Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Off My Chest

Due to technical difficulties (semi-solved through no help whatsoever from Blogger or Google), I haven’t been able to post for what seems like ages. Just a few things that have been on my mind:

Damn you Posh Spice.
I find you loathsome, yet I can’t get the tune “If you wanna be my lover” or the word “major” out of my head.

India elects its first female president. And in the same week, a mass grave is discovered in the country, filled with the bodies of infant girls—discarded by parents who were hoping for a boy. So let me get this straight—a country that places little value on the lives of young girls still manages to find a woman worthy of the presidency. Yet in the U.S., where we tell our daughters that they can grow up to be anything they want, we’re still debating whether a member of the fairer sex is up the demands of the job of Leader of the Free World. Americans are usually so eager to claim supremacy—we like to be #1 and we like to be first—yet when it comes to electing a woman to the position of president or prime minister or chancellor or any other word that means “we trust you to be our head of state,” Great Britain, Germany, Finland, Ireland, Israel, Pakistan and Chile (and I’m sure others that don’t immediately spring to mind) have all beaten us to the punch.

Minimum wage hike. During college, I had an internship that paid $5 an hour, a good dollar over and above the going minimum wage, which, at the time, was either $3.35 or $3.85 an hour. That was back in 1989. This week, nearly 20 years later, the federal minimum wage was raised to $5.85 an hour. Because I was an English major, I can’t do the math on the percent increase of 2 bucks over 2 decades, but I think “pathetic” would be a fair assessment. Particularly in light of the fact that back when I was making my paltry salary, goods and services were exponentially cheaper. I swear, gas cost something like 70 cents a gallon and tuition at my state-run university was under two grand a year. Those numbers sound quaint, like something from a bygone era. So why are we still paying minimum wage workers a bygone salary?

The Emmy nominations. It seems stupid to care about an awards show that honors individuals and an industry that already get more than enough attention. I guess because I spend so much of my time watching television, I look to the Emmys to validate my choices. Yes, TV is a vast wasteland, but I like to think that I’m at least discerning enough to tune into the few gems that cross the airwaves. I imagine this is why so many people were pissed to see their favorites left of the list of nominees. Most of the angst, from what I gathered, centered on the exclusion of “The Wire” (don’t have cable, never seen it, can’t say that I care) and the perennial snubs of Lauren Graham and Kelly Bishop of the now-canceled “Gilmore Girls” (huge fan, agree wholeheartedly). A number of people put forth an excellent idea—create a “dramedy” category for those programs that deftly mix drama and comedy yet utterly confound voters (see: “Northern Exposure.”) My personal thoughts:
*“Lost.” A certain vocal segment of fans likely cost the show a Best Drama nod with their constant carping about a drop in quality. The rest of us thought the majority of episodes—particularly the run up to the finale and excepting anything featuring Nikki and Paulo—were stunning. We just don’t spend a lot of time posting to message boards or trying to find the hidden meaning behind the Hanso Foundation. On the other hand, I was sorry to see Michael Emerson nominated in the supporting actor category, as it will only encourage “Lost”’s writers and producers to continue featuring the character of Ben over our beloved original Lostaways.
*“Jane Eyre.” While everyone was busy rushing to “The Wire”’s defense, I didn’t see anyone calling foul in the Miniseries category. So I will. Granted, I haven’t paid much attention to the miniseries since “The Thorn Birds,” but “Jane Eyre,” a pedigreed PBS production courtesy of Masterpiece Theatre, was television at its riveting best. Charlotte Bronte’s story is a classic for a reason—it’s a damned good tale—and Toby Stephens’ portrayal of Mr. Rochester was by turns cruel, impish, and surprisingly sexy. (I’d have married him, crazy wife in the attic and all.) I thought he was lock to take home the trophy, yet he wasn’t even nominated, a victim, I suspect, of the William H. Macy Syndrome. WHMS is a disease that causes Emmy voters to check off familiar names in unfamiliar categories. Haven’t actually seen a single miniseries? Go with the known entities, in this case Robert Duvall, Tom Selleck, Jim Broadbent, Matthew Perry and, wait for it, William H. Macy. I’m not saying these gentlemen aren’t fine actors or that they didn’t turn in fine performances. I’m just saying that Stephens’ work was brilliant—he absolutely knocked me out in the same way Daniel Craig wowed me in “Layer Cake.” Craig went on to bigger and Bond-er things, let’s hope Stephens does too.
*“Grey’s Anatomy.” I know. I know. Isaiah Washington is the big, bad boogey man who allegedly uttered a homophobic slur against castmate T.R. Knight. That might make Knight the better man, it doesn’t make him the better actor. If I at all planned on watching “Grey’s” this season, I would sorely miss Washington’s portrayal of Preston Burke, which was infinitely more deserving of an Emmy nomination than T.R.’s George.

