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

Friday, November 10, 2006

Goodbye, Rummy

Tempering (slightly) my joy at this week's political events is the realization that the Chicago area's influence on the national stage has dimmed a bit. The resignation of Donald Rumsfeld and the end of Dennis Hastert's reign as Speaker of the House has removed two big local players from the national stage. Rumsfeld used to hold the House seat now occupied by Democrat Melissa Bean, back before the Earth cooled. And Hastert represents an exurban district out on the fringes of "Chicagoland." Both brought to the national scene some of the hallmarks of Old Chicago politics - the refusal to give a straight answer to a simple question, opting instead to speak in elliptical koans ("there are known knowns...known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.") For comparison see any speech Richie Daley has ever made. Also, their use of corruption and cronyism to reward friends and punish enemies is pure Chicago politics-as-blood-sport.

He may have been a mover and shaker in the Conservative Movement, but Speaker Hastert's big contribution to Illinois has been to brink home tons and tons of "earmarked" cash to the state, including federal funding for CTA improvements and other regional transportation issues. In fact, his greatest contribution to himself was probably buying up a bunch of land in the exurbs, securing funding for a new highway through the area, and then selling the land at a $2 million profit. So don't cry for Denny in his retirement.

The new crop of Chicago influence includes new subcommittee chairs Luis Gutierrez and Jesse Jackson Jr, who, tasting the new power they will wield in Washington, will now decline to run for mayor, ensuring another term for Daley, who's been Boss since 1989. He stands to eclipse his fater as Chicago's longest-serving chief executive. And Illinois Senator Dick Durbin will probably end up as #2 guy in the Senate, which gives him a lot of clout, but it's no Speakership and he's from downstate anyway. He may be helpful in advancing an urban agenda. But I doubt he will do much to reverse the net outflow of tax money from the City, which persists in spite of the widespread suburbanite faith that the cash flows the other way.

But our biggest splash on the national scene is likely to be Democratic Congressional Campaign Comittee chair Rahm Emanuel. Already he's claiming credit for the Democrats' new electoral clout and jockeying fo ra leadership position. The "Netroots," ar already criticising him as a cronyist, insider power player who doesn't listen to grassroots activists and prefers to run handpicked machine-style centrists to real reformers. I'm not sure that's completely fair, but he did get his start with Daley's machine. What can I say? Anybody from here who makes a splash on the national scene is bound to do so as a villain. Chicago's fresh out of heroes.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Guy Fawkes Day

So I went out to the suburbs today to volunteer with the GOTV operation for Tammy Duckworth, a candidate for the House in Illinois' 6th Congressional district. The 6th is mostly mile after mile of suburban sprawl, strip mall after strip mall along 6 lane "arteries" surrounded by characterlesws subdivisions. It's the part of America I like the least. So why the hell was I out there, butting my head into an election way the hell out in Republicanland?

First of all, there are only three, or possibly four, competitive House districts in Illinois. When it was redistricted in 2002, there were nine safe Democratic seats, and ten somewhat less safe Republican seats. Since then, longtime GOP incumbant Phil Crane was ousted from what had once been a suburban stronghold (before Crane, the seat was held by Donald Rumsfeld). The seat has become the key "swing" seat, but honestly the Democrat, software millionaire Melissa Bean, is a little too conservative for me to actively support.

My own district is represented by Luis Gutierrez, and is not contested. In terms of state and local politics, my choices are abysmal. For Governor, our incumbant Democrat, Rod Blagojevich ("G Rod" to almost everyone), will almost certainly be indicted soon on various hiring fraud and corruption charges. His Republican opponent, Treasurer Judy Barr Topinka, was a close associate and ally of previous governor George Ryan, who is already in jail. The other hotly contested local race is for County Board President. Longtime President John Stroger won the primary over reformer Forrest Claypool, in spite of the fact that President Stroger had just had a stroke and was in a coma. Since Stroger couldn't stand for office, the party leadership conducted an intense search for a new candidate, and came up with . . . Stroger's son, Chicago Alderman Todd "Toddler" Stroger. While Toddler does have some experience in government, as a state Representative and later an Alderman (appointed to a vacancy by Mayor Daley), his big qualification for office is being able to hold together his father's coalition of political forces, a remnant of what used to be called the Chicago "machine." I'm not really a big fan of those people, but his Republican opponant is anti-gay, anti-abortion zealot Tony Pereica, whom I probably wouldn't vote for if his opponent were Saddam Hussein.

So if I wanted to do something this election cycle, it would have to be far afield.

The other reason I was out in the 6th district is that I'll always feel connected to this particular area even though I'd never really want to live there: I was born there, and lived in the town of Wheaton until I was four. Our town wasn't that sprawling, we had sidewalks and were a few minutes walk from a train station and a commercial street with storefronts right on the sidewalk, just like you find in the city and in traditional small towns.

The neighborhood I walked today had sidewalks, but no shops or restaurants were within reasonable walking distance. There was a park that backed up on a gulf course, a sprawling one story elementary school, and a nice looking new Public Library. For some reason, the tiny square of suburbia that we worked was back on the city grid, with street names taken from my own neighborhood, perhaps a dozen miles due east - Fullerton, Montana, Altgeld, Nevada, Schubert, Wrightwood, etc. These houses were not so far apart as in newer sprawl, and many of them were looking sort of run down. And in a race featuring so much demagoguing on immigration, I found a surprising number of Latino, Vietnamese and Indian names on my roster.

I don't know if we did much good - the people seemed sick of all the attention, since at this stage in the campaign we were only contacting previously identified supporters to encourage them to vote on Tuesday, give them directions to their polling place, and ask if they needed a ride (ridiculous in this case, since the polling place was less than half a mile away for most of the houses we visited). And we were asked to stop knocking once the Bears game started and just leave campaign literature and directions. Considering how badly the Bears got their asses handed to them by the previously hapless Dolphins, my guess is that was a real good call. The last thing the Duckworth campaign needs to be associated with is a historic, ignominous defeat.

Other than Iraq, I mean. The reason the Democrats think they can pick up a seat that's been represented since my toddlerhood by Henry Hyde is that their candidate, Tammy Duckworth, is an Iraq war veteran who lost both her legs while serving as a helicopter pilot in the National Guard. She's studied international relations and worked with Rotary to wipe out disease in the developing world, campaigned against indoor air pollution, etc etc whatever, but everyone knows she's running because of the war, and because Party people believe enough Republicans might be sick enough of the war to switch sides or stay home on election day. My unscientifically small sample size (I still have family out there) suggests they just might have a point.

But even if we gained the seat, could we keep it? It seems to me that long term, we're going to gain much of DuPage County. Not only is the population changing and growing less overwhelmingly white, but the older parts seem to be experiencing a bit of decline, and if I've learned one thing from knockng on doors, it's that the shabbier looking houses are more likely to have Democrats living in them. Underneath all the bullshit talking points, the class struggle persists.

When I got home (and woke up from a long nap) Trope pointed out that it was November 5, and wanted to watch V for Vendetta. The film is based on a graphic novel, based on the story of Guy Fawkes, "the only man who ever went to Parlaiment with honest intentions," as the British say. Actually he was trying to blow it up. Fortunately democracy offers us the opportunity to accomplish the same goal nonviolently every couple years. I hope we take advantage of it Tuesday.

Friday, November 03, 2006

people in glass houses always have to wear pants

I think I understand something. For the past few years I've wondered what the hell these Christian Right people are talking about when they claim that allowing same sex marriage would undermine or threaten traditional marriage. I mean, I'm in a traditional heterosexual marriage, and I don't see how two gay men getting married would threaten my marriage, or really affect me at all, unless it's somebody I know and I have to buy another damn gift.

But then the other day the next big sex scandal broke, involving the leading evangelical pastor who I'm always going to remember as "Big Gay Ted." All the while he's been preaching against the evils of abortion, drugs, homosexuality and the secular world (not to mention doing battle to rid Colorado Springs of the conspiracy of witches and evil spirits he calls "Control" - you couldn't make this shit up) he was meeting with a gay prostitute in Denver to have sex and score crystal meth.

This is so typical it's become a cliche. But why? Here was my first clue:
No Christian should be surprised that Haggard may have given in to his perverted thoughts and turned them into perverted actions. It’s a temptation we all face. - LaShawn Barber, Christo-fascist blogger

Huh? And then I relized, gay marriage doesn't threaten me because I'm not a closeted homosexual. But for somebody like Big Gay Ted, it seems like a terrible threat. Here he is, pretending to have a "normal" family life like he's always been told he should, with a wife and kids and a big house in sprawlville. He's had to make sacrifices to maintain the illusion, and it's been hard for him but he's done it. And now some secular humanist like myself wants to come along and say, "it's okay to be gay?" If society normalized other kinds of relationships besides the kind he's faking, how's he going to keep his sham of a pretend life together? If everyone else in his situation doesn't struggle like he does to be "normal," it makes it that much harder for him to do it. Instead of admiring him for trying to do the right thing, people like me are just going to mock him for being a hypocrite.

