Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Why must they rain on the victory parade?

Is Springfield a town filled with petty and bickering citizens who never miss an opportunity to spew vitriol or rain on someone else’s parade? I only ask because it recently occurred to me, and others, that there are a lot of petty people who spend a good amount of time bickering. I just don’t know if Springfield is unique in this way.

This observation arose after I spent Sunday evening reading the comments posted to the SJ-R’s online coverage of SHG’s run to the state championship. What I saw as a monumental achievement for the team and a source of pride for the community, was viewed by many others as the triumph of evil over good. Or more to the point, the triumph of the elite over the common man, although in the case of the particular people outraged at this event, the word “common” should be replaced by “simple”, or perhaps “pathetic.”

On the articles previewing the game, there were comments predicting that the Cyclones would go down hard in defeat. It’s doubtful that this prognosis was based on football-related knowledge of the team or their opponent; it was simply the wishful thinking of people who couldn’t stand the thought of them prevailing. After SHG won the championship, there were countless comments filled with disgust, accusations of injustice, and outright hatred. Sort of like what the reaction in the comments section here would be like if I announced that the Illinois Times had just won a Pulitzer Price.

Some of the criticism leveled did have merit, although most of it was just the paranoid ramblings from a group of people who obviously have little to be proud of and so would deny others that pleasure.

Yes SHG does have an advantage in that they aren’t restricted by public school boundaries. But this advantage is offset in a number of ways. There is the high cost of tuition, the higher than average academic eligibility requirements, and the IHSA’s multiplier rule designed to keep private schools competing in a higher class. Of course a delusional mind can easily discount these by stating, with all certainty, that SHG football players aren’t required to pay tuition or to go to class, and that they should be competing professionally because they are being paid. The people saying these things are the same ones who claim that the moon landing took place on a Hollywood sound stage and that the CIA is monitoring their thoughts through the neighbor’s satellite dish.

The reason that I asked the question on whether Springfield is unique in its divisiveness is because there were a couple of comments from non-Springfieldians who were amazed at the discord that erupted online over an amateur football game. Are the people in Addison or Bloomington-Normal up in arms because teams from their towns won championships this year and their own hometown alma mater didn’t? I don’t expect everyone to like SHG or to care that they won another state championship, but I do expect that adults would have enough dignity to not publicly condemn the achievements of a bunch of high school kids.

Full disclosure: I did attend Griffin High School, and I also took my elder son to the game in Champaign last Saturday. Perhaps someday he will play football for the Cyclones. We sure could use the money.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Kid! Be careful - broken glass!

Blogging will again be light this week as other writing assignments are coming due. It shouldn’t make much of a difference as Nancy and Monkey Boy have been carrying the weight around here recently. Their discussion on police and the media is quite interesting.

I will interject one bit of new commentary. This weekend was the first time I was in a bar since the smoking ban went into effect. It occurred to me that there is a flaw in the amend-the-smoking-ban argument that I haven’t seen addressed, so I’ll take a moment to do so now.

The smoking ban wasn’t put into place to revitalize bar business by making taverns more tolerable to the non-smoking majority. It was enacted because it was determined that smoke-filled rooms are a health hazard that the government has a duty to protect the public against (you can argue with that if you like, but that’s why it was done.) Therefore, you can’t say that the smoking ban failed and should be amended because bar owners are losing business. If people are breathing in less secondhand smoke, which I would assume to be the case although I don’t know how you’d prove it, then the ban has been affective.

Some how, this needs to be explained to those who believe that health codes can not be enacted at the expense of turning a healthy profit. Allow me to try, using an analogy courtesy of the Not Ready for Primetime Players.

Mainway Industries - makers of such toys as Bag O’ Glass* (a bag of glass bits that teaches kids about light refraction), along with the Pretty Peggy Ear-Piercing Set, Mr. Skin-Grafter, and a Halloween costume called the Invisible Pedestrian – is a profitable company operating legally under what, at the time, are the applicable laws. A stinging exposé by Joan Face spurs a public outcry against Mainway, which results in the Consumer Product Safety Commission banning most of its products.

Company president Irwin Mainway is outraged, although would probably still like to take Ms. Face out for drinks. His company loses revenue, his distributors go out of business, and his customers can no longer sate their perverse desire to ply their children with dangerous toys. So what should be done?

According to the logic being deployed by the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association, the ban on Johnny Switchblade: Adventure Punk and other products that endanger the public health should be lifted so that Irwin can still afford to buy leisure suits with the money he makes selling said merchandise. It would be nice if he could make a living selling safe toys, but if his customers want to put an element of danger under the Christmas tree, then government has no right to interfere.

Of course this isn’t a perfect analogy because bars aren’t selling secondhand smoke, it’s simply a byproduct. But unlike lrwin, bar owners aren’t being forced to give up their livelihood, they just have to adjust to changing market conditions. It’s unfortunate that those conditions aren’t balanced at the present time (see: the Barrel Head), but just because kids in North Korea can still get a General Tron's Secret Police Confession Kit for their birthday, doesn’t mean that we should put them back on the market here.

*The company did include a warning with this product: "Kid! Be careful - broken glass!"

