Category Archives: Chicago Bears

Hot Air

Say Cheese

Some stories about formaggio, käse, queso, جبن, fromage, tupí, or whatever you wish to call it (just don’t say Velveeta®).

Street Bouquet

My old neighbors up in Wisconsin have found yet another use for one of the byproducts of cheesemaking. As you know, winters in America’s Dairyland last anywhere from six months to seven and a half years at a time. Driving, of course, can be hazardous when the pavement becomes icy.

Lo and behold, the solons who run this holy land’s beer capital have turned to cheese brine to treat the city’s streets in wintry weather. I’ve whipped out my trusty copy of Cheese Primer by Steven Jenkins (a must for any complete home library). Jenkins begins his scholarly tome by describing the cheese-making process in loving detail. You can actually do it at home, honest.


Yet Another Use For Cheese

Anyway, cheese brine is a salt bath that many wheeled cheeses soak in for several hours. The brine, according to Jenkins, “dehydrates and slows, or controls, ripening rates, retarding the action of starter bacteria so that a cheese can be aged for a longer period to achieve the desired flavor and texture. Without salting, cheeses would very quickly become over-ripe and spoilage would set in.”

So, cheesemakers use this brine and then, once the proto-cheese is removed, must do something with it. Funny story: hundreds of years ago in the old principalities of Italy, cheesemakers would dump their used cheese brine and whey (the semi-transparent liquid that results after cheese curds are formed) into city sewers. Natch, the sewers got all clogged up. Officials of the various cities leaned on cheesemakers to do something about the problem and were promptly told by said perpetrators to mind their own goddamned biz. Demonstrating, of course, that business interests have forever been opposed to pro-environmental action.

Eventually, the clogged sewers became unbearable even for those who were making scads of pre-lire on the process that created the trouble in the first place. So, the cheesemakers came up with a solution: They would take the whey and brine and cook it once again, gelling the remaining casein (solid cheese protein) in it, and creating a new kind of cheese. They called it ricotta, which means, literally, recooked.

One tucked-away county in Wisconsin began treating its icy streets with cheese brine five years ago, combining it with the more familiar street salt and sand. The county, apparently, has saved a lot of scratch in this manner since then. Milwaukee, which wants to save bread as much as the any other municipality, tried using beet juice a few years ago (swear to god). But the red stuff, mixed with rock salt, became a gooey mess, so that was out.

Enter cheese brine. Milwaukee’s street crews have been using it on bridges for almost a decade and now are spreading it on the city’s general roadways.

There is one drawback to cheese brine. It smells like, well, cheese.

America's Dairyland

Now, a lot of people (me, for one) would have no problem with city streets smelling like parmesan (the American knock-off of Parmigiano-Reggiano) or Emmenthaler (what we normally refer to as Swiss cheese). Others, though, are victims of a certain hyper-sensitivity to the heavenly aromas of things like garlic, anchovies, or cheese, the poor dopes.

I figure the olfactory canaries of Milwaukee will get used to the odor soon enough. In fact, the city can use this slogan (that I just made up):

Milwaukee: We Provolone Our Streets for Your Safety!

Cheese Is Christ

Now, here’s a crazy cheese story.

[First, let me preface this by saying a young women went to journalism school, spending tens or even hundreds of thousands of her and/or her family’s hard-earned dollars on this vocational dream, and then pursued a career in reporting, finally landing a job on a big Gannett newspaper. Sounds like a great American success story, no? That is, until you realize her editor assigned her to direct her formidable talents toward the coverage of this story. Is it any wonder we live in an age of depression and melancholy?]

Anyway, the cheese story, yes. Journalist Krystle Henderson of AZCentral reported on X-mas day that a local family had made a cheesecake and, after it had cooled, removed the wax paper from the top of it and guess what they found?

Image from AZCentral


Yup, a crucifix. The image of the very one, in fact, that the creator of the Universe in human form was executed upon in Jerusalem some 2000 years ago (or one-third of the entire history of all creation, acc’d’ng to Bishop Ussher). Which reminds me of a line by Lenny Bruce: If Jesus Christ had lived in modern times, all the Christian kids would be walking around with little electric chairs on chains around their necks.

Back to the Arizona cheesecake. The family has said it won’t eat the cake but will sell it. See, that family isn’t the only one in this holy land that sees mythological divine beings in pastries. Apparently, tons of other religionists will want to spend big dough to possess an item that is sure to go bad, even refrigerated, within a couple of weeks. That is, unless the cross that appears on it really is a sign from the putative most powerful being in all of existence. Say the cheesecake miraculously stays fresh and fluffy for months or even years. Wouldn’t you drop to your knees, spread your arms, and shout to the Big Daddy-o in the Sky, Ya, hey d’ere, I’m wit’cha, Dude!

