03 June 2005

I finally got away from Chicago. Right now, I'm im a small hotel im Queens with am excellent view of I-495. I went for a traditional orientation walk, despite the protestations of my parents. "New York at night isn't safe!" they claimed. Of course, once you've walked Detroit by night, everything else pales im comparison... At least within the confines of this nation. (Example: Paris and Amsterdam are cities I could walk and feel safe, save for pickpockets. Beijing, Shanghai, Xi'an, and Lanzhou felt safe due to an excess of constabulatory presence.) To boot, I discovered (to my delight) that this area is, essentially, Devon Avenue West, with a bevy of 'apteka' (pharmacy) and 'gastronom' and Russian kosher delis that would've had on earthly business being open at midnight. (Rest easy; they weren't.)

27 May 2005

None me the most intriguing questions in existance is, how does a choice i make change the universe? To be fair or honest,most only impact your local bUbble me the world. Some affect larger demesnes. Think about driving through a mad crush of people.you can choose to take the jammed freeway and make the problem worse. Or you can choose the road less travelled.experience and a h

23 May 2005

Problems on the reservation

The term fiasco means so much to me. I can foresee a week me Generally Bad Things ahead.

16 May 2005

Interesting fact: pickup drivers year seat belts less than other people. Ride'em, cowboy!

14 May 2005

Patience with a purpose?

It's 4 pm. The dog sits patiently, in expectation of its owners'arrival. She sits there, knowing something important is going to happen soon..

04 May 2005

This week's random thoughts...

There's a reason it's called a crush.

Usually, it crushes you when you find out the crushee is either involved with someone else, or not of identical sexuality, or just doesn't feel at all the same way as you.

As someone who's only been the crusher and not the crushee, it's disheartening when the target of your affections doesn't reciprocate.

Ah well.

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The small things are the ones that make the big things impressive.

Take a few of the sights I see on my daily commute.

For example, at Prudential Towers in the West Loop area, there's extensive greenspace with a proud sign stating, "Do Not Walk On Grass." Yet, when you pass by, you see a man with a frisbee in his grip, about to let go, and a friend/target a small distance away. Only when you get up close (in good weather) do you realize the man, his friend, and the flying disc are statues. (In winter, it's somewhat obvious, what with the fine layer of snow covering them..)

Art abounds in Chicago. Some of it, of course, is soulless corporate art, placed in atria and corridors just to fill space. Some of it is soulful corporate art, be it an objet d'art from a master or from a struggling artist scavenged for a song.

And then there's the random graffiti, or street art, or tagging. Let me be clear: I do not support random acts of vandalism, nor do I support "tagging turf" by gang members, drug dealers, or other such ruffians. However, when there's, say, a naked underpass decorated with something artful...

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Chicago is a transportation nexus. Just west of the Loop is the nation's major rail hub, and tracks have been laid in near every suburb and neighborhood. Train whistles haunt the still night air occasionally, breaking the endless purple haze with a faint, echoing hoot. Sometimes, freight traffic stops a road dead in its tracks for a half-hour, as the train works to gain speed with its kilotons of cargo, and all one can do is turn off the car, stand up, and talk to your fellow commuters stuck in place.

O'Hare is a major air hub, arguably the major air hub of the US. (Atlanta residents may disagree, especially since the 'appropriate' method for determining superiority is in dispute.) You can't argue, though, with the fact Chicago has two major international airports, a feat only matched by New York City (with two in the city proper and Newark a short, quick NJT ride away from Times Square) and possibly LA Metro (depending on your point-of-view, it has one (LAX), two (Ontario International, some 60 miles inland), or three (John Wayne/Orange County, which is domestic-only)) .

Chicago metro also is the root of three, and a transit-through for three, interstate highways which criss-cross the city and suburbs (spur routes included). The three that start are I-55 ("Stevenson", starts by Cermak and Lake Shore Drive), I-57 (starts at 95th and the Dan Ryan), and I-88 ("Reagan", starts by I-290/I-294 intersection). The three that pass through are I-80 (through the south subrurbs), I-90 and I-94.

I-90 and I-94 are kinda weird. They start separate; the I-90 starts as the Chicago Skyway (which is not technically an interstate highway, but most people don't really care). I-94 starts as the Bishop Ford Freeway, then it becomes the Dan Ryan at 95th. Then around 69th and Wentworth, they merge and are the Dan Ryan together. At the start of I-290, which is the major east-west highway, at some mysterious point, it ceases to be the Dan Ryan and becomes the Kennedy. Around Lawrence and Cicero, they again split, this time with I-94 veering separate and northwards, now called the Edens, and I-94 shunting westward towards O'Hare, still the Kennedy. Just shy of the airport, I-90 again splits, this time with a spur, the I-190 , retaining the Kennedy name and looping through the domestic terminals of the airport and the I-90 changing identity once again, this time to the Northwest Tollway.