And mock, we will. From the great Harper's piece I linked to above:
Pastor Ted soon began upsetting the devil's plans. He staked out gay bars, inviting men to come to his church [I'll bet he did!]; his whole congregation pitched itself into invisible battles with demonic forces, sometimes in front of public buildings.

And check out the decor at his megachurch:
Each point directs the eye to a contemporary painting, most depicting gorgeous, muscular men—one is a blacksmith, another is bound, fetish-style, in chains—in various states of undress. My favorite is The Vessel, by Thomas Blackshear, a major figure in the evangelical-art world.[2] Here in the World Prayer Center is a print of The Vessel, a tall, vertical panel of two nude, ample-breasted, white female angels team-pouring an urn of honey onto the shaved head of a naked, olive-skinned man below. The honey drips down over his slab-like pecs and his six-pack abs into the eponymous vessel, which he holds in front of his crotch. But the vessel can't handle that much honey, so the sweetness oozes over the edges and spills down yet another level, presumably onto our heads, drenching us in golden, godly love. Part of what makes Blackshear's work so compelling is precisely its unabashed eroticism; it aims to turn you on, and then to turn that passion toward Jesus.

Hee. It's like I always say when I'm walking through the neighborhood critiquing the horrible Modernist condos: "People in glass houses always have to wear pants."

So my point, if I still have one at all, is that I suspect there is a lot of repressed sexuality going on among the "God Hates Fags" crowd. It's like, they can't handle who they really are, so they have to inflict it on the rest of us by disguising their psychosexual garbage as religion and dragging it out into the public sphere. Wouldn't it just be easier on everybody if they would just admit who they are and be themselves?

This means you, Fred Phelps. Go for it girl, release your inner drag queen and let that bitch dance!

Until then, nothing like a sex scandal to cheer you up on a cold November afternoon.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

politics and pickup trucks

Yesterday I took an online poll by Polling Point. They asked me what I thought about the candidates for Governor (ugh) and Congress. They also asked questions about what I thought about my Senators, which is weird since neither of those guys is up for re-election next week. They asked how much money we make, whether we are married, whether we attend religious services regularly, and whether we have family in the military. All fairly interesting demographic questions, I suppose, although our answers make us look quite a bit more conservative than we actually are. But so far, so good, as far as survey design. They asked if I keep a handgun in the house or garage, which is politically interesting, but since that would be illegal in my city, I wouldn't have admitted to it even if it were true (I don't, because I don't believe in arming yourself for self defense - that's what we pay cops, judges, and jailers for. Under normal conditions, the state has an absolute monopoly on the legitimate use of force).

Then they asked if I own a pickup truck. Odd, I think. The gun question is not just cultural, but political. There is, after all, a sizeable movement in this country to ban or restrict ownership of guns. But as far as I know, there is no movement afoot to ban pickup trucks. So why ask something like that? What does it mean?

I guess they have identified pickup truck drivers as a certain demographic and want to determine how that demographic is politically different from the population as a whole. If so, I'm thinking somebody thinks strange things are going on with this demographic, considering the new tactics being used to try to sell pickup trucks in recent weeks.

Specifically Chevy pickups. There was a TV ad that ran during the baseball playoffs featuring John Mellancamp singing "this is our country" and a backdrop of footage from recent American history. The moon landing, Iwo Jima and Martin Luther King, and also 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, both the flooded city and Habitat-type people people rebuilding houses.

Several people I know, including Trope, find this ad exceptionally offensive, since it uses footage of catastrophes in which people died to sell trucks. While I can see this point, I don't really feel it; when I saw the ad the first time, I actually laughed at the non-sequiter of it all. Call me Irony Boy.

But thinking about it now, it's just another attempt to use patriotism to sell consumer crap, a tradition in this country going back at least a century. What's interesting is the form patriotism seems to be taking in the ad: identification of victimhood, suffering, hard times, a struggling once-proud auto industry, and American patriotism. In other words, the image is of a proud nation kicked around and suffering, a nation of losers clinging to memories of better days and hope for the future. A nation of Cubs fans. And this identity is supposed to resonate with the alleged pickup truck demographic. Apparently the song is a hit - Mellancamp played it live before Game 2 of the World Series in Detroit.

This seems radically different from the vision of American power that was used to convince so many people to run out and buy Hummers a few years back. Has their been such a big change in our national self-conception over such a short period?

Either the ad is grossly mis-targeted and won't sell any trucks, or this is going to be a pretty good election year for the Democrats. Identification with the downtrodden is the essence of liberalism. Identification with power is the essence of the Right.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Happy Spam

Alas, spam has started to slip through the filter of my Yahoo account. Last week I opened what turned out to be a piece of spam pushing some stock deal. But after the obnoxious, colorful message was this poetic gem:
The answer was obvious. Hit the jump for pictures and a video of the entire process. Hit the jump for more photos of the carnage. Wow, they make some money over there. People think I'm a manwhore already. Was my Mac playing podcasts all by itself now? Since he moved the poor guy's been using a tin can attached string that he jammed into the miniplug.

While most mad scientists prefer harsh materials like steel and electrophoresed kitten blood, you can be original by making novel use of more classic materials like felt and string. While most mad scientists prefer harsh materials like steel and electrophoresed kitten blood, you can be original by making novel use of more classic materials like felt and string. To their chemically-induced point of view, the controllers have plenty of room for vibration in the handles.

Meh, maybe I'd skip the meal. We buy a lot of crap.

We are actually a little disappointed at the news and would much prefer a smaller version of the notebook.So why does my alarm need a date at all? We guess it could be a nice Skype introduction for the parents who just got used to their cell phone layout, but we will probably buy it out of pity for the Apple wannabe.

Sure, it can be produced as a Macbook Pro. Hit the jump for pictures and a video of the entire process. You can't possibly dial this phone without looking.

Just check out those hollow caverns of wasteful nothingness.

The answer was obvious. Could it possibly be worth that kind of money? To their chemically-induced point of view, the controllers have plenty of room for vibration in the handles. And editor who also skims.

Seriously, we would like to see the technology in athletic apparel, so people can kick your ass while running at night, too.

You might want to check out the Sketch Furniture Project by FRONT.

For its own peace of mind?

be it a little slower and less fierce than we are eventually hoping for. Snark aside, we were a little one sided in covering his coverage. What do all you readers think? Doesn't seem worth it. We are actually a little disappointed at the news and would much prefer a smaller version of the notebook.

Rock on. Did someone sit down and write this? Was it randomly generated by some kind of spambot?

After months of cocooning in crusty sullen silence, this is the kind of thing that makes me want to write again.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

If fafblog's back then I guess I can post too

I hate blogger. I mean I really, really hate it. I just wrote a pretty good post and it got eaten because blogger thinks they're too cool to have cut and paste and select work with the same commands that work in every other program. So I erased it and can't undo. Thanks for ruining my night with your stupid interface guys! I hope you all get painful boils on your asses.

But it's free, so I'll probably keep using it for the time being.

I wrote about what I've been pissed about, why I haven't been blogging, and what's made me feel a little better about things. But I'm not seriously going to sit here and waste an hour typing the stuff I already typed once, so the rest of y'all are shit out of luck.

The important stuff: We walked down to Glade Memorial Hall to see the Vaudeville Underground show this evening. This edition is really cool, with jugglers, modern dance, performance art, and a band. There's one show left, tomorrow night at 7:30, which you should go see. I mean, if you don't take advantage of this stuff while it's here, you might as well live in Naperville.

Also, and I'm not sure I'm supposed to say anything yet so they will remain nameless here, but a little bird told me some friends of ours got hitched yesterday, on 6/6/6. That's just awesome guys, congratulations. And what an anniversary! I'd love to have a ring with that engraving, just wicked cool . . .

Monday, May 01, 2006

typically I mow the grass myself

May Day. Such a great opportunity! Abundant choices as to what I could blog about this evening.

May 1st is celebrated around the world as International Labor Day in honor of a Chicago demonstration and general strike in favor of an eight hour work day that went disastrously wrong on May 1, 1886.

This is the three year anniversary of President Bush's aircraft carrier stunt, with the infamous "Mission Accomplished" banner.

Both of those topics would have been interesting, but my plans for today were blown away by the 400,000 people who marched downtown in support of an amnesty for illegal immigrants.

What did they want? (when did they want it?) I have to confess I'm not sure, since I had to work today and couldn't attend. I've heard a lot lately about "fair and reasonable immigration reform" but I'm not exactly sure what that would look like. But I do know that the march has inspired newpaper message board posters to a lot of RANDOM CAPITALIZATION and creative spellig! Seriously the march has inspired a lot of emotional talk, mostly on the part of people who want to put a stop to illegal immigration, but some who support the marchers as well. The comments on both sides made me realize that most people are even less informed about these issues than I am, so I thought I'd respond to some of the ideas being bounced around, just for fun. I'm going to paraphrase rather than quote or link, because I'm lazy and also because most of these people can't write worth a damn. So in no particular order:

It's appalling that people who have broken the law are demanding "rights." They're criminals and should have no rights.
Actually criminals do have rights. And if you've seriously never, ever broken the law, never broken the speed limit, never smoked a joint, never illegally downloaded music or TV shows, never had a beer when you were underage, never stole a condom from a conveniencce store while you were on a high school church trip, or whatever, then you're a seriously boring person and there must be something wrong with you. Funny how they shouldn't do that because it's against the law suddenly becomes irrelevant when it's you that thinks the law is stupid, rather than somebody else.

