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Monthly Archives: May 2014

RedEye will Make Your Eyes Bleed

RedEye will Make Your Eyes Bleed

I developed the habit of reading the newspaper every day back when I was in high school. In my neck of the woods, though, my daily paper was unfortunately the glorified internet comment section known as The Buffalo News, which is pathetically the only game in the city. Be that as it may, I got into the habit of reading the local paper every time I travel.

It was Chicago the introduced me to the worst newspaper publication on the planet, RedEye. It’s pretty bad that, in spite of growing up reading The Buffalo News, I can say that about ANY newspaper. RedEye is a free daily published by the Chicago Tribune which started in 2002 and shot itself at millennials. It’s wedged into the aesthetics of The Windy City these days, and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere soon. RedEye is powering along, though the only two reasons why make the magazine’s popularity more of a pragmatism issue than a quality issue; RedEye is available totally for free, and its dispensers are conveniently located at almost every el stop and a ton of bus stops. The places without immediate access to a RedEye dispenser usually aren’t far walks from places with them.

I’ve attacked Chicago endlessly for its inability to live up to its own projection as a tough city. And before you mention the crime rates, crimes rates don’t play a role in making a city tough. (And even if they did, Buffalo is slugging pound for pound these days for the title.) Tough is an issue of pride, the ability to shrug off assaults on everything you hold to your soul, the ability to do what’s necessary to keep your head high in the face of adversity, and the ability to find an identity and hold onto it no matter what. Tough is taking a punch, be it a physical or metaphorical punch. Tough is also something Chicago lacks in every possible way. I have to bring that up because nothing else represents Chicago’s self-image like RedEye. It’s the seeing eye for those interested in the way Chicago views itself and everything wrong about that viewpoint.

RedEye is a tabloid rag too stupid to realize it’s a tabloid rag. Hard-hitting news items are there only as token bullet points while what little exists of any kind of cover spread will be an issue of which celebrity’s ass are the writers going to suction themselves to today. The real news covers maybe one and a half pages, starting around page ten or so. Half the time, cover boy won’t even have a Chicago connection. This wouldn’t be such a big problem for me if RedEye wasn’t trying to peddle itself as a news magazine, but between celebrity covers, it does manage to get big stories onto its cover. The first issue of RedEye I ever picked up, back in December of 2005, had a story about people using the internet for sex on the cover. Usually, though, the lead story is a two-page spread, which might not sound so bad, and wouldn’t be if the spread wasn’t about 70 percent photographs. Today’s front cover is a summer music preview. Go figure.

There are regular weekly columns, all impressive in their vapidity. The most use you can get from one is the regular CTA column, written on Tuesdays by Tracy Swartz. The way some of these poor columnists improvise and imagine their material is incredible, because there’s not a wealth of it in and of itself. Today, Swartz’s column is actually asking a truly pertinent question about how often public officials ride public transit themselves. I asked that question frequently myself during my time in Chicago, and I’m asking it almost daily back here in Buffalo, where the public transit might as well be nonexistent, especially south of the Buffalo River. Unfortunately, columns like this don’t come along very often. RedEye’s last CTA columnist, Kyra Kyles, once wasted a column on the movie 300. Also, there was space wasted once a week on a love column and a sex column. A love column will have its uses, a sex column…. Not nearly as much as you would think, especially seeing as how RedEye regularly brought in womanizers to write them. Understand that by that, I’m not writing about men in committed relationships who just happened to enjoy sex, but men for whom women were nothing more than bedpost notches. One of them actually wrote about the stigma attached to the title “walk of shame,” while the other bitched about not getting a one night stand in a month. With columns like that, it’s a wonder there are women employed by the Trib at all.

