Monday, March 30, 2009


Today, while reading the New York Times, a couple of articles I read intrigued me and made me think of the future.

One was Skype. The article told how Skype, which has brought cheap internet-based phone service phone service to millions, was going to add mobile phone service. The article mentioned that Skype had brought cheap VoIP (Voice over Internet Provider) based phone service to 400 million users. That's about 8% of the planet.

Another was about how European newspapers have fared better than their American counterparts, in part because of better use of their internet versions. Yet another article was about how AMC movie theaters were going convert their theaters to 100% digital projectors over the next few years. Movies will be streamed over the internet to the theaters, where they will be stored on hard drives.

I remember years ago, my late friend Mark showing me this marvel, the internet, in 1994 or so. When he'd described it to me, I was skeptical. It sounded like a fad, like CB radio was in the seventies. We sat at his computer and he told me to come up with any question, something I'd wanted to know, but couldn't find the answer to. The first thing that popped in my mind was "Don't Go Back to Rockville," the REM song. He and I and all our friends in college had become fans of REM from the start. Their first couple of albums were notorious for their cryptic, half-mumbled lyrics. "Rockville" was hands down our favorite-- but we had no idea what the lyrics were.

Mark opened a browser-- the first time I'd seen an internet browser-- and ran a search. Within a minute, we had the lyrics, which he printed up for me.

I was hooked. Pretty soon, I was hooked up too, through Tezcat, a long-gone local ISP. Over the years, I was able to get books and music I'd been looking for forever. I found long-lost friends and was able to keep in much better touch with friends and family. I pay my bills online, email back and forth with people, check my bank account, and a bunch of things. I did most of my Christmas shopping online. I rent movies through Netflix, and will soon try their streaming. I bought the textbook and dissection kit I needed for my Anatomy class online. I started Facebooking recently, and was rewarded with contact with another wave of people I'd long given up hope of finding. My home phone service is over the internet, through Vonage.

When Mark, the guy who'd gotten me onto the internet, was killed in a robbery a few years ago, I first found out through an email. We set up a Yahoo group to disseminate information about his funeral, dealing with his estate and progress in his case. He would have found it amusing and ironic.

The internet has changed things, especially newspapers. As someone I knew who was in sales of newspaper ads said, how do I sell an ad in a newspaper when people can use Craigslist for free? In the old days, newspapers were filled with classified ads, which were their bread and butter. Ad revenues have plummeted catastrophically. Major newspapers are in trouble-- this has affected close friends of mine. Even today, the New York Times had an article about how the venerable institution the San Francisco Chronicle is in deep trouble.

So where is this all going?

I have no idea. But as a student of history, I know that every change in technology and infrastructure, such as railroads, telegraphs, telephones, personal computers, radio, air travel and television, have had unforeseen consequences, some bad, but mostly good in the end. With each of these things, after some uncertainty, society has adjusted and thrived, with new opportunities-- and jobs.

Not too long ago, I was talking about it all with my old friend Tim, who works in the newspaper business. He said that it was clear that the business model for journalism is changing for sure, but no one is sure how. It's difficult, he said, to separate the change in the business from the current recession. How much is each responsible for the problems in the newspaper business? We won't really know until the flush times return-- and they will inevitably return. And the newspaper business will come back up with it. It may be a little different, but in the end, I don't believe that people will want to give up their newspapers-- even if it's on a laptop or a Kindle. I know I'm not giving up my New York Times.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Delayed Friday Random Ten

Kim and I made the decision recently to switch to satellite tv from our increasingly expensive cable. They installed our satellite tv, I made arrangements with the cable company to disconnect the cable television-- but not our cable internet access.

Sure enough, the technician cut off both, and I had to wait for another technician to show up to reconnect it. We were without internet access since yesterday afternoon. That was no problem, though-- I got a call yesterday afternoon from Bubs, who was in the neighborhood, and he dropped by for a cup of coffee and conversation.