Anyway, we should be more specific about what we mean when we talk "illegal immigrants." At least a quater of "illegals" are people who entered the country legally but overstayed their visas. Since the reason these people stayed is they found better jobs here, or spouses, or both, I think we can mostly agree that this group, anyway should be granted amnesty, even if we profoundly disagree about people who snuck across the border. Overstaying your visa as a felony? Hell, the tags on my car are expired right now! Should I be locked up? Don't answer that.

These people mow your lawn, cook your food, care for your children, etc.
Now who exactly are these comments addressed to? Typically I mow the grass myself, right after surgery my wife did it. As for the long running and stupid debate about hiring housekeepers and nannies, I will never be able to afford such services and neither will 90% of Americans. This isn't a convincing line of argument for most people. In fact, if all that's at stake is rich people's ability to get a good deal on servants, it's not clear why most of us should care. What this is, is a weird debate about what rich people should be doing with their money. Is it liberal to have a nanny? Is it feminist? I'll tell you what you should be doing with your money in order to feel good about yourself. You should be giving it to me. Seriously, e-mail me and I'll write you back with the drop location. A briefcase filled with non-sequential 20s would be best, for tax (evasion) purposes. Think about it. Now won't it feel good to be freed from all that ethical conflict and doubt? I'll send you a postcard from Paris.

Today's immigrants are not like my noble ancestors who only wanted to lose their culture and gain 80 pounds eating McDonalds all the time and getting teary eyed about our troops on the Fourth of July. These guys won't learn English and keep to their own communities and cultures, threatening our way of life with strange words and customs, and, um, we heard that Mexican sausage contains donkey meat!
In 1920, Chicago had newspapers in 20 languages. The truth is, it's hard for adults to learn a new language. We're just not smart enough anymore. The best time to learn a new language is as a 2 to 5 year old, sadly an age when mostly we aren't teaching kids much that's more complicated than "stop hitting Jimmy" and "don't drink the bleach" and "don't stick the fork in the electric socket" and "stay away from mommy's vodka tonic, honey, you're too young." So typically, immigrants live here, the children learn both languages, and the grandchildren are totally assimilated and become monolingual, lazy, ignorant couch potatoes who can't even find their ancestral homeland on a map. That's how it worked with Eastern European Jews in their Yiddish speaking enclaves, and famously for Italians who hop back and forth between their new and old countries, keeping family contacts alive on both sides of the Atlantic. Assimilation takes generations, not months. And personally, I find it sad that so many of us have lost our traditions, and that ethnic enclaves have vanished into the post-cultural fog of bland, pasty-white undifferentiated suburban sprawl.

But I'm taking this line of argument seriously. If it's really a cover for "I'm not comfortable hearing other languages spoken and seeing people dress, and eat, and worship differently and I wish I didn't have to look at that," then you are a bigot, and go jump off a bridge.

A country should be able to control its borders.
Well, duh. But how? There is a lot of economic and demographic pressure driving people to move to the developed world, mostly because said countries are hogging capital by forcing down the prices on commodities, third world labor, anything we buy from them. It's a global economy in which the developed exploit the underdeveloped, so why wouldn't the exploited want to switch sides? People are going to move no matter what. The easiest way to "get control of the borders" is to raise immigration quotas to reflect the actual number of people driven to move here. Then, we will know who's here and be able to screen for terrorists, etc.

Before 1920 we had virtually no controls on immigration, and the result was, yes, cultural change and population growth, but also the transformation of a backwoods rural country into a superpower. Renewed immigration has clearly reinvigorated this country, at least where I live. 400,000 people is about 13% of the population of Chicago proper. True, some marchers came from the burbs or out of town, but still, that kind of turnout is huge. Represented were not just Mexicans, but Polish, Koreans, Chinese, and South Asians. The whole rainbow of our city neighborhoods. If these people didn't move here, who would buy the houses as white people flee south and west? It's a multicultural society now, get used to it. If you don't like it, you can go back to Europe. If EU immigration restrictions will even let you in.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Cubs' lost weekend

Nosebleed seats with a great skyline view?
Grilled onions?
Old Style?
Rain Slicker?
Souvenir with corporate logo attached?
check. (pink Cubs hats for the ladies).
Loud, happy crowd undimmed by the raid delay?
Underperfoming starting pitcher?
Humiliating loss to a subpar opponent?

It must be Wrigley Field. The 9-0 loss makes the boys 25-2 over 2 days! Vs the Brewers!

But did I mention the cool pink hats? Trope should be able to pick off the MasterCard logo in a couple of days.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Jane Jacobs 1916-2006

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
I hate to see a name I recognized accompanied by dates for the first time, the closed parentheses of a life. It means somebody important is gone, and if you wanted to ask them something, it's too late now. Jane Jacobs has been a huge, if indirect, influence on my life for several years. While I'll come right out and confess that I've never read "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," her articulation of what went wrong with urban America at midcentury and how to fix it has trickled down to influence where and how I live, what I do with my life, and what kind of country I want to live in, and it's sad to hear she's gone. Ironically, I heard about her death, and heard an interview with her discussing a successful attempt to organize her Toronto neighborhood to stop the demolition of historic housing, as I was taking a spin throught the neighorhood trying to capture yet another demolition on film:
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Jacobs is dear to my heart not so much because she wrote about cities, but because she was so often successful in opposing misguided "urban renewal" and preserving what is essential about neighborhood life. Once she even stopped Robert Moses from building an expressway through lower Manhattan! Imagine if that monster had been built, it would have destroyed Downtown more thoroughly than Osama could ever dream of.

Jacobs wrote a lot of stuff you should read, but I'll sum up:

* Density is good, it leads to diverse, interesting places to live.
* A crowded street is safer than an empty one.
* Small businesses give life and charater to a neighborhood
* The car is not necessarily an improvement over walking and public transportation.

Basic stuff, but it certainly was news to the modernist misplanners of midcentury.

I miss her already.


So I make one stupid Barbie joke and look what happens. They're selling naming rights to the Skyway! Since all the employers down that way have pretty much disappeared, I wonder who's left to sponsor an elevated expressway and exactly what they'd hope to gain from putting their name on a place where people sit trapped and frustrated in traffic for hours each week. Apple? I can see the iPod Skyway working out I guesss. A cell phone company? Been there, done that with US Cellular Field. Maybe the Dan Ryan, which goes right by the ballpark, but not the Skyway. Plus, using a cell phone while driving is illegal in Chicago. Unless you have a headset! That's it, the Bluetooth Skyway!

Alas, it will probably just be Hummer.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Stop Breaking Down

So I'm driving in Chicago's Wild West Side, Hank williams on the radio hits me like morphine but without the horrible buzzing head rush. Ahead an 18 story crane tears at concrete, I watch the projects coming down. Hank's so lonesome he could cry. You think he's out of place? You don't think this is the desert? This is the Pueblo ruins, crumbling husks of buildings and the footprints of buildings, where you can retrace the steps of vanished people on the ghosts of streets. The lines and borderes once reinforced by social convention fall back into the natural world, just shapes now, not borders at all. You can walk any which way, stand in the street, jump the curb, meander among the rubble in the blinding sun. I drie maybe half a mile along Adams before I realize it's supposed to be one way - the other way.

There is nobody else driving here.

I do find a little knot of trucks sitting haphazardly in the middle of the road. A van. A red pickup with guys sitting in the back drinking beer. They are watching the monolith fall. A crane and a little work crew are battering the half-demolished concrete mountain again and again. They were here yesterday too - the crews and the crowd both. They don't seem to be making much progress.

You'd never know you were in America's third largest city. This is a wasteland - a ruin. People are surprised to learn that the population density of Chicago is actually less than that of Los Angeles - LA is more suburban-looking, but doesn't contain the vast stretches of postindustrial emptiness and ruin. The first time, they tore this neighborhood down to build the monoliths, to cantain the black population and prevent its westward spread. It didn't work. The white population fled beyond the city to points west - and middle class blacks followed. After the riots of 1968, the population plummeted as everyone who could leave trickled out. House after house was demolished, whole blocks gone or with a few buildings left, standing irregularly, little clumps huddling against the cold and emptiness, separated by stretches of weeds and crumbling asphalt. Trees have grown up where homes once stood.

Beyond the crumbling projects, I can see new luxury condos going up. It seems pretty naive - the condos are buing build at city density, but ther eare so few of them, new clumps on the new prarie. If they put housing up on all these abandoned blocks, who will live there? The Census Bureau believes the city population is falling again. There are no grocery stores here, no bars, nothing but churches, liquor stores, beauty salons. The locationis great, we're right on the highway, close to the Loop, close to the Green Line. But nobody wants these neighbors.

Part of me thinks nothing could bring middle class whites to the West Side in large numbers (short of full scale ethnic cleansing). The reality is, they flee further and further from anyone unlike themselves. The reality is, the city has lost a quarter of its population since 1950. At this point, the entire Chicago region is losing population to outmigration.

