November 08, 2008

An unsurprisingly disingenuous response

Responding to my recent letter, another reader of the paper responded with his own, "We can choose life or death". My response (posted in the R-M comments forum as they only allow people only one "official" letter every thirty days):

You have not addressed a single point that I made in my letter, instead using it as an excuse to write a tangentially-related letter about abortion. To recap, my points were: 1) the flyer distributed in at least two Galesburg churches was not completely accurate, 2) the flyer and bulletin together convey a clear pro-McCain endorsement, which puts the churches' tax status at risk, 3) threatening voters with excommunication over their vote is unethical and desperate, and 4) single-issue voting is counterproductive anyway. Did you intend to actually refute any of these points?

To expand on #3, I'd also like to point out that automatic excommunication for voting for a pro-choice candidate is not the position of the Roman Catholic Church or of the US bishops; so-called 'latae sententiae' excommunication only follows from serious sin (like abortion itself). Last I checked, the official word was that one should pay close attention to abortion as an issue of top importance, but not focus on it to the exclusion of all else; and that though one shouldn't support a candidate solely for their pro-choice stance, one can vote for a pro-choice candidate for other reasons (as long as they are important and not frivolous). You claim that 'all' of the other issues are of 'this world', when there are numerous other life issues out there, including war, health care, welfare, and the death penaltywe can argue about their relative importance, and the RCC does indeed put abortion at the top of the list, but it is deeply disingenuous of you to pretend they don't exist.

"Chicago is not the most corrupt American city. It's the most theatrically corrupt." --Studs Terkel

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October 29, 2008

Electioneering in church

I just submitted the following for publication in the Galesburg Register-Mail:

Last week, in my parish bulletin, there was an insert entitled "Where do the candidates stand on key issues?" It's misleading and inaccurate in several places; for instance, it claims Obama opposed a bill "that would have provided protection for babies who survive abortions", but in fact such infants were already covered by existing law, and his votes against the relevant bill were for other reasons. Quotes on immigration and Iraq make it sound as if there were no differences between the two on these issues. And the clear slant of the flyer is pro-McCain: of the twelve "various issues" presented, six are about abortion, and the next page of the bulletin contains a full column that asserts that one's top priority "must" be "opposition to abortion" (as we also heard in the sermons of the day).

Is it illegal? Perhaps not, but it skates very close to the edge. If endorsing candidate X is electioneering, and illegal for churches and nonprofits, then surely mandating a singular focus on issue Y, while simultaneously handing out a piece of paper that says "only candidate X believes Y" is just as bad.

One priest in town reportedly went so far as to say that anyone voting for a pro-choice politician---for any reason---should not receive Communion. Threatening Obama voters with excommunication is both desperate and absurd, and mostly serves to make the church look like a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Republican party. I'd be sure I'd misunderstood, except that similar reports are coming in from across the country. This is spiritual abuse, and it's worse than illegal: it's terribly unethical. It also undermines their position as spiritual leaders.

The worst part is, single-issue voting is dumb even if one issue is your top priority. So-called "pro-life" politicians have long understood that abortion is job security: all they have to do is say they are pro-life, and they get votes from single-issue voters. Why would they want to actually stop abortion? These politicians can claim to be pro-life, while failing to actually address abortion (much less any other life issue) in any way, and on other issues they are free to do anything at all since their voting base doesn't appear to care about anything else.

It is for this reason that the wise voter---liberal or conservative, Catholic, Protestant, or otherwise---will look at the entire candidate in making their decision. Single-issue voting is irresponsible, simplistic, and counterproductive, and no church should be in the business of encouraging it.

UPDATE: Printed in full today (30 Oct) under the title "Church and politics colliding in Galesburg". I've already gotten two voicemails at my work phone from Galesburg residents who specifically tracked down my number just to thank me for writing it; it seems to have struck a nerve. Some interesting online comments on the Register-Mail posting, too.

"What justifies the [Boumediene] decision is the practical necessity and importance of reassuring the citizens of the United States and the world at large that the United States had not given up the role it assumed after World War II as the chief proponent of the rule of law worldwide." --Noah Feldman, "When judges make foreign policy", NYT

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July 18, 2008

A win and a loss

About a year ago, chain coffee shop Starbucks built a store in Galesburg, already home to two coffee shops and a coffee kiosk, all independent. One of them will be closing soon...

