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

Friday, December 30, 2005

a saur taste

It was my grandfather's favorite restaurant. Whenever he was in town for Steelworker stuff he would make sure to stop in for some good old German food like his momma used to cook on the farm. My father would eat lunch there when he worked in the Loop in the '70s. And my wife chose to eat there for her birthday last summer. And now, it seems, the Berghoff - proud owner of Illinois Liquor License Number 1 - will close at the end of February. It appears that the business has actually been doing quite well, but that the third-generation owners of the bar and restaurant, established in 1898 as a way to promote Herman Joseph Berghoff's locally brewed beer, are retiring. And their daughter, Carlyn Berghoff, doesn't want to run the restaurant, preferring instead to focus on her catering business and open some sort of trendy bar in the space.

Yuck. I wish they could have been persuaded to sell the business, a Chicago institution, to someone who would keep it open. It's hard to explain the value of the restaurant to out of towners - the building is one of the last post-fire commercial structures and a neighborhood dominatied by Modernist skyscrapers interspersed with a few remaining Guilded Age masterpieces. It's one of the first things that comes to mind when someone mentions the Loop, and has been for about five generations now. They still make their own German style lagers, as well as a damn fine homemade bourbon - what's going to happen to the bourbon? Even the cheap stuff takes ten years to make, imagine all that whisky, sitting in the basement for four, eight, ten years - what will happen to it now? The horror.

Anyway, the family is saying they plan to use the dining room as a banquet hall for private functions, along with the trendy bar. They can afford this because they own the building outright - but certainly the plot of land in the heart of downtown is worth a pretty penny in this market. I'm sure it will come down within the decade. The irony is, the Loop is experiencing a renaissance of sorts, as old-school office buildings are converted to condominiums, and new condo towers go up. What used to be the region's depopulated business core is once again becoming a densely populated neighborhood. People have been flocking to be downtown so they can be steps away from institutions like Marshall Field's and the Berghoff - instititions that will have disappeared in the time between the new residents dropping their down payments and their move-in dates. I, for one, would feel ripped off.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

save us

I've been wondering about Iran and this Mahdi character for about a week now. What sort of messiah wants you to build him his own special railroad? I ask around.

Krishna doesn't know. He's out in the fields, trying to pick up a couple of cowgirls again. He's not interested in trains, he doesn't want to miss the countryside on his journeys.. "Country girls are the best," he adds. I ask him if he's been to Carol's Pub the country bar in Uptown. He has. He said he's dipped in that well a few times already. "It's rough going if you're always running into exes," he says. I mention the band on Friday is known for its Elvis covers, though, so he says he might come along.

Buddha doesn't know. "I think I'm just gonna stay here, so I don't need a train," he says, reclining at the base of a Bodhi tree. "Need is an illusion anyway." Buddha's never had to fight traffic. If he did, he might have a little more appreciation for public transit. "I don't commute," he says. "It's the same there as it is here."

Jesus is bringing flowers to his mother, who is still hanging out with the bums under the overpass. "A train to Tehran?" Jesus is skeptical. "I thought he was going to use taht money to help the poor." I explain about the ripple effects of big infrastructure projects, but he seems unconvinced. He's not really sold on the bar, either, but tells me to page him if Krisha comes along.

Since I don't have any connections with the Mahdi himself, I go to the closest thing I have to a source. Since he named his private army after the guy, I figure he must know something. I find Moqtada al Sadr in a cinderblock house near Kut, in southern Iraq. Few people know this about him, but he's a big Nirvana fan. When I find him he's listening to "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle" while reassembling an AK-47. I notice that while it's a plain and sparsely furnished little hut, he hase one of those cool Bose speakers hooked up to his iPod.

"Oh great, another American," he says by way of greeting. "You'd best get up off my land, boy," he adds. I explain my question about the Mahdi. "Fuck you," he replies conversationally. I ask him whether the Mahdi would want a rail line constructed to ferry him to Tehran from the holy well place. He adjusts something on the gun with a screwdriver. "That whole well story is just a folk tale," he says, finally. "Why would he come to Iran, anyway? He would come here, where his people are." I point out that there are far more Shi'ites in Iran than in Iraq. Moqtada puts his cheek to the gun and stares down the barrel for a moment. He frowns and shakes his head. "Mohammad was an Arab, like me," he says. "He was my ancestor," he adds. The Mahdi is also a descendent of Mohammad. He will come here." He starts to adjust the sights again, then lays the gun down. "Fuck Iran," he adds, judiciously. So he feels closer to Sunni Baathists like Saddam, because they are Arab, than to Persian Shi'ites? "Fuck Saddam." Of course.

"The Mahdi will come to Iraq," he repeats. "We are his people. That's why fucking Saddam always feared us." I look back over my notes. "Fuck America. Fuck Iran. Fuck Saddam," I read back to him. "I notice a pattern developing." Finally he looks up at me. "Yeah. What part of 'Get the hell up off my land' do you not understand? Do you know what the problem with Iraq is?" I am tempted to show him a mirror, but prudence takes the better part of valor. "Foreigners," he says, finally.

He goes back to adjusting the gun sights. The next song starts up. It's "All Apologies." After a minute, he looks down the barrel again, and looks satisfied. He opens a drawer, pulls out a clip, and rams it home. Then he looks up at me again.

"Why are you still here?" he asks.

I have no earthly idea.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

ear bugs

For Christmas this year, Trope dragged me into the digital age by giving me a tiny little Samsung digital audio player, the kind that clips to your belt and people think it's a cell phone. Up until now, I didn't understand what the big deal was with these things - "BFD, I had a Walkman in the 80s, too," I said. Well, part of the deal is being able to carry around enough hours of music to blot out the chattering of your co-workers and the cacauphony of the gym without being forced to listen to the same tape over and over. But an added gift of music portability is bringing the music front and center again - this is the first time I've actually listened to these recordings rather than had them blaring in the background while I did other things around the house.

The principal thing I've discovered is that some of these songs have lyrics. Take the Soviettes, my favorite Minneapolis punk band. Who knew the they had redeeming social value to go with the aggression and the tatoos?

Check it out:
There's a Banana in My Ear

He said "they hate us for our freedom."
He said "there'll soon be less to hate."
You said "keep your voices low."
You said "always trust the state.
Keep your money in the market,
Educate the nation's youth.
The papers wouldn't print what isn't true."

And so filters become layered
And so nothing can get through
And so all you hear are whispers
'Bout the bullshit that we pull.
No one will name those to blame for 100 red hot years,
Since no one can listen no one hears.

Guess that's why the college kids
Would rather tune out than sit in.
Guess so, whatever, I don't know,
It's easier to join than win.

How can it fucking matter, when no one knows what's true?
No one can be blamed for what no one never knew.
Cover up your tracks,
Wash your hands free from their blood,
No one knows they hate us for what we've done.

I guess they really are leftists. That's so hot.

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You can download a couple tunes from their new album, which I don't have for some reason, here. And put them right on your little music thingy, and take them with you on the subway. Maybe progress isn't so bad after all.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

never grow old

In the late 80's my grandmother took me with her to see her mother in a nursing home in small town Western Illinois. This was around the time of my big high school relationship (all of 9 months) and my experiment with born again Christianity - I'm guessing it was roughly 1987. The place was bleak, institutional painted cinderblock. I remember my great grandmother slumped over the table in a common room, crying, and my grandmother, not really the nurturing type, not knowing what to do with her. Grandma Eva never did learn my name - she referred to me as "D," after my father, and when I corrected her she'd wave me off and say, "I know where you come from, anyway" - but on that day she didn't know me from Adam. She'd always been the life of the party - she was running around with a boyfriend and a sporty red car well into her 80s, and was a fixture at family events like weddings and funerals, fortified by a couple Rob Roys (if you're local, the place to get this drink in Chicago is definitely the Green Mill - up, with a twist). She started offering me beer at the ripe old age of ten - probably confusing me with my father already. Buy by 1987 she divided her time between staring off into space, and crying, near as I could tell.

After the awkward visit, my grandmother turned to me on the way out and made me promise: "If I ever get like that, just shoot me." A steelworker's wife who made a name for herself in local Republican politics and had counted Don Rumsfeld as a friend back when he was a lowly Congressman, she was known to joke about firearms in much the way I am, but this was no deadpan - what she'd seen scared her more than death and Big Government put together.

Christmas eve, I went with my father to visit her at the nursing facility where he moved her six weeks or so ago. The walls were not painted cinderblock, in fact they were decorated with a tasteful border. Pictures of her loved ones, were arranged around the room, including my wedding pictures and some endearingly goofy shots of my late grandfather. At least these places look nicer these days; I'm sure the saunas and the juice bar will be installed by the time the Baby Boomers start checking in. But the low moan of chaos was still there in the background, and the incessent beeping of the patient alarms added a new level of hell for those of us without hearing aids to turn down.

Mostly my father talked and she nodded compliantly, asking a few confused questions here and there. Her hard edges are mostly worn smooth by now, except for occasional glaring moments of clarity.

"Elwood's just in town for the day, but he wanted to make sure he got to see you," my father exaggerated.

