Thursday, April 27, 2006

Popular Republican Mechanics

When did this magazine swerve so far to the right?

As I mentioned on Bill Dennis' blog, this month's issue featured an article on alternative fuels. Without going into too much detail, here's what got me from the start.

They compared several fuels, but did not use the same vehicles. The "benchmark" vehicle was a 2006 Honda Civic, running on 87 octane regular fuel (no blends). They show it getting 33 MPG at $2.34 a gallon (wow, what a difference a month makes, huh?) and an average yearly fuel cost of $212.

Then, right next to it, is a Ford Taurus FFV (flex fuel vehicle) that can run on anything from straight unleaded to E85. They quote the cost of E85 to be $2.41 per gallon, and the car gets 17 MPG (or about 3 MPG less than it would get on straight unleaded) for an annual fuel cost of $425. Of course, the "annual fuel cost" numbers are bolded to stand out, just like those two words just did.

Aside from the obvious unfairness of comparing a 33 MPG powerless compact with a much larger Ford Sedan with a larger more powerful motor, the biggest thing is, of course, the obvious flaw in their gas prices.

Right now, in Geneseo, IL (near where I now work) the lone E85 pump has fuel for $2.39 per gallon, and regular E10 blended unleaded for $2.89, with unblended fuel for $2.99 per gallon. Quite a far stretch from the figures quoted in Popular Mechanics. I've never seen E85 more expensive than regular unleaded, that's the point of going with an E85 pump to begin with. Sheesh.

Obviously, saving 60 cents per gallon (or 20% of the total cost) while losing only 15% of the gas mileage would show a yearly advantage to running an E85 car.

But Popular Mechanics chooses not to show things correctly, thus giving the impression that "plain ole' regular gas is still the best way to go."

Again, I have yet to finalize my own personal opinion. But it's quite obvious what opinion Popular Mechanics wants me to have, and that kind of crap ticks me off.

Better Idea

This whole noise ordinance thing has me chuckling still.

Here's my new idea. To heck with tickets, impounding, etc.

Whenever a police officer pulls over one of these cars with excessively loud music, he makes them take off their music of choice and change it to something they will not like.

Metal too loud? Make 'em crank up Celine Dion. Rap too loud? Make 'em crank up an old Ricky Skaggs CD. It'll be turned down real quick. Count on it.

Same goes for Harleys. Pipes too loud? Pull 'em over, take off the leather, and make 'em put on a parrothead outfit, complete with flip flops.

And why stop with noise? How about fixing the dress code with youths in this country? See a kid in a pair of exceedingly baggy pants with his ugly plaid boxer shorts showing? (My kid does this sometimes...drives me NUTS) Make 'em wear Sears Toughskin skin-tight plain pocket blue jeans with a three-inch Beaver Cleaver cuff on 'em.

See a kid wearing basketball "shorts" that go down to the mid-calf? Hello, young man, here is your brand new pair of Bob Cousy tighty whitey short shorts. Wear 'em with pride. Let's see those thighs...oh, and get a tan.

See a girl dressed all "goth" with chains, black clothes, nose rings, black eye shadow, spiked hair, trying to look all "80's Wynona Ryder"? Take her to the Gap, put her in pastels, lose the jewelry, the metal, and the sourpuss look on her face, and make her skip down the street instead of sulk and drag her oversized boys tennis shoes.

I'd feel better if this stuff happened.

The Moving Overpass

Ah, the joys of rural driving. I ran up behind one of these bad boys today.

Actually, the one I saw was much bigger than this. At least 12 feet from ground to bottom of "cab". A six-step ladder hangs down so the driver can climb up into it. My car would fit right underneath it. I wanted to try it so bad, but I just didn't know if the guy would freak and make a sudden turn. The thing was going about 25 MPH, I know I woulda made it.

If I see one tomorrow, I might give it a shot.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


I should have put this post BELOW the Sam Cassell post, so read it first, then come back up to this one.

Are ya back? Okay, good.

Friday afternoon Diane and I drove up to Greene, IA, northwest of Waterloo, to watch my son, a sophomore, run in a high school track meet. I had been thinking about Sam Cassell this week, and other guys like Kerry Wood and Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa...guys who soil their games through apathy, cheating, steroids, lack of heart to come back from injury, etc.

