Author: Bill Cash

This makes sense

“Honey? Can you make sure you get me four and ninth-sixteenths of zucchini so I can make about five and a half servings for dinner? …babe?”

A thought

Comedy is tragedy plus time.

Horror is time minus comedy.

Tastes like…

Still hard to believe that the “Beyond Meat” COO was arrested for biting a guy’s nose. You really can’t replicate the taste of real meat, evidently.

Cold weather

I think it’s every Chicagoan’s duty, when he has friends out on vacation in warm places, to bitch about all the cold weather back home — even if it’s not actually cold. It makes the vacation feel all that much better.

An awkward moment in 2022

Casually mentioned to someone, in context, at work, that I am gay. It didn’t need a response, it just came up. But he said, “Aww yeah, that’s great! Love wins, man!”

I can’t tell who was more embarrassed, me or him.

On RT: Russia Today

(I wrote this in 2018.)

Last year, we learned that during the 2016 election campaign, millions of Americans were exposed to social media posts sponsored by Russians operating out of the “Internet Research Agency.” The Russians pushed hot buttons in domestic politics from gun rights to gay rights to “blacktivism” and anger at police abuses. The campaign was designed to foam up division on both ends of our political spectrum. The Russians were so sloppy in covering their tracks, sometimes they paid for their ads in rubles.

Recent indictments of Russian individuals have revealed exactly how the Russian government also hacked into domestic political outfits such as the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign. The ties between “DC Leaks” and “Guccifer 2.0” and Russia’s state and Wikileaks are laid out in black and white and, I hope, will soon be proved in court. It is already the assessment of all U.S. intelligence agencies that the Russians interfered in our elections. As President Trump’s current lawyer said on Twitter, “The Russians are nailed.” (Julian Assange appears on the verge of finally being thrown out of the Ecuadorean embassy in London, as well.)

Today’s news development is that Facebook announced it had uncovered evidence of a new and ongoing false influence campaign, aimed at promoting both the “Unite the Right” and “Abolish ICE” movements–two fringe elements, one on each side of our political spectrum. Facebook says it doesn’t know who was behind these, but it’s straight out of the 2016 Russia propaganda playbook, and some of the fake accounts followed Russia’s “Internet Research Agency” (propaganda) accounts. So it’s not a stretch at all to believe this is the Russian state’s work again.

One entity which does not hide from its ties to the Russian state is RT: Russia Today television. After years of insisting it was editorially independent, Russia Today was forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and it finally admitted it serves the Moscow regime within the United States.

RT’s longtime editor-in-chief is Margarita Simonyan. In 2012, she openly admitted the purpose of RT is to provide an outlet for the Russian state’s views:

It is important to have a channel that people get used to, and then, when needed, you show them what you need to show. In some sense, not having our own foreign broadcasting is the same as not having a ministry of defense. When there is no war, it looks like we don’t need it. However, when there is a war, it is critical.

Just as the Internet Research Agency’s propaganda campaigns were focused on American social ills, RT also frequently runs stories on our domestic problems, such as racism, drug abuse, police abuses, education woes, budget problems, government dysfunction, and so on. The problems are real, but the coverage is wall-to-wall. If there is a scab in the U.S. body politic, RT is frequently moved to pick at it. This is entirely in line with Russia’s strategy of sowing discord here in our country as well as in other nations abroad. For example, RT gives a whole show to the divisive Alex Salmond, who was behind the Scottish National Party’s losing 2014 campaign that would have torn the U.K. in half by taking Scotland out of it.

RT also, of course, uses its domestic platform in the U.S. to advance a Russian slant on events. In its version of today’s Facebook story, RT highlights that Facebook did not accuse Russia specifically. RT also covered the farcical “re-election campaign” of Putin in complete earnestness. And it runs the mirror image of the scab-picking stories whenever it talks about Russia. “Most Russians approve of Putin,” RT notes today. This straightforward coverage of Putin as a democrat or ordinary candidate is designed to make him something other than what he is: a murderous autocrat who’s ordered the deaths of multiple journalists within his borders.

