Sunday, April 22, 2012

Canary in the Dugout

Something funny came to me a little bit ago. I wonder how many other baseball fans look at those first few fabulous (or agonizing) days of baseball and think to themselves that maybe this year, just maybe, their team really will stay at .750 or thereabouts for the rest of the season. It's a heady first few days when your team goes 3 and 1, then maybe 6 and 2, and you think, by God, maybe my team WILL break the record for wins in a season!

But then comes the inevitable two- or three-game slide that dumps your team right down to earth, where they'll generally stay for the rest of the season. Now, sure, every year baseball has goats--no team wants to end up their season under .200, for the love of humanity. But the winners, you don't see winners with percentages in the .700s and .800s. There's a remarkable evening, a flattening, among the top teams. The winners are usually in the high .500s, maybe here and there over .600. There's a fairness to it.

That's one of the things that joined baseball to the hip of America for decades. It was the peoples' game, and the players down there on the field, they were just as vulnerable as us to having a bad day. Not that chances were always even, but a pitcher might have a crook in his neck, or a first baseman is worn out from a little partying the night before, and your division leader might take a hit in the won-loss column. The game was fair. Nobody did so much better than anyone else that it was ridiculous, which is why everyone hates the Yankees, who are the one exception (and embraces the Cubs, the exception in the other direction). As America did well, baseball did well. As long as America was fair, baseball was our sport.

Baseball's been in decline for about thirty years now. Football was king for a while, ushering in a sense of need to dominate that didn't exist in baseball. This came about the same time that the great shift in American prosperity began, from the middle and lower class to the upper classes. About this time, the great shift in American attitude changed--when we started becoming mean. When we started being openly hostile to each other. When we were suffering the first of many humiliating losses to the middle and lower classes, as jobs flew to other countries, as wages stagnated, as prices rose, as jobs became less solvent, as the wealthier became wealthier and the wage classes saw their security and hard-won equality stolen from them by a class of plutocrats.

Last year was the first year that the final game of the World Series finished behind #1 in the ratings. We've been divided into squabbling serfs by a group of plutocrats who are increasingly jealous that we own anything. The American body politic has the sneaking feeling it's being played (it is), but for its own insane reasons can't help but take intractable sides against each other instead of joining against its common enemy: the plutocrats. The America dream used to be that you could earn equality: work hard enough, play your cards right, make the right choices at the right times, and you too could achieve anything you wanted. The only limit was how high you set your sights. But we all knew that most people didn't, that they were in the great big middle with the rest of us, and we all worked on each others' behalfs, in each others' communities, and we enjoyed a greatly, generally even life. And we liked baseball.

The one great thing about baseball that hasn't changed is that it's a big equalizer. Winning teams still come in around the .500s and .600s, the way they always have. Baseball, for all its problems and changes, is still fair. But life isn't anymore, not in America. Your chance to share the wealth through hard work has been taken away, along with your job security, your health care, your pension, your house, and your community. Life stopped being fair in America about thirty years ago. People have watched more sports involving complete dominance. Folks rarely talk to each other anymore about issues, but at each other and very angrily. The sense that we're in it together is gone. The idea has finally settled in that in America, we're on our own.

As the country goes, so goes the horsehide. Keep an eye on it, and the game. It'll be when you see the resurgence in baseball that you'll know things are better. That's the kind of hope a .750 team in early spring brings.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

If anyone has experience in this...

There are things I try not to make a public fetish of, but which consume my mind every day. If you'll pardon me, I'll say that my childhood was abusive in a unique way, meaning there are many actors in my drama. But the one that I always entertained fantasies about revenge, that was my stepdad. He did things to me that shouldn't be done to a child. He was a very, very bad man. Something recently made me want to look him up. I don't know why; old, unrealized revenge fantasies were on my mind, I suppose. But I looked him up, and I'll be damned if the fucker wasn't dead. He died approximately 3 years ago, it turns out. Had a pretty standard glowing obituary. I wonder about his own kids. Did he hate them as much as he hated me? He was married to one woman after my mom for the rest of his life. Was she able to cope with his twisted mind games? He was cremated. I don't know where his ashes where dumped, but it doesn't matter. He's long gone down to be part of the soil now. I suppose I wish I could visit that site, if only so I could burn it and salt it. So this bubbled up to a conscious thought, though not really a feeling: now I understand it when they tell you you have to let go. I can't resolve it. I'll never challenge him to beg for mercy. No confession will be offered. Suddenly, you realize, the only one keeping it alive is you. You in your thoughts and your actions toward others. I lost my opportunity for revenge three years ago, the fucker, and he didn't even leave me a grave to piss on. But I know now that until I've let go of you, you'll always ruin me. You'll always be influencing my decisions. You'll always make me want to be something I don't want to be, which is myself. You were a monster. I remember the monstrous things you did. I can't forgive you. I don't know if I can let go without it, but I have no one to forgive anymore. He's clay somewhere. But I have to let go of the pain. I somehow have to make those events not matter to me anymore. It's not forgiveness; it's release. When I've let go of you, you monster, and watch you recede like a drowning man, I'll be free. If you know how to help, please help. If you don't, that's cool. It's not your fault.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

What do you do?

