Saturday, May 28, 2011

love song for a truck?

There have been a LOT of love songs about cars, especially during the “muscle car” decade of the 1960’s. The Beach Boys probably hold the record for the MOST songs about cars (9) during that decade, but they were far from the only group singing about their cars. Apart from the ones done by the Beach Boys, one of my favorite songs is “Hot Rod Lincoln”, by Commander Cody.

Long before either “409” or “Little Deuce Coupe” hit the charts, people were writing songs about their cars. The earliest known example is Billy Murray’s 1909 recording of “My Merry Oldsmobile”

Trucks, however, are a different story.

“Convoy” and "Turn the Page” are songs about journeys across America in commercial vehicles. Apart from them, though, there aren’t many songs about trucks.

In 2009, Mark Knopfler released a song titled “Border Reivers”. Like most people, I enjoyed listening to the song, but didn’t pay much attention to what he was actually singing about.

The Albion Motor Car Company Ltd. was founded in Scotland in 1899. Although the company made private passenger cars for the first 20 years of the 20th century, it was known to be primarily a producer of commercial vehicles. It’s still in business today, but is now a subsidiary of an AMERICAN company called American Axle & Manufacturing.

Sure as the sunrise, the company will probably be in business for years to come.

In the final analysis, Knopfler’s song is actually a tribute to the guys who make a living driving trucks, even though Mark himself apparently never earned any money in that position.

Since he was born in Glasgow (in 1949), the title of this song is a mark of respect for the fierce warriors who defended Scotland against English armies from roughly 1300 to 1600. The best known “border reiver” is a man named William Wallace, who was portrayed in the movie “Braveheart” by Mel Gibson. The ORIGINAL border reivers were Scottish patriots who (successfully) resisted an English “land grab”.

Mark Knopfler is truly blessed, because he makes a very handsome living doing exactly what he loves to do. In a sense, you could say that he gets “money for nothing”

If you’d like to read the lyrics for “Border Reivers”, they are posted below:

Border Reiver lyrics

In the meantime, keep on truckin’

Saturday, May 21, 2011

it's the end of the world as we know it ..

and I feel fine …

If you take a close look at the date of this post, you’ll notice that it is AFTER 6:00 p.m. on May 21, 2011, the time that Harold Camping’s Family Radio channel said would be the “end of the world”.

Like so many other predictions about our last days on earth, this one missed the mark - again. I’ve lost count how many times that I’ve heard someone predict that the world was coming to an end soon, but this latest prediction has some interesting (and modern) twists. For one thing, even Doonesbury has weighed in on the topic:

for the Bible tells me so

Another interesting variation on an old theme is that there is now a website that will allow you to send an email six days after “the rapture” to up to 62 people. Since you “can’t take it with you”, the site also allows you to store your SENSITIVE FINANCIAL INFORMATION that can be released to 12 non-believers of your choice.

The non-believers will also be happy to know that they can continue to correspond with Princess Diana, whose current address is Heaven.

If you’re a little skeptical of “end of the world predictions ”(as I am), why in the world would somebody make such a crazy claim?

As you might suspect, it has a lot to do with money.

In 2009, the non-profit Family Radio organization received $18.3 million in donations, and had assets of more than $104 million, including $34 million in stocks and other publicly traded securities.

(Editors note: Harold Camping finally had his prediction come true (at least for himself) , on December 17, 2013, when he passed away due to complications from a fall in his home.)

Harold Camping is far from the first person to take advantage of gullible people for personal gain. For a little more perspective on this topic, take a look at the attached video:

the sky is falling

In January of 2007 (30 years after he claims to have seen a vision of a 900 foot tall Jesus) , Oral Roberts told his listening audience that if he didn’t raise $8,000,000 by the end of March, God was going to “call him home”. God eventually DID call Oral Roberts home - on December 15, 2009. By that time, his net worth HAD decreased a bit. At his peak earning years , his properties south of Tulsa were valued at $500,000,000.

The "campaign to save Oral Roberts" didn't raise $8,000,000.

It raised $9.1 million.

Most of the wedding dances that we’ve attended in our lives have reminded us that “in heaven there is no beer”. In addition to having no beer in heaven, it’s also true that there are NO PETS in heaven. However, if you want to make sure the Fido is taken care of after your departure, there’s a company that will take care of your favorite animal friends - for a small fee, of course.