The sports section will do both the cover issue thing and the bullet story thing, and it’s here that Chicago’s image facade begins to emerge. What Chicago team is doing well, and which good opponent is in the city for a big match? Time for a city showdown, obviously! You already know all of these things are relentlessly stacked in favor of Chicago, and while they’re in there only as entertainment – part of the problem when they’re supposed to be writing a sports story – it speaks fairly ill of RedEye that they even exist at all. Sports provide plenty of stories, but yet RedEye chooses to constantly thumb Chicago’s noses at some other city. Folks, meet the Chicago Inferiority Complex, that self-congratulatory disease which inflicts itself on all Chicago media and politics. RedEye is the most obvious manifestation of it. No matter what city, RedEye will always go out of its way to mock and slander it. Somehow, though, it usually manages to draw the line at Los Angeles, and it ALWAYS draws the line at New York City. That makes perfect sense, because the attitude of the typical Chicagoan toward New York City is as follows:

The Chicago Inferiority Complex also pops up in the part of RedEye which is a true tabloid: The celebrity gossip section on the back pages! This is where RedEye is completely within its element, and where it acts like every other, more important celebrity gossip rag on the newsstands. As you would expect, most of the sightings are Chicago-centric, but even so, ReedEye’s attitude toward them is bewilderment that big name star X would come to hang out in little, backward Chicago. That’s strange, because there are plenty of stars who chose to make Chicago their homes. It’s like a 21st-century megalopolis of 2.7 million people might have something to offer them. RedEye is also the first to celebrate every new movie or TV show which uses the area as a backdrop, as if the thousands of movies, shows, and songs glorifying The Windy City before them were aberrational phenomena.

Last year, RedEye finally received a short beatdown it had coming from critical theorists for years when a murder story it published expounded on the details of the murders of two white people while only using a single paragraph at the end of the story to quickly rattle off the names of a half dozen blacks who were also killed that same night. This says a few bad things about RedEye, yes, because that story pretty much sums up its attitude toward a lot of local and relevant news stories. It also says several bad things about critical theorists when you start to wonder what the hell took them so long to get on RedEye’s back.

I mentioned previously that some years ago, I had a friend who gave a speech at a religious conference, and brought a newspaper to use as a prop. She grabbed the Friday’s RedEye, not being a regular reader of it and therefore not knowing anything about it. After getting a laugh from the audience for a remark about George Clooney – who happened to be on the cover – she then commented about how she proceeded to read that magazine, hoping to find something substantial on the inside. No one at the conference got a bigger laugh than her wondering if RedEye had anything substantial. And that really sums up everything you’ll want to know about RedEye.

Once again, I’ll emphasize that I grew up reading The Buffalo News, and I’m criticizing RedEye. Let that one sink in.


Thinking Inside the Box About Wine

Thinking Inside the Box About Wine

I frequently buy whisky in plastic bottles.

It isn’t because I have some kind of preference for plastic bottle whisky. It’s merely an issue of convenience. The few times I go out to buy whisky, I’m riding my bicycle more often than not, which means I’ll have nothing more than a (frequently crowded) backpack to carry it in. The plastic doesn’t cost any more or less than the glass, and it also weighs less and won’t break against whatever reading material I happen to be carrying. And when you get stuck buying whisky on the pedal, the choice is just that obvious.

Unfortunately, hard alcohol has one of those finer thing reputations, and my preference for plastic bottles leaves hard liquor aficionados thumbing their noses at me. Apparently, there’s some great difference between the taste of Evan Williams in a glass bottle and Evan Williams in a plastic bottle which only the most sensitive and sophisticated palette can comprehend. I myself have never been able to taste such a difference, but then again, sophisticated whisky nuts are now raising their noses to me and pointing out that I drink Evan Williams, so what the fuck do I know? Aside from the fact that plastic bottle whisky is a surefire sign of redneckdom and the sophisticates would cross the street to avoid my coveralls with one strap unhitched, lack of any shirt whatsoever underneath, and ability to say every sentence beginning with a loud “duh!”

