A View From the Cheap Seats

May 19, 2010

Failing To Address Failure

Filed under: Illinois,Politics,Uncategorized — trzupek @ 3:24 pm


By Rich Trzupek

There’s a run on winter-wear in hell today, because I find myself in complete agreement with the Chicago Tribune. A May 6 editorial in the Trib chided House lawmakers for failing to pass a vouchers bill that would have allowed parents to get their kids out of some of the worst schools in the state and into a school of their choice. In a typical Mike Madigan tactic, the vote wasn’t recorded, but the enterprising fellows at Capitol Fax took a photo of the tally board before it could be officially disappeared.

Among your representatives in Examinerland, only Tim Schmitz (R-St. Charles) voted for the measure. Democrats Fred Crespo and Paul Froelich, along with Republican Randy Ramey all voted against and everybody should remember those votes.

There are a couple of reasons, neither of them good, to vote against voucher programs. One is, as Democrat representative Kevin Joyce observed with surprising candor, is that this is a “union issue.” By that, Joyce of course means it’s a teacher’s union issue. If parents can get kids out of failing schools, the teachers at those schools are going to have to find other employment.

Obviously, we can’t have that. Protecting teachers’ jobs at schools that don’t work is far more important than, you know, the kids they actually teach, or creating jobs at schools that do work courtesy of freedom of choice. The Democrat-preferred solution to Illinois’ educational woes, as it is to every problem, is more money. Just a few more bucks and everything will be both hunky and dory.



September 30, 2009

One Amazing Week

Filed under: National,Politics,Uncategorized,World — trzupek @ 3:17 pm


By Rich Trzupek

– An oil-rich middle-eastern country run by lunatics is purported to be developing weapons of mass destruction. Western leaders demand proof that the WMD does not exist. Threats of military action abound.

It’s déjà vu all over again.

– The City of Chicago, by which we mean the municipality’s government, rather than its citizens, are all aquiver in anticipation of the official announcement of who gets stuck with – sorry, who is awarded – the burden – sorry again, the honor – of hosting the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

The theory of the Olympics is a wonderful thing: nations coming together in peace and harmony while their star athletes show off their skills. The reality, in modern times, is quite different.

Hosting the Olympics is a monstrously expensive undertaking, one that ends up costing host cities more than the income the event generates. With Chicago involved, there is little doubt that the costs would skyrocket, what with having to give every political crony a cut of the pie. And who will be on the hook when it’s over? If you guessed you and me, and all the rest of the taxpayers, you’d be absolutely correct.


September 9, 2009

Time Flies

Filed under: Uncategorized — trzupek @ 12:45 pm

1959_Oldsmobile-08_AdEXAMINER PUBLICATIONS – SEPTEMBER 2, 2009

By Rich Trzupek

The “good old days” is a term of art, often employed, perhaps even more often in the troubled times in which we live. One must wonder, however, was there ever such a time? History is often viewed through rose colored glasses, and all the more so when one has put a few dozen or more orbits of the sun in between birthdays.

It’s worthwhile to look back now and again, a reality check if you will, and fifty years is the sort of milestone that can prompt a bit of retrospective. How far have we come? How far have we fallen?

Certainly there were aspects of life in 1959 that we would not wish to see again. The cloud of a global nuclear threat loomed heavily on the horizon, for one. Children were taught to “duck and cover”, though it was not difficult to see that sheltering under one’s desk offered dubious protection against a mushroom cloud.


September 3, 2009

Fallen Heroes

Filed under: Uncategorized — trzupek @ 11:53 am


By Rich Trzupek

Another Memorial Day is in the books. The barbeques have cooled, the sales are over and we’re back at the day to day grind.

Not so for those whom we honored this weekend, or those we should have honored. Memorial Day is a time to remember all of those who fell in defense of our nation and of liberty throughout the globe.

It’s unfortunate, but many people don’t understand the difference between Veterans Day, which honors everyone who has served in the armed forces, and Memorial Day, which is strictly for those who died.