If all of this information seems a little confusing to you, just listen to the video posted below, and have a good nights rest:

it’s the end of the world as we know it

Monday, May 16, 2011

Monopoly and Lincoln logs

After our traditional Easter Sunday lunch of ham and fixings this year, one of the kids dusted off an old Monopoly game, and we all played well into the evening, when one of the younger set emerged victorious.

The Monopoly board game was first released in England in 1904, just a short time before the invention of Lincoln Logs by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son, John.

The version of Monopoly that most of us are familiar with is the one that was released by Parker Brothers in 1935. Three of the 40 spaces on the board are Chance spaces, and one space is labeled “Go to Jail”. Included in the pile of Chance cards are a few that read, “Go directly to jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.”

(Today, $200 doesn’t sound like much money, but it represented about two months salary in America in 1935, and Governor Huey Long of Louisiana proposed a guaranteed annual salary of $2500, slightly more than $200 per month.)

In the United States, an awful lot of people have gone directly to jail without collecting their $200. In fact, America has the highest incarceration rate in the world. At the end of 2007, the United States had less than 5% of the world’s population, but more than 23% of the world’s jail and prison population.

According to the most recent statistics, there were more than 2,000,000 Americans in prison or jail at the end of 2009. The prison population has quadrupled since 1980, in large part due to the “war on drugs”. 70% of the prison population would be considered “non-whites”, and almost all of them are male.

Both violent crime and property crime have been declining for the last 20 years. As a result, a large number of the folks who are in prison today in America today are non-violent criminals. You may conclude that we, as a society, are wasting a lot of money that could be put to better use elsewhere, and you’d be right.

As of last November, the prison system in Illinois was housing a record high 49,000 inmates, an increase of 3000 from the year before. Keeping all those folks behind bars isn’t cheap, and the state is currently $95,000,000 in arrears on its bills.

In addition to the cost of housing prisoners, the State of Illinois, through the Department of Human Services, has the responsibility of providing assistance to the children of the incarcerated. The most recent estimate of the number of children that are involved is 90,000. In times of economic crisis (like today) the Department of Human Services is often the department that feels the most pressure to cut expenses. The fact that the State of Illinois recently gave a $100,000,000 tax break to Motorola so that the company would keep its headquarters in Illinois doesn’t sit well with people concerned with social justice, and Motorola is not the only company that has received favorable treatment in recent months.

I don’t know anyone who is in prison, so why should I care if children of the incarcerated don’t get the help that they need?

There are two main reasons why us “middle class Americans” SHOULD be concerned:

1) one of the most important lessons that my dad taught me is to always do the right thing, even if it made you uncomfortable, and helping to provide assistance to innocent children is simply the right thing to do

2) MONEY. By providing counseling and support to children of the incarcerated, we can prevent or minimize the possibility that the children of prisoners will themselves become prisoners, which will save ALL of us a lot of money down the road.

Wishing and hoping for the best for the children of the incarcerated may make you feel good, but it doesn’t really help much. To TRULY make a difference, we (as a society) need to take ACTION.

I recently had the honor of traveling to Springfield, Illinois with 200 people from various congregations in the Chicago area. Officially, our group was called the Civic Action Network, and my local “gang of troublemakers” looked like the folks pictured below:

The Civic Action Network is part of the Community Renewal Society, an organization that was started in 1882. Its purpose is to inform, organize, and train both communities and individuals to advocate for social and economic justice. One of the current initiatives of the Community Renewal Society is a project called Children of the Incarcerated.

After arriving in Springfield, our group gathered for a rally at the AFL-CIO building, directly across the street from the Capitol, where we all picked up our bright orange “Civil Action Network” shirts, and proceeded to the Capitol building to meet with our “targeted list” of six legislators.

The dome of the Illinois State Capitol building reaches to a height of 361 feet, which makes it 74 feet higher than the dome of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Frankly, the grandeur of the building, and the thought of meeting with our duly elected officials, seemed to be a little intimidating, so I let the other members of the group do the presenting, and we ultimately were successful in meeting with 5 of the 6 legislators that we had planned to talk with.

