seems to be a favorite topic of suggestion.

Some in my set like Dave Matthews, but I don’t feel guilty about finding him insufferable. I’ve run with some Deadheads in my day, but despite a brief dalliance (I once owned American Beauty), I don’t feel the need to pretend that I enjoy their incessant noodling. Then there are the authentic rockers like Tom Petty or Eric Clapton, who portray none of the preening or pretentiousness that I despise, yet who, with few exceptions (American Girl), still fail to move me with their music and can even be the source of great annoyance (Jammin’ Me. Lord do I hate that song.)

I can stand by my dislike of these musicians without feeling unhip or stunted in some manner. It’s much harder for me to admit that . . . that I . . . I . . I don’t like the Beatles, OKAY!

Just keep walking, boys.

Well, perhaps don’t like is too strong. But I can no longer count myself as a Beatles fan.

Now let’s be clear about one thing, I have the utmost respect for their talent and their body of work. There can be no doubt that they’ve written some great songs. They are one of the most groundbreaking bands in the history of popular music and their influence is beyond measure. I’ve enjoyed listening to them in the past, but for some reason, I don’t anymore.

What’s troubling is that I don’t know why.

Some might suggest that I’ve forsaken the past for more modern sounds, but if that were the case, then why do I still love the Kinks? Clearly, I can commit to a long-term relationship with a band, even after younger, more attractive bands start to catch me eye.

Others might say that I’m a music snob and am thus put off by the Beatles massive mainstream following. I’ll admit that my CD collection contains few top Billboard artists, but I can assure you that even in the deepest recesses of the indie rock world, there is no cachet to be had by dissing the Fab Four.

The only reason I can come up with, and this probably doesn’t really explain it, is that I’m not a big fan of Lennon or McCartney as vocalists. Again, this is no indictment on their abilities, it’s just that you either like a singer’s voice or you don’t and it may have nothing to do with his range or tonality.

It’s perhaps revealing that my two favorite Beatles songs aren’t Beatles songs, they’re George Harrison songs. What Is Life is in heavy rotation during our weekly dance parties and My Sweet Lord is one of my favorite inspirationals. Clearly it’s not an anti-Liverpool bias that drives my indifference to the lads, so perhaps there is something about the group dynamic that I subconsciously find off-putting.

Could it be that I resent the second-class status that Ringo was laden with? Was it the mockery that became of the Lennon-McCartney collaboration? Was it Yoko? Linda?

I’ll probably never know. But what I would like to know is what is your guilty annoyance? What band just doesn’t rock you like you think that they should?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Stuff I can comment on because I have a blog but is otherwise unremarkable.

Dining Out
Thanks for all of the dining suggestions. We ended up at D'Arcy's, just as I hoped we would. My wife didn't want to go there because the last time her parents were in town, we waited over an hour for a table at Springfield's favorite Irishesque pub. With four kids in tow, this was not an easy wait. This time, we had a table in under 30 minutes. The roast beef ponyshoe and pint of Guinness were divine. And two of my favorite BFS commentors were bellied up to the bar.

Andrew Bujalski
If you like small movies (no car chases or actors you've heard of before), then take a rent on Funny Ha Ha and Mutual Appreciation. Both movies have lead characters that, after five minutes in, you'll swear that you'll despise. But get past that point, and you'll become captivated by their performances. It's really good stuff.

Sunday afternoons will often find us availing ourselves of Springfield's finest parks. We'll usually hit two or three, mastering the monkey bars at one before looking for a faster slide at another. Three or four hours later, we're ready for refreshment. The problem is, while the kids are craving a big scoop of ice cream, my wife and I are more in the mood for a pint and some chips and salsa. What's a family to do? Of course, you get the kids their ice cream and deprive yourself of a frosty ale. But why should that be?

If someone really wanted to take over the ice cream parlor market in this country, they'd add 31 craft beers to their selection. It amazes me that no one has adopted this business model yet.

Goodwill Hunting
I went to the Goodwill store last week to look for potential Halloween costumes for the kids. This in itself is a cause of discomfort because clothing that I might find scary or funny, some other parent might think is perfect for class picture day. I'm not above poking fun of people's fashion choices, but not when it comes to kids.

After coming up empty on potential costumes, I decided to browse through the men's clothing. There, among the flannels and other plaid clothing, was a rather hip-looking striped oxford from the Gap company. It was my size and in good condition. It was priced to move at $3.75. I walked out of the store with only the shirt on my back.

So I ask you, should a person of means feel guilty, as I did, of availing themselves of the affordable clothing at Goodwill? Can you partake of government cheese when your dairy crisper is well-stocked with Kraft Singles?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Wanted: Good restaurant for casual dining experience this Friday. Dinner, drinks, possibly dessert. Must adore children. No chain restaurants, please.

My in-laws are visiting this weekend and they want to take us to dinner on Friday night. We’re looking for a kid-tolerant restaurant that serves food that’s perhaps a step or two above the fare at TGITueBees. We'd like to be able to make reservations, but that's not a deal breaker. If you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them. And please, be respectful of each others recommendations.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Should the Boss just shut up and sing?

I think so.

I have a friend, a frequenter of this blog, who is a big fan of Bruce Springsteen’s music. He isn’t, however, a big fan of Bruce’s particular brand of politics. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, except that he, Bruce, has become quite vocal about expressing his various points-of-view. So along with stories of Mary cross the Jersey shore, a Springsteen concert-goer must also be up for some progressive lecturing.

I can understand how Bruce came to this point. After millions of Americans misinterpreted the lyrics to Born in the U.S.A. and reacted as if it was a flag-waving anthem, he probably felt that in order to articulate his message more clearly, he would have to spell it out between songs so that it doesn’t get lost amidst a wailing saxophone solo.

But somewhere along the way to superstardom, Bruce has forgotten why people line up to see him. His fans don’t buy his albums and attend his concerts because they feel that his music will lead to a shift in the political landscape that will in turn evoke positive changes to our society. No, they do so because they feel that his music rocks and they like to be rocked or in some other way emotionally moved by the sounds emanating from the stage.

It’s good that musicians aren’t apathetic to the issues of the day and they have just as much right to let their views be known as anyone else. But they must remember that the stage isn’t a soapbox and that they didn’t earn their place on that stage because of their astute political musings.

I’m sure none of us would appreciate it if, during a routine physical, the doctor changed the topic of conversation from our health to her views on the environment. Even if we agree with those views, we’re paying her to find out if our 245 mg/dL cholesterol level means that we’ll have to cut down on buttered bacon nachos, not to learn the effect the Kyoto agreement will have on third world economies.

Yet more and more entertainers feel that, for the right to pay $100 for their concert ticket, we are obliged to listen to them offer up political slogans while the guitarist takes a moment to strap on the double-neck Stratocaster.

Pity the meat-eschewing metalhead who just once would like to hear Wango Tango live without being emasculated by Uncle Ted’s carnivorous rants. And, at the other end of the tract, I’m sure that many a rancher have been left weeping at a Smith’s concert by Morrissey’s none-too-subtle suggestion that meat is murder.

Musicians have always pandered to their audiences, usually by offering up a crowd pleasing, profanity-accented tribute to their hometown. While “Bush sucks!” is a fairly widespread sentiment, it’s not universal. So why would someone want to offend or irritate one of their fans over an issue that isn’t even relevant to the occasion at hand?

Granted there are exceptions. If you go to an Earth Day concert or see Steve Earle while he’s supporting one of his protest albums, then you should expect to get a heavy dose of ideological dialogue. Even then, to most in attendence it’s still about the music, not rocking the vote.

Whatever Bruce aspires to be, to his audience he’s the guy who sings some of their favorite songs. That’s a pretty good gig. He shouldn’t jeopardize it by playing political pundit while he’s on the audience’s dime.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


I intended to write about the Andrew Sallenger case last week, but just didn’t have the time. You’ll recall that in 2002 (okay, you might not remember the exact year) police were called by Sallenger’s family after he had began acting bizarrely and frightfully. After a long struggle with the police, Sallenger, who was overweight, mentally ill and had a heart ailment, stopped breathing. He was revived but died 24 hours later at the hospital.