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Hang Your Head Greg Hullum

When the news first hit that Springfield was under siege from a serial bandit, I, like most of you, had one question foremost in my mind: Was the holdup person wearing a red hat? Even after a physical description was released indicating that the perpetrator was a 6 foot tall black man, I still didn’t completely dismiss the possibility of a red scourge, knowing how several of the “Society’s” made members are masters of disguise. It wasn’t until a drapery shop was hit and there were no reports of taffeta curtains being purloined that I felt comfortable that the Red Hats were not involved.

After rationally dismissing my arch enemies, I did let my imagination wander a bit as to the robber’s identity. I figured that he fancied himself a Robin Hood or Billy the Kid type character. Perhaps he imagined that the downtrodden and the working class were cheering on his brazen crime spree as it played out on the front page. Perhaps he thought some lonely convenience store clerk, a beauty lost in a world of beef jerky and 98oz. soft drinks, would see past his revolver and into his heart, and impulsively run away with him to the getaway car. Perhaps he yearned to be understood and hoped that someday, some dark troubadour would pen a folk song in his honor. Or maybe he just needed money for crack.

The one thing that I did know for sure was that if I entered a Qik-n-EZ and saw someone matching his description brandishing a weapon, I had the option of turning around and heading out the door. I’m relatively certain that I would have just that. But it’s important to remember that not everyone had the option. I speak, of course, of our men and women in blue.

It’s doubtful that many of us who aren’t police officers or who haven’t served in the military, know what it is like to have to confront someone who may try to kill us. The police knew the suspect was armed and that he wasn’t wary of pulling the trigger, yet they pursued and apprehended him, because, that’s their job. And it’s a job that most of us wouldn’t want.

This isn’t to suggest that the police’s bravery puts them above criticism when they run afoul of the law or exhibit objectionable behavior. But it should remind us that the people we’ve grown accustomed to slinging arrows at, are willing to take a bullet for us. That point probably doesn't get made enough.

Friday, November 10, 2006

I Wanted to Incinerate November*

There is something Rockwellian about doing yard work in autumn. Just a man, his rake, and the vestiges of spring laid fallen at his feet. Maybe his children are about as well, jumping into piles of fallow-colored leaves that crumble and stick to their wool jackets. And that's mother there on the porch, a bottle of absinth in one hand and a scythe in the other, standing beside her midget manservant who is vigorously whistling the love theme to Titanic.

Oh, wait . . . I said Rockwellian, not David Lynchian. Scratch the liquor and the midget and give mom some cups of hot cider to hold.

Anyway, my point is that I find raking leaves to be a spiritually satisfying experience. It's a nostalgic endeavor that beckons to a simpler time when man was more in touch with nature. And more likely to set fire to it.

I'm old enough to remember when folks used to rake their leaves onto the street curb and then light a match. Maybe this wasn't the safest means to dispose of leaves, but we didn't lose anybody either, at least not in my family.

The flames brought ritual to the autumn season as the smoke venerated the air in preparation for the cold fronts that would descend from the north. There was also something~ transcendent in seeing a maple's worth of leaves reduced to a small pile of ash.

But that idyllic scene only exists in memories or in unincorporated areas of the city. Raking leaves has lost much of its luster now that the matches have been taken away and we're forced to cram all of the damn things into paper sacks. There has to be better way.

Far be it for me to light a fire and curse another's breathing difficulties, but surely a community can remain in harmony and still allow a couple of fall Saturdays for the burning of the leaves. Perhaps we could arrange a sister city agreement with Decatur for alternate weekend burnings. Springfield could ship its asthmatics to the Soybean City on even weekends and Springfield could return the favor on odd weekends. Anyone averse to the smell of burning foliage could leave town at dawn and return at nightfall, once the smoke had cleared.

It occurs to me that this solution might also appease those upset with the smoking ban. Smokers could dine and imbibe in Springfield on odd days and in Decatur on even days. Of course, if this plan were to be implemented the section of I-72 that connects the two cities would have to be renamed the Gary Busey Expressway in honor of all the impaired drivers who would attempt the commute. Perhaps this is not one of my better ideas.

As of this writing, 10 sacks of leaves line the terrace next to my mailbox. The paper bags are already brittle from the weekend's rain. Should the bottom fall out of the sacks as the disposal agent is hoisting them into his truck, there will be left another pile of leaves for me to deal with. If I'm lucky, a wild at heart Elvis acolyte will drive by in a convertible and, in slow motion as Chris Isaak plays on the car radio, he'll flip his lit cigarette into the pile of leaves that will ignite in a flash, as if doused in gasoline. Sometimes, we need to get a little Lynchian with our yard work.

I wrote this mostly satirical post earlier this week. Coincidently, in the SJ-R's special 175th anniversary edition** today, there is an article on how and why the leaf burning ban went into effect in the 1980s. Apparently it was more of a health hazard than I remember. So in the interest of public health any lifting of the leaf burning ban should be restricted to rakers/bloggers of Lithuanian origin. That should keep the smoke to a minimum.

*This title reads catchier if you're familiar with the Teenage Fanclub song, "December."