"Well, what do you think?" she asked, in one of those lucid moments when her personality still comes through the dementia. "Do you like what you see?" My father kept right on talking. The worst part is, he's starting to get like everyone else and talk about her as if she's not there. On this day he started to talk about people coming in to monitor her bowel movements, with her sitting right there - to some extend I think he find's the situation darkly funny, but she seemed mortified and I cringed on her behalf.

I hope she doesn't remember. She's forgotten a lot, and I hope one of the things she's forgotten is my promise. I don't even own a gun, and wouldn't have the balls to shoot her anyway. But the weight of all she's lost weighs me down in that place. And the worst part of it is the way people talk about you like you weren't there, they way we talk about our cats. My grandmother held on to her dignity and pride when her father walked out during the Depression and she was left raising her younger siblings at the age of twelve, and I don't think she wants to live without them now.

It's not getting old itself that scares me, it's the thought of being treated like I'm not a person anymore.

Friday, December 23, 2005

An Agnostic Looks at Christmas

Elwood Grobnik: There was a Chrismas sing a long deal at work last week. Not that anyone sang along. But the choir from Roberto Clemente High sang, they were pretty good. This guy Ray played guitar and sang a piece he wrote about Mary and her baby . . .
Harvey: Sounds like bullshit to me.
EG: Now, it was good. He sounds like Eddie Vedder when he gets going.
Inner Queen: Yay?
EG: So parts of it were cool. That was one. But then this . . . person . . . goes up and reads this poem. It was called "the night before Jesus came" and was all about how Jesus comes back and the narrator hadn't been "saved" and doesn't get to go with him.
IQ: Presumably to the tune of "Twas the Night Before Christmas."
HR: Dude, 1-800-ACLU-SUE!
EG: I was offended, man, but I gotta eat too.
HR: Sure, but there's a wrongness there. I know there's another Unitarian in that office, and at least one Muslim - the "Jesus or die" poem, that's not what you'd call inclusive. And isn't that a government office?
EG: I suppose. But I don't want to get into it. They're already screaming about the War on Christmas. And that's not even what I'm talking about. Ray was singing about the glory of God, and I have no problem with that. It's the proselytizing I have a problem with.
IQ: Anyway it's just sad all these people clinging to their delusions for safety, hinking somebody's going to save them in the end.
VOICE: You Don't Know He's Not Coming
IQ: And you don't know he is coming, so we're even.
HR: I know the book is bullshit. I know people wrote it, and made it up, and there's no such thing as prophecy.
EG: But you don't know
HR: He's not . . .
VOICE: Something's Coming.
EG: Something's always coming.
HR: Well, sure. You always expect tomorrow to be the same as today, but it never is.
Buddha Nature: really? i hadn't noticed
Dog: Arf!
EG: That's not quite what I mean!
HR: Isn't it?
Voice: You Don't Know He's Not Coming.
HR: Who's not coming? What's coming? The books are all bullshit.
EG: Granted. Nobody knows. But something's coming. The situation is untenable.
Buddha Nature: the situation is transient
EG: It demands change!
Giblets: Giblets demands change! cough it up! Give him your money NOOOW!
HR: It is changing. You just don't like how.
Buddha Nature: really, i hadn't noticed
Voice: Something's Coming
HR: You don't know that!
EG: I say we wait.
HR: But you don't know anyone's coming!
EG: What's the alternative?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Johnny .316 and other passages

I hate this week. The darkest day of the year yesterday, the always stressful Christmas season, and did I mention Johnny Damon is a Yankee now? Now that's a dark day. WWJDD? Play for the Romans for 54 million pieces of silver, apparently.

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Jesus Shaves

I have very little intellingent to say about the world right now, mostly because I've slept all of 12 hours since Sunday, spent a day and a half being violently ill, haven't worked out all week, and I'm still not done with Christmas crap yet. Bah fucking humbug! I'd put the rest of my gifts in brown paper bags and staple them shut, if I had any brown paper bags.

From what little I've picked up from the outside world:

* They're not going to rebuild New Orleans. Not for the people who used to live there, anyway. I hear they are talking about resettling neighborhoods one by one, starting with the high and dry districts by the river. There is concern that if they rebuilt the housing all at once, there would be "blight" because not everyone will come back and some buildings will stand empty. In other words, they don't want too much available housing because it will drive down property values to where poor people might afford them. So "gentrification" becomes a prerequisite for rebuilding. In addition, federal loans for rebuilding are being handled through the Small Business Administration and only handed out to people who meet stringent creditworthiness requirements. As a result, nearly all loans are going to well to do districts. Again, the poor and working class need not apply.

* President Bush ordered the NSA to spy on people in the United States without a warrant starting in 2002. Apparently they started with a relatively small list of people associated with suspected terrorists and then went out to 12 degrees of separation, which would be, what, a third of the country? [Hi, NSA guys, how ya doin' out there? You must be busy, faced with the thankless task of defending us all from our liberty! You must feel you don't get much credit for all the work you do. You know why that is? Because you suck! Now back off and mind your own business.] This practice is clearly in violation of Federal law. It is also unconstitutional:

' Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. '

I believe this is an impeachable offense.

* The senate had an emergency spine transplant and refused to renew the Patriot Act without adding significant oversight, partly as a response to the President's illegal spying program. Bush caved in and allowed the act to be extendeded for just a month while new safeguards are considered.

* Our unesteemed chief executive also gave in and agreed to sign a ban on torture. The guy is becoming downright progressive in his old age, isn't he?

* Oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve was again defeated at the last minute.

And now for the bad news. They had an election in Iraq. I know what you're going to say, "wait, isn't that good news?" No, it isn't. Because the parties in power have used the last year to get their militia people in to all the key jobs - literal "political footsoldiers," sort of like Chicago-style ward organizations with AK-47s. They have been able to produce an electoral victory for themselves even though many people are quite disenchanted with them. Not only that, but their opponents are already crying foul and accusing them of cheating.

This would be bad under any circumstances. But the parties in power in this case are fundamentalist religious Shiites allied with Iran. And Iran recently had elections of its own, which were enough to give pause to even the most ardent supporters of democracy. There were actually a couple candidates for which a sane person might vote: reformer Mustapha Moin, for one, or former President Akbar Rafsanjani, an old revolutionary who nevertheless would like improved relations with the West. But no, the rabble chose to elect the profoundly ignorant former mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a lay fundie who is slowly rolling back the hard won social freedoms of the last decade. He's a go it alone hardliner internationally and a social rightie at home. Sound familiar? Actually he makes Bush look like a brain trust. He believes the world is going to end in the next couple years and wants to build a special railroad line to carry the Messiah to Tehran from the site of the well out of which he will appear. Apparently this Messiah will need nuclear weapons for some reason. And, oh yeah, we're spending our soldiers' lives and hundreds of billions of dollars to put his buddies in power next door in Iraq, where they're running secret prisons and torturing people and forming death squads and assassinating journalists who criticize them. Hoo-Rah.

Well, I got new for Rapture-seekers here, there and everywhere to brighten up the holiday season:

He ain't comin'. Time to make other plans.

The world's going to keep spinning for a while yet, whether you're on board or not. The Middle East is not going to suddenly transform into a land of peace and democracy just because a bunch of Marines charge in there and start waving the flag around. Homosexuality and abortion are not going to go away just because you ban them - we don't care that you think they're icky, we didn't ask, because we don't respect your opinion. Oil prices are going to keep going up no matter who you invade, because there's just not that much oil left. And the Messiah? He got a better offer from the Yankees.

Monday, December 12, 2005

a theory of actual reality part 2

As I've said before, it is becoming apparent that the muddle-headed postmodernism that afflicts our public intellectuals has crippled their ability to resist the full scale onslaught against reason and the Enlightenment being carried out by boneheaded mouth-breathers and the corporate elite that exploits them. What is needed instead is some kind of worldview grounded in a respect for the central importance of Actual Reality.

For the latest round in this intellectual boxing match, we are proud to bring you Harold Pintner vs. Harold Pintner. From his recent Nobel Prize acceptance speech:
Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

As every single person here knows, the justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al Quaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11th 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.

The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.

But before I come back to the present I would like to look at the recent past, by which I mean United States foreign policy since the end of the Second World War. I believe it is obligatory upon us to subject this period to at least some kind of even limited scrutiny, which is all that time will allow here.

Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe during the post-war period: the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought. All this has been fully documented and verified.

But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now. Although constrained, to a certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet Union, the United States' actions throughout the world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche to do what it liked.

Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America's favoured method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as 'low intensity conflict'. Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued – or beaten to death – the same thing – and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed. This was a commonplace in US foreign policy in the years to which I refer.

The tragedy of Nicaragua was a highly significant case. I choose to offer it here as a potent example of America's view of its role in the world, both then and now.

I was present at a meeting at the US embassy in London in the late 1980s.

The United States Congress was about to decide whether to give more money to the Contras in their campaign against the state of Nicaragua. I was a member of a delegation speaking on behalf of Nicaragua but the most important member of this delegation was a Father John Metcalf. The leader of the US body was Raymond Seitz (then number two to the ambassador, later ambassador himself). Father Metcalf said: 'Sir, I am in charge of a parish in the north of Nicaragua. My parishioners built a school, a health centre, a cultural centre. We have lived in peace. A few months ago a Contra force attacked the parish. They destroyed everything: the school, the health centre, the cultural centre. They raped nurses and teachers, slaughtered doctors, in the most brutal manner. They behaved like savages. Please demand that the US government withdraw its support from this shocking terrorist activity.'

