Friday, May 30, 2003
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Something is Rotten in the State of Illinois

Those of you that live in Chicago may know what I'm talking about, but this phenomenon may also occur in other places; I just don't know. Periodically, I've noticed a strange foul smell on the wind that seems to emanate from the western direction of town.

No, this isn't some thinly-veiled slam aimed at Shaumburgian strip-mall sprawl - I'm talking about a real stench here.

It has a mushroomy, fungal, basement sort of funk to it...but it's thick and putrescent at the same time. It's not fleshly in nature, and it doesn't smell like a Lake Michigan fishkill, nor a morgue with a power outage. Neither is it the scent of a mildewy basement, nor the earthy aroma of a bag of champignons.

What it smells like most is a plastic carton of supermarket white mushrooms forgotten for a few months in the bottom of the vegetable crisper - not just wrinkled, brown mushrooms, but black liquefied mushrooms. The kind that create a ghostly fetor that haunts your kitchen for weeks like an elusive smelly phantom, until you open the ill-fated crisper and discover the Ground Zero of Stink, hidden under several tubes of refrigerated biscuits, a bag of wilted cilantro and three large beets.

Don't ask me how I know: just take it on face value that I do know...ahem.

...and that is the smell I smell when we walk around the North side of town. Has anyone else noticed it ? Does anyone know what it is, or where it comes from? I've thought of stockyards, garbage dumps, papermills, algal blooms - but none of them seem to fit.

Maybe I'll call G-Rod's office to complain about it. (and I thought the Vermont governor's nickname - HoHo - was bad.)

Mayor Daley's office would probably tell me, "It's out of our jurisdiction. Call Schaumburg."

Thursday, May 29, 2003
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Navel Gazing With Descartes!

Note to reader: this may not seem like much of a blog post, and it isn't. But I'd love to keep you apprised of my daily ruminations; after chewing on this I need a mental Alka-Seltzer™

Despite being a rather short literary work, René Descartes’ Meditations somehow manages to condense the kernel of philosophy’s search for existence and truth into a surprisingly small number of pages – attempting to answer in cogent, almost mathematical-proof terminology questions such as “who am I?” “what am I?” “what is Truth?” and “does God exist?” However, I think this brief work is actually quite a bit of work to grasp one’s mind around! Descartes himself admonished prospective readers in the preface to follow along and experience the meditations for themselves – their essence being grasped best in the “first person”.

The First Meditation seems to be a massive deconstruction of the reader’s preconceptions and beliefs, from how much trust they place in the evidence of their senses – even to their belief in their own existence! I can see how Descartes (or anyone for that matter) would need an atmosphere of contemplative solitude to process the Meditations, since virtually any environmental distraction tends to spoil the altered state. Following along with the text can seem reductionist to the point of absurdity, until one moment perception shifts and your mind says, “Yes! I get it!”

We reach the point of cognitive singularity, the “Big Bang,” if you will, in the climax of the First Meditation: Descartes explains that our single irrefutable belief is that we exist – why? Because we think: Cogito, ergo sum.

What I found especially interesting it that unlike a mathematical or scientific proof, Descartes never draws on outside philosophy, or what is previously “known to be true” for basing his logic on – all must come from the pure innate intellect, not the knowledge gained over a lifetime of learning and the exercise of human free will. In fact, the idea of “free will” is how Descartes explains the presence of error and deception in the human condition. Since God is perfect, and would not knowingly deceive Man “some” of the time, the innate unspoiled “distilled” intellect is held to be “perfect” – always correct. Recently I read this interesting paraphrase of the “source of doubt” discussion in the Fourth Meditations:
“Error is due to the concurrent operation of the will and the intellect. No error is found in the intellect. Error consists in the will, in its judgments, going beyond what the intellect clearly and distinctly perceives to be the case… [and] the way to avoid error is to refrain from judgment until our intellect sees the truth clearly and distinctly.” [from “Descartes’ Arguments for Universal Doubt and the ‘Cogito’ Argument” by Prof. David Banach, St. Anselm University (1999)]
One part of Descartes’ Meditations I would like to know more about is his proof of the existence of God, and his explanation that God must exist because we, as imperfect beings, would otherwise be incapable of conceptualizing a perfect being unless there was a real causation of that idea (cognitive effect), therefore God exists. It seems a bit circular, but I’ll need to think through that Meditation some more!

In a strange way, Descartes’ Meditations also recalls the process described in Zen teachings for seeking “mindfulness,” and discarding the “noise” and complexity of “reality”. I think the human mind in many cultures and times has been drawn to the pursuit of ultimate simplicity in this manner; perhaps it is an innate antidote to what seems to be the human mind’s nature to complexify thought processes unless we consciously rein them in. Perhaps the human mind creates both “constructive entropy”, such as imagination and artistic thought on the one hand, and “destructive entropy” such as war and socio-political discord on the other? Somehow, chaos theory and fractal geometry also come to mind as mathematical analogues to Descartes’ “mechanical” philosophies – while they seek to find an ultimate order in what we understand to be dis-order, they also attempt to reduce the most complex structures into irreducible units in a manner that reminds me of the Meditations.

