Friday, September 24, 2010

C'mon baby light my fire

When you were in college, you may have discovered that a meal of burritos and beans, when combined with a few beers, a couple of drinking buddies, and a lighter, could lead to some spectacular visual effects.

Even if your college days were a little more reserved, you’ll be happy to know that your knowledge of the combustible qualities of methane gas can have some practical applications, even in Evanston.

An enterprising young man named Matthew Mazzotta recently set up a “Park Spark” poop converter in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The "Park Spark” poop converter is actually two steel 500 gallon tanks painted bright yellow and connected by black piping to an old style gas lantern at Pacific Street Park.

After the dogs do their business, signs on the tanks instruct owners to use biodegradable bags supplied on site to pick up the poop and deposit it into the left tank. People then turn a wheel to stir its insides, which contain waste and water. Microbes in the waste give off methane, an odorless gas that is fed through the tanks to the lamp and burned off. The park is small but has proven busy enough to ensure a steady supply of fuel.

I frequently walk through the park along the lake that ends on Dempster Avenue. At the northern end of that park is a sign that reads “ Eliminate Dogs (no apostrophe) Litter. Although the sign could be interpreted a couple of different ways, I believe the intent is to eliminate, um, dog poop.

Since Evanston is an environmentally friendly city, it may make sense to recreate Matthew Mazzotta’s “Park Spark” along the shores of Lake Michigan.

Gas street lights were first introduced to the United States in 1816, and were first used in Baltimore. After Thomas Edison pioneered the use of electricity for lighting, electric street lights gradually replaced most (but not all) of the gas street lights used in America. Gas street lights are still used in many neighborhoods in Cincinnati, Ohio, several towns in New Jersey, and Riverside, Illinois.

In 2007, there were 75,000,000 dogs registered in America. Since the population of the United States is currently slightly more than 300,000,000, there is one dog for every 4 people in the country. Exact numbers on the number of dogs in Evanston are difficult to obtain, but with a population of 70,000, it would be safe to assume that there are roughly 17,000 dogs that live in Evanston, who could provide more than enough “fuel” to power a string of gas lantern in the parks lining Lake Michigan.

Like all flammable gases, methane needs to be handled carefully.

On October 12, 2009,a shepherd in Jordan watched his entire flock of sheep catch fire and explode. Eventually, the cause of the catastrophe turned out to be a nearby waste treatment plant that had saturated the soil with methane gas and other organic materials. When nearby residents set fire to some dried grass in the area, things got ugly.

When your sheep start exploding during your first few hours on the job, you know that the rest of the day isn’t going to be pretty.

Dog powered street lights in Evanston.

Now, wouldn’t that be a gas?

Friday, September 17, 2010

tell it to the priest

Mexican Independence Day is celebrated on September 16, and the actions that started it all happened 200 years ago this week.

Unlike virtually every other nation on earth, the country now known as Mexico started due to the efforts of a Roman Catholic priest.

Miguel Hidalgo Y Costilla is hardly the kind of man that many today would consider to be a role model. He gambled, fornicated, had children out of wedlock, and didn’t believe in Hell. He also encouraged his parishioners to grow vines and olives, actions that were considered illegal by the Spanish rulers of Mexico.

Around 6:00 am September 16, 1810, Hidalgo ordered the bells of his church to be rung and gathered his congregation. Flanked by his fellow conspirators Ignacio Allende and Mariano Abasolo, he addressed the people in front of his church, encouraging them to revolt. Due to the fact that his church was located in the small town of Dolores (near Guanajuato), the gathering became known as Grito de Dolores (“cry of Dolores”), and the battle cry for the Mexican war of independence.

In July of 1811, Father Hidalgo and Ignacio Allende were captured by the Spanish army. His body was mutilated, and his head (and Allende’s) were put on display in Guanajuato in order to discourage other Mexican rebels. However, the passing of Father Hidalgo didn’t end the quest for independence.

Under different leadership, the struggle continued for nearly 11 more years. Finally, on August 24 of 1821, the Spanish crown signed the Treaty of Cordoba, which recognized Mexican independence under the terms of the Plan of Iguala, and ended 300 years of Spanish rule.

With the signing of the treaty, Mexico gained control of large parts of what is now the Southwestern United States, which had first been occupied by the Spanish is 1542. From 1821 until 1848, the map of Mexico looked like the picture shown below:

The irony of this picture is that in the areas of the United States where illegal immigration is considered to be a major problem, Spanish has been spoken considerably longer than English, and the areas in question were actually part of Mexico for nearly 30 years. If Arizona governor Jan Brewer could speak Spanish, she’d probably be saying, “tienes que estar bromeando”.