The strange part is, not a lot of people actually know the point at which the Dan Ryan becomes the Kennedy. Sure, the Circle Interchange (where the 290 overlaps, and a ring of interchanges allow one to head in any direction) is given as the point, but there has to be some tangible dividing point. I mean, there's a line at which one has crossed into Cheeseland, er, Wisconsin, and another line which delineates Canada, a great place to kill a weekend (especially if you're 19 and want to get smashed legally).

There's a small signpost in the middle of a string of closely-spaced exits, each 500 feet (1/6 km) from the next, which says "Mile 0.1". This small marker, easily overlooked at a typical 60 mph (100 kph) pace, is the magic point.

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Certain things we take for granted (at least, I would assume the typical reader of this blog would take for granted) are not as treasured as they are when lacking.

Take sleep, for example. I routinely spend one night a week without. Why, I don't know, and of course my functioning the next day is impaired (body temperature refuses to regulate correctly, lakc of appetite, inability to sit, poor motor control, shakes throughout), but it's something I try to live with.

I've done some siginificant stretches without sleep. In 2001, I spent consecutive 80-hour stretches without blissful slumber. In 2002, I spent a solid five days without sacktime. When I travel, I plan hotels with the intention of crashing one night less than my stay. Usually, the first night I spend walking the streets of the city.

Last month, the weekend of Palm Sunday, I was walking about downtown Detroit. I had a mission: to collect a $1 gaming chip from each casino in the area. (Big tip: If you want the chip, talk to the valets. They receive them as tips. You don't have to go into the casino if you do this!) However, I spent the night walking...

There are few things remarkable about downtown Detroit besides the People Mover, Greektown, and the view from the edge of the Detroit River. I mean, besides Greektown, the city has a "dead" downtown, like most cities. Dead downtowns are open banker's hours five days per week, close promptly, and have no significant early-evening to late-night activities (bars, clubs, comedy rooms, theatres). There will be some action, like the goth club I passed by, but on the whole, they're shuttered at 5p.

Detroit has an eerie feel about it at night. Once you walk away from the core, the scene quickly disintegrates into boarded buildings, crumbling masonry, shattered windows. Police cars are infrequent, and there's little lighting to speak of. Bums crowded in abandoned doorways to avoid the night's cold and rain, in which I relished. Prostitutes, barely covered, barely appeared, and all avoided my gaze. Gangs gathered near a garage, tuning their ride, talking about their affairs.

Not to say it was all bad. I think Detroit has potential. (I felt icky saying that. I know, potential is usually a codeword for not living up to what is possible. I was told I had potential throughout grade school by teachers who couldn't successfully argue the necessity of homework for one who aced every test by just sitting down, shutting up, and paying a damn's worth of attention.)

Collecting myself real quick... OK. Detroit could liven up if it weren't for its systemic problems. It seemed the government gave not a damn about anything besides the riverfront area, the casinos, and that's it. I saw no fire trucks, three police cars, and one ambulence (which was kind enough to give me a lift when I was utterly exhausted at 5 am and wanted to head to Greektown for a proper breakfast). The roads seemed in a state of disrepair; one guy's engine was suddenly six inches below grade when he ran into the queen mother of all potholes, without any warning to show that construction was occuring.

It was fun, though. I was warm in my jacket, and enjoyed a coffee from one of the casinos, dishing them out after last call. (In case you're curious, I prefer non-American-style coffee. Espressos, cappucinos, Turkish/Greek coffee, frappès. When I drink it, I always take it a certain way.. black as sin and just a sweet (read: enough sugar to put a diabetic in medical trouble).)

My face, my hair, and my glasses were drenched in cold rain, and the wide roads blurred in the evening darkness. It was darker than I was used to, with stars visible where the rain clouds decided to leave some sky open. The moon was large and full, and shone brightly on my face and dimly across the concrete canyon-cemetary of the outer core.

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That's all. Photos to follow once sober...

cya
drew
d dot valued at gmail dot com

02 May 2005

Philosophy on suffering

I'm about to go into my "leftist" rant mode. (What that actually means is, I'm going to say things which are core to most religoius beliefs yet are unpopular to actually elucidate. I mean, look at your Bible (the bit about helping people out), the Torah, the Koran, the sutras.. All go for this compassion thing. So maybe not being a total ass is actually (gasp!) a conservative value.)

