Sunday, December 25, 2011

All I want for Xmas is the Bears at the Super Bowl and other lies we tell ourselves

Last week, Johnny Knox had his back broken and underwent surgery on Monday, the 19th, to have two vertebrae fused together.  I am so very sorry for him and his family and his teammates.  He is a good solid player and this doesn't look very good for his future with the NFL.  Knox is good, solid receiver and breaking your back in the rough and tumble life of the NFL doesn't bode well.  The last thing I heard is "this is not career ending" and "he is getting out of the hospital in a few days."  Johnnie, I hope like heck you finished college and were playing attention in class.  (An aside:  I've heard interviews with this gentleman and both are doubtful.  Sad but true.)

This week, well into the fourth quarter at Lambeau Field, the Packers are haberdashers, handing the Bears their hats over and over again. The Bears came back but that is their job.  The Chiefs bested the Packers last week making me all super hopeful the Bears might be able to do the same.  Aaron Rodgers was mighty pleased with his Xmas gifts of today and gave Packers fans everywhere the gift of whooping out rumps.  As a non-Packers fan, I wish he might've curbed his enthusiasm but Josh McCown, who hadn't started as a QB since 2007, did not totally embarrass himself which is kind of what Caleb Hanie did.

Just when Jay Cutler is hitting hit stride, he breaks his thumb (and reunites with his fiancee).  Matt Forte, playing without a contract, is proclaimed one of the most formidable players in the NFL by not only fans and sportscasters, but this teammates; he suffered a knee injury so bad that he is still out.  Add poor Johnny Knox plus Gabe Cremini, the Bears #1 draft pick who spent the season out after needing some NFL-induced knee surgery, and we are just sad, sadder, and not in any playoff saddest.

Next week is the last game of the regular season and that will be that for the year.  There will be discussions of missed chances, and coulda-woulda-shoulda.  There will be chats of if-onlys.  This was not the Bears' year.  This was the year to test their mettle and that of their fans including me.  Next week we can hope they aren't so handily beaten (Aaron Rodgers is a great QB, y'all) so they can end their season on a more positive note, hopefully looking toward the 2012-13 season.  Bears fans always look hopefully forward because that is the fans' job.  I expect no one has nonrefundable reservations at any of the Indianapolis hotels but if one does, go, have fun, and cheer like a son of a gun for the Bears to be there next time.

Packers prevail over the Bears, 35-18.  I didn't say they mergalized the Bears because it could have been 42-7 so "prevailed" is pretty darn kind.

Courtesy of Reindeers.Info
Merry Christmas to all and a shout out to Santa.  Here are two of his eight-plus-one reindeer unit, relaxing after a hard night of work.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

They came for you

A while ago and for several years, I worked with a woman whose husband was a federal prosecutor.  He worked very hard, putting in long hours during the week and on weekends.  He and his coworkers never complained about the very long hours they put in because while they adored their wives and children, their passion was for the law and justice.  What I gleaned then and from other federal cases in the news is this:  If there is a knock at your door and you are being arrested by the feds for something like fraud, racketeering, or drug smuggling, the case against you is already very, very strong, you will lose at trial, and you will be going away for a very long time. 

Ah, Sam Hurd.  Proclaiming his innocence for buying a mere kilo (2.2 pounds, y'all) of cocaine and twirling off to stash it in the trunk of his car.  He wanted 10 kilograms of cocaine and 100 pounds of marijuana because he wanted to go into a nice sideline business for himself.  Being a Chicago Bear wide receiver and earning millions of dollars a year is just not a long-term proposition, after all, and you have to plan for the future.  Please might he also get some untraceable Mexican cellphones?

Those were federal agents working undercover and they'd been watching Sam Hurd since his time with the Dallas Cowboys.  When Sam moved to Chicago, the investigation moved north with him, and at the Morton's Steakhouse in Rosemont, Illinois, Sam got not just stupid but super stupid and off he went to the Metropolitan lockup on the corner of Van Buren and Clark in downtown Chicago.

A judge released Sam Hurd on $100,000 bail and said he could remain free on bail as long as he held a full-time job.  Later that day, the Bears cut him.  It hardly matters because next week he will be arraigned in Texas, where the case will be tried and you can't be two places at once.

Meanwhile, I hope he gets his affairs in order.  They came for him and that is that.

At Solider Field the Bears lost Johnnie Knox to a back injury in a fiasco of a game.  The Seattle Seahawks strolled off with a 38-14 win and with any hope of a Bears playoff berth.  There are just a few games left but there will be no January ball to write about, for major fans to sweat over and enjoy, to capture the imaginations of the loyal.  Remove the fork, wash it off, and expect some heads to roll on the Bears roster and with Bears management and coaching.  I hope Johnnie's surgery (yeah, back surgery) goes well tomorrow.

For several years, ComEd, the local electric utility, has sponsored Zoo Lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo.  My birthday is tomorrow (and it's a big one) and I asked the birders if we might please go to see Zoo Lights.  They agreed and we all went.