America’s war for independence came about due to the actions of some fed-up farmers at the battle at Old North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts on April 19, 1775. In 1837, Ralph Waldo Emerson memorialized the event in his poem “Concord Hymn”, which contained the following stanza:

"By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled;
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard 'round the world."

Father Hidalgo’s plea to his parishioners may not have been the shot that was heard around the world, but his story is proof that even one individual can help to defeat one of the most powerful nations on earth, a thought that’s both comforting and frightening at the same time.

If that idea makes you uncomfortable, go tell it to a priest.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

from Evanston to Africa

I’m just an old guy (63) with an old bicycle (1978 Peugeot), but I just completed my sixth consecutive North Shore Century. If you’re not familiar with the event, it’s a round trip bicycle ride from Evanston to Kenosha, and it’s sponsored by the Evanston Bike Club.

This year was the 26th consecutive event, and it featured rides of 25,50,62,70 and 100 miles. Being a glutton for punishment, I’ve always signed up for, and completed, the 100 mile event.

I’ve long been a bicycle enthusiast, so stories and events involving bicycles always catch my attention. Yesterday’s edition of The New York Times contained a story by Nicholas Kristof titled “A Boy and a Bicycle(s)”. It’s a heart warming story, and it has a Chicago connection.

World Bicycle Relief was started in Chicago in 2005 by Frederick K.W. Day, a senior executive for SRAM Corporation, the largest bicycle parts company in the United States. Almost immediately, Trek Bicycles also became a sponsor.

The mission of World Bicycle Relief is simple - by providing free bicycles to impoverished people around the world, primarily in Africa, the lives of thousands of people around the world become much easier and safer. By providing hope to impoverished Africans, we also help make OUR lives safer as well, since the insurgent trouble spots around the world often sprout in areas that don’t have anything to lose.

The per capita income of Evanston as of 2008 was $44,699, which is wealthy relative to Illinois and the rest of the country, That figure pales considerably, though, when Evanston is compared to the towns to the immediate north. Kenilworth is the Godzilla of the bunch, weighing in at over $100,000 per capita, and it’s the 4th richest city in America.

We’ve all anguished over the potential closing of the branch libraries and Evanston, like most towns, has had to work very hard to eliminate its budget deficit.

If we set aside our local troubles aside for a minute, though, I’d encourage you to imagine how YOU can personally make the world a much better place for a very modest contribution. If you’re interested, take a look at the World Bicycle Relief website (

You don’t have to as rich as Bono or Oprah to make a significant difference in Africa, but your efforts WILL still be appreciated.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

the mosque at Ground Zero

One of the casualties at the former World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 was the Muslim prayer room on the 17th floor of the South Tower. No one knows how long it was there, but it existed long before a bomb was detonated below the North Tower on
February 26, 1993
. Most significantly, it continued to operate, without controversy, until it was destroyed on 9/11/2001.

The North Tower also had a prayer gathering place for Muslims. Staff members of the Windows on the World restaurant used a stairwell between the 106th and 107th floor for their prayer services.

The second of the five Muslim pillars of faith requires prayer five times a day: dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, evening, and night. For most Americans, prayer throughout the course of the day is, at best, an afterthought, but it is usually not done at all except for the sporadic Bible study classes that are occasionally held at workplaces during the lunch hour. For devout Muslims (who are followers of the world’s most popular religion) prayer is an essential part of their day.

At some point in time, the majority of the religions of the world have been subjected to some type of discrimination.

When my Irish ancestors went through Ellis Island in the latter part of the 19th Century, they frequently encountered signs at potential places of employment that read:

Since 90% of Ireland was, and is, Roman Catholic, the signs actually were saying “Catholics need not apply”

Discrimination against Catholics continued well into the 20th Century. I am old enough to remember that some of my fellow Americans did not vote for John F. Kennedy in 1960 simply because he was a Catholic.

“The troubles” in Ireland lasted hundreds of years, but were finally brought to a conclusion on April 10, 1998, in large part due to the efforts of former president William Clinton. With the signing of the Good Friday agreement in Ireland, most of us would have concluded that discrimination against Catholics had finally come to an end.

Unfortunately, that’s still not the case. Here’s a couple of quick examples:

1) In January of 2010, elections were held for board members of the European Commission. One candidate in particular, Viviane Reding, faced opposition STRICTLY because she was Catholic. Although she WAS elected to office on February 6, her story exemplifies the fact that discrimination against Catholics still exists in Europe.

2) 90% of Mexico is Roman Catholic. If you’re a Catholic living in North America, and you’ve gotten all worked up about the problem of illegal immigrants, I’d recommend that you dust off your Bible, and read Matthew 5: 43-48. Since Jesus had told us that we should love our enemies, what would He tell us about how we should treat those whose share a common religious background ?