Wine, of course, has a much similar stigma to shake. Actually, it’s not all that similar; it’s actually much worse. Everyone is familiar with the idea of boxed wine, but no one particularly wants to try to wrap their heads around the concept. As it happens, I’ve drank my share of boxed wine too. Every year, Rob’s competitive barbeque team, the Buffalo Meatheads, starts the barbeque season by holding a fundraiser dinner at the South Buffalo Social Club. And by “fundraiser dinner,” I don’t mean one of those suit and black tie affairs where everyone dresses in their Sunday best, sits at circular tables, gets served a single dinner which could be held in your fist, and listens to motivational speeches from the popular football players of the hour. These are extremely blue-collar cookouts. The team cooks its competitive best, artery-clogging brisket, pulled pork, barbeque chicken, beans, mac and cheese, and more and gives it all out all-you-can-eat buffet style. Are you a health nut? You’re suspending your diet for the day, Jack.

The only trace of sophistication is in the drinks selection – light beer and wine. The light beer is of course a crime for which the whole team needs to be punished, preferably by being forced to drink light beer. Most wine diehards will argue the Meatheads need to be punished for the wine in a similar fashion. It’s boxed wine, after all. There’s just something about boxed wine which makes even the most liberal, tree-hugging wine aficionado recoil in disgust before talking up the virtues of the bottle and cork supplied from Italy and France.

Face it: Wine by bottle and cork is growing into an antiquated concept all by itself. I think it’s insane that people make a big deal over not only having a cork – as opposed to a regular, everyday screw top – but constantly bitching over what the proper material for a cork should be. Some are make of rubber, some are made of plastic, and others are made of real cork. This causes some sort of endless debate in the wine community because the tastes of all three can apparently be easily detected by the sophisticated palette. What a lot of these wine nuts share is contempt for the screw top – we have fortified wines (those are the uber-cheap wines sold chilled at the seedy corner store in the bad part of town, and the ones you’re afraid homeless people will buy when you give them money) to thank for that – and the boxed wine. None of those corks, however, are able to solve a very fundamental problem: When you get the cork out, you can’t put it back in. A lesser-known problem that I’ve personally experienced is when the cork breaks off. I can hear the wine crowd preparing their lectures on how my cork was likely made of not only the wrong material, but the wrong material from the wrong place.

Boxed wine solves that problem nicely. It comes with a tap. And without a cork, there’s no cork taint, and it takes a special kind of person to believe a condition which is detrimental to the wine is some kind of flavor enhancer.

The boxed stuff will stay fresh a lot longer, too – four weeks, minimum. The problem with a lot of wine snobs is they’re so used to drinking stuff that’s been oxidized in bottles, they have never had a pure form of wine and don’t know a damn thing about how it’s supposed to taste. The bag the wine is sitting in prevents oxidization, so the wine stays fresh for awhile, and air doesn’t get into the bag. Yeah, that tap only goes one way, and when the wine starts to pour, the tap makes a big difference.

It’s safe to hypothesize that part of the reason boxed wine is cheaper than bottled wine is because the plastic bags and box shell are cheaper to produce. There are wine companies that prefer to use boxed wine for this very reason, and this is a huge benefit to people who need wine. How much does a single bottle of wine hold? A standard wine bottle will hold 750 ml, which isn’t any larger than a standard bottle of whisky. A wine box will usually hold at least three liters, which is over three bottles of wine. Three liters seems to be a standard, although I’ve seen plenty of wine boxes holding 3.5 liters or up to five liters, and you can get that for as little as $20. There’s no such thing as having too much wine, unless of course you bought it in a bottle and were forced to drink the entire thing in a single night because you couldn’t find a stopper.

To thrill the tree huggers who hate boxed wine for some reason, boxed wine is better for the environment than bottled wine. I don’t know if anyone noticed, but plastic and cardboard are both much easier to recycle than glass.

We’re beyond the bad old days here. And with the upcoming generation having a big focus on a more sustainable society, there shouldn’t be so much shame in going out for a giant box of wine. Let’s look over the advantages: Price, freshness, don’t need a stopper, easier to open, won’t spoil anywhere nearly as quickly, and boxed wine containers won’t shatter. There’s no reason for the boxed wine stigma to exist, given advantages like those. Disadvantages? Um…. You can’t tell how much you have left? Doesn’t look as classy without a fancy colored bottle? Uh…. Can’t carry it around in my backpack when I’m bicycling.

