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

Monday, September 27, 2010

Amercan What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Wednesday again already?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


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

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

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

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"We work for Fox"

No Kidding, Dave?

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

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

Tuesday, March 09, 2010


Can there be an urban poetry? In Chicago? I wonder. The naked fact is that Chicago has little aesthetically to inspire poetry. It is ugly. Most of its buildings are facades like a movies set, with plainspoken bare brick behind, crumbling. These sides were not meant to be seen but often stand, exposed by the death of a neighbor. New structures are smaller, meaner, with less time for beauty and artifice. With these, all sides are bare and plain. Weeds poke up through the melting gray snow, and trash. On the streets, cars stand in lines by the bare tree stem medians while drivers howl. Monoxide swirls lazily making everyone a little stupider. The neighborhood has always been ugly, with tall preposterous victorian flats rising next to white wooden shacks. Tall next to short, and varying distances from the street, the houses are like the teeth of an unsuccessful boxer or longtime minor league hockey goalie. Everywhere parking, cars, exhaust, cement. It's not grey here it's babyshit brown, polluted, dying. A woman with a broken nose? Chicago is like loving a leper.