My irregular musings on city life, politics, baseball, roller derby, and whatever happens to be getting my goat today.

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Gadfly Looks at Forty

It’s a strange coincidence that has my 40th birthday coincide with this strange weekend of the NATO summit and planned large protests against it. It’s not so much feeling old as a realization of how much I’ve changed. There was a time when I would have been a participant with the protesters, maybe not all in with some of the fringier, anarchist elements, but there to protest against war, any war, with all the counterculture people.

And if the G8 summit were still happening at the same time, I might have still been right there with them, holding a big-ass sign that says “Austerity Sucks.” But I just can’t get on board with demanding a withdrawal from Afghanistan. I appreciate things there are not great, but they were worse in the 90s when civil war raged and the Taliban was running amok and managed to occupy about 80% of the country before essentially exhausting their ability to move forward. The fact is, in this case Western intervention ushered in several years of peace after 22 years of civil war. Not only do I not “oppose the war in Afghanistan” I’m not even sure that’s the right way to look at the situation. Certainly I consider “The United States has been at war in Afghanistan since late 2011” to be a demonstrably false statement. The Afghan War began in 1979 and ended with the US/NATO intervention. Very Bad Things have happened since then, I’m certainly not denying that. But to view Afghanistan as the same type of situation as the Iraq war is to see the world through the lenses of ideology rather than facts.

I opposed the Iraq war as much as anybody.  The United States invaded another country with little or no provocation, for dubious reasons, using false claims about weapons of mass destruction to scare people into perceiving a threat. The Afghan intervention was simply nothing like that at all.

It’s kind of a pity, from my point of view, because there are other things being protested here that I’m largely on board with: economic inequality, foreclosures and evictions, exclusionist immigration policies, Canadian tar sands mining and oil pipelines. I’m inclined to agree with the protesters on most of these things. And it would be sort of fun to be able to go out there and protest. But a lot has happened in the past 20 years, and the shadow of Bosnia and Rwanda reminds me that sometimes the West doing nothing results in more violent death than acting would. I believe the Afghan intervention has been one of these cases.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mid-April Chicago Sports Update

Two weeks into the baseball season, a couple things are clear. First of all, for a couple years I’ve heard a lot of hype about the future of the Washington Nationals, even as they have delivered fantastically awful seasons, losing 102 games in ’08, 103 in ’09, and improving to 93 losses in ’10. All the while we were told the team would be good in 2012, just you wait and see. Well, a week and a half is not a lot of time, but the Nats are 7-3 and first place in the NL East. It’s early, and I don’t expect this team to win the division. But hey, they don’t totally suck. So maybe the yay-sayers were on to something?

When it comes to the Cubs, I have a grim feeling of resignation growing in my gut, and for once it has nothing to do with the abysmal product they are putting on the field. No, it’s the creeping commercialism being inflicted on the ballpark by the new ownership. I’m hearing they are close to a deal with the Mayor’s Office to secure public assistance in renovating Wrigley Field, and I hate it. Yes, the place is kind of run down and could definitely use some rehab, but if the new LCD scoreboard in right field is evidence of the kinds of changes they want to make, I don’t want any part of it.

The Cubs have been playing at Wrigley since before World War I. In that time, much of the experience has remained the same, from the hand-operated scoreboard, to the drunk guys in the bleachers, to not winning the world series. And while that last part is something most of us Northsiders would like to see change, the rest of it is part of our collective identity. Being a Cubs fan is in fact about baseball, in spite of what Southsiders will say about us, but it’s not just about baseball. The collective experience, the tradition, the taking part in something that’s sacred and virtually unchanged for generations are all part of why I love the Cubs. I want them to win, but I want them to win as the Cubs. I want them to win in a way that vindicates the past century of futility and carries forward the hopes and dreams and traditions of all the Cubs fans who have gone before. And I want them to win in the same goddam ballpark where they lost to Babe Ruth and the Yankees.

Because we already have a modern baseball stadium with a bigass jumbotron screen in this town, so if that’s what you’re looking for in a game day experience then you know right where you can go. That’s right, 35th and Shields. It’s nice there, have fun. Per Ozzie Guillen, the rats are not on steroids there.

