Saturday, June 30, 2007

finally free



Now that the cicadas are gone, I was finally able to free my tiny Japanese maple from the netting that's been wrapped around it to protect it from egg-laying damage.

welcome to my jungle





life in hell (or air travel 2007)

I'm hearing more and more horror stories about air travel in recent weeks - flight delays, absolutely full flights, cancellations, horrendous lies by airline personnel, and a general lack of customer service. This week a friend of a friend went to NYC for what was supposed to be a one day trip. When she went to the airport for her return trip to Chicago on Thursday, she was told that her flight was cancelled. She was offered a ticket on the next flight with any available seats - on Saturday. The airline did not make any attempt to help her get back to Chicago sooner. Phone calls to other airlines did not get her anything better. If she's lucky, maybe she'll get home from NYC tonight, after paying for 2 additional days of hotel and meals, not reimbursed by the airline.

And then there's the hell that some guy from Ft. Worth just went through, courtesy of Delta. The Youtube video included in the article gives a much more complete picture of how bad it was and how badly the airline handled it.

I'd like to take a trip later this year, but the growing list of nightmare stories does not exactly motivate me to fork over a chunk of cash for this game of travel Russian roulette. It's making Amtrak look a lot more appealing. At least if you have delays on Amtrak, you have access to food and you can get up and walk around. They rent digital video players too. The idea of settling into a comfortable seat, enjoying the scenery, having good food in the dining car, and walking around as much as I want is pretty nice compared to the possibility of being stranded at my destination if my return flight is cancelled, at an unknown additional cost for hotel and meals.

I think we can officially declare our airline transportation broken, folks. The question is how and when it will be fixed.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Ted's band

A bit of Scrubs musical silliness for your Friday...

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

time to take care of business in Springfield

Our elected genius Blago has been setting a fine example by wasting taxpayers' money on state aircraft to shuttle him back and forth between Springfield and Chicago 3 times a week during the emergency budget session. State Rep Bill Mitchell has proposed bringing him and legislative leaders down to earth in future years. Sounds like a fine idea, especially since they have failed to meet the 5/31 budget deadline for 4 years under Blago's stellar leadership.

Meanwhile, it's time to Springfield to meet the efforts of the CTA and RTA halfway and keep our public transit moving.

How 'bout getting your priorities straight, people? A few of you privileged characters in Springfield are winging home on our dime, but we're getting closer to a doomsday scenario where the regular folks who pay your salaries may not be able to get to their jobs.

Day of Silence

Today was a Day of Silence on many internet radio stations in protest of the punitive increase in royalty rates passed by the Copyright Royalty Board. Time is running out. The new rates will take effect on 7/15/07, which will effectively silence most of internet radio. Please take a minute to contact your U.S. Senators and Representative to ask them to vote in favor of the Internet Radio Equality Act.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

bike paths to nowhere

Today's Trib has a good article summing up the difficulties in our transition from recreational bike paths that exist in bits and pieces to a regional off-road transportation network.

Friday, June 22, 2007

the downside of ethanol

I wrote recently about how the increased demand for ethanol was affecting the Mexican economy. lt seems that now it's having a more noticeable effect closer to home. If too much corn is diverted for energy use, is the effect on our food supply worth it? Milk prices are heading for record high levels, because corn that was previously allocated for cattle feed is now going towards ethanol. This affects the supply and price of many other food products.

I'm curious to see the potential of perennial grasses as a source of alternative fuel.

A new renewable energy bill just passed the U.S. Senate. I think this is a mixed bag at best. I'm all in favor of raising fuel economy standards. However, giving such an aggressive push to the demand for ethanol is likely to accelerate the economic problems we’re beginning to experience. IMO, developing alternative energy sources from plants that are not major food crops would be healthier for the economy, the air we breathe, and our people. Here's another view on it, one that makes some good points.

Your $0.02?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Blago's expensive commute

The Tribune ran an article today about Governor Blagojevich's expensive commute between Chicago and Springfield. Given the state's current budget crisis, can we really afford this extravagance?