Raymond Seitz had a very good reputation as a rational, responsible and highly sophisticated man. He was greatly respected in diplomatic circles. He listened, paused and then spoke with some gravity. 'Father,' he said, 'let me tell you something. In war, innocent people always suffer.' There was a frozen silence. We stared at him. He did not flinch.

Innocent people, indeed, always suffer.

Finally somebody said: 'But in this case “innocent people” were the victims of a gruesome atrocity subsidised by your government, one among many. If Congress allows the Contras more money further atrocities of this kind will take place. Is this not the case? Is your government not therefore guilty of supporting acts of murder and destruction upon the citizens of a sovereign state?'

Seitz was imperturbable. 'I don't agree that the facts as presented support your assertions,' he said.

As we were leaving the Embassy a US aide told me that he enjoyed my plays. I did not reply.

I should remind you that at the time President Reagan made the following statement: 'The Contras are the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers.'

I wholeheartedly endorse his newfound appreciation for the value of the truth, and his concerns about what he calls "the tapestry of lies" that surrounds us. But even Pintner admits he hasn't always been it's biggest champion. He starts his speech with these words:
In 1958 I wrote the following:

'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.'

I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?
So he has come to the conclusion that in order to make a convincing political case, he needs to abandon the reality-defying principles of his art. A political program, like a house, needs to be built on a concrete foundation. I hold out hope that this may turn out to be a watershed moment in a larger movement in which people come to realize that the tools of literary criticism are not, in fact, the most appropriate tools for analyzing culture, society, and life in general, a movement that leads the practitioners of that esoteric art to retreat to their Ivory Tower, where they will never be heard from by people with jobs again.

Unfortunately, Pintner then procedes to play a little fast and loose with the facts himself. He claims that "At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began," for example. The truth is bad enough without resorting to eggageration to make your political point. If we are going to be the "reality-based community," we need to stick to facts we know are true, rather than grasping at any statement that appears to support us and harm our enemies. Sadly, sloppy argument and faulty reasoning are just as common as egaggerated numbers. If we can't make a case agains Bush with the plain truth, there's gotta be something wrong with us.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Empty Bottle Test

"Cigarettes and whiskey and wild, wild women. They'll drive you crazy. They'll drive you insane" - 50th Ward Alderman Bernie Stone

I guess they've had their last meeting in those legendary "smoke-filled back rooms." Yesterday, accompanied by a public display of laughter and bawdy song, Chicago City Council finally passed a ban on smoking in most public places. While many of us have waited a long, long time for such an ordinance, we're going to have to wait longer still for it to take effect.

Disappointingly, the legislation as passed does not pass the "Empty Bottle" test, embodied in the statement:

"If the city passed a smoking ban, I'd be able to hop down to the Empty Bottle and watch a jazz, alternative, or punk band without my eyes turning read and my jacket smelling so bad I can't wear it again for a week." In spite of the fact that the bar is scarcely a mile from our house and features some of the best music in the city, we rarely go there, because of air quality issues. It just frankly stinks in there, and my wife won't go unless, of course, her friend's band is playing (like they will be this Saturday night, the 10th). So I don't want to hear about smokers' rights, or how a ban will drive people away from local businesses. It didn't hurt business in New York. In fact, it's probably helped, because it's such a pleasant and non-foul-smelling experience to go to a bar there. Every time I visit I'm amazed by how far you can see in those places, how clean everything is, and how it almost completely fails to stink.

Alas, Chicago's "ban" as passed allows smoking in bars and restaruants with bars in them until July 1, 2008, at which time Chicago, rather than being one of the first cities to have such a law, will almost certainly be one of the last. Furthermore, individual bars will be exempt from the restriction if they can devise "air filtration or purification devices" that "render the exposure to secondhand smoke" in the bar or tavern "equivalent to exposure to secondhand smoke in the ambient outdoor air surrounding the establishment." Of course, no such technology exists at this point, but it does leave open the possibility that the city will eventually come up with some bogus air quality standards that undermine the law altogether. And that, my friends, will stink.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Demolition of the Week: El Rincon Community Clinic

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I haven't been keeping up with the demolition watch, obviously. This feature, and to some extent this blog, started with a conversation in a neighbor's apartment over a game of Go. The idea was that someone should keep a record of all the architecturally good but everyday neighborhood buildings that are being destroyed on a weekly basis in the city of Chicago. While cities like New York value their architectural heritage and painstakingly preserve it, to the extent of painstakingly preserving the facades of old buildings when new ones are built behind them. In Chicago such a thing would only be attempted after a protracted fight with preservationists - early morning demolitions without even a permit are the norm, and go on all the time, unquestioned.

Everyone at the gathering lamented this state of affairs, and an architect who was present suggested the old neighborhood buildings should be documented somewhere. Someone else (not me) suggested a newsletter with a "Demolition of the Week" feature. This was perhaps 10 days before the 2004 election, and I was already planning to start this blog, so I just incorporated the feature.

But in recent months, the destruction has been so widespread that I've basically given up. By the time I notice a new demolition, there's nothing left to photograph but a big hole in the ground. This happens so often that the actual population of the neighborhood has probably declined significantly, as house after house has become a construction site in an orgy of speculative development. Developers have no consideration for the neighorhood that was here before, instead they are explointing every loophole they can find to allow demolition of the existing working class housing in order to build half million dollar condos for the wealthy. For those of you who are out of town and haven't been here to see the hood, I'm sorry you missed it. It had character. My only consolation is that the real estate market is bound to crash soon, as there are clearly not enough buyers for all of these astronomically priced homes. People here just don't make that kind of cash - the median income in Illinois is actually falling these days.

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The building I've picked out for this week must seem an odd choice. The commercial building at 1874 N Milwaukee is not exactly an architectural gem. In fact, it's sort or ugly and the building that used to flank it have already been destroyed. other than the charming little detail (above) over the door, it doesn't have that much to recommend it.

Actually, I won't miss the building at all. But I think it's representative of the changes taking place throughout the Near West Side. The building coming down currently houses the El Rincon Community Clinic, a methadone clinic serving the Latino population. This explains the poor quality of my photograph here - it's fairly awkward trying to snap pictures of a methadone clinic on a Thursday afternoon in late autumn. You have to be careful not to get any clients in the picture, and even so, everyone glares at you for invading their privacy. Sort of a creepy corner right now, which is kind of a shame because it's right across the street from the best little Costa Rican restaurant ever.

The new building goin up on the property and the surrounding vacant land won't be so sketchy. In fact, it's supposed to the new wave of environmentally friendly architecture. In addition to insulation and advanced water recycling including one gallon toilets filled with used shower water, the building's appliances will be powered by photovoltaic cells, meaning no gas and electric bills. In fact, CK Developers claims it may be possible for the building to sell electricity to Com Ed. The price for these low-impact living quarters? A bit less than half a million each.

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Artist's Rendering of the proposed green condos.

Developing this kind of technology sounds like it's all to the good, in fact it's a greenie's wet dream. But who's going to move into these units? Certainly not the colorful, artistic and pansexual crew who made up the old Wicker Park/Bucktown area and earned it the nickname of "Chicago's Greenwich Village." Not aspiring actors, not painters, not photographers, not Puerto Rican laborers, not octogenarian Polish grandmothers, and certainly not the patrons of the methadone clinic. Which might be great from a developer or investor perspective; "Woo hoo! Rising property values!" But where are people of the non-rising income values supposed to live?

Monday, November 28, 2005

a theory of actual reality part 1

Talk about coming late to the party. Over the weekend, I saw the film adaptation of the Broadway musical Rent, a phenomenon which I managed to completely miss when it came out back in 1996. Not only did I not catch the musical, I'd never even heard the soundtrack until after I'd seen the first time (for the rest of you who were as out of the loop as I was - it's really good. Go see the movie).

It's really not surprising that I've never seen the stage production, since at the time it came out, I was living in a co-op in Columbus, OH, 22 of us camped out in a crumbling, glorious ruin of a mansion just east of Ohio State University. The mix of perennial grad students, wannabe writers, artists, and musicians, and party people with fluid sexualities would be familiar to the characters from "Rent." But we didn't go to see Broadway shows that much (I got the impression neither would the "Rent" crew. What else was out then, anyway? Cats?)

Seeing the musical at such a remove from that time and place raises a lot of questions for me. Was I a "bohemian?" What am I now? Have I betrayed my ideals? Did I have any ideals worth clinging to? And so on.

Before we go there, some more obvious observations:

The AIDS epidemic probably hurt New York a lot more than 9/11 did. It killed more people, and in the process gutted the creative community that had been the energetic beating heart of Downtown communities like the East VIllage and Alphabet City. Also, while 9/11 caused the country to (briefly) rally behind New York (remember "it's your patriotic duty to go to a Broadway show?"), the AIDS epidemic caused Middle America (and there was such a beast back then) to recoil.