Or, the new owner of the cheesecake might have invested in an expensive industrial blast cooler, thereby preserving the cake for something approaching posterity. Either way.

Sharon Hill of the skeptic website Doubtful News speculates on how she’d have reacted had she made the cheesecake in question:

I would have been like ‘Oh man, am I dumb, I ruined the surface. Hope I learned something here.’ Funny how others think so differently.

Funny, indeed.

BTW: Why couldn’t the stigma on the cheesecake have been the handiwork of Papa Bear George S. Halas who, many Chicago football fans believe, must surely be in heaven? Halas invented something called the T-formation, wherein the quarterback stands here and the halfback stands there and the eighthback…, oh wait, there’s no such thing. Anyway, a bunch of fractional players stand here and there before the snap of the ball and, way back in the 1930s, this innovation caused the eyes of opposing coaches to roll toward the backs of their heads.

In fact, a line in the Bears’ fight song, “Bear Down, Chicago Bears,” goes:

We’ll never forget the way you thrilled the nation with your T-formation….

Which proves, I suppose, that the nation was quite easily thrilled way back in the 1930s.

Couldn’t Saint George Halas be trying to communicate with his team who, coincidentally, are playing the Green Bay Packers this afternoon for supremacy in their division? Couldn’t the message be that cheesecake is superior to a cheesehead?

Or something like that.

Either way.

The Pencil Today:

HotAirLogoFinal Tuesday


“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” — Albert Einstein



Things I hope for this year:

◗ Barack Obama makes it through all 365 days without a serious attempt on his life.

◗ The gamesmanship between Iran and the West peters out.

◗ Someone (besides me) comes up with the bright idea of imposing an embargo on gun manufacturing for at least a year. We’ve got plenty o’guns already; let’s chill on making new ones for a while, no?



◗ The Loved One continues on in sterling health.

◗ My faulty cardiac cellular structure does not betray me and go haywire just yet.

◗ Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, et al continue to make positive strides in their remaking of the entire Chicago Cubs organization.

Image by Kyle Terada/US Presswire

Hoyer (L) & Eptsein: My Happiness Is In Their Hands

◗ Certain friends who suffer right now from mental and emotional distress can find relief.

◗ We move significant steps closer to:

  • Universal affordable health care
  • Universal affordable safe, secure housing
  • Universal affordable access to education, including colleges and universities

◗ Thousands — nay, hundreds of thousands — of new visitors to this communications colossus.

Multi-cast Tower

The Electron Pencil Tower, Outside Beautiful Bloomington


How cool was 2012? I’ll tell you how cool.

The Electron Pencil drew readers from 176 countries on this mad, mad planet. I mean, we even got readers from such exotic outposts as Suriname, Cameroon, Tajikistan, Papua New Guinea, and Moldova. Truth. That’s what WordPress tells us.

TajikistanOur Most Loyal Tajikistani Reader

Whoever you people are, thanks.

Our next goal? Mars.


The hell of professional sports is that the best people are far too often the worst coaches.

For instance, Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith was fired yesterday after leading the team to an overall winning record of 81-63 in his nine years at the helm. He even led the Bears to a Super Bowl, where they were demolished by some guys wearing blue from Indy in 2007.

From all accounts, Lovie Smith is one of the calmest, most compassionate, most dignified men in the entire sports world. That’s quite an accomplishment when one considers the typical NFL field boss has the morals and character of a mafia don.

From the Boston Globe

“Good” Isn’t Good Enough

But poor Lovie apparently lacked the cutthroat necessities to push his players and entire organization past the point of fairly good to that of dominant. He wasn’t a killer, as the term is defined in the uber-biz of games for pay.

Lots of folks who cheerlead for high school and college sports programs claim that participating in the games is great for the moral and character development of young men and women. Team play, they say, prepares youngsters for success in life.

My response? Man, I hope not.

Amateur sports have bought into the win-at-all-costs mentality of the pro games. Most states’ highest paid employees are the coaches of their university football or basketball programs. Character? Hah! Just win, baby.

Scene from "The Godfather: Part II"

The Next Bears’ Head Coach?

I don’t feel sorry for Lovie Smith, the man. He made a pile of dough disappointing the very demanding Chicago football fans. Neither he nor his children will have to worry about their next meals for the rest of their lives.

Our mania for sports (of which I, a live-and-die Cubs fan, am all too much a part) teaches us too often that good, civilized men are failures. I feel sorry for us.