I’m not sure that I have much to say on it except that it is a sad story. I can understand why the grief-stricken family believes that their brother and son had his life unfairly taken. I’m just not sure what the police should have done differently.

Since I didn’t hear the entire amount of testimony and wasn’t privy to all of the evidence, I won’t make a judgment as to whether the police are responsible for his death. But I would like to pose some questions of a more general nature to you.

What should the police do when a person refuses to be put under arrest? Are tasers or nightsticks too much? Is there a point when the police should retreat, similar to when a high-speed chase is called off? Perhaps wait until the person falls asleep or is in a more congenial mood.

If a person is an imminent danger to himself or others, should the police use different methods for subduing him if he is mentally ill? What if the person is drunk or on drugs, should that affect the degree of force that is used?

Should the police even try to ascertain a person’s mental condition while he is still posing a danger?

Is there anyway the police can tell when someone is resisting, not because he wants to avoid arrest or because he wants to hurt someone, but because he is so frightened that he doesn’t know how else to react?

I’ll hang up and listen.

I would like to make one brief defense for the police that I would have probably ended up making in the comments section anyway.

If you or I, as civilians, encounter someone brandishing a gun, wielding a pitchfork or who is in any other way acting menacing, we have the option of fleeing for our safety and then calling the police. The police don’t have this option. They must confront the danger until the danger subsides. I think this fact sometimes gets lost when Monday morning quarterbacking the actions of the police. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t question what the police do or that they are never in the wrong, it’s just meant to provide a bit of perspective that we may lack having never walked in their shiny black shoes.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Chicago, Beer, and Jenna Fischer

Run, Tammy, Run
My wife Tammy has been on a months-long odyssey that will culminate this Sunday when she will complete the Chicago Marathon.

When she embarked on this journey, at the urging of a friend in NYC who was looking for a figurative mountain to climb, I had my doubts that Tammy was up to running 26 miles. It wasn’t her fitness or determination that I questioned, it was the not-insignificant fact that she wasn’t a runner. Swimming, ellipticalling, yoga-ing, weightlifting – yes. But she didn’t run and didn’t really like running so the idea that she would be able to run a marathon seemed as likely as me being able to sit through a James Blunt concert.

Well, I’m about to be proven foolish once again. She’s already completed a 20-mile run during her training regimen, so barring an injury or an alarm clock with a confounding AM/PM button, she’ll be crossing the finish line sometime Sunday afternoon, and most likely won’t stop until she reaches the nearest saloon.

God's Speed, Tammy and Tara!

Wo der schadenfreude ist?*
I turned to the sports page this morning to see how the Cubs fared. After reading the score, I wanted to be happy that they lost again – honest I did. But there was something missing. Where was the spite? Where was the schadenfreude? What demon had invaded my soul, leaving me incapable of finding joy in the simplest and most common of life’s pleasures?

The truth is, the Cubs two games to none deficit has left me feeling conflicted. I think of certain friends, nephews and brothers-in-law – and, yes, even Ron Santo, the poster boy for pathos – and I can’t help but feel sad that they are being denied a chance to celebrate after suffering through futility for so long. Maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if the Cubs finally won it all. But just once.

Imitation Friday Beer Blogging
I have an
article in the Heartland Magazine today on breweriana (beer-related items) collectors. They’re having their annual show at the Signature Inn tomorrow from 9:00 am until 2 pm. As you all probably know, the Signature Inn is on Stevenson, not Dirksen, as I mistakenly wrote in the article. I’m an idiot and have no excuse.

Anyway, if any of you bloggers-of-a-certain-age want to rekindle your passion for beer can collecting (it was quite the rage in the 70s and early 80s), or if any of you younger types are ready to moth ball those Pokemon cards and want to start collecting something more adult in nature, you should head on over to the Signature tomorrow. The people I interviewed for the story are really interesting and fun. Just don’t ask if you can drink one of their 65-year-old pilsners. Unlike wine, beer doesn’t become refined with age.

Love Office Style

I normally don’t get caught up in the romantic, will they or won’t they story lines that are woven into sitcoms. I’m in it strictly for the laughs. I must admit, however, that I was a bit touched when Pam and Jim were holding hands in last week’s episode of the Office. I really hope those two kids make it.

Isn't Pam just adorable?

*This was translated using an online program and as such is probably unintelligible to our German-speaking friends.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


I’ve long harbored a secret desire to be an advice columnist, but I’ve never been one of those people who always know just the right thing to say nor are people particularly inclined to seek my counsel. But as a blogger I have a legitimacy that I lack as a regular guy, because I have a host of commentors who can bolster my shortcomings on any matter. So today brings us the first edition of Ask BFS, in which a real life person seeks our advice and we provide succor by sharing our knowledge and experiences.

(Clarification: the idea here is that you, the commentor, can contribute to the advice giving. So in this first installment, you would help Nancy find a song that tells a story of good triumphing over evil. Unfortunately, the first commentor felt that this would be an appropriate outlet to confess his most Dahmer-like feelings. It is not.)

Hey (BlogFreeSpringfield),

Mitch has an assignment for religion class to find and print the lyrics to a song that tells the "story" of good overcoming evil. Rob and I have thought of a few loose translations (several Beatles songs, "Racist Friend" by TMBG, etc) but I'm wondering if you can think of a more literal example.

I'm a little upset with the teacher in this class, because while I love the idea of incorporating modern music into a religion curriculum, the example that she brought to class was a Rascal Flatts song. I don't pay hard earned money for a Catholic education to have him exposed to that kind of musical blasphemy. That's what public schools are for. I feel a little violated that we weren't given a heads up that that type of music was going to just kind of wantonly be played during school hours.

Normally, Mitch is very open to alternative styles of music, so that's what we're looking for here.

Thanks for any help


Dear Nancy,

Tell young Mitch to go out to play, we at BFS are happy to do his homework for him.

An obvious example of good over evil set to music is Charlie Daniels’ the Devil Went Down to Georgia, but people don’t appeal to BFS for easy answers. Besides, to our ears, the devil won that contest.

So what other songs can we look to?

If you’re inclined to believe, as we are, that the crew of the Edmund Fitzgerald was inherently evil, then the “hurricane West Wind” could certainly represent the wrath of a vengeful god, and so, the crew’s ultimate demise is then the triumph of good. Of course this would make Gordon Lightfoot, who idolizes the fallen men of the Fitzgerald, a apostate, but that was already clear to us after the release of Rainy Day People. I’m sure Lightfoot intended his maritime story to play as a tragedy, but we say they got what was coming to them.

The Pina Colada Song offers a morality tale, of sorts. A man hell-bent on engaging in an adulterous and rain-soaked tryst, one fueled by copious amounts of a rum-based concoction, instead chooses fidelity as the result of an improbable quirk of fate. One is compelled to ask, however, if the two people in the story aren’t somehow defective, cognitive-wise. We find it hard to believe that not once in their relationship, prior to the secret rendezvous/reunion, one of them didn’t order a Pina Colada at TGIFridays, prompting the other to say, “That sounds good. I think I’ll have one too.” So it’s hard to say that this song is about not giving in to temptations of the flesh, so much as it is about two incredibly stupid people who are better off not mating outside of their already corrupted gene pool. That is good.

Depending on your perspective, The Beastie Boys’ Fight for Your Right to Party might fit the bill. Of course that perspective would have to be that cigarettes and porno are symbols of a more ethically principled system of beliefs than are “soda and pie.” That’s a tough case to make in any school, much less a Catholic one.

Then there is the cautionary tale of Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, reported to be the baddest man in the whole d*** town. If your take is that Leroy is a classic bully to be despised - along with being a philanderer, a philistine and a probable felon – then the comeuppance he receives at the hands of a jealous husband is a victory for the virtuous. However, as exalted by Mr. Croce, Leroy comes across as a sort of neighborhood hero, one that we secretly envy even as we cower in his domineering presence and gasp at his hedonist ways. If, in fact, Leroy is the protagonist of the story, then this is a tale of man’s inherent weakness. We think that it is fair to speculate that if Croce had been compelled to add an extra verse to his story, Leroy would have triumphed over his own flawed humanity by pulling out his “32 gun” and sending the dangerously-close-to-being-cuckolded husband to hell.