As my gaze drifted upwards to the marvelous interior of the dome, the words that came to mind were the ones uttered by Paul Newman (aka attorney Frank Galvin) in the closing summation of the movie “The Verdict”:

“Today you are the law. You ARE the law. Not some book. Not some lawyers. Not a marble statue, or the trappings of the court. Those are just symbols of our desire to be just. They are, in effect, a prayer, a fervent and a frightened prayer.”

Before we gathered again outside at the end d of the day by the statue of Abraham Lincoln before boarding our busses for the long ride home, all 200 of us came together for songs and prayers directly outside House Speaker Michael Madigan’s office on the third floor of the capitol.

One speech, in particular, reminded me of the power that all of us have to control both our own destiny, and the lives of those less fortunate than us.Over and over again, we were reminded that all of us are QUALIFIED to make a difference, even if we aren’t lawyers or teachers or well-paid lobbyists.

Did we make a difference?

I sense that we did, but the validation of our actions won’t become evident for a few weeks yet. More importantly, though, the trip to Springfield was a reminder of the fact that in a democracy like ours, the workings of the government depend on the contributions of INDIVIDUALS, however small, a fact that was confirmed by our Founding Fathers, who wrote a document that started out with, “We the people…”

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Tequila !

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Contrary to popular opinion, May 5 is NOT Mexican Independence Day. THAT day is actually September 16, and it came about largely due to the efforts of a Catholic priest named Father Hidalgo.

However, May 5th DOES mark the day that 4500 poorly equipped men of the Mexican militia scored an important victory against 6500 well-equipped men of the French army in the Battle of Puebla in 1862, roughly 41 years after Mexico won independence from Spain.

In the years following its independence from Spain, Mexico’s territory expanded greatly, and just prior to the Mexican-American War of 1846, the country of Mexico looked like this:

By the time the Mexican Civil War ended in 1858, Mexico had significant foreign debt. In addition to Spain, Mexico also owed a large amount of money to England and France. By 1862, France was eager to expand its empire, so the French decided to invade Mexico in order to get their money back. When Spain and England heard about France’s plans to invade Mexico, they decided to withdraw their support of Mexico. President Lincoln WAS sympathetic to the Mexican cause, but the attack of Fort Sumter had occurred a year earlier, which made it impossible to provide any aid to Mexico.

Today, Cinco de Mayo seems to be as big a day in America as it is in Mexico, particularly along the U.S.- Mexico border. Just as there are suddenly a lot of people talking with a brogue on March 17th, there’s a large number of Americans drinking either Corona or Tequila on May 5.

A variation of tequila (called octi) was produced by the Aztec people long before the Spanish invasion of 1521, Other variations of liquid made form the agave plant followed, but it wasn’t until the early 19th century that a modern version of tequila was first produced in Guadalajara, Mexico.

One of my worst hangovers ever resulted from too many Coronas AND too many shots of tequila at a Cinco de Mayo party about 20 years ago, so I drink it infrequently, even today.

Tonight, though, the gastronomical pairing of a chicken enchilada casserole and roasted spiced cauliflower will be accompanied by at least one margarita made from Jose Cuervo Gold. If I get too carried away, I’ll be playing the song below repeatedly until the sandman comes for his nightly visit:

the original version, released by The Champs on March 17, 1958.

Buenas noches.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

I've been Goosed

I’ve been a wine “afficionado” for a long, long time.

Although I really DO love the taste of wine, the full enjoyment of wine also (by necessity) has to include the proper food pairings and the “poetic description” of the wine at hand.

For example, Barefoot Wines recently produced some handy reference cards to make it easier to match up wine with food.

One of Sharon’s favorite wines is Moscato, which is described as “a sweet white wine with delicious mouth-watering flavors of juicy peach and apricot. Hints of lemon and orange citrus complement a crisp, refreshing finish.”

The suggested food pairing?

“Perfect with spicy Asian cuisine, light desserts, fresh fruit, and mild cheeses.”

When I prepare my weekly gastronomical extravaganza from the various cook books we have at our location, I’m always careful to choose the appropriate wine for the occasion.

