Friday, September 26, 2008

Never, Ever, Mix Baseball and Politics

I have made a difficult decision.

Tonight, rather than watch the first televised presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain, I will go to U.S. Cellular Field to watch the White Sox play the Indians.

But please, please don't use me as your exemplar of citizenship. Watch the debate. And then, immediately after Jim Lehrer says goodnight, turn the TV OFF. Don't change the channel. Don't go online. Don't turn on the radio. Do nothing until you have had a chance to think quietly by yourself or a few friends about what you just heard. Then you can turn to the news media and find out how wrong you are about everything!

For me, however, I have more important things to do. The Sox just blew their division lead by getting swept by the Minnesota Twins, and now need every break they can get going into the final weekend of the regular season. This is crunch time, ladies and gentlemen. Bring your hats.

In the meantime, however, I was thinking about how well by predictions have turned out. You see, back in March, I wrote about the strange fact that, for the past five years, the AL champ has always come from a blue state whereas the NL champ has always come from a red state. I also mentioned that during the last presidential election the Democratic nominee was a senator from Massachusetts, and, that same year, the Boston Red Sox were able to break the curse and win their first World Series in 86 years.

But, as we all know, Kerry lost. So, this year, I hypothesized, we need to reach across party lines and get the NL to send a blue-state team to the World Series, a team whose state will be represented by the Democratic nominee, and a team looking to win their first World Series in 100 years: the Cubs. (Of course, almost immediately after saying this, I started rooting for their cross-town rivals the White Sox.)

So now it's September. And so far things are looking pretty good. The Cubs have won their division, Obama is leading in the polls. But there are still many obstacles to be overcome, like fighting against voter fraud in Ohio and seeing if the Brewers get the wildcard. But, I wondered, could we use the same impeccable logic of Obama=Cubs to analyze the fortunes of the rest of Major League Baseball? Well... why the fuck not - I mean, Yes We Can!

1) New York Yankees - Everyone has been waiting for the Evil Empire to return to power. But a string of losses early in the season doomed them, despite a strong resurgence near the end. Parallel: Hillary Clinton (D-NY)

2) Tampa Bay Devil Rays - Surprising everyone, this scrappy team from the Sunshine State has won the toughest division in baseball. Will they be the ones to rain on the Cubs parade in October?
Parallel: Over 65, Jewish, and Cuban voters in Florida

3) Arizona Diamondbacks - Once the media darlings, the D-Backs may have shot themselves them in the foot by alienating immigrant hispanic voter Manny Ramirez, who now plays for the rival Dodgers.
Parallel: John McCain (R-AZ), GOP immigration policy

4) Boston Red Sox - They're old. They're rich. They have an incredible amount of power and influence, even after having surgery on their brains.
Parallel: Ted Kennedy (D-MA)

5) New York Mets - They looked so good, for so long. But a meteoric crash to Earth in September may have doomed them and all of their fans.
Parallel: The financial markets

6) Los Angeles Angels - The Halos have quietly been dominating the West. But are they waiting for bigger things to come in the future?
Parallel: Committee to Elect Schwarzenegger President, 2012

7) Minnesota Twins - Nobody gave them a chance. But this under funded group of misfits could win their division through small-ball and wit.
Parallel: Al Franken

6) Washington Nationals - They have the worst record in the NL, are regularly booed by their fans, and had their final home game of the season rained out.
Parallel: President George W. Bush

I can do this all day long, folks. But I should maybe accomplish something today. In the meantime, are there any other connections out there between baseball and politics that might you know, be a more useful way to learn about our government then watching Fox News?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

5 (Quick) Thoughts on a Thursday

It's been awhile. I have been busy with the whole job search/ moving thing. But I have a minute now, so....

1) I almost got squirrelled yesterday. Yes, squirrelled. As in, a squirrel fell out of a tree and landed, oh, about a foot from my head. The little guy then got up, chattered angrily at me (as if it were my fault?) and then ran back up the tree. Oddly enough, this is not the first time that this has happened to me.