Not so fast BP. I wrote earlier of British Petroleum’s plans—approved by the state of Indiana—to increase the amount of toxic waste the oil company dumps in Lake Michigan. Chicago’s Mayor Daley was similarly appalled as was Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who appeared at a petition drive and rally over the weekend, calling for action to stop BP in its tracks. And whither Barack Obama, the junior Illinois senator who actually hails from Chicago? Whose home actually draws tap water from the imperiled lake? Iowa, perhaps. Or maybe New Hampshire. But most definitely not representing the concerns and interests of people who put him in office two years ago.

“I” as in…. Sure-fire signs that your computer tech support “help desk” is not located in the U.S.:
*When you say you’re from Illinois, the analyst asks, “Is that near Florida?”
*Instead of “how’s the weather?,” he wonders “what is the climate?”
*When spelling out instructions for the user to type into the computer, he says, “f as in Frank, g as in George, i as in India.”

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Boo Hoo

Sometime back in January or February, we bought a pair of tickets to last night’s Cubs game vs. San Francisco. Dave estimated that Giants slugger Barry Bonds would be making his final assault on Hank Aaron’s career home run record.

And we wanted to be there to boo.

Baseball fans take their records seriously. If they’re going to broken, we like to have the breaking done by someone we deem worthy. We could pretty much stomach Cal Ripken passing Lou Gehrig for the lead in consecutive games played. Cal, after all, has Hall of Fame credentials and seems like a stand-up guy. But we don’t want some journeyman veteran, random rookie—or worse yet, total asshole—reeling off hits in 57 straight games and eclipsing the great Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio.

And we definitely don’t want Barry Bonds’ name in the record books.

For most people, the trouble with Bonds, apart from his surly disposition (a trait that DiMaggio & Co. at least made the effort to hide from fans) is his alleged use of steroids. Hank Aaron came by his 755 dingers honestly, the thinking goes. How many of Bonds’ homers were chemically enhanced?

I liken Bonds to all the uber-skinny Hollywood actresses who insist they gorge themselves on whatever food they want, never have to exercise, and were just blessed with a really high metabolism. Or the ones with the frozen foreheads and puffy lips and cheeks who won’t cop to undergoing cosmetic procedures. What bothers me is Bonds’—and the actresses’—unwillingness to admit that they have taken extreme and unnatural measures to get their bodies to do things regular mortals’ can’t. What bothers me is that others feel forced to compete against a standard that, without resorting to similar measures, is impossible to achieve.

I’ll concede that some people have been gifted with extraordinary athletic ability or beauty. But I can’t tolerate Bonds’ claims that his exceptional skill in hitting a tiny baseball incredibly long distances is solely the result of pure talent. Just like I can’t tolerate certain actresses’ claims that their bony hips and unlined faces are solely the result of genetics. Why are they so insistent on placing themselves on delusional pedestals so far above the rest of us?

In short, I was really looking forward to booing Barry Bonds.

It seemed as if I would be denied the chance. Due to some mysterious nagging injury (“swollen ankles,” one local sportscaster posited), Bonds was scratched from the Giants lineup for Tuesday’s game. Typical Barry, I thought. He had to know how many of us had purchased tickets just for the opportunity to blow raspberries in his direction. He wouldn’t give us the satisfaction.