What was once the nation's liveliest metropolis has been slowly transforming itslef to one type of wasteland or another. Postindustrial sludge. Sprawling subdivided suburbia. Ghost town neighborhoods of the South and West sides. The rubble where the projects once stood.

Somewhere in Tim Samuelson and Camilo Jose Vergara's Unexpected Chicagoland is the line:
It's the breakdown of social relationships, not of bricks and mortar, that turns neighborhoods into ruins.
I reread the bulk of it and can't find it, but I know it's in there somewhere. And I know it's true. Hate is killing Chicago. Hate and fear. It ain't murder, it's a slow suicide attempt.

True, she's coming back. She's out of the ICU and eating solid food. But half of Chicago is still Detroit. In fact most of our major cities are dying slowly, neglected - New Orleans was being destroyed day be day long before the hurricane hit . . .

Anyway, I took pictures.
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Monday, April 17, 2006

He's Guilty

Of course George Ryan is guilty. The question is, does it make any difference? Ryan joins former governors Joseph Duncan, Joel Aldrich Matteson, Lennington Small, William Stratton, Otto Kerner, and Dan Walker in his legal troubles - the others didn't get caught. Clearly Ryan broke the law, but when he says he was just playing the game the way it's always been played in Illinois, he's just speaking the plain truth. Republicans, Democrats, or Whigs, rewarding political favors with jobs, contracts, or public largesse has been the way of things in this state for its entire history.

And Ryan was as good as you're going to get from a Republican Governor. His Illinois First infrastructure project replaced hundreds of miles of crumbling roads and bridges and vastly improved public tranportation in Chicago. And his courageous change of heart over the death penalty was an important example for the country and probably spared innocent men from execution. But most of the crimes he was convicted of were committed back when he was Secretary of State, before he ever became Governor. Did knowledge of his guilt haunt his days in power like some depressing, heavy-handed Greek tragedy? Or was he too self-deluded to admit to himself he'd done wrong, or as they say in these parts, "gone too far?"

Who knows? But what I do know is, this is hardly the last act of the play. We have another election coming up this fall, and considering the candidates are Governor Rod Blagojevich and Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, both of whom are haunted by similar ghosts, I'm guessing the culture of you know what will go on for at least four more years.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

considering lillies for a change

Last year I had a lot to say about Easter and this year I really don't. It was a peaceful day. I slept in, and both the Sox and Cubs won (the Sox game got called on account of rain at a lucky moment). We made Easter Eggs, and went out to see family. It wasn't an Easter event at all - my cousin is blessedly, miraculously?, home from Iraq for good, and all in one peace and still alive and laughing and looking forward to being posted in San Diego for a while, where he's thinking about taking up surfing. My other cousin's child is two and a half and talking and curious. A third had a girl visiting from Germany and took her to see RENT on Wednesday and told me the production was terrible. The girl rolled her eyes at this but I think he was trying to make me feel better - I had tickets but missed the show because I was just out of the hospital and hardly able to walk. The flowers are opening up in front of the house and are a gleaming white. The rhubarb is back and so is my hydrangea. We stopped off at Mr. Thai for a late dinner on our way home and the curry is still exquisite. The cat hasn't broken anything for hours. I'm so glad I'm still alive.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Intelligent Design, My Ass

"I don't even remember what the hell an appendix is," I said to my wife.

It felt like the wee hours of the morning, but more likely it was the wee hours of Tuesday afternoon - the eternal twilight of the emergency room. Northwestern Memorial, just off Chicago's Magnificent Mile is the real world setting for the TV show "ER," but the staff we met there were much more "Gray's Anatomy." That's right, my "surgical team" consisted of a rouguishly attractive thirtysomething male doctor accompanied by a gaggle of bleary-eyed hot chicks, including the obligatory token Asian.

I hate hospitals, because of the whole sickness and death thing. And every time I've NMH, I've always been too preoccupied by something or other (I think it's called abject terror) to notice, but afterwards I think about it and realize it must be an interesting place to work. It obviously runs on chaos, adrenaline, hormones and caffeine - and the people who work there, their sleep deprived weariness clashing with their perfect hair and breezy, casual attitudes, seem genuinely more interesting than what little I've seen of their TV counterparts. For one thing, doctors are just more interesting people than actors - if you want people to love you, saving their lives seems a much more compelling approach than trying to be beautiful and fabulous. For another thing, the gallows humor and coping mechanisms that characterize any kind of crisis-oriented workplace just don't make for family-friendly entertainment.

But as cool as the place might be to work - it just sucks to visit. It was loud and overcrowded. The place was slammed with crazy people, a bleeding cop being rushed by on a stretcher, armed officers accompanying a wounded criminal, a frightened woman in need of a Chinese translator. They ran out of emergency cubicles and had me stashed on a wheeled bed in a hallway for hours, surrounded by noisy, swarming anarchy, a migraine steadily growing to epic proportions and eventually surpassing the piercing pain in my gut that had brought me to the hospital in the first place.

When a slightly less rouguish but still handsome thirtysomething doctor finally tracked me down in the hallway just as the latest round of narcotics were wearing off, I wasn't really up for rakish banter. "Do you have a surgeon?" he asked. Yeah, I keep one on retainer, my witty TV counterpart replied. "Huh?" I said. "You're going to need one," said Dr. Chipper. "Shit" was all I could come up with without professional writing team.

So, the appendix. Fortunately, my wife knew what one was even if I, in my drug and migraine addled state, did not. "It's a little sac attached to your colon, which doesn't really do much until a little piece of food gets stuck in there. Then it gets infected, swells up and explodes and kills you." How much do I love this woman?

Intelligent Design, according to Wikipedia, is is the concept that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection."[1]

Proponents of intelligent design look for evidence of what they term "signs of intelligence" — physical properties of an object that they assert necessitate design. The most commonly cited signs include irreducible complexity, information mechanisms, and specified complexity. Design proponents argue that living systems show one or more of these, from which they infer that some aspects of life have been designed. This stands in opposition to mainstream biological science, which relies on experiment and collection of uncontested data to explain the natural world exclusively through observed impersonal physical processes such as mutations and natural selection. Intelligent design proponents say that while evidence pointing to the nature of an "intelligent cause or agent" may not be directly observable, its effects on nature can be detected. Dembski, in Signs of Intelligence, states: "Proponents of intelligent design regard it as a scientific research program that investigates the effects of intelligent causes. Note that intelligent design studies the effects of intelligent causes and not intelligent causes per se." In his view, one cannot test for the identity of influences exterior to a closed system from within, so questions concerning the identity of a designer fall outside the realm of the concept.
In my experience, the way the human digestive system works does not count as a "sign of intelligence," nor do birth defects, miscarriages, Hodgkin's disease, or that weird thing where cats can't taste sugar because their genes were transposed wrong at one point (thanks to Creek Running North for the link). Creationists (whatever they're calling themselves) always come back to the same basic argument - the world is too intricately, perfectly put together to have happened "by accident." But that's not true at all. Life is extremely complicated, I'll grant you that. But "perfect?" There are just too many flaws in everything. Life doesn't maximize its potential, it "satisfices" - it's just good enough to solve its immediate problems, but no better. Old age, sickness and death might be deep and meaningful to many of you out there, but to me they are mistakes, poor design or more accurately, lack of design.

Speaking of transposition, there's another definition for appendix: A collection of supplementary material, usually at the end of a book. . . generally when I've seen them they are tables, references, or anecdotes that couldn't be fit smoothly into the body of the text. So if mine's been removed I guess I've finally been edited, which some picky and grammar obsessed readers could've told you was something I desperately needed anyway.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen Your Sox

Saw my first game of the year! It didn't go so well for the Sox, alas. But the crowd, still slap happy over the world series title, didn't seem to mind one bit. After Contreras walked a guy, the drunken ass the next section over did scream "he sucks! Trade him!" . . . but then he laughed. What a difference a year and a championship makes! Sox fans who can laugh at themselves. Also, Sox fans who show up at games - the place was packed! In April!

But some things never change. The good? The bratwurst still rules on the South Side. The bad? The stupid "fan rivalry" expressed as homophobia, or sexism, or sexual harassment, or some bizarre, repressed combination of the above, as in [to a guy in a Mark Prior Cubs jersey]: "Hey Prior, I got your Wood right here!" Also an impossibly vulgar exchange in the men's room between several pissing white men and a large black man waiting in the urinal line (wearing a Wood jersey, natch) which ended with the the big guy, on his way out, saying "hey, I thought this was the ladies room." You're just going to have to conjure that one up yourself.

I can't wait to get back up to Wrigley Field where yuppie scum like me can run free and feel safe, and in love, and get plastered in peace, and where ignorant and offensive insults are kept where they belong (screamed at people from St. Louis and Houston, mostly).

Monday, April 03, 2006

Opening Day!

Image hosting by Photobucket

Like I said a year ago, hope springs eternal. In a flashback to last year's Opening Day, Carlos Zambrano couldn't complete the fifth inning, but the Cubs scored 16 runs against the hapless Cincinnati Reds and took the first game 16-7. Of course, not everything was the same. In fact, there aren't too many familiar faces in the starting line-up: this is the youngest opening line-up the Cubs have fielded since 1977. So far, led by Matt Murton and a resurgent Todd Walker, they look like pros.

