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.