A lot of reviewers have complained that Rent is now a "period piece" - the community depicted no longer exists in the same way. It seems a strange criticism. Did critics feel that was a negative thing in the case of "Chicago," or "Capote," or "Dances With Wolves," to name a few movies set in times that are not now? Every Western ever made, for example? The truth is, "Rent" was already a period piece when it premiered on stage - the Alphabet City bohemia depicted was already vanishing, for the very reasons discussed in the play - AIDS for one, as well as rising rents in the neighborhood (hence the name).

In fact, pronouncements that "those days are gone" are a bit premature. It's true that the East Village is now filled with multimillion dollar condos (one of which is owned by Rent star Anthony Rapp!), but Bohemia has simply left Manhattan for grimier pastures in Dumbo, Williamsburg, and other points east. But if Brooklyn doesn't exist to these people, there's just no point in bringing up Yellow Springs, Ohio, is there?

"Relevance" isn't exactly the point, anyway. "Bohemians" (so named after the centuries-old hipster scene in Prague, still going strong last I heard) are out of the mainstream by definition. Most critics of the movie (and Broadway show) quickly devolve into personal attacks on the relevance and worth of the type of people depicted in the show.

The best review so far:
"Get a job for God's sake, people, and bring back some better songs while you're out."
-- Jeffrey Bruner, DES MOINES REGISTER

This one goes into more detail:
I’m shocked that a musical about AIDS, heroin, and squatters could become the eighth longest running musical in Broadway history with over 4,000 performances. It has grossed more than $210 million in New York alone. After seeing the movie, I’m glad I didn’t go to the Las Vegas performances of this acknowledged worldwide phenomenon.

I understand that the musical has a huge following, but the movie RENT will not. Why hail the lives of a group of people who do nothing, engage in sexually risky behavior, get terminally ill, and refuse to pay their rent? Because they feel that it is only important to love and let someone else pay the Con Ed bill? To find this “truth,” these misfits have traversed a lifestyle of anonymous, multiple sex partners and needle drugs. Larson ignores what made this group of sweet kids damaged souls of hopelessness.

Who are these boring, uncreative friends? Roger (Adam Pascal) is a songwriter who hasn’t written a song in a year. He just kicked heroin. His tenement roommate is Mark (Anthony Rapp), an out-of-work filmmaker who keeps filming his friends sitting around. Surprisingly, since Mark appears gay, he was unceremoniously dumped by sultry performance artist Maureen (Idina Menzel), who is now in love with a successful lawyer, jealous Joanne (Tracie Thoms). Downstairs lives Mimi (Rosario Dawson), a fully-dressed exotic dancer who does not make enough money to pay her rent either. She is a heroin addict. She likes sullen Roger. It is so sweet when they admit to each other they are both taking AZT and are HIV-positive!

WEST SIDE STORY’S Maria and Tony look like whining babies now!

Roger and Mark’s buddy Tom (Jesse L. Martin) turns up. He is homeless, jobless, and has just been mugged. But he has a really good attitude! He meets the Soul of RENT, precious Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia), a drag queen. They are HIV-positive. That makes four sick people in one movie. They go to AIDS meetings. Everyone gets up and sings a We Shall Overcome song.

Trying to promote reality into these happy-go-lucky freeloaders is Benjamin Coffin III (Taye Diggs). He married their tenement owner's daughter and, even though he long ago promised his friends their valuable loft rent-free, he now needs the space for a business enterprise. What an ***! Where is the love in New York City real estate?
. . .
I didn’t like the music. I know it is sacrilegious to write anything negative about RENT (as the show-stopping song goes, “but I am who I am”). And, like the SERENITY and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA fans, I am sure I will hear from everyone who ever brought a ticket to RENT and cried. After all, it is a musical about HIV-positive young people who haven’t a care in the world. The creator died at 36 years old of an aortic aneurysm before enjoying the perks of creating the first Gay AIDS musical.
-Victoria Alexander,

Feel the love, people.

And then there's this gem:
His songs, with their somber despair and contrasting seize-the-day attitudes, slice to the heart of a disillusionment that has been forgotten since Sept. 11, 2001, even though the problems of AIDS, drugs, urban isolation and self-serving relationships still infect a generation.
- Mark Collette Tyler Morning Telegraph

Huh? There are people out there who are less disillusioned after 9/11? Apparently there are, in Texas.

For me, dropping out of mainstream society was a rejection of the hypocrisy and greed I saw in mainstream, materialistic society. I wanted an entirely different kind of existence, rooted in creativity and spirituality, in community, relationships and people. Which is sort of funny, because I'm bad at relationships, irreligious, and lack the follow-through to really write the Great American Novel. But I never said I was the model for a new society, I just said I wanted one.

Which brings us to the philosophical underpinning for the whole project, Tom Collins' intriguingly hinted-at "Theory of Actual Reality" that got him kicked out of trendier institutions like MIT (He reprogrammed a virtual reality demonstration to say Actual Reality! ACT UP! Fight AIDS!).

What would such a theory be like? I can see it's something I'm going to be chewing on for the next few weeks. But here's an outline: wherever humanism and postmodernism are incompatible, postmodernism should be dumped like a high school girlfriend. This approach will allow us to excape from the solipsistic trap that has pretty much short circuited critical though in this country for the past couple decades.

AIDS is a great place to start. It isn't socially constructed, it's real. It's a retrovirus, a renegade strand of RNA that will kill you regardless of what social meaning you ascribe to it or how you attempt to integrate it into your understanding of reality. Or another example. People often say that race relations are "so much better than they used to be." Again, you may feel that way, but there are actual facts, and the facts say different. Segregation is worse than ever - the average white person and average black person live further apart than ever before, and are less likely to have a member of a different race living within a mile of them. African American infant mortality rates are worse than some Third World nations (Cuba's is much lower, for example).

In postmodernia, we are expected to give equal weight to all "perspectives." Hence the news media, intent on showcasing both "sides" of an issue even when one side is lying. But nobody calls it a "lie," now it's called a "conservative perspective." How many times have I heard a talking head or some guy on NPR say that same sex marriages will "undermine marriage" or "threaten American families." Why? How would that work? What does that even mean? If these questions can't be answered, then this "perspective" doesn't belong on the air. Perspecives with evidence to back their claims should be - what's the word - privileged over other perspectives. Yes, I'm saying that some people's views are more important and better because they are well informed, while other people's views deserve to be devalued and ignored because they are ignorant. Obviously people have different values and opinions about a great many subjects, and that's all to the good. But we don't need to show good natured tolerance and respect for self-serving blather based on assumptions that can be proved false with a few minutes of effort.

Look at these so-called critics. "Get a job?" Do you know how hard it is to make a movie or write a novel while working a full time job? If people don't drop out of the mainstream work force to create art, where is it supposed to come from? Or are people actually satisfied with the empty-headed "cultural products" peddled by Disney and Viacom? Even if they are, they should realize that most of those guys also started out in an unheated loft somewhere. And if neighborhood after neighborhood is converted into housing for the wealthy, where the hell are the other 90% of people supposed to live?

These are not rhetorical questions, I actually want answers. That's another thing that separates Actual Reality from the Blatherverse. The irony here, of course, is that right now it's me who's just ranting. But I plan to return. Soon! With Actual Examples! And then maybe I'll Make Sense!

Till then, just go see the movie.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

in the mean time . . .

sorry it's taking so long for me to get the latest update out. In the meantime, I have a post up here, about some depressing stuff which nevertheless is probably the most important thing going on in this country. Be a good citizen and check out some of the articles I linked to, I'll see you back here tomorrow.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Wish I'd Said That . . .

Facemonkey forwarded this gem to me:
The rise of Idiot America is essentially a war on expertise. It's not so much antimodernism or the distrust of intellectual elites that Richard Hofstadter deftly teased out of the national DNA forty years ago. Both of those things are part of it. However, the rise of Idiot America today represents—for profit mainly, but also, and more cynically, for political advantage and in the pursuit of power—the breakdown of a consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good. It also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people whom we should trust the least are the people who best know what they're talking about. In the new media age, everybody is a historian, or a preacher, or a scientist, or a sage. And if everyone is an expert, then nobody is, and the worst thing you can be in a society where everybody is an expert is, well, an actual expert.

In the place of expertise, we have elevated the Gut, and the Gut is a moron, as anyone who has ever tossed a golf club, punched a wall, or kicked an errant lawn mower knows. We occasionally dress up the Gut by calling it "common sense." The president's former advisor on medical ethics regularly refers to the "yuck factor." The Gut is common. It is democratic. It is the roiling repository of dark and ancient fears.

Thanks, man. That brightened my day.

Ranting into the Void

There's been a lot of talk about blogs being the subversive new media, with a new breed of citizen-journalist daring to tell the truth in the face of the corporate media juggernaut. This kind of talk strikes me as mostly bullshit. If you should take anything you read in the paper with a grain of salt, you should take anything you read on the internet with a whole cube, followed by two tylenol and good night's sleep to mull it over. For one thing, people like me don't have time to do much research, we have actual jobs to do. So what you get is mostly uninformed, unreflective ranting, not to say gibberish.

You can't just read this blog, for example, and think you have some idea what's going on in Chicago. In this space I have been recording, intermittantly, the destruction of neighborhood buildings which I felt were beatiful and good and contributed to the city's unique character and personality, to be replaced by a blank, featureless autoscape somewhat resembling a huge suburban apartment complex but louder, and with more traffic. The other week, however, when I was late for an appointment on the South Side and took what I remembered as a short cut, I discovered that I have missed what should have been the story of the last year.