In Break(a) My Stride, Matthew Wilder seemed to have shaken off the oppressiveness of an unsatisfying relationship with a cold and compulsive she-devil who had figuratively “sailed away to China” for the purpose of getting her “laundry clean.” But what seems like a triumph of self determination (Never let another girl like you drag me under) is actually just Wilder’s way of telling us that he is now gay.

How about Yah Mo B There?

All Our Best,

Monday, September 24, 2007

Brush with Greatness

This morning on the Jim Leach Show, the host was asking listeners to call in and name a famous person they have personally interacted with and then Leach would guess whether the celebrity had acted congenially or jerkily during said encounter. He did a good job of predicting the offscreen demeanor of the celebrities, but then, who would doubt that Mrs. Brady could be anything less than a dazzling ray of sunshine.

It was an enjoyable bit of light radio fare, but it left me feeling bereft. You see, I’ve never met anyone truly famous.

Combing through my memory banks for any such meetings, the best I can come up with was a brief congratulatory exchange with All-American defensive lineman Bryant Young after his 1993 Fighting Irish squad defeated the number-one ranked Florida State Seminoles. His girlfriend had sold a ticket to my friend before the game and when we saw them walking through campus after the game we talked with them for a minute or two. We found them both to be quite charming, and in the case of Young, quite large.

Young is currently in his 14th season with the San Francisco 49ers and while he certainly qualifies as a sports celebrity, he’s no Joe Montana or Jerry Rice and would probably go unrecognized by a great majority of Americans. Nor will Lorne Michaels likely ever ask him to host Saturday Night Live.

My wife, on the other hand, once met Vanessa Williams. This was after Vanessa’s little scandal (click, click) at which point she was fully recognizable to almost everyone. I don’t believe she’s ever hosted SNL, but she has appeared as a musical guest.

While my sad and insular lifestyle has kept me from rubbing elbows with the noted and renowned, I’m sure some of you more worldly types have a story to tell.

So who then, is the most famous person you have met? Not the most famous person you glimpsed in person or the most famous person that resides in your delusions, but someone you can actually say you met. There must have been some exchange of conversation in which you were acknowledged as being a viable life form worthy of her or his consideration. Encounters at book signings or autograph sessions don’t count unless you were able to elicit both eye contact and some sort of verbiage that exceeded the perfunctory pleasantries normally exchanged at such encounters. If the meeting resulted in you being arrested, the celebrity must have testified in person at your trial for it to qualify.

To make things interesting, the person with the most impressive story, as judged by me, will receive a Kimberly Smoot “Best Blogger” T-shirt.*

*For the record, I have no problem with her winning the Best Blogger award. The people were asked to speak and they did so. She deserves the crown. Although her site doesn’t meet my definition of a blog, neither does Olive Garden meet my definition of an Italian restaurant. That said, I can’t expect the IT to put eligibility requirements on all of their categories just to satisfy my personal tastes.**

**Also for the record, there are three individuals who I feel could legitimately lay claim to the Best Blogger title and a fourth who might have were his ties to Springfield not so tenuous. I will refrain from naming these bloggers because I didn’t get around to voting this year and I don’t want to be blamed for not helping to push someone over the top.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

It’s Time for Their Close-Up

The following was published in today’s Chicago Sun Times:

BY DAVE MCKINNEY Sun-Times Springfield Bureau Chief
Gov. Blagojevich refused Tuesday to explain his hiring of a convicted felon who did federal prison time for not cooperating in a terrorism probe.

When asked if he could explain his thoughts behind hiring Steven Guerra as a deputy chief of staff, knowing he was a felon, the governor said simply, "No."

With that one-word response, Blagojevich abruptly ended a rare Springfield news conference, retreating into his Statehouse office.

Setting aside the issue of whether it makes good sense, politically or otherwise, to place a convicted felon in a relatively high state government position, the scene described above illustrates perfectly how elected leaders don’t feel any accountability to the public for their actions. Fortunately, I have a solution.

First, let’s break down what unfolded here.

The governor made a “rare Springfield news conference.” That in itself is a major problem because in our storied political system, the media acts not only as the eyes and ears of the public, but also provides its voice. The media’s ability to carry out their mission as the fourth estate of government is greatly diminished when a leader refuses to hear and respond to the issues that the public wants addressed.

And then, on this rare occasion when the governor does respect the duty that the media performs on behalf of his constituents, the often-glib guv goes monosyllabic.

Yes, he’s curt denial speaks volumes, but it raises more questions than it answers. If the governor truly believed that his man Guerra is worthy both of redemption and his position as deputy chief of staff, then he could have just said as much and then carried on with the news conference. The fact that he turned tail at the first sign of reproach, however mildly it was expressed and however expected it should have been, makes me believe that he feared that much more prickly questions would follow.

The governor and elected leaders are called on to make many tough decisions. Perhaps they would be wiser in determining what should influence those decisions if they knew, without a doubt, that they would have to explain it all someday.

So I propose that an additional requirement be added to the job description of our elected leaders. Four times a year, they must sit down with a panel of journalists and political scholars and answer their questions. The event will air on television and radio, and maybe somebody could do one of those podcast things. The panel will be allowed to ask follow-up questions if they aren’t satisfied with the original response and will be permitted to say some FCC-approved variation of ‘bull crap’ should an answer be blatantly evasive.

This won’t be a typical news conference where the leader can call on most-favored reporters, give sleight-of-hand responses and then call for the next question, or bail out when the first bead of sweat appears on his upper lip. Nor will it be an interrogation. The degree in which it will resemble a grilling will be determined by how transparent and upright the leader’s administration had been operating in the months prior to the day of reckoning.

The whole purpose of this exercise in accountability is to move the workings of government from the back room into our living rooms. The more we can see what’s going on, the less shifty they’ll be tempted to be.

Perhaps the thing that vexes me most about Illinois’ current state budget situation is how the leaders play their power games, carry out their vendettas, and shoot proverbial spit balls at each other, and then fire off a news release or trot out a spokesperson to claim that what they are doing is noble and in the best interest of the public. Even though the media does a good job of cutting through the spin, politicians, by avoiding any direct interaction with the media, can continue with the charade and still look themselves in the mirror each morning. If they’re forced to meet the press, their image might take a beating at first, but in the long run they’ll learn that keeping the public’s interests at heart is the key to effective leadership.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

I Smell a Pulitzer

Here's my latest column for the SJ-R. This is the type of hard-hitting and brave commentary that sustains a republic. Not frivolous or stupid at all.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Able-Bodied Guilt

This is old news, but I was too caught up in other assignments to blog about it when it was fresh. As it is, my commentary is only half thought out, but there might be something here that's not too crass and worth debating.

An August 30 article in the SJ-R concerning the eviction of a north end church from its property over tax obligations included the following quote:

"This is greed in its worst form - throwing a church on the street," said Daniel
Richards, a one-armed neighbor who lives two doors down, as he loaded a U-Haul.

I don’t know what stand that newspapers take on providing a physical description of a subject when it has no relevance to the story, but I do think I know why it might have been included in this instance.

Many seem to perceive that amputees have received a wisdom that transcends that of the fully-limbed. Losing an appendage must be a terribly sobering experience and perhaps with it comes a moment of clarity that casts thereafter every experience in a light that is both lucent and unforgiving. If a one-armed man sees pure greed where others might see a regrettable yet equitable enforcement of tax laws, well then maybe we need to rethink those tax laws.

As a society, we ascribe a moral authority to anyone who has overcome, or at least lived through, a traumatic experience. Former drug addicts, combat veterans, Paris Hilton’s ex-boyfriends, anyone who has ever touched the deepest pits of despair must have, for their troubles, come away with a perspective on life that is free of the primrose and trifle that clouds the judgment of the rest of us. Mustn’t they have?

