Cubs Post All-Star Hot Streak: Welcome, but Weird

“How about 9-2 since July 11? Sounds a lot better, doesn’t it? Looks and feels different too. Our cross-town rivals, The White Sox, were kind enough to part with starting pitcher Jose Quintana on July 13, and Q has quickly proven a valuable addition to the Cubbies’ bruised staff of hurlers. His July 16 debut at Camden Yards was verifiably historic, with Quintana fanning 12 batters over seven innings – without allowing a run. Holy Cow! A commanding announcement that the Epstein administration’s eye for the right talent at the right time remains unclouded.

The batting averages clearly have room for growth but Kris Bryant is leading the pack at a respectable .278 (at the time of publication). Wilson Contreras is the best catcher in baseball and in the middle of a red-hot hitting streak. Fan favorite Kyle Schwarber is back from a stint in the minors and crawling from the bottom. And the outfield is much better with a healthy Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward.

Yes indeed Wrigleyville Nation. Things are looking up. The Cubs remain a half-game behind the first place Milwaukee Brewers, but have widened the gap considerably between themselves and the rest of the NL Central. Can we all just take a moment to savor a fourth-place Cardinals club (with all-due love to Dexter Fowler)?

As I mentioned in a Facebook post yesterday, I’m always elated to #FlyTheW. I’m certainly not looking for trouble. That said, and despite all the winning, there’s a few…curious variables at play. Some strange things are afoot with some of our key players that could impact current momentum. As wizened, sober residents of Wrigleyville Nation, we need to keep our eyes on the following…”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.

Advertisements

The Spice Girls

Yesterday, as news broke regarding the resignation of Sean Spicer as White House Press Secretary, I immediately contacted a fellow Washington vigilant – my younger sister Jenny. Since our earliest childhood days, we’ve been news and politics aware (I’ll hardly regret a ballot more than one cast for Reagan in a 1984 kindergarten mock election). But ever since the post-9/11, Fox News-aided ascendancy of modern-day Republican ideology, neither one of us has been able to relax for a moment.

Wound tightly by patriotic and personal concerns involving the war on terrorism, protracted assaults on woman’s reproductive health, the social safety net, voting rights, immigration and rational gun policy, we’ve been busy worrying. The Obama years brought some comfort in the form of a decent, rational if imperfect leader. But even then the Tea Party and other self-styled citizens of the “real America” talked endless, incendiary shit about the President, immigrants, the LGBTIQ and a long-settled woman’s right to make decisions about her own body.

Some of it was more than talk. Jenny and I have paid attention to what’s gone down in the states, including our own. Budget impasses, government shutdowns, disgustingly offensive bathroom laws, innocent citizens of color gunned down by local police. Elections matter and the right has been gaining the macro and micro majorities required to transform America into something less free for “those people” (most of us) – for decades.

My second favorite pundit and I are especially alert, exhausted and afraid for our country in the Trump era. The international shame, ridicule and danger. The proud, illiterate ignorance of our President, the moral and ethical stench wafting from every corner of the White House. But every now and then we’re given a gift of comic absurdity, a small moment of levity that transcends danger into the mere comically sad. So many of those moments have been offered by Sean Spicer these last, harrowing six months. Bless him.

It’s kind of hard to pick a favorite. Writers such as Erin Gloria Ryan have pointed out that Spicey came out swinging for the unintentionally humorous fences:

“Mr. Spicer’s relationship with the press got off to a bad start. Just one day after President Trump’s inauguration, our boy Sean issued a bizarre statement claiming the crowd was the biggest ever. His sagging suit indicated that perhaps he was not the greatest at gauging the sizes of things.”

Her piece in The New York Times yesterday ends with an endearment I burningly wish I’d written first: “Goodnight, sweet wince.”

No matter how insane Spicer’s behavior grew in defense of his probably-bankrupt-in-every-sense boss and the Trump administration, it was a mostly harmless show. We (and here I mean the larger “we,” not just Jenny and I) have long expected slanted spin from the Press Secretary’s podium. Spicey added that special mix of pitiful audaciousness that made his briefings among the highest-rated programs on daytime television. The man hid from the press in the bushes. This is a thing that actually happened. Under the direst circumstances – the running aground of America by a circus clown and his enablers – we need the occasional laugh to keep us going.

What are we to do now? Basically, this was my question to Jenny when I messaged her late yesterday morning. I sent her a link to the Times’ breaking news item about Spicer’s decision to walk away from the madness. She’s a mother of two girls married to a wonderful Muslim-American man. As many readers know, Jenny’s had to take vigilance a step further than some (me) when it comes to protecting her family from rhetorical and legislative threats. Thus she was predictably less flapped than I:

“This should surprise no one.”