A Different Kind of Viewing

A Different Kind of Viewing

Anyone can learn human body vernacular. Anyone can look at a nice, clean drawing of the heart and say, “now that’s a heart!” A guy going into a professional medical field, though, can’t learn anything just by looking at those drawings. Think about how scary that would be: You’re about to go under the anesthetic, and there’s a newly-minted doctor in front of you with the scalpel, and he’s saying something along the lines of that episode of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: “Don’t worry, I’ve pretended to do this operation a thousand times. Look, this time they gave me a real scalpel! Cool!” Yeah, medical professionals need to have a rather exacting idea of what your innards look like, and so one thing medical and health professionals do to train themselves is look at cadavers. It’s a lot like the dissection part of your high school biology class, except in this instance, you’re not looking at a worm, grasshopper, or frog. No, you’re looking at a very real dead human who’s been cut open, leaving organs exposed for all to see.

Since my area of study is based mostly on biomechanics and physics, I didn’t really expect to have an opportunity to view a cadaver at all, but it came up in my anatomy and physiology class. Since it was worth a few free points, I decided to sign up. The Professor said if we were nervous or unsettled by the fact that we were going to, you know, look at a dead human who was cut open, all we had to do was turn in the signup sheet and that would be that. We would show up at our lab time, hand in the form, leave, and free points were ours. If we stayed, there were certain rules to be followed: Above all, respect the body. No photographs, no recordings, no holding the intestines against our abdominal cavities and pretending we’d been cut open by Jason or Freddy. I gave a bit of thought to maybe trying to lighten the mood with a zombie joke, but decided against it. We were going to be looking at a person generous enough to donate her body to a scientific cause, enabling future medical professionals to learn useful information about the human body by cutting her open. If someone did the same thing anywhere else, it would be considered desecration, so the cadaver deserved respect for permitting it.

The only zombie joke made at the viewing came before me and the handful of classmates with me followed the Prof in to see the cadaver, and it came from the Prof himself, and he did it mainly to reassure us that there was nothing to be afraid of. “Don’t worry, the cadaver isn’t going to get up and walk off,” he said before taking us in. “If it does, I’ll give you all A’s.” It put us at a little bit of ease. He also said that if we felt uncomfortable, we were free to leave. Anatomy and physiology, however, is not a course many people take as an elective. Most people who take it do it as part of a larger program, which means it’s safe to assume that almost everyone in the class has at least some level of interest in how we look on the literal inside. No one who was with me to view the cadaver left or had a noticeably debilitating reaction to the sight. I always had a rather strong stomach, so I assumed I would take it pretty well, but I honestly had no idea how I would react. I’ve been to funerals and seen graphic slasher flicks, but knew better than to assume looking at a human cadaver would fill me with the same reactions as those.

I confess to a slightly lightheaded feeling as I approached the cadaver and watched the Professor carefully peel back the layers of skin, fat, and muscle covering the thoracic and abdominal cavities. Any thoughts about those zombie jokes were sucked out of the room instantly. It was clear in only a few minutes the viewing wasn’t a look-but-don’t-touch show. The Professor invited us to touch certain parts of the cadaver to get an idea of what they felt like, and strange as it may sound, that helped put me at ease because it drilled into me the fact nothing about a cadaver was out of the ordinary. First, my classmates and I felt the skin. It was dry and leathery, which made perfect sense since leather is basically dried skin anyway; in this case, it happened to be human skin. After the skin, we touched the layer of fat directly underneath the skin. The Prof asked us what our first impressions were and how they differed from what we thought the body might look and feel like. I expressed my surprise the layer of fat was so, well, organized and neat. By then, all the A+P students were familiar with the school Health and Wellness Association displays comparing five pounds of fat to five pounds of muscle. My classmates and I had expected the fat to look like the organization’s plastic model chunks: Large and unwieldy, spreading out in many random directions. The Prof explained the fat in our bodies is actually liquid, and it only solidifies at room temperature. He then asked us to observe our hands after feeling the fat, and we saw that our gloves were now covered in liquid because the fat had melted upon coming into contact with our body heat.