There’s a reason that Blind Lemon Jefferson can legitimately sing the blues, but John Mayer can’t. The reason is that we value the licks taken by a person who was educated in the school of hard knocks more than someone who attended the Berklee College of Music. But is the authenticity we grant the disabled always earned, or is sometimes a product of the guilt we feel for not having been made to suffer on an equal scale?

The Kids in the Hall once parodied our propensity for revering the disabled. This skit was a series of movie trailers that parodied Tom Cruise’s deviant turn as good soldier turned anti-war activist Ron Kovic in Born on the Fourth of July. In each, a crowd is cheering on a speaker who is proposing some measure to screw over the disabled, until a lone, disfranchised person rises up, and amid a crescendo of inspirational music, delivers an oratory that shames the populace for their cold-hearted ways. If I remember correctly, in the last of these increasingly preposterous trailers, the hero was suffering from a fork in his head that apparently couldn’t be dislodged.

The skit’s purpose was to skewer Hollywood, but Hollywood couldn’t play upon our emotions with such stories if we weren’t such suckers for them.

And that’s good. Far better for society to err on the side of compassion and accommodation than to cast the disabled aside in the battle of survival of the fittest. But if the goal is equality, then compassion and accommodation must be reasonable to the degree that a person is disadvantaged.

Consider the news yesterday of a band of disability rights activists who protested at the Thompson Center in Chicago. According to reports, they used their wheelchairs and bodies to block employee entrances and exits, and security allowed them to do so.

I have no doubt that if Woody Harrelson and a group of High Times subscribers took to the state building to protest marijuana laws, security would have snatched them up by their hemp-woven collars and floated them out into the street. But that course of action, however warranted it might have been considering that blocking exits is a safety hazard, simply wasn’t an option, and the activists knew it. You can’t forcibly remove someone in a wheelchair and not face a fierce comeuppance when the news footage hits the fan.

The truth is, of course, that the disabled are no more entitled to skirt the law than anyone else, nor are they necessarily any more sagacious when commenting on matters of property seizures. Yet when a one-armed man talks, I’ll probably still listen. Will you?

There’s probably a good Ironside analogy to be made here somewhere, but I couldn’t find it. Perhaps the Lemonhead’s Cazzo Di Ferro might offer some insight.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Where Victor Is

This is the story of our trip to the Holy Land. I took Victor to see his first Notre Dame game. Thanks to Paco and Erin for the tickets, Uncle Jim for the Friday night accomodations, Cousin Jack for the game day jersey, and Dave for the concept, which I've ripped off again. I hope you enjoy this pictorial.

Victor is . . .


displaying the bounty of our trip to Chick-Fil-A. We left Indianapolis early Saturday morning to get to South Bend by lunch time. Little did we know that Route 31 would take us past our favorite restuarant.

Victor is . . .

putting himself to the test. An inflated obstacle course in the JACC was all that it took to forgive me for not letting him play at the indoor playgroud at the Chick Fil A. We came back to this a second time when roaming the campus didn't satisfy his need for action.

Victor is . . .


under the watchful eye of Touchdown Jesus. It's hard to explain to a six-year-old why the son of God would be signaling a score in a football game, so I didn't even try.

Victor is . . .


meeting some percussionists. He's got a drummer's soul, I'm convinced, so it's time he met some of his own people. Also, if you're ever in South Bend on game day, the band members are the friendliest and most helpful ambassodors that you'll find.

Victor is . . .


giving five with the players as the walk from Mass and into the stadium. You can't see it here, but several of the guys reached down to slap him some skin. It's one of the many traditions at ND that makes game day such a cool experience.

Victor is . . .


clearing the way so the Irish Guard can pass. They looked serious as they made their way across campus, but also quite majestic.

Victor is . . .


digging on the band. After watching the pre-game concert, we went to see the drum circle, where they were kicking out some dope beats. The tuba players laid down their weapons and Victor went to frolic in the brass garden. Drum Major Ryan Bailey was happy to pose with young Vic.

Victor is . . .


slightly pissed that he wasn't allowed to climb on the Frank Leahy statue. Respect, laddie, respect.

Victor is . . .


posing with his dad in front of the golden dome, but would have much rather been posing with the cute coed who graciously agreed to take the shot.

Victor is . . .


again with his dad, this time in the stadium. It was a touching moment. Dad isn't an ND grad, but for some reason, sharing this moment with his number one son tugged at the old heart strings.

Victor is . . .


watching the team take the field. We soon ran out of film (film?) so we don't have any pictures of the game. Victor now hates the "Georgia Techs."

Next week, we'll go see the Cyclones.

Victor is . . .


the best looking dude in the stadium.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


It’s early in the election cycle, but here are my opinions of the presidential candidates of whom I have formed an opinion. I scratched this out rather quickly so don’t be surprised if, in my haste, I did something crazy like predict Hillary Clinton to be the next president of these United States. It could have been worse; I might have picked Ron Paul, although such a wild prediction would have required not only haste, but also a good deal of alcohol and other forms of undue influence.

Anyway, here goes. I expect some feedback on this. My only compensation for running this blog are your thoughtful comments and hateful insults, and I value them all so dearly.

Mitt Romney was a much more attractive candidate when he won the governorship of deep-blue Massachusetts as a Republican, than he is today after repositioning himself for a national run. The Mormon thing doesn’t bother me, the flip-flopping thing does.

Barack Obama cuts an impressive figure, but I’m coming to the opinion that there isn’t enough there, at least not right now. And as someone who is fairly conservative when it comes to matters financial, his talk about redistribution of wealth leaves me wary, John Edwards even more so. Capitalism isn’t perfect, but it’s the best system currently on the market and when government starts monkeying around with who can earn how much and who should get a free ride, then the system is bound to sputter.

I want to like Rudy Giuliani. He reminds me of one of my friend’s dad. I just don’t think he’s up to the challenge of leading the most powerful country in the world. It will be interesting if he gets the Republican nomination, given his stance on social issues. It’s to his credit that he is holding firm on his positions.

I don’t know much about Fred Thompson, except that I confuse him with another actor turned pol, Fred Grandy of Gopher fame. I’ve never seen Law and Order, so I don’t know if he could play a good president. I did read a long piece on Thompson in New York magazine, but it was obvious the author thought little of him so I’m not sure that I received an unbiased perspective. He is a southern conservative and seems to know how to work a room so I think he’s got a shot at the nomination. But he’ll never beat . . .

Hillary Clinton will probably be our first woman president. This doesn’t scare me as much as it probably does some of you. She’s proven herself to be fairly moderate and I don’t fear an impending socialist state under her leadership. If she’s anything like her husband, she’ll be mindful to keep her polling numbers favorable, which means she won’t do anything revolutionary such as fix healthcare, but she also won’t do anything monumentally stupid. She wouldn’t be my first choice to run the country, but she’s not the worst.

The candidate that intrigues me most isn’t even in the race at this time, Michael Bloomberg. He’s no longer a Republican, he never really was, but the fact that he could get elected in NYC under the GOP banner says something for the man. The fact that he has turned out to be a pretty popular and effective mayor says even more. But the reason I might feel comfortable in handing him the reins to the country is because he’s earned billions of dollars. Now lest you think me a money grubbing pig, or at least a deep admirer of money grubbing pigs, allow me to explain how massive wealth accumulation is an indicator of effective leadership skills.

One of the main problems with our political system is that the people in charge are too often afraid to do what they know to be right because they’re afraid it will anger the voters or betray their campaign contributors. As for Bloomberg, a person cannot earn that kind of scratch by kowtowing to public opinion or any other interest that conflicts with making the decisions that provide the most benefit to the organization. So Bloomberg, as president, I’m presuming, wouldn’t be afraid to make unpopular decisions provided that those decisions are the most profitable.

When I speak of profitability, I’m not referring only to economic matters. No matter what the issue, you want to make decisions that will provide the most return on your investment. Obviously, you want to educate the most children, feed the most hungry, and treat the most sick without spending more than you have to.