Let there be no doubt: RT is not just built to tell news tales. It’s meant to change the very values of other societies. Here is a screen capture from a speech Simonyan made in China last year:

Yes: media like hers “changes the entire value system of societies,” and that’s RT’s explicit aim when it comes to the U.S. Here she is with another chilling passage:

(Whenever Russian figures complain of “international terrorism,” they are usually cynically referring to acts committed in opposition to Russian positions. So, freedom fighters in Syria opposing ISIS and opposing the murderous Assad regime become “international terrorists.” Orwell knew the power of the word.) But here she is offering to work with Chinese media to oppose “media terrorism,” which she basically defines as free western media that expose Russian crimes.

China’s media are no freer than Russia’s. And that tableau, of Simonyan, President Xi, and President Putin, on the same dais and singing in harmony terrifies me. It should make crystal clear that Putin sees RT as his long claw into the U.S. marketplace of ideas, and it was an invitation by Putin to Xi to join him in spreading their anti-American views on a global scale.

Neither nation is our friend. Russia–Putin–has ordered the poisoning of multiple people on British soil; it has interfered in our election and the elections of other nations; it has pushed to shatter the European Union and raged against NATO; it has threatened and intimidated our smaller allies in Europe who need us, such as when it hacked Estonia and threatened Montenegro for joining NATO; it has invaded the Ukraine and annexed Crimea by force and then through a sham “referendum”; it has lied about its involvement in the shooting down of a passenger plane, MH17, with a Russian-made missile; it has hacked into our power grid and tested the ability to shut it down; and God knows what it has on Trump. China has its own litany of sins that include bullying its smaller neighbors, the construction of illegal islands in the South China Sea, aggression against Japan, coddling of North Korea, and a creepy system of domestic repression of its own people up to and including mass executions.

Our country is divided and that is getting worse. So at the least, Americans must learn to see the links back to Russia, and see foreign meddling for what it is. We no longer can assume that we can have an honest political debate here without a hidden foreign voice trying to shout it down. Russia’s offensive campaigns have been designed to aggravate the rawest nerves in politics, so to spread fear, dissent, and make us weak through chaos. We must not forget that Russia’s tentacles extend deep.

But united we stand, divided we fall.

A troubling plot hole in a classic

Headley and Caine meet for the first time

Made a disturbing realization recently with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

So, in Act II of the movie, Janet meets Lawrence for the first time at the casino (above). In this scene they are playing roulette and Lawrence is being friendly toward Janet.

A minute or so after this happens, Lawrence spots Freddie in his military uniform and fake wheelchair, and Freddie rams himself in between them. Janet helps Freddie place a losing bet, then follows him out in pity. They start talking, and Freddie tells Janet he needs to meet Dr. Emil Schaufhausen.

A few minutes later in the film (it’s the next day, or is it?), Lawrence begins to pretend to be Dr. Schaufhausen–in his clipped little West German accent. Lawrence meets Janet again in the lobby in this outrageous chair.

Janet meets Dr. Schaufhausen in the lobby.

Janet says, “Oh it’s so nice to meet you! I recognized you from the casino!”

But here’s the problem. When she sees him in the lobby, he is doing the German accent. But when he was in the casino, he did not yet know about his own Dr. Schaufhausen cover story–because he did not even know yet that Freddie was going to show up in the wheelchair. So if he talked to Janet at the roulette table, he would have been doing it as himself: Lawrence Jameson, the ambiguously European prince with the English accent.

Wouldn’t Janet have detected the switch in accents and personae from one day to the next? I’m troubled and this movie is obviously ruined now.

Sidebar: The 1980s version is a remake of an earlier version of the same movie. Having seen the older one, it’s awesome–because some of the exact dialogue is the same.

Why I Love Flying (?)