(P.S.) On a side note, I re-watched a fascinating film this past weekend in anticipation of reading Descartes - Mindwalk (1990), based on Fritjof Capra’s The Turning Point, is set at the medieval L’Abbaye du Mont-Saint-Michel, on the French North coast. This “quasi-island’s” monastery is periodically isolated from the mainland by the natural rhythm of ocean tides, and so is an apt setting for this story of three people (allegorically representing the triad of science, art, and politics) who meet by chance and spend several intense hours discussing Cartesian “mechanistic” thought, deconstructing their long-held ideas of how the world works – both in the abstract, and in its relevance to the sustainability of the world’s ecological and bio-political systems. I’ve seen it three times, and it gets better with each viewing!

Tuesday, May 27, 2003
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Noe The Eggplant

Did I mention we're babysitting a friend's cat for the next week? She's off to Germany to attend her sister's wedding (ahem...our friend, not the cat), so we're currently in custody of a rather overweight and quirky black cat named Noe. That's pronounced No-eee - it's supposed to be French for Christmas, but I thought that was Noel - and logistically, it's a problem when you want to tell the cat "NO". Think about it...every time you say "NO", it sounds almost like the cat's name.

NO. Eeeee!

With his shiny, silken fur and ample hindquarters, this feline looks for all the world like an extremely large, ripe eggplant - the sort you'd find in an Italian grandmother's garden in Central New Jersey, except with a tail and rattler-like fangs he likes to display a little too often.

This cat is a riot. He's distraught for about 24 hours when he first arrives at our apartment, attacking our feet as if they were giant Roman centurions about to stomp his royal fatness into the parquetry. Like a perimeter alarm, Noe emits a sharp warbling screech if we move in closer than the cat-specified 5 feet or so.

He doesn't like our loud, stolid, cataract-eyed and cow-shaped cat Nathaniel much better than he likes us during that time - but he simply adores Nathaniel's prescription low-residue food, to the point of gorging himself and getting constipated. C'est la vie...that's one less litterbox to clean. Eventually, Noe becomes moderately charming after about 48 to 72 hours - and then attaches himself semi-permanently to our bedroom comforter until it's time for Mom to take him home.

Ah, Noe...a prime specimen of bad cattitude.

by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
A Bubble from the Deep

Amazing. One week without a home computer and my fingers are forgetting how to type.

No, not really, but how I miss the opportunity to toss off a blog post when the urge strikes; spontaneity is the first of all things to be lost, no? I've just come back from nearly an hour in the noonday sun in the University Quadrangle - a fancy name for Gothic landscaping, apparently - proofreading a manuscript on growth and inequality while sharing a concrete step with tendrils of ivy and a few errant hornets and yellowjackets. I thought the subscripts and regression formulae were bringing on my headache, but apparently it was the sun...the first major weekday sun I've had since last summer, and already the tops of my forearms are starting to get burned.

From less than one hour in the sun! Is the ozone hole finally bulging its way over the Midwest, or have I just become a minty-green Omega Man-type subterranean dweller? Am I becoming a Morlock?

Or, am I merely going bonkers from reading too much Descartes?

Thursday, May 22, 2003
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Thoughts on William Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Note to reader: while this isn't a true blog post, this is an example of one of our weekly writing assignments for The Philosophy of Human Nature, and demonstrates that I am often quite full of..ahem, hot air.

I’ll have to admit up front that I haven’t had the world’s greatest exposure to Shakespeare; up to this point I’ve only read Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar. After watching the in-class presentation of the BBC’s Hamlet (with a young Derek Jacobi, whom I’ve seen many a time as Brother Cadfael on PBS) I realized what a pleasantly synergistic experience it is to have read and watched a Shakespeare play – and how the subtle nuances of the author’s art are best observed after the viewer has done both.

I found it quite amazing how many lines from Hamlet have found their way into the canon of common usage: not only the oft-quoted "To be or not to be…", but phrases such as "shuffle off this mortal coil," "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," "to sleep, perchance to dream," "the undiscovered country" – how this single work of an Elizabethan playwright has trickled down centuries later into the collective consciousness of the English-speaking world (and then some!)

Prince Hamlet, if not truly mad, appears at least highly obsessive; though he is an intellectual at heart his convictions change nearly moment by moment, and the inner conflict caused by the vision of his father’s ghost drives him to distraction, utterly alienating those he loves. Complicating matters is the fact that Claudius and Gertrude want Prince Hamlet to abandon his studies at Wittenburg to become a full-time royal courtier – you can imagine the resentment such an order would stir in a young man even today, if his parent and new step-parent asked him to abandon his work or studies, his search for individuation – essentially asking him to remain a homebound child.