People are suffering around the world as we speak. The AP image in my non-scheduled post below (regular posts happen nightly at 9p) is just one person in agony due to the thoughtlessness of others.

Be it in Darfur, where one group of Arab Muslims is genociding another group of Arab Muslims, or in the southern part of Africa where HIV and AIDS is depopulating those above the age of majority at a horrific clip, or the violence in Israel and Palestine, or Our Glorious Leader's actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, tragedy befalls many innocents.

This should make anyone think. The problems most of us face in life are trivial. (I mean, look at my Easter post, for chrissakes.) These people, most of whom live on less than USD 2 a day, are truly suffering without meaning in many cases. Parents work as hard as they can, but cannot sustain themselves and their families. Groups, whose sole crime is the circumstances of their and their parents' birth, are ostracized, separated, and targets of genocide. People are dying for not following the same deranged view of the Almighty, who I've yet to see actually say in any of Her* works or books, "Killing people who do not follow Us maketh Us happy."

I follow the precepts of Buddhism, mainly because, well, they go together well with a certain reading of the Bible. I mean, Buddha taught balance, compassion, the value of life, and he showed the power of one person to change the world. Jesus taught those same principles. So why do the most adamant Bible-beaters preach money and power as ends? Why do they eschew working to make the world better, claiming sola fides (only faith saves; works mean nothing)? Why do they support the ultimate renunciation of life, the death penalty?

And about the US. (Note, not "our nation". I am a proud citizen or national of a growing number of nations. I collect passports the way kids collect baseball cards.) What happened to "Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to be free?" Immigrants face steep hurdles to get into this country, and the vast majority - somewhere in the five-to-six nines range** - are just decent people trying to get a new start on life, or trying to study, or trying to work and improve the American GDP. Terrorism is being used as a bogeyman for damn near everything. As George Carlin said in his 1999 show, "Americans are willing to trade their civil liberties.. for the illusion of security." (The first track of this disc, "You Are All Diseased," is near-prophetic in what would happen once we were infected with the terrorism bug. )

Now, the Republicans are pushing a bill through Congress ostensibly to prevent states issuing driver's licenses to undocumented persons (read: illegal immigrants). The fine print, though, also is giving a good, hard screw to persons requesting refugee status.

Refugees have a hell of a time, as I will find out in the near future (part of my 'planned' trip is a flight with refugees from somewhere bleak to somewhere hopefully better). Refugees normally have left their homeland due to catastrophe. Sometimes, the problem is natural. Most of the time, other humans have made - and are still making - life hell for a person or group solely upon the basis of skin, or of religion, or of ethnicity, or of sex.

Women get the short end of the stick in this. Think about it - "rape and pillage", for example. Men may lose their belongings, but women lose a lot more - their self-esteem, their self-worth, their mental health, their sanity, their status, just to name what I can pop off the top of my head. Female genital mutilation - the barbaric practice of removing an organ of the female body so that "she will be faithful" - causes hundreds of deaths and eternal pain for the victims. TO top it off, many die in childbirth, the rest struggle keeping their family in some semblance of health..

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Essentially, a blog is a bully pulpit, like newspaper columns are (or were, depending on your point of view). Part of having one is pointing out problems in society, and finding cool things to point readers to .

The feature on the right, "Charity of the Month: Show You Have A Soul," is an attempt to get people (read: you) helping out groups that work to make the world a better place. Doctors Without Borders is a Nobel Peace Prize winning organization which sends doctors and surgeons around the world to aid in places without basic medical care. They work to prevent infectious diseases and to stop childhood hunger and malnutrition.

cya
drew
d dot valued at gmail dot com

*: In talks about the Supreme Being, I use certain literary conventions most don't. Short version: I switch off pronouns (alternatively Him and Her, because It is rude in English and, well, the Supreme Being is beyond gender) and speech is done in the royal plural-singular (the We and Our).

**: Five-nines and six-nines are usually reserved as technical terms for system uptime, be it computers and internet, or the electrical grid, or the phone network. Five nines, or 99.999%, represents a total amount of unscheduled downtime of.. abacus please... five minutes in a year. Six nines (99.9999%) represents a tenth of that, or half a minute.

Suffering 30 years on...

BBCNews.com Story on Agent Orange


The effects of Agent Orange continue. Some doctors believe it the cause of genetic mutations, such as those suffered by this near-alien child. Image from BBC and hosted on their site.