The Prof riddled us throughout the viewing, asking what we thought one thing or another was to see how our impressions of the cadaver compared to what we were expecting. To give us an impression of how embalming fluid acts upon a human body, he also asked us to touch the liver and note how hard it was, in contrast to when liver is cooked at home and flops around in the pan. He showed us the lungs and was careful to point out the small amount of soot which darkened them slightly, explaining that lungs are likely to absorb a small amount of soot no matter what. They were mostly white, though, which told us they were very healthy. For comparison, the Prof then pulled out a full pair of lungs from a longtime smoker and passed them around. When I got ahold of them, I was surprised by how hard they were; it might have been the embalming fluid acting on them, as I had always imagined lungs to be loose and floppy. The Professor also pointed out the stomach and gallbladder. The stomach looked harder than I thought it would, like the plastic used in milk jugs, while the gallbladder was deflated. The diaphragm was a lot thinner than I envisioned, and the greater omentum a lot bigger.

We didn’t get to see the cadaver’s heart because the heart is buried deep in the thoracic cavity. Fortunately, the Prof had a pair of extra human hearts which he also passed around. One was normal size and the other was enlarged. The heart was the only part of the experience that looked and felt the way I thought it would. It was thick but flexible. The enlarged heart had an opening to look at the atria and ventricles, and when I looked at it, I made sure to take a closer look at both the aorta and vena cava. I had learned about blood vessel thickness as far back as the third grade, and it was drilled into my head for decades: Aorta – thick, elastic, muscular. Vena cava – thin and brittle with valves. I didn’t spot any valves, and the vena cava looked like it had taken a small beating, but they generally both fit their respective descriptions.

The most prominent part of the cadaver was the intestine, which sat there like a beached snake before the Prof removed it to show us the aorta and iliac arteries and show us what an arterial hemorrhage looked like. The arteries felt solid, but I didn’t want to accidentally rupture them by pressing down too hard or something, so I didn’t. Along the way to the aorta, he pointed out where the uterus would normally be and showed us the appendix. The appendix surprised me the most, because it was the size of a string. Medical students are all familiarized with the appendix being something thick and muscular, about the size of a finger, from all the grade school drawings that make a point of showing it. The Prof explained the appendix only grows to that size when it becomes inflamed, d told us why a ruptured appendix is dangerous.

The head was covered throughout the viewing, so instead of giving us a look at the cranium, he took out a human brain and passed it around. It was another thing that felt nothing like I expected, and another thing which may have been hardened by the embalming fluid. The popular image of the brain, of course, is spongy and manipulable, like in the Halloween episode of The Simpsons where Mr. Burns wore Homer’s brain on his head, but it didn’t feel that way at all. It was so solidified, it could have easily been used to hit someone over the head to knock them out. My classmates and I were a little surprised by the size of it, too. The Prof asked us if we thought it was a child’s brain or an adult’s brain when he took it out. We correctly guessed that it was a full-grown adult brain, and the Prof said he was surprised by the size of it the first time he saw one. The size would make perfect sense if we were to hold it up close to our own heads and remember how many layers sat between our brains and the outside world to cushion and protect them.

I wanted to see more than time permitted, and there was a lot more to see. Nothing looked the way we imagined it, or the way our online photos pictured it. The Professor had told us going in that if the cadaver had any parts which were as clean as our APR photos, it would become legend. It was certainly interesting, though, and for everything that went wrong with my semester, I’m glad I got to partake in the lab.

Me, Liverpool, the EPL, and Why You Need to be a Soccer Fan

Me, Liverpool, the EPL, and Why You Need to be a Soccer Fan

No, Steven Gerrard, NO!

