Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

30 June, 2006

Of Taco Meat, Bourbon, and Friends

The weekend is finally here! Honestly, I have no idea what I'm going to do the next couple days. My roomies are up in the UP so I've got the place all to myself. I've already been warned against sitting around naked eating Cheetos while watching porn so that's not an option anymore. While I do have some things in mind, I'm mostly looking forward to spending some quality time alone. I wanna finish listening to a Doctor Who audio drama, finishing reading Armed Madhouse, do laundry, go grocery shopping, weed the garden, do some writing, and, in general, just straighten out my head. It's so full of things and I need to figure out a cunning plan.

Last weekend was a blast. I went to The Polack's house for JZ's high school graduation party. On my way there, I stopped to grab some cigarettes and a card for JZ. Since I was at Walgreens, I also picked up a pack of rubbers. I got there late but was still the first guest to arrive. There were 3 generations of Polacks sitting outside on the patio when I pulled up into the driveway and I hadn't seen any of them in months. It's nice not being just The Polack's friend, but a friend of the family. It was weird seeing JZ again. Eighteen years old and getting ready for college. Mr. Z was doing pretty well. He's 82 now and he moved in with The Polack last fall. Mrs. Z has Alzheimer's and is in a nursing home just outside of Milwaukee so the old man moved in with his son. The Polack had been downsized about a month ago so he was enjoying summer while looking for a job. He lives on Lake Koshkonong and got a new boat recently so life was alright. Last time I was there, he had two dogs but only Pesto, the Airedale, was to be found. I'd been so out of touch that I hadn't heard that Buddy had to be put down. Here he is in better days:

Buddy was 14 and had canine dementia or whatever the clinical term is. I always liked Buddy more. Pesto was now 7 and she had definitely mellowed. I never liked her much because, while she could be friendly, she was just hyper and annoying. She'd constantly stick her snout right between your legs and just be a fucking pest, generally. Buddy was a Black Lab/Dalmatian mix and was always a hoot. He'd do this prancing with his front paws and make this half-yelp/half-bark when he wanted to go outside or wanted to be fed. Buddy was just a loyal and friendly hound. I first got to know The Polack in 1994 or thereabouts so I remember Buddy as just a pup.

And the same goes for Jason. He was taller but still thin as a goddamn rail. Everyone got a kick out of the pack of condoms taped to the card. We sat around on the patio for a while before he went to get his girlfriend, Caila. (Don't quote me on the spelling.)

She was really nice and, like Jason, very thin. She probably weighed about 80 pounds soaking wet. While Jason was going to college, Caila had a year of high school left. That boy's gotta be careful. I brought me a sixer of good beer as well as a bottle of Polish beer for Mr. Z. Here's the old Polack drinking the Polish beer.

It was quite tasty, by the way. A short while later, Sussy showed up which precipitated a look-see at the new golf cart that Mr. Z bought so he could get around the neighborhood.

It had a gas engine and later I took Penny for a spin on it. Speaking of her, here she is with her old man, Dan.

I'd met her only once before 3 years ago while I was in the midst of a marathon bout of housesitting for The Polack. Back then she was Porto's girlfriend but no more. That meeting last all of 10 minutes so it was nice to be able to get to know her a bit. Suss had brought a croquet set over and that was set up and folks played on and off. For my part, I made one really nice shot of about 12 feet but I lost my ass pretty bad anyway. JZ and Caila played quite a few games and didn't let the impending darkness stop them.

The Polack eventually made dinner which gave everyone a nice base for drinking. Mr. Z hit the beer pretty hard so it was unsurprising when a few of us walked inside to find him sitting on the kitchen floor asking for a hand in getting up. He'd fallen on the kitchen floor but, luckily, was unscathed. Conversation flowed freely and topics ranged from our venture in Iraq to pubic hair. As the sun went down, Sussy attempted to light the chiminea but failed due to the wetness of the kindling. I attempted to get a picture of The Polack as he got the firing going with the help of gasoline but I failed. Instead, here he is all lubed-up and proud of his fire-starting abilities.

We sat around the chiminea chatting and drinking deep into the night. Many stories were pulled out of the days when The Polack and I cooked at the Chateau Towers on State Street. The Towers is a private dormitory and we did our best to give those kids their Freshman 25, lemme tell ya. "No calories, no calories – STOP!" was a cry heard often back in those days. Many of the anorexics would order egg white omelets made with no oil. But since the aerosol can of oil indicated 0 calories per serving, we laid down the greaze! (I think a serving was a spray lasting a quarter second or something similarly stupid.) It came from some old game show in which contestants would say "No whammy, no whammy - STOP!" before hitting a button. There was talk of Scarecrow, one of the servers who wanted to jump my bones plus Comrade. Comrade had emigrated here from Russia and he really took to America, especially our ground beef. He just thought ground beef was the best thing since sliced bread. "Meatloaf is dee best deesh," he would say. For a while, Comrade was the mopper at close and, on night when we had meatloaf, I'd wander into the walk-in cooler and find him stuffing his gob with the leftovers. And then there was the infamous Taco Meat incident.

The company that owned The Towers also owned The Regent, another private dorm. During the summer, instead of laying idle, they started housing high school kids who were in town for various camps put on by the university – cheerleading basketball, et al. Somehow they had to be fed. So a makeshift kitchen was setup at The Regent. We'd truck in most of the hot food from The Towers and get everything else all prepped there. One day we were serving tacos and had a few hundred high school boys. Well, they went through the taco meat quicker than a cat trying to cover up shit on a marble slab. I saw what was coming and called back to The Towers and got The Polack on the horn.

Me: "Hey, we're out of taco meat down here."

Polack: "Well, there's no more ground beef in the house..."


Polack: "…but you'll get your taco meat."

The way he said it wasn't particularly reassuring – more like a threat than an offer of help. I told one of the servers to hop in the truck and head back to The Towers so they could load it up in the warmers as soon as the stuff was ready to go. Other than the meat, the meal went smoothly. The kids didn't finish off anything else so there was little for me to do except wait for the truck to return. It was like that scene in Aliens when Ripley and company couldn't do much except wait for Bishop to get through the duct. I tried to take it all in stride but when your manager is there and she's all anxious and jabbering, it rubs off on you. I remember being in the kitchen when a couple of the servers came running in the door clutching 4' full hotel pans wrapped in foil. They set them on a counter and a crowd gathered around me as I peeled back the foil on one pan to see just exactly what the hell was in them. It was meat and it smelled vaguely like taco seasoning. But there were other aromas present too. The Polack had taken every bit of leftover meat in the house, run it all through the buffalo chopper, and seasoned the living fuck out of it. There were hot dogs, breakfast sausage, ostrich meat – just everything. But those kids still ate it all.