Hey, Rod, could you pay the state back for this expensive taxi fare instead of putting us deeper in the hole?

morning on Van Buren 2

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Internet Radio Equality Act

I posted an item recently about this proposed legislation intended to right the wrong done by the Copyright Royalty Board. I wrote to Barack Obama and Dick Durbin (my U.S. Senators) about this and got the following response from Obama.

----------------

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Copyright Royalty Board’s rate increase decision and its effect on small webcasters. I appreciate hearing your thoughts on this issue.

The royalty rate for webcasters has proven to be a controversial subject, with small webcasters hoping to become viable, competitive alternatives to large commercial radio stations. As you know, many of these small webcasters offer a variety of music unavailable to a wide audience through other sources.

Regulations set by the enactment of the Small Webcasters Settlement Act of 2002, which favored small webcasters, recently expired and the regulations had to be revisited. As you are aware, in March, 2007, the Copyright Royalty Board issued its decision, which establishes new rates for commercial and noncommercial webcasters. The Board considered the comments of small commercial and non-commercial webcasters, who sought continuation of a fee based solely according to revenue. Ultimately, the Board rejected this benefit for small webcasters, opting instead for a flat-rate fee and a per song per listener basis. When making this decision, the Board cited the difficulty of distinguishing small and large webcasters, as well as their own lack of statutory authority to carve out royalty rate niches for the emergent business models promoted by small webcasters.

The Internet Radio Equality Act (S. 1353), introduced in the Senate on May 10, 2007, would reverse the decision by the Copyright Royalty Board. This legislation is currently being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee. While I am not a member of this committee, I will certainly keep your thoughts in mind when it comes to the Senate floor for a vote.

Again, thank you for raising this issue with me. Please stay in touch.

Sincerely,

Barack Obama
United States Senator

Sunday, June 17, 2007

scent memory

The other day I was walking downwind of a woman wearing a strong, sweetly scented perfume. It brought back a pleasant scent memory from when I was a kid: grape Crush. Crush had a big factory near our house, and with the prevailing summer winds being from the southwest, we could usually tell from the air which flavor of pop they were bottling on a particular day. We'd be out on the street. The breeze would blow. Guess it's an orange Crush day.

Friday, June 15, 2007

pedicab to the rescue

This is an appropriate story for Bike to Work week.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

driving into the Loop could be taxing

Seems like someone heard me or was thinking along the same lines when I wrote this recent piece about the idea of having a Loop congestion charge to help fund public transit in Chicago. Kudos to Alderman Ed Burke for having the guts to introduce this proposal. Here's the Sun-Times version of the story.

IMO, most of the people responding on the Sun-Times blog sounded rather clueless, not willing to get their heads out of their car-bound butts and smell the proverbial coffee. Wake up, folks! Traffic congestion and air pollution will NOT get any better if people keep driving to work alone.

I've contacted my alderman and urged support of the congestion charge. If you want to contact your alderman and don't have the necessary contact information, here's how to find it. You might also want to ask this question of your alderman. "Do you drive downtown or use public transit or your bike?" If they all took CTA, the system would be in a little better shape. Perhaps the city's commitment to the environment and transportation stops at the doors to City Hall, or at the nearest parking garage.

NASA on your baby monitor

Now this story is just bizarre.

green choices - clearing weeds and brush

If you have some serious brush clearing or weeding to do, instead of using chemicals and lots of labor, you might consider renting a goat. No, I'm not joking. Over the years, friends with goats have used them to keep weeds and brush under control on their own property and have sometimes loaned them out to other folks. This wouldn't be suitable for weeding around a house on a typical city lot. On a vacant lot or larger property...that's a different story. Food for thought...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

oil quiz

I found this link on another local blog. It contains some interesting and relevant facts. It's worth checking out.

more expensive and twice the CO2

The U.S. government is considering funding research into "coal to liquid" (otherwise referred to as CTL or gasified coal) as an alternative fuel source. Using it as a gasoline substitute seems ridiculous to me. Just say no to gasified coal as a gasoline substitute. I'm not sure that using instead of coal in power plants is much better, but at least in that context emissions can be more effectively filtered.