When One World Trade Center becomes operational in April of 2013, it will likely include a memorial to the 2752 people in the buildings who were killed on 9/11. Included in that total are the 23 Muslims who died on the same day.

Muslims have been part of the work force of the World Trade Center since its inception, and will continue to be when the new building begins operation in three years. Although the daily work force will come and go, the names of 23 Muslims permanently etched into the foundation will serve as a stark reminder that the victims of religious intolerance come from all walks of life, even those who are seemingly “on the same side”.

Since construction of a mosque at Ground Zero would inflame passions on both sides to the point that compromise would be impossible, it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll ever see a mosque at that location. However, building a Muslim center two blocks away, in the heart of Manhattan, would be the strongest possible argument against the false argument that America was at war with Islam.

Salaam aleikum

Sunday, September 5, 2010

screw it !

About the time that I graduated from college, Ripple and other fortified wines became very popular because (1) they were cheap and (2) they had a high alcohol content. Apart from the fact that they weren’t very good wines, the other common thread in this style of wine was that they were sealed with screw on caps.

Screw on wine caps were developed in the late 1960’s, and were first used commercially in 1972 by the Swiss winery Hammel. They were developed as a solution to “cork taint”, which had become an increasingly large problem for some Swiss wine producers, and is still a problem today. In a 2005 test of 2800 bottles of wine in Napa, California, 7% were found to be tainted.

Cork was first used as a wine stopper by the Egyptians thousands of years ago, but it wasn’t until the 1600’s that its use as a wine stopper became widespread. A French monk named Dom Perignon was most responsible for the surge in popularity. He is also the first person to replace the wooden stoppers used in sparkling wine with cork.

Cork stoppers first arrived in 1700 in Portugal. Although the world’s first wine stopper factory opened in Spain in 1750, Portugal remains the world’s leading producer of cork.

I joined the wine club at Winestyles of Evanston in the spring of this year. When I got my first two bottles of the “wine of the month” home, I discovered that BOTH of them were sealed with screw on caps. Since my previous exposure to screw on caps on wine bottles was from my exposure to Ripple 40 years ago, I was initially disappointed. However, Maggie and Dean were able to enlighten and educate me on the use of “Stelvin enclosures”, and I am now definitely a fan.

On Friday, September 10, Winestyles is hosting a tasting of wines that are exclusively sealed by screw on caps. I’m planning to attend, and I predict that it should be a well attended event.

If you’ve watched the recent video called “wine not”, you’ll realize the Winestyles does a very good job of minimizing the “mystique” of my favorite juice. Apart from the fact that the consumption of wine has some definite health benefits, it can also improve your “social networking” skills.

Don’t let a lack of knowledge about wine prevent you from attending the tasting next Friday evening. As the saying goes, “ screw it .. It’s only wine”.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Bible tells me so

At various points in my life, I’ve been invited to Bible study classes.

It’s entirely possible that I have actually attended some of them, but it would be impossible for me to verify where or when that I did. My favorite local church has “beer and Bible nights” at various times of the year, which I would definitely consider attending. In the absence of beer or other alcoholic beverages, however, I’d be much less inclined to contribute what my interpretation of the Holy Book might be to a group of fellow Christians.

As I rode north to Kenosha on my bicycle last week, the thought occurred to me that it would be interesting to conduct a “Bible quiz” for some of my friends and family members. I’ve listed the questions below, and have provided the answers at the end of the article. This IS an open book test, so you ARE permitted to use whatever version of the Bible you would like to check your answers. In order to keep it simple, I have limited the number of questions to the 10 that I thought were particularly relevant.

Here they are:

1 - What does the Bible say about sausage pizza?

A. it will multiply if put into baskets
B. it should only be eaten on unleavened bread
C. it should never be eaten with anchovies
D. it is forbidden

2 - What does the Bible say about punishing children?

A. always be nice to them
B. hit them with a rod
C. take away their allowance
D. stone them to death

3 - What does the Bible say about fish?

A. never cook it in the microwave
B. OK to eat if it has fins and scales
C. you can eat any kind of fish that you want
D . check for mercury levels before eating

4- Alcoholic beverages are:

A. recommended
B. not recommended
C. permissible for Irishmen
D. a and b above

5 - The first person to translate the Bible into English:

A - was elevated to sainthood
B - belonged to the English House of Commons
C - was an English teacher at Oxford
D - was strangled and burnt at the stake

6. Homosexuality is:

A. an abomination
B. a sin
C. God’s punishment to evil parents
D. permitted

7. Slavery is:

A. permitted
B. forbidden
C. OK for me, but not my neighbor
D. a and b above

8. Circumcision

A. is recommended
B. is condemned
C. hurts like crazy
D. takes away a boy’s manhood

9. Adultery

A. is forbidden
B. is allowed
C. is permissible if you are more than 18 years old
D. is permitted on Sadie Hawkins Day

10. Marriage of a sister is :

A. condemned
B. allowed
C. permitted if you live in Kentucky or Arkansas
D. a and b

Many of the references mentioned above comes from the website listed below. Although Islam is the most popular religion in the world, closely followed by Roman Catholicism, “ none of the above” is actually the most popular “religion” in the world, which is why I quoted from a website whose purpose is to convert folks to atheism.