My stash of beer was long gone and I'd started drinking bourbon. The Polack used to be the regional manager for a company that has food service operations in airports around the country and Lexington was one of his. Being a lover of bourbon, he set up a bourbon bar down there and would return from each successive trip having discovered a new premium bourbon. Last weekend we had Basil Hayden and Blanton's. I was quite familiar with Basil Hayden but had never had Blanton's, The Polack's new favorite. As he opened the bottle, he showed me the design on the top of the cork. There was a horse atop each cork in stride and there was one of the letters of "Blanton's". Different corks had the horse in a different part of its stride and a different letter. The funny thing was how he showed this to me with all the pride of a new father. He explained that the barrels they use are not scorched as much as other brands so it has a unique flavor. I dunno if this is true or just bullshit because the booze itself was a nice deep brown. The Blanton's was good but I still liked Basil Hayden better. Blanton's had a fuller flavor but wasn't as smooth as BH. At some point or another, I crashed.

It was nice the next morning and The Polack made this quiche-like thing. It hit the spot being hungover and all. We sat around reading the paper, bullshitting, and drinking coffee until around 10:30 when I headed home. It had been fun. It was too bad Miss Rosie and Porto couldn't make it but so it goes. The first thing Mr. Z told me the day before was something like "It's been a long time" and it had. I really shouldn't let so much time go between seeing friends. I must make it a point to make trips down to Edgerton and Janesville more often.
|| Palmer, 6:47 PM || link || (0) comments |

29 June, 2006

Eisphyre in June

On Monday, I decided to stop in at Star Liquor on the way home to try and grab some Bitter Woman From Hell Extra IPA from Tyranena. Unsurprisingly, they were out. However, brwemaster Rob Larson reports that he bottled the second batch of the stuff late last week so I'm hoping that it's in stores now or will be soon. In its stead, I found a four-pack of Capital's Eisphyre.

If I recall correctly, Eisphyre is their Autumnal Fire doppelbock made as an eisbock wherein the beer is slowly cooled to near freezing so that large ice crystals form and can be skimmed away. It has an alcohol content of 10-11% ABV so this is some potent stuff. It is very malty and warms your mouth just like Autumnal Fire which makes me wonder why it's out now. This beer is definitely for the winter months. Don't get me wrong, I love this bier but, it being summer, I think it ought to be brewed again in a few months. It came in a four-pack with means that brewmaster Kirby Nelson is joined Dan Carey and Rob Larson in this method of promoting limited edition brews. The packaging gave me the impression that Capital's limited releases - which are doppelbocks them all - would be sold this way. I am almost positive that I've seen their Weizen Doppelbock, which is the summer limited edition brew, in six-packs already so I am left to assume that Autumnal Fire will be the next bier to come in a four-pack come September.

Getting back to Tyranena, Larson reports that they've run out of the first batch of the Fargo Brothers Hefweizen already - the quickest in the brewery's history.

Larson has also succumbed to pressure (mainly from his wife, methinks) to distribute their lightest brew, Three Beaches Honey Blonde outside of the brewery's tasting room. I had some when I was there and it is a good brew. Not as flavorful as the rest of their stuff but I could definitely see sitting outside in the summer sun quaffing the stuff. And it would definitely be a good introduction to craft beer for folks who consider Miller Genuine Draft to be too heavy for their palates.

Things are quiet on the New Glarus front. I presuem that Dan and Deborah are quite occupied with the construction on their new facility and don't have time to tinker at this point. Their webpage says that the next installment of the Unplugged series comes out in October. Last I heard, it was still dubbed "Enigma" which makes me think of Alan Turing and, by extension, the Doctor Who episode, The Curse of Fenric. (If you're familiar with the episode, this makes some sense. If not, please realize I am a geek and continue reading.)

Lake Louie's Prairie Moon Belgian Style Farmhouse Ale is out - I swear I saw it at Star on Monday. Their webpage hasn't been updated, it seems, since last August. Whas' up wit dat?!


OK, I just e-mailed them volunteering to update it for them.

Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee presents their Klisch Pilsner in July, which is, after all, only 2 days away.

Also note that the Viking Brewing Company puts out Big Swede, a Swedish-style Imperial Stout in July.

Unfortunately, the Great Dane's webpage is less than forthcoming about seasonal brews. But look for a boatload of ales: Hop Jack IPA, Uber APA, Aaron's Amber Ale, New Peculiar, and Mallards Ale. Over at J.T. Whitney's look for the Badger Bill Wit, a Belgian style wit. And don't forget the that the Ale Asylum is now open.

Regular readers may recall that last fall, I spent some time in the great northwoods. This gave me the chance to visit the White Winter Winery up in Iron River. I see that they're introducing some new products, though their webpage doesn't mention it. Acer Mead is a semi-sweet made with maple syrup. Black Harbor is a "dessert mead made with black currants, similar to a port, 21% alcohol, and aged with French oak." Yikes! That stuff will be good this winter in front of the fireplace. Also, there will be a very limited hard cider aged in bourbon barrels. Everything is being aged in bourbon barrels these days. I think Coke should give it a shot.
|| Palmer, 12:33 PM || link || (1) comments |

99 Bottles of Beer on the Floor

On Tuesday I got my act together and bottled my precious bier. While the process took hours, most of the time was taken up on washing bottles and sterilizing equipment. Plus there was that 20-minute stretch of trying to figure out the siphon pump. A call to the owner of the pump proved fruitless but Stevie was able to find a picture on the Net. There I was trying to attach a hose to the wrong end.

I ran the bottles through the dishwasher before sterilizing them in bleach.

Soon I had my caps soaking, the parts of the pump, and tubing. Once everything was sterile and dry, I went downstairs and grabbed my bucket o'beer. I pulled out the fermentation lock and then proceeded to pry the lid off. I discovered that I should really buy a lid-pryer-offer because it was a nice tight seal and the lid dug into my fingers. That and there's less chance of spillage using one than if I'm yanking on the thing.