...the Starbucks!

Though I'm hardly happy to see any Galesburg business closing, I confess that it's a little gratifying that if the town's not big enough for four coffee shops, it's the indies squeezing out the chain rather than the other way round....

"Look, I know it's embarrassing and it makes you feel kind of silly. I understand. But you should never make someone feel bad for liking you. It's a compliment. It means she thinks you're a good guy. Don't make her feel like she's wrong about that. It doesn't mean you have to like her, it doesn't mean you have to play with her, it doesn't mean she has to be your girlfriend. The only thing you're obligated to do is to say, 'Thank you.' Nothing else. Okay?" --Leigh Anne Wilson

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July 12, 2008

I resemble a teenage vandal

I just got back from the office, and as I was walking past First Congregational, a cop car pulled up at the curb (from the wrong direction), and two cops got out and stopped me. Again. This was the third time in about a week and a half, and this time I got the actual reason the cops keep stopping me and wanting to search my bag (beyond the ever-vague "you match the description of a suspect").

For the last few weeks, Galesburg has fallen victim to a number of graffitists. They aren't even the good kind, the graffiti artists that (to my eye) enhance the urban landscape; they're just tagging with the initials of their various groups. A couple of them got caught just a couple days ago, but police have been patrolling more for a while now.

And I never connected my being stopped to the string of taggings, but tonight's cop told me that one of the suspects is a white kid with long-for-a-guy brown hair, who carries the spray paint in a sling backpack. My satchel is easily mistaken for a sling, apparently, and I for a teenager. I'm sure my tendency to be walking home at 2:30 in the morning doesn't help, but one of the other times I was stopped (also outside First Congregational—across from the police station, so the message to the vandals might be, avoid the police station) it was in broad daylight.

And although it's irritating and I'll certainly keep complaining about it, I can't even get my knickers all in a Constitutional twist because (well, according to them, but it's plausible) they really do have probable cause to keep searching me. Sigh.

UPDATE: No, they really don't. Further investigating my rights in this (thanks ACLU!) indicate that unless they are specifically detaining me, I can just leave; and in any case they still need a warrant to search my bag, which probably means they'd have to arrest me first. Which they won't do; what are they going to say, "he had long hair and was carrying a bag!"? Well, maybe they'd try. Still, I'm a little tired of being stopped and searched; next time I'm going to force the issue by at least refusing consent on the search.

"The web designers are discovering what the Jews of Mea Shearim have known for decades: just because you all agree to follow one book doesn't ensure compatibility, because the laws are so complex and complicated and convoluted that it's almost impossible to understand them all well enough to avoid traps and landmines, and you're safer just asking for the fruit plate." --Joel Spolsky

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July 05, 2007

Party: success

One of the things I've been doing every New Year's for the past several is head on over to Zach's (formerly in Urbana, last year in Chicago) for a multi-day megaparty with one day for gaming, one for movies, and so on. Loads of fun. I've kind of wanted to try something similar, and (wanting to start small) I aimed for a two-day party this year: one a more or less traditional 4th of July barbecue, and the second a little gaming party on the 5th.

While it lacked one of the hallmarks of a good Zach party—many people staying the night and hence the feeling that the party never actually stops—I wasn't really aiming for that, yet. Since it was my first try at a multi-day party, I was really just hoping that I'd get someone here on each day! Yesterday was a success, with about a dozen people showing up at various times. For the most part, it was just a nice party, lasting through the afternoon and almost til dark, with most of us spending most of the time sitting out on the porch and enjoying the day. (The excitement of the day was when the porch swing collapsed (!), though fortunately the only casualty was a broken beer bottle.) Today, then, was a success beyond my wildest hopes: I'd figured I'd get two or three people (plus myself), and it'd last for a few hours. In fact, at the height of the party I had ten people, ranging in age from 9 to older than me, with two tables running. The party wrapped up with a four-person game of Settlers that wrapped up about an hour ago. And the best part is, that was not including a whole bunch of folks both out-of-town and local who wanted to come but had a one-time conflict; so hopefully if I repeat this next year it'll be even bigger-better. (The 4th is a Friday next year, which will help, too.) Maybe then I can think about expanding. :)

And the gaming party let me offload the most perishable of my overbought barbecue party food. Which was an unforeseen plus, but it sure worked out well. My main leftovers at this point are pasta salad, which I'll eat most of over the next few days, and some fresh cantaloupe and pineapple, not yet sliced, so I've got a week or so on that. Yay!

