Saturday, August 24, 2013

Dying to Play Baseball

About seven years ago, I began blogging on MySpace. For whatever reason, I fell in with a group that included many people from Australia. I found them to be among the most friendly and good-natured people I have ever known. When international travel was an option, I desired urgently to visit there.

Imagine then, my sorrow when the events of Friday, August 18th became public.

If you don’t already know, a young man from Melbourne, wanting only to play baseball here, was shot to death in order to relieve the boredom of three teenagers.

Christopher Lane was a guest. If first-degree murder isn't punishable by death, shouldn't wanting to play baseball in America be as well?

While not enjoying popular support, a well-organized and monied minority works fervently to ensure that as many Americans have access to the greatest number of guns as much of the time as is humanly possible.

Gun advocates feel gun ownership is the lynchpin of democracy. No guns = no democracy.

Sadly, we will never have the opportunity to test that theory.

It is gun advocates (i.e. the angry and the ignorant) who believe gun ownership is the great leveler which will one day make everything right. Guns are the six-chambered courtroom where the verdict always comes out in their favor.

Their guns will protect them from currency manipulation, global warming and perhaps even foreigners from playing baseball.

In reality, what America has to show for its reinforced Second Amendment is the first world’s highest murder-by-gun rate. Only countries wracked by political instability, entrenched corruption and inescapable poverty enjoy a higher per-capita rate than the United States.

Let me say it again: being the first world leader in gun-related homicides is our gift for our unswerving maintenance of the Second Amendment.

I’m sure the family of Christopher Lane is very grateful.

Australia isn’t perfect. Neither, I suspect, are Australians. But in light of Mr. Lane’s murder, I am well and truly embarrassed to call myself an American.

His death seems an awfully high price to pay for a dream.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Nickel and Dimed

Traditionally, Illinois has been known as the Land of Lincoln. And while the association with a revered public official is certainly laudable, one has to wonder how representative it is nearly one-hundred-fifty years after his death.

To provide a more appropriate picture of twenty-first century Illinois, I propose a new slogan. Call it The Kama Sutra State. Or Land of Kama Sutra. Does the sexy tingle of State of Kama Sutra do anything for you?

OK. You might wonder what the Kama Sutra has to do with Illinois, especially since the former is an ancient Indian sex manual and the latter is smack dab in the middle of the Midwest.

Let me explain.

Within the Kama Sutra are a staggering variety of male-female couplings in all manner of positions. Many of them require an almost inhuman degree of flexibility.

As a resident of Illinois, it’s only natural I would be reminded of the Kama Sutra when I see the torturous contortions citizens attempt in order to meet the needs of state and municipal agencies.

Let me share two small, everyday examples.

Example number-one is our state lottery, which was recently privatized in the belief that the golden hand of business would reduce costs, increase efficiency and send profits soaring.

Of course, the only people who believe business has a golden hand are those who have never been employed by one.

Our new and improved lottery has mostly succeeded in missing revenue targets and failing to pay agreed-upon penalties. As of this writing, Northstar Lottery Group owes the state of Illinois roughly twenty-million dollars for not boosting lottery sales to the heights promised.

As a result, Northstar has taken the path all businesses take when they need to increase revenue. With no appreciable payroll to cut, they have raised the price of their product.

They didn't devise an irresistible lottery game that has Illinois citizens lining-up to play. Or initiate a clever and attention-grabbing marketing campaign that has us seeing the lottery in a fresh new light.

No. They just doubled the cost of a lottery ticket.

This is the inspired business acumen for which the state ponied up one hundred twenty-five million dollars.

For those who play the lottery, this means ten bucks now buys half as many numbers as it did before privatization. Or ten instead of twenty. Five instead of ten. You get the idea.

I’m guessing you’ve been waiting as anxiously as I for just the right opportunity to cut your chances of winning the lottery in half.

What I really want to know is how long it’s going to take for Northstar to cough-up the twenty mil it owes the state. According to my calculations, it should be half as long as it was before the increase.

But that’s just me. And this, after all, is Illinois.

And then there’s the Chicago Transit Authority and their no-change ticket dispensers, which pocket surfeit cash from hapless riders unarmed with exact change.

But even the retention of unearned money hasn’t kept the CTA from declaring yet-another cash shortfall, necessitating yet-another round of talk about service cuts and rate hikes.

You’re already keeping my change! What more do you want? My socks?

We could always drive, but after the giveaway of the city’s parking meter revenue in a seventy-five year contract to Chicago Parking Meter LLC, the CTA is definitely the lesser of two evils.

(Unless of course you take some kind of perverse pleasure in paying the nation’s highest parking rates.)

None of this would be so irksome if Illinois didn’t boast the second-highest unemployment rate in the nation. Or if Chicago’s wasn’t stuck at ten percent.

Or if our thirty-dollar-an-hour bus drivers were occasionally a tad more polite and understanding of those who don’t ride their bus five days a week.

But it is. And they aren’t.

So yes, the comparisons are apt. We are the Land of Kama Sutra.

Because like the figures in that text, we invariably get fucked.