1. The One On The Right Is On The Left- Johnny Cash
2. End of the Night- The Doors
3. Nightclub Jitters- The Replacements
4. My Pledge of Love- The Joe Jeffrey Group
5. My Sweet Lord- George Harrison
6. Slow Ride- Foghat
7. Love March- The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
8. We Close Our Eyes- Go West
9. I Want You Back- The Hoodoo Gurus
10. Comin’ Back To Me- The Jefferson Airplane

1. Johnny Cash gently ribbing the folk movement
2. The Doors’ first album came out 42 years ago and still sounds great.
3. From the “Pleased To Meet Me” album, which also features Yen family favorite “Alex Chilton.”
4. Great little R and B one hit wonder.
5. This is the song that got George Harrison in trouble—it sounded to much like the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine.” I love both songs.
6. Foghat played at the first concert I ever went to at Soldier Field in Chicago in 1977—the “Superbowl of Rock.”
7. My parents used to get out to see Butterfield at Big John’s, a club in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago in the 1960’s.
8. Great ‘80’s one hit wonder.
9. A terrific Australian band that had a bunch of great songs in the ‘80’s.
10. From “Surrealistic Pillow,” one of my desert island albums

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Johnny Yen's Chicago Stories: The Purple Motel

A couple of weeks ago, I was driving near the intersection of Lincoln and Devon, near the border of Chicago and the suburb of Lincolnwood and I realized for the first time that two Chicago-area landmarks are within a couple of blocks of each other: the Bunny Hutch and the Purple Motel.

The Bunny Hutch is a misnomer, actually. The Bunny Hutch is a fast food restaurant attached to Novelty Golf, a beloved miniature golf place, but everybody calls the miniature golf place "The Bunny Hutch."

The Purple Motel is known these days for, well, being purple. But in 1983, it became part of Chicago gangland lore when Allen Dorfman got whacked in the parking lot, back when it was known as the Hyatt Lincolnwood Hotel.

If you've ever seen the movie "Casino," you know Allen Dorfman's story-- his was the character played by comedian Alan King. He was a Teamster's guy who came up with the idea of using Teamster's money to invest in the then-Mob-infested Las Vegas casinos in the 1970's.

As things began to unravel in Vegas after Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal's childhood friend, mob killer Anthony "The Ant" Spilotro began drawing unwanted attention to mob activities in Vegas thanks to his "Hole In The Wall" gang's less-than-subtle breaking and entering and home invasions, things were breaking bad for Dorfman. The FBI had launched a campaign to get him-- "Operation Pendorf" ("Penetrate Dorfman"). They finally managed to catch Dorfman and Teamster president Roy Williams trying to bribe Nevada Senator Howard Cannon to support a bill blocking trucking deregulation.

Dorfman was convicted and was scheduled to be sentenced on February 10, 1983. But someone else had other ideas. On January 21, 1983, as Dorfman walked with his long-time associate Irwin Weiner to his car in the parking lot pictured at the top of this post, two masked men walked up to them and announced a robbery. As Weiner stood by, the two gunmen shot Dorfman seven times in the head with .22 calibre pistols-- the preferred gun of mob hits.

Time Magazine quoted the Chicago Crime Commission as saying it was the Chicago area's 1081st gangland style hit since the Commission started keeping records in 1919. For years it was assumed that one of the gunmen was Anthony Spilotro, but it is now believed to have been Frank ''The German'' Schweihs, who, ironically, is believed to have been involved in the murders of Spilotro and Spilotro's brother Michael in 1986. Schweihs died of cancer in prison last year, having been caught, along with Joey "The Clown" Lombardo in "Operation Family Secrets."

The mob was obviously afraid that if Dorfman received a long sentence, he might cut a deal and rat out other Teamsters and mobsters to cut his sentence. The hit guaranteed that Dorfman would not make a deal, whether he had planned to or not.