**This is quite an impressive piece of work that provides a walk through Springfield's past. In addition to all of the great articles and pictures, there is one ad with beautifully-written copy.

~Thanks to Josh Durham for catching this mistake.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Oy Vey!

I could not be more disappointed in my fellow electorate than I am right now. Although in a world where Titanic can win Best Picture, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that Rod Blagojevich was elected to a second term.

After being thoroughly dismayed upon reading this morning’s headline in the SJ-R, a gloom that was lifted momentarily upon reading the editorial staff’s opion piece*, I was left with this thought. If you were to put L. Madigan, D. Hynes, and J. White in a room with Blagojevich, who in their right mind would pick Rod to be the boss? Meritocracy was clearly not in play here. Democrats have a lot to crow about nationally today, but they should stop and think how they allowed the crude to rise to the top when there was plenty of cream in the state’s cup.

I can’t recall ever disliking a politician as much as I do Blagojevich. Although I had a rather low opinion of George Ryan, somehow his grumpy personae made his corruptive activities more tolerable. He was a shady politician who had the decency to look and act the part. Sure he would deny allegations of wrong doing, but he never gave the impression that he cared if you believed him.

Blagojevich, on the other hand, wants you to love him while he’s lying to you. He wants you to belove him as a great leader for providing healthcare to children, but he wants you to be dim enough not to notice that the state can’t afford it. Even though the curtain has been pulled back for some time now, he’s still pretending to be the great and powerful Blag. Dorothy and I aren’t buying it, but apparently there are a lot of munchkins out there whose knowledge of state government is limited to what can be found in 30 second campaign commercials.

One more thing. I don’t like to comment on superficialities, but this opinion surfaced again a couple of times recently and so I’m compelled to ask: among which species is Blagojevich considered handsome? If all it takes to be considered a good looking guy is a full head of hair, then why wasn’t Emo Phillips asked to star opposite Julia Roberts in Pretty Women? It might have made that insipid movie somewhat tolerable.

Okay, that’s it for the election coverage. I’ll stop being bitter now. We survived Pretty Woman 2 and, somehow, we’ll survive the Return of Virility.

*They called the governor a pansy. Actually they were telling him to stop being a pansy. Same thing though.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Should this be allowed?

It seems, at times, that the public participation portion the SJ-R’s editorial page is nothing more than personal squabbles between partisans and severely rehashed arguments concerning the smoking ban. Occasionally, however, a letter will appear that peaks one’s interest because it brings to light an infrequently pondered issue.

Earlier this week, a letter was printed from a local high school soccer player who was voicing his displeasure at what he felt was a slight directed at one of his teammates. Last weekend, the day after his team had been eliminated from state playoff competition, the SJ-R published a story on the game that included a photograph of his side’s vanquished goalie, a picture taken just after their opponents had scored the winning goal.

The letter writer* felt that the combination of the photograph, that showed his friend splayed face first in the turf, along with the chosen wording of the caption, painted an unfair picture of the effort put forth by his fallen comrade.

The caption read: “SHG goalie Zach Lloyd lies on the ground after allowing Quincy’s game-winning goal in overtime.”

I read this caption when it was first published and don’t recall giving it a second thought. Even now that I’ve considered it further, I still don’t think that there was an attempt by the caption writer to be snarky or otherwise inject his or her opinion of the goalie’s performance that evening. Yet I see where the letter writer is coming from.

At issue here is the use of the word “allowing”, and how it has come to have a specialized meaning on the sports page.

We often read such things as the pitcher “allowed seven bases-on-balls over six innings” or the defense “allowed their opponent to get in field goal range in the game’s final minute.”

“Allowed” is a common locution in sports vernacular where it doesn’t really adhere to the usual meanings such as “conceded” or “permitted to happen”. It is more accurately interpreted to mean “failed to prevent.”

However, for someone not familiar with the routine meaning of this word when used on the sports page, it could easily be read to mean that pitcher or defense shamefully and intentionally ceded their duties and allowed their opponent the advantage. Or in the case of the goalie, that he was laying down on the job, the impression that the young letter writer was left with.

Perhaps the first sports writer who used the word “allowed” did suspect that the subject he was writing about had given up or failed to exert the proper effort, and thus he carefully chose this word to subtly pass along his assessment to the reader. Perhaps, on occasion, it is still used today to interject a bit of editorial comment. But mostly it’s just a space-saving way to write “failed to stop.”

That said, I do think that it is a poor choice of words that, however unintentional, demeans the person or team it is directed towards. The courageous and plucky Limeys didn’t “allow” my daughter to score two goals, standing idly by as victory was snatched from their tight grasp, they were simply overwhelmed by a force greater than themselves. To suggest otherwise is to disparage those young sportsmen in a manner most unfair.

Okay, so maybe you didn’t find this letter as thought provoking as I did. It still beats reading the ramblings of yet another letter writer who thinks that it is the height of cleverness to wonder sarcastically if the city will now ban cheeseburgers because they too are a health hazard. Why do they allow that crap in the newspaper?

*Full disclosure: The letter-writing soccer player happens to be the nephew of an old college buddy, a circumstance that played no part in my choosing to blog about this topic.