It’s a uniquely American institution, Memorial Day, one that arose almost spontaneously after the end of the Civil War. Each spring, people would place flowers on the graves of the men who had died in the bloodiest of America’s conflicts. More soldiers died during the Civil War than all of our other wars put together.


March 12, 2009

Stupid is as Stupid Does

Filed under: Humor,Media,Uncategorized — trzupek @ 6:51 pm


By Rich Trzupek

  On Wednesday, February 25, a Turkish Airlines Boeing 737 jet crashed on final approach near Schiphol Airport, near Amsterdam in The Netherlands, killing nine and injuring more than 100 people.

  As the story unfolded, it was interesting – and informative – to watch and read the media frenzy, as various news outlets raced to be first with fresh information. Interesting, because it’s always fascinating to watch sharks on the prowl, and informative, because stories like this tell us so much about the way the mainstream media operates.

  The proliferation of information available in our internet age has not, in the view of your humble correspondent, made the mainstream media better. Quite the opposite in fact – as traditional media outlets lose their audience to bloggers and web-based news services, the mainstream media publishes more and more speculative, poorly-researched and inflammatory stories in an effort to “get there first”.


December 24, 2008

New Gigs, New Digs

Filed under: Humor,Uncategorized — trzupek @ 1:58 pm



By Rich Trzupek

The hottest free agent signing of 2008 has been completed. We’re not talking about the Yankees signing C.C. Sabathia here. The news is a lot bigger than that. The burning question that has kept you on pins and needles (and more pins) has finally been answered: where will your humble correspondent be blogging in 2009?

After considering dozens of offers, I am happy to announce that I signed a multi-year, incentive-laden deal with Threedonia.com, the heppest, hottest and cleverest blog on the internet. Also, we have toast.


October 22, 2008

The Meltdown For (And By) Dummies

Filed under: National,Politics,Uncategorized — trzupek @ 7:15 am
Tags: , , , ,

By Rich Trzupek

There is a rather remarkable phrase that has crept into common usage, thanks to the genius of the mainstream media: “predatory lenders”. It is a matter of unquestioned fact, according to the self-appointed defenders of truth and justice at the New York Times, CNN, etc., etc., that the current financial crisis can be laid at the feet of “predatory lenders”, along with the idiots (at best) or thieves (at worst) at investment houses who supported their nefarious schemes.

It’s a remarkable phrase; “predatory lender”. According to Princeton, a predator is “someone who attacks in search of booty”. This leads us to a conundrum. If lenders, like Countrywide Financial, were indeed predators, where exactly was the booty supposed to come from? The ultimate, uncomfortable conclusion is that the victims are you, me and every other responsible, hard-working tax-payer in the United States who harbor the old-fashioned notion that one should not purchase a home until one can actually afford to do so.

An aside first. I use Countrywide as the example here because they are the most notorious, and the biggest, of the so-called predatory lenders. Since purchased by Bank of America, Countrywide holds about 17% of the nation’s mortgages, and nobody made more questionable loans.

The uncomfortable fact, the fact that Democrats desperately don’t want you to know, is that lenders like Countrywide weren’t preying on anybody, they were following orders – orders that originated with the administration of one William Jefferson Clinton and that were perpetuated by a compliant, Democrat-controlled Congress, throughout this decade.

Back in 1993, the Clinton administration decided to solve the problem – or rather the assumed problem – of discriminatory lending practices. It had been noticed that certain minorities didn’t participate in home ownership at the same rate as white folks. This in turn, was traced to the fact that said minorities were denied mortgages at a higher rate than white folks.

Since it was inconceivable that the reasons for the discrepancies might be related to – oh, I don’t know – individual differences in income maybe? – or an applicant’s credit-worthiness possibly? – it was concluded that this was another example of the subtle racism infecting America.