In Prince Hamlet’s suspicion and anger over Claudius’ untimely marriage to his mother following King Hamlet’s death, I can see some Oedipal/incestuous overtones and rivalry over Queen Gertrude (evidenced in Prince Hamlet’s rather unseemly behavior towards his mother after the "baited" performance of "The Mousetrap") – while Hamlet makes a great issue over the "incestuous" nature of his mother’s marriage to Claudius, I would think that this as a matter of degree. While strict Levitical interpretation of Biblical law would prohibit such an arrangement, I’ve always understood that some degree of intra-familial marriage was common in monarchies to preserve the "integrity of the royal bloodline".

Though Hamlet’s avenging drive is powerful, like himself, it lacks focus. When Prince Hamlet’s passions are aroused to a murderous pitch in Gertrude’s "closet" he lashes out impetuously at the curtains, killing eavesdropping Polonius by accident. In the end, death comes to many through Hamlet’s actions, even though the intended target was Claudius.

Another parallel is the use of poison as a plot device – and how toxic human intentions can act as poison surely as any philter. King Hamlet was murdered as he slept by the administration of liquid poison into his ear, and both Prince Hamlet and Gertrude die by poisoning as well, orchestrated by Claudius: Hamlet by poisoned sword in a duel with Laertes, Gertrude by accidental ingestion of the same poison intended as a failsafe, should Hamlet survive the duel. An irony: while Hamlet pondered suicide ("to be or not to be…") but believed it too sinful in the eyes of God to carry out, Ophelia - the sole “innocent” of the drama - ends up taking her own life and concluding her short life in mortal sin.

Reading the plot, I was impressed by the sense of "cinematic resonance," symmetry and contrast Shakespeare used: the father-son pairs of King and Prince Hamlet, King and Prince Fortinbras [a play on the French words for "strong" and "arm" perhaps?] and Polonius and Laertes, each son avenging his father’s death in his own way. When diagrammed, the pattern of "filial revenge duty" almost appears like an endless Celtic knot or karmic Wheel of Life, with each player’s fate entwined with another’s. While Hamlet is in one sense a classic tragedy, it also illustrates that virtually no one is truly "innocent," and the evil do get what is coming in one way or another.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2003
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
To Be or Not to Be, Is That The Question?

Well, it's only two days into summer classes at Loyola, and my brain is already starting to emit little wisps of smoke. The irony is, the class I suspected would be the hard one, my upper-level Victims in the Criminal Justice System class - an elective - is turning out to be much less work than my Philosophy of Human Nature class, which is a required course. Since it is an accelerated summer session, from start to finish a summer course is six weeks, and each class meets two evenings a week.

Case in point - for philosophy, I will have to have read the whole of Hamlet, and a book each of Kant, Nietzsche and Descartes. Can you smell the cerebellum yet? At least we got to watch the BBC's 1980 production of Hamlet with Derek Jacobi and Patrick "Captain Picard" Stewart as Claudius, Prince Hamlet's perfidious uncle (and present king of Denmark). I would have enjoyed the play much more if I hadn't missed dinner; at least they didn't have any banquet scenes with suckling pigs.

For my criminology class next week we'll watch "The Accused" with Jodie Foster and Kelly McGillis to discuss its implications for victimology and criminal justice. Which class do you think I'd rather be in?

So if you wonder why my blog postings are sparser for the next several weeks - this is why. I'm two bizy gettin' idjicated.

Monday, May 19, 2003
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
The Ghost of the Machine

This Monday begins my first full week sans home computer in about five or six years.

Last week my trusty (albeit slightly rusty) IBM™ Aptiva booted up its last, leaving a mess of valuable data in the lurch that I'll have to have extracted post-mortem. Oh, we had tried backing up the data. Unfortunately, the CD-RW drive decided it didn't have time to waste on silly tasks like backing up files and stubbornly refused to recognize any disc inserted into its geared tan maw.

Our machine had been experiencing plenty of trouble lately; the cooling fans were making a dreadful whine, and somehow the RAM was being occupied with phantom duties that left precious little resource time for ordinary tasks like writing papers and checking e-mail. Then, somehow all the desktop icons and taskbar ceased to work. Windows™ continually returned error messages I'd never seen before. Finally when the computer was restarted (after a routine vacuuming of the dust-laden interior) the monitor went blank. No boot-up, not even with my rescue disks.

I fear I may have static-zapped the poor thing into oblivion...I'll never know. I feel like the Dr. Kevorkian of computers; I know just enough about them to get me in serious trouble.

Was it a virus? No such luck. Repeated scans with anti-virus software turned up nothing out of the ordinary, although it could be some exotic as-yet-uncharted virus. I'm left with the conclusion that that little 333 MHz machine simply died of old age - or was possessed (no, the numerical significance of the processor speed was not lost on me; thank you, St. Thomas Aquinas). Who knows.

So we're in the market for a new computer. I don't want to spend a ton of money, but I want a good solid machine that will be serviceable for at least the next few years. I'm checking my Dell™ catalog (my work machine is a Dell) and stopping by the campus computer store to see how much machine I can get for the least amount of money. Sure, the dream machine would have about one gig of ram, a monstrous striping hard drive, a giant flat-screen display and CD and DVD-burners up the wazoo. But alas, we can't have everything.