94 more games like that one and we're in business!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Sympathy for the Governor

I've been by G Rod's house twice in the last two weeks, as we've been spending our Sundays going to open houses in Albany Park. (Yes, that's right - when I said I was thinking about leaving Bucktown while some of it was still standing, I wasn't entirely kidding.) I have to admit I was a little surprised by what I found. Unfortunately, the presence of cops in unmarked cars sitting on the block sort of discouraged me from taking pictures of G Rod's digs, so you'll have to take my word for it the Blagojevich place on the corner of Richmond and Sunnyside is not a mansion. I mean it's a nice place and all - sizeable for a city home, probably four bedrooms, a little bigger than its bungalow neighbors - but it's eighty years old and looking like it needs a little work. I'm quite certain the Governor's Mansion in springfield is a much more lavish affair.

I bring this up because this governor has taken a lot of flack for a lot of things - and he's earned most of it. But one of the oddest things he's taken fire for is living at home. Many downstaters - who were key to his election in 2002 - have taken affront that his family prefers to stay at their own digs in Chicago rather than move into the Governor's mansion.

When Jerry Brown was elected governor of California, but decided not to move into the Governor's Mansion, he was hailed as a hero and an antidote to some of the waste and bloat of the Reagan years. But G Rod, instead of turning his fairly modest middle class home into a PR coup, has flubbed the whole thing and gotten burned.

So here's what's cool about the Governor's crib. It's in a funky, mixed income, ethnically diverse neighborhood where single family homes, two flats and apartment buildings sit side by side on the same block. It's the kind of place where you can walk a few blocks to the EL stop, the pizza place, the grocery store or a Korean or Lebanese restaurant, and hear several languages spoken on your way there. On the Northwest Side of the city, it also sits about dead center, population wise, of the metropolitan area. And like it or not, Downstaters, metro Chicago is eight million of twelve and a half million Illinoisians, and most of the Democrats.

So the Governor is living right in the middle of his voters, on a public street with a tiny little lawn and a house that's no larger or better appointed than most of the suburbanites and Downstaters who curse his name. In short, he lives like a regular guy.

The fact that this is regarded as a curse instead of a blessing goes to show what a crappy, untalented politician the man has turned out to be. But it also goes to show just how much the people in Red-tinted counties hate and envy us city folk. Living in a diverse, interesting neighborhood has somehow joined literacy, the arts, and knowledge of other cultures as a sign of "elitism." Admit it guys, you'd rather live in Albany Park than Springfield. So would I. The difference is, I just might do it.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Goodbye, Dodger

Image hosting by Photobucket

No, that picture's not one of mine. I did stop by and photograph the old girl before the execution began, back when there was a drive to save her and over 3000 neighbors signed a petition to save the building. A preservationist architect even offered over 1.3 million for the building so he could save it and move his offices there! Alas, there's more money to be made, somehow, by building a single-family mansion on the two lots, so asshole developer Wally Kos elected to reject the offer and demolish one of Bucktown's landmarks.

Part of me wants to get out of this dying place so I can remember it in a nice way. But I feel oddly compelled to stand witness and document the destruction so everyone can share my pain. So here you go:

Image hosting by Photobucket

Image hosting by Photobucket

Image hosting by Photobucket

Image hosting by Photobucket

Image hosting by Photobucket

As you can see, the details on the old pub are not only cool in their own right, the whole thing was tied together in a very beautiful and expressive package. The Dodger in better days:

Image hosting by Photobucket

Also lost in the last couple weeks was this simple old church on Augusta Boulevard in the Ukranian Village:

Image hosting by Photobucket

I mention this not because it's anywhere near as beautiful as the Dodger was (it wasn't), but because the demolition punctures a nearly uninterrupted wall of historic building along Augusta. This is important and scary, because while the tree-lined residential streets going back into the neighborhood have actually been landmarked and protected, Augusta itself, the central avenue that gathers the Village together into a cohesive whole, has not. Preservationists are working on this now, but it may already be too late.

Friday, March 31, 2006

The Pink Line?

So today the Chicago Transit Authority in its infinite wisdom announced it has come up with a new name for the southern (Douglas) branch of the Blue Line, which will start running as a separate line on xxxdatexxx: the Pink Line! This new "Fluffy Bunny" line will start from 54th Avenue and Cermak Road in Cicero, Illinois, run through the tough Latino neighborhoods of Little Village and Pilsen, head north along Paulina Avenue, join the Green Line tracks at Ashland and circle the Loop.

The announcement has caused a little bit of consternation, as you saw if you were a good little reader and followed the link to the Tribune article.
While the board chose pink over silver and gold, it wasn't necessarily the favorite of people who ride the line.

"I don't think so," said Joseph Santoyo, 18, as he stood at the entrance of the Cermak branch's California stop on the border of Little Village and Lawndale. "Let's take the Pink Line? No."

"They shouyld rename it somewhere else," he added, sayhing the neighborhood is too tough to have a Pink Line running through it. "I don't think the neighborhood will like it."

But, noted one 8th grader who nominated pink, the color isn't just for girls any more. "Pink is a really pretty bright color and when people hear the color pink they probably think it is a girly color," wrote Jeaninie Zarate, a student at Graham Elementary School in Chicago. "Today, a lot of people including boys like pink."

Several other pink supporters said the color could help raise awareness of breasst cancer, which has long been symbolized by pink.

The fundamental divide boils down to a left on left pile-up between culturally sensitive defenders of Latino machismo, who feel that the Pink Line might in some way be belittling or mocking their neighborhoods, and liberals and feminists who decry the stigmatization of the color pink - note the impassioned debate over the pink-painted visitors locker room at the University of Iowa:
Critics say the use of pink demeans women, perpetuates offensive stereotypes about women and homosexuality, and puts the university in the uncomfortable position of tacitly supporting those messages.

Relativists might suggest a simple name swap: West Side Hispanics could take pride in their very own Brown Line, while North Side PC white liberals could take the Pink Line to the Loop if they're gonna be so amped about it.

But in the end, these debates don't matter, because if the CTA wouldn't listen to Demon Dogs, the Bottom Lounge, or DePaul University, what makes you think they'd listen to mere riders? Anyone out there who thinks the CTA cares about you clearly hasn't tried to catch a bus at two in the morning. [Note to East Coast readers: in New York, trasit customers have their own colloquial nickname: straphangers. the name doesn't apply in Chicago, because there are no straps: apparently the CTA finds it amusing that people fall on their asses when the train stops suddenly for no apparent reason; in fact, that's what the cameras are for.]

So we might as well get used to it people! The CTA wants the new line, because it uses the expensively rehabbed "Paulina Connector" track between the 18th Street and Ashland stops. The Connector was rehabbed in order to be put back in service as part of the mythical Circle Line that will form an "Outer Loop" for "Greater Downtown" as soon as the Feds come up with the cash. Since the new line would cost roughly the same amount as the Iraq War, I'm not holding my breath. So their gonna damn well use it, even if no one wants it, and the re-route needlessly cuts off West Side students from access to the UIC campus.

Anyway, there's definitely an upside to this. And I'm not talking about breast cancer awareness, because those people are not going to pony up the cash for a sponsorship. As I've mentioned before, the CTA is desperate for advertising cash. So I figure, if Sox Park could get a sponsor, why not the Pink Line?

Image hosting by Photobucket
Anything to save us from another rate hike.

Thursday, March 30, 2006


These are strange days indeed. Chicago City Council is claiming the right not to enforce Federal laws, and I find myself hoping they can get away with it.

For most of the Twentieth Century, right wingers and racists trotted out old arguments about "states rights" and "nullification" that most people thought had been defeated, militarily, in the Civil War. Unable to control national centers of power, racists claimed that states had the power to disregard Federal laws in order to continue Jim Crow policies of segregation and discrimination at the state and local level. So throughout that time, enhanced Federal power was looked at as the liberal principle while state and local independence was considered to be a conservative principle.

Such "principles" of course being generally camoflage for self interest, it's interesting to see how quickly they seem to have flipped now that conservatives are firmly in control of Washington.

The House has passed, and the Senate is considering, severe legislation which would "turn illegal immigrants into felons and compel private individuals and employers to report them." In response, City Council has passed a law forbidding city employess, including police, to inquire about anyone's immigration status under most circumstances. This policy, sort of a "don't ask, don't tell" for illegal immigrants, has been in place via executive order since shortly after Mayor Daley took office in 1989, but by formally passing it as law City Council is throwing up a challenge in the face of the Feds.
Daley's executive order states, "No agent or agency shall request information about or otherwise investigate or assist in the investigation of citizenship or residency status of any person unless such an inquiry or investigation is required by statute, ordinance, federal regulation or court decision."
. . .
It further orders that city services, benefits and opportunities should not be "conditioned" on "matters related to citizenship or residency status" unless otherwise required by law.

In other words, the city plans on continuing to provide services to illegal aliens as much as it can, Federal policy be damned.

