Friday, March 16, 2018

Random Notes, March 2018

Russians hackers tampered with the 2016 presidential election.

The above sentence is an undeniable fact. What could not be proven, however was the curious but ultimately unconfirmed theory that President Trump's campaign worked with said Russian hackers to alter the course of the 2016 election, essentially performing a massive act of collusion. When it seemed like more time, money, and energy was needed to connect the dots, the GOP pulled the plug on their investigation. Robert Mueller et al. will continue to soldier on, dauntless albeit impartial, sending subpoenas were needed.

Other notes:

+ Next week, I leave for Austin! It'll be my second trip by airplane since 2005 and longest trip out of state since high school. Of course I'll be doing the tourist thing, but I'm going down to Texas first and forement for "The Bob Zula." This is a feature film produced, written, and directed by my friend Brandon Reich. He's crowdsourcing the film's budget, and even though there's enough to start filming, I want to make sure Brandon completes the project. I strongly encourage anyone reading this to donate ASAP. Even a $5 donation gets a "thank you" in the closing credits.

+ Wanna buy some late 60s/early 70s baseball cards? Message me for details.

Next week: my annual baseball preview.


Friday, March 9, 2018

Silure en Français

I'm very cautious with my Facebook profile, but at the same time I'm not inclined to make assumptions. If I get a friend request from a face or name that I don't recognize, I message that person (or bot) with a simple "hello, have we met?" If I don't receive a response in due time, or a response that makes sense, I either delete the request or report them.

About a month ago, I received a messenger request that landed in my "other" DM inbox. Her name was Angella, and I replied with my usual ice breaker. Everything about this looked fishy. Angella had zero Facebook friends and only a handful of pics on her profile, which was created in December 2017.  She replied no, and in broken English she said my profile pic was cute. She said she was from Belgium by way of France. I asked a series of short but direct questions, and she answered all of them promptly.

As the conversation went on, it became harder to tell if Angella was fake or just had an extremely awkward social media presence. The conversation eventually transitioned from English to French; I'm not fluent, but it was easier for her if I used Google Translate. Angella is 34 (turning 35 this Spring), a part-time model working at a PR firm in Liege. She was a single mom, but her grammar school-age daughter lived with her parents in the Paris suburbs. She had always wanted to visit the US, but money prevented that from happening. Angella did not bring that up immediately, but for all intents and purposes I consider that a red flag.

As of right now, I'm mostly humoring my alleged penpal. We've swapped photos, and with one or two exceptions they all look like the same woman. She is still adamant about visiting Chicago (she spells it "Chicargo") but I am very hesitant to spend any money on air fare. I keep telling her that I don't have much expendable income (which is true) and doing my best to save up money (which I'm not). The conversation has transitioned from Facebook Messenger to Google Hangout. I'll keep you guys posted as this weird "love story" develops.


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1973 (Redux)

Longtime readers will recall that for a span of 4 1/2 years, mostly by milestone I reviewed every year in music from 1963 to the then-present. There are some lists I'm perfectly fine with, while others had glaring oversights and omissions. (Look at my #5 pick below. I’m ashamed.) A lot of my earlier lists would have benefited from Spotify it were around at the time, and that is definitely the case for my 1973 rundown.

As I implied nearly a decade ago, '73 was stacked. Growing up on classic rock, I know almost all of these albums like the back of my hand. Most of my lists are a top 20, and I simply couldn't whittle it down from 25. Ditto for the list of singles. At the same time, since I first wrote this list in 2009, I’ve witnessed some shifts in my musical tastes, and discovered some new bands and albums in the interim.
(Parentheses note original rankings)
1. Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd. (3) As much as I love Brick Road (it's one of my top three favorite double albums) my original list did a disservice to far-reaching cultural impact and commercial success of the Floyd's breakthrough. Call it overrated or a relic of its time, this was one of those albums that launched a thousand imitators and acolytes.
2. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John (1)
3. Innervisions, Stevie Wonder (12)
4. Raw Power, The Stooges (7)
5. Aladdin Sane, David Bowie (NR)

6. Countdown to Ecstacy, Steely Dan (2)
7. Houses of the Holy, Led Zeppelin (13)
8. Berlin, Lou Reed (11)
9. The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle, Bruce Springsteen (5)
10. Quadrophenia, The Who (6)

11. For Your Pleasure, Roxy Music (8)
12. Band on the Run, Paul McCartney & Wings (20)
13. Headhunters, Herbie Hancock (15)
14. (Pronounced 'Leh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd), Lynyrd Skynyrd (NR)
15. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Black Sabbath (NR)

16. Selling England By the Pound, Genesis (NR)
17. New York Dolls, New York Dolls (4)
18. Closing Time, Tom Waits (NR)
19. Catch a Fire, The Wailers (NR)
20. Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, Bruce Springsteen (14)