The solution? Out with those old financial standards! All that 20 per cent down stuff was fine for your grandfather, but it being the 1990’s that concept was now squaresville man. No money for a down-payment? No problem. Forget about it. Can’t afford your payments? Just pay the interest. We’ll worry about principal down the road. After all, your home will keep appreciating in value. You have a crappy credit history? Don’t sweat it! Just lie – we won’t check!

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac thought that Countrywide was just the pooh, giving them preferred access to the cash they needed and praising them for offering “nontraditional credit” to “applicants who have no established credit history”. Other lenders rushed to follow Countrywide’s example, both because (so long as home values continued to climb) it was profitable and because not to do so was, well, racist.

Now some institutions prudently felt that it was better to endure being called a bigot than it was to abandon every sound financial practice established since the days of Adam Smith. JP Morgan Chase and HSBC, for example, wanted no part of the scam and both remain quite healthy, thank you very much, and wholly without the need for any sort of government bail out.

Investment firms bought into the scheme, and why not? Fannie and Freddie were fueling the fun and, as government sponsored enterprises, they weren’t going bankrupt, right? Well, as it turns out, they weren’t. Fannie and Freddie were simply too big, too important to the financial system, to allow them to fail. But somebody had to pay for all those bad loans – and the chaos they caused – and that somebody turns out to be you and me.

Somebody should have figured this out long ago, right? Lots of people did. They were shouted down, labeled “racists” for daring to point out that this particular house of cards was going to fall apart with a resounding boom.

Today, the popular wisdom, the New York Times/Democrat Party wisdom, is that the meltdown was the inevitable result of corporate greed, providing unquestionable evidence of capitalism’s shortcomings.

Bull. The meltdown, at its core, is proof of what happens when government sticks its nose into private enterprise in order to perform social engineering. The Bear Stearns of the world should be criticized for being dumb enough to invest in worthless paper, but it’s the government of the United States of America, and most especially the Clinton administration and the Democratic Congress, that bears the responsibility for creating that paper to begin with.

In other words, my friends, the true predators are not the financial institutions that were the tools of government-sponsored social engineering, but our elected representatives, who were supposed to protect us from this kind of foolishness.

October 15, 2008

Imbecility – 101


It’s been a while since we’ve slapped down the Chicago Tribune and its cub environmental reporter, Michael Hawthorne, so it’s about time that we rectified the situation.

And when we say “Chicago Tribune”, we are of course referring to the New Look Chicago Tribune! The “We’ve Got Primary Colors!” Chicago Tribune. The “See The Big Shiny Pictures!” Chicago Tribune. The “Don’t Worry, No Words Greater Than Two Syllables Here!!” Chicago Tribune. It’s kind of like “Highlights! For Kids” on newsprint, with Hawthorne playing the role of Goofus.

(Side note, if you are one of the dozen or so people still subscribing to the Trib, here’s a tip to lower your subscription costs: call and tell them you would like to cancel. My bride, who is among the dozen, has done so twice and, each time, they cut our rate. Given another year or so, they’ll be paying us to take the paper. Try it, and tell them Trzupek sent you).

Anyway, on September 23 Hawthorne and Darnell Little authored a “Tribune Watchdog Report” under the bold headline: “Chicago’s Toxic Air”. According to the authors, “People living in Chicago and nearby suburbs face some of the highest risks in the nation for cancer, lung disease and other health problems linked to toxic chemicals pouring from industry smokestacks, according to a Tribune analysis of federal data.”

A Tribune analysis of any kind of data is about as worthwhile as a Fidel Castro probe into Cuban voter fraud, but Hawthorne and Little are sure they are right. They discovered a USEPA database, the Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators (RSEI) model to be exact, and (you can almost hear them yelling “gotcha!”) they come to an alarming conclusion after poking around a bit. Namely: “Those who look up Cook County will see it ranked worst in the nation for dangerous air pollution, based on 2005 data. The Tribune also found Chicago was among the 10 worst cities in the U.S.”

There are so many imbecilic things about those conclusions, and about the article in general, that it is going to be impossible to point them all out, even in the ample space that The Examiner generously allows your humble correspondent. But, let’s get started on a few.