I'll settle for a machine that doesn't scream at me in the middle of the night like a banshee.

Friday, May 16, 2003
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Musings of a Leg-Powered Luddite

Call me a curmudgeon, but I'm not exactly enchanted with the concept of the Segway™ "personal transportation device."

I just don't really see the sense of having another machine that reduces the amount of physical activity the human body has to perform. After all, aren't we already sedentary enough? Many of us spend our workdays planted in chairs in front of computer screens, then hop into elevators and have our bodies carried to our homes, where we proceed to sit once again. If we get used to any more "labor-saving", our mortal coils will start to get a little redundant.

Basically I see the Segway™ as a sort of stand-up wheelchair for the otherwise ambulatory - you know, a glorified version of those electric supermarket carts intended to allow the infirm, elderly or extremely obese to navigate the aisles without incurring the wrath of the speedy, inconsiderate highly-mobile.

Maybe the device does have some legitimate uses: I can see them being used by mail carriers, meter maids and others whose daily labor entails hours of thankless legwork. But why would an otherwise able-bodied person need or want one? I can see it now: the perfect luxury gift for the video-game addicted couch potato who has everything.

Have we grown too lazy to stroll? Will walking become one of those manual tasks relegated to the poor - while allowing those who can afford the Segway™ to roll about faster and taller that the hoi polloi? Do we really need these rolling speed demons mingling and colliding with the trudging masses on sidewalks and in traffic intersections, frightening children, dogs and old people?

I, a mere leg-powered Luddite, say nay. Let us not go rolling into the great unknown like carted cattle, but walking proudly like human beings.

After all, we're the only species that can.

by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
It must be something in the air...could it be the dreaded spring-that-just-won't-come, vernum interruptus? In this morning's daily dose of bloggery, I found two sweet accounts of comebacks and karma that put a unique smile on my face. Walk in my office right now, and you'll see an expression on my face reminicent of both the Mona Lisa and Alex from A Clockwork Orange. It's all because of those posts and the fact that my DVD box set of the X-Files Season 7 finally arrived yesterday.

Clouds, tornadoes, lightning storms of Rocky Horror Picture Show dimensions - it's been the Spring From Hell in the Midwest.

That does it. Tomorrow we're going to IKEA to see the yin-yang tables and the Gutvik bunk beds; at least we'll have a better shot there than getting seats for The Matrix Reloaded. We'll save that for next week, after all the fanboys have gone home to bed.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
The Chutzpah Files: Really Annoying People

While the practice of maintaining good karma dictates not speaking ill of others, the practice of maintaining sanity often dictates mentioning them (at least anonymously) in a blog. So, in the healthful interest of venting bilious humour, here are three examples of extremely annoying people I've encountered since Sunday. Normally this wouldn't merit a blog post, but three instances in as many days qualifies as a statistically significant cluster.

The Hair Emergency

This morning on the Metra train heading down to 59th street, a twenty-something woman diagonally in the row behind me proceeded to blast her 'do with hairspray for what seemed like two whole minutes.

On the train. In today's terror-twitchy atmosphere I'm suprised someone didn't start shouting, "poison gas! poison gas!"

The smell was gagging me, so in disgust I waved my hand in front of my face to dispel the alcohol- and perfume-laden cloud. Lady, you do that in a bathroom; not on a crowded commuter train, you ditz.

Ms. Moneybags Orders Tea

At dinner two evenings ago, a group of four (a middle-aged man and woman and a teen boy and girl) at our favorite vegetarian place on Broadway managed to yak through their entire conversation discussing nothing but money - i.e., complaining about how expensive their utilities are, how many million some building just got sold for, and how much their friends' salaries were.

When the older woman asked the waitress how much a cup of tea was ($2.00) the woman seemed astonished, and went on and on about what a ripoff it is to charge so much money for a cup of tea. "Just how much does a teabag cost you people? You're making two dollars here, two dollars there...ugh!" Mind you, these people weren't exactly hurting for money. I had seen them pull up in a shiny new black Mercedes.

Tacky, tacky, tacky. You're in a restaurant, not your Aunt Zelda's kitchen. If something's too expensive, don't order it, or don't patronize the restaurant again. If you're feeling bold, you can offer a "Gee, that's pricey. I'll pass." But I think berating the waitstaff for the price of items on the menu is about as effective as yelling at a checkout cashier because the price of melons went up: the person you're complaining to probably isn't setting the prices, and making a fuss over two dollars in public is just not a classy move. It's crass.

She reminded me of the psychotic paperboy hounding John Cusack in Better Off Dead: "I want my two dollars! TWO DOLLARS!"

Mr. Cellphone Puts His Money Where His Latte Is

And worst of all, last Sunday at our local Rogers Park Starbucks™ I was in line next to a silver-velvet-track-suited Jheri-curled cellphone junkie who screamed at the baristas because he had to wait for his latte instead of having it made the second he asked - he basically thought he was King Poobah, and wanted the whole place to stop for his damned vanilla-orange latte - and he was going to make a royal stinking fuss until he got it.

