Monday, December 31, 2007

The Future of Baseball on the Eve of 2008

Its the last eve of 2007 and I have baseball on my mind. I'm a lifelong sports fan raised on Fran Tarkington, Alan Page, Tony Oliva, Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew. Everyone knows there is something magical about the baseball field, but the latest Steroids scandal has me wondering. There are no shortage of writers who have reminded us of the mystical qualities of the game of Baseball. But, perhaps all this magic and spiritual observance of America's pastime is only a cliche. Maybe, some of these baseball blogs written by female sports fans are not testaments to the game but rather testaments to their fathers - who never really cared all that much for the game anyway, just one more remembrance that added unknown mystique to the game.

I mean, what can be mystical about watching baseball inside. As I young adult, I observed games in the HHH dome where I personally witnessed magical events such as a no-hitter, 3 players reach 3000 hits, a couple of Worlds Series championships and Kirby Puckett's last game (where the sound of bat meets baseball echoing through the stadium was replaced by the smack of the ball hitting Kirby's face). So, what is so magical about baseball that Carlos Silva commands a four-year $48 million contract?

I'll tell you what I find magical about watching baseball. Its not sharing my passion with 30,000 other people crammed into the Metrodome. I abhor crowds and I detest the fact that Baseball is so profitable that Carlos Silva (mind you, he's a nice enough man) not only has a job among the sports most elite players, but he also is signed to a ridiculously large contract that will probably appear small in a year or twos time from now. I like watching baseball on a weekday afternoon in a near empty stadium where you can hear Dennis Martinez's slider hit and break Kirby Puckett's cheekbone from the left field bleachers and then the murmur of a few season ticket holders behind homeplate as Tom Kelly's footsteps slap across the infield. What makes baseball magical is not something you can share with thousands of people and it isn't something that makes the select few so rich that they become celebrities far removed from their fans.

Carl Eller read children's stories to our elementary school and it wasn't a charitable event. I am sure our school forked out a much appreciated hundred dollars or so. I thought Carl Eller wasn't that much different than my dad or one of my grade school friend's dad. These guys were mythical, but no more so than our fathers. Now, sports heroes are celebrities and baseball titans are mere cheaters making millions. They are as far removed from their fan base as the billionaire beneficiaries of permanent tax-cuts are from your average working American. But that doesn't stop us from paying tribute to the magic of baseball anymore than it stops middle-aged white guys from voting republican.

So, thats why I still read the sports page and comb box scores everyday, whether its baseball or basketball. Its out of institutional habit more than a spiritual necessity. Bad habits are hard to break and I don't suppose my likelihood of breaking it is any greater than a lifetime smoker on the verge of lung cancer will quit smoking tomorrow. After a while, when our dreams long ago died, we come to terms with the fact that we all got to die someday, just like we realize that the American dream is no more mythical than America's pastime. We aren't willing to embrace the fact, so we just ride it into the sunset.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Eelpout guts and Iraqi brains.

The Walleye is a revered fish in Minnesota and is also known to be finicky, especially in the winter. When watching the bobber go down below the ice, it often is taken slowly. If you set the hook too early the walleye will drop the minnow and you will have to take up all the line and check your bait, before dropping it down 20 feet or more to begin again.

Sometimes the bobber goes down fast when the walleye is hungry and you need to set the hook immediately as the walleye is running away with its dinner. If she is a "good one" it will feel like you are setting the hook into solid ground and there will be little give before the line starts to pull in short jerks away from you.

But, when the walleye isn't really feeding you have to let the bobber go for a while. Sometimes it will pop back up, but you can tell the walleye is still down there playing with its dinner by the movement of your bobber. Slowly it sinks and you need to give it some line. It will eventually stop taking line and this is where you have to be patient. The walleye still might be just playing with the minnow and getting ready to spit it out at the slightest provocation. Sometimes you have to wait for a minute or more. Then, the line will start to get taken again a little more forcefully. Hold the line tight till you feel the fish and then pull hard to set the hook. Again, if its a "good one" it will feel like you are setting the hook into solid rock.

There is only one problem with this approach. The dreaded eelpout. An eelpout is an introduced fish to Minnesota from Europe, I believe. I was told they were rough fish, like carp, as a kid and should be treated as such. Eelpout take the bait just like a walleye, but they usually are not playing around. While you are waiting they are swallowing the minnow and hook deep into their bellies. They also are taking the minnow and swimming in circles and, more often than not, tangling up the line in other nearby holes. One of the first clues that you may have an eelpout at the end of the line is that the other fishermen or women in your party will be kneeling before holes near you anticipating their own walleye as their bobbers disappear below the ice in succession one after the other. When setting the hook into an eelpout it will also feel like you have set it into solid rock. But then, there will be long steady pulls of the line against you instead of the short quick rapid burst from the tail flicks of the walleye. When other people ask you if you got a "good one?" the response of "nope, pout!" will immediately clear everyone away so they don't get drawn into the inevitable lengthy untangling of line, cutting of hooks and reattaching a new rig and minnow.

The eelpout is slimy like an eel and it is difficult to handle. Once it comes up through the hole it will immediately curl up into itself like a snake. Its mouth is clamped shut and it is necessary to step on its back or stomach to force it open. If you can't see the hook you will often just need to cut the line. No one keeps eelpout to eat, though there have always been rumors that they are good eating and healthy for you. Instead, they are tossed onto the ice in disgust and left to die on the frozen tundra. On a Minnesota lake, like Mille Lacs, in the winter near ice fishing houses the lake is often littered with eelpout carcasses.