As the lid peeled off, I could smell the barley-y, yeasty goodness inside. As the aroma hit more of my olfactory receptors, a new smell emerged - bananas. This was no bit of phantosmia and could only mean one thing: esters. Somewhere along the way, my poor bier underwent a second fermentation due to a wild yeast infection.

I didn't think it to be a total deal-breaker so I proceeded with the bottling. I want to see this, my first attempt at brewing, through to conclusion even if I end up with salad dressing. Hell, if worse comes to worse, I'll have some tasty malt vinegar that I can use for French fries. I was presented with a bit of a conundrum, though. The directions for the kit said to put sugar into each bottle for fermentation while the book I have says to boil the sugar in a pint of water and add it to the beer. (This is called "priming" the beer.) The book also cautioned against adding the sugar to the bottle as it would increase the chances of contaminating the batch as well as introducing more air into it. Dealing with sterilizing a spoon and trying to consisently get 3/4 of a teaspoon or whatever amount it was seemed like a needless hastle. So I dissolved the sugar in water and boiled for 5 minutes because it was easier and would provide a more consistent product. Unfortunately, the book doesn't say exactly how much sugar to use nor at what temperature this mix should be at when added to the beer. So I went with 3/4 of a cup of sugar because the book mentioned that figure most often and decided that room temperature would probably be best as it seemed least likely to cause a major temperature fluctuation. (A conversation at work with Ed confirmed that this was the correct thing to do.) And so I added the primer and stirred slowly with my sterilized spatula lest I introduce more air into the bier. And then it was time to bottle.

I got the pump going and found a good spot on the hose to crimp so I could one-hand it. If I hadn't lost control of the hose at one point while pumping, I wouldn't have had any bier on the floor whatsoever. As it was, however, the filler got out of control briefly and some bier did end up on the floor.

A lesson learned was to have two (2) people around for bottling as it surely makes the process go a lot more smoothly. One person can fill and the other can cap. Not that it took a long time to do it alone, mind you, but easier it would have been. (Pardon my Yodaese here.) Here is my first bottle:

At this very moment, the priming sugar and the yeast are making carbon dioxide via an intermediate product of the Krebs cycle. Or something like that, anyway. The upshot is that my ale is conditioning itself in cases underneath a counter in my kitchen and will be there until next Tuesday at which point the bier will be ready for consumption or further aging in the basement.

I learned a few lessons along the way on this, my first attempt at brewing. Firstly, I need to be super-mega-hyper-vigilant on sterilization. I've got this nagging feeling that I didn't sterilize this quart jar I was using for measuring water. Along this line, I need to get another bucket or perhaps a tub like those that restaurants use for busing tables. This will make the whole sterilization process quicker by having more volume but also easier in that larger containers can accommodate the pieces of the pump and other larger bits. Secondly, figure out the wort chiller. I honestly don't know why my bier was so laden with esters but I'm thinking that the wort might have been too hit when I pitched the yeast. So chilling the wort quicker would be a good thing and five gallons should only take a few minutes with it. Lastly, as I mentioned above, get a second pair of (sterile) hands involved in the bottling process. If friends are going to enjoy the fruits, they oughta do some labor, I say!

Of course, this first round of brewing is not offically done until next week when the beer has been carbonated and is ready for drinking. But it's been a fun learning process so far. Another part of the satisfaction I feel was articulated very well in the latest issue of the Great Lakes Brewing news by the editor:

Beer is all about tradition and history. Ever since someone left a bowl of half-eaten porridge out in the rain and found it 3 days later - then ate/drank it - beer has been a part of many human cultures. So whenever a brewer mashes in, there's a subtle connection with the past, with brews of old, with thousands of years of brewers, cup and tankard hoisters, aching muscle relief, local gatherings, ceremony, and celebration.

Through my dad I get my English and German blood and there is no doubt in my mind that I am not the first in my family to stand over a pot of boiling wort or to feel impatient as some homebrew carbonates. My father was never a big beer drinker. There was always Old Style around the house when I was a kid but he drank this as it was refreshing when working outside on the house on a hot summer's day. He was into distilled spirits, namely, vodka. He was definitely a D.I.Y./jack-of-all-trades kind of guy. In addition to being a handyman, he loved to garden and to cook. He made is own wine & vinegar and he canned. And so, while he never brewed beer to my knowledge, I'm definitely following in his footsteps here.
|| Palmer, 9:38 AM || link || (0) comments |

Word of the Week

ester (ĕs'tƏr) n. any of a class of often fragrant compounds that can be represented by the formula RCOOR? and that are usually formed by the reaction between an acid and an alcohol usually with elimination of water
|| Palmer, 8:53 AM || link || (0) comments |

22 June, 2006


|| Palmer, 7:35 AM || link || (0) comments |

Mad Rollin' Dolls Carwash

Jewels of Denile can buff my car anytime.
|| Palmer, 7:32 AM || link || (0) comments |

NRA Fosters Conspiracy Stupidity

The NRA is accusing the United Nations of conspiring to take away their precious guns.

Americans mistakenly worried the United Nations is plotting to take away their guns on July 4 -- U.S. Independence Day -- are flooding the world body with angry letters and postcards, the chairman of a U.N. conference on the illegal small arms trade said on Wednesday.

"I myself have received over 100,000 letters from the U.S. public, criticizing me personally, saying, 'You are having this conference on the 4th of July, you are not going to get our guns on that day,"' said Prasad Kariyawasam, Sri Lanka's U.N. ambassador.

There's even a webpage devoted to getting Americans to let their voices be heard on the matter - Stop U.N. Gun Ban.

...These dictatorships, terrorist states and so-called “free” nations of the world plan to meet on our home soil to finalize a U.N. treaty that would strip all citizens of all nations of their right to self-protection, and strip you of your rights under the Second Amendment.

Before one word falls from their lying lips about our country and our freedoms, I want them to hear from America’s 80 million gun owners and YOU.

I expect such bullshit from the NRA, I also have to admit that I expect such stupidity from millions of Americans. The UN can't get America to abide by resolutions about things such as invading Iraq, do these people honestly think that UN forces donning light blue helmets are going to landing on our shores to pry a rifle from Charleton Heston's cold, dead hands?

