Conceived above a saloon, delivered into this world by a masked man identified by his heavily sedated mother as Captain Video, raised by a kindly West Virginian woman, a mild-mannered former reporter with modest delusions of grandeur and no tolerance of idiots and the intellectually dishonest.

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Requiem for a fictional Scotsman

Oh my God! They killed Library!! Those bastards!!!

Elegy to a Mostly Maine Coon

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Friday, November 08, 2002

I could use an Orange Whip

They had Seattle, they had Washington, D.C., they had Europe. I'm sorry. This is Chicago. We do prepare.-Mayor Richard Daley

Last night's anti-TransAtlantic Business Dialogue march was probably the most fun I've ever had in Chicago.

The protesters themselves were a disappointment. I've seen more people in the McDonald's across the street from my office building at lunchtime. But I think every police officer in the city of Chicago was on duty, lining the entire two-mile parade route, in some places three or four deep.

It was like The Blues Brothers. Thousands of cops in riot gear; a half-dozen helicopters; mounted police, police on motorcycles, bicycles; even police boats cruising the Chicago River. All that was missing was a cadre of SWAT units rappelling down the Lyric Opera building, going "Hut! Hut! Hut!".

And while they were there ostensibly to bust heads if things got out of control, the cops were cheerful and friendly. And some were downright witty. I asked one, "Excuse me. Could you direct me to the Office of the Assessor of Cook County?" He laughed and replied, "I could use an Orange Whip."

Chicago's police chief told a television reporter last night the only arrest was of some miscreant who punched a horse. Hmm, wrong movie, dude.

They police put on a production of Spielbergian scope and execution. The protesters fronted a Roger Corman flick. No, that's a slur to Corman. Some of his films had great scripts. These bozos were clueless.

The typical spectator really had no idea what the march was about. People were carrying signs condemning Wal-Mart, Bush, Cheney, global warming, the potential war with Iraq. It was as if no one group could muster a sufficient number of supporters, so the organizers decided to have an anti-establishment all skate. You had to have some sympathy for them, though. At least in the 60s, we had problems with clear solutions. The Vietnam war? Just get the hell out. But what do you do when the problem is there are too darn many rich white guys?

The march had wall-to-wall coverage on local television last night. Unfortunately, it looked more like a second-rate Mardi Gras celebration with no beads, indecent exposure or public urination. One television reporter noted that in the midst of the anti-capitalist demonstration was a guy distributing cards for his business: a company that makes t-shirts bearing protest slogans.

Perhaps the best indication of the impact the protest could be had by watching this morning's local television news. There was a major water break at 4 am on Lake Shore Drive, and that event monopolized the coverage for a full two hours. Last night's pageant received scant mention and a 10-second recap.

Chaos fans, take heart, though... there are additional protests scheduled through the weekend, including a rally this morning at The Honorable Richard J. Daley Plaza. Where they have the Picasso, for you Blues Brothers fans.

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Thursday, November 07, 2002

Commuters vs Commies

The main accomplishment of almost all organized protests is to annoy people who are not in them.-Dave Barry

It's going to be fun getting to my apartment this evening.

I work in a building on North Wacker Drive. After work I head west on Washington, toward Oprah's studio, past Boeing's headquarters. I'm generally accompanied by a couple thousand suburban commuters who stampede toward the suburban train stations, frantic to make their connections. The Metra in Chicago is nothing if not prompt.

Tonight at 4:30, a bunch of protesters will be walking the same route, but in the opposite direction. Like matter and anti-matter, the combination of these two determined primal elements should produce a rather interesting display.

The teevee hairdos say the people conducting the organized protest against the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue meetings are the same folks responsible for the melee in Seattle in 1999 that effectively shut down that town. The teevee said thousands could participate in the festivities, that the police were gearing up for a major confrontation, and that traffic could could be snarled for hours. To use the famous phrase from Ghostbusters: "Dogs and cats, living together... mass hysteria!"

The somewhat less breathless Associated Press noted this is the coalition's first official activity since 2000, when about 400 showed up in Cincinnati for a series of mostly uneventful demonstrations. Aside from the token arrests for the benefit of the cameras, there wasn't much in the way of anarchic civil disobedience.