This week’s “extravaganza” was taken from a book titled “the spice kitchen”. To complement the Parmesan Chicken (with artichokes), Marjoram Mashed Potatoes, and Grilled Asparagus Spears with Lemon-Cumin Beurre Blanc Sauce, I selected Berringer’s Chenin Blanc, which was described as “a carefully crafted wine with vivid flavors of pear and cantaloupe.. It is sleek and silky, with a subtle hint of orange blossom.”

Compared to wine, beer has long had a “low brow” image, and there are still lots of people who would consider Coors Light and a beef jerky to be a good beer/food pairing.

Both wine and beer have been around for a long time. Wine was first introduced in about 8000 B.C., and beer was introduced about 2000 years later. Wine became the drink of choice for the nobility, and beer became the beverage for the proletariat, but I’m really not sure why.

The five most popular beers in America are:

Bud Light
Miller Light
Coors Light
Corona Extra

Worldwide, the most popular beers are:

Snow (a Chinese beer)
Bud Light
Skol (Brazil)

The most popular beers aren’t necessarily the best beers, but they tend to be relatively decent beers that have benefited from inspired advertising. I’ll be the first to admit that on the occasions when I’m looking for a traditional American beer, I’ll usually buy Budweiser because they’ve got great ads.

horses having a snowball fight

In recent years, domestic beer consumption has either stayed level or declined, but “craft beers” have grown dramatically. In the first half of 2010, domestic beer consumption actually DROPPED 2.7 percent, but the consumption of craft beers INCREASED by 9 percent, a fact that did not go unnoticed by the big beer producers.

Although Boston Brewing (maker of Samuel Adams) is the largest craft brewer in America, Chicago’s Goose Island is America’s 20th largest brewer. More significantly, Goose Island has won at least one medal at one of the nationwide “best beer” competitions for the last 17 years.

Inevitably, craft brewers start to experience shortages of brewing capacity as their beers become more popular, which is precisely what happened to Goose Island. Faced with a choice of either CONTRACTING his company, or expanding it, founder John Hall decided to EXPAND the company by selling a 58% share to Anheuser-Busch on March 29, 2011.

So far, the sky hasn’t fallen.

Anheuser-Busch itself became part of a larger company in 2008, when it merged with InBev, and became the world’s largest brewing company.

The folks at A/B are pretty astute business people, so it’s my opinion that they’ll leave Goose Island untouched and untethered. My one word answer to WHY they would do that is this:


In the 1940’s,Schlitz was the most popular beer in America. Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, Schlitz battled Anheuser-Busch for the highest market share. By the late 1960’s, Schlitz decided that if they couldn’t have market share, they would at least have a higher profit margin, so the company started tinkering with its formula. Sales continued to slip in the 1970’s, and the aggressive advertising campaign of the late 1970’s eventually caused the company to fold in 1981.

I was recently invited to a beer tasting by my neighbor Dan, and on April 28, the two of us attended a tasting of Goose Island’s Belgian Beers at the local Whole Food stores. In a nod to the wine industry, the beer descriptions have now taken on a more poetic tone, and all of the beers were paired up with a variety of food offerings.

Our beer selections for the evening were the ones listed under the “vintage” section of Goose Island’s Craft Beer Menu listed below:

Goose Island Beers

The most intriguing beer was Fleur, which was blended with hibiscus and Kampuchea tea, a blend that wouldn’t be understood (or appreciated) by Joe Sixpack. My favorite (and the one that I brought home) was Sophie. This beer was “fermented with wild yeasts and aged in wine barrels with orange peel .. Sophie is a tart, dry, sparkling ale .. a subtle , spicy white pepper note, a hint of citrus from the orange peel and a creamy vanilla finish make Sofie an intriguing choice for Champagne drinkers and beer drinkers who are fond of Belgian Saisons.”

Sophie was paired with fresh goat cheese, served on a wafer cracker and drizzled with orange blossom honey.

A close second, though, was Pere Jacques, a nutty tasting brew that was paired with brown sugar Fromager d’Affinois brulee truffle dipped in dark chocolate.

As Goose Island starts to become more widely available across the nation, it’s possible that there will be more Whole Food tasting events in other states. If you can find one in your home state, I’d encourage you to go, since it made for a very fine evening.

It also adds a whole new dimension to the phrase, “let’s go have a beer.”