2) Thank you Little Sister for the George Bush Catnip Doll. Coraline loves it. And by loves it, I mean... that she sleeps with it under her paws, and likes to snuggle with it, and gets upset if you sit between it and her. In other words, she treats it like it's her baby. In fact, I think I've only seen her bite it once so far. Stupid Republican cat.

3) We're almost moved it now. We've been going to the thrift store down the street and buying things like laundry hampers and picture hangers. But our house still has a whole lot of empty space to fill. We even have an entire room (that use to be a small bedroom) that is housing a few cardboard boxes and extra coat-hangers. But as soon as those get put away, we'll take some pictures. Please be patient. Any day now.

4) I like Joe Biden:

I especially like that, while Obama seems to be a little skittish (and wishing he had some green tea, maybe?) Biden digs right in and starts chowing down on the artichoke dip. He's already seated at the table and helping himself, around 2:50 in the video. He even eats most of Obama's pretzel! Seriously, do they ever feed this guy? Come to my house, Joe! We'll give you all the fried food you could want!

5) "All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind." - Aristotle

Monday, September 15, 2008

I've Got Your Signs of the Apocalypse Right Here! (Part Two)

And by draft I mean that the Large Hadron particle Collider is up and running! (Sound the bugles!) Yes, finally, after years of development, the 8-billion dollar, 17-mile long particle accelerator buried deep beneath the French-Swiss border has been turned on, and is about to start slamming protons into each other like tiny subatomic bumper cars, if those bumper cars could reach speeds of 99% that of light and then shatter into even smaller, never-before-seen kinds of bumber cars upon collision. I am stoked.

Why, you ask? Well, other than the fact that the LHC could begin to answer some of the galaxy's most perplexing questions, questions like, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" Well, then maybe it's because I take a kind of perverse joy in seeing people flip their lids over the possibility that the LHC might inadvertently destroy All-That-There-Is by creating a black hole that will devour first the Earth and then the solar system and then the entire Milky Way (nom-nom-nom).

For example, check out this article from last week on (Footnote: Why is an article "in" a magazine but "on" a website?) It turns out that some people are so absolutely terrified by the possibility of the end of all existence that they're actually sending death threats to the scientists in charge of the LHC demanding that they take the collider off line. Of course, the mad scientists will have none of this pish-posh, as the article says:

According to Professor Brian Cox of Manchester University, the public animosity is so severe that American Nobel prize winning physicist Frank Wilczek of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has received death threats. Professor Cox, typically sedate, adds irritatingly, "Anyone who thinks the LHC will destroy the world is a t---. "

I really would like to know what Dr. Cox meant by "t---". I'm guessing, since he's from Manchester, that it was "twat." However, I am not ruling out "teet," nor the possibility that is really PG and he said "twit."

But here's what really interests me about this situation: The fact is that the physicists cannot say that there is a zero percent chance that they'll create an Earth-eating black hole because there isn't. In fact, there is a (roughly) one in ten-to-the-thirty-first-power chance that they will cause such a space vacuum. That's a 1 in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 chance for the end of all existence. But those are really pretty good odds, especially when you consider that the Earth has only existed for roughly 16,425,000,000,000,000 days, so that even if the scientists had conducted one particle collision per day for the past 4.5 billion years, they would only have a (roughly) 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000 chance of destroying the world. (i.e., one in one-thousand trillion, if my math is right.) Of course, these statistics only apply if you believe in evolution. (And FYI, they're planning on doing at most two experiments per day.)

But we human beings can't comprehend those kind of numbers in our tiny (monkey) brains. So all we hear is when the physicists say "1 in 10 to the 31st", is "not 0." And when he hear that - or when we hear that there is any kind of mathematical chance for destruction - we think of that chance as a kind of a flip of a cosmic coin, or, at best, the roll of divine dice. And so we freak out because when we hear the true statement from the scientists that, "We could destroy the Earth," we can only understand that word "could" in terms of, say, "Human activity could be the cause of global warming," or, "A black man could become the President of the United States," or even, "The Cubs could win the World Series."