And what of Mr. Dorfman's "associate," businessman/mobster, bail bondsman, friend of Jack Ruby and Niles, Illinois resident Irwin Weiner, who was standing near Dorfman when he was whacked? Weiner, who had beaten a charge in 1975, along with Dorfman, of defrauding the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund after the key witness was murdered (by Joey Lombardo)... didn't see a thing. He ended up dying of old age.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Missed Opportunity

There's a big hubbub about Obama's "Special Olympics" comment on Jay Leno's show last week regarding his mediocre bowling. Yes, it was insensitive, not particulary funny and a poor choice of words-- and he immediately realized it. I'll cut the guy some slack--granted, I'm not the parent of a special needs kid, but god help me if I was judged on the stupid things I've said in the last month, let alone in my life. And he's a little preoccupied trying to straighten out the mess of eight years of aggressively stupid governing.

But even worse, he missed the opportunity for a line that would actually have been funny: "Yeah, I probably better not give up my day job."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Occasional Forgotten Video, Moby, "We Are All Made of Stars"

Moby started out as a punk rocker, and has written a lot of songs that have been on film soundtracks (the movie "Heat" had a couple of his songs) and commercials.

I love this video, with it's odd theme-- Moby wandering through Hollywood in a spacesuit, running into B-List celebrities and the ending, with it's "2001: A Space Odyssey" homage. See if you can name all the celebrities.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Midterm Friday Random Ten

I'm going into midterm in my Anatomy class with an A, which I'm very happy about. This was the class I was most nervous about. I'm still nervous-- I've got a test coming up where I've got to identify bones and parts of bones-- there are 206 bones, each having between 5 and 8 parts. I'm getting together with a couple of classmates to study them today.

1. Good Shepard- Jefferson Airplane
2. It's A Happening- The Magic Mushrooms
3. Sometimes Always- The Jesus and Mary Chain
4. Send A Picture of Mother- Johnny Cash
5. He Was A Friend Of Mine- The Byrds
6. The Crowd- Roy Orbison
7. The E-Street Shuffle- Bruce Springsteen
8. Cherry Bomb- The Runaways
9. I Don't Know What It Is- Pete Shelley
10. 20th Century Fox- The Doors

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My Most Memorable St. Paddy's Day

Being of considerable Irish ancestry, when I was a younger guy, I used to celebrate St. Patrick's Day in the fashion a lot of young guys do. I had a lot of fun, but none of these came close to my greatest St. Paddy's Day memory.

In 1986, I was just out of college. A college friend knew I was looking for work and got me an interview for a clerk's position at the small legal firm her then-husband worked at. I got the job, and for the next 2 years, I worked at the downtown Chicago company.

The company's office was located on Dearborn Avenue, just a couple of minute's walk from many of the city and county offices I would be called on to file papers at. Dearborn Avenue was also the street that the annual St. Patrick's Day parade took place on.

That day, as any other, I was called upon to file some papers at some office. I left the office and had to wait for the parade to pass by. I saw Mayor Harold Washington, Chicago's first African-American mayor, march by next to Illinois' governor, Jim Thompson, and a bunch of local politicians. I hardly noticed that representatives from Lender's Bagels were handing out green bagels wrapped in plastic.

The bigwigs passed by and the marching bands approached. And then it began.

I guess it never occurred to the promotion genius that thought this one up-- I don't know what's worse-- handing out green bagels? Handing out green bagels to drunk people? Handing out green bagels to drunk people who are watching a parade?

It started slowly at first, and picked up steam, and eventually a virtual storm of bagels began raining down on the poor high school bands. Green bagels. And since the bagels were wrapped, people were picking them back up and throwing them again.

Just when I thought it couldn't get any more awful and surreal, it did-- it suddenly occurred to the drunken revelers to try to throw the bagels into the tubas. As each tuba player passed by, dozens of people tried to fling the green bagels into the tuba.

It was probably fortunate that those winging the bagels were loaded; I'm pretty sure not one bagel found its mark into a tuba. Still, the image of thousands of green bagels raining down onto a parade is one that I won't ever forget. And neither will Lender's-- to my knowledge, they never did this promotion again.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Close Call Friday Random Ten

Yesterday morning, I was awakened very early by the sound of a crash in the kitchen. I ran in there to discover that Fatboy, our fat (and not too smart) cat had knocked my Powerbook off of the counter it was sitting on. Lucky for him, I'd purchased an aluminum-body Powerbook a couple of months ago. The frame was slightly dented, and my "right-shift" key will need to be replaced, but the computer was otherwise unscathed. He'll live to be fat and dumb for another day.