"You took my money, and now you tellin' me I have to wait? I can go someplace else and give them my money!"

Thankfully, to the two young female baristas credit, they told him in no uncertain terms that he would get his latte when his order came around - and that they had tried to talk to him but he couldn't hear because thoughout his entire tirade, he was on a call.

If he could only see he wasn't coming across as an in-control, dominant "playa"; what he looked like was a fool. What kind of man drinks a vanilla-orange latte, anyway? If you're going to be an @$$hole, order a red-eye espresso, black. Sheesh.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
The $%!t Hits The Fan

Those bleedin' bahstids at Microsoft UK...it turns out that the entire iLoo Internet-ready toilet press hullaballoo was a hoax - yes, a hoax. They had me hook, line and s(t)inker with that one. However, I don't feel so bad, considering even CNN, ZDNet and MSNBC and took the "bait."

There may be more than just a bad smell surrounding this deception, I'm afraid - a British man claims that Microsoft stole his original idea for the iLoo hoax, and it's possible the computer giant's scandal may turn into a pay toilet.

by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
WebWurst Strikes Again: The Cookie Crumbles?

Just when you though you've seen every frivolous lawsuit, this one takes the cake...er, cookie.

A British-born lawyer based in San Francisco (notice how it's almost always the lawyers coming up with these asinine lawsuits - don't they have enough real kvetchers to keep them busy?) has filed suit against Kraft, Inc. for allegedly using an "inedible substance" in the manufacture of Oreo™ cookies. What is this "inedible substance"? Stephen Joseph claims that the trans-fatty acids used in preparing the black-and-white treats are a "known harmful substance," and is taking advantage of a provision of the California civil code that holds manufacturers liable for common products if not "known to be unsafe by the ordinary consumer."

Never mind the fact that the vast majority of commercially-processed foods use some type of hydrogenated fat in their lipid content - a lawsuit like this could be extended to just about anything. Quoth lawyer Joseph:
"I am probably full of hydrogenated fat because until two years ago I didn't know about it. I resent the fact that I have been eating that stuff all my life."
I'd say he's full of something, but it ain't hydrogenated fat. To mis-quote both Nike™ and "Wierd Al" Yankovic, "Just Don't Eat It".

Monday, May 12, 2003
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
"This Is A Test, Only A Test..."

Lucky us. Chicago and Seattle will be participating in a national Homeland Security defense drill codenamed Topoff-2 - the country's first large-scale test of terrorist preparedness since 9/11. This afternoon Seattle officials will stage a mock "dirty bomb" explosion, complete with hazard-suited emergency responders, fake "reporters", and over 100 "bomb casualties".

Here in the Windy City the test is a little more subtle, but no less frightening: officials here will test the spread of a biological warfare agent, a strain of "pneumonic plague". In days, participants will begin filtering into area hospitals with flu-like symptoms, and will undergo evaluation, quarantine, and treatment with mock antibiotics.

Listening to radio this morning, the test is big news because city leaders want everyone to be aware this is only, repeat only a test. The last thing they need is a public panic over a rumored biological attack. I've personally seen the havoc a single abandoned bookbag can have on the subway system, so a mock bio-terror attack of this scale brings to mind some awful "War of the Worlds" scenario.

However, the good part is at least we'll have some idea of how prepared we are as a city do deal with this type of situation. That'll make me feel a lot better than having a roll of duct tape in hand.

More details at CNN.com, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the Department of Homeland Security.

So, fellow Chicagoans, be prepared to anything over the next week or so.

Even bubble-suited government people.

Thursday, May 08, 2003
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
British Toilet Obsession Gone Too Far?

This story was just too delicious to pass up: Microsoft's UK division is apparently developing a toilet with built-in Internet Access, the iLoo.
From CNN: "The Internet's so much a part of everyday life now that surfing on the loo was the next natural step," MSN marketing manager Tracy Blacher said. "People used to reach for a book or mag[azine] when they were on the loo, but now they'll be logging on."
Tracy also gave The Mirror some juicy advance word on this high-tech W.C.:
The loo is kitted out with a plasma screen, which has an adjustable height level, and a wireless keyboard (all waterproof), so users can merrily surf away as they go about their business. There'll also be a six channel surround sound speaker system under the sink unit for users to stream music from the internet. MSN as ever don't forget a single feature. Tracy Blacher from MSN says: "The MSN iLoo is no bog-standard affair. We are looking at vacuum-powered options and the very latest broadband technology for the best loo surfing experience ever."
MSN's forum features a discussion on the finer points of the wired potty, such as what operating system it will use.