It’s the absurdity plus the corporate know-nothing-ism. Conversation with an airline club employee:

BC3: Thanks for checking me in. Could you also help me with a seat change? I’m trying to get out of the bulkhead. Any other seat is fine.
DA: What do you have… 1A? Let me check. Yes. 1A is a bulkhead. So you’re fine!
BC3: Right, but I’m looking to get out of the bulkhead.
DA: I have 1B and 1C available, but those are aisles.
BC3: No, I’m trying to get out of the bulkhead. No problem. Just thought I’d ask.

This is where I should have walked away. However…

BC3: [trying to be chatty and fun] 1B and 1C are the worst seats up front anyway. That’s the seat where you get bumped or kicked by every other passenger as they board the plane.
DA: [truly confused] Well, they’re all bulkheads.
BC3: Right, but I’m saying–see, because they’re right at the very front, right on the aisle, every single person passes by that seat. So, every person can bump, kick, or brush by you.
DA: Well, I would beg to differ with you. Not every person goes past that seat.
BC3: Look. I’m just–look. Like, take 30C. At least if you had 30C, you are only going to get hit by the people seated behind row 30. Row 1–
DA: I just don’t think I agree.

I gave up.

The inheritance tax

We have entered 2017, the year of the Republican takeover. I for one am excited to see what’s coming! (What alternative do I have? My law licenses aren’t any good in Canada or Europe or Britain. So tally ho, Trump!)

One of the many legislative turds we’ll be seeing this year probably will be the final strangling of the federal estate tax, which is already almost completely extinct. I ran across a great and commonsense explanation from the scholar David Mitchell as to why the estate tax is a good thing. And with credit to the Guardian, I’m reprinting it here:

A lot of people don’t like inheritance tax. It feels like stealing from the dead. It isn’t, but it feels like it. The reasoning goes: I worked hard for my money, I paid tax on it when I earned it . . . , so why shouldn’t I be able to leave it all to my children? Why should the taxman get any?

The answer is that, in order to pay for public services, the government should take money out of the economy where it’ll be least missed, where its absence is least likely to plunge people into poverty or reduce consumer spending. The money of the dead is therefore ripe for taxation: the owner no longer needs it, and his or her heirs have been doing OK without it up to now. Inheritance tax doesn’t discourage earning, it discourages dying, which I think we can all get behind.

Our own estate tax is on the way out. Repealing it probably won’t do anything to the fabric of society, other than to lay on a few extra billion in debt. Senator Proxmire’s observation about the value of money rings eternal.

CTA driver screams, then silence

So, this just happened: my Blue Line train may have been about to derail or be hit by an oncoming train. Not the way I was hoping to get home, frankly.

I’m riding on the train from O’Hare. It’s a moderately full train since the station was rather full when it pulled in. But everything’s fine, we’re moving.

We pull into Jefferson Park station. It is about 12:05.

Now we’re pulling out of the station. The driver comes on the PA and says: “This train will not stop at Montrose. If you want to go to Montrose, you’ll have to OOOOUUGUHHHHH!!!!!!!” and the train jerks to a halt.

And then the PA goes dead.

Well! No explanation as to what the hell that was. I immediately start to feel that something is wrong. But I’m in the fourth or fifth car, and I can’t see all the way to the front.

The driver does not come back on to explain it. It is obvious that something bad has happened or there would be an explanation. We’re sitting there a good five, six minutes. I stand up and gather my luggage. I start thinking, I’m going to have to evacuate mid-car.

We’re not all the way out of the station. I’m in the middle of the train, and I am still in the station, next to the platform. That seems safe. It’s not dark.

I chat with some guys from Boston. At this point it’s been a good twelve minutes or so; still no explanation. I’m texting people to say I think I’ve been in an incident.

My thesis is either that somebody jumped in front of the train, or the driver was attacked by a passenger. Either way, I don’t want to meet up with whatever caused that. I start thinking I’m going to open the doors manually and get off, because she hasn’t come back on to tell us what’s happening.

Then we hear the usual beep beep beep, “This train is experiencing –” and then that message cuts out too. I’m about done with this.