Then I saw some young men who reminded me how great sports can be. One of the kids on Justin's team runs the 110-meter high hurdles and the 400-meter low hurdles. He has no hope of winning, he's not fast. He has to wear special tennis shoes instead of regular track spikes because of a severe heel problem, possibly from birth, my son is not sure. He finishes 3-4 seconds behind...a virtual the 110's. While he's running, his teammates implore him to go faster and cheer him on, supporting him all the way. He smiles, puts his sweats back on, and goes into the infield to rejoin his team before his next event. He comes back out for the 400 Lows, and finishes well off the pace again. But he checks his time, smiles, and comes back to the team. They congratulate him. His only concern is having fun and his only goal is setting new personal best times. That's why he runs.

Later, a young man from another school (there are students from 14 Iowa high schools at the event) skips by Diane and I, with an obvious disorder or ailment. His legs don't bend much, and his hips appear to be very tight. He hops more than he actually runs. He is about 5-foot-4, 100 pounds soaking wet. He is in uniform. His event? The 100 meter dash. No hope of winning. He doesn't care. Finishing and setting personal bests are his goal, too. The gun goes off, the kids take off. When he comes by us at the 40-meter mark, he is 40 meters behind. He finishes. The crowd and his teammates cheer him on all the way.

Still later, my boy competes in the 2-mile run. There are 16 starters, after one of eight laps, Justin is in 10th, side by side with a kid we later find out is a senior from Mason City Newman high school. Justin, as I said, is a sophomore, he looks strong against the upperclassmen, and Di and I cheer him on every lap. His teammates across from me in the infield do the same. The lead pack of four steadily pulls away, and I notice the leaders catching a young man in a gold and black uniform who is way, way, way behind. He gets lapped with about two and a half laps to go, but he doesn't stop. He keeps competing. The winner crosses in just over 10 minutes, Justin makes a late kick to pass two kids and finishes 8th in just over 11 minutes. I am very proud. I couldn't run a lap right now, let alone 8.

But what he does next makes me more proud. After catching his breath, after resting in the infield for a couple of minutes, he sees the young man in black and gold finally finishing, some four or five minutes later. My son gets up on still tired and wobbly legs, and goes 25 yards over to the other young man and pats him on the back and tells him something. He then comes over to me and I ask him what he said to the kid, he said, "I told him 'good job, you always finish and you always try hard. It's good running with you.' I've run with him before."

I didn't write this to only brag up my son (although yes, I'm bragging him up...I'm proud of him!). I wrote this because of all the kids, all the courage, all the support they get in all the sports they play. And this was at one small track meet with kids from 14 small Iowa schools, whose total enrollment would probably equal Pekin + Richwoods. I can only imagine how many youngsters are doing this every day around the country. Beating the odds. Pushing themselves. Not letting their deficiencies change them in any way. Not cheating to get better. Not quitting because "it isn't worth it." Not staying home and collecting varsity letters because "my arm hurts a little bit.

I don't hate pro sports, I love pro sports. When I see the packages that some of the overpaid underperforming CEO's in this country steal from their employees, I'm the first guy to defend professional athletic pay. But I won't defend guys who collect money and won't try. Or whine while getting paid. Or won't play because of a little "ow-ee". Or have to cheat to set a record.

I can't wait until my next track meet. I enjoyed the heck out of it.

Sam Cassell...Freeloader

In 2003-2004, Sam Cassell, a fine point guard with two NBA championship rings, went to Minnesota to help Kevin Garnett. He did just that, leading KG and the Wolves to the Western Conference Finals before being jobbed by the NBA, who wanted the Lakers in the finals (check the stats, the most passive team in the NBA suddenly became a fouling machine in the Western Finals...whouda thunk it?)

Then, in 2004-2005, Sam felt "underappreciated", loudly announcing his desire for a re-worked contract for his services. T-wolves brass refused. Cassell suffered through the worst season of his career by far, both on the court and with "injuries" keeping him out of games. Most thought he was probably done, having been in the NBA for over 10 years, much longer than the average career length for point guards.