Will the gun owners who now see a UN conspiracy please get your heads out of your asses? Come July 5th, you'll still be able to get drunk, grab your rifles, and go shine for deer. Even if there was a resolution, it would be impossible for the UN to take away your civil rights. That's the responsibility of your man, George Bush and the American government generally. Where were these NRA members when our own government trashed our civil rights with the Patriot Acts? Or when Bush said that he is above the law and can ignore civil rights as he pleases? Stop wrapping yourself in the flag and talking about how patriotic you folks are when your organization endorsed Bush in 2004. The UN isn't throwing people into Gitmo; the UN isn't ignoring the FISA laws; the UN didn't decide that the 4th Amendment means that the police can just barge into your house - that's your, no, our government. The threat to civil liberties comes from within, not without. How can some NRA members get all fired up about this boogie man (that their own organization helped create) and passively endorse the erosion of civil liberties by their own government?

Since I alluded to the recent Hudson ruling by the Supreme Court, I'd like to point out Ed Brayton's great post on Scalia's "scholarly screwup" in his explanation for having voted to help weaken our 4th Amendment rights. Brayton points to a a post a post by Balko over at The Agitator as it was Balko that did the legwork. Scalia argued:

Another development over the past half-century that deters civil-rights violations is the increasing professionalism of police forces, including a new emphasis on internal police discipline. Even as long ago as 1980 we felt it proper to "assume" that unlawful police behavior would "be dealt with appropriately" by the authorities, United States v. Payner, 447 U. S. 727, 733-734, n. 5 (1980), but we now have increasing evidence that police forces across the United States take the constitutional rights of citizens seriously. There have been "wide-ranging reforms in the education, training, and supervision of police officers." S. Walker, Taming the System: The Control of Discretion in Criminal Justice 1950-1990, p. 51 (1993).

Balko went and talked to Prof. Walker, whose work Scalia cites. And what does he think?

Walker tells me he learned that Scalia had cited his work, "to my horror."

Walker adds, "Scalia turned my research completely on its head. My point was that these reforms came about because the courts, specifically the Warren Court, forced the police to institute better procedures with judicial oversight. Scalia now wants to take that oversight away."

Walker says poltical leadership, internal procedures, media oversight and public pressure are all necessary to ensure civil liberties, but that judicial oversight is extremely important too, and that Scalia misused his scholarship to imply that Walker supports a diminishing role for the courts.

Walker also says his research focused on conventional policing, not drug policing. The latter, he says, "is a special kind of policing," and says he would agree that the direction of drug policing of late (which of course was what the Hudson case is all about) does raise significant civil liberties concerns. One might also note that Walker's research for that particular book ended in 1990, sixteen years ago.

Brayton comments:

The irony of this is that Scalia, by his own declaration a textualist and an originalist, would be the first one to criticize reliance on social science research to justify a court ruling. Yet not only does he use such research to justify his ruling here, he does so sloppily and inaccurately.

Go read the whole post.
|| Palmer, 7:25 AM || link || (0) comments |

21 June, 2006

Weekend Zymurgy

This past weekend, I finally took the plunge into homebrewing. It's a nice way to reach back through the years and have fun with tradition. Back in the 17th century, the folks on the Mayflower brought beer with them to the New World and, in fact, they ran short. And so homebrewing started in this country shortly after white people landed. Wisconsin has a long tradition of brewing which I've detailed elsewhere. Prohibition put the kibosh on things and it wasn't until the late 1970s that homebrewing became decriminalized. From RealBeer.com:

It began before California Sen. Alan Cranston introduced the legislation to legalize homebrewing and President Jimmy Carter signed it into law in 1978. "It was more a matter of decriminalizing it," said Charlie Papazian, who became the evangelist for the movement. "It added a comfort level for the shops selling ingredients. People were more willing to stock good ingredients, to advertise they had them."

Having German blood, there is little doubt in my mind that I'm following in the footsteps of my forebears.

The first thing I did was get a bunch of brewing equipment from my buddy Ed. I then bought a beer kit from the Wine and Hop Shop. I chose Warbler Ale, an American Pale Ale (I'm part English too). I just felt all hoppy that day. The kit sat around for a while but I finally got my ass in gear last Saturday. The first thing I learned was to make sure you have shit everywhere.

Valves, tubes, a thermometer, a hydrometer, buckets – just keep it all at hand. Next, I began to sterilize my fermentation tank. By this I mean fill up a 6.5 gallon bucket with bleach water. I also threw the thermometer, the bucket's lid, and the fermentation lock into bleach water in the sink. I filled my pot with the requisite amount of water and put the grains from the kit in the cheesecloth sock and brought it up to 160 degrees.

Next I weighed out some hop pellets. Mmmm…Fuggle hops…

The grain was barley and it filled the kitchen with a wonderful smell that made me think of Grape Nuts cereal. I'm under the impression that this part is just to impart extra barley flavor and doesn't actually influence all the chemistry of the brewing process that much. After cooking for the prescribed amount of time, I pulled out the sock and added the malt extract.

Now I had me some wort! The malt extract was a concentrated sludge of, well, malt. A bunch of barley was allowed to germinate and then dried and roasted. This process creates a bunch of enzymes in the barley and these enzymes help convert the starch to sugar. The barley is then crushed and thrown into water and boilded. (This is called "mashing".) The mashing process convert the starch to sugars. The liquid is removed in the lautering process. I suppose it is here that more water is removed and the malt extract results. Back in my kitchen, I boiled the wort for 45 minutes before adding the first bit of hops.

The precious bitter hops imparted their flavor. The wort also started to smell like beer instead of Grape Nuts. I let it boil for another 14 minutes and added more hops and let it boil some more.

The last bit of hops was then thrown in and I let it boil another minute before removing the pot from the stove and putting it in ice water to cool down to 75 degrees or so.

As my wort cooled, I emptied and rinsed my bucket. The next step was to put 3.75 gallons of cold water into the bucket. When the temperature was right, the wort was added.

I then added my yeast and brought the bucket to the basement where it would ferment. At this point I had beer! I affixed the lid and put in the fermentation lock. The fermentation lock is this twisty tube hoolie that you fill up with water. As the yeast eats the sugars, it converts them into carbon dioxide and alcohol. The lock allows the CO2 to escape without allowing air to enter. I was brewing ale and this meant that the yeast was top-fermenting.