And that possibility terrifies us all.

Post-Script: I really like this scene.

Friday, September 12, 2008

I've Got Your Signs of the Apocalypse Right Here!

I'm having a very weird day today. Partially, I think it's because the weather has been acting very strangely, being very warm and wet, but also alternating between very still and very stormy. I guess this is all part of the left-over hurricanes as they ramble up the Mississippi, but still, I can never quite get used to it. Also, as I read more and more about the simultaneously always imminent and yet never-ending destruction in the Gulf Coast, "Hurricane Season" continues to move up my list of "Reasons Why Not to Live in the South." In fact, I think it just passed "Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park."

But the rumblings of Zeus Almighty is not the only reason why today feels particularly queer. (Klimt!) Another reason is that the world of the news media seems to be holding its own Saturnalia, with up being down, black being white, and yes, left being right. (I don't know why the Olympian metaphors keep popping into my head. Again, it's been a weird day - just try to groove with it.) For example, I have been complaining (I was going to use a different word, but, based on Monday's, I probably oughtn't.) (Heehee... moppen't.)(OK - no more parentheticals.), yes, complaining, a lot lately about the spineless New York Times coverage of the Presidential Campaign. Paul Krugman must have been wearing his idea stealing hat last night, because today he wrote almost exactly what I have been feeling. While discussing the McCain campaign's - no, not the campaign's, but John McCain's - recent lies, Krugman says:

Why do the McCain people think they can get away with this stuff? Well, they’re probably counting on the common practice in the news media of being “balanced” at all costs. You know how it goes: If a politician says that black is white, the news report doesn’t say that he’s wrong, it reports that “some Democrats say” that he’s wrong. Or a grotesque lie from one side is paired with a trivial misstatement from the other, conveying the impression that both sides are equally dirty.

Exactly. The way I see it, there's a big difference between objective news reporting and stating that two opposing viewpoints are both equally correct. And that one of the recent problems with the Times coverage has been that they're so worried about getting slapped with the "liberal media" label that they have been going out of their way to make sure that the Republicans - and the horrible things that they do and say - get at least equal press time as the Democrats. Here is another good article on the issue of media coverage.

So who else besides Paul Krugman noticed that one of the two party's ticket has seemed to be getting away with quite a lot of fib telling lately? Who is finally going to take McCain to task on his lies?

Why, the crack journalistic team over at The View, of course:

(The important stuff starts at 3:22)

And there must have been something in the water over there at ABC this week, because Charlie Gibson actually asked some relevant (albeit, I admit, a little sneaky) questions of VP nominee Sarah Palin in their exclusive interview!

So what, then, am I to make of this? How do I reconcile myself to the fact that the esteemed New York Times political coverage team seems to have been awoken from their dogmatic slumber by the group of misfits over at ABC? How could it be that Barbara Walters, she-of-the-eternally-fuzzy-lens, Whoopi Goldberg, whom you may know from such films as "Theodor Rex" and "Eddie", and Charlie Gibson, co-moderator of the official "Worst Debate Ever," have risen up to save critical journalism?

Them, and, of course, the National Enquirer.

But that's not what I came to tell you about.

Came to talk about the draft.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Witness the Sexism Inherent in the Language!

So I'm browsing through the e-version of the New York Times, and I decide to read, "Drawing a Bead on the Press," by David Carr, about how Sarah Palin has just totally taken the media by stork, er, storm (oops! Freudian slip!) and how everybody loves her and oh my God the Democrats are doomed and blah blah blah. He's going on about the media reception of Palin, saying that:

Her cultural resonance is familiar to anyone who’s ever read a fashion makeover article or clipped “Lose the Baby Fat in a Month!” But it is fundamentally different from what we’ve come to expect from women running for higher office. Senator Clinton is a politician who also happens to be a wife and mother. Ms. Palin is a wife and mother who also happens to be a politician. She is a parent of five who joyfully juggles it all, up to and including firing the chef and the driver, a kind of aspirational model that still seems attainable.