"FIGHTING IGNORANCE SINCE 1973 (it's taking longer than we thought)"

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May 25, 2007


My teaching year ended at 4pm today. Of course, I still have grading and so forth, but there was a palpable decrease in pressure. Originally intending to go home and to bed, I dicked around in my office for a while and didn't make it out until almost 6. On my way home, mindful of the caffeine headache that had been developing for a while (all I'd had was a chai this morning), I decided to swing by Kaldi's for a coffee to go.

Great decision! On my way out, I started chatting with John-who-hangs-out-at-Kaldi's, and found that for the first time in ages I was free to spontaneously decide to just sit down and unexpectedly talk. Our conversation ranged from Discordian Universalism to FP to the Scottish National Party, and it was getting dark when I finally set off for home at almost 8:30. Man, did I need that. It put me in an unbelievably good mood: although I took a much needed retreat to Urbana last weekend, this sort of random-chance long and meaningful conversation is the sort of thing that I thrive on, and that I haven't gotten nearly enough of this term.

'"Choice" language is somewhat inadequate to the task---especially since it hides the fact that pro-choicers are not fighting for the right to pick (which is what choice language sounds like sometimes), but rather the right to decide.' --Chris Tessone

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April 17, 2007

Democracy in action

I was drafted into being a "polling place administrator" for the municipal elections today, which basically meant I floated around three polling sites (covering seven precincts) and stood ready to resolve any technical problems that might arise with the equipment. Which, happily, didn't happen.

But it did give me a chance to meet a lot of people and see how things were run at various sites. If they don't keep around this position, I definitely plan to sign up as an election judge (as I've been meaning to do for ages now)—because I'd be good at it and there aren't nearly enough new people doing it. (Nearly every judge I met had been an election judge for at least a few years, many of them for decades.)

Also interesting was the attitudes of the various election judges, for good or for bad. Like the judge who started doing some of the closing-down stuff early, because "nobody's going to show up in the next ten minutes". (Someone did!) Or the judge that thought there should be some simple test that everyone should have to pass before being allowed to vote, to keep out the "retards". (Yikes.) Or the judge that thought there was way too much fuss about all this privacy stuff, because they weren't really interested in peeking at your vote. In a more positive direction, one judge found it very important to rearrange the handicapped voting booth so that it would actually fit a wheelchair behind it and be accessible, and so that nobody could walk behind it and see what they were doing. Or the many that went very carefully over what the voter needed to do to successfully vote their ballot. Some of them didn't always see the point of all the specific procedures—and would therefore be inclined to cut some corners—but not one of them would have let anyone's vote go uncounted.

As the day wrapped up, I headed over to City Hall, at first to see if there was anything else I was needed for. When there wasn't, I thought I'd hang around a couple minutes anyway, just to get the results. Four of the seven wards had an aldermanic election this cycle, and all four were contested. It was a rout. The people of this city are seriously displeased. (This may partially be fallout from the Super Walmart snub, along with various other "we're ignoring our constituents" snubs the council as a whole has made.) In three of the wards, a challenger beat an incumbent by a factor of two or more. (In two of those wards, this was even in the face of having a second challenger taking a significant number of votes!) In the fourth, the incumbent won by a margin of just nine votes. The turnout was also reflective of this: those four wards had a total of 2,349 votes cast, to just 668 votes (for various school board seats) in the other wards.

So, just another exciting election day in Galesburg!

"If we elect a bum worse than the one we threw out, we can vote for someone else four years later. Democracy's not that complicated. If we don't start behaving like we live in one, we'll have no one to blame but ourselves for the consequences." --Ben Joravsky

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March 23, 2007

Yup, it's spring all right

Forecast: Thunderstorms, Thunderstorms, Thunderstorms...