1. 10:15 Saturday Night- The Cure
2. A Slow Song- Joe Jackson
3. One of These Days- Ten Years After
4. Obviously 5 Believers- Bob Dylan
5. He Ain't Give You None- Van Morrison
6. Another Park, Another Sunday- The Doobie Brothers
7. All I'm Thinkin' About- Bruce Springsteen
8. Nothingness- Living Color
9. Panama- Pat Boone
10. Johnny 99- Bruce Springsteen

1. Great underappreciated song by these guys
2. I still love Night and Day, which came out in 1982
3. These guys tore it up at Woodstock
4. From the great "Blonde On Blonde" album
5. This was on TB Sheets, one of many great albums that came out in 1967.
6. As good a break-up song as there ever was
7. Some acoustic Springsteen
8. Love these guys-- I first heard their great cover of the Talking Heads' "Memories Can't Wait."
9. From Pat Boone's tongue-in-cheek metal album, "In a Metal Mood."
10. Some more acoustic Springsteen, from his great 1982 album "Nebraska." It's a timely tale of a guy who loses his job at an auto plant and loses his cool.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Back-up

A couple of months ago, I had some problems with the hard drive of my Ibook. Luckily, our good friend Greg, who, like me, loves Macs, helped me repair the corrupted software.

I keep a separate hard drive to back up pictures, music, etc. My music got backed up through my ipod. To my horror, looking at the back-up hard drive, I came to the realization that I hadn't backed up the digital pictures from my Canon digital camera to the back-up hard drive since May. I'd downloaded them to the laptop, meaning to move them to the back-up hard drive.

This meant that except for his first couple of games of the season, I'd lost all the pictures from my son's previous baseball season. This was distressing for a couple of reasons; first, his team had gone all the way to the World Series of their league, something that had been his goal since he started playing baseball as a little boy. The second reason it was distressing was that it was his last season. Since he'd attained his goal, to play in a championship, and was now busy with high school, marching band, etc., that season was to be his last.

I still had a half-dozen videotapes taken with my camcorder, and I comforted myself with that, but it was cold comfort. Then it occurred to me-- my ex had been taking pictures all season with her brand new digital camera.

I remembered all the acrimony of the past-- a custody fight that was beyond bitter. I remembered heeding my old friend Tas' words-- a friend who had dealt with the bitter split of her parents, who implored me not to rise to my ex's bait-- not to badmouth my ex, no matter how awful she acted. I recalled all the years of helping my ex out when she needed, slowly, methodically creating goodwill-- help moving, advice when she was having problems, financial help occasionally-- that slowly ended the conflict. As we approach the end of my son's childhood, things are calm, friendly even.

I called her up, told her about my hard drive mishap, and the loss, and asked her if I could give her a blank cd and have her give me copies of the pictures she took.

No problem, she said.

I remembered every time I had to bite my lip when she said something mean or ridiculous. Every time my son complained about her, and I had to tell him that there was nothing I could do about it-- that he'd have to work it out with her. I remembered every time I turned the other cheek. Every time I was the adult in the situation.

As I loaded the cd and looked at the pictures of a wonderful season, a season in which he had a coach who took him out of the doldrums of right field and let him play first base, third base-- and even pitch, including in a World Series-- I realized that it was all worth it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Letting a Sleeping Mystery Lie

I, like many people, love a good mystery. There are some mysteries, like the strange case of the hijacker "D.B. Cooper, which I've posted about before, that I hope will be solved in my lifetime.

Another mystery that piqued my curiousity was the case of Sandra Rosas, the wife of Los Lobos member Cesar Rosas. I remember the news story, in 1999, that she had gone missing while Los Lobos was on tour. Usually, in situations like this, the husband is immediately the suspect. However, since they had an apparently very happy marriage, and he was on tour with his band, nowhere near where she was, he was quickly eliminated as a suspect.