Jolly good idea, I say, as long as they don't install webcams - and do remember to wash your hands after you use the mouse.

by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
under crossed wires
His footsteps shuffle down the narrow hall
under the sixty-cycle hum
of fluorescents and motors
and gray transformers
singing in harmony.
Chainsaws outside my office window;
the Winter Garden is cut to order
for the ambulance sirening west down the Midway.
The door opens, squeaks, and closes.
Like it has every day
since May of nineteen seventy five.
The workmen take their sandwich break with dusty helmets
ringing ears and gritty eyes
Did you bring the wire? he yells
I sip green tea and
my veins relax
I slip outside, down through
the keyhole
behind the door

L. Reznicek
(sigh)...it's Thursday.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Suburban High-School She-Devils

Think that college frat boys are the sole purveyors of ridiculous, violent hazing pranks? Think again. Here in the Chicago suburb of Northbrook, a group of Glenbrook North High seniors - girls - recently inflicted mayhem on some female junior classmates that sent five to the hospital with undisclosed injuries.

This scene, captured on amateur video, reads like some bizarre offspring of Stephen King's Carrie and MTV's Jackass. From CNN:
One girl walks behind the seated girls and slaps them on the back of the head. Another girl holds up what appears to be an intestine. At least one girl reported having a pig's intestine wrapped around her neck. Basically it started out as a fun hazing like our initiation into our senior year," one girl who had been injured said. "About 10 minutes into it, everything changed -- buckets were flying ... people were bleeding. Girls were unconscious."

Dozens of students had come to watch the event. "When I looked up and I saw blood, I knew that this wasn't right," another girl said. "This is from a paint can being thrown at me," she said, pointing to her shoulder. "Tabasco sauce, vinegar and stuff like that [was put] in my eye." Witnesses also reported urine, feces and fish guts were thrown, and others said they had been forced to eat mud.
Who are these kids from a "nice" Chicago suburb - and how the hell did they learn to be this evil? Remember, these kids will be sharing dorms, apartments and locker rooms with your kids next year.

In a few years, they will be co-workers, bosses, wives, and most frightening of all - parents.
"Oh, honey, we had some great times back in high school! Remember the time I almost strangled Heather with a pig intestine? And the time I beat Lisa over the head with a bucket after throwing sh*t on her? What a blast!"
Oh, for shame. Am I the only one getting seriously disturbed by this concept?

by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

Listening to Chicago Public Radio this morning as I drove down to work, I did a double-take:
"Traffic delays on the Eisenhower [Expressway] this morning due to a furniture problem, police expect to have it cleared up shortly..."
Furniture problem?

The announcers later clarified that a kitchen cabinet had apparently fallen off a vehicle and was blocking a lane.

It made me remember a blog post I'd read recently on Chicago: Howtown on the Make, on who "The Hicks" are, and where the "hick line" is as you go further from the city center...there's some dispute as to who the hicks in Chicagoland are. Indiana? Don't even go there.

Monday, May 05, 2003
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Radio Days: Dead Air

Last night I had another episode of my recurring "radio station" dream.
Once upon a time, I worked as a DJ at a radio station in Plattsburgh, New York. Okay, it was during the late 80's and early 90's. The FM station's (WGFB 99.9 FM) 100 kilowatt signal covered a healthy portion of the Quebec broadcast market including Montreal, and the AM station (WEAV 960) was a small "sister station" - but the funny thing was, one person manned both stations simultaneously. Remember, this was before the industry had widespread digital pre-recorded programming that let DJ's blabber for half an hour into a computer, then go home while the machine automatically interspersed their soundbites between Britney Spears and Madonna tracks.

Back then, Britney Spears was in diapers.

The one-DJ-two-stations feat involved recording voice and announcement tapes at strategic times to play on the partly-live "automation-assisted" FM station, while entertaining the rest of the folks on the AM "live" station - and while operating the station's switchboard and answering the doorbell. Later, we had a new mixing board that allowed both the AM and FM stations to be fed into one board, but each was still programmed differently. It was a rather ass-backwards operation - having the double-duty on-air staff be the receptionist - considering there was usually someone in the office. Plus, we often worked split shifts that required us to start the broadcast day at 5:00am, work until 10:00am; then return at 4:00pm and work until 7:00pm. This allowed the station to get by with one "drive time" DJ through majority of the broadcast day.

In effect it was like having the public exposure of working at two stations in a major broadcast market, but at a fraction of major-market pay. The honest truth of the matter is that your garden variety local radio DJ usually makes less than $10 per hour. At the time, I made considerably less than that. If I told you what my hourly pay rate was back then - as a "morning radio personality" - you would (a) gasp, (b) roll on the floor laughing, or (c) call me an idiot for working there for seven full years. All of the above would be fair reactions, in my opinion.
In my recurring dream I am always late to work and the station is empty; there's dead air, the phone is often ringing and the person on the other end of the line is either my boss or some irate caller. But the surreal-ly disturbing part is that I can never find the right music and none of the equipment works. I think it's a variation on the "naked in public" dream.

Sometimes, the turntables and tonearms are jelly-soft, or the "carts" are filled with tangled loops of magnetic tape and have snarled up the player heads. For those that haven't worked at a radio station, a "cart" (short for cartridge) is an endless-loop playback format that looked a lot like a 8-track tape (and sounded about the same), but was still in use less than ten years ago - at least at the station I worked at.