Seeds of democracy,
Nurtured with honesty,
Become our liberty
When we share the load. --Dan Berggren, "From every mountain side"

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December 01, 2006

Six to twelve inches, such bull

[my house under more than a foot of snow]The newspaper was predicting ten inches of snow for today and the usual websites 6–12". My ass. That's more than a foot out there, and it's wet, sticky snow at that, so an enormous pain in the ass to shovel. They've plowed Broad St about ten times just in the last two or three hours—and it stopped snowing long before that—but they still haven't been plowing side streets, so even if I had done my driveway (and I haven't), I'd not be able to go anywhere with my car. Plus, I'm not sure I could get back up the driveway again.

My next-door neighbour actually spent almost six hours on the road this morning: two trying to get to work up in the Quad Cities (but only getting as far as Woodhull, because I-74 wasn't plowed), then a while getting back to Galesburg, then he was going to stop at the Hy-Vee on Henderson for supplies, but that exit from 34 was closed because of an accident, and then the Main St exit was under more than a foot of snow, so they stopped him from going on, but wouldn't let him turn around or go back. They kept him there for about two hours before he could finally come home. And then his pickup truck couldn't make it up the driveway, so he had to dig out the shovel and try to clear enough of a path. He has a snowblower, but it appears to be cold-blooded—worked fine when he tested it a month ago, in 50° weather, but wouldn't start today. Last I heard he was going to try warming it on an engine heater block to see if that helped (but by that point he'd gotten the truck up the driveway, so it was less urgent).

[Nutmeg standing among snow up to his shoulder]For my part, I have a chorus rehearsal tonight, and I'm wondering how many people will be there; a lot of the group come from some distance away, and may be snowed in. I also have some stuff I need to get printed and done at school, but I think I'll just put that off until I get back from New Orleans, because I have basically no way to get there other than walking, and I'd rather not trudge through snowdrifts for twenty minutes if I don't have to.

UPDATE: rehearsal cancelled at the last minute, when they realised that although we could get into the church, there was no place for anyone to park!

"I would believe only in a God that knows how to Dance." --Nietzsche

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June 09, 2006


I'd about given up hope that he'd do it! Last Saturday, at graduation, Stephen Colbert (yes, that one) gave Knox's commencement address and got an honorary doctorate from us. It was a brilliant speech, and that alone would've been worth the price of admission. Not to mention he deserves the award for what he's done, both politically and socially. (I would link to a video of the speech, but amazingly, YouTube only has clips from it; although, you should at least watch this one, which contains a bit of the speech that got, er, amended out of the printed transcript.)

But ever since it was announced, once we thought about it, we were all sort of hoping Knox would get a shout out on his show. I mean, think of the PR! And given his persona, how could he possibly resist bragging and demanding that people call him a doctor? But the whole week went by with no mention of us. Too bad.

Tonight, though, at the end of the Report, there he was standing there in his Knox D.F.A. hood (just the hood on his regular suit, none of the rest of the regalia), and he mentioned Knox, and Galesburg, and the size of the graduating class (250, close enough), and the degree itself got a bit of screen time with the big KNOX COLLEGE across the top. Woo! Yee-ha!

Not that we're hurting for applications right now anyway. But you simply can't pay for that kind of national exposure. This is so exciting.

'Somewhere in the quiet, leafy recesses of the Bush family, somebody is thinking, "Wrong son. Should've tried the smart one."' --Garrison Keillor

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April 26, 2006

Who needs freecycle?

Here in Galesburg, we have free municipal trash pickup. (Well, not "free", but we pay in taxes and not per-pickup.) But fifty weeks out of the year, you can't put out items that weigh more than 50 lbs or that are longer than, I think, five feet in any dimension. It makes sense, because that way during those weeks they can send around a single person manning each garbage truck.

But two weeks every year, they have Magic Trash Pickup, where anything you put out on the curb, except tires, will get picked up and whisked away.

...just not necessarily by the garbage truck.