Ah, Ozzie. I miss you so. You made sports in this town so much more entertaining, bringing that certain je ne sais quoi of professional wrestling to the sports radio morning shows. But when you said you admired Castro for his toughness and survival skills while you were in Chicago, nobody batted an eye. Everybody just smiled and nodded at everything you said in Chicago, Ozzie, because you brought home a World Series title. And also because we thought you were a crazy person and were every so slightly afraid of you. But mostly because we didn’t want you to stop talking, because it was entertaining. Personally I think we should have normalized relations with Cuba a long time ago. The Cold War is long over, and we need the pitching.

Speaking of the sports scene, the most gripping event I’ve seen in the last couple weeks wasn’t baseball at all. It was a roller derby bout, the Windy City Rollers on the road in Portland challenging the Rose City Wheels of Justice. Gripping because if place any stock in the Derby News Network rankings, Windy City was a distinct underdog. Basically, they are a big fish in a small pond. While there are a number of great athletes on these teams, the North Central region is basically a weak division, sort of the NL West of the WFTDA. It’s got some up and comers who are hoping to contend soon, but the powerhouse teams are all in the East (Gotham Girls), South Central (Texacutioners, Kansas City Roller Warriors) and West (Oly Rollers, Rocky Mountain, etc). So Rose City is a powerhouse team from the West, ranked #6 to Windy City’s #10 nationally, and most observers expected them to win by a comfortable margin.

But this is a Windy City team that believes it has a legitimate shot at they Hydra, and with star jammer Kola Loka back in the lineup after several years’ absence, maybe they do. Certainly they put up much more of a fight than Rose City expected. The game was close and tense, with Windy City leading for much of the bout but essentially blowing the game with two key penalties, one on the very last jam, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory and coughing up a 17 point lead to lose 133-130.

So that was the positive spin. Another way to put it is they were two penalties away from an upset win over the #6 ranked team in the nation. The first penalty was the failed jammer handoff from Zoe Trocious to Hoosier Mama. Why this was even attempted I can’t even fathom, since with a substantial lead it wasn’t necessary by any means. But the handoff was botched when Hoosier Mama’s “pivot panty” – the striped helmet cover – popped off. Since only the pivot can receive Jammer status, this made the transfer an illegal procedure. As a result, none of her apparent points counted. The second penalty was a back block major on Jackie Daniels in the final jam of the game, resulting in a 20 point power jam that erased a 17 point deficit and gave the Wheels of Justice a 3 point win. Jackie Daniels is one of Windy City’s best skaters, a team captain and one of the best blockers in the country. But I question using her instead of Kola Loka in the last jam of the bout. While she’s a great defensive player and has had success as a jammer in many situations, what was needed here was someone to stay in the game and hold Scald Eagle to less than 17 net points on the jam. There were a couple ways to do this, the way I see it. First of all, get a fast skater to break through the pack. On the last jam of the game there was no way to get Scald Eagle to hit it and quit it after 4 points, but even one penalty-free pass would have won the game. The other option, of course, would be a penalty on Scald Eagle. She had six majors already, but that hardly mattered with just 1:15 left in the game. Any penalty, as Windy City discovered, was the game. Jackie Daniels is a hard hitting, tough player who can be penalty prone in tough situations like this one. But last fall, I saw her put in for the last jam against the Kansas City Roller Warriors in a similarly close game, and once again the Rollers fell short in the final seconds. Don’t get me wrong, Jackie Daniels is an amazing skater, who’s made an immense contribution to this team since transferring from Grand Raggedy. She’s made it a tougher, more physical, harder hitting squad. But it seemed to me that this was one of those situations where the best defense is a good offense.

But without those two penalties, Windy City would have an “upset” victory over the #6 ranked team in the country. So in spite of the loss, I think they have a real shot at contending for the Hydra, if they can master the art of penalty management.

And that’s your mid-April sports update, folks.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Cranky Old Man Watch – Opening Day Edition

Harvey Rabbit: Woody? Woody? Where ya been, man?

Elwood Grobnik: Crap, I’m hearing things again. And the new meds were working so well!