Of course, the best way to reduce dependence on foreign oil is to significantly reduce energy consumption. Driving less, driving a more fuel efficient vehicle, riding a bicycle instead of driving a car, using compact fluorescent bulbs, recycling (especially metal products), using a fan instead of air conditioning, using Energy Star appliances instead of less efficient ones - all of the measures can help the big picture.

I wrote to Senator Barack Obama and others to voice my opposition to gasified coal. Here is his response:

-------------------------
Thank you for advising me of your concern about the economic and environmental consequences of converting coal to liquids (CTL) for use as a motor fuel. Like you, I oppose the Inhofe amendment to S. 4.

Concern has been expressed that the “coal to liquid” process will pump more carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere, and that making gasoline or diesel out of coal will emit more CO2 than traditional gasoline or diesel, thereby exacerbating the current problem of global warming. Others suggest that a CTL industry has the potential to create thousands of jobs, significantly cut oil imports, and reduce energy costs. They point to a study by the Southern States Energy Board, a group comprised of lawmakers from Southern states and industry representatives. That study maintains that by 2030 CTL could replace 30 percent of the oil imported to the United States.

Reducing our country's dependence on imported oil is critical to our long term national and economic security. I am convinced this goal can be achieved without sacrificing other important national priorities such as preserving our environment and addressing climate change. Therefore, I am willing to consider CTL technology if it can be demonstrated that it will not hurt the critical imperative of combating global warming. My objective is to explore whether it is technologically feasible to convert coal to fuel in a process with lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions as low or lower than emissions from the lifecycle use of gasoline or diesel. That question needs to be answered before a decision is made to authorize government support for CTL projects. For that reason, I offered an amendment to the FY08 budget resolution to provide $200 million to fund research into the feasibility of capturing carbon released from the burning of coal. I am pleased that this amendment passed the Senate.

Again, thank you for writing. Please stay in touch as this important debate continues.

Sincerely,

Barack Obama
United States Senator

new tales of the city

I love the Tales of the City series of books as well as the TV miniseries, so I was very glad to hear this bit of news.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Monday, June 11, 2007

change in Concord

Areas of the country that we don't think of as melting pot regions are changing. In recent years, New Hampshire and Maine have welcomed refugee communities from African countries. When I lived in New Hampshire, I missed the vibrance I experienced with immigrant communities in Chicago. It's good to see New England energized by this kind of change.

rosy day





one way to really move beyond congestion

We've had way too many Chicken Little moments concerning CTA/RTA transit funding in the last few years. The city and state have not been willing to take meaningful steps to find a longer term solution so that we're not hearing screams of "funding crisis" every year and seeing the quality of service and safety of our trains and buses deteriorate.

One way we could plug the budget gap and help relieve traffic congestion would be to institute a congestion charge in the Loop, River North, Streeterville and perhaps a small surrounding area. This idea has been used in London for a few years now and has been recently proposed for Manhattan. Here's another link on London's situation. Here's a short New Yorker item about the situation in NYC.

Revenues raised from a Loop congestion charge could be used for CTA maintenance and operating expenses. Reduced traffic (and vehicles idling for less time) would improve quality of life downtown by improving air quality, reducing noise, reducing accidents, and reducing road rage. This is likely to encourage people to walk more downtown, and shop and dine more there, which would be good for both public health and the local economy.

Another revenue source would be an increased state income tax. This would be a more progressive and fair solution than an increased sales tax, which puts a disproportionate burden on poorer people. Use some of that additional income revenue for public transit funding, and use the rest to help plug the state budget gap.

While I don't expect either of these solutions to be popular, it's long past due for our aldermen, Mayor Daley, state legislators, and Governor Blagojevich to bite the bullet and approve a longer term solution. It's time stop crying like Chicken Little, to solve the problem before the sky really does fall.