Plus, Bloomberg would run as an independent and thus loosen the stranglehold that the two major parties have over government.

So in summation: Bloomberg in ’08, but more than likely, Hail to Hillary.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Fair to Middling

Here are some idle observations on the 2007 edition of the Illinois State Fair. I'll try to return with something you can argue about later in the week.

The Jobs Americans Don’t Want to Do
You can consider this in relation to the immigration debate if you like, but it’s really just an observation. The carnival ride employees who appear to be of Mexican persuasion are friendlier – or if not, at least more cognizant that they’re dealing with children and not livestock – than their Caucasian co-workers. Some of them even smile.

On the other hand, the gruff white man operating the swing ride was huffing-about because the children in line didn’t appreciate the stress he was under as the ride’s lone operator. And when my daughter fell in the moon walk, something that would seem to be acceptable in a giant air pillow, the disgruntled woman working the flap yelled in: “No slipping!” Let that be a warning to your children.

Giant Swindle
I may have mentioned this when blogging on fair’s past, but one of the biggest rip-offs in the fair is the Giant Slide. It will cost you $3 to bump down the oversized, playground ride. I’ve always said that the Giant Slide should be a loss leader for the State Fair, a great bargain to lure people through the gates and then on to all of the other overpriced fare. Considering that maintenance costs on a ride powered exclusively by gravity have to be minimal, they could charge a buck a ride and still come out ahead.

Indolent Boys, Indolent Boys, What Cha Gonna Do
It used to be that the state troopers stationed at Gate 11 would come out and direct traffic on Sangamon Avenue during periods of great congestion. Due to decreasing fair attendance, heavy vehicular loads haven’t been a problem in recent years.

But you could still observe them in action when an ambulance approached or departed the grounds. A trooper would man the intersection to halt the east bound traffic and keep the north- and south-bound lanes clear. This year, perhaps due to the heat, they eliminated that duty as well. In fact, the only time I saw a trooper step out of the gates was to stop traffic so the governor’s motorcade could enter the fair without slowing down for the stop sign.

All idleness aside, the police presence in the carnival area was reassuring. I felt comfortable that any acts of civil disobedience would be squashed posthaste. It made the seediness much less threatening.

Good God, What is That Smell
There’s an indescribable stench that radiates down the center of the carnival area. It should be dealt with or the reputation for wholesome, all-natural entertainment that carnies for so long have worked to achieve, could be in jeopardy.

On a Positive Note
After parking cars for the past ten days, I feel comfortable in saying that fair goers, as a rule, are polite and friendly. Even those that looked as if they might disagreeable or ornery exchanged at least perfunctory pleasantries as I extracted the first of many, many dollars that would be liberated from their wallets during their fair adventure.

Who said Germans don’t have a sense of humor?
The highlight of my car parking duty happened on Saturday. During the late morning downpour, I parked a blue SUV. As the rain drenched me, the driver, who had apparently descended from one of the Germanic tribes, rolled down his window to pay and said in a perfect Rainer Wolfcastle accent, “If you’re not careful you might get wet.” That he then didn’t pull out two AK47s and mow down everyone on our lot was a bit out of character, but probably better for business.

A Pecan, for Example
When my son and his friends exited the Frog Hopper ride, one of his buddies’ moms asked him if the ride “tickled his tummy.” “Yeah,” my son replied, “and it tickled my (another area of his body where the sensation was pronounced)s.”

Shameless Promotion
Here’s my Sunday AM column on the great tradition of letting people park their cars in your front yard. And here’s another article I wrote on a very talented musician.

Blue Ribbon Day
Although the fair is rife with competition - from fattest pig, to tastiest pie, to fastest dirt car - what they don’t have is a best blogger contest. But the Illinois Times does. And voting is now closed. Since any groveling will be for naught, I’ll be a standup guy and ask you to vote for one of my more worthy fellow bloggers.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Where BFS Is

I’m on special assignment this week, so blogging will be light – just as it is most other weeks. But this week I have an excuse, because I don’t have computer access for much of the day and evening, and when I do return home to the DSL, I’m too sun-zapped and beat to think of anything bloggy.

When I set out on assignment, I considered doing some “from the road” reports, in the spirit of Where Dave Is. Unfortunately, my sober adventures don’t lend themselves to much regaling. To the extent that they can be immortalized, I’ve already attempted to do so for my Sunday SJ-R column. Be sure to look for it.

Well, that’s it for me, then. Here’s to cooler days and better fair attendance.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Blago Hears a Boo

The big issue in the newspaper and on talk radio today is how people should respond if the governor does indeed participate in the fair parade tonight. The SJ-R favors a silent snub, while Jim Leach is calling out for a chorus of catcalls. I’m still not certain the governor will even show up. I don’t think he wants to risk the publicity should the crowd turn sour, and you have to believe it will.

Laura doesn’t believe the governor will be deterred by a negative reaction, in fact, she suspects he would probably relish it. She may be correct. I could see the governor strutting down 11th Street like one of those WWF villains, occasionally stopping to hold his hand to his ear and then basking in the boos that come cascading down on the parade route. Maybe he’ll even wear pink wrestling tights and a big feather boa, he does seem to fancy himself the gorgeous type.

If the governor wants to maintain the appearance of popularity, I wouldn’t put it past his PR team to round up a few busloads of supporters from up north and plant them along the parade route. Maybe one of them will mistake him for Mayor Daley and then the governor will have a cute story to tell the next time they all get together at the Madigan’s.

We’re probably going to skip the parade this year. Seeing grossly-proportioned kids pounce on scattered candy like they haven’t eaten in weeks tends to make me ill. Actually, it’s their parents fault for allowing them to indulge their feral thirst for sugar so ravenously. As much as my kids like to see high school-aged tuba players sweating profusely and politician smiling profusely, they’ll just have to settle for going to see Shrek the Third and gorging on a silo of popcorn.

If I were to attend the parade and the governor were to pass by, I don’t think that I would boo or otherwise sling barbs, especially if his children were with him. No child should have to see the person they look up to more than anyone else being verbally assaulted.

That said, I don’t recall the governor bringing the kids to the parade in the past; he seemed to make a big deal about running the entire route and his daughters lack the testicularity to keep up. If he does bring them along this year, I can only assume that they are intended to act as a shield to discourage the barrage of insults that state workers had prepared to unfurl. If the governor should stoop to such a tactic, it would be even more despicable than the time he hit Tom Cross on the back with a folding chair when the referee wasn’t looking.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

This Place is a Dump

I’m a slum lord
According to Dane Carlson, who has developed some sort of formula to determine the monetary value of any blog, BlogFreeSpringfield is a rat- and asbestos-infested hovel located in a dilapidated neighborhood with bad public schools and an inordinate number of liquor stores and payday loan offices. He’s got this place listed at $9,000 and change, which is at the low end of the Springfield blogging market. It’s probably not safe for you here, so go find yourself a blog in a nicer neighborhood.

Hey there hot chicks who are suckers for any dork with a guitar.
Are the Plain White Ts the James Blunt of 2007? If the speed at which I change the radio station the moment I hear “hey there Deli. . .” is any indication, they’re well on their way. The Ts have little hope of attaining a level of insipidness that would equal Blunt at his snivelingest, but radio program directors seem determined to take them there. Russ is probably big into them.

Shut the f*** up, Donny!
I finally got around to rewatching the Big Lebowski last night. I’d forgotten that Aimee Mann has a bit part, playing one of Flea’s drug addict companions. Just one more reason that the Coen brothers are the coolest directors/producers in Hollywood. Can anyone boast of an oeuvre the equal of theirs: Fargo, Miller’s Crossing, Raising Arizona, the Hudsucker Proxy, O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?, the Big Lebowski? Even some of their lesser-to-me works such as Barton Fink and the Man Who Wasn’t There only lag behind because of the greatness I’ve been conditioned to expect when a film carries the Coen banner. What do you think John Goodman would rather be remember by, his adaptation of Fred Flintstone, or his star turns as Walter Sobchak and Big Dan Teague?