The instructions say to let the beer ferment for 7-10 days. I'll have to get the hydrometer out this weekend and check out the specific gravity of my brew. This tells me how much sugar there is still dissolved in the liquid. If there's still a lot of sugar, my reading will show that the beer is denser than distilled water. As the yeast does its job, there's more alcohol there and alcohol is less dense than water. I'm a bit nervous that I forgot to sterilize something or that the yeast or wort wasn't at the right temperature or whatever and so I have this nagging feeling that I completely fucked up this batch. At the worst, I'll have to dump it out and start again. If I'm lucky, I'll be bottling soonish.

Overall, it didn't really take too long and it was actually quite a lot of fun. Plus there's just that DIY spirit to it. Boiling and stirring and pouring and waiting instead of just heading to the liquor store and pulling a sixer out of the cooler. I don't even know if the stuff will be drinkable yet I still have this sense of self-satisfaction that it's me that's making the precious beer, it's me embracing tradition and following in the footsteps of my forebears.
|| Palmer, 6:41 PM || link || (0) comments |

Warp It Up, I'll Take It

I feel stupid now having just read this post by one of Madison's alderwomen Brenda Konkel. I suspect she is just too smart for little old me. I mean, look at her C.V.: she's a member of 2 political parties, has 2 college degrees, is serving term #3 on the Council, and lists 4 community organizations of which she is a part. I've never met Ms. Konkel but I've been told by those who have that she's an honorable woman. So are the alderpeople all, all honorable women & men. Let me then proceed to explain the Genius of Konkel which so dwarfs my own meager intellect.

The issue is bus wrapping whereby a city bus is painted blue and made into a big rolling Viagra ad. She lists a number of concerns. For instance, there's safety:

Remember all the pleas from the city staff to allow cameras on busses? Remember how important it was to have more eyes on the people riding the busses to protect the safety of the workers? How does wrapping a bus in material that makes it so that you can't see into the bus going to help with these safety concerns?

I feel absolutely horrible for neglecting my civic duty of peering through the windows of passing busses to see if there is a disturbance afoot. I wish the City Council would more clearly enumerate the responsibilities of pedestrians with regards to the goings-on inside of buses. But now, with the aid of Ms. Konkel, I can see how I have neglected my duty. She also bemoans that advertising revenues from city parking ramps are down 20%.

We had projected that we would make $75K but at $5193 per month we will likely only make $62K. This is only 82.6% of what we expected. Can we expect the same from this proposal from Metro?

According to an account of last night's City Council meeting, the bus wrapping is expected to generate about $200,000 for the city. And if only 82.6% of that revneue is actually realized, the city would gain a mere $165,200. Here's a quote from the meeting last night: "I'm afraid that this is much ado about nothing," says Ald. Brenda Konkel, "as the promises of advertising tend to fall flat." I want to put my hat in the ring with Ms. Konkel and say that I agree with her wholeheartedly: if we can only get $165,200 of $200K for the ailing Metro Transit System, then it's just not worth the effort. It's all or nothing.

While I've come to see the light via the refulgent wisdom of Ms. Konkel, I must say that I disagree with her fellow alderwoman, Judy Olson who said, "this is a bad thing, it's visual pollution". No, the Marina Condominiums are visual pollution, not a bus all decked out. Only 15 of the 260 buses will be wrapped and, if you happen to find yourself in close proximity to one, it will soon be out of sight. This is unlike the Marina Condoramas which will pollute the skyline with its Jetsons-like metallic aesthetic for decades. Were it not for the financial bind that Metro finds itself in, this offense to the Council's self-proclaimed aesthete would never have received her vote.
|| Palmer, 4:45 PM || link || (0) comments |

Happy Midsummer's Day!

Today is the summer solstice - Midsummer's Day. It's the longest day of the year and we lose just a little bit of daylight from now until the winter solstice. Check out The Daily Page for some area solstice events. I'm kinda thinking that the weather may be putting the kabosh on some activities.
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An Afternoon in An Armed Madhouse

A couple Sundays ago, I spent the weekend in Chicago. I've already detailed the escapades of seeing the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and eating enough dim sum for an army. The last thing that The Dulcinea and I did was to go see Greg Palast speak at Barbara's Bookstore down by the UIC campus. Having rambled on at length about the gentrification of the neighborhood, I will say that the little mall that contained the bookstore was pretty nice. There was a courtyard with fountains scattered around and this shelter hoolie.

There was water dripping down around the perimeter of it and I can imagine that it would make a really nice spot to do some reading. We hustled inside a bit on the early side. This allowed me the opportunity to buy Palast's latest tome, Armed Madhouse and wander around the shelves for a while.

Whenever I go to a bookstore here in Madison, I invariably peruse the Local Interest shelves at some point. And so I did the same at Barbara's. Chicago has about as many neighborhoods as Madison does people so there were plenty of books that profiled individual areas. I found one book that had some really neat photos of the same stretch of Michigan Avenue that The Dulcinea and I had walked down the evening before. Looking through the various books and seeing all the pictures, I thought about how amazing it must be for my 90-year old grandmother to have seen all the changes in the city since she moved there. The year was 1933 and she was a young woman of 18. She'd traveled the 100 or so miles from Spring Valley to Chicago to see the World's Fair. I remember her telling me about how amazed she was at the massive Sky Ride and that she loved the city so much, she stayed. Seventy-three years of change has she been witness to. She witnessed the building of the massive skyscrapers downtown; the migration of Southern blacks to the city after World War II; radio cede to television; the original Mayor Daley; the city's first subway; the building of the interstate system and the expressways of the city; and the Cubs lose three World Series. Just driving around the city 19 years after having moved away, I notice lots of changes but they don't compare to those she's witnessed. Three o'clock neared and we headed into a back room where Palast would speak.

Sorry about the crappy photo but it was the best of the lot. Palast seemed to be exactly as he was on television. The tube didn't put weight on him or make him look taller. I really like his hat – it reminds me of how my grandfather and great-uncles used to dress. There was just something gentlemanly and dignified about them walking in the door and removing their hats before sitting down to play pinochle and drink beer. Whatever happened to hats? I mean real hats like men wore in the 1940s, not baseball caps. On the other side, the only things I like about George Will & Tucker Carlson are the bow ties. I really dig 'em. Lord help us if those really thin ties from the 80s come back into fashion.

It is quite appropriate that I'm listening to a Steve Earle concert from 2004 right now because Palast had no kind words for the Bush administration or the neo-cons. He spoke for over an hour, if memory serves, and his criticisms came hard and fast. While there was plenty of the usual stuff, I was really taken aback by his account of the Republicans tried to scrub voter lists of African-American soldiers.