We settled into a rather desultory game, a 2-2 tie heading into the late innings, marked largely by piss poor play from the Cubs latest acquisition, catcher Jason Kendall. The crowd was restless, like a group of office workers slogging through yet another Power Point presentation.

And then a jolt of current ran through the stadium, low at first, then gaining in strength. The boos began so quietly that at first I mistook them for “Lou,” thinking the fans were lauding Cubs manager Lou Piniella’s decision to make a pitching change. They weren’t.

Barry Bonds was in the on-deck circle. With Giants on first and second in the top of the 8th, he had entered the game as a pinch hitter.

I’ve read plenty of articles about Barry Bonds. Most of them in Sports Illustrated. Most of them negative. I’ve seen plenty of television reports about Barry Bonds. Most of them focused on how poorly he treats the press. I’ve never been in his presence in person. I have to admit, the word “mighty” came to mind.

There are hundreds of major league baseball players. Only a handful have the power to inspire awe. Barry Bonds is clearly one of them.

It reminded me of another night not so long ago at Wrigley Field when The Police came to town. I was thrilled to see one of my favorite bands reunited after all these years. While taking nothing away from the brilliance of Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland, I couldn’t keep my eyes off Sting. It’s called charisma and you know it when you see it.

I saw it in Barry Bonds, even from my perch in the upper deck, section 529, row 8, seat 104. He didn’t need the steroids to become a legend.

Bonds stood on the field, stoically taking practice swings. The atmosphere was electric. And I know that’s a cliché but sometimes clichés are true. He brought 41,000+ fans to their feet. Booing loudly. Booing vigorously. Booing with gleeful abandon. Chants of “cheater” and “Barry sucks” built up steam. The anger, and I will go so far as to say hatred, directed at this one man was fierce. The once jovial crowd had taken on the trappings of a mob.

Finally—the moment I had been waiting for. And I choked. I couldn’t bring myself to boo Barry Bonds.

It must be awful to be treated like this, I said to Dave. Maybe that’s why he’s such a jerk. No, Dave replied, people are mean to him because he’s such a jerk. This is exactly what he wants.

I pondered the flaw in my nature that causes sudden gushes of misplaced empathy. Most memorably, this happened when I was a little girl and my sister Anne finally got all the kids in our neighborhood to revolt against the reigning queen bee. I didn’t much care for this particular person—sycophant not being a favorite role of mine to play—yet I inexplicably befriended her when everyone else switched allegiances. (Note to self: Explore motivations further.)

But I wasn’t the only one at last night’s game suffering from mixed emotions. Those very same people yelling “cheater” were also holding up their camera phones to record the moment. Flash bulbs were popping all over the stadium. Deep down, everyone was hoping for the same thing—that Barry Bonds would deliver the kind of epic home run that only Barry Bonds can.

Oh, they would boo and hiss and call him names as he rounded the bases, make no mistake about that. And then they would tell all their friends and family—and years later their grandkids—that they had been there the night Barry Bonds hit #752. Make no mistake about that.

Bonds, once again, refused to comply. He hit a hard line drive to left field, which was easily fielded by Alfonso Soriano. We all cheered. The dragon had been slayed.

The Cubs went on to lose 4-2.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Back to Basics

So I’ve been without Internet access for the past two days (more on that debacle to come). And here’s what I did with time I would have spent checking emails and visiting random web sites:

  • Read a book. Actually, I finished a book I had started on Sunday. This isn’t quite the accomplishment it seems, given that the title in question, “On Chesil Beach” by Ian McEwan, is really more of a novella, with the large print and small-sized pages one usually associates with books for the very young or very old. Normally I would feel guilty spending a couple of hours with a book. I don’t know why, but reading sometimes feels like an indulgence. As if the aforementioned emailing and web surfing are justifiable activities but reading somehow isn’t.
  • Baked bread. Not something I normally do in the summer, what with our condo already feeling like the inside of an oven. And not wanting to waste precious July hours on something I could do in February. But yesterday’s temps were on the pleasant side…and I had the time to just sit and watch the dough rise. Here’s what I learned—summer is actually the perfect time for baking bread. The warmer air proved a friendlier environ for the yeast and I turned out a pair of kick ass whole wheat loaves.
  • Took a walk in the park with Dave.

It was like I had traveled back in time to 1854 or 1998. And then I blew the whole “getting back to basics” theme by turning on the television and tuning into the train wreck that was “Victoria Beckham: Coming to America.” Sample quotes from the once and current Posh Spice: “I wouldn’t normally answer the door” and “It’s exhausting being fabulous.” Her criteria for a personal assistant: “She can’t be too pretty and she can’t be too thin.” VB, of course, while not necessarily the former is certainly the latter. If the camera adds 10 pounds, I’d estimate VB’s weight at 70 pounds.

This one-hour special was supposed to be a series, and I can see why that idea was kiboshed. Not only were the scenarios hopelessly contrived—the Dodgers just happen to call and ask VB to throw out the first pitch; a group of Beverly Hills socialites ask Posh to lunch, and one of the overly made-up matrons just happens to imitate a dolphin call—but the star of the show was so unlikable, she managed to make employees of the DMV look like charmers. (Why the ruse of getting a U.S. driver’s license when we later see her being chauffeured everywhere?) I was not amused.

Tonight I think I’ll take up needlepoint.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Feeling Blue About Going Green

The recent LiveEarth concert extravaganza left me with two burning questions:

#1. Keith Urban—the guy sings like a rocker, looks like a rocker and most definitely plays guitar like a rocker. So why, oh why, is he a country musician?
#2. Perhaps more importantly, I asked myself, What more can I do to help the environment?

Cameron Diaz and other environmental heavyweights offered no enlightenment on conundrum #1 but peddled various solutions for #2:
* Install compact fluorescent light bulbs. Done it. And, FYI Cameron, they don’t last for 5 years (or, in my experience, for even 5 months)
* Lower your thermostat and wear more sweaters in cooler months. Done it. And, FYI Cameron, this is sort of a joke for people who freeze their asses off during Chicago winters.
* Burn fewer fossil fuels. Done it. And, FYI Cameron, public transportation sucks. It’s hard to look red carpet-ready in 3-inch stilettos when you have a mile-long walk to the train station.

My husband and I scratched our heads for more ways we could personally stave off a global climate crisis. We tried to gut it out sans air conditioning during last week’s heat wave but caved when the temperature in our condo topped 90 degrees. To offset this wanton emission of carbons, we decided to try to take shorter showers and think about recycling.

And then today I came across this headline in the Chicago Tribune: “BP gets break on dumping in lake.” Staff reporter Michael Hawthorne continued: “The massive BP oil refinery in Whiting, Ind., is planning to dump significantly more ammonia and industrial sludge into Lake Michigan, running counter to years of efforts to clean up the Great Lakes.” (Find the complete story at http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/chi-pollute_15jul15,1,647384.story?coll=chi-news-hed)

LiveEarth would have us believe in platitudes like “we’re all in this together” or “small changes can make a big difference” or “one person can make an impact.” I appreciate the sentiment, but what a load of crap. The truth is money—and corporate interests—talks. We the people, as individuals, can’t begin to unplug enough cell phone chargers, plant enough trees, or pile on enough woolens to compensate for corporate pollution.

We can not save the polar ice caps—one Prius at a time—as long as government and regulatory bodies are beholden to the interests of corporate giants. Besides the promise of 80 new jobs, I don’t know what other carrots BP dangled in front of the state of Indiana or, more likely, what actions it threatened if its demands weren’t met (“Fine, you don’t like our toxic waste, we’ll move our business to Mexico”). I do know, thanks to the Tribune, that “the company will now be allowed to dump an average of 1,584 pounds of ammonia and 4,925 pounds of sludge into Lake Michigan every day. The additional sludge is the maximum allowed under federal guidelines.”

By the way, Cameron, that’s my drinking water supply. You still think it’s a good idea I cut back on my bottled H2O?

Can you sense that I’m feeling more than a little duped? The inconvenient truth, when it comes to global warming, is that big changes will require a big commitment from big government and big business. Whether that will actually happen is the biggest question of all.