Whaddya say, folks? Can you stop playing chicken with our state economy and our lives?

Obama passes on donations

I think that Barack Obama's choice to pass along some questionable campaign donations to charity was a good one, especially in light of recent history.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

apropos of nothing

Here's a bit of silliness for your day, if you enjoy "Scrubs." Cheers!

Friday, June 8, 2007

on Barack Obama and local issues

The New Yorker recently ran a good article about Barack Obama, and their online edition had a Q&A follow-up with the article's author.

There is still a lot of fuzziness about where he really stands on many key issues. I give him points for raising the issue of the growing "quiet riot" in poor black neighborhoods across the country. It speaks to his past experience as a community activist here, and is relelvant nationally.

However, since Obama's hope-filled transition to Washington D.C., it seems that he's focused exclusively on national issues and forgotten who he is representing there: the people of Illinois. I think that Carol Marin's article about Obama's disconnection from current Illinois issues is right on the money.

Can we afford to have such a disconnect when crises in Springfield and Chicago are growing? It's a good thing that Durbin is staying on top of things. While I may not agree with all of his views, I appreciate the fact that he is responsible to his constituents.

Some people may not pay any attention to the "local issue" factor regarding Obama. However, I can't get as enthusiastic about him as I did before he made some very stupid local political endorsements (Todd Stroger, Joe Moore, etc.) that helped to burden us with some unsuitable candidates. The long-term local cost of those endorsements could be very high, so they shouldn't be quickly forgotten. Obama should be accountable to his constituents.

Several weeks back, I wrote a letter to Obama voicing my disappointment at his unfortunate choice of endorsements. I know that a few other people did likewise, and we got the same response. There's a lot of irony in his reference to S. 453 and voting issues. Too bad his commitment to the integrity of the voting progress can't start at home.

----------------------------------------------------
Thank you for your recent communication expressing your disappointment in my support for Alderman Joe Moore (49th Ward) in the recent City Council elections.

Over the years Alderman Moore has made a significant contribution to Chicago City Council and his ward. My support for Joe has been based on his commitment to public service and his hard work on behalf of the residents of the 49th ward. Although the recent election was close and hard fought, I trust that all in the 49th ward can look forward to effective service by Alderman Joe Moore.

Some constituents have called for an investigation into the procedures of the local election boards because of the narrow margin in the run-off election. In late April, the challenger, Don Gordon, filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court alleging that he should be declared the winner because of "fraudulent votes" in 22 precincts. As a United States Senator, I have no jurisdiction over the state court system.

I do share your view of the importance of election reform. I have introduced S. 453, the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2007, which I am pleased to report has gained significant momentum since the November 2006 mid-term elections. The bill criminalizes deceptive misinformation campaigns and other types of efforts to misinform and intimidate voters. Specifically, S. 453 prohibits anyone from knowingly distributing false information regarding the time, place, manner, qualifications, restrictions and requirements for voting. It also outlaws false statements regarding an individual's endorsement of any candidate running for federal office. This provision is targeted specifically at an incident in Prince Georges County, Maryland, in which the Republican candidates for Governor and U.S. Senator distributed flyers in predominantly African-American neighborhoods claiming falsely that the two nominees had received the endorsements of several prominent local African-American political figures.

The bill imposes stiff penalties of up to $100,000 or five years imprisonment, or both, for those found guilty of violating the law. It also provides voters with a private right of action to seek relief from deceptive practices, and requires the DOJ to conduct immediate investigations into allegations of this type of fraud. Finally, the Act extends its purpose beyond mere deterrents and punishments by establishing a process for reaching out to misinformed and intimidated voters with correct information so they can cast their votes. While the various types of voter suppression targeted in S. 453 would either be prosecuted by attorneys at the Civil Rights or Criminal Divisions of the DOJ, the bill also provides optional authority for the Attorney General to create a "Voter Integrity Task Force."