In my nightmare I don't recognize any of the artists and songs. They are all some sort of ungodly amalgam of adult contemporary, rap and urban music - probably the effect of someone's late-night jeeping past my bedroom window - and I grow increasingly panicked until I wake up.
For several years, at the real-life counterpart of this nightmare station we had an hourly "clock" that dictated which category of song got played at which position during the hour. A "red" song was a new, hot-rotation hit; "yellow" was a recurrent (six months to one year old) song, and "green" was an oldie. The definition of "oldie" was rather broad, and often encompassed anything from Taylor Dayne's "Tell It To My Heart" to "Flowers on the Wall" by the Statler Brothers.

Yes, we actually did play those songs next to one another at WGFB. In waking life.
In my dream I dig and dig through boxes and racks looking for a song to play, or a commercial that's scheduled but I can't find anywhere. When I open the mike, I have absolutely nothing coherent to say.
However, what's really interesting is that I have never had "television station" nightmares about the NBC affiliate I worked at from '96-2000, WPTZ-TV. Hmm. I wonder if that's because I had a really cool boss and co-workers. At the radio station, co-workers had the unfortunate habit of dying on me.

My immediate boss and program director died of pancreatic cancer two years after I left the radio station; another DJ finally succumbed to the cystic fibrosis he battled all his life, another was killed in a fiery head-on car crash at the age of 25, and yet another died of kidney cancer shortly after I started working at WPTZ. Longtime Plattsburgh DJ Gordie Little recalls this story in the local paper, the Press Republican.

I wouldn't call these fantastic odds, considering no more that ten people worked at the radio station at any given time: secretly, I suspect the place was cursed.
What's truly creepy is that the last DJ I mentioned, Bob, was in my dream last night. He appeared alive and well, although he passed away on May 21, 2000. In this dream, he had just stopped by to help me find some music to play.
Thanks, Bob M. I hope you're doing well wherever you are, up in that "big station in the sky".

The Irony of It All: Here's the short, sour story told in RadioSpeak™. In 1996, WGFB-FM in Plattsburgh, NY was "LMA"-ed to a station in Burlington, Vermont and format-swapped into a Modern Rock station called WBTZ, The Buzz (not to be confused with WPTZ-TV, the television station I worked at). All of us were fired and replaced by a staff of tattooed college kids with tongue piercings lead by a girl who called herself The Monkey (bitter, moi? Non!).

Not that I have nothing against tattoos (I have one myself), but tongue-piercings should be anathema to anyone that makes their living with their speaking voice. Divine karmic punishment for playing Taylor Dayne back-to-back with the Statler Brothers,perhaps?

On the plus side, the call letters WGFB came home westward to roost. They now belong to a station called B103 in Rockford, Illinois. I can just fold my arms behind my head and smile at it all.

Friday, May 02, 2003
Yes, We have No Bananas...Period. 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
The Health News Digest reports that the banana could be extinct in as little as a decade. How can this be? Apparently, all commercially-grown bananas are produced asexually, and are essentially clones. Dr. James Pierce, associate professor of genetics and biotechnology at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, says:
"Because the bananas we eat are triploids, they can only be grown, not through sexual reproduction, but asexually," says Dr. Pierce. "Since bananas are sterile, they are basically cloned and are bred to be these beautiful yellow fruits that are sweet, have no seeds and last very long. There is no variety since there is no sexual reproduction. Bananas have the same genotype or genes, and are essentially identical clones."

So is the banana as we know it doomed? Some researchers claim the delicious, yellow fruit could become extinct within the next 10 years. Dr. Pierce says the amount of money and pesticides needed to preserve the banana against the Black Sigatoka [fungus] is growing. "Plants have to use lots of fungicides because this fungus, like many microorganisms, is becoming resistant to the chemicals' effects," he says."
If we've ever needed a bigger wake-up call about the ill-wisdom of cloning - especially of the human sort - I think this is it. No bananas in ten years??? Good heavens, think of the constipation!

Good Kitty

A Grist Magazine cartoon by Suzy Becker...ha.

by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
"This, too, shall pass."

Last night, I had a chance encounter with one of my upstairs neighbors that haunts me this morning. Isn't it funny how you can live in the same building with someone for years and never cross paths, never notice one person's sudden absence?

That's the strange paradox about neighbors and apartment buildings; in our bid to retain anonymity, even the shortest physical distance could easily be an ocean away. Neighbors pass unseeing in the halls with scarcely a greeting, our only knowledge of one another muffled music, thuds, squeaks, and flushing toilets.

Our next-door neighbor Dawn is moving out this weekend into a new condominium with her fiance Chris. Since they're consolidating apartments, she's giving away a lot of her furniture and housewares to save to trouble of carrying them out of the building, and her two dresser-drawers are being taken by a lady who lives upstairs on the third floor of our wing. I'll call her "Jenny."