OK, I'm thinking, that's somewhat legitimate, if Carr is saying that most Americans can only be comfortable with a powerful woman (or a powerful anybody, for that matter) if they can place her or him within a pre-constructed character archetype, such as "parent of five who joyfully jiggles - I mean, juggles - (Jesus! What the Hell is wrong with me today?) it all," and that they are more ready to accept Palin because she, unlike Clinton, falls easily into that (imaginary) category. Although I would question the use of "joyfully" up there.

But then Carr goes and does something with his language that's just as questionable as what I've been doing here, if not more so: he uses the wrong word (by which I mean, inappropriate) without realizing and/or admitting it. While commenting on Palin's speech at the RNC, he says:

Even her styling for the speech spoke volumes. Avoiding the fashion traditions of both show business and politics, Ms. Palin looked great, but not glamorous — more like the put-together neighbor down the street who got gussied up for date night with her husband.

"Gussied up?" Is that what our neighbors do for their date nights with their husbands? And this is how Palin looked? Not, say, "professional," or "in charge," or "like someone prepared to be the President of the United States"? But then I got to thinking - maybe Carr knows what he's talking about, and I just don't know this particular usage of the phrase "gussied up" that means, y'know, "presidential."

So I hit the series of inter-connected tubes (ah, Sen. Stevens, we hardly knew ye... yet...) to try and find out exactly what "gussied up" means. Merriam Webster says that to "gussy up" is synonymous with to "dress up" and to "embellish." (Suggesting what, exactly? That womanly trait of being insincere and disguising the truth?) It also gives an origin date for the phrase of 1952, but not - interestingly - an etymology.

I went next to the Online Etymology Dictionary , which claims that the verb "to gussy," means "to dress up or decorate in a showy way." OK - a similar connotation of a decorative appearance. The OED (hmmm...) also gives the origin date for the phrase as 1952, but adds that it comes, "apparently from Gussy (1940), schoolyard slang name for an overly dressed person, perhaps related to gussie (1901) "effeminate man," and somehow connected to the nickname for Augusta and Augustus."

Now this last part made me pause. Because if getting "gussied up" actually means "dressing in a way reminiscent of Caesar Augustus," well, maybe it wouldn't be the smartest thing for a politician in a democracy to do, but at least it wouldn't be a derogatory thing to say of them. And maybe Carr is trying to say something subversively ingenious by claiming that Palin is a success because she looked "
more like the put-together neighbor down the street who [dresses as Ceasar Augustus] for date night with her husband." Damn right! Palin, like your neighbor down the street, is not afraid to give herself life-long power over the Senate or invade a Middle Eastern nation and depose of its ruler for her own personal benefit! (Isn't that the VP's job, anyways?) And whenever she goes out with that bum of a husband Todd, she is sure to put on her best laurel crown, just so that everyone who sees them knows who's in charge!
Fig. A: "All gussied up."

But probably not.

There are lots of different theories about where the term "gussied up" comes from. My speculation? That it is somehow associated with the 1936 movie, "The Gorgeous Hussy," starring Joan Crawford, James Taylor, and Jimmy Stewart. I couldn't find any reference to a Gussy (1940), but the use of the word and its place as a piece of slang suggests that it could be a combination of "gorgeous" and "hussy." This would also account for its entering the vernacular circa 1952.

The word "hussy", unlike to "gussy up," has a long and illustruous pedigree, stemming from the Middle English huswif, or "house wife," first being used to signify the mistress of a household in 1530, and, again according to the (not) OED, "
by 1650 was being applied to "a woman or girl who shows casual or improper behavior," and a general derogatory sense had overtaken the word by 19c. "It is common to use housewife in a good, and huswife or hussy in a bad sense." [Johnson]" The Etymology Dictionary goes on to list "queen," "minx," and "slut" as alternatives.