Downtown Englewood is gone.

The area around 63rd and Halsted was once the downtown of one of the first suburbs of Chicago, a working class immigrant community south of the Union Stockyards, where many of its residents worked. By the end of the 19th century Englewood had been annexed to the city proper, and in the first half of the 20th Century its old downtown served as an important commercial strip for the central South Side, which at the time was pretty much the residential and industrial heart of the city. In addition to shopping, the area was home to several theaters where locals could catch both live jazz and "talkies."

After World War II, as discrimitory "housing compacts" were held to be illegal, Chicago's growing African American population began moving west across Cottage Grove and towards Englewood. The idea of racial integration was not viewed in a positive light by the local white community, and in the early 50s a riot famously broke out in the area after the rumor spread that a local man planned to sell his house to a black family (actually, a nosy neighbor had merely observed a black man attending a labor meeting at the house. Rioters burned the house down anyway, or maybe they didn't - we bloggers are not so big on fact checking, remember).

Long story short - as African Americans began to move into the area, virtually every white resident left the community in the course of perhaps years, pretty much one block at a time moving east to west. At first there were enough new residents from the crowded Bronzeville area to buy or rent whatever space opened up, but soon there were more sellers than buyers, property values tanked, and new residents became poorer and poorer (during the period of urban "white flight" the first black families to move into a neighborhood generally had higher incomes than the previous white residents - they could afford to escape the ghetto, but their choices were limited by rampant discrimination by lenders as well as sellers). Soon, the original middle class black settlers, realizing they had been joined in Englewood by the very same ex-neighbors they themselves had been trying to get away from, moved again, this time to the south, leaving Englewood as a segregated community with increasing poverty and a rapidly declining population. Today the neighborhood has less than half the population it did in 1960.

Soon all the businesses around 63rd and Halsted were closed and boarded up with the exception of a liquor store and a drug store, if I remember right. By the time I arrived here a few years ago the abandoned downtown was an honest to God ghost town, with boarded up 19th Century wooden and brick storefronts lining an eerily quiet street, with an impressive and abandoned old bank building and a few other gems. Ironically, the city had hastened the commercial strip's demise by demolishing part of the area to put in parking and routing traffic through a detour to create a "pedestrian mall" - those things almost never work. For years the boarded up district was flanked by taunting signs with arrowd for "Through Traffic" and "Shopping" - hence my old short cut through the ghost town. I used to find reasons to take out of town visitors through the area, just so they could see firsthand exactly what's happening to America's cities. As Juan Cole recently noted in a blog post about the riots in the French banlieu:
(Americans who code themselves as "white" are often surprised to discover that "white people" created the inner cities here by zoning them for settlement by racial "minorities," excluding the minorities from the nicer parts of the cities and from suburbs. As late as the 1960s, many European-Americans were willing to sign a "covenant" not to sell their houses to an African-American, Chinese-American or a Jewish American. In fact, in the US, the suburbs were built, most often with de facto government subsidies in the form of highways and other perquisites, as an explicit means of racial segregation. Spatial segregation protected "white" businesses from competition from minority entrepreneurs, who couldn't open shops outside their ghettos. In France, government inputs were used to create "outer cities," but many of the same forces were at work.)

Couldn't have said it better myself, so I won't try. Anyway, apart from the bank building and a few neighboring structures, the entire 19th Century downtown has been demolished. It's one big, flat construction site today.

Urban historian Max Grinnell tells me the corner of 63rd and Halsted is going to be the location for the new campus of Kennedy-King College. Which brings us to one of the things you haven't heard much about if you're getting your news about what's been called "gentrification" just from bloggers and alterna-rags (you haven't heard me use the dreaded G-word, but people read it into my posts anyway): some neighorhood changes are good, and even necessary. While it pains me that unimaginitive bureaucrats could not find a way to preserve and re-use more of the charming old facades that lined the street, it's hard to argue with the kind of development that will bring students and their spending money, as well as a libraty, bookstore, and swimming pool all open to the public, to a neighborhood that had none of these things. If it's done right, it should create an actual functioning commercial district in an area where for the past 25 years a ghost town has stood.

It's true, based on the execrable design of the other City Colleges I'm scared of what monstrosity may rise there - another cold, uninviting bunker separated from the street by fences, hedges, and expensive, useless little patches of grass will certainly not enourage anyone to stay around and have lunch. But the bones of the old neighborhood - Englewood is very nicely laid out, with above average access to parks and civilized, tree-lined streets, and would be walkable if there were any businesses left to walk to, plus it has it's own El stop, unlike most of the transit-deprived South Side - make me hopeful that the area will recover.

Apartheid was bad for South Africa and it's bad for America today. A little "gentrification" in Englewood would be a very, very good thing.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Last Thoughts on 35th Street

. . . at least until spring training and the whole cycle of joy and sorrow starts over again.

Winning the World Series is not my dream. It is my goal.
- Ozzie Guillen, a few long, impossible weeks ago.
The White Sox won the World Series. Strange to think about. The Red Sox and their legions of long-suffering fans made sense somehow, and made the world seem right, and good, and orderly. The Cubs? Someday. But the White Sox? This was the team that hadn't won since the 1919 squad threw the series to collect the gambling payoff. In spite of the name, their team color is black. Once they had to forfeit the second game of a double header when fans wouldn't leave the field following a publicity stunt which involved blowing up disco records. For years they've been playing to a half-empty house in a forlorn, cement monolith of a ballpark stuck between the railroad track, the Dan Ryan Expressway, and the Stateway Gardens, Wentworth Gardens, and Robert Taylor housing projects. Suspecting this was the source of their long-standing attendance problems, owner Jerry Reinsdorf tried to move the team to the suburbs in 1988. But after he bought up the land, the suburb of Addison wouldn't take them - residents voted down the stadium proposal, fearing that it would result in drunk people pissing on their well-manicured lawns. (Why is it so boring out there? They like it that way.)

But it wasn't just fear of the neighborhood that kept the crowds away. An Opening Day Ipsos Poll revealed that the cross-town Cubs have approximately five times as many fans as the Pale Hose. In fact, a good number of people at the Cell on any given game day, myself included, are Cubs fans who want to see a game and can't get tickets to perennially sold out Wrigley Field. A World Series title may shift those numbers a bit, but the Sox are still mightily unloved. A loser among losers. The geek the other geeks make fun of. In short, the ultimate underdog. So it does make the heart feel glad, and the burden of life a little easier, to see them win something.

And who did they beat? The Houston Astros. George Bush Sr.'s team. The whitest team in the league: did you know the Astros were the first team to play in the World Series without a single African American player since the 1953 Yankees? (The league was integrated when the Brooklyn Dodgers hired Jackie Robinson in 1947, but the Evil Empire didn't integrate until 1955).

This isn't really the team's fault, it's a symptom of the broad decline of African American ball players over the past 20 years. Inner city kids of they kind who used to dream of playing professional baseball now prefer football and basketball. Brian, the pastor at our Unitarian Church and a diehard Red Sox fan, tells me that part of the problem is the expense of assembling all the equipment for a game of baseball - all you need for a game of football or basketball in the park is a ball. Whatever the reason, his attempts to lure neighborhood kids into forming a team have so far been unsuccessful.

A few generations ago baseball was huge in black communities. A middle aged black professional I work closely with was reminiscing last week about White Sox past. "I remember when they went to the Series in '59, I was in 5th grade. Of course, I was a Dodgers fan. We were all Dodgers fans then, because of Jackie Robinson."

Even before the Dodgers integrated, African American professional baseball was widely followed. Although the numerous attempts to form stable professional leagues were mostly financial failures, a number of teams persisted through the early decades of the 20th Century and managed to play some great baseball. In fact, the White Sox, during the 1950s, shared old Comisky Park with the Chicago American Giants, another great South Side team that was built on speed, pitching and defense. Before that the American Giants played at Shorling Park, which had been home of the White Sox from the 1880s until Comisky was built.

I suppose I had a point when I started writing this post. I can't for the life of me remember what it is now. My mind's getting bleary from daydreams, and lack of sleep, and the several drinks I had with dinner down at the bar. But what I've arrived at is this. Fifty years ago, even with Jim Crow and all the problems this country was facing, African Americans had their own leagues - they owned the teams, played the games, and packed the seats. Today, in many communities the cost of bats, gloves, face masks and helmets is considered prohibitive. Often we tell ourselves that things have been getting better in this country, but that all depends on where you stand.

When I think about Ozzie's statement about winning I think about the state of America, her cities, her progressives. I tried to say this yesterday, but looking back I didn't do such a good job so at the risk of being repetitive:

We do too much dreaming, as well as too much intellectualizing and perfectionist nitpicking. It's time we stopped dreaming, and set some goals, and worked together to achieve them. I hear that sometimes that's all it takes for a bunch of losers and misfits to win it all.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

a year of living dangerously

- sign on the marquee of the Shamrock Express, at 110th and Western

It's come to my attention that this blog is just about a year old. It was born a day or so after the 2004 elections, partly in an attempt to explain or at least explore the much discussed Red/Blue cultural divide. My sense was that the essential conflict was not so much between states or classes as between types of communities - dense, diverse places like Chicago in which the attempt to build and sustain community is paramount vs. low-density sprawl and rural areas in which the cult of the radical individual is more important.