Finally. The driver comes hustling through the train from front to back. I ask her what happened. She says, “The train will be moving shortly!”

She never gets back on the PA. The train then starts running backward through the station. Stops again. The doors fumble and then finally open for good.

That is when I immediately bolt, because the hell with this.

I go up to the fare booth and ask what happened. The booth people, they don’t want to say. “You said you were at Montrose?” I said, “No, guys, the driver said we aren’t stopping at Montrose and then she screamed. What the heck happened?”

Here is what happened, according to them: As part of “Your New Blue,” CTA is single-tracking Blue Line in this area. That is why the Montrose station was going to be skipped: they’re working there. The driver ran a signal leaving the station. She screamed when either she realized her mistake or when the automatic safety system shut down the train. The booth guy said, “She screamed because she’s a rookie. The downtown control center called her and said, ‘Did you run a signal?’ Basically, you were about to either derail the train or be put on a collision course with an oncoming train on the single track.

That is why she came running to the other end of the train: to back us up out of the danger area.

This was obviously very scary. You don’t expect to hear a driver scream into a PA at midnight — and then not explain it. I’m thinking either it’s a heart attack, a suicide, or some crazy passenger has just attacked the driver and is coming for us. It was ridiculous for her not to come on and tell us what happened — at least eventually.

More to the point, and it goes without saying, she should not have run the signal. She should have been careful around the construction zone.

And have we not had drivers blow through signals before on Blue Line? It seems like all the incidents involve Blue Line. Remember the Ghost Train? The stories about drivers posting through Cumberland without stopping because they were asleep? And the classic O’Hare escalator crash. Thank God no one was killed. And no one was killed tonight, including me.

I really hope this didn’t happen the way it was explained to me. If we were put on a single stretch of track where we could have been hit by an oncoming train, that is a huge safety lapse. This whole episode further strengthens my resolve never to be in the first or last car of a train. It’s just not worth it.

I may follow up with CTA to find out what happened. If I do, I will post about it again.

Ice kicking season didn’t come

To hasten the end of winter, I like to go down the lake and kick ice.

Every winter I’ve been here in Chicago has been brutal. Weeks and weeks of unending ice and grey sludge in the streets. Temperatures so low they lock up all the moisture in the air; getting bloody micro-cracks across my knuckles. The constant need to lotion up my shins (why those?). So cold it’s impossible to ride; or if you do ride, so cold you can’t keep the tires inflated, and you fear the bike will shatter into a thousand metal shards when you hit a bump. Or, so icy you fall down again and again and again until you give up, walking an hour home, dragging a useless bicycle with your numb hands, your backside bruised and wet with slush.

Soft, dirty ice, ready to go.
Soft, dirty ice, ready to go.

So when the melt finally comes, and on the first barely warm day, I go down the lake. Usually you can find great jagged piles of ice, kilometers long and meters high. The wind whips it up, you see the waves are driven up over the seawall, and they freeze there before they have a chance to run back into the lake. The snowstorms will drive the snow against the steps, where it’ll stick. Or there’ll be layers of ice, slightly melted in a weak sun, refrozen again when night comes. Oftentimes the ice is full of dirt–whatever has been churned up off the floor of the lake by the angry winter waves–and there’ll be a skin of more dirt that rises to the top of the ice wherever some water has evaporated. The ice lingers, great mounds of it.

The first warm day, I go down and I kick ice. Sometimes you can only bust up a little bit of the edges, and you have to move on to another patch. There’ll be other places where there’s a good soft spot, and you can bust through and really do some damage.

The fun of kicking ice is strategically making chunks big enough to break up with a foot, then giving them a great kick seaward, so the chunks go flying over the seawall. The noise it makes hitting the water is fantastic. Crash! If you kick a big flat one fast enough, you can make a ferocious splash. Other times, you lose velocity, and they limp over the edge, almost vertical, and barely make a sound as they ease into the water.