When I was a kid, my Uncle Vince and his family lived in the tony Chicago suburb of Northbrook.

Uncle Vince (who’s still alive and kicking at the age of 96, BTW) bought his home in the late 1950s when Northbrook was still ringed by farmland. He got in when the getting was good. Within 25 years, Northbrook had become one of the meccas to which extremely comfortable white families could escape from the big, bad, scary (read, increasingly black) city.

My own family was still in the city — admittedly on the outskirts, but, nonetheless, my suburban aunts and uncles would constantly pepper my parents with pleadings to “get the hell out of that shithole where people live on top of each other.”

Uncle Vince’s Northbrook house was straight out of a real estate man’s wet dream. It had a broad front lawn. A garage door that opened at the click of a button from inside the car (a wonder in that day and age.) An automatic dishwasher. Air conditioning (we had windows.) A chime doorbell, as opposed to our raucous buzzer. Uncle Vince’s backyard was more than an acre which, in my neighborhood, would have covered some half dozen homes and yards.

Seemingly every time we visited Uncle Vince, my cousin Tony would be washing his brand new Pontiac Grand Prix on the big driveway in front of the house.

Pontiac Grand Prix

A Rich Kids’ Car

I always thought that Uncle Vince was as rich as the Rockefellers. At the age of seven, I figured his home was a mansion.

The one thing folks in Northbrook didn’t have was black neighbors.

This fact was brought home to me one day when I overheard Uncle Vince telling my father about a horrible, alarming incident that’d happened on the block the previous week. Uncle Vince spoke in hushed tones, as if loath to shake up the women and the kids.

A black man had been seen walking down the street.

Pete Seeger & Friends

Someplace Other Than Northbrook

Neighbor had consulted with neighbor. Certain high-ranking municipal officials had been notified.

Uncle Vince tried to put a good spin on the incident. Perhaps the black man was in Northbrook to do some menial labor. Or maybe he was lost.

Then Uncle Vince and my father fell silent, as if in contemplation of a too-horrible alternative.

Not that my family’s Chicago neighborhood was an integrationist’s dream, mind you. One day, a couple of years earlier, while I was walking to the grocery store with my mother, a black man had passed us by, the first I’d ever seen in the flesh.

I gaped at him as he passed. Ma clunked me on the side of the head and hissed, “Don’t stare!”

Still, the man fascinated me. “Ma,” I asked once I was certain he was out of earshot, “what’s wrong with that guy?”

BB King's Hand Photo by Mike McGregor


“He’s just going to work somewhere, I guess,” she said.

“Oh.” I pondered the situation and then came to a conclusion. The man had a job that made him extremely dirty. Perhaps he dug holes somewhere nearby. Why else would his skin be black?


“What?” she said, edgy, aware of the Pandora’s box lid being lifted.

“Why doesn’t he just take a bath?”

She clunked me on the side of the head again.

Only later, when I was eight, did I learn what the man’s problem was. Mr. Mitchell, our neighbor from across the alley explained it. The man, he said, was a nigger.

I went inside. “Ma,” I said, “what’s a nigger?”

She clunked me on the side of the head.

Eventually, I learned to duck when asking tough questions. I also learned that black men stayed out of places like Northbrook and Highland Park and Palatine and Glenview. It was no more likely that a black family would live in any of those places than they would on the moon.

Times change, though.

Michael Jordan lived in Highland Park when he was the toast of the town. When I was small and Ernie Banks was Chicago’s favorite black man, he had to live in the South Side neighborhood of Chatham, which was black. Progress.

Ernie Banks

Not A Good Neighbor?

Today, I learn that the rapper Chief Keef has bought a big, comfortable home in Northbrook. Chief Keef is not white Chicago’s favorite black man. His first album, “Finally Rich,” debuted a couple of weeks ago on the Interscope Records label.

The album includes the songs “No Tomorrow,” “Hate Bein’ Sober,” “Laughin’ to the Bank,” and “Ballin’.”

Chief Keef won’t be 18 years old until August yet he’s already gained a startling reputation. He’s been busted on a weapons charge and is being investigated in connection with the shooting death of rapper “Lil Jo Jo” Coleman — a homicide which Chief Keef mocked on his Twitter page. He has posted a video of himself firing a gun at a shooting range, a violation of his juvenile court probation. He has threatened critics with violence. He has also posted an Instagram video showing him getting a blow job.

Chief Keef

Northbrook’s Very Own, Chief Keef

No, Chief Keef is not Chicago favorite black man. He’s not even a man yet.

He owns a home in Northbrook, though.

He’s made a lot of money in his short life so far. Money absolves a lot of sins.

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