I had loved Los Lobos since first hearing them on college radio in the mid-eighties, and was curious about the case. I wondered if Mrs. Rosas had been kidnapped for ransom, had decided to leave the marriage or had fallen victim to a random crime. I filed the case in the back of my mind, and a few months ago, thought about it and did a little research.

The truth, I discovered, had been unearthed, and was awful.

Mrs. Rosas had apparently discovered that she had been adopted. She became curious about her blood family. She did a little investigating and discovered that she had a half-brother, Gabriel Gomez. She happily cultivated a relationship with her new-found relative.

What she didn't know was that her half-brother was a drunk, a drug addict and a sometimes violent career criminal. She and her husband allowed him to live in a trailer on she and her husband's property, but Gomez quickly wore out his welcome, with erratic, disruptive behavior, and then demanding money from his sister. Finally, she had had enough. She decided to confront him, and tell him that he would have to leave.

When she did so, he quickly turned violent, killing her and burying her body. About a year later, he was convicted of her death, receiving a sentence of life without the possiblity of parole. At the sentencing, the judge suggested that Gomez might help the authorities find the body of Mrs. Rosas and bring the family closure. He told them that he was too intoxicated on alcohol and cocaine to remember the murder and burial, but eventually suggested a location that proved to be wrong. He later suggested another location, 50 miles from where he had first sent investigators, and it was there that they found the remains of Mrs. Rosas.

I was saddened that this mystery had such an unhappy ending, and thought about two things: first, that the old adage that the path to hell is frequently paved with good intentions is quite true. And secondly, that for Mrs. Rosas, the mystery was something that was best left alone.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

I'm In Love With That Song

"Children by the million sing for Alex Chilton when he comes 'round
They sing "I'm in love. What's that song?
I'm in love with that song."

Alex Chilton
The Replacements

Last night we had a 15th birthday party for my son Adam (the blogger formerly known as the Evil Dictator, but since seeing The Big Lebowski is now known as The Dude. Attendance by both kids and adults was great. And of course we broke out Rock Band II.

As The Dude hammered away at the drums, with his good friend Julian playing guitar, and his stepsister Mel and her friend Alexandra on vocals to The Replacements' "Alex Chilton," I turned to someone and said that 23 years ago, when we were all in clubs hearing the song, and even seeing the Replacements perform, I would have never imagined I'd be hanging out with my teenaged son and his friends as they performed it on a video game. Or that I'd be having the time of my life doing it.

The Dude abides.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Last Minute Friday Random Ten

Today was a flurry, so I'm doing my Friday Random Ten late in the day. We're having a party tomorrow night for Adam-- he's fifteen tomorrow-- so I had to get ready for that. And his high school team won their playoff game, so they played tonight, and so did he-- he's in the band. They played Maine South, Hillary Clinton's high school. Oh, and they won.

1. Train In Vain- The Clash
2. Old John Robertson- The Byrds
3. Get Rhythm- Johnny Cash
4. Home Tonight- Aerosmith
5. Bang Bang- Sonny and Cher
6. Hold On- Lou Reed
7. When I Come Around- Green Day
8. Bluebirds Over the Mountain- Richie Valens
9. Electric Avenue- Eddy Grant
10. Let There Be Rock- AC/DC

1. The first Clash song I ever heard. It started me on a lifelong love affair with their music.
2. I love the Byrds. This song was a recent discovery, thanks to Little Steven's Underground Garage.
3. I always forget how much I like this song. Johnny Cash had so damned many great songs.
4. From Aerosmith Rocks.
5. From when Sonny was a hippie and not a Republican and Cher wasn't creepy.
6. My late friend Mark fell in love with Lou's New York album and predicted I would too; it was two things I loved, Lou Reed and politics. He was right.
7. My kids both love Green Day. Have I got great kids or what?
8. La Bamba is one of my favorite rock songs ever-- ironic, since it was originally a Mexican folk song. Richie Valens did a whole bunch more great songs. This is one of them.
9. Yesterday was Eddy Grant's birthday. Heard that on Little Steven's Underground Garage.
10. My kids and I love doing this one on Rock Band.