Jenny looks to be in her early to mid-40's, hair tinted in the fashionable reddish shade many city women wear in lieu of a straight brunette color, but in an oddly stiff style. She seemed a little "off" or distracted. We even silently suspected she might be "under the influence," although we smelled no liquor.

Her apartment is spare and clean, the bedroom is visible to our left. After brief introductions - yes, we had never crossed paths, despite living only a feet feet apart - we checked out the old dresser drawers Jenny was trading for Dawn's, and we'd offered to perhaps take Jenny's old ones. It's the old "city apartment switcheroo". The dressers were "Mid Century" early antiques in fair condition - an interesting pale green Jazz-age color with retro brass fittings, but too large and heavy for our decor. Nice - but just not our type.

I noticed a large framed photo on top of the taller dresser of a middle-aged man with a crew cut and mustache. He looked almost military except for the gold loop in his ear. The placement of the frame struck me at the time as unusual, almost like a small shrine. He looked familiar. Where had I seen him before?

We told her we'd think about the dressers, and suggested to Jenny that perhaps the Broadway Antique Market down the street would purchase them since they specialize in pieces from the postwar era. We said our brief goodbyes to Jenny, as she closed her door with a soft click.

The three of us walked downstairs to our floor and Dawn pulled us aside in a hushed whisper.

"Did you know what happened to Jenny? She was about to get married, when her fiance was killed in a car accident two months ago."

"You know what else," Dawn continued, "She was having these really bad headaches, and when she went to the doctor she found out she had an aneurysm that could burst at any time. She went in for surgery two days after her fiance died - that was his picture on the dresser. They told her if the aneurysm burst she'd have only about 20 minutes to live.

Now she's got to start all over again."

We all fell silent for a moment as the pain behind these facts sunk in. It dawned on me that Jenny's rather unusual hair was probably a wig, and her stilted speech and distractibility the result of her cranial surgery and of her recent great loss. If that isn't a case of life dealing someone lemons, I don't know what is.

I was struck by the fact that we'd probably seen Jenny and/or her fiance at some point in the two-and-a-half years we've lived in our building.

But we didn't even notice he no longer existed.

It made me think of how no thing and no person in our lives should be taken for granted, because no matter how certain a thing seems, it can be taken away in a flash by Fate. Back when I was working in radio this was one of the songs I'd play a lot; I was reminded of the words today.
"Lying here in the darkness
I hear the sirens wail
Somebody going to emergency
Somebody's going to jail
If you find somebody to love in this world
You better hang on tooth and nail
The wolf is always at the door...

And in these days
When darkness falls early
And people rush home
To the ones they love
You better take a fool's advice
And take care of your own
One day they're here;
Next day they're gone."

-- Don Henley, "New York Minute"
The lesson that was driven home last night was that the present moment is the only one you have any certainty of. Make no assumptions before you know the facts, and don't wait until tomorrow to say what you need to today.

Thursday, May 01, 2003
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
WebWurst Returns, In The Flesh

This being May Day - when all good pagans dance around the Freudian symbol of their choice - it's the perfect day to examine the state of the sausage...so to speak.

And like the sausage, the Internet is still the world's finest ground-up mix of oddments and cast-off information under one mouse. Case in point: prior to this morning, I had never known of the existence of:

The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, whose primary purpose is to promote the consumption of nitrate-laced, intestinal tissue-encased ground hogflesh (good heavens, I've been reading too much Lileks lately!). If you click on their Patriotic Food survey, you'll see the evidence behind their claim that the aforementioned seasoned hogflesh is the epitome of "American Patriotic Cuisine." Click a little deeper on the "A Project of the American Meat Institute" icon, and you'll "link" to www.meatami.com, which could be faux-French for "meat friend."

You'll find headline articles on how the cost of implementing the 1996 Pathogen Reduction/Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (PR/HACCP) has been "seven times higher than anticipated" - translated, meat-packing companies are crying "fowl" at having to shell out a measly 1 percent more cash to make sure we get reasonably E. coli and trichinosis-free meat on our tables.

(P.S.) I am not a vegetarian. Yet.

Or, Balloon fetishists - don't worry, all's left to the imagination here. A website full of photos like this one, the "60-inch Giant Head With Nose Shape Balloon," is perversely fascinating yet delightfully baffling - like a dirty joke you don't get, but everyone else is laughing at. I can only imagine what the Goodyear Blimp does for these folks.

Or strangest of all, that the 6 million or so punch card ballots (complete with hanging 'chads') from Florida's infamous 2000 Presidential election debacle are still in storage limbo awaiting their ultimate fate. Julian Pleasants, a University of Florida history professor, said destroying the ballots "would leave a hole in U.S. history". I'm sure the pun was intended.
From CNN: "I'm sure a lot of people would just like to forget about it," he said. "But this is the only presidential election decided by the Supreme Court. If you don't have a ballot, how do you understand the difference between a hanging chad and a three-corner chad, or between a pregnant chad and a dimpled chad?"
How, indeed. What sheltered existences we live until the Great Bratwurst of Life swats us greasily across the cheek.