21. Future Days, Can (NR)
22. Larks' Tongues in Aspic, King Crimson (NR)
23. Paris 1919, John Cale (10)
24. Brain Salad Surgery, Emerson Lake & Palmer (18)
25. The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get, Joe Walsh (19)

"La Grange," ZZ Top
"Kodachrome," Paul Simon
"You're So Vain," Carly Simon 
"Frankenstein," The Edgar Winter Group
"Heartbreaker (Do Do Do Do Do)," The Rolling Stones

"Captain Jack," Billy Joel 
"Ecstasy," The Raspberries
"Right Place, Wrong Time," Dr. John
"Dancing in the Moonlight," King Harvest
"She's Gone," Hall & Oates

"Killing Me Softly (With His Song)," Roberta Flack
"Love Train," The O-Jays
"Let's Get It On," Marvin Gaye
"Midnight Train to Georgia," Gladys Knight & The Pips
"Here I Am (Come and Take Me)," Al Green

"Stir It Up," Johnny Nash
"Drift Away," Dobie Gray
"One of a Kind Love Affair," Spinners
"Keep on Truckin'," Eddie Kendricks
"Masterpiece," The Temptations

"The World is a Ghetto," War
"Tubular Bells," Mike Oldfield
"Hocus Pocus," Focus
"Street Life," Roxy Music
"Just One Victory," Todd Rundgren

Dedicated to the memory of Mark A. Peterson


Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Administration That Couldn't Shoot Straight

The privilege of being President of the United States comes with the burden of near-constant, unrelenting scrutiny. Even though full transparency cannot be truly attained (at least one former POTUS had promised) the exhaustive analysis of everything POTUS has been augmented by the advent of social media 10-15 years ago. Even though President Trump adores Twitter, the frankness of his tweets and the microscope he put himself under (intentional or not) are working against him.

In light of two news stories in the past week, the Parkland school shooting and the indictment of 13 Russian hackers, President Trump’s ability to demonstrate authority was yet again undercut by his aloofness, ego, and thirst for gratification. Robert Mueller’s indictment of hackers may have been dismissed with an all caps “NO COLLUSION” tweet, but it’s hard to believe the infringement of the 2016 election was one-sided. It is very much possible that the President will survive this, and like so many in his inner circle, someone else will get thrown under the bus, guilty of conspiracy or not.

As for Florida... no, no, no. And this doesn't help.

There is little doubt in my mind that if our president was more self-aware, he would concede to the criticism and resign. Then again, if Trump were self-aware he would have put the kibosh on Russian communication the moment it was first suggested or implied. Better yet, there are many avenues of logic where none of this should have ever happened. The bafflement continues.


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Random Notes, February 2018

If I can't focus on one thing, I'll just bounce around:

+ At long last, the Tea Party is dead. The last nail in the coffin was Sen. Rand Paul's unnecessary and obtrusive filibuster against the federal spending bill last night. Fiscal restraint aside, their primary objective was to troll President Obama, who left office 13 months ago. The leaders of both major political parties have no problem with spending federal dollars, as long as its justified.

+ The Trump White House is spotty about security clearance? Two-plus months after fawning over Judge Roy Moore, President Trump offered praise to an accused wife-beater? Its amazing that anyone would be phased by this anymore.

+ Remember what I said about Jeanne Ives being a borderline viable option against Bruce Rauner? Never mind.

+ I haven't had a chance to watch the first few days of the Pyeongchang Olympics yet. I hope to remedy that during the week. Otherwise, please forgive this concise dispatch.


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A Casual Guide to the 2018 Illinois Governor's Primary

I've been so caught up in the Washington garbage fire that I've barely had a chance to discuss the Illinois gubernatorial primary. (We're still seven weeks away, but still.) Incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner is no sure shot for reelection --the epic budget windfall will be his legacy, win or lose-- but the field is as uninspiring as its ever been. After alienating religious conservatives with his pragmatic stance on abortion, Rauner holds a narrow lead on his onetime ally, State Rep. Jeanne Ives. A self-made multi-millionaire, Rauner used his own money in 2014 and is doing so again; Ives, however has more endorsements and the state GOP's war chest. A recent debate where Rauner looked under-prepared and outmatched has further complicated things.

People have likely wised up to the idea of any candidate running the country like a business. *cough*  The Democratic gubernatorial race looks like it will be bought, not unlike Rauner four years ago. Philanthropist J.B. Pritzker has been running ads on TV since the summer, has spent more money than all his other opponents combined, and barring a scandal or fiasco will run away with the nomination come March 20th. Connections to Blago aside, the race has been a cakewalk; for lack of a better term, Chris Kennedy (son of RFK) and State Sen. Daniel Biss are splitting the anti-Pritzker vote, and Tio Hardiman (who also ran in 2014) has been a non-entity.

In short, this race is running against trends in other parts of the country. There are a greater number of female candidates for public office overall, but with the exception of Ives the women in this race are relegated to running mate status. I find none of the candidates all that inspiring, but in my home state everything could go bust in a second.