Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.    The Honorable Governor of Texas, George W. Bush

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Gas, and Gasbags

This gas price thing is stirring up a whole lot of debate. Worst in my book is the free market nonsense that such crunches can be best addressed by giving free reign to the monopolists, in the assumption that the value of their product will naturally lead them to search out new sources of oil. "Calm down, everyone, it's not like we haven't had these prices before, adjusted for inflation."

Of course, adjusted for inflation, the median income isn't keeping up with the price of gas, or with the income of such columnists as Patrick McIlheran, who gives us this advice:

So adjust. It's unpleasant - I speak as a minivan owner - but fuel costs had been low for a long time. If politicians need to keep busy, they can rethink rules that reduce competition and supply. They can otherwise let the market work.

Ah, yes, all those pesky rules, written at a time when foolish folk decided that living in a choking brown haze was perhaps not the way to go. Well, it's a post $2.00-a-gallon world out there, the reality is that we have to unshackle those ... well ... that oil company to do it's best, spending a lot of it's own money to flood it's exclusive market with cheap gas.

But ask not what the corporation can do for you, ask what you can do for the corporation. There are important choices to be made by us one and all. Not cumbersome, evil communal decisions, but good old American free market embracing ruggedly individualistic personal decisions, as the op-ed guy wires this in from his den:

The tale is that we're hooked and paying the price.

Speak for yourself. You're hooked if you drive 26 miles to work in a pickup truck. You're less dependent if you take a bus. Some guy who runs his consultancy off a laptop once he walks from his loft to a coffee joint around the corner has you beat either way. Make a choice and pay the price.

"Make a choice and pay a price." And how might that ol' free market be effecting one's choice? Let's look at the county where I work; Lake County, Illinois. The median household income is around $80,000. Jobs in Lake County predominantly line up along the I94 corridor, mainly in the southeastern part of the county. Let's look at the map to see where one might make one's "choice" to locate environmentally responsibly. The numbers are the median home prices in each town.

Now, Highwood is rather a small WC town alongside a former army base, so don't think everyone can move there. In fact, the old base is being converted into half a million dollar townhouses, so the median is likely to rise.

Where do all those $80,000 families live? Well, Mr. McIlheran, they seem to have made the bad choice to locate off the map to the left there, where they are certainly to be the first to pay the price. Miles away. Millions of gallons away.

How very irresponsible of them.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Back At It

That was a bit of a break. I'm sure my legions of fans have been wondering if I had joined the millions of ex-bloggers, moved on to sudoku, become infatuated with The American Idol, or taken two weeks to tour the South of France. No, a little, good god no, and I wish. Alas, this is the time of year when I have to work sixty or so hours a week, putting a damper on less ostensibly productive pursuits.

Plus, golf season approaches, and a certain amount of mental preparation is required to fine tune the talent of over thinking. A little practice is in order, as the muscles must again be properly estranged from any type of repetitive motion memory, lest they become uncooperative in the eventuality that no two swings will be alike.

It's not like there aren't things to go on about. April 15th has passed, and the median has contributed their 10% to the feds while the rich have coughed up their 5.9%. The war we are at but not really in drones on to more and more disinterest from the American public. Parade ran a front page story about how some lucky vets can get state of the art prosthetic devices. Vet funding continues to flounder under the crusaders of the Bush Administration.

In a side note, I remembered that the owners of Parade, tied for 25th of Forbes' 400 richest Americans and apparently thinking that 5.9% was too high a price to be rich in America, were once indicted on a billion dollars' worth of tax evasion. I've just wasted a half hour on the free side of the internet trying to discover the outcome of all that, but the only possible source I could find that didn't involve credit cards was The Nation's archives, currently down for rebuild. Assuming a deal was made, I'm thinking that a billion dollars would have bought a lot of prosthetics.

And then, of course, there is the ongoing investigation of the Valerie Plame outing, where it has become known that the President himself ordered the selective dissemination of classified information in order to more fully inform the American public in defense of WMD claims. Of course, he was more fully informing us with previously discredited information. His defense? He was not aware it was discredited information. How desperate must a supposed world leader be to continually rely on ignorance as a last defense? Astonishing, but again, largely ignored.

Gas prices rise steadily as big oil grabs all it can before the inevitable walk down before the congressional elections.

By far the most disturbing news in this corner of the woods is the sad case of the beating taken by a Frank Jude, Jr. The story is that a bunch of cops were at an all-white party, and Jude, no saint himself, walked in. He left soon, but the cops' story is that one of their wallets with badge was missing, as it's apparently a common practice for a cop to leave these things lying around at a big drunken party.