As a boy, after an eel pout was caught by myself, my dad or other members of our fishing party, I would often put on my Sorrell boots and march out into the cold after them and proceed to stomp on the backs of the eelpout until all of the organs and entrails were forced out of its mouth. This desecration of the eelpout was made possible because this fish was hated and its life was considered worthless and a stain upon the revered walleye waters of Minnesota. I was a normal kid and the stomping I did was not done because I had a vicious streak inside me extending towards other animals and humans. It was done out of boredom and because it was fun and also because the life of an eelpout was considered worthless.

It is the way humans are. If we are taught that a life is worthless we will be conditioned to destroy it and kill it out of boredom and for entertainment. Thats what marines are trained to do with Iraqis. Kill. Its what we train our youth to do with video games. It is what we see in Colorado and Oklahoma. It is why we don't flinch at the idea of specious extinction due to climate change - not even our own. In our society we revere little life. Certainly the military portion of our society reveres none. What returns from Iraq and Afghanistan will be with us till the end and the end is coming nearer simply because we can no longer love. Marines congratulate each other because soldiers today are much more likely to fire their weapons in battle than soldiers of yesterday - like WWII. They are trained to kill and they do it efficiently without flinching. They think that is progress. Iraqi brains and blood on the desert streets in Baghdad or other Iraqi towns is no different than eelpout guts lying frozen on the ice covering Minnesota lakes. That is until years later, when we become haunted by our conditioning as we discover the last remnants of love and humanity residing inside each of us below the ever-present conditioning to hate we get from our society.

I don't see the blood lust of the modern marines as progress. I see it as a tragedy that, if it is not corrected, will eventually lead to the end of us all. As Scott Ritter once said. "Weapons of mass destruction? A platoon of marines with unlimited ammo - that is a weapon of mass destruction." or a kid with big boots in the case of an eelpout.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

They ought to be in Jail

I suppose some might say I'm a liberal. However, I've had plenty of liberals accuse me of being a wingnut. I'd say I'm liberal. But, I also think I have a streak of conservative in me. I believe in community. I support home-schooling and community supported schools and I am critical of Public schools. I think Roe vs. Wade is flawed in its argumentation, but I support abortion in 99.93% of the cases. Some liberals think I want to control a woman's body because of the 0.07%.

I'm a liberal who would have prosecuted Bill Clinton for War crimes and thinks his wife Hilary is not a good candidate for President. In fact, I'd rather see Mike Huckabee and I'm not a right wing Christain - although I believe in many of the teachings of Jesus Christ such as Blessed are the Peacemaker for they shal inherit the Earth. My preferred candidate is Dennis Kucinich, but I stopped preferring candidates after the last presidential campaign. I think Dick Cheney really did order the murder of Senator Paul Wellstone and I have zero evidence. I just think it fits his profile.

What I'm trying to say without sounding partisan and someone who is on a mission to reestablish a Democratic presidency further reducing the influence of the GOP in Washington is that current and past members of the present administration should be going to jail - forever. Throw away the key. How much more of this will we take. We can just forget about the Iraq war and torture and all that inexcusable bullshit. Lets just talk about the Kyoto protocol and the Nuclear non-proliferation agreement. I realize we are all guilty of contributing to the destruction of the natural world through our participation in this consumer culture in America, but this is what we have leaders for. And, as slow as politics are, there has been progress towards - at least - coming to terms with the impacts of CO2 and climate change. But, is there any excuse for the arrogance of withdrawing from all discussion with the other countries in the world. Likewise, the rollback of the goals towards a future without the proliferation of Nuclear weapons. There was means for discussion with the countries in the world and this administration has made the world a more dangerous place by its policy of preemptive strikes and the consideration of limited nuclear strikes against wayward countries.

We should be a participant in discussions of the major issues facing our planet in the future. It does not get anymore important the nuclear weapons and climate change. For this alone I would put them all in jail, without even considering the lack of a true discussion on Palestine, torture, domestic spying, the Iraq War, the budget deficit, permanent tax cuts, corruption, Blackwater, privatization, etc. They are not mere poor decision makers. They are criminals and we need to treat them as such.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Second interview.

I got as call back from a first interview for another position within another large bureaucracy. Its a job working for an institution providing expert testimony on behalf of the Public's interest concerning rates charged before the Public Utilities Commission.

My current job is rather mindless, but it requires a sense of order I have managed to sustain for two years. I am capable as an accountant/auditor keeping records and such, but my tendency is still towards the creative and chaotic - at least in comparison to what you will normally find inside bureaucratic institutions. A Public Rates Analyst is not exactly a position filled by artists and poets, but it does require the application of theory and is much more stimulating than a position as a record-keeper that I currently am employed as.

I imagine my days will be much busier, but also more interesting. Essentially, I will be employed as an economist - which is what I trained as in graduate school. However, an economist that only studies one specific industry (telecommunications) recognizing trends and setting up the terms for just and fair markets. In my second interview I have to give a presentation on some subject that has yet to be revealed to me. I go in on a week from today.

I look forward to it as a break form my current schedule and routine consisting of mind-numbing monotony. However, age has tempered my penchant for assuming that a new job will finally bring me the sense of satisfaction I am looking for. A job is a job and my ultimate satisfaction can only be found away from employment. For now, however ( and likely till I am old and decrepit) employment is necessary and I am coming on three years in the same job. With some luck and a good performance, change may soon come.