See, by making there be only two weeks out of the year (one in April, one in October) that you can put out heavy things like couches and tables and fridges and washing machines and bookcases, that means that everyone trying to throw such things out has them out at the same time. Which makes it worthwhile for scavengers to roam the streets in their pickup trucks to find the good stuff. Which, in turn, means that people will "throw out" some things that they know are perfectly good, and don't belong in a landfill, fairly secure in the knowledge that someone else will come by and pick it up later. I just did a circuit of three blocks of Broad St with Nutmeg, and already there's nothing of worth left except one window that appeared intact and one narrow wooden door without hardware. There was quite a bit more when I walked him three hours ago (and probably even more before that).

It's hard being a packrat when these weeks come along. I have a firm rule that I do not pick up anything unless I have a very specific use in mind for it and a place for it to go (and even then, nothing with upholstery—ew). That rule has actually prevented me from scavenging anything in the past, although today I acquired an end table and a heavy wooden bookshelf, both in fair condition. I was able, with some effort, to restrain myself from taking a really nice old heavy rolling desk chair (the kind that weighs a ton because it's all steel, with firm vinyl seat and back), and a whole stack of perfectly good windows and screens.

It's really a great system, though; a low-tech freecycle.

"Some men think a green-eyed woman is exotic. The truth is she's got fat eyes." --Cecil Adams

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April 13, 2006


I had just brought Nutmeg in from his walk (hurry up Nutmeg, it's going to start raining any second) at about 10:25 when the sirens started going off. So, I scoop him up and grab a leash, grab the radio, and go to my basement. The absolutely spectacular electrical storm we'd been having—which was already picking up wind—got even windier and started pouring rain. Knox County had apparently been under tornado warning until 10:30, based on radar, but then it got extended to 11:15 when an actual tornado was sighted a few miles from town. So we settled in.

It was a little worrisome when the radio station suddenly cut out, and six of the eight or so strong FM stations were just broadcasting silence (the other two were broadcasting music). Apparently several stations had been tied into the live broadcast from downtown, which got hit with a power problem. They came back a bit later, and the rest of the warning period was uneventful other than hearing the wind and driving rain. Oh, and the hail.

[Several big pieces of hail in my hand]

The radio was warning of possible baseball-size (!) hail, and it sure sounded loud, but when I finally went outside about 11:25 (maybe fifteen, twenty minutes after the last round of window-pelting hail) [Pieces of hail, and a nickel] it was only about nickel-sized. And the window that I didn't get a chance to close got completely soaked. But this part of town appears to have come through unscathed. Power's out in other parts of town, and they're reporting that the flagpole at the post office is bent over, but we'll see what that means.

Aaaaand they just went back to regular programming. So I guess that means the danger period is really over now. :)

"These conditions can signify one of two things: (1) some horrible disease, trauma, or other problem, or (2) nothing." --Cecil Adams

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March 22, 2006

The bank fiasco

A lot of you have asked, so here's the skinny on my bank problem.

It started when I went to check my balance and saw this message. The relevant line is "Your initial password will be the same as your User ID...." Holy crap!

So, I sent a detailed email to the bank's address as well as to the two people I'd had previous email contact with. The email not only pointed out why that password policy was totally insecure, in case it wasn't obvious, but it detailed the steps they'd need to take in order to remedy the problem. This was Sunday night.

Monday morning, and no response, and no change on the site. Monday afternoon, I called the operations VP at the bank (who hadn't been on the original email). I introduced myself and explained the problem. After several minutes of her trying to claim that the system was not insecure and me explaining why she was wrong, she admitted that she had read my email (why didn't she say so before?) and had forwarded it to their IT person, who had "taken it under advisement". I confess to getting completely flustered at this point, and we hung up. I was just so amazed, and I still am, that officers of this bank are apparently the only people in the whole world that don't see this as a significant security breach.

Right before the close of business on Monday, she sent me an email. Apparently their IT manager had read the email and wished to respond, so she wanted to know if I'd be free for a conference call later this week, or an in-person meeting early next week. What is she, his secretary? He couldn't respond to me himself? I sent a response, giving more examples of why it's a problem, and letting them know that the thing that bothered me most was not as much the initial situation as their continuing casualness about the security of people's financial information.

The next day she sent me an email notifying me that her response was being sent via US Mail. I haven't the faintest clue why she couldn't send them via email, but anyway.