Record store? What’s a record store?
I’m looking for a couple of songs that iTunes doesn’t stock. If you know of any channels through which they might be procured, please let me know.

Making Time by Creation - iTunes has a version of it by The Creation, which sounds like an updated version by a revamped lineup of the band; I’m sure Wikipedia could tell me for sure. But I want the version as heard in the movie Rushmore, during the montage which introduces viewers to Max Fischer’s propensity for joining school-sponsored extracurricular clubs. A cool song in a great movie.

Seven Year Ache by Roseanne Cash - This was a big radio hit back in the 80s and might qualify as a guilty pleasure if not for the legitimacy of the Cash appellation. With all due respect to Trisha Yearwood, I prefer the original.

Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometimes as performed by Beck - This was originally recorded by something called the Korgis. I prefer Beck’s rendition only because it is ingrained in my brain after repeated viewings of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I can’t seem to wipe it out of my memory (Get it? If you’ve seen the movie you do. It’s still not that funny though, I suppose.) Anyway, iTunes won’t part with this little gem unless you shell out for the entire soundtrack. What is this, the nineties?

I did download one song on iTunes today. Driving home from church I had the pleasure of listening to Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris do a cover of Boudleaux Bryant’s Love Hurts. It’s not as guttural-sounding as the Nazareth version, but it probably also hasn’t been swayed to as much at high school proms. It’s quite a pleasurable listen. The surprising part of this discovery is that I didn’t hear it on WQNA, but rather, on Alice. On Sunday mornings they apparently take a break from playing the Plain White Ts and spin some rootsy acoustic records.

I Love You, Beth Cooper
This is one funny book. If you're a fan of John Hughes movies, you'll love this story written by Larry Doyle, a former writer for the Simpsons. I'm only halfway throught it, but I'm already prepared to give it my full endorsement.

Speaking of books, my SJ-R column last week was on how being well-read is not as valued as it once was (not that Beth Cooper qualifies as literature.) My thesis is that in today's fast-paced, instant information age, people don't have time to curl up with a good book, and don't see the benefit in doing so. I bemoan this turn of events.

Oh well, thanks for slumming.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Two Thumbs Shamefully Up: The Movies You Hate to Admit You Love

Just for a moment, back to something frivolous.

Everyone seemed to have good fun revealing the guilty pleasures that have found a welcome home on their iPods. In that same spirit of disclosure, speak thee now of those movies that are hidden behind the rows of respectable DVDs in your collection? No, not those movies. I mean the ones that were universally panned by critics, but that you simply adore. Or the ones that are of a genre that a person of your particular gender, age, or persuasion shouldn’t be caught dabbling in, yet dabble you do. Surely you all have among your favorite movies, at least one that you don’t like to talk about. So start talking.

I’m prepared to reveal, for the first time in a public forum, that I like the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral. Yes, a chick flick of the highest order. A Hugh Grant vehicle in which his school-boyish stammering and true-hearted roguishness is introduced to an international audience, making him an instant star and affording him the opportunity to dump Elizabeth Hurley for Divine Brown.

For the record, I find Hugh Grant’s act as thin as most of you do, but it works in this film, perhaps because I was seeing it for the first time and did not yet know it comprises the entire output of his instrument, to borrow a term from famed acting instructor, Lee Strasburg. Grant plays the role of the yearning, yet commitment phobic “guy” as well as anyone could. Well, maybe Jack Black could have done it as well, but from what I understand, he doesn’t preview well as the dreamy lead.

Better than Grant are the supporting characters who were all very good and also good for a laugh or two. I’ve always liked the British sense of humour and it could be that this has skewed my perception to the point that a line spoken with a British accent sounds funny to me, while the same line spoken by Pauly Shore would sound stupid. Still, there is some genuine humour here. The comedy most often involves one of the merry band of wedding goers saying something inappropriate, not in a crazy morning DJ kind of way, but delivered more subtly by someone who is socially awkward or indifferent.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie doesn’t involve comedy or any of the four weddings, but the lone funeral. In it, Matthew recites W.H. Auden’s “Funeral Blues” after his companion, the drunken and jolly Gareth, drops dead from a heart attack. Maybe it’s Matthew’s Scottish accent, which for some reason makes people weep instantly, or more likely the way the character delivers the lines, but it is truly touching.

Speaking of accents, Andie MacDowell’s is clearly one of the most fetching in Hollywood. It’s not really Southern Belle, more Southern Siren. Some may find Ms. MacDowell’s voice whiney, and in St. Elmo’s Fire it was, but only because she had to play opposite Emilio Estevez’s uber-annoying character, Kirby. If I recall, I whined a lot during that movie as well.

Four Weddings and a Funeral is a good movie, not a great one. I would never lay out cash to own it, or even rent it again. But if I’m ever couch-ridden and come across it on Lifetime, I’d much rather watch that than Trick My Truck or the NBA finals.

Before leaving you to reveal your celluloid shame, I want to differentiate between a guilty pleasure and a movie that is so bad that you find it irresistible. You know the type, the serious drama that plays as a perfect satire. Road House is a great example of such a movie. I can’t help watch it when it’s on, not so much for the ridiculousness of sissy-dancing-boy Patrick Swayze being passed off as a Zen-guided, backwoods brawler, but for the dialogue that was obviously screen tested for coolness by an arcade-full of mulleted adolescent boys. It’s unintentionally brilliant, but it’s not what we’re looking for here.

We don’t want to know movies that you love for their awfulness, but movies that you honestly think are good and worthwhile, even though it pains you greatly to admit it.*

*Since James Blunt hasn’t yet made his cinematic debut, I’m going to guess that Russ goes with From Justin to Kelly as his favorite guilty pleasure. And I have a feeling that Monkey Boy simply adores anything with Streisand in it, as long as the other monkeys aren't around.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

No Concession: If we lose, we win!

It occurred to me that the most indisputable way for us to prove that we are the real Springfield is to lose a popularity contest to a lesser -field. Winning would feel false and derivative of some idealistic Humbleton. The real Springfield would never win a USA Today contest. It doesn't ring true.

Imagine an episode of the Simpsons in which Ang Lee comes to shoot the Krusty the Clown story for a Lifetime Television feature presentation. Wouldn't he eventually decide, after scouting the town, to shoot the Springfield scenes in some other location. And wouldn't he eventually dump the real Krusty and cast James Woods to play the complicated clown. Now that makes sense.

So shed no tears if we come up short in the final tally. We can only be validated in defeat.

Friday, July 06, 2007

I Like American Music

As you might remember, this blog called last year’s American Music Show one of the best, if not the best, evenings of live music in the history of Springfield. All indications are that this year’s show will be just as strong so I feel confident in issuing an entreaty to you, the entertainment-starved community. Go see the show. We must support those who would provide us quality music or we’ll be forever damned to Grandstand-level performers.

It would be easy for the organizers of the Taste of Springfield to sign-up some local bands to take the stage and provide background music during the festive eating binge. There’s nothing wrong with local bands, except that, well, they’re local and you can hear them most every weekend. But instead of giving us more of the same, they’ve made the music the highlight of the evening by putting it in the hands of someone who knows good music. You may not have heard of many of the bands set to perform, but you’re bound to like them.

For my entertainment dollar, the Bottle Rockets are the main draw at this year’s show. I’ve seen them several times in the past, opening up for Uncle Tupelo and later Wilco, and they never failed to put on an energetic performance. They have a lot of great songs to draw upon. Brian Henneman is a terrific songwriter who injects a lot of emotion into his fairly straightforward lyrics and puts a little pop in his alt-country numbers. Gravity Fails is a personal favorite.

The Romantics get the official top billing and will probably draw the most enthusiastic response of the evening. I’ve seen them once before, when they opened for the Kinks in Champaign back in the early 80s. I don’t remember being blown away by their performance, although we were sitting up pretty high in the Assembly Hall and only made our way past security and closer to the stage when Ray and Dave started playing. Binky the Broken Bassist (see pics below) said they played a show with the Romantics and they were tearing it up. I think we can expect a rawer, garage rock sound than some of their hits might indicate.