I still hold fairly strongly to those ideas, but my thinking has become a lot less simplistic over the past year. So I want to take a look at some exceptions. Do they prove the rule? Who knows.

The other weekend we were on a subway train on our way to 125th Street in Manhattan (yes, music lovers, the A Train to Harlem)when it was boarded by a large group of creepy African American churchgoers, who commenced to start singing hymns. Some of the passengers knew the songs and started to sing along, the others looked uncomfortable. Trope gave me one of her ear bugs and we sat there listening to Ditty Bops MP3s trying to ignore all the Jesus. Then they stopped singing and a preacher lady started talking about how God had destroyed New Orleans because of all the voodoo and homosexuality and it was time to repent.

"Hell no," I failed to say. "Get your ass off this train and go spew your hate in the sewer where it belongs, you nasty old cow," I failed to add. I sat there, heart beating in my ears, blood pressure about to make my eyeballs explode out of my face, paralyzed. I wouldn't (and couldn't) have actually pushed her in front of a train, but if someone else had done so I might just have cheered. The only thing hate begets, evidently, is hate.

If there's a core "problem" with American culture it's our tendency to kick down the ladder. If we need someone to blame, it's far easier for us to blame someone beneath us on the food chain, rather than someone "successful," or god forbid, ourselves. Blame the poor for drowning in a flood, or blame gay people - apparently everything is their fault today. First it was divorce and sex abuse scandals, now even the weather can be blamed on gay people!

Take my favorite bete noir of recent weeks, White Sox fans. While it's true to some extend their bitterness towards North Siders is class based, and thus "progressive," it's expression is usually "cultural" rather than economic. Even within Blue America territory, they vent about "yuppies" and especially about how there is a large gay community surrounding Wrigley Field (overheard at a game: "This one's a Cubs fan and the other one's a Red Sox fan. I should have just dropped them both off at the Man Hole.") What's up with that, anyway? Homosexuals are just one of a crowd of scapegoats I keep hearing about. Working class Americans, rather than uniting against the depredations of Corporate America, tend to blame: welfare moms. Affirmative action giving "their" jobs to minorities. Foreigners: as welcome as Americans' righteous indignation about the Katrina disaster was, you didn't have to listen to people talk about it for long before someone said: "We should stop all foreign aid until we rebuild the Gulf Coast." Because people who drown in Bangladesh are so much less important than we are, right?

We're all like this to some extent. Blue people too. Our country wasn't taken over by a coup or a conspiracy, people chose this. Until we can come to grips with that truth, we'll never change it. And I'm not just talking about voting. We chose this by our lives, by our consumption, by the way we participate in keeping other people down and then justify to ourselves how they brought it on themselves. They didn't finish school, couldn't keep their pants on, did the wrong kind of drugs, whatever. It couldn't be our fault.

Game 3 of the World Series - wow. After 14 innings, the White Sox finally get a couple runs in to win as reliever Ezequiel Astacio collaped. After the game, Astros manager Garner vents to the press about how "pissed off" he is that his team played terrible and wasn't hitting. But none of it was his fault, for not pulling the pitcher, for not calling for a bunt with a guy on third, in short for not doing his job. It was all the people under him, who work for him, what a bunch of losers.

Often I see progressive America behaving exactly like Garner. It ain't us, it must be the refs. The media. Voting machines. The Democratic Party leadership jockeying for the next election. It couldn't be us. We can't even imagine a world in which people might see us as hypocrites.

It's so easy for corporate elites to roll over us time and again in their single-minded pursuit of profits because the rest of the country is a bickering, squabbling mess. Religion, race, and "culture" divide us and keep us down. Some people want to build a progressive movement that's a mirror image of the Right - well-funded, ideological, bent on manipulating the public's understanding of reality rather than understanding it. None of that for me - I'd prefer a team that looked like the White Sox.

As I've noted, it's hard for me to root for them, since their fans express such contempt for my sushi-eating yuppie ass. And it's especially hard when they're playing in Houston and the camera pans across the crowd, zooming in on the disappointed faces of little kids in Astros gear as their team gets beat down, again. But that's not the team's fault, that's just life. And the team is interesting. A minority-led coalition not based in religion or language, but unified by a goal. They let each other off the hook when they make mistakes and present a common public face. They laugh, and do belly flops on the tarp when it rains. They like themselves, but take responsibility when their screw-ups cost the group. They bring crippled old Frank Thomas along for the ride even though he can't play anymore.

What's with all the sports metaphors? It's all about achieving a goal. In baseball, the goal is totally inconsequential and arbitrary - nobody really cares what happens to the little white ball, so the whole thing can be about process.

American Progressives don't have a goal these days. Everybody knows what the Right wants - a dog eat dog libertarian world with a veneer of religious and cultural bullshit to explain to the little dogs why they deserve to get eaten. But what's our goal? What does our America look like? We need to stop complaining about how bad things are and start talking about how great they can be if we pull together and try to accomplish something.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Demolition of the Week: Chez Roberta

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Roberta's house on Webster, last December

Well, our house has been more or less patched together, but the rest of the neighborhood continues to disappear one building at a time.

The most recent loss was, in my opinion, a real classic. The house at the northwest corner of Webster and Hoyne appears to have been built as an apartment building, but it has spent the past few decades as a single family home. Roberta, a friend from Tai Chi who lived there until a year or so ago, grew up there with her parents and 12 brothers and sisters. The family bought the house back in the 1950s when they moved to Chicago from South Dakota - recently her parents retired for good and decided to go back to their hometown in the Badlands.

The developers simply offered them too much money to turn down, and never hid the fact that they planned to demolish the property as soon as they sweet-talked the alderman into changing the zoning. Because the house had a small "yard," a small empty corner lot next door, they knew they'd have room to build something a millionaire could love.

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The house was a great example of how attention to decorative detail in a structure can contribute to the neighborhood.

I really liked this one. It was part of a group of buildings that complemented each other and helped establish the neighborhood's character right away as you entered it, walking or driving west on Webster. The whole northeast frontier of Bucktown has been gradually disappearing, being replaced by a generic hodge podge that nobody will really care about, not even the people who live there.

When you add in the fact that a bunch of guys from the gas company just ripped up my impatiens with a back hoe, the neighborhood just doesn't have the charm it did even a week ago.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Joys and Sorrows of a 115 Year Old House

So we got back from Ohio on monday and smelled gas as soon as we walked in the door. Trope summoned a guy from the gas company, a nice enough guy, sort of a young black Santa Claus. Santa told us that the line carrying gas in from the street was leaking, and he'd have to shut off the gas to the house until our landlord got it fixed. Also, there was no shutoff valve in the house, so some guys would have to come out, right away, and tear up the front yard to disconnect the gas by, like, smashing the pipe with a backhoe. You couldn't make this stuff up. Using a little clicking device that reminded me of the jury-rigged motion detectors from "Alien," Santa determined that the line in question runs right through the bedroom, and our closets, to the meter at the back of the house. The leak is somewhere south of the stairwell, meaning that a sizeable chunk of wall or ceiling will have to be removed to get at the pipe in question in order to repair it.

So the landlord dispatches a guy he knows who can allegedly fix the pipes. Call him Manny Ramirez. Manny's plan is to remove the gas meter and attach a tank of pressurized CO2 to the gas line, repressurizing it and inspecting it to find the leak. Only it won't repressurize, because the end that's outside isn't really shut off, it's just been smashed by a backhoe. Manny takes off to Home Depot to buy something to plug the hole with, and never comes back.

The next morning Manny's back a little after eight. He borrows my shovel and starts digging around in the big muddy pit the gas company dug for us. Did I mention that they covered it with wooden skids they stole from a nearby construction site? No? Now how could that have slipped my mind?

Anyway, Manny can't fix the pipe because the whole thing is crumbling to the touch now. He says it's original to the house, which is a little scary because the house is a little worker's cottage built in 1890. Apparently in all that time nobody's tried to shut the gas off before and realized that it couldn't be done. In any case, it now looks like the gas company needs to tear up the street, and we need to tear out our ceilings etc. if we ever want to spoil ourselves with hot water again.

I've never been so glad for our gym membership - at least I have somewhere to take a hot shower every morning. But I'm going to start getting testy if I can't cook something soon. And Trope has this thing where she believes that disease is caused by fanciful, invisibly small creatures called "germs" rather than enemy witch doctors, and she tends to like things to get washed in painfully hot water, which is supposed to melt these germs like the witch in "Wizard of Oz." But of course we don't have any of that here.

So we're going to do what any sensible person would do - flee to New York for a few days, and hope we have gas service by the time we get back. If not, we can always break out our terrorist incident emergency stash of MREs. Nutrition: A Force Multiplier!

See ya next week.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Johnny Saves

I can’t do it.

I can’t root for the White Sox. Not yet, anyway.

I know the arguments on the other side: they’re the best hope for a title-starved town, while Boston has already won their Series at last. And the White Sox are probably the better all-around team, so in some sense they “deserve” to win.