Basically, Federal demagoguery on the issue of immigration has run smack into economic reality on the ground. Ironically, many people in states without substantial immigrant populations are apparently quite terrified about waves of Latinos changing the face of the country and threatening their jobs. By contrast, cities like Chicago, struggling to maintain the momentum from the economic growth of the late 1990s, depend on immigrants to survive. Latinos were responsible for all of the population rebound the city saw in the 90s, and illegal immigrants from Mexico, Poland and elsewhere are essential to the health of industries such as food service and construction.

If we were to enforce immigration laws and expel residents who here illegally, the city would see a substantial population drop, widespread business closures, and something resembling a regional recession would occur. It appears to me that foreign workers are going to get a lot of jobs in a number of industries, and the real question is whether they will be working here, or in their home contries. I vote here, because we still get to tax the businesses that way.

[A friend who knows more about this than I do once told me that a real global economy would require free movement of capital, goods, and labor, and that a big problem with the system in practice is that capital and goods can move freely but labor is restricted. I'm not really sold on the free market neoliberal world, but his description of what's going on does seem to track with the news.]

The result of all this is that, as with environmental policy and gay and lesbian civil rights, liberals are using terms such as states' rights and home rule to justify breaking with federal policy on immigration.

It's not the first time. Before the Civil War, progressives could be found making these same arguments. In fact, in 1850, Chicago City Council and Mayor James Curtis took similar action, ordering Chicago Police not to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. scary to think how far the wheel has come around.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


I don't want to rant on about this, because I've been doing it all day, but I wanted to put something up because this was such a big deal . . . and fun! I love a good (polite) debate.

Today at Third Unitarian we had a guest speaker, The Reverend Myriam Renaud, who preached on the figure of Deborah in the Book of Judges, and the implications of holding her up as a role model for feminists.

First of all it was rather strange to hear someone reading the Bible from the Thomas Paine Memorial Pulpit - I don't think that's happened before in the two years I've been attending, and it certainly came as a surprise to many of the old leftist humanists in the pews. [I believe she used the Judaica Press Translation, which was possibly to soften the blow.--Trope.] More on that in a minute.

Rev. Renaud started by saying that the victors generally write history, which is why we don't learn enough about women in history - there have not been enough women victors. Then she used Deborah as an example of a "victor-woman," and explored what that was like.

Deborah was one of these prophet figures who led the Israelites to a military victory in which they slaughered their enemies to the last man. This is one of the reasons I stopped believing in the Bible all those years ago - I read it. In the book, these Israelites commit massacre after genocide after ethnic cleansing, all with the blessing of their God. It's horrible, self-justifying bullshit to my ears, and I don't admire these people or take much spiritual guidance from their travails. That may have been what the world was like then, but it's not much of an example for progressives.

[Renaud's argument was based on the idea that women are underrepresented in authority, and that because women tend to be self-effacing, meek, or more likely to share credit, this will continue. I would argue that there are currently several examples of strong female leaders worldwide, and that the way to get us into power is not to teach women to overcome their conditioning for collaboration and cooperation, but to call men on the fallacy that everything in this world can be accomplished with a big ego and a big sword. Women in power who act like men are not, of themselves, any different or better than men in power. It's not the women per se who are being devalued, it's the traits often thought of as "feminine": negotiation, compromise, power-sharing. Not every woman is good at that, and many women are shocked when a woman in power doesn't espouse those values. --Trope.]

Rev. Renaud's argument was that women should stand up for themselves, not be ashamed of success, and seek power unapologetically much like men do. [Though she suggested we display these tangible measures of our success in the living room of our homes, presumably to be admired by our husbands' friends. I think next time she should suggest writing letters to the editor, or possibly renting a billboard. --Trope.] She pointed out that even progressives tend to hold archaic ideas about gender roles, seeing women as the gentler, more peaceful, more conciliatory sex. [Yep. We bring the flowers. Y'all run the board.] Women shouldn't be expected to behave according to these roles, especially women in positions of power - a point that I agree with. She pointed out the silliness of the oft-repeated statement that "if women ran the world there wouldn't be wars," which I agree is ridiculous. Worldwide, we've had plenty of women as heads of state, who have been no less violent or authoritarian than an equal-sized sample of male leaders would be.

But she went on, and held up Margaret Thatcher as an example of a woman defying these expectations by going to war over the Falkland Islands. Then she said if Hillary Clinton became President and decided to go to war, she hoped we'd all support her - this to a room full of peace activists!

So after the service we had an interesting conversation. I said that when we say history is written by the victors, it's not a compliment. We're calling them liars and implying that the losers had a story that deserved to be told as well. She pointed out that the people Deborah killed were "oppressors" and I said that of course the victors, who wrote history, would say that, but I wasn't going to take their word for it.

Basically, I don't care much whether more of the "victors" who dominate and control the rest of us are women and minorities. This is the worst kind of tokenism. I feel that most of the people who exercise power do so illegitimately, that they haven't earned and don't deserve their power over others. Rev. Renaud told me she disagrees, that she feels that people in power more or less come by it legitimately. [Again: I don't think that being male or female lends any more or less legitimacy to an authority figure, or the wars they start. I'd love to see a woman President, but I would move to Canada before I voted for Condi. --Trope.] I guess this is the wrong period of history to appeal to my faith in authority figures!

At this point, what I want most from the next President is a weaker Presidency. Having one person making so many decisions in our name without hardly consulting us is just unacceptable. I would hope President Hillary Clinton or John McCain or Barack Obama or whoever would leave the business of declaring war to Congress, like the Constitution says. [For the business of avoiding war, I might be tempted to vote for a male candidate over a female one. Ask me why sometime.--T] And I don't much care about the gender or skin color of the people who are dominating and coercing others to conform to their beliefs or ideologies. I just want it to stop, and to the greatest extent practicable, to return power and control to the people themselves. [This is a goal that most folks at TUC can get on board with. It was a great sermon, and a great debate following. More Sunday feminism!--Trope.]

Saturday, March 25, 2006


This afternoon I found the blog of a friend from my college and Columbus days. (Actually he tried to tell me about it months ago but I didn't see it due to my ongoing email nighmare.) Brett is of the better writers I've known, so I added him to my Links section. The blog does what I'd like to do with this space - record and communicate the vicissitudes of life in a specific geographic, social, political and cultural context.

Brett's context is obviously quite a bit different from mine, perhaps that's why I find this post so unexpectedly moving. Don't get me wrong, I love being a city boy - I'm just an urban person, most at home watching millions of stories play out at one in one creative, interwoven mess. But I haven't heard silence, or seen the stars, in a long, long time, and sometimes I miss those things a great deal.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

On Monsters

There's a great article in this month's Atlantic magazine about the frightening lengths British intelligence went to infiltrate and destroy the IRA. Their agents participated in shootings and bombings and killed other spies in the process of gathering the intelligence the British needed to break the back of the organization. Agents participated in activities including bombing attacks and the murder of police officers. Many reasonable people would agree that these efforts went too far in pursuit of a goal which may (or may not) be worthy. I am tempted to call the people who ended up doing such things somewhat monstrous.

At what point does order or peace or justice justify immoral or evil behavior? When do the ends justify the means? I confess up front that I really don't know, but that won't stop me from taking a stab at it.

In popular culture, this has become sort of a meme, because art is where we work out the issues that we're ordinarily too polite to talk about as a society. I've noticed three prominent fictional examples of individuals who become monsters in the service of some higher goal. Chiwetel Ejiofor as the Operative in Serenity, Hugo Weaving as the terrorist V in V for Vendetta, and Mary McDonnell's President Roslin in Battlestar Galactica. The Operative is presented as villain, V is presented as (anti-) hero, and as for Roslin, as well as for everyone else in the gloriously ambiguous space opera, the jury remains out. But all three of them do evil in the name of good, to create a better world they won't live to see, so in some ways they're all archetype, looked at from three different perspectives. They claim to know better than the foolish masses, so they use undemocratic, coercive and violent means to enforce their vision on the world. In their own eyes they are making a sacrifice for the greater good by engaging in evil. Jack Bauer on 24 would probably be another great example of this archetype, but since I don't know how his story ends I really can't draw any conclusions about him.

The Operative does monstrous things, including slaughtering an entire town, including children, on the off chance that our heroes may seek refuge there. He does these things in the name of preserving order, stability, and social peace. He thinks the triumph of his side will bring about a better world ("all of them, better worlds"). He has no proof of this, but he believes. He believes (incorrectly) that even though he murders people, the maintenance of order means fewer lives will be lost overall. He recognizes that he's a monster, and says of the coming utopia "I'm not going to live there." There will be no place for men such as himself in a perfected society.

Often in fiction we see such people used to cover up the corruption and cynicism of political leaders, but here it's not so simple. What he's covering up is a holocaust, albeit an accidental one - a drug that was supposed to calm and pacify the public actually killed 30 million people. The Operative does not know this because he never asks what it is he's fighting for.

Verdict: This one's obvious. That the Operative is wrong is the whole point of the movie. TWOPper Jacob wrote in his recap:
I think I just became a fucking Libertarian. And possibly a Christian.
Which sums up the moral universe of the movie pretty well. The Operative's sin is that he thinks he has the right to make decisions for everyone else, and enforce those decisions with violence, because the decisions are "right." But who decides what is right? Politicians? Scientists? Moralists? The Operative doesn't deserve the moral standing he gives himself. In the end, he rejects his old life and appears to be on the way to redemption. The other characters don't seem to care very much, and they have a point - he's a monster.