Now Chicago has, shall we say, a colorful record when it comes to dealing with "scruffians" (a marvelous corruption of "scruffy ruffians," coined by a Homestead, PA police chief in the distant past). Remember the 1968 Democratic Convention? Who could forget the first Mayor Daley's impressive defense of the men in blue: "The police are not here to create disorder. They are here to preserve disorder."

Aside from directing traffic and keeping an eye on things, I don't anticipate much in the way of interaction between the protesters and police. What concerns me is what happens when the immovable object of social change meets the irresistible force of thousands of Chicago commuters hellbent on catching their trains.

Chicago's a great town, and its people are warm and friendly. I've referred to Chicago as Pittsburgh with a thyroid problem, or New York on Xanax.

But even the most pleasant Chicagoan wouldn't give a second thought to knocking you over like a ten pin and lodging his shoe in your trachea if you got between him and 4:58 to Arlington Park. This being Chicago, however, the fella would say "excuse me" and "have a nice day" as he stepped over your inert form to enter the station.

I think I'm going to stay in the office late today and watch the show from the safety of the 18th floor. There's going to be quite an impressive display of the power of worker solidarity. My money's on the administrative assistant with the tennis shoes and Marshall Field bag.

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Wednesday, November 06, 2002

If you voted for change, you better start counting it.

Apparently, a democracy is a place where numerous elections are held at great cost without issues and with interchangeable candidates.~Gore Vidal

Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.~George Bernard Shaw.

Corruption is nature's way of restoring our faith in democracy.-Peter Ustinov

Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.-George Bernard Shaw

Do you ever get the feeling that the only reason we have elections is to find out if the polls were right?~Robert Orben

Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.~H.L. Mencken

Get all the fools on your side and you can be elected to anything.~Frank Dane

If pigs could vote, the man with the slop bucket would be elected swineherd every time, no matter how much slaughtering he did on the side.~Orson Scott Card

In nature, stupidity gets you killed. In the workplace, it gets you fired. In politics, it gets you re-elected.~Bill VanRemmen

Democracy is like a raft. It won't sink, but you'll always have your feet wet.-Russell Long

Ninety-eight percent of the adults in this country are decent, hard working, honest Americans. It's the other lousy two percent that get all the publicity. But then, we elected them.~Lily Tomlin

Our elections are free, it's in the results where eventually we pay.~Bill Stern

The Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work; then they get elected and prove it.~P.J. O'Rourke

The next time they give you all that civic bullsh.t about voting, keep in mind that Hitler was elected in a full, free democratic election.~George Carlin

The organization of American society is an interlocking system of semi-monopolies notoriously venal, an electorate notoriously unenlightened, misled by a mass media notoriously phony.~Paul Goodman

Only a government that is rich and safe can afford to be a democracy, for democracy is the most expensive and nefarious kind of government ever heard of on earth.-H.L. Mencken

We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both.-Louis Brandeis (in 1939)

Florida's number three industry, behind tourism and skin cancer, is voter fraud.~Dave Barry

Give voters a choice between a Republican and a Republican, and they will choose a Republican every time.~Harry S Truman

Giving every man a vote has no more made men wise and free than Christianity has made them good.~H.L. Mencken

I voted for the Democrats because I didn't like the way the Republicans were running the country. Which is turning out to be like shooting yourself in the head to stop your headache.~Jack Mayberry

Nothing can so alienate a voter from the political system as backing a winning candidate.~Mark B. Cohen

Son, if you can't take their money, drink their whiskey, screw their women, and then vote against 'em, you don't deserve to be here.~Senator Sam Rayburn

Under democracy, one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule-and both commonly succeed, and are right.~H.L. Mencken

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Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Toddling Toward Oblivion

When I die, I want to be buried in Chicago, so I can still be active in politics.-Charlie Rangel

This is the worst day of the year to be a pedestrian in Chicago's West Loop.

The ten minute walk from my apartment building to work takes me past the city's two major train stations, which attract all sorts of panhandlers, peddlers and other social miscreants.

On a typical day you'll see the guy in the gorilla suit passing out flyers for Gold's Gym; the fellow pushing inflatable Spiderman dolls and velvet Elvis paintings; the drummer who accompanies his rather competent percussion stylings with a marginal vocal rendition of Play That Funky Music, White Boy; and the usual number of plain vanilla beggars asking for loose change.

Ah, but today is Election Day.