Hawthorne and Little clearly don’t understand what they’re looking at, as they pore, wide-eyed, through the data. At the most basic level, the RSEI model only accounts for industrial sources of pollution but – shocker – industry contributes only about one-fourth of the air pollution emissions in an urban area like Chicago. So no Mikey, you can’t conclude that Chicago’s air is “among the worst” because you’re not looking at anything close to the entire picture. As a matter of fact, big industrial sources – the tall smokestack plants – have relatively little effect locally, because their emissions disperse far and wide.

The pair also doesn’t seem to notice that the RSEI data is based on another data set, called the Toxics Release Inventory, which does not account for all polluters, but only a select group, further limiting this already limited universe. But hey, all they would have had to do was to actually read what is posted at the website to get a clue, which was just too much of a bother, apparently.
Wouldn’t it be nice if, instead of drawing wild conclusions based on a screening tool that is not intended to analyze actual air quality, it was possible to get actual data about air quality? Gosh, would that be – like – actually relevant?

Well, guess what? USEPA operates a network of over 5,000 ambient air monitors across the nation and – what’s this? – a whole bunch of them monitor air toxics! Let’s take a look, shall we?

There are over 180 toxic air pollutants indentified by USEPA. Of these, some of the most significant in an urban setting are: formaldehyde and benzene (emitted by cars and trucks for the most part) and lead. “Fine” particulate, although not classified as a toxin, is also a health concern in most big cities.

According to USEPA’s actual monitors (not models), using 2007 data, Cook County was 116th (out of 198) for formaldehyde, 60th (out of 195) for lead, 128th (out of 366) for benzene, and 80th (out of 1,135) for “fine” particulate, in a nationwide comparison of monitoring site. Mind you this is actual data, not speculation based on a simplistic model, so one must be cautious. Still it doesn’t exactly sound like the end of the world that Hawthorne and Little described, does it?

But then, what do I know? I’m just a simple scientist, without the keen appreciation for data analysis and the scientific method for which journalists are renowned.

More to the point, despite Hawthorne and Little’s characterizations to the contrary, the air across the nation in general, and in Chicago in particular, has gotten progressively cleaner over the last 35 years and continues to get cleaner. Despite the pair’s ignorant insinuations, we have made remarkable, measurable progress in cleaning up the air shed in the Chicagoland metropolitan area. It’s an accomplishment that should make us all feel proud.

The worst part about this story, however, is the hatchet job that Hawthorne and Little do to one of the truly class acts in the Chicago business community: A. Finkl & Sons. The dynamic duo stops just short of accusing the company of creating a toxic death cloud and being closet racists, but only barely short.

Finkl is not, nor ever has been, a client of mine. But their reputation in the industrial world, as a responsible, caring part of the community is legendary. The steel forging shop they operate (not a “steel mill”, as described in the Tribune’s story) is a relatively minor player in the world of air pollution. With typical hysterical hyperbole, Hawthorne and Little claim that the plant “churns” heaps of toxic pollutants into the neighborhood, implying that Finkl is a step away from killing off the populace. It’s a ridiculous position, laughable to anyone who understands the actual science and how air pollution works.

It was a story written to sell papers, and – no doubt – to make Hawthorne’s radical environmentalist buddies happy. While I am sure that it was successful in the latter purpose, the way things are going for the Trib, no degree of outrageous sensationalism is going to help them with the former.

October 8, 2008

Improbable, Yet Inevitable

Filed under: Humor,Science,Uncategorized — trzupek @ 2:06 pm
Tags: ,

Yep, scientists know how to have fun!EXAMINER PUBLICATIONS – OCTOBER 8, 2008

By Rich Trzupek

It is astounding how much money there is in the world to waste. One might consider, for example, the fact that the government of the United States can not only contemplate, but actually authorize, the rescue of brain-dead financial institutions though a bill that might actually cost more than the nation’s Gross Domestic Product in 1970.