HR: Dude, come on! It’s been the most amazing year. Why don’t you have anything to say about it?

EG: About what?

HR: About what! Freaking Michele Bachmann ran for President. MICHELE BACHMANN!!! And you don’t have anything to say?

EG: Yeah yeah, her and the pizza guy too. But they didn’t win any primaries, did they?

HR: Well, no. But they led some polls and were darlings of the Republican base.

EG: If you can’t win any Republican primaries with the support of the Republican base, maybe those words don’t mean what you think they mean.

HR: See, there you go, you do have something to say.

EG: I have more important things to do than blog, Harvey. Or talk to invisible rabbits, so why am I still talking to you?

HR: Your wife is at the gym, your kid’s asleep, and talking to yourself would be crazy? What’s so important anyway? What have you been up to?

EG: Lots of stuff. Taking my kid to the roller derby…

HR: Eh, Windy City. Big fish, small pond. The Atlanta Braves of the WFTDA. They were a washout at Nationals last year. Got the first round bye for winning the region, then got a beatdown.

EG: The travel team is better this year.

HR: Based on what. Based on one bout?

EG: Based on Kola Loka.

HR: Point taken. Speaking of sports, it’s Opening Day!

EG: I heard that somewhere, yeah. The Cubs? Not better this year.

HR: Yeah? They have some exciting young talent coming up…

EG: I have been here before with the Opening Day anticipation. They may only lose 85 games this year. Yay? When some of the players you’re most excited about are still in Double-A, it’s not your year. Anyway, with Cincinnati, Milwaukee and the defending World Champs in the division, the Cubs are locked in a hotly contested race for fourth place. With the Pirates. Although Cincinnati decided to not be a contender when they signed this ridiculous contract with Votto.

HR: But Votto’s good. Really good.

EG: Yeah, and they signed him through 2023. 2023 for fuck’s sake! My kid will be 16. He’s gonna be like, c’mon dad, let me get a driver’s license, you’re the worst dad ever, and I’m gonna be like take the bus, that’s why we live in the city, you lazy bum, and Joey Votto will be 40, and the Reds or possibly the Yankees will owe him $25 million dollars for I think the fourth year in a row, and they can’t afford it. They’re still going to be a small market team, unless Cincinnati turns into a real major city, which hello? Have you been there lately? It’s seen better days.

HR: Well, at least you’re talking. Predictions? Politics? Sports? Culture?

EG: Obama is re-elected. Windy City Rollers make it to the semi-finals. Detroit vs. Texas in the ALCS…

HR: Wait a minute, aren’t we going to get three playoff teams from the AL east with the new Wild Card system?

EG: What we’re going to get is Verlander.

HR: They had Verlander last year…

EG: This year they have more offense, too.

HR: But no cubs love?

EG: LOTS of Cubs love. That’s my team. But they aren’t very good. Fortunately, we’ll always have Wrigley.

HR: So, knocking off work to go to the game today?

EG: Hell, no. Been there, done that, it was COLD. We’ve had 8 or 9 80 degree days this spring, take THAT global warming skeptics, but today, mark my word it will be ass cold.

HR: That part of the curse?

EG: There’s no curse.

HR: No? The goat? Bartman?

EG: Anybody can have a bad century. And Alex Gonzalez dropped the ball, dude. Don't blame Steve...

Monday, September 27, 2010

Amercan What?

I woke up to NPR this morning talking about how one sign the Democrats are in a big hole going into the fall elections is that polling shows that a record number of Americans don't believe in the American Dream, especially the non-professional working women who have been the backbone of the party's support the past decade or so. To me, this just shows how out of touch NPR is. The American Dream? Really? When was the last time you heard anybody talking about the American Dream? Do you even remember? I do:

Compromise, conformity, assimilation, submission,
Ignorace, hypocrisy, brutality, the elite
All of which are American Dreams
All of which are American Dreams
All of which are American Dreams
All of which are American Dreams