Here’s how the scheme worked: The RNC mailed these voters letters in envelopes marked, “Do not forward”, to be returned to the sender. These letters were mailed to servicemen and women, some stationed overseas, to their US home addresses. The letters then returned to the Bush-Cheney campaign as “undeliverable.”

The lists of soldiers of “undeliverable” letters were transmitted from state headquarters, in this case Florida, to the RNC in Washington. The party could then challenge the voters’ registration and thereby prevent their absentee ballots being counted.

One target list was comprised exclusively of voters registered at the Jacksonville, Florida, Naval Air Station. Jacksonville is third largest naval installation in the US, best known as home of the Blue Angels fighting squadron.

I believe that this was the instance in which he obtained the voter rolls from the Repugs by setting up a fake website - georgebush.org instead of georgebush.com. Funny how these voter lists made their way to him. Palast also mentioned that he had finally moved back to America as he didn’t want his kids to have funny accents. You see, Palast is a reporter for the BBC and The Guardian newspapers in the UK as he can't get his stories reported in the mainstream media here in the States. I presume that he and the Beeb have come to some sort of agreement which allowed him to repatriate himself.

In addition to attempts at voter fraud, he discussed Venezuela and America's thirst for oil and the cover story which got us into Iraq. I won't say much more about his talk as I can't do the content justice. I will say, however, that Palast was never hopeless. His duty, as he saw it, was to arm the citizenry with information or "the truth", if you like. And speaking of the citizenry, the room filled up and then some. The walls were lined with folks standing to hear him. Most people there were middle-aged and one guy had a big Dr. Seuss hat on with a sign affixed to it saying "Impeach Bush". The significance of the average age there really didn't hit me until a week later when The Dulcinea mentioned visiting her grandfather who was reading Palast's book. Her grandfather is Clarence Kailin, a Madison notable. He was a member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade which was a group of American who fought against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War and he's fought for social justice for most of his life. I met him at the Socialist Potluck back in April. Now in his 90s, Mr. Kailin's days of leading the charge are long gone but he still keeps up with current events and fights for social justice. My observation here is that the folks at the Socialist Potluck and at the Palast talk were generally middle-aged and older. Very few young folks. Do they all do all their organizing on the Net and then show up at protests?

Palast was in a hurry when he was signing books at the end. He'd been at a rally earlier and had to get to O'Hare. I asked him to come to Wisconsin again. In his haste, he mentioned that he was at Fighting Bob Fest a couple years ago and that he'd try to go there again.
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19 June, 2006

Winkler, Ira Winkler

Over the weekend I caught a bit of Book TV. One segment featured author Ira Winkler discussing his book Spies Among Us. I believe he is a former NSA employee and so he gave a brief intro of how he got his job there and got into the whole business of spying. He related how the super-user accounts (accounts with administrative privileges) either had no passwords or had passwords which were extremely easy to guess. And this at the super-secret information secure NSA. Next he went on to say that James Bond and Sydney Bristow are horrible spies because they always get caught. There's always one thing they overlook which lands them in hot water.

Winkler then proceeded to tell some really interesting stories from his book about infiltrating companies to test just how secure they and the information on their computers really are. It's amazing how easy it was for him and his crew to get into the headquarters of huge companies, gain access to computers, and even get passwords from users by posing as information security folks. They'd just waltz in, give a good story, and the security folks were more than happy to issue badges. There was very little, if any, technogeek stuff involved in his tale. He went out of his way to debunk the image of the hacker as a mega-computer genius who just knows everything and gets into computer systems. It was some basic technical knowledge, a lot of social engineering, and a lot of common sense in knowing what to do when the situation presented itself. Being an IT guy, I was particularly amused by the story about infiltrating one particular company. A project manager proved to be a bit of a jerk as he didn't like security. "Security hampers innovation" was the guy's refrain. With some persistence, Winkler was able to glean some valuable information from the guy which led to him being able to gain access to company secrets. Winkler commented that this manager's name was the only one that worked it's way into that day's report.

You can download chapter 6 of the book at this page. The chapter describes how Winkler and his cohorts wormed their way into a Fortune 500 company's headquarters that's out on the East Coast in a mid-sized city. There is plenty of narrative about getting security badges, figuring out passwords, and such. But I thought this part was really neat:

We decided to explore the facilities to get a feel for the environment. The basement was your typical Dilbert-style cubicle setting. Several large rooms opened into each other, with the exception of the Computer Operations Center, which was a large complex walled off from the rest of the basement.There were a few strategically located doors with cipher locks that provided access to the computer rooms. Cipher locks are keypads that require the user to enter a code to unlock a door.The main computer room was about 75 feet by 200 feet, with long rows of computer racks loaded with equipment. Outside the main computer room were several telecommunications rooms where all the communications lines came in.There was also a control room at the far side of the computer room.That room had a large window looking into the computer room, as well as a door.

As we walked around the cubicle area, Stan commented on the fact that many desks had Chinese-American dictionaries on them.

“Have you seen the computer departments of U.S. colleges lately?” was my sarcastic reply.

“I’ll look into that,”was Stan’s matter-of-fact reply.

As we walked around,we found many unattended desks with the computers logged in, a great deal of valuable information lying around, and the typical messy desks that you would expect to see in computer environments.There were several people scattered around, so we really couldn’t look too carefully at any one desk.

When we got to a door to a computer room,we found it propped open, with cables coming out of the door. It turned out that major construction was going on, and the construction workers were using power from the computer rooms for their tools.We walked in the door and started wandering around. Nobody was working in the computer room.All the network administrators were in the control room.We had unchallenged access to everything.


Stan’s experience as a GRU spymaster became a major factor.With the exception of his final stationing in the United States, the rest of his GRU career was focused on China. He was even stationed in Beijing for four years.

Even knowing this, I was still confused by a call I got from Stan a day later.“Ira, there are black duck eggs on the menu, ”was his cryptic

“Stan, what the hell are we paying you for?” was my reply.

“Oh,my naive American friend,” he said with I smile I could feel over the telephone,“black duck eggs are a Chinese delicacy. I can hardly find black duck eggs in San Francisco, let alone this little piece of s--- town in the middle of nowhere. And they’re cheaper than they are on the streets of Beijing.”