Gerrard’s bad play against Chelsea will forever go down in Liverpool lore as something like The Slip, or The Drop, or The Fall. Something to do with the legendary Reds Captain falling down and going boom as Demba Ba streaked into open field for an entire half a pitch before booting a fireball behind keeper Simon Mignolet. It will go down as symbolic of more than just Gerrard tripping over his own feet; in that one moment, Liverpool’s stupendous season seemed to fall on its ass with him. One minute, there they were, one win away from a grasp on the Premier League title so tight the trophy was turning blue. Losing to Chelsea shouldn’t have been a death knell. Chelsea is one of the best teams in the EPL, and Liverpool was five points up in the standings. Then came that meltdown against Crystal Palace. If you haven’t heard this one yet, the Eagles were down 3-0 well past the 70-minute mark before they caught fire and mounted a full-out assault, drawing the game and basically killing Liverpool’s shot at their first title since 1990.

This, I think, has been my official induction into Liverpool fandom. I had already been following the team for a couple of years by that point, but with the advent of EPL matches on NBC Sports, I had finally developed my affection for one of England’s most stories clubs. I was able to watch them as they meekly snuck out of the gate, opening their season with three straight 1-0 victories, with every goal coming courtesy of Daniel Sturridge. They outright lost to Southampton, which was a League One club just in 2009. 2013 concluded with back to back losses to Manchester City and Chelsea. By New Year’s Day, the Reds were doing that bouncey/teasey routine. You know the one: The one where they’re playing just well enough to make you think they have a real shot, but you’re always keeping your defenses up because they slacked at all the worst times in the past. Then right on New Year’s Day, the Reds beat Hull City 2-0, and it began a magical run which would see Liverpool rise to the top of the EPL and dominate, not losing another match until April. They were beating the giants of the EPL and making it look easy. Behind record-setting MVP Luis Suarez, top-five scorer Sturridge, and emerging star Raheem Sterling, the Reds smoked Everton, torched Arsenal and Spurs, and in the biggest test of the year, took the rematch against the Citizens they were supposed to lose, thus setting up what should have been a very winnable final four matches. Now all that’s left is for us Reds supporters to weep into our beers again, singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” for another year while watching helplessly as Manchester City clinches a title which is theirs to lose.

It felt like the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals all over again, except this time there was no ref to blame in order to make myself feel better. Liverpool was the club I had chosen; or, rather, the club that chose me. I have to live with this defeat-snatching collapse on my head forever. It’s right now that I’m wishing I followed some mid-table club no one cares about, because at least my expectations wouldn’t have been so high. But nope, it had to be Liverpool that picked me.

Liverpool picked me. That’s kind of a funny think to think about, but it’s the popular adage of being a European soccer fan. In my case, it also happened to be true. When I made the decision to commit to a Premier League team and make my soccer fandom official, I had a certain set of rules I wanted to abide by, and those rules at first appeared to be pointing me straight at one of the big London teams – Arsenal, Chelsea, or Tottenham Hotspur. Arsenal was the most fitting candidate, and the Gunners’ matches were even being picked up by YES before showing EPL matches came in vogue. They’re the subject of my all-time favorite sports book, and are located in a place which is easily accessible to Americans. They even have a website catering to American fans which not only promotes the side, but tries to help interested Americans to really know and understand the team history and the way English soccer works. I liked Arsenal. I wanted Arsenal. I was fully expecting to go into life as an EPL follower supporting Arsenal. But something about them wasn’t feeling right. My following Liverpool doesn’t make any logical sense, but the Reds clicked with me in every way the Gunners didn’t, and so I held my head up high last year as I followed my newest sports team to a seventh-place finish.

Soccer climbed surprisingly high in my sports pantheon in the short time I’ve been following it. Since I’m caring about the NFL less and less these days, the EPL is leaps and bounds ahead of any team loyalties I had in the NFL and will probably be leaping up further. (Though it will probably never surpass my beloved NHL.) Even though the EPL, like any American sports league, is corporatized as hell, soccer still acts as sort of the hipster antidote to people fed up with the way sports are done in the United States. Soccer is the world’s sport, and as such, it’s one that, despite our efforts, will never, ever be Americanized the way the suits want it to be. Soccer doesn’t know commercial break timeouts; 24-7 draft commercialization which includes mock drafts and the grading of those mock drafts; threats to move; or boardroom rivalries. Yes, it has its corporate problems (corporate branding being prominent on the jerseys, ahem), but nothing that interrupts what happens on the pitch.

