Wednesday, February 27, 2008


I sat down last week to do some serious goofing off in front of the computer screen. I had the itch to get my nerd on. I sat down and proceeded to log in, only to discover that as I typed, nothing happened.

I rebooted. Same result. Concerned, I looked up the controls and found the keyboard driver had been corrupted. This was another sign.

It started with the mysterious internet activity as I was doing something online. Then there were the vague messages from my virus software saying it was trying to shut down but couldn't. I began to suspect that this was no longer the computer I had brought home last year.

It was corrupt. Unclean. Virus-laden.

I tried reinstalling the drivers, but I couldn't locate them; nor could I bring them up via the internet, since I couldn't type addresses. Basically, I had a paperweight that hummed softly. Not very useful.

So I did what I always do when I have a computer problem - hit up my brother for help. For the cost of lunch, he confirmed my suspicions: a virus was running amok through my hard drive.

Now I have a newly-rebuilt hard drive, and I've spent the last week reinstalling software and jumping through the hoops of getting my computer back to where it was before the crash.

It's annoying that we live in a world where computers nearly think for themselves and we communicate instantaneously, and some horse's ass gets his jollies by fucking with other people's stuff.

I've taken steps to insure that my computer is more secure, and all my work stuff is on my Mac, which isn't under much virus threat. So it really was a case of no harm, no foul. I still want to kick the little twerp who wrote the virus in the ass though.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Gangs of Chicago

On a fall day in 1989, Sudhir Venkatesh, a Master's sociology student at the University of Chicago, wandered into nearby housing projects, something he was explicitly warned against. Venkatesh was armed only with his wits and an old sociology survey, asking questions such as "What does it feel like to be black and poor?"

Fortunately, Venkatesh is nearly fearless and he's equally curious, because he came away from that night having met JT, a leader of the Black Kings, one of the biggest gangs in Chicago. He chronicled this story in Gang Leader for a Day, in which he described the five years he spent with JT and others in the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago.

This was an amazing book; Venkatesh, in addition to being fearless, curious and somewhat naive, is also one hell of a writer, and the final product is easy to read and well worth the time.

As he spent more time in the housing projects learning more about the inner workings of the gang, he also learned how the people living there deal with the presence of poverty and the crack-dealing gangs. He never glorified there life; in fact, Venkatesh was frequently uncomfortable around JT when he enforced his rules through violence or when he discussed aspects of the drug trade, and as he gained the trust of the residents, he lost the trust of the police assigned to the projects.

In the end, Gang Leader for A Day is a fascinating look at inner-city poverty, and how the residents, gangs, and others live and work together in a fragile, somewhat uneasy alliance.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Looking Back

A few weeks ago, someone asked me just how much I read. I couldn't answer. I probably read 25-30 books last year, but I honestly can't say for certain. So my plan is to write a paragraph or two about everything I read this year and see just how far I get. I already posted one review, and here's the second.

I'm shamefully ignorant of Missouri and St. Louis history. I know quite a bit about US and world history, but Missouri & St. Louis? Little, if any. This is not something I'm proud of. St. Louis has a long and distinguished history as French and Spanish traders settled a small outpost just below the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

Which led me to A History of Missouri: 1673 to 1820 by William E. Parrish. It's the first in a series regarding the region's history. I found this to be fairly interesting, especially in the early settlement period, where names such as the Chouteau, Christy, and Rosati frequently came up.

I'm not going to call this a particularly engrossing book, however. Parrish's writing style is very dry and factual. There's not a lot of side stories or deep looks into the characters of the early settlers of the region, but that's not the purpose of the book or the series. As a survey of Missouri history, it was very informative and a quick 200 pages, which made it nice to read as I recovered from the flu last week.

I'll probably pick up the next book in the series sometime this spring, but I have plenty to occupy my time between now and then.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Life and Liberty

A while back I heard an interview with Andrew Napolitano, a judicial analyst with Fox News. His most recent book, A Nation of Sheep, discusses government excesses in a post-911 world. I poked around the library, but was unable to find that book. I wound up reading Constitutional Chaos: What Happens When the Government Breaks Its Own Laws, his earlier book.

Napolitano's basic argument is that the US government willingly and happily breaks laws every day in order to enforce them. The book is full of examples ranging from simple criminal cases to post-911 abuses, including the questionable incarcerations of Jose Padilla and Yasir Hamdi. Napolitano's basic theme is that government is not your friend.

This book is an eye-opener, and it's disturbing to see just how bad thing could be even before September 11. Unfortunately, it seemed like Napolitano went out of his way to personally bash Bill Clinton and Janet Reno several times; no surprise given his background and current affiliations.

Still, partisan sniping aside, this is a worthwhile book to read, if for no other reason to see that our government, like any other man-made institution, is just as fallible as any other, and requires supervision and vigilance lest it run amok.

Sunday, February 03, 2008


I came home Friday with a song in my heart and the flu in my lungs, so I've spent a lot of time enjoying Saturday television and looking over the blog - between bouts of fever delirium (102 degrees! Let the good times roll!) . I have a few ideas on changes, but for now, you'll just have to enjoy the new header graphic.