He went on to describe that because he saw all those Chinese-American dictionaries on the desks of the employees, he spent some time trying to find Chinese social clubs and other places where Chinese people may congregate. Stan knows the modus operandi of Chinese intelligence agents, which is to find people of Chinese descent and sift through them to see who would likely be susceptible to recruitment. Generally, these are people who have more allegiance to China than their employer or who can be coerced because of family in China. Setting up a gathering place, such as a Chinese restaurant that has hard-to-find Chinese delicacies, is a way to attract as many potential agents as possible. It is also a great place to exchange information and money.

Stan told me that he found several Chinese restaurants reasonably close to the company facilities. All but one had friendly staffs that welcomed him.At the other, he walked in and saw a menu on the reception table that had only Chinese writing. He picked it up and saw that there were Chinese delicacies not normally found in other Chinese restaurants in this country. When one of the workers realized that Stan could read Mandarin, he became distressed rather than gladly welcoming toward the potential new customer who could appreciate the rare menu items.

Stan’s being followed was a fact.Whether or not this Chinese restaurant was actually one of the more than 3,000 Chinese front companies was a matter for the FBI. Stan was told that the FBI was busy doing counterterrorism work; the investigation of the restaurant was a low priority.

I enjoyed how Winkler demystified espionage and how he showed that it had very little in common with the image presented to us by Hollywood. He explained how the NSA gathers intelligence and that the hard part was not gathering the data but interpreting them. The folks at the top decide what needs to be spied on or what intelligence needs to be gathered. The orders filter down and satellites are repositioned and the radio spectrum scanned. Then this massive amount of data comes back and people have to interpret it. The example he gave was of finding transmissions on a certain frequency. This led to that particular frequency being monitored. He described how a couple guys would be sent out in the middle of the sea in a dinghy and a receiver and that they'd sit there recording. Again, more data sent back to be interpreted.

I thought it was incredibly neat to hear how espionage is really carried out. The sad part is that so many people have the attitude of that project manager above. No one believes that anyone would try to steal their data - it's someone else's data they want. And 3,000 Chinese front companies? Yikes! One of his points jives with my experience: the weak link isn't the technology, it's people. People who give out their passwords, people who don't think security is an issue. I'd love to have been there when that project manager got called onto the carpet and told that his actions compromised the corporation's most-valued secrets. This book is definitely on my list of books to read.
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17 June, 2006

My Dream Refrigerator

(Via GoodShit.)
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16 June, 2006

Friday Skin

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13 June, 2006

In Chinatown

It was nice and sunny when I awoke on Sunday morning. The Dulcinea gave me her carnal favors under the watchful eyes of Angus Young. I called my friend Gene but wasn't able to get a hold of him. The friendly folks at the Hard Rock Hotel were kind enough to include a stereo/DVD player in the room. Knowing this ahead of time and not knowing how our schedule would turn out, I brought along a DVD with me. I don't normally do such a thing but it wasn't out of the question that The Dulcinea and I would awaken at 4 in the morning and have some time to blow. And so I brought a copy of the (then) latest episode of Doctor Who - The Impossible Planet. Let me tell you, it is a fantastic episode.

Watching the opening of it, I was immediately reminded of a classic Doctor Who episode featuring Tom Baker as the 4th Doctor - Planet of Evil. In both episodes, The Doctor and his pulchritudinous female companion land on a planet upon which there is a geological expedition of some kind. When Planet of Evil begins, the monster is on the loose and has killed; The Impossible Planet is about the impending arrival of the monster.

The Doctor and Rose land in a storage room of some kind and the TARDIS is on the fritz a bit. They wander into a room and find "Welcome to Hell" written upon one wall. There is also some weird pictograms written beneath it but the TARDIS is unable to translate it so The Doctor concludes that the script is exceptionally old. Continuing, they open a door and are immediately confronted by the Ood, a race that has these vaguely squid-like heads with tentacles at their mouths. They hold illuminated balls in their hands and are saying "We must feed" as they lurch manacingly towards The Doctor and Rose.

Just when they're cornered, they say, "We must feed...you" and offer our heroes refreshment. It's really a neat scene that's scary in and of itself, but it also introduces the characters that are the Ood and communication devices malfunctioning as a motif. A group of humans arrive and The Doctor and Rose are led to a control room to meet the rest of the crew.

We learn that the Ood are willing "slaves" digging a mine for the researchers at the station. We also learn that they are on a planet that is in a geosynchronous position around a black hole.

An immense gravitational field emanating from below the surface of the planet is holding it in place and the mission is to bore down to the location from which the field emanates. A shockwave or quake causes a fissure to open on the surface of the planet and a few sections of the station plunge down into the darkness. It just so happens that one of those sections contained the storage room with the TARDIS inside.

As The Doctor and Rose contemplate their fates, one crew member starts hearing a strange voice. The doors in the complex have been fitted with Genuine People Personalities and they begin to malfunction and start intoning phrases imbued with evil. One crew member is eventually killed.

I want to stop the plot summary here and just say that this episode really creeped me out. It's all the usual creep-out stuff - looks of fear on people's faces, disembodied voices saying how the ultimate evil is rising and there's nothing you puny people can do about it, etc. All standard stuff but it made me curl up foetal as I laid on the bed.

The Ood eventually complete their mining task. The Doctor and the science officer put on space suits and head down the shaft in an elevator to explore the source of the gravitiational field. Meanwhile on the surface, an evil force has taken control of the Ood and they advance upon the human crew.

Beneath the surface, the ruins of an old civilization are found including a giant manhole cover hoolie which opens allowing someone or something out...

I just got part 2, The Satan Pit, yesterday. I am looking forward to watching it.

Afterwards, we showered and got ready to check out. A couple more calls to Gene only got me his voice mails again so I left messages with my cell number and we headed out. The Dulcinea got a laugh out of the valet bringing my car around. Everyone else had nice, shiny ones while mine was old, scraped, and very loud because of an exhaust leak. We got in and then headed to Chinatown.