Rage against the Machine! That was, what, nineteen years ago. It was still a culturally relevant concept back then. People longed for it or mocked it, but there it was. But now? What does it even mean, a house with a white picket fence in the suburbs? Like I could ever dream about owning a single family home anywhere that I'd actually want to live. The fact is, the precious housing bubble that left all these speculators "underwater" upon its partial collapse put owning a decent home beyond the reach of most of the younger generation by pushing up prices at a pace far faster than the paltry to nonexistant rise in wages we've seen the past decade. And the government wants to re-inflate it! If prices don't fall, eventually there would be no one able to buy any of these properties, since baby boomers can't keep selling them to each other forever. Eventually, they will want to downsize and sell their homes to . . . somebody. Not me, because I can't pay those prices, and we have a six figure household income, so if we can't afford them, who exactly can?

Or by the American Dream are they talking about getting ahead through an honest day's pay for an honest day's work? How are we going to do that? Real wages are stagnant or worse for the majority, while the top 2% just get richer and richer. But Republicans are arguing that the way to get people back to work at miserable low paying jobs is to give these 2% another big tax cut.

Let me take a stab at what has replaced the American Dream: taking a gamble and winning a big payout at longshot odds. Either literally, through winning the state sponsored lottery, or figuratively, through winning on Reality Television or getting a fat contract with a giant entertainment corporation to churn out insipid pop or hip hop albums. Working hard and playing by the rules gets you nowhere in the new scheme of things, you have to get lucky and if a fortune falls in your lap, be prepared to take advantage of it:

I wanna be a billionaire so fricking bad
Buy all of the things I never had
Uh, I wanna be on the cover of Forbes magazine
Smiling next to Oprah and the Queen

But that wasn't what the American Dream was all about, it was about a broad swath of society, not rich but not poor, that everybody who did their homework, got a decent job and worked hard at it could join. I don't want to make it sound to idyllic. A big part of it was about moving out into dreary fake plastic suburbs and leaving the old neighborhood a blighted segregated prison for the non-white underclass, who were never really invited to participate in the American Dream. But for the majorit, it was an attainable goal that you could get to by working hard. Or that's the way I remember it. Like I said, I haven't heard anybody talking about it lately.

Personally I'm pretty well traveled and after making a few trips across the pond I must say I think this vision doesn't stack up very well with what I'd call the European Dream - that is, well tended cities with cohesive communities in an enviromnment with higher taxes and unemployment, but in which no one is permitted to fall below a certain floor in terms of access to social goods (food, medical care, education). This kind of arrangement removes some of the fear of failure that I believes clings to and twists around so many things in American life. In Maslovian terms, being unable to permanently resolve the survival needs at the base of the pyramid of needs means that many of us are stunted by fear and don't really get a chance to work on higher order needs and development (creativity, moral imagination, self actualization etc). The right may feel that fear is motiviational for little people, but it isn't healthy.

This European Dream too is exclusionary, based on ethinic solidarity and leading to a hostility to immigration. I suspect that's why a similar vision is not more popular here - indeed, I have heard Tea Baggers complaining that Obama wants to turn America into Europe. That's a problem for some people in our country precisely because Americans don't share an ethnic solidarity - and if extending a safety net for the poor means redistributing money from "us" to "them" the many whites are dead set against it. Hence the dream based on individual effor rather than national solidarity. But since that isn't working too well, at this point we can either decide to be a "we" after all, or all get left further and further behind in our separate little individualistic shacks, waiting for the big windfall to fall in our laps.

I am not optimistic about the American people wising up over the next few weeks, but I am reminded of one of the first things I ever learned about statistics: "The Lottery is a special tax on people who are bad at math."

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Wednesday again already?

If I were the sort of person who blogged regularly instead of the sort who works all the time like a dog, I would have gotten online last week and blogged about last Wednesday. I would have written about how I had an unpaid day off thanks to the city budget crisis, and how I kept my 3 year old son out of day care for the day.

