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

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Gadfly Looks at Forty

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mid-April Chicago Sports Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Cranky Old Man Watch – Opening Day Edition

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

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

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

EG: About what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EG: The travel team is better this year.

HR: Based on what. Based on one bout?

EG: Based on Kola Loka.

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

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

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

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

HR: But Votto’s good. Really good.

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

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

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

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

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

HR: They had Verlander last year…

EG: This year they have more offense, too.

HR: But no cubs love?

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

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

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

HR: That part of the curse?

EG: There’s no curse.

HR: No? The goat? Bartman?

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