But I just don’t care. And I think a lot of people around town are having the same experience. If you have been watching the media recently, you’d thing Chicago has been swept with a wave of Sox fever, but it’s just not true. Most Chicagoans regard the success or failure of their redheaded stepchild baseball team as irrelevant to their own happiness and well-being. And why should they?

For that matter, why should they care about any sports team? I grew up with baseball, more or less. As we bounced from city to city in my youth, we never really stayed faithful to a baseball team, although my father continued, mostly fruitlessly, to root for the Chicago Bears, which taught me something about humility and identification with the underdog. But when we moved to the Cincinnati area when I was, my father embraced the community wholeheartedly for some reason, and soon we were all pulling for the Bengals and the Reds, two teams that were much better back then than they have been recently.

Summer vacation in those days was embodied by the Reds game on the radio, my father grilling spareribs on the back porch. And, of course, the inevitable end-of-season letdown. I didn’t care that much about the team either way, but trips to Riverfront Coliseum were a treat, what with the junk food, the crowds, and the cool skybridge connecting my father’s office building with the ballpark. That ugly, ugly ballpark has since been replaced by a newer, more intimate field, but I can still see the raw concrete and smell the crowd. In 1990, the Reds led the division from wire to wire and rolled on to the Series. I was too busy starting college, falling in love and getting political to pay too much attention to late season baseball, but I did catch most of the Reds’ four game sweep in the basement of a frat house that was trying to recruit me by plying me with free beer.

A few years later came the strike – the World Series cancelled over a labor dispute? Players and owners both became warring tribes of annoying rich people who cared more about getting richer than they did about the game or the fans. Why did we care about those people anyway? In and of itself baseball is a sublime and beautiful thing, but I’d always been suspicious of fan identification – if you’re not on the team yourself, why does it matter to you which team wins? Most fans are just “rooting for laundry” anyway – backing whoever wears the uniform, not because of who they are, but because of the name of the city scrawled on their jersey (and teams should play for cities, dammit, not states. None of this “Utah,” “Texas,” “Florida” or “Arizona” crap. Not to mention “New England.”) The strike brought this suspicion home to roost. These people didn’t care about us. What fools we were to care about them. I don’t think I watched a single game for the next five years. I ignored the dominance of the evil corporate Yankees in the post-strike era, only paying attention for the Indians’ brief, futile title run, and then only because my ex-girlfriend’s family were such big fans, I sort of hoped on their behalf that the would win. But the Indians, another of the great, hexed teams, ended up losing (Besides the Curse of the Bambino, there is of course Sam Sianis’ goat keeping the Cubs down, the Indians were cursed by the members of the American Indian Movement over their offensive mascot, Chief Wahoo, and of course the White Sox haven’t won since the Black Sox Scandal of 1919, in which the team threw the Series after being paid off by gamblers.)

Then came the post-9/11 era, and the Idiot Mob’s determination to circle their wagons as a response to the attacks. Not only did they decide to rally around the flag and “God Bless America,” (Irving Berlin! So much catchier than the official anthem), they rallied around their loathsome President, and more shocking still, around the New York Yankees. Now I love New York as much as anybody and more than most, and I was deeply affected and horrified by what had happened. But I’m not going to root for the Evil Empire. The Fightin’ Plutocrats are a travesty, an offense against fair play and competition. A $200 million dollar stacked deck. The attempt of a billionaire madman’s ego to buy the championship year after year after year. They were going for their 27th title in 97 tries, and almost the whole country was rallying behind them.

Not me, baby. George Steinbrenner does not need my support. I ended up getting behind a team I had never heard of, a team I swear hadn’t heard of the last time I paid any attention, the Arizona Diamondbacks. Did I mention how annoying I find it when they name teams after states or regions rather than towns? Still, the Diamondbacks were the last thing standing between the Evil Empire and world domination – and all they had were two pitchers named Kurt Schilling and Randy Johnson. I was hooked. They held on through a full seven games, and in the end they beat back the forces of darkness.

Since then, I care about baseball, especially our lovable losers of Lakeview, the Chicago Cubs. They may not always play well, but they play for us. The “tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, Sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show” we call Chicago. I think I never understood why people identify with a team before because I’ve never identified with a community. Now that I have a home, I care about it a great deal, and identify with it.

Which is why I can’t get excited about the White Sox. It’s nothing against the team, who are great at what they do. And Ozzie Guillen is always amusing when he tries to talk to the media. But the fans, well, they ain’t us. In fact, the White Sox fans seem to define themselves as “not Cubs fans.” Even now, in the postseason when the team has other teams to worry about, the fans are focused on the Cubs. On my trips to the Cell the past couple days I’ve seen T Shirts and chants of “Cubs suck.” Jokes about dropping friends who are Cubs and Red Sox fans off at the Man Hole, a bar in the predominantly gay neighborhood surrounding Wrigley field. They call us “wine drinkers,” even though wine is for sale at the Cell, while Wrigley sells only beer as far as I know. There’s a cultural fault line here, one that should be familiar to anyone who has read “What’s the Matter with Kansas.” But why should such a rift occur in sky-Blue Chicago, Illinois?

A glance around the Cell on game day reveals a very white crowd, my hulking but friendly tattooed Mexican neighbors for Game 1 aside. This light complexion is striking because the South Side of Chicago is 77% minority, a patchwork of African American and Latino neighborhoods interspersed with a shrinking number of white enclaves on the far Southeast and Southwest sides – and, of course, Chinatown. The Sox themselves are a mix of black and Latin players with a couple of Polish guys and some newcomers from Asia, not so different form the neighborhoods surrounding the ballpark. But the fans? In the stands, anyway, many of them seemed to be descended from the old Irish South Side, today living mostly in the south suburbs since their families abandoned the city in droves in the 70s and 80s rather than live next door to black people. There were a lot of handmade shamrock-adorned “Southside” posters in evidence, at any rate. “Southside” is a state of mind, I guess, a mythical place encompassing the lives and beliefs of neighborhoods throughout the South Side and south suburbs, an attitude more than a real place, a strange amalgam of what was and what might have been. From what I can tell from having lived and worked on the South Side, the actual population there is divided evenly between indifference, Sox fans and Cubs fans. But the real South Side is not the point. Bitterness towards the perceived elite is the point. It seems that regret and shame over what has happened to their communities and envy towards our more engaging lives can both but sublimated into anger and contempt directed at people like me. So we can’t get on a “Sox bandwagon” because we’re not invited. Anyway, as an ESPN radio announcer explained the other day, “there is no Sox bandwagon. That’s the whole point of the White Sox.” If y’all actually enjoy playing the role of ostracized, victimized loser, then more power to you.

This is exactly the kind of ‘false consciousness” that people use to keep themselves down. Compare this false populism of White Sox fans with the broad, community-based authentic populism of Red Sox fans. In the Red Sox cult, everyone from Maine farmers to Boston city slickers to blue collar guys from Lowell are bonded together in the shared experience of human suffering and loss. While the generations-long talk of a “curse” was pretty bogus, the game does teach something about suffering and struggle, inevitability and chance. While you can defy the odds for one day, or one play, in the end the game is about averages – winning percentages, batting averages, earned run averages – and a manager’s job is to line up the numbers just right. So year after year, fans hoped for a miracle, but year after year the numbers didn’t lie. Physics guides the ball, probability guides player performance, reaction inevitably follows action, and the Red Sox lost. Last year, when the finally deviated from the mean enough to win, they gave me something I didn’t know I could still feel – hope. Wonder, awe, and hope.

It’s kind of like my relationship to life, death, and faith. I know what goes up must come down. I know we are all born to die. I know that, over the long term, we are all doomed to war, disease, death. But part of me continues to hold out hope that maybe, somehow, there could be something else. If not immortality, then meaning. Participation in eternity. Hope.

So I can’t root for the White Sox. Not yet. I know they have the better team, the better pitching rotation, and are almost certain to get the one win out of three chances they need to advance to the ALCS. The numbers don’t lie, match the pitchers’ past performance against the hitters and you get a high probability of a Southside sweep. But I’m still hoping for a miracle.

Of course, if they do advance, I’ll be pulling for them against the Yankees next week. Because beating Team Evil is what baseball is all about.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Us and Them

A strange column appeared in the Trib last week: folksy observer Charles Madigan discussed the nation’s discovery that there are many poor people in this country. He describes “fixing the poor” as a “Federal fantasy.”
One of the mistakes we make, left, right and center, is to think that the symptom is the actual cause of social illness we decide to attack.

Housing is the solution to the homeless problem in this formula, except it's not. A job, any job, is the solution to joblessness. "Just say `no'" will get you off drugs or alcohol.

Go find someone who is homeless and talk and listen. I have. Right away, I realized, "Having a home is not the big problem here."

It might be substance abuse, a persistent mental health problem, a very bad attitude, whatever. Homelessness is a symptom, not a cause. Any house you put that person in would be a house full of trouble because you have not addressed the cause, just shifted it indoors.

Shelter is good, shelter and professional help are better. But don't be misled. Building lives is harder than building houses.

Poverty, too, is a symptom.

If it were the cause, we could just give money to people to solve it. We tried that a lot of different ways. It didn't work.

I think the solution is a hard one. We have to look at people as individuals, not as members of a race, a class, a displaced slab of society.