There are other appeals, too. Since substitutions are limited, the superstars often play the entire 90-minute game time, and it’s not unusual for a club to have to finish a game with fewer players on the pitch than their opponents after an injury. There are no division alignments or playoffs, meaning that whoever has the best record at the end of the season is the league champion, and there are a handful of other tournaments running concurrently with the league schedule which offer teams chances at other trophies. My favorite aspect of soccer is relegation. It gives teams incentive to do well, because if they’re too bad, they get kicked out of the league while the best teams from a lower league are brought up to see how much damage they can do. If they suck in the lower league, they get knocked back to an even lower league, and it keeps going. This means that, in theory, I could start an amateur club in England and eventually make it into the champion of Europe.

The EPL is about to conclude the kind of dramatic year that solidifies the fandom of interested fence-sitters. First there was the sudden transfer of Spurs superstar Gareth Bale to Real Madrid, the Spanish league giant which may be the best soccer side in the world. Bale was indomitable, and Tottenham Hotspur was looking like a rising power with him, but they sent him packing apparently for what was wrongly assumed to be a better shot at a league title now. Cardiff City rebranded themselves after getting to the Premier League for the first time in 51 years and fired their manager halfway through the season. Crystal Palace, another usual suspect for relegation, made the most of their promotion on a surprise run to the middle of the table after winning only one match in the whole first three months of the season, beating Aston Villa twice and Chelsea and Everton once each and playing Liverpool to a draw – ruining the season for both Chelsea and Liverpool. Manchester United’s new manager, David Moyes, led the Red Devils to a campaign which was disastrous by their standards, and was fired before the end of the season. The title race has been a fight without an immediately emergent winner. (Though we know it won’t be Chelsea, and we’re pretty sure it won’t be Liverpool.)

It all made the so-called football league in this country rather easy to forget. There’s less than 20 minutes of real action during NFL games, and breaking scoring records is commonplace because the commissioner keeps rigging the rules to make them nicer to offensive players. They don’t do this very often in soccer – a goal is a goal. I still enjoy watching NFL games, where there’s always a palpable sense that something incredible is about to happen, but watching 22 do-everything athletes on a field for 90 minutes is too great a show to ignore. The only real parallel we have to it in the US is the NBA, where the biggest stars can play a half hour of a 48-minute game.

Of course, the practical downside is what happens when the attachment finally arrives and you’re stuck supporting your team. Goal margins tend to be pretty low, so you’ll be on edge during every match, living and dying with every pass. It’s not enough for your favorite team to just be favored by a mile, because momentum shifts can be sudden and unexpected. That’s a fact that small teams cling to when they’re clearly overmatched, because no matter what the talent differential looks like, a single-goal lead is still a single-goal lead. Also, if you like a small club, god help you because there’s no salary cap in the EPL. You team needs to spend big and bigger if they want a shot at a title.

I’m quite happy following Liverpool and the EPL. I can’t say I miss the NFL.

The Hijacking of Political Incorrectness

The Hijacking of Political Incorrectness

This is the reason I hate trying to attach labels to myself which sum up my belief systems in one word: Every label I’ve ever used has been sullied in some way. I don’t think there’s a political party out there I haven’t identified with and left in disgust. I consider myself an atheist, but have one or two churches in Chicago that I consider spiritual homes. I was a Christian at one time, Muslim another time. I’m a tree hugger, free trader who believes in local capitalism, pacifist who supports the military, health nut and organic food supporter who believes people should have the right to eat whatever junk they please, and professional sports buff who thinks all teams in all sports leagues should be forced to pay for their own goddamned playing fields while the cities are freed of exorbitant league entry fees.

It looks now like I’m soon going to be forced to remove myself of a long-lasting label I’ve always worn with pride: Politically incorrect. Somehow, political incorrectness has been hijacked by the very people who forced me to wear it in the first place: A bunch of tradition-thumping rednecks who grabbed on and clung for dear life as politically incorrect and first amendment rights became the automatic rallying cries for people upset over the fact society at large isn’t letting them be bigots anymore.