An Illinois Tradition

Here in Illinois we thought we might have a brief respite from corruption; Blagojevich's replacement, Pat Quinn is a a respected reformer. This week, in an election to fill the spot vacated by Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel (a seat once held by Blagojevich and before that by the powerful House Ways and Means Committee chairman Dan Rostenkowski, who himself was imprisoned for corruption), reformer Mike Quigley, who has been fighting the good fight as a Cook County board commissioner, surprised everyone by beating much better funded opponents and taking the Democratic nomination for the seat. The Democratic nomination is virtually a guarantee of an electoral victory, particularly in light of the fact that his upcoming Republican opponent is batshit crazy.

But alas, Roland Burris is going to make sure that we don't get a corruption break. Burris, who was once a respected statewide politician, serving as State Comptroller and Secretary of State (our version of the head of Division of Motor Vehicles). Back in the day, this was no small feat-- it was not an easy thing for an African-American guy to get elected to a state-wide office in Illinois.

As everybody in the world now knows, our ex-governor was caught on tape trying to sell off the Senate seat vacated when Barack Obama became president. The common wisdom said that to accept that seat form Blagojevich would not be a good thing-- it was tainted. Best to wait until Hot Rod was out of office and accept it from the untarnished Quinn. And a number of people were apparently offered it-- and had the good sense to turn it down.

But not Roland Burris. He jumped at the chance to become Senator. But that was all right, because he didn't do anything bad, like, say, try to drum up some money for ol' Hot Rod.

Well, okay, maybe he talked to some people a little bit about it.

Okay, maybe a little more than that.

Okay, maybe a lot...

I'm not answering any more of your racist questions...

Mr. Burris forgot an important lesson in life somewhere along the line-- tell the truth right away. Then you only have to remember one story.

Maybe in the end, Burris and Blagojevich will end up in a cell together, protesting their innocence. Man, that would make a great movie! Oh, wait, I forgot-- the already did that one.

"That's right-- we bad! We bad!"

But I digress. What I wanted to write to you today was about Illinois' greatest corrupt politician ever, Paul Powell. Powell got involved in Illinois politics after World War II, serving as a state legislator. He was elected to the office of Secretary of State, which, as I mentioned, is in charge of automobile licenses (it was as Secretary of State that our former governor George Ryan got himself in trouble). Powell got off to a running start, and was investigated for corruption the very next year. He was not convicted, and continued in the office until his death in 1970 while being treated at the Mayo clinic.

When Powell died, people checking the Springfield, Illinois hotel room he lived in found shoeboxes full of cash-- $800,000 worth. There were also 49 cases of whiskey, 14 transistor radios and two cases of creamed corn.

When all was said and done, a guy who never made more than $30,000 a year was worth $4.6 million. This included a million dollars in racetrack stock.*

How did he do it? Well, it certainly helped-- and I swear I'm not making this up; I remember seeing my parents write checks for car licenses this way-- that when you wrote a check out for your new automobile plates every year, you wrote the check out to Paul Powell, Secretary of State. Yes, that's right, you wrote the check out personally to Paul Powell.

Powell became part of the long line of brazenly corrupt Illinois politicians, who included Bob Hickman, the former mayor of my college town, Charleston, Illinois, who, as head of the Illinois tollway commission, stole thousands and thousands of dollars a quarter at a time. Powell, Blagojevich, Hickman and the lot were hellbent on living up to Powell's motto:

"There's only one thing worse than a defeated politician, and that's a broke one."

*Racetrack stock was apparently a popular currency for bribery; Otto Kerner, who was governor around the same time, was eventually convicted of accepting racetrack stock as a bribe. He was caught because a racetrack owner listed the bribe on her federal income tax form as a "business expense."

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Think He's Changed His Mind?

Roger Daltrey, the guy who sang the Pete Townsend-penned words "Hope I die before I get old," in the classic "My Generation," turned 65 today.