So Sam gets dealt. To the woeful Los Angeles Clippers, who haven't been a contender since Ronald Reagan was running up the national debt. What happens to Sam? He turns in an all-star year, just like '03-'04, and the Clip Joint is hosting playoff games this weekend. Cassell starts, teaching young Peoria Central phenom Shaun Livingston the ropes.

The point? I've got no beef with Sam teaching Livingston and the Clips how to win. My beef is with his behavior last season. He obviously tanked the entire season. In a fair and just world, he'd give back every single dollar the Timberwolves paid him last year, because he didn't earn it. He purposely threw in the towel last year because he was "unhappy". To me, that's just as bad as throwing games because of gambling interests. Minnesota's fans, coaches, players, and staff were all cheated last year because Sam Cassell (and his whine-mate Latrell Sprewell) were unhappy. Kevin Garnett showed up to play every game in '04-'05, and continued to be one of the top five - no, make that top 3 - players in the sport. But his teammates weren't trying. That's sad.

I like Shaun Livingston, and I think he has a tremendous career ahead of him. But I'm rooting against the Clippers in the playoffs, because of Sam Cassell.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I Know, I Know, Driving Again

But this is really getting out of hand.

First, I'm a speeder. I drive fast. EXCEPT in two places: school zones and construction zones. Meanwhile, I run into people every night that DON'T speed UNTIL they get to the 45 MPH zones inside the construction areas of I-74. So here's a memo to those drivers:

I hope you get nailed for a 375 dollar fine. Every last one of you. And the ignorant moron in the blue Camaro who fingered me tonight because I shook my head at him as he roared past? I hope you're the first one nailed. I set my cruise at 45 as soon as I hit the west end of town, and it's amazing how many times I get passed in the next four or five miles. And many times by the same people I just passed in the wide open area near Kickapoo. I go 75, they go 65. Get to the zone, I go 45, they go...62. Whattha?!?!

Now, a message or two to the State Police:

1) Get your butts into those construction zones 24 hours a day, and instead of just sitting in the median looking tough, DO something. STOP somebody. MAKE AN EXAMPLE. Going 46? Pick 'em up.

2) Unless you do this every time, the very next time you see me going 75 in a wide-open, arrow-straight stretch of road with no one around me...leave me alone. Because I'm the wrong guy to target right now. With all the construction between Danville and the Quad Cities right now...and for the past several years...on I-74, there shouldn't be ANYONE picked up for going 75 in a wide open area all by themselves. We're not the problem. The dude going 52 in a construction zone? Yeah, he IS going 23 MPH slower than me. But I'm doing it where the only thing I might hit is a junebug...HE's doing it within inches of humans with a hard hat and little other protection. Who's more dangerous?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

This Week's Driving Pet Peeve.

Note to 93.4% of all Illinois drivers: The turn signal lever is not a factory option. Use the damn thing. Morons.

Is This Cruel?

Driving to work the other morning on IL 78, minding my own business, cranking up a little Waylon Jennings music, I glanced at a farm to my left. There, in the yard behind the barn, was a nice little herd of cattle. Muddy, as is everything else in this state right now, but they looked content. Then, I noticed a couch sitting on the porch outside the farmhouse. The couch was covered...I kid you a black-and-white cow pattern.

I thought about that for a second. Then, these questions started popping into my head: Do the cows give milk better because of the impending threat of becoming couch upholstrey? Is "upholstrey" somehow related to the word "holstein"? Does "couch" come from "cow"? Do the cows know which cow is covering the couch? Did she protest giving milk one morning and suffer the consequences? And of course, the burning question, can the Twins keep up with the White Sox?

The mind does weird things at 7:30 in the morning on a two-lane Illinois Highway.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

While I'm In A Cranky Mood...

...another thing that Peoria seems to lead the free world in would be "rude dipsticks in movie theatres."

If you can't shut up during the movie, stay the hell home. It's not just voices, either. Last night, Di and I were at Goodrich (only because the movie we watched wasn't available at The Rave). We were among only 15-20 people in the theatre when we arrived. We sat four or five rows from the top, with only one couple two rows behind us, and four people three rows in front of us. Everyone else was closer to the screen.