What do you do when you realize this is all there is? That my circumstances, combined with my personality, could have come to no other result than the life I am living now. All things conspired, as if on purpose, to bring me to this point. One change here or there could have steered my life otherwise; one choice or one chance could have changed my life. But the truth that I am where I am means that none of the circumstances of my life would have been any different. I say that even without the bitterness that usually accompanies it. It's just reason. If it could have happened differently, it would have.

What if Hitler had changed his mind about Barbarossa? But he didn't. He couldn't have, because his past is immutable and all circumstances led to that decision. Hitler will always have chosen Barbarossa. I will always have broken Jane's heart. Nothing in all my life, gathered at that moment, not all my wisdom, nothing would have prepared me to have acted any differently than I did. If I chose to live my life a second time, Jane's heart still would have been broken. And now, and for all this life, I will have written this blog. Nothing in my life would have changed the circumstances of now, because if they were going to, they would have.

So the rest of my life is written already, really, as is yours and everyone else's. Random events occur that direct events in their way, but they are no more immutable than the laws of motion. The laws of the universe are right now working to send an asteroid our way that will end all higher life on earth. We don't know when it will strike, but it is following a course right now that avoids all paths but our own.

So whoever you are is whoever you are. Nothing would have changed you. You will have always had the experiences and genetics that combined to make you who you are.

So if you're dismally unhappy, and you realize, this is as good as it gets...what then?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Are we heading toward two economies?

A recent, urgent-seeming article popped up in the Wall Street Journal just a couple of days ago , asking if the middle American class is even necessary to the wealthy. The wealthy now have the money to have their needs met by companies that don't need anyone else to survive. In other words, we're toast. Labor organizing, financial regulators, governmental oversight is all going to fail: the wealthy are, in the end, going to do what they want, because there are enough of them to sustain the economy without paying anyone above minimum wage. (Which I am sure they will soon abolish.)

Here's the hopeful side I'll take out of it. It beats all the negatives that weigh heavy against it. At some point, we are going to get screwed out of jobs by the wealthy. We then come up with a barter system that eventually grows into an economy. We begin picking up fundamental skills and learn to live in a world detached from the producers and industrialists. We'll all be a nation of small shops, local economies, barter systems, and whatever scrapping we need to do to get the actual "dollars" we need for manufactured goods. We'll become a nation like BarterTown, while the wealthy--and the politicians they own--do as they please.

Worked for Louis XVI.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dear Gov. Walker (R-WI)

I'm so sorry that your state is about to break the workers' unions. I'm also sorry that, even though I have friends in Wisconsin, I won't be visiting them anymore. I'm sorry I won't be buying Wisconsin dairy products anymore, and I'm sorry I won't ever get to visit the Woodman's in Kenosha again. I'm really sorry that I'll be checking labels on the products I see at the store for the Wisconsin origin so that I can put them back.

I'm sorry I won't get to see the Dells again.

We used to be friends, Wisconsin.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Dear Jon Stewart

Dear Jon Stewart,

I’ve had to think a long time about my reaction to your Rally to Restore Sanity back on Oct. 30. Don’t be bothered by the long pause; I’m a slow thinker. I hadn’t really been able to sort through my feelings over it, because I knew I was disappointed, but didn’t WANT to have been disappointed. This rally had so many people counting on it, me with them, maybe more than most. When you announced the Rally, my first reaction was, “When and where? I’m there.” I had a lot of faith that this was going to be the defining moment of my generation. We had the primary satirist in the country telling us about ourselves straight up, and we needed to hear ALL about ourselves. You could feel the hunger for direction. My guess is that you knew how keenly disappointed America has been for the last year or so. Like Michael J. Fox said in “The American President,” we’ll cross the desert looking for leadership, and if we don’t find it, we’ll drink the sand. Here’s where we come to the problem.