I am pleased to report some significant developments in the effort to get this legislation passed. The House version of the bill, introduced by Rep. Rahm Emanuel (R-IL), was approved by the House Judiciary Committee in mid-April. It is my understanding that the bill will be taken up for debate by the full House, and a vote will be held on final passage, in early June. Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee is planning to hold a hearing on S. 453 on June 7, 2007, which brings us one step closer to passage on the Senate side. I am becoming increasingly optimistic that we can get this bill signed into law by the end of the year.

Protecting the right to vote has been a career-long focus of mine. Before joining the Senate, this issue was a central aspect of my work as a community organizer in Chicago, as a civil rights attorney ensuring compliance with voter registration law, and as a constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago. My commitment to protecting the rights of all voters in this country has only been strengthened by the new opportunities for involvement afforded by my position as a United States Senator. I assure you I will take full advantage of that privilege.

I am optimistic that progress can be made toward ensuring that in American elections all eligible voters are able to cast their ballots free of any interference or intimidation, and have confidence that their vote will count. That is why I am also supporting legislation that includes requirements for "verifiable paper audit trails," also known as VPAT or "paper trails." Paper trail systems provide voters with a paper receipt of their electronic vote, and that receipt becomes the primary record of that person's vote. The receipt is deposited at the polling sites and is then used in the case of an audit.

Thank you again for writing. I value the informed comments of my fellow Illinoisans.

Sincerely,

Barack Obama
United States Senator

change and progress

…are not necessarily synonymous. When I look at the change happening at Block 37 and the former Carson Pirie Scott building on State Street, I have mixed feelings.

I miss having Carson's on State Street. The word is that some of the space has been leased. Today I actually saw construction workers going in and out of the building and taking lunch breaks. I hope that there will be retail businesses that are actually of interest to me, instead of more disposable junk like cheapo shoe stores, H&M, etc.

The Block 37 construction has been a nightmare for months. It is affecting pedestrian and bike traffic, car traffic, bus traffic, and the CTA red and blue lines. In one of the most pedestrian-heavy areas of the Loop, all foot traffic is compressed onto one side of the street, causing pedestrian gridlock. Today I noticed the long skinny snout of a concrete pumper sending concrete up to around the 20th floor. I will be celebrating when the building is enclosed and adjacent sidewalks and street lanes reopen to traffic. That can't happen soon enough.

I hope that any new businesses added at these two locations will be a positive addition both in what they sell and the jobs they offer.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

hitching a ride

Last night I was getting on the train at LaSalle Street station and noticed a cicada on the platform. There sure aren't any big trees close to there, so I wondered how it got there. This morning a co-worker was mentioning that she'd seen cicadas on her train on the way downtown. Perhaps the LaSalle St. cicada hitched a ride on the Rock Island. ;)

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

CTA hearings tonight and next week

If you want to speak your mind at a CTA public hearing about the latest Doomsday scenario, here are your opportunities:

•Wednesday 6/6 (tonight)• 6:30 p.m., Michelle's Ballroom, 2800 W. Belmont Ave.

•Monday 6/11• 6:30 p.m., Univ. of IL-Chicago Student Center East, 750 S. Halsted St., Room 302

•Wednesday 6/13• 9 a.m., CTA headquarters, 567 W. Lake St.

MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD: Public comment also may be submitted to the board at ctahelp@transitchicago.com, or by writing to:

Chicago Transit Authority
Attn.: Gregory Longhini, asst. secretary, Chicago Transit Board
P.O. Box 7567
Chicago, IL 60680

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

end of an era

...and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Demolition of the last high rise of the Robert Taylor Homes housing project is nearly done. (Sorry about the fuzziness of this image. The train window was not exactly pristine.)

unofficial Chicago bird

the tower crane

creative traffic calming

Here's a creative form of traffic calming, although it's not one I'd recommend for Chicago.

Friday, June 1, 2007

no pension for Ryan

Can't say I'm sorry to hear this news.