I swear to God that I’m an atheist


1 - d - see Leviticus 11:7-8

2 - a, b, and d {Colossians: 3:21, Proverbs 23:13-14,
Deuteronomy 21:18-21)

3 - b and c - see Leviticus 11:9, and c - Genesis 9:3

4 - d - see Proverbs 31:6,7, 1 Timothy 5:23, Psalm 104:15, Proverbs 20:1, Proverbs 23:31,32

5 - d - see link below:

who was William Tyndale?

6 - d- see John 13:34,35. It’s inconvenient to Christian ideology that as many as 10% of the people living in America would be considered to be “gay”. Those who argue that same sex unions would destroy the sanctity of marriage ignore that fact that roughly 20% of all marriages in America have at least one partner who has “strayed” from their marital fidelity obligations during their marriage. In my lifetime, I have attended a LOT of weddings, but only ONE same sex “union”. The most love-filled of all of them, however, was the ceremony that joined together two people of the same gender

7 - d - See Genesis 9:25, Leviticus 24:45,46, Joel 3:8, Isaiah 58:6, Exodus 22:21, Exodus 21:16, Matthew 23:10

8 - a and b - see Genesis 17:10 and Galatians 5:2

9 - Answer: a and b - see Exodus 20:14, Hebrews 13:4. Numbers 31:18, Hosea 1:2, Hosea 2:1-3

10 - d - see Deuteronomy 27:22, Leviticus 20:17, Genesis 20:11,12,


2 or less: you’ve been watching too many TV evangelists
3-5: you need to do more independent thinking
6-8: you’ve strayed a bit from the Baltimore catechism
9-10: how soon can you start teaching Bible study classes?

The Bible is not actually a “book” as we define that term. It is essentially a compilation of writings that were produced over a period of roughly 1500 years. The original versions were written in Hebrew, Egyptian, and Aramaic (the language of Jesus Christ). In all, there are 66 books in the Bible (39 in the Old Testament, and 27 in the New Testament), and the EXACT CENTER of the Bible is Psalm 118. Psalm 118.8 has particular relevance:

"It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in people".

That's why it's especially important not to take people like Jimmy Swaggart, Fred Phelps, Terry Jones, or Harold Camping very seriously.

Several versions of the Bible are currently in circulation, but virtually all current editions of the Bible have been through a number of revisions over the years.

The Bible that I have on my bookshelf is the King James version, my wife used the New Living Translation version. and our "family Bible" is The New American Bible for Catholics. Technically speaking, though, NONE of the versions that we own are complete versions of the Bible because they do not contain the Gnostic Gospels If you're not familiar with the Gnostic Gospels, they are a collection of 52 texts that were written from the 2nd to the 4th century A.D..If you've seen the 2003 movie, The DaVinci Code, or the 1999 movie, Stigmata, you've had at least a brief exposure to them.

The purpose of this story isn’t to criticize those who are avid readers of the Bible, nor is it meant to chastise folks who could care less what the Good Book says. It’s simply an exercise that will allow you to take a broader view of what your religious beliefs are, as well as what they should be.

Lost in the shuffle of all of the religious discussions that seem to be an unending dialogue throughout the world is that the vast majority of the people in the world share a common ancestor - Abraham. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are all called “Abrahamic religions” because of their common link. Although I haven’t read the Torah yet, I HAVE read the Koran, and currently have two copies on my bookshelf. I also wrote a “book report” of more than 4000 words about the Koran shortly after I finished reading it.

The Koran is 361 pages in length, roughly the size of the New Testament. Although there are a number of stories in the Koran that were originally written for the Bible, the strongest connection is the story of Joseph, which is found in Genesis 39-50, and retold in its entirely in Sura (chapter) 12 of the Koran.

Would I encourage people to read the Bible for guidance on how to lead their lives?


Do I believe that “the Word of God” should be taken literally?

Absolutely not.

If I had to pick ONE verse in the Bible that I’d recommend as good advice for anyone, I’d recommend Proverbs 17:22:

“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones”.

Translated into modern English, the Good Book is telling us to set aside our differences, and to always look on the bright side of things.

That makes sense to me, because the Bible tells me so.