I’ve only heard one track from the Shazam, but it’s a kicker. Sean Burns compared them favorably to Cheap Trick, and I’ve also read comparisons to Badfinger and the aforementioned Kinks. I’m a big fan of power pop when done right (Big Star, the Posies, etc.) I expect an experience similar to what the Woogles provided last year, i.e., a band that I hadn’t heard going in but still blew me away with every song. Silvio Dante and Paul Weller like the Shazam, so that’s saying something.

I’m not too familiar with Rex Hobart, although I know I’ve heard some of his stuff on WQNA. He gets credit for naming his band the Misery Boys, which is so much cooler than the Blowfish.

The Damwell Betters provide the local flavor and I’m looking forward to hearing them along with the nerdabilly stylings of Crazy Joe and the Mad River Outlaws from over Ohio ways.

The only disappointment is that Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles aren’t returning. Maybe next year?

We saw them in Wisconsin a couple of weeks ago and they’re in fine form promoting a great new album. That’s them below performing in Wisconsin and another shot from earlier that evening where they proved to be lovely dinner companions (the east coast rockers sat on one side of the table and the Springfield groupies were on the other.)

It’s also unfortunate that the Second City troupe was booked at the Hoogland on the same night as the American Music Show. I would liked to have seen them and the two events will probably draw from the same crowd, but live music almost always trumps live comedy.

And apparently Saturday kicks off the 150th anniversary of someplace called Ashland, but since that’s a week-long celebration, there is really no reason not to be in downtown Springfield on Saturday night. Is there?


Kicking it in Port Washington.


Sarah, Rob, Mike and Binky

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Upon further review

The consensus in the newspaper, among those who know him, is that Rev. Jerry Doss is a reasonable and compassionate man. So how to we square that with his harsh accusations of injustice over a police action that was executed properly and without injury? Perhaps an analogy would help.

Imagine a football coach, playing on the road in a game in which every call seems to be going against his team. In reality, some of the calls were made incorrectly, while others were just calls he didn’t like. But perception can easily skew reality and the coach is convinced that the refs are playing to the home crowd and his team is the victim of their one-sided decisions.

By the fourth quarter, the coach has had enough and the next time a yellow flag is thrown on one of his players, he storms out onto the field to protest. Only this is one of those times when the correct call was made. In fact, it wasn’t even close. Yet the coach can’t see this, so enraged is he from previous injustices. His players, who were already frustrated by what they perceived as a lack of fairness, are further outraged when they see their normally even-tempered coach dissent so venomously.

Meanwhile, the home team fans are baffled. They saw the replay of the play that caused the coach to blow up and the call was correct (they’ve already forgotten about the previous bad calls where the coach had legitimate grounds to protest.) They immediately think the coach is either delusional or conniving. The boos rain down as the coach is pulled back to the sideline.

When play resumes, tensions between the two teams on the field are even greater, with the refs caught in the middle. Hopefully, the game will end before an all-out brawl ensues.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Secret Police

Okay, I’m back. Man, them chicks is loco.

It’s been brought to my attention that this blog has been lacking in substance in recent months. I admit that I have been trending towards the light and breezy, in part because of an increased inkling that my thoughtful commentary comes across as foolish blowhardedness. This explains my recent foray into blog theatre; if I'm going to be thought a fool I might as well enjoy acting as one. But I didn’t garner the most intelligent commentors in the blogosphere by dodging the serious issues of the day. So here’s a little red meat for some of you regulars (if you’re still out there) to chew on.

I’ve never worn a badge and I’m probably not fit to carry a gun. But I don’t believe that this disqualifies me from commenting on the Springfield Police Department and their festering image problem. In fact, as an average citizen with little experience dealing with the police in an official capacity, I think that I can see, maybe better than those with a more active stake, how and why a group that is comprised generally of well-meaning and hard-working individuals can be seen as manipulative, furtive, and bigoted by so many in our community.

I don’t mean to suggest that the SPD’s problems are simply a matter of image. There are clearly issues that need to be addressed. But if I wish to speak with any authority at all in hopes of having my words taken seriously, which will be increasingly more difficult after the hostage charade, then I must limit my commentary to an area on which I do have some expertise: public relations and in particular, how it is viewed through the media.

I don’t know if Don Kliment was a good chief. I have no reason to doubt that he was at the very least competent at administering to the inner workings of the department. But I do think a legitimate criticism can be made about how he dealt with the external goings-on. In short, we seldom saw or heard from the guy.

The chief needs to be a public figure. Ideally he or she would be a well-liked and trusted figure who cuts an impressive image, but at the very least this person should be recognizable, accessible, and exhibit all of the outward signs of proper hygiene.

Whenever there is an issue involving the department, the chief should be out in front of it, instead of tucked away in city hall. When reporters call, the chief should be answering the phone. When TV20 comes scooping around, it should be the chief’s mug on the nightly news.

The chief should be someone who will openly defend the officers when they’re wrongly accused, even if it means angering the accusers. But also someone who will acknowledge when mistakes are made and who will be as open and upfront as the law and the sensitivity of their work allows. In short, we need Frank Furillo, except he shouldn’t be carrying on with the DA, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

My initial impressions are that Ralph Caldwell will be better as the public face for the department, at least to the extent that he is allowed to be. He seems like he will be more comfortable in the public eye and in all other ways he seems qualified for the job. But even in handing him the reigns, the department, and probably to a larger extent the mayor’s office, bungled the public relations aspect.

First off, they need to relieve themselves of the 2,300 page albatross. Someone should do an assessment of the risk in releasing the infamous ISP report to determine if the potential harm is greater than the suspicion it continues to generate by remaining concealed. One of two things could happen if they release the report, either the public would see that their clamoring was for naught or the department would be forced to deal publicly with some problems that might look clearer once exposed to the sun. Of course a third possibility is a lawsuit, but that’s why we have Jennifer Johnson.

Secondly, a nationwide search for a new chief should have been conducted.

The argument against looking outside the department largely consists of pointing to former chief Harris as reason enough to hire from within. But were Harris’ problems the result of his not being a veteran of the SPD or were other shortcomings to blame?

Sports teams don’t automatically hire the long-time assistant when the head coaching job comes open, why is it assumed by those in the department that there isn’t a Belichick-type cop from some other burg who could come in and shape the troops into a championship force? If, after a good long look, Caldwell was still the best man for the job, then he’d have been given a leg up in the credibility department because it would have helped dispel the notion that he is the mayor’s boy and the rank and file’s crony.

There pervades in the SPD, an attitude of “we know what’s best and if everyone would just leave well enough alone then we can get on with our jobs.” I don’t dispute the fact that the police are the experts when it comes to policing and that much of the criticism leveled against them is unfounded or misguided. But theirs is clearly one of the most scrutinized and sensitive of occupations and since they’re compensated through taxpayers’ dollars, you can’t expect the public not to take an interest in their work.

Even if every officer were honest, upstanding, and vigorously tolerant of all races, colors and creeds, there still would be the impression that prejudice taints the enforcement of justice. Circling the wagons at every accusation of wrong doing only exasperates that notion, even if the accusation is bogus. The unfortunate truth, however, is that not every officer is Andy Taylor and not every cry of police misconduct is without merit.

I appreciate the work that police officers do. I understand that they must confront the dangers that we civilians can flee from. I also understand that much of the work they do is confidential. But from my perspective, the Thin Blue Line would be more formidable if it were more perceptible. I hope the new chief appreciates this and becomes a more active advocate for his officers and a more responsive servant to the citizenry.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Red Hats - Black Hearts

While the local media continues its coverage of hot-button issues, I feel, in light of a recent incident, that it is incumbant upon me to continue my crusade to expose one of the most depraved and surreptitious organizations to ever cast its dark hand over our fair city. I speak of course of the ominous Re

Friday, June 08, 2007

Things to do in Springfield when your iPod's dead

Heritage Days at Little Flower is this weekend and the weather should be fine for celebrating in the time-honored Catholic tradition of combining family fun with beer. There will be 80s cover bands performing on Friday and Saturday nights, games for the kids, ethnic foods, and BEER. For you bargain hunters/skinflints, there will be a massive, 15,000-item garage sell on Saturday morning.