That means the walk to work will be a literal as well as figurative gauntlet, as desperate politicians and their minions beg not for my loose coins but for my vote. This is the day I keep my Pennsylvania drivers license in my right hand, flashing it like a crucifix at the frantic hordes who want my political soul.

"Back! Back! The power of the absentee ballot commands thee!"

Even worse than the politicians are the shills for the otherwise respectable Chicago Tribune, who literally strong-arm you into accepting a free copy of The RedEye, a tabloid spinoff designed for the MTV set. Which is to say, a newspaper for people who have a rather skewed idea of the day's important issues.

A comment by a 19-year-old DePaul University student pretty much sums things up:

"I thought it was interesting--the one about Courtney Love's breast implants."

It's only a matter of time until newspapers adopt the format most suited for today's young adults and start distributing free coloring books.

Thumbs Down. A few years back I highly recommended the freeware version of ZoneAlarm, the popular Internet firewall software. Now I suggest you avoid it. Since "upgrading" to the Pro version of the the package last year, I've had nothing but problems. The last release, this past September, was by far the worst. I've had to uninstall and reinstall the package on a weekly basis, a torturous process that involves searching for and deleting files the automated uninstall misses.

Emails to ZoneLab's technical support result in nothing but automated responses in which the solution to every problem is to reinstall the product.

I don't know what went wrong at ZoneLabs, but I hope they straighten it out before the next release. The next time I uninstall this turkey, it'll be for good.

Thumbs Up. If you're buried in spam, consider Spam Sleuth, a marvelous little program that's easier to use and a lot more effective than built-in filters, like the one in Outlook.

Spam Sleuth logs into your POP3 account and downloads the mail. Junk messages are identified and deleted from the mail server. Good stuff remains on the server, where it's picked up by your normal email program.

I've been using it for about a month now, and it routinely catches a good 99% of the 300 or so pieces of junk that inundate my account each day. Even untuned, out of the box, it should catch 9 out 10 pieces of junk. It's a great way to prevent email-borne viruses from infecting your machine and can be used on all your POP3 accounts. There's an eval version available at the link above. At $29.95, it provides the best bang per buck you'll find.

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Monday, November 04, 2002

Elegy to a Mostly Maine Coon

Hobbes came home yesterday.

More precisely, our late feline's cremated remains were delivered to my unsuspecting wife, who received a telephone call from the nice lady at Backyard Burials a scant 30 minutes prior to his arrival.

Hobbes' true pedigree had never been firmly established. He had been harvested from a litter of feisty farm kittens of various flavors. We surmised a good percentage of his lineage was Maine Coon; a Mostly Maine Coon, if you will.

He was a big fella, 16 pounds, even in declining health. He was various shades of orange with a few swirls of white, the color depending on his current degree of shedding or attitude toward personal hygiene.

His gargantuan skull bore the distinctive dark "M" above his forehead, which I jokingly said stood for "moron." His temperament matched the breed's description: a big, gentle, good-natured goof. He had a high-pitched, trilling voice that was consistent with Maine Coons and totally out of character for a creature of his impressive bulk. Think of a feline Mike Tyson, and you'll get the effect.

My then pre-teen daughter Sara named him after the stuffed tiger in Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. I always believed the moniker was more accurately a nod to the English philosopher. The cat was a living example of Thomas Hobbes' theory of materialism: people (and, apparently, big goofy house cats) are motivated by appetite and aversion. Hobbes the cat demonstrated this on a daily basis. It became a family game to place a tempting morsel near an object that frightened him, to watch his reactions as his "fear/food" calculator kicked in, and to wager whether his innate gluttony would overcome his intrinsic cowardice.

Like most house cats, Hobbes really had no useful function in our household, other than to use the white wall to wall carpeting as a canvas for his prodigious hairball output and to generate carbon dioxide for the house plants. He could have been the prototype for Star Trek's tribbles. Like the fictional creatures, he was warm and furry, semi-mobile, possessed a ravenous appetite and made purring noises that engendered a feeling of serenity in the humans around him.

Hobbes was a karmic grounding rod, especially in his later years. He was always serene, almost Buddha-like, dozing in the sun, intently watching the dust motes float by. Dogs can sense emotional turmoil and, in response, express empathy and concern. They're reflectors of anxiety. Express anxiety in the presence of a dog and you have an anxious dog. Hobbes was an angst heat sink. You could feel the distress dissipate as you petted him, his aura of imperturbable calmness surrounding you.