So a family of four walks in...the two teenage boys smelled like they really needed to take a shower after working under the hood of the Family Truckster all day...and where do they plop their odoriferous selves? You guessed it, they end up RIGHT behind us. 125 empty seats, at least 10 empty rows, they gotta sit behind us.

So they talk...loudly...through all the previews. I gave them "the look" and they at least had the courtesy to shut up as the movie started. They didn't talk much during the movie, although they chose to laugh when things weren't funny a couple of times, but about halfway through the movie...i.e., too late to get up, move, and make a scene, which I'm not into doing...the fun began.

First, Mom breaks out a box of candy. (The popcorn was gone by this point, I guess). Now, she's had it since before the movie started, but picks a particularly quiet time in the soundtrack to rip open the noisy plastic wrapping paper around the candy. Then, she begins to reach her hand inside the little skinny box instead of pouring it into her hand. This noise repeats approximately 326.4 times in the last half hour of the movie. At the same time, one of the Grease Twins decides he's allergic to being quiet, and develops a loud, LOUD, cough every few seconds. Just over my left ear. I was waiting to be spat upon.

Not to be outdone, Dad, who among the family most resembled the star of the movie...Larry The Cable Guy...decides his size 12, three-year old, tattered, Spalding-brand, $9 K-Mart tennis shoes need to be on the seat in front of him, meaning two seats to my left. From that point on, every time he moves, our whole row of seats feels it. Nice.

We did our best to enjoy the rest of the flick, but they weren't done. One more nudge towards rudeness must occur. When? Where? How will it happen? You know it's coming. it is. As we're walking out, Diane is one step in front of me. We pass the men's restroom, and Dad comes out just as we go by. What does he do? Does he wait for me to get by? NO! Much like a Peoria driver running the turn lane light (see below) he somehow WEDGES himself between Diane and myself as we walk towards the exit. Amazing. The guy left the bathroom and MERGED with a couple trying to leave.

People oft times suck.

...Oh, Yeah, Here's Another One

A poster called "Maubs" on the Bill Dennis blog brought up some excellent points about the timing of lights within Peoria.

Let me add this little pet peeve that makes me scream: There's not a city in America with more people running red lights in left turn lanes than Peoria. It's absolutely ridiculous. From War Memorial to Glen is a particularly bad one. From War turning onto Scenic at Northwoods Mall is another. There are always two, sometimes three idiots trying to run that left turn lane light after it goes red. Same goes for ALL FOUR directions at War and University.

I'm seriously go buy a '73 Pontiac Grand Safari Wagon (or "Sherman Tank with fake Woodgrain siding") and just start blasting away from the opposite direction, ramming anyone who runs those intersections under red. I mean, I really get sick of watching morons cruise through intersections in front of me while I'm sitting stopped - although my light has been green for two seconds. Do you think this behavior would stop if I got a bunch of buddies from the Peoria Speedway, bought 'em all these big wagons, and we just started ramming people that ran red lights?

Can't be any more dangerous than walking around with a concealed weapon sticking out of your boxer briefs, can it?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Yet Another Blogosphere Rant About Drivers

Lots of folks in our area have been blogging and ranting about bad drivers. I don't disagree with any of them, and I have my share of road rage.

Here's my latest beef. If you happen to be lucky enough to drive in an area that is NOT under construction, why is it that invariably you run up behind an idiot in the left lane who has decided to set the cruise on 64.2 MPH so he can rocket (not) past the other law-abiding citizen going 64 MPH in the right lane.

It's times like these I want to pretend I've got a number on the side of my car and a big "Home Depot" logo on the quarter panel, and drive up behind the idiot in the left lane and "put a bumper on him" as they say in NASCAR. Give him the ol' "chrome horn" and root him out of the way. If he spins, he spins, oh well. Just GET...THE...HELL...OUT...OF...THE...WAY.

There is nothing more dangerous than bunched-up interstate traffic, NO MATTER what the speed is. It's far safer to have cars spread out. I'd rather be alone on 74 DOING 74 than be in a bunch of cars and semi trucks going 65 together. I think there's even a law to make that happen now, giving State Trooopers the right to yank a guy over when he's clogging traffic. I wish I'd see that law enforced JUST ONCE.