Mr. Stewart, you raised our hopes without a plan for how to fulfill them. Perhaps you didn’t realize it, much less expect it, but for the people who miss a sane America, you became our stand-in for Obama. When we elected him, we thought we were getting Teddy Roosevelt. Instead, we got Stuart Smalley. The surge of hope we felt when you announced that we were all going to take a stand for sanity was the last scraps we had after watching a Dem majority go soft and squishy, un-led by our new President. Yeah, he got things done, but he didn’t lead, he didn’t challenge his critics, and because of his Hamletphilia, he left a power vacuum that the GOP stepped into. We were losing hope, and you reminded us what we loved about our country, our votes, and that election. So expectations were pretty high.

I’m cutting to the chase. What we got was a one and a half hour Daily Show/Colbert mash-up with a 25-minute plea for sanity. I don’t know what others expected, but me, I expected a little more direction…and a lot more seriousness. I dunno, being summoned en masse to the heart of our nation to rally for the sanity and unity of our country demanded a little more than skits, music, and Mythbusters. It demanded direction, not a reinforcement that we all were really hip and creative. I expected something tangible, something intrinsically valuable, with laughs thrown in.

You ARE comedians, after all. I expected comedy. But you don’t drag a quarter-million people from all parts of this nation together unless you can deliver more than a show. This wasn’t just a road version of your everyday comedy. We expected fun, but we expected substance. What we got was a big rally that celebrated us for being at a rally. We congratulated ourselves for being so devoted that we would travel across the country to prove it. That was the extent of it. We accomplished nothing.

What took me this long to want to write this, though, was the little gnawing bit I couldn’t put my finger on. We heard the message just fine, criticizing the media for dividing us, and so on. Yeah. But here’s this: Mr. Stewart, you and Mr. Colbert are part of the problem.

It has nothing to do with the direction of your politics. Your fans know you’ll go after Dems just as much as the GOP. (The GOP just happens to provide you with more material.) It’s the polarizing nature of satire. What you do, the satire you make, hitting the media 4 nights a week and approximately every other hour on Comedy Central, allows the side not being skewered to feel vindicated. It’s meant to create sharp emotions, as satire always has. But you can’t be satirical without being divisive. Satire hits extremes, else it’s not good satire, and seeing your sacred cows gored creates resentment. Unless you’re perceived as fair to all sides, you’re going to fail, and the positions you’ve taken on the show are contrary to conservatives. You make fun of conservative people, roles, stereotypes, politics, and so on. No matter what you say about the media or the left, you are the guy who goes after conservatives. Want to know why?

Because you don’t make fun of liberals in the way conservatives want.

They don’t want to hear the jokes that make liberals laugh at themselves, so they don’t. They want to hear about why liberals are the enemy. I think that goes both ways. I don’t think liberals are necessarily interested in what conservatives think makes them funny. And in this polarized climate, the perception is what counts. You’re liberal because even your self-deprecation is liberal. You’re the enemy.

So right now, you’re contributing to the problem. And by coming on at the time the divisiveness was starting to grow, and by taking on the establishment, you earned yourself their enmity almost immediately. Not all the pious kumbaya-spoofing self-referential ironic humor in the world makes up for helping maintain the divide. You might have had a chance with the rally, you might have gotten something started, but like this Administration, there was almost no substance underneath. It was hollow, it was presumptuous, and really, Mr. Stewart, you set us up for disappointment. We didn’t come together for just a laugh, you and me and a quarter-million people. You know that speech at the end? We needed an hour of that. Or maybe we needed a whole weekend of the whole thing. We came to belong; we needed to be challenged. Instead, we got a benediction and thank-you-for-coming.

Why did we do this? What did we accomplish? So what?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Okay, fellow babies, here’s the long and short of it: this is the most important election in our history. Not 2012. Now. Listen:

The Citizens United decision recently gave corporations the ability to spend unlimited amounts on campaigns, and groups no longer have to disclose donors. Already they are funneling at least three times as many dollars into these campaigns, almost all for Republicans. Corporations are now baldly buying candidates. This is the last moment before the corporate takeover of America. Who do you think is going to vote for campaign reform? Republicans? After they just had their election bought for them? Three billionaires have pumped most of the money into this election cycle, and a lot of that has gone to fund Tea Party operations, whether Tea Partiers believe that or not.

Now, where do you think the Tea Party is going to be in all this? Do you think you’re really going to be power players? Do you really think your “citizen’s uprising” is going to be the first step to dismantling government? Dream on. Once the Republicans have a majority, they’ll freeze you out quicker than a spurned lover. Because…where are you gonna go? Who else are you going to caucus with? Democrats? So once the GOP has the majority, you can kiss campaign finance reform and the “citizen’s uprising” goodbye…and welcome to the oligarchy.