I would have told you how we rode downtown on Mommy's train, and stayed on the train for a couple stops after she got off to go to work, and how we got off the train at Roosevelt Road. I would have written about carrying my son on my shoulders through to Grant Park, and setting him down to run free by the headless statues once we got to the grass. I would have told you about carrying him over the bridge over the Metra Electric tracks, about how I told him the trains were powered by electricity and he was able to explain that back to me later. About how he told me the shiny silver and orange train was coming FROM Indiana, not going TO Indiana, and he was right. I would have told you about visiting the robot dinosaurs at the Field Museum, about how he was fascinated for a magical 20 minutes by the triceratops hatchlings, about running around the nature walk telling me the flamingos weren't flamingos with a grin on his face. I would write about how we got a banana muffin and a mango frozen lemonade and how he said "we call it lemonade but actually it's mostly called ice." About watching the people with the bright orange signs that said CAROL on one side and TURN AROUND on the other, about how they held them up as Carol's boyfriend crept up behind her by Sue the Tyrannasaurus skeleton to propose to her, about how we saw the geeky happy couple later by the other dinosaur bones. I would write about how my son pushed the button again and again to hear the funny voice say "triceratops horridus." I would tell you about the guy in the Tyrannasaur costume, my son called him "the roaring guy" and wouldn't go up to touch the rubber skin. "He'll eat me" he said.

I would tell you about getting hot dogs from a hot dog stand (his plain, mine a Polish with everything), and about the kids with the identical red t shirts milling around, and about rolling down the hill. I would talk about walking back across the bridge and seeing the yellow train car with the crane on top that my son christened Harvey.

I would definitely tell you about how he brought the yellow duckie watering can along the whole trip and carried it like a work bag, and how on the way up Michigan Avenue he set the duckie on the seat next to him and sat there seriously, leaving me to stand next to him in the aisle. I would tell you about visiting my wife's office, about my son telling everyone "I saw baby triceratops. I saw some that haven't hatched yet" to everyone's amazement.

I would tell you about getting our feet wet in the fountain with the spitting faces, and about my son doing a belly flop in the half inch deep water and soaking his clothes. I would write about the mean guard on the sculpture garden roof of the Art Institute's Modern Wing and how he wouldn't allow me to carry my son on my shoulders or stand him on the ledge buy the windows, forcing us to leave or allow him to run around and touch the art made out of jet engines. I would discuss how it was silly art but they were cool engines.

And I would write about how we took the Brown Line to the Red Line home, and how my train-crazy son later told me his favorite part of the day was getting to change trains.

But I'm not the type of person who blogs regularly anymore, because I am too much of a perfectionist and I have too little time. So this is what you get. The sky was brilliant blue, and the trains were running on time, and a little boy saw baby dinosaurs, some of which hadn't hatched yet.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


For once I'm not even going to try to be clever and I'm just gonna come out and say something. Of all the vile political trends that have come around in my lifetime, the anti-immigrant hysteria is my least favorite. I like it even less than the warmongering neocon thing. While I agree that for security reasons we should control our borders and be aware of who comes in and out, that's not at all the same thing as saying we should try to reduce immigration. The reason there is so much illegal immigration to this country is that legal immigration is restricted by an anachronistic quota system that basically does not give most people who want to immigrate a legal way to do so. The solution to illegal immigration is not to reduce the number of immigrants, but to increase the number of visas to meet demand for them. Just about everybody here is descended from immigrants of one kind or another, and the day we cut off the flow is the day we cut off the nation's lifeblood and it shrivels and dies.

But to even propose limited reforms to make the system slightly less bad, it's necessary to propose draconian police state measures. Otherwise the nativists will go off the deep end fearing that somebody, somewhere has gotten a job that was rightfully theirs. I find this ironic, because really it's restrictions on immigration that interfere with the smooth operation of the labor market, making the entire country poorer. But for some people that's fine, as long as it also keeps the country more white.

Of course, saying that in a public forum is asking for trouble in a day and age where accusing someone of racism is seen as a greater evil somehow than racism itself. But it's increasingly obvious that the right wing "tea party" opposition is motivated primarily by race and identity politics, and I call 'em like I see 'em.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"We work for Fox"

No Kidding, Dave?

You know these media guys do better when their audience is pissed off, right? So what do they care if you "win?"

In my opinion, the President erred on the side of trying to make a deal. Why the Republicans repeatedly slapped his hand away is beyond me. They could have negotiated something they could take credit for. Now they're stuck with what they got.