Best ride on the Dan Ryan Red Line ever

I avoid the Dan Ryan Red Line and the Blue Line past Belmont (O'Hare branch) and Clinton (Forest Park branch) like the plague. Building the El in the median of the highway was the worst idea ever. It's bad enough that you have to wait for the train surrounded on all sides by highway traffic, and then have to ride the thing deprived of urban scenery. What's even worse is that the whole experience assaults you like a tire iron to the face with the horrible realization that car culture is ineradicable. (And if you have some sort of perverse affection for such an alienating experience, consider that this kind of public transit makes transit-oriented development almost impossible.)

But today was different. I took the Red Line from Garfield to Chinatown during rush hour, after the snowstorm had started. So waiting on the platform was not dominated by cars zooming past, but by a peaceful scene of falling snow and cars crawling along. The train ride was dominated by a satisfying schadenfreude, as the El roared past traffic that had been brought to a standstill by the snow. In Chinatown, I heard on the radio that the commute from the Loop to O'Hare was taking three hours. A perfect public transit experience.


How to not mangle Russian presidents' names

Now that the secrets of Russian pronunciation have been revealed to me, here are some pointers on Russian presidents' names.

Борис Николаевич Ельцин / Boris Nikolaevich Yel'tsin: the Russian name Boris is not BORE-iss, it's bah-REESE, and the 'r' is rolled/trilled like the 'rr' in Spanish. Anglicization of the rest of the name is about right, except Russian 'i's are always pronounced like the 'ee' in 'see'.

Владимир Владимирович Путин / Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin: again, the Anglicized version of Vladimir has the stress wrong - it should be on the second syllable, not the first. The last name is roughly PU-teen.

Дмитрий Анатольевич Медведев / Dmitrii Anatol'evich Medvedev: Americans will want to say MED-vuh-dev, but it's actually more like mid-VYEH-dif.

Next time: Communists!


Sunday Parkways and fake meat Mexican food

Sunday Parkways was really nice. Chicago is finally emulating cities across the hemisphere and started to set aside some time when a few of the city's roads are closed to traffic - so they can be opened to everyone else who is excluded the rest of the time. The first event, which I didn't make it to, was October 5 and ran thru Logan Square and Humboldt Park. Yesterday the route went thru Little Village and East Garfield Park. I was there around noon - turnout was respectable but not spectacular. Community organizations and the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation organized it, and they got a lot of kids from the neighborhoods involved, directing traffic and helping with the logistics. There were also more white folks moving thru East Garfield Park than there probably have been in the last forty years combined.

The route went thru both Douglas Park and Garfield Park, which are both really nice and, when you add in Grant Park, Burnham Park, Lincoln Park, Humboldt Park, Jackson Park, Washington Park, and Marquette Park, make a pretty strong case for Chicago having the best park system in the country. No word yet on whether Sunday Parkways will be continued and expanded, but it sure would be a nice addition to the city's recreation opportunities if they started it back up in the spring and made it permanent.

It gave me a good excuse to go up to the West Side - because of how far away it is from both the places I've lived in Chicago, I've really only biked around there twice before, and I've never been to Garfield Park before. There are some really cool buildings in the neighborhood, including the incredible Garfield Park Fieldhouse, inspired by the Spanish Revival architecture at the 1915 Panama-California Exposition in San Diego's Balboa Park. Too bad the area is still one of the most violent neighborhoods in the city.

Since I was going to Little Village, I looked online for a Mexican place that wouldn't have lard in the beans and stumbled across El Faro (3936 W 31st St), which has a full menu of fake meat vegetarian dishes. I had a torta veggie cubano, a taco de soya estilo carne asada, and a 20 oz Jarritos for $9 incl tip. This is quite a find, and definitely worth going back to.



Until 2005, Obama lived in a condo half a block from my apartment.


Nuclear missiles in my back yard

A couple minutes from my place, in Jackson Park and Promontory Point, the US Army used to maintain anti-aircraft radar towers and nuclear-tipped Nike missiles. WTF!


Remember the anti-Japan hysteria of the 1980s? The real conspiracy is not against American trade supremacy. It's against vegetarians

I've been in 東京/Tokyo for about ten days now and everything's pretty good for the most part. Thanks to Ariel's sacrifice of tolerating an hour and half commute to her language classes, we're living in 新宿/Shinjuku, which has the busiest train station in the world, one of Tokyo's largest shopping districts, its main red light district, its metropolitan government, its largest concentration of skyscrapers, and its biggest gay and lesbian community. Fortunately we live on the edges of all the clamor while still within easy reach of trains and restaurants.