Since we had to be at Barbara's Bookstore around 2:30, I eschewed the expressway and instead went down Halsted so I could scout out the location of the store. This also gave us the chance to drive through Greektown and past Maxwell Street. If anyone reading this is an expat of Chicago like myself, you won't believe what the area looks like nowadays. Firstly, the south end of the UIC campus has lots of new buildings and more being constructed. The Maxwell Street area now looks like a yuppie haven. I went to the Maxwell Street Market as a kid and had a good time. My friend's dad would take him and me down there. I distinctly recall boxes of butterfly knives in his car. I was absolutely amazed at what the area looks like now. Doing some research on the Net, I found out that the old Maxwell Street Market was stopped by the city in 1994 and relocated about a mile and a half away. Buildings were torn down and the area gentrified by the city and UIC. You may be familiar with the scenes shot on Maxwell Street in The Blues Brothers. You know, the diner scene and the one with John Lee Hooker playing out on the street. The buildings in those scenes have been torn down and the area where the diner was is now a UIC parking lot, apparently. This page gives an account of how it happened:

It wasn't long before UIC began to nibble away at what was left of the old Maxwell Street neighborhood for its campus expansion. The Chicago city government helped by withholding city services and infrastructure improvements, and then calling the neighborhood "blighted." Still, the market and the neighborhood around it hung on through the 70s and 80s. As the final decade of the 20th century began, UIC made it clear it now wanted everything, for itself and for private developers who lusted after prime real estate so close to the Loop.

Back in the late 19th century, Maxwell Street was home to Eastern European Jews who had emigrated to America. After World War I, Maxwell Street became home to an increasing number of blacks who had come up from the South as well as Mexican immigrants. As the above site notes, the Polish sausage sandwich and the Vienna Beef company originated in the Maxwell Street area. And, arguably, so did Chicago blues.

Madison has this thing called Maxwell Street Days. I've always considered it to be a joke despite it having been created as a homage to the original. Perhaps in 1976, when it started, Maxwell Street Days was something interesting but, with all the chain stores on State Street, it's just another sale. State Street is the premiere venue for shopping in Madison – light years away from the cultural milieu of the original in Chicago. The Maxwell Street Market was about a neighborhood, its residents, and its cultural (in addition to commerce) whereas Maxwell Street Days is about stores selling things outside. Maxwell Street Days is all middle class and WASPy with few people of color to be found. And, if there isn't a huge pile of hubcaps and rims for sale, it shouldn't have "Maxwell Street" affixed to it.

Zipping underneath a viaduct and approaching Archer, we noticed that signs had Chinese on them and it wasn't long before we were in Chinatown. We parked and wandered underneath the arch and down Wentworth. I called Gene again to no avail. So we wandered around. The streets were hoppin' and I couldn't understand a goddamn word the people were saying. (Mr. Vento can lick my balls.) At one corner a group of 8 or so men were sitting on the sidewalk reading the paper underneath a small tree. Down the street, a church had let out and parishioners had congregated outside to talk and enjoy the sun. It was great! We saw foo dragons guarding the library, food, funky buildings, and more food.

We stopped first at the Ten Ren Tea and Ginseng Company of Chicago where I bought some Ti-kuan-yin tea and these:

I haven't had the candy yet but I can say that the green tea-wasabi peanuts are awesome. Just the right amount of hotness.

Walking down from the tea shop, we came across a bakery and I just had to go inside. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures. I can tell you, however, that the display cases had me drooling. I bought BBQ pork buns, curry beef buns, sesame-pork cookies, a couple Chinese doughnuts, and some chocolate chip cookies. OK, I know you're asking why I bought the chocolate chip cookies as they can be had anywhere. Here's why: they were made with lard. None of this "healthy" eating crap – just good, old-fashioned goodness. They were about 4 inches in diameter with chunks of chocolate precariously balancing atop the ridges. They were incredibly moist and tasty. The doughnuts were doughnuts. Tasty but nothing particularly Chinese about them. The buns…mmmm…the buns. They're so soft and fluffy and when you bite inside, you get the tasty pork or beef goodness. By the time we walked out of there, The Dulcinea had to use a restroom and we were both very, very hungry. And so we made our way down the street and ducked into the Royal Dragon.

It wasn't as hole-in-the-wallish as I had hoped but we didn't let that stop us from ordering dim sum.

Now, by "ordering dim sum" I mean ordering enough for 10 people.

The above photo does not come close to conveying the clutter of our table. There must have been almost 20 bits of serving ware on the table from plates to glasses and all points between. Starting in the upper left corner, you see: Steamed Lotus Buns, Pan-Fried Shrimp Bean Curd Roll, something we can't remember, Pan-Fried Shrimp and Chive Cakes, and BBQ Pork Buns. However, we started with the Dry Fish & Peanut Congee:

Now these are the Fried Dough Crepes. They're made of, well, fried dough wrapped in a thin crepe. Soft and delicate on the outside, crunch on the inside.

These are the Pork Dumplings with Peanut:

While the congee needed just a touch of salt, in my opinion, it was good, especially when you got a piece of the dried fish in your spoon. We also got a couple small dishes of hot pepper flakes in oil and a spiced plum sauce whose name I cannot recall. The waitstaff were all really friendly and put up with us stupid, non-Chinese speaking gringos superbly. (Sorry, I dunno any derogatory terms for Caucasian folks in Chinese.) Frighteningly, there was precious little left for doggie bags. With our respective centers of gravity having shifted, we left and headed down the street again.

The Dulcinea ducked into a gift shop while I ducked into the alley to finish a square. I rather liked the line of fire escapes so I took a snap.

When I walked in, I saw that The Dulcinea had found the Hello Kitty section and was covetously eyeing a range of Chococat items and she would do so for what seemed like hours. The joint had some neat slippers but, unfortunately, they only had them in 2 colors in my size and neither appealed to me all that much. There was some neat children's clothing and The Dulcinea found an outfit studded with dragonflies which she adored and thought would look good on Neko, my friend Miss Pamela's newborn.

Despite my inability to get a hold of Gene, I had a fantastic time. I hadn't been to Chinatown since I was a boy. One incredibly wonderful thing about Chicago is that it's easy to get lost in a neighborhood so unlike my own and one in which English is not the predominant language nor is white the predominant color. I feel extraordinarily lucky to have grown up in Chicago. My first grade class had kids who would go home and speak Chinese, Korean, Arabic, Spanish, Polish, and English. . I don't like this "You're in America – speak English" thing. It's xenophobic bullshit. America shouldn't be made of cookie-cutter communities; it should be made of communities made by the people who live there, whatever language they speak.

With our hands full, we headed back to car. Next stop was Barbara's Bookstore back up Halsted near the UIC campus for Greg Palast.
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