Laura Roslin is the formerly liberal Secretary of Education who is thrust into the role of President after the 42 people ahead of her in the line of succession are killed in a nuclear attack which decimates civilization. As President she embraces religious prophecy in order to consolidate her political base, and bans abortion when her fundie supporters demand it. Roslin almost routinely orders the execution of prisoners and does not consider the enemy to be persons with any rights or moral value. In the season finale, she tries to steal a democratic election, relenting only when she is caught by her chief military leader.

Many fans would justify her actions based on how her enemies behave - the wholesale murder of civilians, suicide attacks, sleeper agents etc. Except we see unapologetic terrorist Samuel Anders employing similar tactics to blow up a civilian cafe in order to drive out the occupying forces - holy HAMAS, Batman! We think that's okay, because he's on our side, right? Except that the specific Cylons he's targeting include the even sympathetic Boomer, programmed to think she's human, as well as Six - who played a key role in destroying the world and thus has it coming - except she feels really bad about it and is trying to find some way to end the war, which makes her what? Hero? Villain? Another monster? But this is not the issue. I'm not asking if Roslin's behavior is emotionally satisfying, I'm asking whether it's justified.

Verdict: Laura is meant to be controversial and difficult to pin down. Her backing down and conceding the election is supposed to mean that she stands at the precipice but is not a monster (yet). I disagree. Her horrible treatment of POW Sharon (who wanted to defect, for chrissakes), her execution of other unarmed prisoners including peace emissaries, her general moral obtuseness about the dignity and rights of her enemies, her embracing of fandementalism for political gain - all of these things place her beyond the pale in my eyes. True, she pursues power because she wants "what's best for her people." But who the hell is she to decide that? The show is more sympathetic to her than I am, and conspires to make her right more often than wrong. Settling on the new planet - which she opposed in the election campaign - does lead to disaster and occupation. But she couldn't have known that in advance, and didn't have the right to make everyone's decisions for them, or to decide who is worthy of life and who should die. I say she's a monster. A sympathetic, compelling monster perhaps, but a monster.

Which is not to say I don't like the character. Mary McDonnell deserves an Emmy. In fact the wonderful juxtoposition of the soulful, repentent killing machine Six with the bloody-minded, unapologetically murderous and deceitful human President was one of the high points of my entertainment year, making the episode "Downloaded" (TV guide subscribers can get it for free from iTunes, by the way) probably the best hour of TV I have ever seen.

V is the most obviously "monstrous" of the lot. Clearly a vengeance-obsessed madman, V blows up London landmarks as a call to revolution, and assassinates political, religious and media figures associated with the government. It's a clearly opressive government, however, which has banned both homosexuality and the Koran, as well as most foreigners apparently, and "disappears," tortures, and executes dissidents, as well as using them for medical experiments. Yet V himself is a terrorist, not above kidnapping, torturing and executing people, so where does he get off?

Verdict: He doesn't get off. Like the other two, he won't live to see the world he wants to create. But, crucially, he isn't trying to force his beliefs and views on people or make decisions for them. Quite the opposite - he wants people to be able to make choices for themselves, rather than have decisions made for them by the Government or Party. He may be a monster, but he's our monster.

So what do we conclude from these monsters? For me, the defining issue remains for what do they fight. In cases where the monster's goal is to make other people's choices for them, because they think they know better, becoming a monster is monstrous. There's only one cause worth giving up your soul for. It's not survival, not justice, not God, not patriotism, certainly not "security."

The only reason someone would be justified in monstrous deeds is the preservation and advancement of human freedom. In other words, what's wrong on behalf of the "saints" can be justified on the behalf of sinners. Using violence to exercise power over someone else in the name of one's beliefs or ideology or values, trying to make the world over in one's own image, is monstrous. But fighting in the name of human freedom and self determination is basically just self defense writ large - you can't grow and function normally as a human being without freedom, any more than you can do it without enough food or oxygen.

Live free or die - it's not just a license plate anymore.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

whose machine is this anyway?

So far this year I'm down to about two posts a month! I'm disappointed, even if nobody else out there cares very much one way or the other. My problem is not that nothing interesting is happening, it's that a lot of interesting things are happening, but it's work stuff, and I can't really blog about it. In fact, I don't really feel comfortable doing this at all during work hours. It's not so much that there's more pressure to use time at work productively (there's really not), it's politics. The nature of my employment looks like it's likely to change soon, and if it does I will offically be a public employee.

Which is great for me, but as you might have heard, there's been a lot of scandal surrounding political activity and public employment in Chicago and Cook County lately. So if I were to be working on something even vaguely political on time which is being compensated by the taxpayers would not be just shiftlessness, but illegal and in violation of the city's consent decree as well.

This is why I use a pseudonym and never discuss the department or field in which I work, which has become annoying recently because there's so much to say about it. But even so, I just don't think I can spend any of my convenient office computer time on the Web anymore, which has put a damper on my blogging.

This being Saturday, however, and me feeling sickly and having decided not to attend today's historic Michigan Avenue peace demonstration largely because it's cold and I'm being a wuss about it, I suppose I can spare some time to talk a little politics. Usually I'm fairly partisan, and not only do I know who I'm going to vote for in any given election far in advance, but I'm often actively campaigning for somebody. But this time around I'm stumped.

Tuesday morning is the Illinois Democratic primary, and the big race here is for President of the Cook County board (Board President sounds like a small time job not worthy of much thought until you realize that Cook County contains five and a half million people, roughly 42% of the state population, billions of dollars of tax revenue, and an army of patronage workers as large as any in North America). The Republican doesn't have a prayer, so whoever wins the primary wins the seat - or that's what I would have told you last week, anyway. But events have conspired to make things a bit more interesting.

The race pits longtime encumbent board president John Stroger against up and coming political operative Forrest Claypool. Stroger is one of the most powerful men in the state, and although the political hiring scandals that are spreading like wildfire across the prarie state have so far not reached his doorstep, all these guys who are getting indicted basically work for him, as he's on of the leaders of what they used to call the Machine - the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization. So reformers and Goo-Goos ("good government" advocates) are basically after his hide. In addition to my suspicion that machine politics leads to a bit of waste and inefficiency (although perhaps not as much as you'd assume) I have a bit of a personal grudge against Stroger - his determination to tear down the old Cook County Hospital building, mostly to improve the view of its replacement, which Stroger built and named Stroger Hospital. Since the old building is a classic which developers would like to turn into really nice condos, and the new one looks like a toddler built it out of glass blocks and random pieces of metal junk, I oppose this plan. Fortunately, most of the rest of the board agrees with me and the demolition is on hold while they examine offers to buy the building.

On the other hand. things have gotten quite a bit better in Chicago and Cook County while Stroger's been in charge. Crime and poverty are down, and at least some schools have improved a little. This weeks Economist magazine contains a special section touting Chicago as a success story and a possible model for reversing urban decline in the Rust Belt. So if taking out the trash is the standard by which officeholders are measured, Stroger's had a pretty good tenure.

Claypool, on the other hand, is running as a reformer, and has said everything the Goo-Goos want to hear. Transparency, accountability, etc. In theory I am in favor of these things. On the other hand, Claypool was Mayor Richard Daley's chief of staff at one point, so how independent and reformist can he really be? In addition, while he's widely respected for fixing things at the Park District when he was in charge, I've heard people complain that he was virulently anti-union in that position, and basically balanced the budget on the backs of longtime employees. And I also have a personal grudge against Claypool - he's backing the plan for a third airport at Peotone (along with Rep. Jesse Jackson Junior) over an expansion of O'Hare. The problem with this plan is that Peotone isn't even in Cook County! Basically, he wants to export yet more jobs that could become available for city residents to a distant exurb, just to mollify a few suburbanite mayors who are angry that an O'Hare expansion would demolish some of their oppressively tacky tract homes.

So where does that leave me? Two candidates I could never love, and I vote I have to base on guesswork - which will do less harm to Chicago's future over the next few years?

And then it got complicated. On Tuesday, John Stroger, who is 76 years old and fairly obese, suffered a serious stroke and had to be hospitalized. He's been in the ICU ever since and may or may not recover enough to return to work. So Chicago is faced with its own Ariel Sharon moment. What happens if Stroger wins but is unable to govern, which looks like the likeliest outcome as of this writing? The 80 Democratic committeemen - 50 representing Chicago's 50 wards and 30 from the burbs - will decide among themselves who the next candidate will be. I have no clue who this might be, and whether the official Machine candidate would be better or worse than Claypool. Do I trust those guys to pick a leader, or vote for Claypool, whom I don't like, but could probably live with?