First we went looking for birds at Montrose Harbor (a few mergansers bobbed on the lake) but then took our binoculars to the South Pond.  There was an American Coot that instantly was alarmed and skitted across the water to get the freak away from me.  Because the water had some ice on it, we may soon not be able to see much of anything in that pond but Hans and Prima, the Mallards, were there as were their neighbors, the Other Mallards, and four females of that species who were hanging together for safety, company, something to do.

A Wood Duck cooperates today at Lincoln Park Zoo
The duck pond in the zoo was alive with activity.  There were those Hooded Mergansers and the crazy Wood Ducks and the adorable Ruddy Duck (its bill is sky blue) but also a Pin-Tailed Duck.  All the ducks seemed very happy in that duck pond, with it's two floating islands (seriously, they are floating;  I saw one island move and thought vertigo had returned).

Okay, bla bla bla animals, now I am going to skip ahead to the lights.  Zoo Lights is the bomb.  Lots of people came out and there are cute wire animals lit up with bulbs but the greatest part were the avenues of trees that were covered with lights.   There were lights that seemed to be cascading down like rain.  There was a stand of pines covered with lights that were programmed to light up with music.  There were trees with all the same lights -- yellow, green, red -- and others that were different colors, a wholly red tree next to a gold one, etcetera.  There were not just a few trees and lights, there were lots of trees and lots of lights and it was as exciting for me to see as it was to see the Santa Train running on the Blue Line last year.

This picture is cool but seeing it in person is so much cooler.  GO!
If you live in the Chicago area, go!  It's free and the weather is unseasonably warm which makes loping around a large area most pleasurable.  It's just the kind of thing that would have made my head explode when I was a child.  Hell, tomorrow I will be a senior citizen according to Rail Europe and it still almost made my head explode.  At the Lincoln Park Zoo, open every night through December 23, 5pm to 9pm.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Welcome to the Third World

Yes, yes, y'all, the Bears played today in Denver against the Broncos and FOJ Tim Tebow, but something much more pressing is on the horizon.  They want to gut, ruin, and disembowel the United States Post Office, a notion that is far more important than Caleb Hanie leading our hometown team against the Armies of Tim, I mean the Broncos.

The United States Postal Service plans to close 252 mail processing centers and lay off 28,000 employees by the end of 2012.  They will close and sell off buildings and properties, eliminate a letter arriving the next day in local markets, and allow an additional 461 more centers to close by the end of 2015.  Those 28,000 people who are targeted for layoff will likely not find any job nearly as good as their postal jobs ever again, because jobs with the USPS translate to nowhere else in the work force.  And ultimately, we will never again get our mail in a timely manner.

I have a post office box in downtown Chicago.  I got very good service at this station for a long time.  It was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  If you were downtown on a Saturday night and you wanted to swing by to get unclaimed mail and, oh, look, I got a package!  You walked to the post office box window, rang the bell, and someone would greet you pleasantly and fetch your package.  It was delightful.

About two years ago, a lot of the older employees decided to take early retirement.  They have been replaced by either no one or employees who are so elderly that they have been made ill by the work they are required to do.  People with postal boxes are not getting weekly periodicals in a timely manner and, far worse, are not getting their bills and even checks in a timely manner.  When one doesn't get bills in a timely manner, one is forced to go to extraordinary measures to get the money there in time.  Race to the place of business and slip a check under the door.  Overnight a payment using Express Mail.  Call a utility or a credit card company and beg for extra time.  Pay on line.

One of the great joys of my birthday is receiving cards and bon mots from people via the US Mail.  (Not everyone can get it together for that, so phone calls are also lovely.)  Bon mots you can hold in your hands and carry to your brain and to your heart are precious things.  Emails are fine, touching in their immediacy, but the surprise of getting congratulations, sympathy, a birthday wish cannot be compared.  Thank-you notes are taken more seriously if they are in writing.  Someone has cared enough to make or else go to a store and buy something, then go to a facility that sells postage, affix said postage to the envelope, look up your address, and mail it to you.  That is effort that only the US Mail can provide.

America is an enormous country.  In the great American heartland and in the vast American west, there are tiny farming communities or former mining towns whose sole link to the outside world is via the US Postal Service.  These places are on no regular trucking routes, relying on the US Mail and rural free delivery.  A farm may well be 30 minutes from town and the person on that farm might be elderly or infirm.  If mail is eliminated in their town, they would be forced to go fetch their mail on their own in some other town that might be 90 minutes away in each direction (this is a conservative example; consider Alaska).  Because not all transactions can be done electronically, if they are expecting a check they need for their business to survive, they have to use gasoline and time away from their jobs to receive the check, and they have to keep doing it until the check arrives.  That is three hours and many gallons of gas (at approximately $3.40 per gallon) just to see if they received money due them.

I visited Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates, in 2004.  As recently as 55 years ago, Dubai was a sleepy fishing village; these days, as you all know, it is something much bigger.  There is no mail delivery in Dubai.  There are no street addresses and no postal codes.  Everyone, individuals and businesses, has to get a post office box and then go to post offices to fetch their mail.  DHL, Fedex, and UPS can deliver with street and building names and a solid, working phone number for the driver to call for more specific directions. Dubai has grown up fast without sensible urban planning; America has grown greedy and foolish.