The academic world is not without its financial sinkholes, as anyone who has suffered through a lecture on diversity, or gender studies would agree. But the fine folks from an organization called Improbable Research have, once again, cataloged some of the most outstanding – or perhaps astounding is the right word – examples of spending in the weird world that is scientific research in their 2008 Ig Noble Prize awards.

French researchers, for example, won this year’s Biology Prize for figuring out the fleas that live on dogs can jump higher than those that live on cats. This is a very important issue in France, apparently. How the leaping ability of dog-based fleas compares to that of fleas that live on Frenchmen has not (yet) been established.

Down the road in Italy, one professor Zampini of the University of Trento collaborated with one professor Spence of Oxford University in the U.K. to “…electronically modify the sound of a potato chip to make the person chewing the chip believe it to be crisper and fresher than it really is.” This research won the pair the Ig Noble Nutrition Prize, of course.

One can imagine some great possibilities for this research. No need to dump that flat, half full bottle of beer left over from last night’s party. Nope, it’ll seem as cold and crisp as ever. Do you find your kids or spouses voices’ annoying? Well, cringe no more folks. The only problem is figuring out how to make them swallow the (electronic) chip.

The Swiss Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology won the Ig Nobel Peace Prize for adopting the legal principle that plants have dignity. Of course they do. They’re Swiss plants. Not only do they have dignity, they’re undoubtedly smug, a little pompous and pretty boring to boot.

Americans can be proud of Dr. Dan Ariely from Duke University who determined that high-priced fake medicine is more effective than low priced fake medicine, a nugget that will undoubtedly be incorporated into somebody’s health care plans, and worthy of the Ig Noble Medicine Prize.

When you think about history, you probably don’t spend a lot of time pondering the role of armadillos. Sea otters? Possibly. Stink bugs? Absolutely. But armadillos? Well this oversight has been corrected – thank God – courtesy of Astolfo G. Mello Araujo and Jose Carlos Marcelino of Universidade de Sao Paulo, Brazil, who determined that the movement armadillos can screw up archaeological dig sites. It is worth noting that armadillos are ubiquitous in Texas, which suggests that what’s REALLY going on here involves another George W. Bush cover up.

Slime molds can solve puzzles. This bit of research won the Ig Noble Cognitive Science Prize. This bit of research also comes from Japan. And no, we are not surprised on either count.

Geoffery Miller, Joshua Tybur and Bent Jordan of the University of New Mexico determined that a professional lap dancer’s ovulatory cycle affects her tip earnings, which won the trio the Ig Noble Economics Prize, as well as the Cheap Seats’ coveted “How Do I Get In On This Project?” prize.

Two groups of chemists were awarded the Ig Noble Chemistry Prize for reaching opposite answers to the same burning question: is Coca-Cola an effective spermicide? (And when we say “burning” question, it should be pointed out that Coke is fairly acidic, so we do not even want to speculate as to the research methods employed).

Sharee A. Umpierre (University of Puerto Rico), Joseph A. Hill (Fertility Centers of New England) and Deborah J. Anderson (Boston University, and Harvard Medical School) decided that Coke is indeed the real thing when it comes to drowning those annoying little swimmers.

However, before you run out to buy a case of refreshment in order to do God knows what with it (and please don’t tell us, because we don’t want to know) in preparation for making whoopee, you should consider research by C.Y. Hong, C.C. Shih, P. Wu and B.N Chiang of Taiwan, who insist that sperms and Cokes go together like ham and eggs. The contradictory results, the researchers said, was the result of different research methods, and we don’t want to know about that either.

You can’t make this stuff up people. Well, actually, we could, but – for a change – we didn’t.

You can find the Ig Noble awards on line, if you’re in the mood for more entertainment.

September 24, 2008

News to Amuse

Bettie probably never spent I dime on attorneys, I'm thinkin'

Bettie probably never spent I dime on attorneys, I'm thinkin'


By Rich Trzupek

-With financial markets imploding, it more important than ever to save a buck. According to published reports, DeKalb attorney Scott Robert Erwin saved himself the trouble of tucking numerous dollar bills into G-strings by using his law degree in a way that would have made John Marshall – or at least Hugh Hefner – proud.