The story continues to where Jude was beaten savagely by a dozen or so of Milwaukee's finest, having been dragged from his truck. There were many more witnesses. The woman who'd brought Jude to the party was on the phone with 911 the whole time, until the phone was grabbed away from her while she reported that the responding on duty cops had joined in the beating.

Two officers eventually came forward with details, after having first lied on their reports. Many others testified that they had no idea who specifically was doing the beating. Three were indicted. All three were acquitted by an all white jury.

It's an old story, but the part that always gets to me is the inevitable comments about the overall integrity of the police force, as if they are not responsible for the few "bad eggs". Where is the pressure within the force to get to the bottom of this? It's obvious such pressure is no match for the collective resistance put forth within the force.

It's not about a few "bad eggs", is it?

Sunday, April 02, 2006


There are occasional dead spots in the course of my rounds when appointments cancel or run short, available tasks are too complex to spread across the front seat of a Subaru, and time is a bit too short to chase down a remote workplace. Sometimes, if the weather is calm and cool enough, I'll stop by a playground and shoot some hoops. Sometimes I'm able to hunt down some necessity or accessory on the list. Most times though, the ideal pastime for these interludes is a chapter or two from a good book (currently The Assassins' Gate, by George Packer).

But, luxuriously for one whose country can constantly be at war without actually being in one, the subject today is not war.

During one of these pauses I found myself a quiet spot in the overflow parking area for some townhouse units (It's important where one loiters these days, as rampant paranoia will have one reported as a possible child molester or serial rapist should he remain in a stationary vehicle for too long). Alongside ran a chain link fence, nondescript to most, but I'm a pro. A closer look revealed an untypical pattern of distortion and staining. Down the line a ways was an uncharacteristically large terminal post, oddly spaced. "Of course," I realized aloud, this is the cut-off remnant of the foul post for field three of Softball City, where our company team had won a championship a long time ago.

The reading never got started as I drifted into one of those nostalgic spells that afflict the (generously self-imaged) advanced middle aged. Was it really twenty years ago? Oh, to have a chance to relive those days, when we sons and daughters of the émigrés from Chicago were THE BIG NOISE here in exurbia. While more suburban teams would road trip to our neck of the woods with their perfectly machined muscles and painstakingly accessorized sportsmen's regalia, we strutted in our spandex under torn up blue jean cut-offs and we tore the sleeves off of our T's. We kept as much score of the pitchers of beer as we did the games.

But things change most quickly along the fringes of the insanity that is American urban sprawl. In the Fifties the more affordable housing at the limit of commutability brought less fortunate Chicagoans by the tens of thousands to this area, rather than to the more costly Northbrook, Arlington Heights, Highland Park and so forth. Many of these were first or second generation Americans of Polish, German, Swedish, Italian, Irish and so many other lines of descent. Many, many more came up from the South to work in the Great Lakes industrial belt.

We were their children. This was our place, the place where we grew. The place where we built new and better neighborhoods. But the affordable houses―the small bungalows in hastily built, crowded post war tracts―remain. Soon many Mexicans would arrive, wisely shunning urban blight to settle in places where employment, however miserable, was possible. We who were once reviled as dagos, micks, krauts and polocks called them beaners and spics and wetbacks, and generally made their lives miserable, but they labored on.

We did grow, and did a pretty good job of catching up. Our sons and daughters became educators and lawyers and engineers. Maybe some day my grandchildren will come across my old 28 oz. Estwing milled framing hammer and wonder what kind of a man used to swing such a thing. Maybe they'll see the team photo from those days, with our ponytails and do-rags and Miller beer, and wonder who such people were.

And on this spot where we used to play are town homes. Starter homes for the sons and daughters of the immigrants who still man the landscaping crews and work in the factories. They are managers, construction sub-contractors, insurance agents, realtors and all of those things we became to claw our way up. Among them are Indian, Pakistani, and Indonesian Americans whose parents worked double shifts at Seven Eleven that their children might become doctors and computer engineers and bio-chemical researchers at Abbott labs. Building the latest phase of these homes are plasterers and plumbers and electricians speaking Polish and so many tongues of the old USSR.

It's a strange process, this American building. It's cruel, and unfair, and unnecessarily difficult. In this land where there is so much, far too many needs go unmet. There is much to fight for, and there is much to be cherished as hard won.

I can remember vividly what it was like to one hop a liner to this fence―can hear the voices of long gone acquaintances shouting encouragement (sometimes a bit sardonically) as I chugged toward third base. This was my time, my place. Memories remain, but times change, as the old gang's pastimes have evolved variously to golf, fishing, and riding Harleys.

But some time ago my little field of dreams became an American dream for a few of those who have followed. This seems expedient to me.

This seems very American.