While we received his ashes yesterday, Hobbes departed over a month ago. The cremation of animals doesn't seem to warrant the same sense of urgency as human dissolution. There are no wakes to hold, no religious ceremonies to conduct. Indeed, many claim there are no animals in the afterlife.

I once got into an discussion with a minister about the seeming exclusion of non-humans from Paradise. I pointed out that in the Book of Revelation, the apostle John says "Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse." Revelation also states "the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean." Which indicates to me that not only are there animals in heaven, they're really snazzy dressers. (One could argue that if John had his vision today, he would see Humvees instead of palominos. But I'll leave this exercise in operational semantics to the Left Behind folks.)

Of course, the real question here is: do animals have immortal souls? Pope John Paul II said in 1990 that "animals possess a soul and men must love and feel solidarity with our smaller brethren"; that all animals are "fruit of the creative action of the Holy Spirit and merit respect" and are "as near to God as men are." The Reverend Billy Graham sort of sidestepped the issue by stating "God will prepare everything for our perfect happiness in heaven, and if it takes my dog being there, I believe he'll be there."


It was a very stressful time. Sara was dealing with severe morning sickness and emotionally wasn't up to it. Pam was recovering from her bypass surgery and couldn't be alone, so Doug had to stay at home with her.

It was just me, sitting in the small examination room, waiting for them to return with Hobbes and the IV apparatus. I desperately wished Doug or Sara was there. Their presence would have switched me into Dad Mode, where the neurons and synapses arrange themselves in a way that causes me to become the gruff but sensitive old curmudgeon who provides emotional support and words of sage advice.

Instead, it was just me. The guy who cries at the end of Field of Dreams. The fool who was scarred for life by Old Yeller. The idiot who has to leave the room when Emergency Vets is on. The sap whose last act before filing for bankruptcy was sending a check to the local no-kill shelter.

The doctor returned with Hobbes, who was his normal placid self. Only the slightly labored breathing belied his condition but, as always, he maintained his ineffable cockeyed equanimity. He studiously ignored the hideous, lethal device attached to his leg. Decorum demanded it.

He sat sphinx-like, front legs outstretched. He opened his eyes, focused them with some effort, became aware of my presence. He emitted that ridiculous girlish chirp of his. It was a sound he reserved for those rare instances in which he felt it necessary to summon me to witness an event of tremendous import. His last great discovery was that dry cat food batted into a cold air return would cause the furnace's electrostatic air cleaner to make an amazing zapping sound.

I believe he sensed he was on the threshold of an even more significant revelation.

I knelt down, level with his ears, and softly told him what a good Hobbers he was. I put one hand across his front legs and scratched his neck.

His head slowly pointed upwards and he sniffed the air. He made that goofy smile of his, then opened his eyes and looked into mine.

He rested his head on my hand. I focused on that big stupid "M" on his forehead, but peripherally I was aware of the plunger slowly sinking into the barrel, fluids flowing in clear plastic tubes.

Hobbes relaxed. He leaned against me, closed his eyes again, and began purring. He didn't stop until the syringe was empty.

I don't know what Heaven looks like. But I know it sounds like the purring of a mostly Maine Coon.

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So there.  
The e-mail address is now something other than saga. used to be until December, 2007 when the domain name broker Trout Zimmer made an offer I couldn't refuse. Giving up and adopting created a significant problem, however. I had acquired the domain name in 1993, and had since that time used as my sole e-mail address. How to let people know that was no longer but rather which is longer than and more letters to type than and somehow less aesthetically pleasing than but actually just as functional as I sent e-mails from the address to just about everybody I knew who had used in the past decade and a half but noticed that some people just didn't seem to get the word about the change. So it occurred to me that if I were generate some literate, valid text in which was repeated numerous times and posted it on a bunch of different pages- say, a blog indexed by Google- that someone looking for would notice this paragraph repeated in hundreds of locations, would read it, and figure out that no longer is the they thought it was. That's the theory, anyway. Ok, I'm done. Move along. Nothing to see here...


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Laugh while you can, monkey-boy

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As a matter of fact, I *am* the boss of you.
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I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

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Flies spread disease. Keep yours zipped.

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If my answers frighten you then you should cease asking scary questions.

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