Today the letter arrived. It was more of the same. Some choice quotes:

"Only a current customer of internet banking or a person our customer shared their ID would know the formula, therefore the risk of who would have the ability to enter the system is negligible."
Gee, why even have passwords, then, if the usernames are so hard to guess? They aren't, of course. Out of courtesy to the bank's other customers (because I'm sure not feeling very loyal to the bank anymore), I won't reveal the whole scheme here, but suffice it to say that users have no choice over their account name, and it contains nothing but (deterministic parts of) your full name, followed by a number which is usually 00 (presumably a serial number).

"Your suggestion that the password should have been mailed or requiring clients to come into the bank has several flaws. Stealing someone's mail is still the highest form of identity theft today. Many of our clients do not live conveniently close by or keep hours that would allow them to stop by the bank to receive a new password. This method would prevent a vast majority of our clients from receiving a new password, and therefore, access to their online account(s). The idea behind internet banking is customer convenience."
The clear message here is that the bank ranks customer convenience as a higher priority than customer security, and furthermore that they are willing to sacrifice everyone's security for some people's convenience. Furthermore, she is implying that the security risks posed by thieves stealing mailed passwords are greater than those posed by simply giving the thieves the passwords outright. It'd be comical if it weren't so serious. The chilling punchline: "Our new provider is one of the top internet banking companies in the nation."

In an interesting recent twist, I notice that the page detailing the new password policy no longer exists—not only is there no link to it, they've actually taken the page down. I wonder if they randomised the passwords of the people who've not yet logged in? Because, as I told them, that's not enough; since this hole has been open for nearly three weeks now, they have to assume that even if an account has been used since the changeover, that might have been by a malicious user. So now I think they're trying to cover their tracks, perhaps realising the flaws in the original security, perhaps not, but still not willing to actually fix the security breach.

So, like I said, now seeking another bank. Hopefully local. But while being a local bank may win you warm fuzzy points, it certainly can't trump a complete disregard for information security. At this point, I can't imagine what they'd have to do to convince me to stay, after their thorough work at convincing me they are completely clueless about security and just don't care. I just hope their other customers are lucky enough not to fall victim to fraud and theft as a result of the lax security.

"That there is still a craving for occasional formality is evident on the two such occasions left for it---the prom and the wedding. It would be nice if the older generation could show them what it really is. A hint: It is not riding around town in an impossibly long and expensive car, throwing up." --Miss Manners

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March 20, 2006


I should be working on my syllabi, but what am I doing? Shopping for a new bank. Details later, but it's a doozy.

Readers in Illinois, remember to vote in tomorrow's primary!

UPDATE: the whole story.

"Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You did not place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible." --Jamie Raskin

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February 15, 2006


I just went to take out the garbage and I about died just going down the stairs. We've had a light sleet/freezing rain mix and there is now a smooth 1/8" plate of ice on the ground. Even taking baby steps (after I realised the situation), I ended up skating all the way down my driveway and had to walk back up on the grass, which was fairly slick itself. Craziness. Hope it melts before I have to leave tomorrow morning....

"Oh, wait. You're in California, where they put their hands over their ears and go "lalala" when urban blight is mentioned. No wonder." --Pete McFerrin

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January 28, 2006

Fire aftermath

The rubble from the fire is still hot, and they are still using a few hundred gallons of water a day to cool it off (having used a couple million gallons on the fire itself). And we have a better perspective on the more long-term damage.

The big news is that there may have been a casualty after all, but we still aren't sure. A guy who had been at a bar across the street, and was seen walking down Main a half hour before the fire was called in, has been missing since then. No body has been found, but it'll be a while yet before they can get in there.

The middle building on Prairie took a ton of damage from the collapsing wall. The upstairs apartments lost their living rooms, so the tenants were mostly able to recover kitchenware and some clothes, but lost most of the stuff they had in their main living space. The downstairs businesses lost their back rooms and offices. The news is not all bad for them, though; the Frame Works owner has recovered a painting from his office he thought lost, one that his mother had made thirty years ago before dying in a car crash. Not a scratch on it. Most of his inventory was okay, and he's setting up shop in the old Galesburg Glass storefront on Broad. The scrapbook store was moving to internet-only operation anyway (they were already doing clearance sales), so they appear to have just done that a bit early. The building itself, though? They won't know for a month or two, but there's a good chance it'll have to come down too.