I am sure that some pea brain somewhere (with a political affiliation that is not my own) thinks this is a good idea, but I tell you that it is not.  Getting a card that is sent from one side of Chicago to the other side of Chicago in more than a day or a bill that goes from North Carolina to San Francisco in more than three days smacks of the Third World, of an emerging nation, of a country that also can't get it together to get the citizens proper health care.  Oh, wait, that's us, too.  Mail is a simple thing and we have been doing it for a long time, like from the inception of the country including, for a short while, even using guys on fast horses.  Because the mail is important.  Due to some idiocy of governance, all of this could go away.

Snow, rain, heat, humidity, biting dogs might not keep the mail from going through, but it would be shameful if Congress doesn't act to keep a strong, fast mail service.  Otherwise the greatest nation on earth will take yet another step toward becoming the greatest jerkwater joke of all time.

And back to the Bears and Broncos.  It got to overtime and the Broncos won.  Never mind that the tying and the winning points were thanks to Denver field goals, the talking heads of sports talked to FOJ QB Tim Tebow like he did it personally.  He thanked the team for keeping the faith and he thanked some big guys upstairs (John Elway not included and he used the "g" reference).  He did not say, "Holy smokes, we got dang lucky that Marion Barber made a mistake at the end of the fourth quarter."

God doesn't care about football.  If God cared about football, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) would not be a concern and players would espouse the virtues of a solid education in concert with a solid athletic performance.  I'm just sayin'.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Pressing forward into the lackluster

We at the offices of Oh, I Think So congratulate Mr. Jay Cutler on his re-engagement to Miss Kristin Cavallari.  The happy couple is now living together during Jay's recovery from thumb surgery.  I have this to say to them:  Jay has only one chance to make a perfect recovery so both of you make it your job to ensure a perfect result.  Since being famous is not a real job, Jay is the primary breadwinner, always will be the primary breadwinner, and Jay getting better is focus enough.  Should she feels distracted, Kristin might take some nice polish to that 5.2 carat sparkler or feed the microscopic people who use it for an ice rink.

But for the less good news, the Bears were beaten by the LAST PLACE Kansas City Chiefs at Soldier Field.  As I am a nervous fan, I have mostly lost confidence in Mr. Caleb Hanie.  Donovan McNabb was given his walking papers by the Minnesota Vikings but we didn't grab that.  Kyle Orton was snatched up by the KC Chiefs.  We wisely spent good money to give Earl Bennett a four-year extension on his contract; Earl Bennett is a very good player.  I simply think it might be nice to have some more experience calling the shots on game day.  Two games in a row were lost which makes the Bears season record 8-5.  There are other teams in the running for the Wild Card slot and I would really like some nice post-season play. I am fairly certains the Bears Organization would like the same.

The Chiefs win it, 10-3.

At home with the Mallards, Prima and Hans
Yesterday was the first Saturday in December and unseasonably warm in Chicago, getting to over 50 degrees farenheit.  The birders and I went to a different viewing point at a different time of day and reaped great rewards.  We went to South Pond in Lincoln Park, near the Lincoln Park Zoo, and were rewarded with a Long-Tailed Duck and the small, supercute Ruddy Duck.  Canadian Geese came flying and glided onto the water.  (Witnessing  the geese landing was a big darn treat as they parted the waters gently.  What got locked into my brain?  The sound of the soft rush of water as they completed their flight.  It sounded exactly the same with each landing.)  There were male and female Mallards  (so many Mallards!), a Northern Shoveler (big old thing), a Ring-Necked Duck.  There were Trumpeter Swans, an American Coot, and a Grebe (OMG which I actually identified!).  There male and female Hooded Mergansers -- stunning in person.  There were male and female Wood Ducks, the male Wood Duck being one of my favorite of all birds.  (Who came up with this bird?  Was Mother Nature doing some serious LSD and when she was done tripping found it was too late to take it back?) 

"Mike, for the last time, I already swallowed the shrimp."
Sure, sure, the swans were probably regular zoo residents but the rest of the waterfowl?  Nope, they just knew where some tasty, free eating might be and decided to hang and nosh and paddle about, maybe kibbitz a little and then shlep south next week.  There was a handsome stand of flamingos including two who seem to have issues, each with the other.

The romance of exotic blossoms or high humidity?  You decide.
Since time flies whether or not you are having fun, it had been years since I'd been inside the Lincoln Park Conservatory.  The birders, who also know much about plants and gardening, agreed to go inside with me even though it was not their first choice, so thank you, birders!  I used to live fairly close by and would stop by on a regular basis and it was even more wonderful than I recalled.  It was lush and green and so humid that it was quite a while before my camera lense stopped fogging up.  Ah, look at the lovely picture of an orchid through the humidity.  It looks ethereal and mysterious or like I just couldn't get my darn lense to not fog up.