The restaurants, alas, are not worth much to a vegetarian. One important question I've been contemplating recently is how the Japanese maintain such iron discipline in their conspiracy against vegetarians. Consider:
  • We went to a Mexican restaurant that had no beans.
  • We went to a Thai restaurant that had no tofu.
  • Japanese restaurants fall into a handful of different categories - 寿司/sushi, 居酒屋/izakaya (bar food), 焼き鳥/yakitori (skewers), ラーメン/ramen, うどん/udon and そば/soba, とんかつ/tonkatsu (deep fried cutlets), 天ぷら/tenpura - each of which might have some vegetarian options but generally not enough to make a meal out of.
  • Dishes that could easily be made vegetarian, like noodles or tenpura, are invariably sabotaged by adding fish to the broth or sauce or sprinkling かつお節/bonito flakes on top.
  • Japanese curry, which I used to eat quite happily when I first lived in 中国/China, is always sabotaged by using a beef base.
  • Japan actually does have a tradition of meatless cooking adapted from the Chinese Buddhist tradition that makes China such a wonderful place to be a vegetarian. But 精進料理/shoujin ryouri, rather than a boon for vegetarians, is used to break our will: it's so expensive (around $100/person for a meal) that the one thing that could save us is beyond our grasp.
Okay, it's not really bad as all that. Italian food is pretty widespread, if by Italian food you mean mediocre spaghetti and pizza (none of which is vegan I'm sure). And far more important, the anti-vegetarian blockade has been fatally broken by the many good Indian places in Tokyo. Finally, if you have all day to do online research (which I do), you can find the handful of all-vegan restaurants produced by the best mini-fad in Tokyo since the electronic pet that dies if you don't press the feeding button.

In between looking for restaurants online, I'm reading Capital, volume 1, enjoying Tokyo's incredible transit system (including the new subway line a couple minutes from our place that opened three days before we got here), and making my way around to the sights.


Because the word "padre" should bring to mind militarism

I love baseball, but I cringe before baseball's open allegiance to American militarism and nationalism. The national anthem before every game, the practice of singing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch that swept the majors after 9/11, various invocations of patriotism by announcers - it's all just sickening. But this brings it to a new level: the San Diego Padres featuring "the only Military Opening Night in all of Major League Baseball".

In an attempt to appeal to the many people in the San Diego area working at military installations, the Padres today wore desert camouflage uniforms. The effect was horrifying: it was as if the entire field was controlled by an occupying army. So I was pretty happy when the Dodgers blew the game open in the seventh inning.

Even tho the Padres are named after priests, maybe it's not so inappropriate that they would wear militarist uniforms. The padres were, after all, the first wave of Spanish colonialism throughout the American southwest, just as our boys wearing desert camo are the vanguard of American imperialism today.


If only Google cared about transit

Google Maps is an incredible resource, but the way they treat transit is asinine. You have to zoom in far too close before subway stops even appear, and when they finally show up they float around in space, completely unconnected to the lines they run on. Since you're already zoomed in so far, it's impossible to see how the lines run unless you click on each stop and memorize which line(s) stop there. Only someone who knew the system well could make sense of something like these:

I don't know if adding subway lines and making transit systems show up on all the maps would actually encourage people to use transit, but I do know it would get rid of a real pain in my ass. I wrote to maps-transit-feedback@google.com (the only email address for feedback I could find at Google) and they said they'd pass it on to the relevant department. So if you want to make Google Maps more accessible for transit use, shoot off a quick email.


Garfield minus Garfield

This is hilarious - the comic Garfield, with Garfield himself removed, is 1) much funnier and 2) occasionally transcendent.

This is the most powerful one:


Is Rogers Park the real murder capital?

Here's what someone had to say about my old neighborhood in the Tribune today:

"You tell people about Rogers Park, and they sometimes think there are corpses on the street."

Does this strike anyone else as bizarre? Sure there's some tough guys hanging out on Morse, and up on Jarvis is a little rough, but I've never thought of Rogers Park as being particularly dangerous, plus there's more condos every time I head up there. Do you think he's talking about zombies?

Anyway, there's a new jazz club opening up in the old Morse Theatre this fall that's probably worth checking out.

Bringing jazz to Rogers Park: Will people follow?


Hidden meaning?

Does anyone else see a disturbing resemblance between The New York Times's Oscars coverage ad

and diagrams of slave ships?