And get this – for $50 you can purchase a raffle ticket guaranteed to win you $25,000 provided that it is picked out of the drum at the opportune time on Sunday afternoon. Otherwise it will guarantee you to win $2,500, $1,000, $100, or, in a worst case scenario, nothing. But why dwell on the negative; you’re going to win the big prize.

Anyway, they’ll be more fun than you can shake a stick at. I wanted to book a performance by the BlogFreeSpringfield Dancers, but they were already committed to a month-long gig in Tunica. Maybe next year.

Locals like to ponder why the citizenry here won’t support a professional sports organization. I think I know the answer: we’re theatre people.

I went to the Muni last night to see Miss Saigon and was quite impressed, in light of threatening weather conditions and the weekday performance, with the number of people in attendance. It’s obvious that we Springfieldians have an appreciation of the theatrical arts and would rather spend our time in the company of thespians and altos rather than southpaws and shortstops. So forget all that nonsense of Springfield being filled with rubes and philistines, we’re actually tony sophisticates, albeit ones who still enjoy a good parish festival (see above.)

As for last night’s show, there were some very impressive performances to be enjoyed and if you like your musicals a little racy and heartbreaking, Miss Saigon is for you. Be sure to bring along, as Russ did, some 33 Export Lager to fully immerse yourself into the Vietnamese culture depicted on stage.

Since this post is largely self-serving, as opposed to the usual posts which are largely boring, I thought I’d seek advice on a recent technological calamity that has thrown my world into a dither. I believe my iPod is in need of a new battery, if it isn’t all together fried. I’ve read that it is much cheaper to replace the battery yourself rather than sending it in to Apple. Has anyone attempted this delicate procedure and if so, do you offer any helpful tips?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Take the AnComm Challenge

Over at the Anonymous Communist blog, people are baring their souls and revealing the guilty pleasures that reside in their music collections. It’s quite shameful what some of them bop their heads to when no one else is around. Nick Rogers? Really!

Anyway, I took the challenge and found it quite cathartic, despite the potential derision I might face now that my passive Bread fetish is on public record.

I encourage you to wash away your guilt by going there and confessing to your most sordid musical dalliances. The truth will set you free. Unless, of course, you have a secret crush on the Winger discography, in which case you’ll be mercilessly and rightfully ridiculed.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Infidels in My iPod

Disclaimer: Sometimes these things just kind of write themselves. Feel free to stop reading if it gets too ridiculous. Because it does. It’s also excruciatingly boring, but that pretty much goes without saying.

Note: This post was originally written two weeks ago and since that time I’ve experienced difficulties with my iPod, which is currently listed in unstable condition. This isn't a coincidence.

Most of us who aren’t subservient to our own ravenous appetites place certain virtues above our own well-being and will go to great lengths to protect them when threatened by a heretical combatant. Among those things that I will fight to defend are the welfare of my children, the good name of my family, and the sanctity of my iPod. It is the last of these that has recently become compromised by an unholy attack.

Early Monday morning, while browsing through my iTunes library, I detected the presence of a musical genre I find most repellent – sex-crazed, DBR-promoted dance pop. A quick check of the Recently Purchased folder confirmed by suspicions. There, to my great horror, sat tracks by Fergie, Bouncy Knowles, and the great devil himself, Justine Timberlake.

What makes this breach even more distressing is that these heathenish acts gained access through the willful abetment of my wife, a woman I once trusted. Not only had she allowed this axis of evil to infiltrate the sacred ground of my music collection, she actually paid 99¢ per desecration. Her act of betrayal stung like the cold steel of one thousand sabers.

Allow me now to retell the horror so that you might know the truth and be saved.

For years, ever since I came to peace with the digital revolution, my wife maintained a secular relationship with the iTunes deity. She would occasional beseech me to compile a list of tracks for a workout CD, and I would dutifully comply with a collection of upbeat indie rock and alt-country selections. All was peaceful then.

Such was my devotion for my wife, I even compromised my musical faith at times to accommodate her amoral leanings. Once I heeded her request to upload a Sheryl Crow album, despite the fact that the lords have made very clear that her music is pedestrian and not treyf. The Great One sent us Lucinda Williams so that we would not be tempted by Kid Rock duetresses.

I should have been alerted to my wife’s eventual conversion to the dark side when, one evening, a gathering of her co-workers culminated with a pilgrimage to Karma, the local discoteria. She came home reeking of rapacious beats and stupid lyrics. I deluded myself into thinking that consistent exposure to the Replacements and Uncle Tupelo had immunized her against an attack of sleazy dance remixes.

In the months that followed, she was able to mask her attraction to the allure of the Myhumpians. She kept the car stereo tuned to an innocuous, if not banal, country music station. I had no idea the spell she had been cast under, nor the jihad she was about to issue.

Last Saturday night, she came home speaking of a great song she had heard on WQNA. Never before had she spoke of the great non-commercial station that plays some of the best music in the city. I was gladdened.

My hopes were dashed somewhat when a Google search of the lyrics determined it was a Coldplay song that had entranced her, but I gladly downloaded it for anyway. Little did I know that it was all a ruse and she was covertly surveying my every move in an attempt to learn how to access the iTunes store. She struck the next day.

As I slept peacefully on Sunday night, she, fully possessed by Timbaland’s satanic production, set out to debauch by association every Twin Tone and Sub Pop recording in my digital library. Aided by the speed of DSL, she downloaded 16 of the vilest tunes ever to defile the human ear. Now I’m faced with how to respond to this scourge in a manner that is respectful to my musical taste, yet won’t lead me into damnation against an enemy much more imposing than I.

As most of you know, the next time I update my iPod all of her sickening songs will enter the device and could conceivably start playing if I set it to shuffle mode, an event that would surely have me longing for the sweet release of death. My only recourse is to banish the songs from iTunes, and risk whatever fate awaits me on the domestic battlefield. If I never post here again, know that I went down protecting the honor of my iPod. Veneration shall be mine.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Beer and a Movie

What better way to unwind after a long holiday weekend than by taking in a heartwarming tale of an innocent young sprite who helps a disillusioned assassin rediscover the joy of racking up a body count. The Movie Geek’s Club will be showing Leon (The Professional) at 7:30 this evening at the Capital City Bar and Grill. The movie stars Jean Reno as Leon and a too-young-to-ogle Natalie Portman as Mathilda. All the cool people will be there and you should too.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Victor Needs a Ride

I’m looking to buy a used bike for my son Victor, preferably a 12 -inch model. If you or someone you know are in possession of a late-model two-wheeler in reasonably good condition, please respond to this post.

In the interest of making this a legitimate blog post and not just a classified ad, I’ll share the story of how we came to need a used bike.

We bought Victor a brand-spanking-new bike this spring, but in the interest of long-term usability, we went with an 18-inch model with training wheels. Shortly thereafter, a friend let Victor have her daughter’s old 12-inch girlie bike* after he taught himself to ride it sans training wheels while visiting. Unfortunately, the tire on the mini-femm bike blew out on Sunday and he can’t yet manage the bigger manly bike as a two-wheel conveyance. Not wishing for him to revert back to training wheels, I’d like to find a used bike to get him through the summer or until he hits a growth spurt.

Victor, even more than his two bike-riding-age sisters, loves to be out on the open sidewalk. He rides every chance he gets, even when he’s supposed to be getting in the van to head to school. But it’s been four days now since he last rode and he’s becoming despondent. His mother and I fear that he will turn to drugs to fill the void in his life that had been filled with exhilarating rides through our neighbors’ yards. Please help Victor avoid this dire fate and get back up on his own two wheels.

*He rode it without shame, but has requested something less purple and pink for his next bike.