There’s a grave danger involved in this, which I respect but don’t necessarily fear. I wear regular sneakers, because they’re going to get dirty. I pick whatever is messiest or oldest, and thus also the slipperiest and most worn out. The cold, wet concrete gives pretty good grip, since it’s grooved, but it’s ice we’re talking about–it’s slippery. When you kick at it, you can usually tell where it’s going to go and (more importantly) how much resistance it’s going to give you. Just like in shooting, you have to judge the kickback correctly or you’ll hurt yourself. I temper the danger with technique: first I punch straight down on the ice with the back of my heel, several times if need be, then when I think I got a good one loosened up, I’ll give it a full pitch from the hip. Usually, this works and you get the splash. But there’s a risk of following the ice right into the lake. How much is it worth doing? How deadly would the water be? After all, it’s not frozen. Could I make it to the nearest ladder if I fell in? Respect the lake. But attack the ice.

I like seeing lake dissolve the ice. Like I said, lot of times the ice is muddy, it’s full of stones, the chaff that rises up to the skin of any melting and refreezing ice. When you send a good ice chunk into the blue water, a stream of brown silt usually flows off of it. The waves’ll wash over the ice chunk, carry away the silt, in a slow plume. Sometimes you’ll find a pure, white chunk under there. More often, it’ll fracture into a dozen pieces before you see any clean ice. Usually, it all just melts dirty, then gone.

It’s funny how long the ice can last, how many minutes. Drifting away like a dirty ghost. But it can never outlast the waves and the water–however cold it may be–because liquid water is always warmer than ice. There’s a solidity in that, a certainty. It’ll go.

And that’s the real reason to go down kicking ice. Every bit of ice you send skittering over the wall brings spring and summer that much closer. It’s a public service, getting rid of ice. We’ve got to get rid of it, because if the lake path is still crusted over with ice, then it’s still winter, and winter’s got to go.

Treacherous: sometimes you find it on the rocks, out in the water.
Treacherous: sometimes you find it on the rocks, out in the water.

I kick last winter right into the water. Sometimes only a bit. Sometimes it’s not time yet and I have to come back. Sometimes I find places where the meltwater is coming out, and there’s a small trickle already, or a big one. I can tell it doesn’t need much of my help. But if there’s a trickle I’ll build dams, sometimes, figuring if I can make a big pond of water, that’ll rinse away more ice and faster than I can do with my shoe. But usually I get bored of all that eventually and smash it all up and kick everything into the water.

It’s all got to go. My trips down the lake are restorative, peaceful. Nobody else wants this work; I get the whole city’s shoreline to myself, and as I say it can run on forever. So I walk, kicking, and thinking.

I feel cheated. This winter has been the mildest I’ve seen since I moved to Chicago. Right now there is not a bit of ice anywhere on the shore–and there isn’t even any slush or rutted ice in the streets, either. It isn’t fair. There’s nothing to do down the lake, and it’s not dangerous to go kicking, walking, thinking. And this weekend it was already crowded, at least by February standards. My good work isn’t needed.

Guest bathroom renovations (before and after)

In December 2015 I bought the Lake Shore Drive apartment I’d been living in for three years. It’s a great space, in a location I love, with killer views, but it needs some work. So for 2016 I am going to be having fun customizing it and upgrading it as I find the money, the energy, and the parts.

I decided to do the guest bathroom first because everybody said it just needed to be nuked. With the help of my trusty contractor, that’s what we did. Amazingly, he was able to get this done in just a few weeks and in time for the Apex Airways party.

It’s not completely done — I still have a glass shower door and some shower trim to order — but that’s coming soon. It’s done enough that I wanted to show it off now.

By the way. The coolest thing, to me, isn’t even in these pictures. If you look inside the medicine cabinet, there are outlets in there! I have never seen this. But it makes sense. If you want to charge stuff, do it in there. No outlets hanging around by the sink. (The old bathroom had no outlet by the sink, which was an annoyance supreme.)

The next project is the master bathroom.