If you’ve been paying any kind of attention over the last week, you know the name Donald Sterling is now cause celebre among even people who take pride in not following professional sports. Sterling is a bigot who happens to have a ton of money which he poured into the NBA team he owned until last week, the Los Angeles Clippers. Sterling sounding off about black people is no surprise to those with any knowledge about the NBA. Even when he took over the team back in the 80’s, the other owners tried to vote him out. Unfortunately, they appear to have gave up that fight after 1982 because money talks and the Clippers were rolling in it, in spite of being the poster boys of bad basketball for almost all of Sterling’s tenure. Sterling was finally caught on tape reaming out a woman who may or may not be his mistress because he hated the idea of her hanging out with black people. The fans and players in the league rebelled, and commissioner Adam Silver acted decisively by throwing Sterling out of the league. It was the right move.

Where political correctness enters into the equation is with the people who are terrible enough to come to Sterling’s defense. They’re trying to turn Sterling into a martyr on some kind of misguided first amendment principle, and bitching about the girl recording the conversation. The common argument is being made everywhere on the internet – big shock, I know – and, pathetically, in print. The basic idea is that Sterling got slammed for his political incorrectness, and that he should fight the NBA and be granted his team back. It’s coming mainly from the people who do the most griping about personal responsibility, but then again, those who complain about personal responsibility the most these days don’t seem to believe in it a whole lot themselves, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Still, though, it’s a direct failure of the personal responsibility people to show they’re not just a bunch of stodgy old coots clinging to old-timey beliefs about other races which are as far-flung as they are far-off.

What the hell happened to the political incorrectness that I came to know and embrace? Political incorrectness as I know it doesn’t excuse anyone from being a fucking idiot; in fact, political incorrectness doesn’t work at all if you’re an idiot. If you’re going to go against the romanticized fable forever being coughed up by a group of people with abiding faith in a particularly narrow set of ideals, you damn well better know exactly what you’re talking about. Being politically incorrect is not a buffer against stupidity or being wrong about something. If you do turn out to be wrong about something, you need to take the opportunity to learn a little bit more and acknowledge your mistake, whether or not your stance on the issue at hand needs to be waived.

Political incorrectness, to me, is only the right and ability to question a set of ideals. It doesn’t matter what those ideals are – being politically incorrect is being able to poke holes in a blanket cover of values, forcing the people who abide by those values to go on the defensive. It’s a way of checking reasoning and making sure a group knows exactly what it is they’re trying to get the rest of the world into. In short, it’s the “what if” to the regular “what” of the politically correct.

If political correctness wants something to happen, political incorrectness is there to make sure all possible scenarios are accounted for. Political incorrectness isn’t there to excuse your bigotry or stupidity and free you of the consequences. It was never meant to be a rally for people too dumb to understand science, political science, international relations, or basically anything contradicting what they learned in Milktoastville Public School or the Church of Cowboy Jesus.

The Magic 50

I promised myself that if I managed to gather 50 followers, I would start a Facebook page for The Windy Nickel.

That day has arrived!

Happy Thoughts

Happy Thoughts

We live in a very sorry world which bombards us with bad news coming out of all orifices. So there are times when it helps to make a small list of the things in the world to be grateful for.

1 – Paris Hilton hasn’t been in the news lately.

2 – No movies based on Saturday Night Live sketches have been made in years.

3 – The Stanley Cup Playoffs are going in full swing.

4 – New Star Wars movies are in the works.

5 – The Polar Vortex is over, or at least the worst part of it is.

6 – Original basic cable television programs are better than ever, and truly worth watching.

7 – Johnny Depp, Robert Downey Jr., and Samuel L. Jackson.

8 – Keeping a food diary is the easiest way to control your weight, and it’s cheap.

9 – Masturbation. It’s sex with someone you love.

10 – A lot of creative and thoughtful podcasts are free.