If you want a model, go back to the early days of Hurricane Katrina. Helicopter pilots and rescue experts saved one person at a time.

It was difficult and risky.

I believe we can do that, save one person, build one life, at a time.

But we have to be as brave as those rescue workers. We have to look beyond race and class, into the eyes of individuals who need help.

One person at a time? That is a complete fantasy. In fact, it’s a big cop out. Yes, the problems individual people face can make sure that they are the ones who end up poor. But how many people are poor is largely a function of the overall economy, so until we’re willing to address problems on that level, we’re just playing a game of musical chairs with poverty. The way the system’s set up, somebody’s going to get screwed.

Or look at it from another angle. In the same day’s Tribune, from the Tempo section:
Fashion’s polarizing economics
By Guy Trebay
New York Times News Service

NEW YORK – There are probably more scientific ways to measure the bulge at the upper end of the economy, but the season’s hot Prada coat is one way to tell how much disposable income is floating around. The coat is black wool and has jet beading at the lapel and collar. It is fitted, severe, and as chic as widow’s weeds. The person who puts one on immediately assumes the sleek and impertinent air of an urban crow. That the price of the coat is around $5,500 has apparently done little to deter sales. Since the first fall shipments, even the Prada stores have had trouble keeping the coats in stock.

Price resistance is not typically the first thing on people’s minds during Fashion Week, which ended Friday. But even industry die-hards have been forced into a new, and slightly uneasy, relationship with what people outside the business might think of as reality. “I’m a real person and I’m, like, totally sticker-shocked.” Said Lauren Ezersky, the Style channel commentator, befor the Duckie Brown menswear show. An inveterate clotheshorse, she has recently had to cut back on her wardrobe outlay.

“Prices have gotten insane,” Ezersky said, the reasons having to do partly with the continued weakness of the dollar against the euro and partly, one assumes, with the proliferation of an expanded cast of what marketers term the superaffluent. “You used to be able to buy a pear of Manolos for $500, and now every pair of shoes is 800 bucks,” she said indignantly.

For most Americans, the idea of buying a $500 pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes is so far outside the realm of the possible that it is not so much an aspiration as a delusion.
. . .
So when Simon Doonan, the creative director of Barneys New York, said last week that business was surprisingly strong, it was with the caveat, “I’m shocked that there’s no price resistance anymore.” For this season’s must-have jacket from Marc Jacobs, Doonan said, Barneys shoppers will blithely pay $4,000.
. . .
“I’m personally in a little bit of a strange economic bracket, so I don’t really look at price tags,” the lingerie entrepreneur Sarah Siegel-Magness said at the Esteban Cortazar show on Friday afternoon, as her 6-year-old daughter, Camryn, dressed in a Burberry sundress, squirmed in her lap.

Siegel-Magness is the daughter of Mo Siegel, the former Colorado hippie who made his fortune on Celestial Seasonings herbal teas. And she is married to Gary Magness, the son of the late cable television magnate Bob Magness, whose fortune was estimated by Forbes at $875 million in 2004.

“My friends look at the prices of my clothes and my bags, and they’re like, you’ve got to be kidding.” Said Siegel-Magness, who flies in from Boulder, Colo., to attend the twice-yearly New York collections for the fun of it and because, as she said, “If I only lived in my world, I would be out of touch.”


Uh huh. Don’t see the connection? Apparently some sectors of the economy (herbal tea?) are doing very well while other sectors, such as, ironically, the people who actually make clothing, or used to before their jobs were moved to Asia, are enduring a prolonged and stifling economic stagnation.

Let’s look at another fun area, Manhattan real estate:
Data from Miller Samuel shows the median price per square foot for all Manhattan apartments reached a high point in 1987, at $305 a square foot for co-ops and $413 a square foot for condos. What that means is that the median price for a 1,000-square-foot co-op was $305,000 - half the co-ops sold in Manhattan cost more than that and half cost less.

Prices bottomed out by the mid-1990's, losing about 44 percent of their value in real terms, and then they started to rise again. By 2002, prices had passed their 1987 levels, measured in inflation-adjusted dollars and by the first six months of 2005, the median co-op price was up 37 percent from 1987, while the condo price was 35 percent greater. Averaged across the entire period, the cost of a Manhattan apartment has risen at a rate of about 2 percent a year above inflation.

So what happened to the median income in Manhattan during the same period?
Census data reveals that median household income growth in Manhattan was strong from 1979 to 1989, increasing 35.8 percent above inflation. But in the 1990's, median income - the point at which half the households earned more and half earned less - barely rose, going up just 8.5 percent in real terms from 1989 to 1999, or 0.85 percent a year. Since then, a similar rate of growth has been documented by the Census Bureau in its annual American Community Survey, which shows a 4.1 percent inflation-adjusted increase in the median income for Manhattan from 2000 through 2004, or 0.82 percent a year. The median household income last year in Manhattan was $50,731, according to the Census Bureau.

In other words, since the last peak in the real estate market, Manhattan apartment prices have grown about one and a half times faster than median household income.
Manhattan has the greatest income disparity of any county in the country, and the census data shows that while the household income for the bottom 20 percent rose just 7.9 percent from 1989 to 1999, in real terms, the income of the top 20 percent went up 61.5 percent.

Reasoning that it is mainly earners at the top end who can afford to buy an apartment in Manhattan, a group of economists argues that, despite the galloping price increases of recent years, real estate on the island has actually become more affordable.

The group, Business360, an economic consulting firm, compared the increase in apartment prices per square foot with increases in personal income for Manhattan. While real estate prices rose and fell and rose again, average personal income in Manhattan, reported by the federal government's Bureau of Economic Analysis, rose at a fairly steady pace, increasing 87 percent in real terms since 1981. The figure is very different from the median because it is an average of all earners, and with Manhattan's great income disparity, it is heavily skewed toward the top.

Average income has grown faster than average prices, which since 1981 are up 50 percent for co-ops and 37 percent for condos. Because of that, the study concludes, housing is more affordable for the average Manhattanite than it was in the early 1980's or at the peak of the last real estate boom.

To show the relationship between rising incomes and prices and falling interest rates, Business360 calculated the number of days it would take for the average household to earn enough money to pay a year's mortgage payments for a 1,000-square-foot condo, at the average mortgage rate and square foot price for each year of the study. In 1987, it took 273 workdays to cover the mortgage, while today, the study concluded, it takes 152 days. The average household income for Manhattan, projected by Woods & Poole Economics, is $185,993.

"People look at the prices - they're stratospheric - and they think that that's a bubble," said John Marchant, one of the economists who wrote the Business360 study. "But if they looked at what people are earning in New York, they'd think that's outrageous too."

Ingrid Gould Ellen, the co-director of the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University School of Law, said: "It really depends on who your target is when you talk about affordability. For the median earner in Manhattan, those apartments are going to be less affordable, but somebody's buying them."

The truth is, the economy’s growing great. You’re just not benefiting from it. And what happens to the rich affects everyone else. Not only does their increased wealth not “trickle down” to everyone else, it makes life worse for everyone else. The fact is, a fraction of their money could meet whatever needs they have for the rest of their lives. Between the misshapen economy and 5 years of tax cuts, they now literally don’t know what to do with the piles of cash. $1 million for a one bedroom co-op apartment. Sounds reasonable! $2,460 for a really ugly lopsided Marc Jacobs sweater? Sure, whatever.

This kind of behavior drives up prices for the rest of us, making us relatively poorer. This doesn’t show up in government accounting because things like rising real estate and health care prices are arbitrarily counted as economic growth rather than inflation when GDP is calculated. (It’s sort of like the problem that occurs when your house is totaled by a flood. Both the cost of demolishing it and rebuilding it are counted as an economic positive rather than a cost – even though you are spending a lot of money just to get back to where you were – but I digress.)

If you separate their economy from our economy, you will find that they are doing great while we are experiencing stagnation and inflation. Part of the reason is simply that they (owners) are increasing profits by forcing down the wages of everyone else (workers – us). They are breaking unions, dismantling pension systems, cutting back on health benefits, all to increase the share of revenue that goes to owners rather than workers.

We’re not a unified group – some of us are poor, others are clinging desperately to “middle class” status – but we are all getting screwed. If you’re not one of them, it’s getting much harder to support a family on the scraps they leave us.

What’s the solution? Raise their taxes. For now, I don’t even care what you do with it. In spite of Mr. Madigan’s protestations, we have not tried giving money to people “a lot of different ways.” This country has never guaranteed a basic living to its people. Instead we have offered a pittance of social benefits to those so desperate they are willing to humiliate themselves to get them, then take them away at the first sign that the recipients may be working towards self-sufficiency.

But let’s say we had tried it and it didn’t work. Taxing the crap out of the rich would help, even if we just flushed the money down the toilet. Why? Because if we strip away their surplus income, there won’t be anyone left to pay a million dollars for a crappy condo. Then maybe the market will collapse, and I can afford to own a home, too.

If this approach were tried, the media would carp about recession, but you would actually be better off. Just like now, they say there’s growth, but it doesn’t help you any. The media people say that stuff because they’re rich. We’re not, and I harbor no illusions that I’m ever going to join the $800 million herbal tea set. We’re not all in this together. The rich are the class enemy, and no matter how much you admire their threads, what’s good for them is probably not good for you.