A wall on the other side crashed into the top of the lawyers' office building, actually buckling a structural support. At last report, they were fairly sure they could bring in some extra supports to shore it up.

An ember actually got under the roofing of Billiards on Main, across the street, and started a fire there that nobody could find for a little while; fortunately the only damage there was a bit of wall scorching in a stairwell, nothing structural.

No word on the Red Cross building. The rumours a few days ago were that it, or at least all the equipment inside, may have been a loss, but maybe no news is good news, eh? They've temporarily moved their operations into a building the fire department uses for training.

That's it, then. Hopefully in the months to come we'll develop a good plan for that space. I definitely think condos should be somewhere in the mix, because there needs to be something downtown for the people who are at a point in their lives where they want to stop renting, but aren't interested in the picket-fence-and-a-yard route (or just don't like shoveling the sidewalk). Maybe some condo units over a large catering space with a broad hardwood floor at least 40' by 60'? I suppose that would be too much to hope for. :)

"If it is abortion that is actually being fought, criminalizing it is not the most effective answer. This should not surprise Christians---we are called to a much less adversarial and judgemental relationship with the people around us, and we should be even more eager to use this approach when the question involves young women who are routinely marginalized by our society." --Chris Tessone

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January 23, 2006

Galesburg's burning

UPDATE: Pictures.

Holy crap, downtown is on fire! I was just closing down for the night, letting Nutmeg out, and the sky looked funny, so I leaned out and saw huge flames leaping an undetermined distance to the south-southeast. So I grabbed my coat and camera, and ran down Cherry Street; as I got closer it was clear it was right downtown. It looks like it must've started in the antiques mall in the old OT's department store, then spread to the adjacent antique store; these fell as I got to Main. The old warehouse in back of OT's was billowing black, black smoke at this point. I kept going to Simmons, and hung a left, but cops were keeping people on the far side of that street, and with good reason, because embers were flying at least two blocks and the wind was blowing that way. Thank God there's ice and snow on all the trees, or we could have had the whole downtown on fire. As it was, we nearly lost the entire block—the wall with the lawyers' office was on fire, though I think they contained it, and despite their best efforts to keep it wet the building across the alley from the warehouse was catching fire too, though just a little and it seems they got inside, so it was probably okay. By the time I ended up back around by the warehouse, the first two floors were burning and the uppers were billowing black smoke, and as I stood there—in a parking lot a half block away, it became unbearably hot just to look at it (and this in an ambient temp of 27), and I had to back up a ways, not to mention the flying fiery chunks of stuff that were coming at us, against the wind. "Us", because quite a crowd was starting to gather at this point (thank God again that this was literally in the middle of the night, because if it weren't, they'd have serious crowd control problems, as Norm pointed out). I stood and talked to the Zephyr guys for a while as we watched the fire progress. After the back wall exploded and the righthand corner column collapsed, the fire died down a lot. Hopefully the other corner column falls inward, because otherwise it could seriously damage the building across the alley even if it otherwise escapes the fire. While we were standing there a guy with a scanner told us there were two other fires in town, one down on Grand and the other on Henderson, but we never got confirmation although we heard sirens heading towards Henderson. At this point there wasn't much left to see, so I headed home, because I had stupidly left Nutmeg outside when I left (of course, I get back and he doesn't feel the least bit cold). I had to post this right away, of course. I took over a hundred shots, and I think my camera cable is at work, and I'm seriously considering driving in right now to upload them. The Zephyr guys were taking pictures, and I saw a couple people who might have been Register-Mail photographers, but I don't know how early they got there. TKS probably didn't get any, but then they don't go to press till Wednesday so there's no rush there. Man, I'm feeling disjointed right now. Half of a square block just burned to the ground in a matter of an hour or two, and the rest of the block isn't quite out of the woods yet. Aside from the lawyers' office I already mentioned, there's a bank, the Red Cross chapter, a loan company, a few apartments, an IDOT bureau, a scrapbook store, and I think one or two other things on that block. I wonder what the city will do with the empty space now? Maybe a park... one of the people I talked to pointed out that Galesburg needs some green space downtown. I certainly hope they don't just pave it into more parking lots.