The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission suspended Erwin for 15 months, saying that accepting nude dances in lieu of cash wasn’t an example of sterling legal ethics, or words to that effect.

So much for America, land of “opportunity”.

The story goes that Erwin befriended an exotic dancer working at a strip club in 2001. The attorney agreed to represent her, and they also agreed that she would perform nude dances for him in his office in lieu of reduced bills.

The lass eventually ran up bills totaling $7,000, and Erwin reported credited her for only $534 for her dancing, which suggests that either: a) she was in the Hillary Clinton class as far as lookers go, or b) Erwin is pretty tight with a buck.

In any case, the dancer eventually complained to the authorities and the authorities eventually nailed Erwin. Ah well, when you strip this story down to the bare essentials, the naked truth is that you ultimately get what you play for, bottoms up.

-The long awaited first debate is almost upon us and it represents the one, big chance for McCain to pull this out. Palin vs. Biden doesn’t worry me, despite the mainstream media spin on Alaska’s governor. Biden is a non-entity and that’s not going to change.

Barack Obama Who Is Not A Muslim, on the other hand has been particularly awful when called upon to speak off the cuff, saying “uh – uh – uh” almost as often as he parrots “change” and “hope”, and displaying a sullen arrogance that is remarkable in a political figure. Should McCain manage to press the right button, much as Reagan did against Carter with “there you go again” in 1980, he could stand a chance.

It is still Obama’s race to lose, no doubt about it. However, Barry might be just the guy to do it.

Here’s hoping.

-According to an AP report, at least 86 workers at a Grand Island, Nebraska meat packing plant lost their jobs for leaving work outside of their regular hours. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t raise any eyebrows, anywhere.
However, the workers in question were Muslim and they had an excuse for leaving early: God demanded it. This is representative of the collisions between western culture and traditions and a religion that demands unquestioning obedience.

This episode reminded me of my time working at an oil refinery in Saudi Arabia. “Saudiazation” was all the rage in the kingdom back then. This was the concept that all of the foreigners – Americans, Brits, Indians and Filipinos for the most part – who did the bulk of the work would be dispelled from the Kingdom, to be replaced by native Saudis.

It was a noble idea, to a point, and that point was prayer time. Being devout Sunni Muslims, Saudis were required to stop work, go to the mosque and pray, five times each day. Being Arab Saudis, they really didn’t have any choices in the areas of “devout”, “Sunni” or “Muslim”.

Oil refineries, and a host of other industries, can’t really take five breaks a day, without things blowing up and people getting maimed and/or killed. It just doesn’t work that way. Exhibiting a true international spirit, all of us – Yanks, Brits, Indians and Filipinos would get together and laugh at the thought of “Saudiazation”. Five minutes after “Saudization” began, the Kingdom would grind to a halt.

The American tradition of freedom of religion demands that people should be able to worship as they please, so long as worship remains within the bounds of the law. The American tradition of free enterprise demands that people should also be able to run their businesses as they please, with the same caveat. This case, and many more to come, pits these two principles against each other.

Personally, I don’t have any problem picking a side. If you think that our free enterprise principles detract from your ability to worship the god of your choice, you are more than welcome to find someplace else to live.

-And finally, at Casa Trzupek, the haunting of the dishwasher continues. Based on conversations with other parents, this is not an isolated incident. Kids, it seems, are convinced that dishwashers are haunted, a la Poldergeist, likely to swallow them in should they dare to rinse a used plate and insert it into the appliance.

Maybe they’ve got something here, along the lines of the “if I take the garbage out, then the garbage fairies who normally do this will be annoyed and do terrible things to me in my sleep” theory. It’s possible, one supposes, but probably unlikely.

As is the rest of the news.

Yet, it’s all true.

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