My hunch is that the Board President job will be used as a political tool by the Machine. A longhot idea - perhaps the job will be offered to Jesse Jr. as a payoff to get him to not run for Mayor against Daley. More likely, it will go to some insider or loyalist - like Dan Hynes, the insider who had the oganizational support but failed to gain traction against Barak Obama in the '04 Senate primary. So any way the primary goes, we're in for some upheaval at the top. It's exciting stuff, but it leaves me playing an unfamiliar role - as an undecided voter.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

your philosophical primer for the day

People are evil. Not in the sense of "there are evil people out htere," but in the sense of "all of us are and do evil." We've all done things we regret, or should regret. We hurt or abuse or exploit others in our pursuit of self interest. We put our own convenience over the common good. This is just a part of human nature.

Liberals used to be the guys who said people were basically good and you should cut them some slack. Brian Covell has remaked that part of the decline of the American Liberal worldview had to do with our understanding of hte Holocaust as proof that human beings are fallen and sinful. The good pastor finds this somewhat lamentable, but after the events of the 20th Century, I would look upon with alarm any movement that claimed humand beings were perfect or perfectable.

Due to our sometimes miserable nature, life for much of human history was "nasty, brutish, and short." To deal with our insistant squabbling and murder of each other, the modern state evolved. Rules were developed for people to follow in order to bring relative peace to human relations. This was a vast improvement over the "warring tribes" system, which is what it replaced. In easter Europe, Somalia and Iraq we have witnessed what happens when the State collapses and we return to this brutish existance.

However, hte State has problems of its own. Basic human nature has not changed, so the people who run the government are also evil. They tend to use the power they have been granted to enrich themselves by exploiting everyone else, and work mostly to expand their own power.

To address this problem, Enlightenment thinkers such as the Founders of this nation developed a system under which the leaders of the government would be chosen by and held accountable to the people. Furthermore, they divided up the essential powers of the government among the 3 separate branches of government. They figured that the leaders of each branch woudl work hard to enhance thier own power. This would lead to conflict among the branches, often leaving them at loggerheads. While inefficient, this system would ensure that no one in government would be able to assert complete authority and misuse their offices too badly. The other branches would always be there to hold them accountable.

For example, the executive branch has the power to investigate criminal activity - this is an essential function of the state. Under the "warring tribes" system, when people wronged us, we would take our revenge upon them. In civilized society, we have given up our right of revenge to the State in exchange for its promise to protect us. So the State has a legal monopoly on the use of violence. They can grab people off the street, lock them up, and sometimes kill them. You, however, are not even allowed to throw a punch. "Assault," as it's now called, is a crime.

But what's to stop the leaders of the executive branch from using their monopoly on force to intimidate, threaten, blackmail and silence people in their own self interest? The answer lies in the separation of powers between the branches of government. The laws to be enforced are written by the legislative branch (Congress). Determining whether or not a law has been broken or properly carried out is the job of the courts. The executive just carries out and enforces the will of the other branches, it cannot make the law.

In order to protect people from tyranny, the system is set up to ensure that the government does not normally intrude on the privacy of ordinary citizens. Sometimes it must, but only to protect the public and enforce the law. But in order to do so, the executive must have permission from the other branches of government - they must present evidence to a judge that individual X has broken or is conspiring to break on of Congress' laws. This is part of the system by which each branch is supposed to be restrained by the other two.

So there's you philosophical primer for today. The real world relevance, of course, is that the Bush Administration now claims it has the right to invade peoples' privacy without presenting any evidence to the courts.

This amounts to saying "trust us. We're not going to use these powers against innocent people for our own gain becasue we're good people." But there arent' any good guys in real life, onlu uss self-interested pricks. It is necessary fro the government to investigate and detain people to protect the rest of us from the world of evil pricks outside the governmetn. But who protects us from the evil pricks inside the government? It's supposed to be the other branches of government. Public accountability through separation of powers and the rule of law. But by instituting large scale surveillance in secret, without informing Congress or the courts, the executive branch has proclaimed itself to be above the law.

"Trust us" they say. But trusting the people at the top to be nice is not a good plan for maintaining our liberty and ensuring that Americans will not be persicuted and jailed for political reasons. A much better plan is to keep the separation of powers and the rule of law in place.

We have maintained and expanded our freedom for over 200 years by not trusting anyone. We shouldn't let our fear of evil people out there make us forget that peopel are just as bad on this side of the border.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Upside of Anger

Image hosting by Photobucket

Okay, what the hell. Another contest! Just to see if anybody's still checking this page. This one is inspired by our media overlords at Fox News, and I'm sending it out to all you sarcastic cynics out there, especially my snarky blood relatives. Look at the zany topic of discussion they had the other day on Fox! Those crazy kids! ALL-OUT CIVIL WAR IN IRAQ: COULD IT BE A GOOD THING? You bet it could! Let us count the ways! Post your reasons why genocidal sectarian civil war is good for humanity as comments to this web page. The person with the best reason, as judged by me, gets the greatest prize in the whole world (a case of beer, natch).

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Bob, I'm working on it

Yeah, so I haven't written hardly at all this winter. There's a couple reasons for that. A lot of the interesting stuff that's been going on in my life has to do with my job, and I'm just not going to blog about that. We've had visitors coming out like every other week for the last two months. Also, I'm really lazy, as a rule.

But the big thing is, I've been a little burned out. The things I've been talking about - the disappearing neighborhood, the Bush administration, the downward spiral that is American culture - it's just all been so depressing to me of late. I'd just rather not think about it all the time. I mean, I'm waiting for the moment to arrive when we can stand up and do something, but it just doesn't seem to be in the cards. The destruction of Pilgrim Baptist Church (pictures will follow soon) and the possible impending doom of the Artful Dodger building have me this close to giving up on preservation in Chicago. And the weakness and ineffectuality of the Democratic Party in the face of an obviously impeachable President just makes me want to puke - like the guys in the "Too Much Light" skit where they sit down to read the paper and start spewing fake vomit everywhere(sorry Trope I had to).

So I've been taking a break, thinking about less depressing things - if reading about Vietnam and watching humanity dwindle towards extinction on Battlestar Galactica count as less depressing. (There will be a BSG post in my future, probably once the current season wraps on March 10. The recent run has been a mixed bag, but the last couple have returned the show to its rightful place as the best show on television.)

I am also working on a real answer to Bob's question about the wiretapping issue. I was surprised today to look at my blog for the first time in weeks and see that there are six new comments on this issue since the last time I was here. I didn't mean to ignore you guys it's just, like I said before, I've been a bit burned out on the real world.

The short version is that I am not opposed to using wiretaps to spy on possible terrorists. I think it's a good idea, and it might help stop people from flying airplanes into buildings. What I'm adamantly opposed to is first of all doing so without a warrant, secondly the government blatantly lying and saying they cannot obtain warrants because they have to act quickly (warrants can be obtained retroactively up to 72 hours, so that's a non-issue), and most of all by the government's assertion that it's above the law and isn't constrained by Congress, the Courts, or the Constitution - in the words of Dick Nixon, "If the President does it then it isn't illegal."

This country was founded on the principle of "the rule of laws, and not of men." I thought this concept was a bedrock of our civilization, something that didn't need to be defended or even mentioned because it was a value everyone shared - standing somewhere between "slavery is bad" and "we would all prefer not to be nuked this afternoon." But if we all shared this principle this government would not be making the arguments it is making, so apparently the rule of law does need defending after all. I'm not really prepared to make the case today, but I'll dig out my copy of the Federalist Papers and start working on it. Right after Battlestar Galactica.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

intensive diplomacy

The other day on the way to the gym we were listening to public radio go back and forth about the Iran situation. The announcer said the Administration had no plans to attack yet, and instead was beginning a process of "aggressive diplomacy." It sort of sounded like an oxymoron to me, and made me laugh. Then I wondered if there might actually be hope that Bush could achieve some kind of deal with his even more dumber counterpart in Iran, if only they would put their rock-like heads together somehow.

Here is an outline of such a deal:

* Amedinajad agrees not to nuke anybody.

* Bush agrees to stop calling them "Moo-Lahs"

* Shrub admits that the reason Iran has not been a democracy for the past 50 years is that back when it was a democracy, the CIA overthrew it and installed a repressive monarchy.

* "Crazy A" admits that the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" is a hoax, and the Holocaust is not.

* "Shrub" apologizes for backing Saddam when he used poison gas against Iranians

* "Crazy A" apologizes for taking the staff of the US Embassy hostage for a year and half back in 1979-81.

* "Shrub" agrees to publicly announce that his foreign policy will not be guided by prophesies of the End Times.

* "Crazy A" agrees to publicly announce that his foreign policy will not be guided by prophesies of the return of the hidden 12th Imam.

* "Shrub agrees to reduce funding to Israel every time the IDF carries out a military operation that kills innocent civilians.

"Crazy A" agrees to reduce funding to Hamas and Islamic Jihad every time they carry out a militant operation that kills innocent civilians.

* Both guys publicly admit that they are on the same side in Iraq and Afghanistan, and have all the same friends in the region, so they're just going to have to get along in public for the sake of the children - er, the Iraqis.

* Both guys privately admit that they're not smart or sane enough to be President, but pledge to do their best not to get anybody else killed for the rest of their terms.

Sounds simple, right? But people assure me it's not - I guess that's why I gave up my dream of working for the State Department so many years ago. Answers are easy - it's the people who are so fucking hard.