Posted by blahedo at 04:12 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

January 18, 2006


A reader wrote in with the following question:

Do you like living in Galesburg, and if so why? What makes it tolerable? What are the good things about the town (as opposed to the many benefits and satisfactions associated with Knox...)?
and I thought it would be a nice topic to write about here.

The first answer is, yes!, I love living in Galesburg. "What makes it tolerable" is exactly the wrong question, because it means you've already rejected the city and are trying to talk yourself back into liking it. I don't tolerate the city, I enjoy it—not that it's perfect, of course.

The second half is also a bit fallacious, because divorcing the college from the town is really throwing out quite a lot of good. When school is in session, hardly a weekend goes by that there isn't some sort of performance on campus, and near the end of the term there are often so many that one can't even attend them all. Local theatre fans already know that Knox has a fabulous theatre department, with a major production three times a year and a score of smaller "black-box" productions, directed by students and sometimes even written by them. They aren't always great, but they are rarely terrible, and some of the best have actually been the student productions. Knox also doesn't hurt for musical ensembles, both vocal and instrumental, which perform regularly. (The Knox Jazz Combo performs at McGillacuddy's every week school is in session.) Sporadically, there are also art shows, film screenings, and lectures, most of which are open to the general public, and easy to find out about if you're interested in that sort of thing.

But the cultural cachet of the town isn't restricted to Knox's offerings. Sandburg (the community college) has its share, as does the community at large; there are two local community theatre groups, various city musical groups, an art gallery downtown, and Q's Cafe has recently opened its walls as a gallery for some pretty good local artists (in addition to selling great sandwiches, and don't miss their bread pudding).

Which brings me to the food. Alas, we do not have a wide selection of ethnic food (though the Mexican food is decent—Jalisco's is fantastic, and El Rancherito isn't half bad either). But we do have some pretty good restaurants, including the Packinghouse and the Landmark (try the Bananas Foster Crêpe, the rum caramel sauce is out of this world) down in the Seminary Street district and the Steak House up on Henderson Street. Uncle Billy's is a high-quality bakery, also in the Seminary Street district, that uses all-natural ingredients, organic where possible, and is attached to Cornucopia, which is a pretty complete natural foods store. I manage to buy nearly all my food there, the only lack being soda and organic/free-range meat. For that, though, one can go (though I haven't, yet) to Thrushwood Farms or one of the local food co-ops, and get locally-grown meat that may not be technically organic but fills a similar niche.

And I can't help but mention that Galesburg is small and cheap to live in. Small, so you can walk or bike pretty much everywhere; and cheap, so you can buy or rent for a small fraction of what you'd pay most other parts of the country. If you own a house elsewhere, and have more than a year or two of equity in it, you'll probably be able to buy a house in Galesburg for cash. Better yet, get a mortgage here and use the rest to restore your century-old house to its original Victorian, Edwardian, or Tudor splendour. It's a local hobby.

Galesburg has downsides, of course. If you get the midnight munchies, your options are pretty much limited to Steak and Shake, Alfano's Pizza, Taco Bell, or one of the 24-hour supermarkets. There's no club scene downtown, just live and DJed music at the various bars, not that everybody will see this as a downside. It's still rebounding from recent manufacturing plant closures, though the local economy is coping pretty well, and new businesses are still opening every month. The trains run through town on two major cross-country lines (Chicago–San Francisco and Chicago–Los Angeles) more or less constantly, which is really something that you get used to fast, but it does bother some people. And it's really lacking in specialty stores like yarn shops and game shops and ballroom dance shoe shops, but for these things it's nice to note that Peoria and the Quad Cities are each a 45-minute drive away and Amtrak runs three times a day from downtown Galesburg to downtown Chicago and back. This also helps some people get their Thai and Indian food fix. :)

So yes, I really do like living in Galesburg. It's a small city, but it's a city, and it's an interesting city with nice people, and it busts most of the bad stereotypes that coastal folks seem to have about "small Midwestern towns" (though to be sure it fulfills several of the nicer stereotypes). I'm always happy to encourage people to join me here!

"I don't have to be subject to the tyranny of AltaVista." --Stan Zdonik

Posted by blahedo at 11:53 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack