Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Talking Point

Even as Republican congressional leadership maintains a hold on Pres. Obama's TSA administrator appointment and votes in lockstep against DHS funding for TSA explosive detection systems and other aviation security measures, the GOP nevertheless has the stones to claim national security supremacy against the Obama administration.

Meanwhile, Republicans and conservative media celebrities claim security superiority with a particularly broad stroke against Muslims:

Rep. Peter King (R-NY):  "100 percent of the Islamic terrorists are Muslim, and that is our main enemy today."

Steven Emerson, FoxNews analyst and executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism:  "One hundred percent of all the terrorist attacks against the U.S. last year were carried out by Muslim jihadists."

With the standard set by this talking point, shouldn't someone argue that since 100% of all murderers of OB/GYN surgeons who perform abortions are fundamentalist Christians, medical facilities ought to start profiling Christians?  Or would that be too "politically incorrect"?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Strange Fruit

Minnesota Republican Congressperson Michele Bachmann has been making a national name for herself by openly resisting 2010 US census efforts, warning the countryside from her split screen at FoxNews about the evil designs of the US Census Bureau.

BACHMANN: "If we look at American history, between 1942 and 1947, the data that was collected by the census bureau was handed over to the FBI and other organizations, at the request of President Roosevelt, and that’s how the Japanese were rounded up and put into the internment camps. I’m not saying that’s what the Administration is planning to do. But I am saying that private, personal information that was given to the census bureau in the 1940s was used against Americans to round them up."

Got that?  She's not sayin', she's just sayin'.  And now this weasely populist demagoguery has likely gotten a good man killed.

The FBI is investigating whether anti-government sentiment led to the hanging death of a U.S. Census worker near a Kentucky cemetery. A law enforcement official told The Associated Press the word 'fed" was scrawled on the dead man's chest.

The body of Bill Sparkman, a 51-year-old part-time Census field worker and teacher, was found Sept. 12 in a remote patch of the Daniel Boone National Forest in rural southeast Kentucky. The Census has suspended door-to-door interviews in rural Clay County, where the body was found, pending the outcome of the investigation.

Investigators are still trying to determine whether the death was a killing or a suicide, and if a killing, whether the motive was related to his government job or to anti-government sentiment....

Any bets about how that investigation turns out?  This much we know. One cannot present dark conspiracy theories about census bureau field workers in particular, or our federal government in general, from a platform like FoxNews and expect to be considered a productive public servant, let alone a responsible legislator.

This was Bill Sparkman --

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Georgia On My Mind

As Tea Party conservatives passionately demand their country "back," it remains a relatively abstract and unclear point to many others.

Meanwhile, amid the historical revisionism and fevered conspiracy theories emanating from these rallies we also find alot of flags including, but hardly limited to, our Stars and Stripes.  For example, the marginally familiar yellow Gadsden flag with its snake graphic and "Don't Tread On Me" motto and the slightly more familiar Confederate battle flag.

Considering the latter and the controversy it has continued to generate, it is well worth remembering that as recently as the turn of the century Georgia's state flag included the Confederate battle flag in its design.

The state ultimately acquiesced to concerns over the display of such a potent and polarizing symbol of historic violent separatism by adopting a new and improved flag design...


...which will not look at all like the more familiar Confederate battle flag to the casual consumer of historical trivia.  But it strongly resembles the original Confederate flag nevertheless.

Say what you will about these latter day separatists, they know their history and they know how to use it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Between Gay Pride Day & The 4th of July

It is no secret that military recruitment has recently had its share of difficulties. Even to the point where gang members and neo-Nazis are able to enlist in our Armed Forces.

Yet, here we are right now, between Gay Pride Day and Independence Day where as of this writing 13,000 US military personnel have been kicked out of the US Armed Forces for being gay and somehow violating the Pentagon's Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell policy. By the way, only one of the more lazy eras of American history could produce official policy with so many contractions. Still, the question comes to mind if as many Armed Forces personnel are drummed out of service for the "Don't Ask" policy as for the "Don't Tell" part.

As Matt Kennard recently reported for Salon.com, a neo-Nazi skinhead explained the enlistment screening process he had gone through, including questions about his body art. "They just told me to write an explanation of each tattoo, and I made up some stuff, and that was that." The recruit's girlfriend even tried to sabotage his enlistment by sharing photos of him at white supremacist rallies. "I just denied them and said my girlfriend was a spiteful bitch," he said. "They knew what I was about. But they let it go because I'm a great soldier."

Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach was born on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. As part of the 366th Operations Support Squadron he helped protect Washington, DC, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and was among the forces that took Baghdad Airport in 2003. Lt. Col. Fehrenbach has flown 400 combat hours and earned nine medals, including one for heroism. None of it matters now as he fights to keep his job because of his intimate relationships.

In 2001 the US Army had filled only half its authorized positions for Arabic translators, and continues to fall short of its goals today. By the end of 2002, the Army had dismissed six Arabic linguists under Don't Ask Don't Tell.

Ironically, perhaps, the military has a Don't Ask Don't Tell policy [links to pdf] regarding hate groups and street gangs, too. But Matt Kennard spoke to former military investigator Carter F. Smith who explained, "When you need more soldiers, you lower the standards, whether you say so or not. The increase in gangs and extremists is an indicator of this. But they have a war to fight, and they don't have incentive to slow down."

Lt. Dan Choi of the New York National Guard is fluent in Arabic and served in Iraq. Lt. Choi's case differs in that he openly challenges Don't Ask Don't Tell. Lt. Choi helped start the organization Knights Out for gay and lesbian West Point alumni, and declared who he was on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show.

Yesterday, the last day of June, the National Guard Federal Recognition Board heard from members of Lt. Choi's unit and his commanding officer defending his service. But ultimately the Board found none of it material to the case, and recommended that Lt. Choi be discharged from service.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Slow Starts

Clincher appears to be reaching the age where it is difficult at best to organize a good game of mushball among the peer group out here on the fringes of suburbia. It was fun playing in a downtown league last summer, but most everybody was about half my age. Still, it seemed that every team we faced had one obligatory old guy on it as well, and I was determined all through last winter -- and on into this spring -- to get the word out for some local ball playing.

Alas, as we so often hear, "when one door closes, another opens." There must be a good reason that such expressions become Old Sayings. Because in the absence of regular softball action, I find more time to spend in the saddles of my bicycles.

So, recently and finally, I rode my first loop of the season on the Illinois Prairie Path: about 25 miles eastbound to Villa Park on the Main Stem, and back along the Great Western. There are many miles of ex-railway to the Prairie Path. Much of it is the old electric Chicago, Aurora & Elgin line.

The Great Western presents a subtle uphill grade most of the way, and a 10 mph headwind offers a quality workout. I chose the 1972 Schwinn Varsity, and its forty pounds of rubber and electroforged steel, for my season opener. I have a genuine fondness for the old Varsity that I picked up about five or six years ago for fifty bucks at a little bike shop in Glen Ellyn. I also have what should be a 1969 Varsity that I acquired from a friend and fellow Metro rail commuter as he retired and moved to Austin, Texas (hello, and thanks again, Leroy!). The brakes still need a little work, but the gears and derailleur are in great shape and it's another solid ride with many miles in its future.

If softball can't keep my aging frame in shape this summer, then the venerable Chicago-made frames of these classic Schwinns will have to do the job....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Guilty Pleasure

Clincher enjoys a perpetual project, collecting autographs of Jewish-American celebrities in an Army-Navy surplus prayer book for Jewish Armed Forces Personnel.

It has taken perhaps more than four years to get only three signatures up to this point. But it's a labor of love and a guilty pleasure. Those who you will find inscribed in this Book of Life (click on image to enlarge), so far, in order of appearance are:

  • Kinky Friedman, founder and leader of the seminal outlaw hard-country band Kinky Friedman & The Texas Jewboys, author of many many entertaining hard-boiled detective mystery novels and unsuccessful candidate for governor of Texas.
  • Marv Levy, Pro football Hall-of-Fame inductee (2001 CE), coached the Buffalo Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls, only to lose them all. A real mensch -- who achieved a monumental if bittersweet accomplishment -- and an example for us all.
  • Marc Maron, comedian and radio personality, currently co-hosting the pioneering internet show Breakroom Live with Sam Seder on Air America.

Clincher doesn't travel in the kind of circles with access to many celebrities. So, we wait for the club appearances and book signings of those whose crafts enrich our lives, and seize those kinds of opportunities to honor them as they present themselves. And for no better reason than to celebrate, with as much well-intentioned irony as you can stand, the achievements of shamelessly secular American Jews and the contribution of our extended family to a greater American heritage.

UPDATE: Marc Maron talks about signing Clincher's Prayer Book for Jewish Armed Forces Personnel, for nearly a whole minute, 6:16 - 7:14 on the counter. But I encourage checking out the entire show if you have the time.

Monday, April 13, 2009

"Tinker to Evers to Chance," Or 6-4-3

An overcast sky on a chilly morning can only mean that baseball returns again to Wrigley Field. This particularly local harbinger of Spring is celebrated in many novel and innovative ways. But one particularly unfortunate and overall trend in baseball observation, which some of us have noticed over the past several seasons, is the decline of fans at the games keeping score.

A written record of the game is hardly a vital necessity in our age of instant gratification and global communication. However, it is a grim downside of our technological progress as pencils and scorecards fade into anthropological relics and the art of scorekeeping becomes ever more arcane.

Above we present a rare Wrigley Field scorecard (click on image to enlarge) from a game in 2006 CE, clearly filled in by two distinct individuals. Each square denotes the result of each turn at bat by every player in the lineup. Obviously, the pair of fans who had filled out this scorecard had learned the process in separate environments. The fan filling in the play-by-play for the Cubs is likely to have been a native north-sider while the fan working the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates learned their technique elsewhere, possibly on the south side of town. Note how the visiting team's marks are distinguished by a primitive, cartoonlike quality as compared with the complex and more highly evolved geometro-numeric symbolism marking the hometeam Chicago Cubs' at-bats.

It may not solve the greatest mysteries of human civilization, but we risk losing valuable insights into our local heritage if we allow the scorekeeper's craft to fade into oblivion. Clincher urges fans of the game to seek out the elders of their respective tribes, and strive to sustain the written traditions of Baseball Nation.

And make sure to show up early enough to get the lineups.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Last Great American Jobs

All good merchants understand that in real hard life there are no problems, only opportunities. With an eye to the near future, auspicious from the ubiquitous signs of socio-economic downturn, where are the opportunities of tomorrow...?

Prison Guard: With increases in crime, implementation of ever more laws and the rising need for three squares and a roof over your head, only the public burden of maintaining corrections facilities keeps the noble turnkey slightly outside the realm of sustainable job security.

Gun Sales: With no end of the breathless rumors of an inevitable liberal Democrat gun roundup in sight, firearms sales presents a bright future in a time of hoarding and stockpiling. Dynamic self-starters can even work their way up to the lucrative international arms trade.

Grave Digger: Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, union scale.

Feel free to add on to the list in comments....

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

It's All Fun and Games Until Someone Gets Hurt...

Last weekend on a rightwing talk radio program Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) declared herself a foreign correspondent, behind enemy lines, hoping to keep her constituents "armed and dangerous" against the impending "energy tax," as she refers to the proposal of industrial cap-and-trade carbon emissions regulations. Clearly, as Bachmann's spokesperson explained, the Representative was speaking metaphorically. But there is a pattern of violent metaphor developing in the rhetoric of the minority party's leadership.

Last month, Sean Hannity's website featured a users' poll discussing the best ways to violently overthrow the government, given the choices of military coup, armed rebellion or war of secession. Now a reasonable interpretation is that this is all just fun and games. But if we stop to consider the size and tempramental diversity of their audiences, the proliferation of firearms and the passions animating the margins of our politcal discourse, it is not beyond the range of possibilities that individuals and/or groups will eventually act out these goofy fantasies with violence.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reports a rise in the organization of active hate groups in the United States from 888 in 2007 to 926 in 2008. Americans are no strangers to our own brand of modern terrorism, from the anti-government militias that produced Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh who slaughtered 168 people with a truck bomb at the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, to racist pseudo-religions like the World Church of the Creator that produced Benjamin Smith who murdered Northwestern basketball coach Ricky Birdsong and shot up ten other people in a shooting spree from a north side Chicago Jewish neighborhood to rural Indiana.

Not long after the inauguration of President Barack Obama, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) had a wild idea. On Friday, January 30, at the House Republican retreat at the Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Virginia, Rep. Sessions said that Republican legislators ought to start thinking of themselves as "insurgents." Spurred on by the angry debate over the finer points of the economic stimulus bill, Sessions went even deeper into his quest for a GOP structural model telling editors of National Journal's blog Hotline, "Insurgency, we understand perhaps a little bit more because of the Taliban. And that is that they went about systematically understanding how to disrupt and change a person's entire processes."

Pressed for clarification, Rep. Sessions clarified, "I simply said one can see that there's a model out there for insurgency."

I admit to thinking it's clever, if even a little bit hyperbolic, to draw comparisons between the Republican Party and Hezbollah. The self-righteous faith and aggressive dogma shared by both Lebanon's "Party of God" and our own GOP remain something of an open invitation to comparison. Both parties tend to elevate religious dogma over civil law and both parties tend to indulge their militant nature, but only Hezbollah clearly did not care who got hurt. Reps. Bachmann and Sessions, however, wander carelessly from their public responsibilities the more comfortable they get with their metaphors. And their colleagues and constituents ought to say so now.

Meanwhile, Blackwater Worldwide, the private security firm of Nisour Square massacre fame has rebranded itself as Xe, and is still trying to open a training camp in Illinois.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

My Bloody Valentine

Happy Valentines Day, sports fans....

As pitchers and catchers for the Chicago Cubs reported for spring training yesterday, Friday the Thirteenth, Manager Lou Piniella held forth with what the monumentally dysfunctional Cub Nation may appreciate alternately as hope, excitement and furiously bitter sarcasm,

"I learned a lot," Piniella said. "I'm 0-6 in the postseason [with the Cubs].
There's room for improvement."
At the start of the last year of the first decade of the 2000s, this much we know. Hot on the heels of the Cubs' best regulation season in a hundred years, only to forget how to pitch, hit and field just in time for the playoffs, we now have a strong nomination for the understatement of the 21st Century.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Roll With It

On August 13, 1935, at the old Chicago Coliseum, Roller Derby was introduced to the world of American sports. The brainstorm of promotor Leo Seltzer, the first roller derby took the form of a race between one man and one woman on a banked track.

As a kid, I remember watching the roller derby on its banked tracks featuring brutal clothesline hits on the "jammers" and theatrical fights on the grainy UHF channels of our black and white portable TV.

The derby has come a long way, through the twisted peaks and valleys of American culture, from adolescent guilty pleasure to righteous competition. Today, Chicago features not one, but two roller derby leagues. Both Windy City Rollers and Chicago Outfit Roller Derby race on a flat track, which liberates the new game from much of the pro-wrestling aura of the old game while preserving a wild spectacle of controlled abandon.

Whether you have to ask some old geezer like me what a UHF channel is, or if you have your own memories of the ultra-high frequency broadcast spectrum, nowadays you can catch up with the Roller Derby action on the Windy City Rollers' YouTube channel.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

16-Inch Patron Saint

While pulling coats, looking for interested players for a softball team in Chicago's western burbs as registration for the 2009 season approaches, the mind conjures thoughts of legends. Check it out...

UPDATE: For clues and speculation on the identity of some of Royko's fellow patrons at The Billy Goat, click here.

SON OF UPDATE: You may order a copy of Royko at the Goat for your very own at The Week Behind.