So, yes. It means you look like a whore.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

5 Thoughts on a Thursday

1) I had an existential moment this morning when I was picking up a pile of dirty clothes for the wash. I went to scoop them up, and as I started to walk away, I dropped one pair of underwear. I picked that up, but as soon as I did, I dropped a t-shirt. Then I went to pick that up, but before I could, I dropped a single black sock. This is when I noticed that I was standing in front of a full-length mirror, and could see myself repeatedly stooping to pick up a single article of clothing and then dropping a different piece before I could make a move for the laundry room. Over and over again. This went on for like, five minutes, before I finally said to myself, "Screw it," and just left the damn pair of boxers there on the bedroom floor. (This also may help explain why it takes me so long to get anything done around the house.)

2) Remember awhile back when we were discussing the role of irony in politics? Well, I guess the surreality of reality has reached a new level this week, when John McCain justified his VP choice of Sarah Palin by saying that she has the necessary foreign policy experience because, "Alaska is right next to Russia." Steve Benen of CBS News has a pretty funny/sad commentary on this.

Is irony dead? Is it merely overused? Or is it the only form of comedy dangerous enough to kill Socrates? More on this story as it develops.

3) Whenever anybody comes to visit us in Chicago - and I mean anybody - they are required to go with me to the Field Museum and see the dinosaurs. Last week, for example, I took my friend K there. The only problem (from my perspective, at least) is that you have to walk through this very long and drawn out exhibit called "Evolving Earth" in order to get to the totally awesome dinosaur fossils at the end. I usually run out of patience somewhere in the Pre-Cambrian Eon and then just run forward to the Mesozoic.

The purpose of the exhibit is to take you on a tour through the entire four-and-a-half billion year history of Earth, and, needless to say, it takes a while. One of the upshots of this exhibit, however, is that it thoroughly - if in a rather indirect way - debunks all of the principles of Intelligent Design, and puts forward an excellent case (a word I use with a bit of trepidation, as "case" suggests that there is something being argued, when it is more correct to say that the exhibit shows what is fact) for evolution. Even more importantly, I think, is the fact that the exhibit makes clear that absolutely none of our present day science makes sense - including biology, anatomy, medicine, or physiology - without the basic scientific principles that are provided by the theory of evolution.

Of course, the most important part of this thought is that it is obvious that, even if there is a God and Creator, that does not necessitate the existence of an intelligent designer. After all, look at the Platypus. That animal is ridiculous. I think that it alone disproves the idea of Intelligent Design.

4) "Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language." - Wittgenstein

5) Day 3 at new house: Discovered nearest liquor store. 2 blocks down, 2 blocks over. Run by Turks, possibly Libyans. No checking of IDs. Cash only. Excellent.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Just When I think I'm Out, They Pull Me Back In

So it's Tuesday. R.A. is at work and I am toddling about our new apartment on the North Side, unpacking and putting our books back on the shelves. My cell phone rings. It's Linda, the property manager from our old high-rise building in Hyde Park.

"Yes, hi Joel, this is Linda."
"I don't know if you realized this, but your rent with us doesn't expire until the end of September."
"Excuse me?"
"Yes, maybe you mis-read your lease, but you and R.A. are going to have to pay us for another month."
"But that doesn't make any sense. We moved in at the beginning of September. Who signs a 13-month lease?"
"I don't know, but if you could find a way to get us pay-"
"Hold on a sec."

I put down the phone and go get our copy of the lease.

"Yes, like I was saying, if you could pay us by -"
"The copy of our lease that I have here says that our rent expires August 31st."
"I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"Yeah, right here, it says, 'Lease Expires: 8/31/08'."
More silence.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I am sure."
For a third time, silence.
"Joel, um... can I call you back? I need to look into this."

She eventually did call me back, later in the afternoon. She said that there had apparently been some kind of bureaucratic mistake and that they actually had one copy of our lease that had August 31st as the move out date and another that listed it as September 30th. She then did apologize and bid us best of luck with our new home.

But still, they're sure trying their damnedest to make me not miss living in Hyde Park at all.