It happens in town, too. You're on War Memorial, and the two guys (or women...come to think of it, it's often women) are oblivious to their surroundings, and are driving side by side two MPH below the speed limit, and causing backups. When you flick the bright lights at 'em, or give a little honk to get their attention, their first reaction...ALWAYS, it NOT to quickly get out of the way or sheepishly apologize with a "sorry" facial expression, no...instead, it's usually a one finger salute and the easiest two words in the English language to lip read.

I am not asking them to move so I can speed. Yes, I DO speed. But that's not the point. The point is you are statistically MUCH SAFER spread out than you are bunched together, and I've ALWAYS said I'd rather be in front of a clueless idiot than behind him...her.

How Often Do You Meet Legendary Film Stars?

Okay, they were in two movies. Okay, they weren't actors. But they're among the best-known characters in film history. Dave Hanson, Jeff Carlson and Steve Carlson starred as "The Hanson Brothers" in the 1977 classic "Slapshot".

They were in town last night for an appearance at the Rivermen game to do a little on-ice schtick and sign autographs. Almost 30 years after the movie came out, they're still dressing up to to the "Hanson Brother" thing, and the people love it! Cool guys, too, the Carlson's are Minnesota Iron Range boys, and were legendary players in my home state. Jeff spent many years in the IHL after the movie, and also played a few games in the WHA with the Minnesota Fighting Saints, Steve did most of his pro time in the AHL in the 80's, and also appeared with the Saints, and their brother Jack, who did not appear in the movie, was actually the most successful pro in the family, playing over 600 games in the WHA and NHL.

Dave Hanson, at 6-2 and 200 the SMALLEST of the three, grew up in Wisconsin and played in about every league, from the AHL to the IHL to the NHL to the WHA, and met Jeff Carlson while playing for the old Johnstown Jets. It was in Johnstown that "Slapshot" was filmed, and the team was called the "Johnstown Chiefs". Due to the popularity of the movie, the pro team in Johnstown, PA is now called the Chiefs, and played against the Rivermen in the ECHL from 1996 to last season.

I'm not much of an autograph hound, but I had to ask those three guys to sign a Riv cap. You just don't get to meet stars of the silver screen too often, especially those whose short movie career has become legendary in it's own way. What a neat thing for a couple of Iron Range things to do...make one movie, carry on the act for 30 years. That's cool.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Darn Dog

Our mostly wonderful, sometimes wandering dog got out earlier today. We got a call. "We got your dog."

I found out where, said I'd be right there. When I got there, I was told, "he bit my little sister", I said, "show me where". I know my dog. He doesn't bite. Needless to say, they couldn't show me any proof. Which is just what I thought. Keep in mind when I got there he was on a leash...THEIR leash...and was sitting down with two boys sitting next to him petting him. Wow, what a mean beast.

So I load him up, thank them for calling (our number is on his tag), and head home. As I'm pulling in the driveway, I get another call, same folks: "I think you owe us some money for watching him, don't you?" I laughed. I said, "no, sorry, I thanked you for doing it, and I'd do the same for you without asking for any money."

The voice said, "what about the bite?"

Amazing. Amazing what people will try to pull for some money. By the way, the dog left the house clean as a whistle, was gone for less than an hour, and came back so filthy it looks like he has been on the road for a month. He has something resembling...but not smelling like...mud on his neck and shoulders, but his head is completely clean. Makes me wonder what other games they might have been trying to play.

What A Changed World

Thirty years ago, as a teen living in the country in Minnesota, we had no TV after about 12:30 AM, even on Saturdays. A new show called "Saturday Night Live" would end, followed on NBC by a news show with Lloyd Dobyns and Linda Ellerbe, and that was it. No VCR's, no DVD's, nothing. The night ended with the National Anthem and then fuzz and white noise. So on the nights you had to change the clocks, you'd all do it before you went to bed.

Not so much anymore. I was on the computer, being a night owl, watching a movie on Encore, and watched as both my computer and digital cable box automatically went from "1:59" to "3:00". Same thing with the cell phone and even the DVD player.

Cool. I had to change three clocks today...the alarm clock on the headboard, the watch, and the car. Okay, two. I purposely left my car one hour ahead for the last six months just to see if I could do it. Viola! Today, the car arose with the right time on it!

I'm weird.