Point taken, and yet somehow I was blindsided by Spicer’s move. I assumed that a man who’d spent six months and a day eating shit in front of America on behalf of Donald Trump could survive anything – especially a new supervisor. The moment when one is lulled into the belief that a head can’t be further scratched, The Donald and his team offer a new itch.

In reply to Jenny’s resigned assessment of the latest Friday news twist in Washington, I offered this. Maybe a sign of obscured, but persistent optimism.

“We must be ready for anything and yet because absurdity continues every day, any sort of end of it is still a jolt.”

Spicey was easy to dismiss. A fool who earnestly wanted respect, even if he had no idea how to gain it.  As Forrest Gump said, “Good, that’s one less thing.” Scaramucci, Sanders and their soulless sleaze on the other hand? No more laughing. Just more worrying.

America’s Red Herrings

Do you know the term “red herring?”

Dictionary.com defines it as “something intended to divert attention from the real problem or matter at hand; a misleading clue.”  The concept, removed from argument context, should be familiar; we’ve been exposed to it every news cycle since the 2016 election process began, though examples can be found throughout history.

But back to 2016 and our present. It was an efficient distraction to say “look at her emails.” It may now be worth it to the President to sacrifice a son to media frenzy in order to make darker moves behind the scenes. The red herring has to receive notice, it must be given attention to be effective.

That process is made easier with reduced access to information. The media and public are ready to pounce on any morsel delivered by POTUS via Twitter, even when the tweets don’t make any sense. That’s what happens when he controls the message. From the ranks of dubiously moral Mad Men character Don Draper: “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” That’s exactly what we’re witnessing. The conversation keeps changing. “Alternative facts”  have ascended. The term is part of popular vernacular and explains why Kellyanne Conway still has a job despite never saying anything relevant.

This shift is worrying, but dig a little deeper below the surface distraction. The big, bold red herring headlines aren’t always what’s important to the American people, the stuff of daily life. What does impact us? The little things hiding behind Don Jr. ‘s turn at e-mail scandal, or what’s been swept under the rug of America’s consciousness:

These examples brings me back to the point: the surface craziness of Team Trump serves as distraction from the larger agenda. It’s the flash that hides the impact, allowing the Trump administration to dominate news cycles with loud, hollow clamor. Meanwhile, the shady bits are happening outside the average citizen’s social media or news feed. It’s not just POTUS engaging in this charade. Congress is complicit as well,  as with 2016’s non-appointment of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. In 2017, it’s secretive discussions on healthcare reform that are meant to strong-arm support while introducing massive, decimating reforms under a arbitrary deadline.

This kind of flimflam is completely unacceptable, particularly from men and women elected to  lead America through an increasingly complicated 21st Century. This is not the America we were promised, and local elections are beginning to show impact from concerned citizens awake to the con. Long declared party loyalties are disintegrating – with good reason.

As easy as it is to place blame on a distant and cynical Washington D.C. for the easy circulation of red herring news, we are equally culpable.  We must overcome all-too pervasive apathy toward staying informed and engaged. We don’t have the luxury of avoiding tough challenges that can depress the mood. The health of our nation is like work, oxygen, love – we need it.

Staying informed is a responsibility bestowed upon us by privilege-turned-rights of the First Amendment. Cutting through the din is unpleasant, but sticking your fingers in your ears is much more dangerous.

 

HIR

Amy Morton (Paige) and Em Grosland (Max)

Described in press materials as “a subversive comedy by celebrated playwright, actor, singer-songwriter and performance artist Taylor Mac,” I must own to feeling rather humorless as I exited the Chicago premiere of “HIR” this week. The original, 21st Century take on the dysfunctional family trope offers a realistic emotional experience for Steppenwolf Theater audiences. The trials of a household are usually hilarious, and heartbreaking, in(un)equal portions.

As the curtain rises, we meet Paige (Amy Morton). At first blush she seems to embrace a “woke,” flexible and free approach to marital relations, housekeeping and child rearing. Rules are made to be broken. In fact they must be in order to counteract a stultifying, regressive patriarchal society that values order and ownership above expression. Paige’s home is full of costumes, culture, whimsy and loving chaos.

Or is it?

Paige’s pseudo-liberation from the tyranny of a brutal marriage is gained not through determined agency or death. Rather her new world order is brought about by a simple quirk of destiny that sets off a linear regression for Paige and her husband Arnold (the monumentally talented Francis Guinan). They are a couple of children — Arnold in a cognitive and motor skill sense, Paige in a bitter, retributive and controlling expression of shifting power dynamics.

Into this landscape walks Isaac (Ty Olwin), a dishonorably discharged Afghanistan vet whose issues both predate, and are simultaneously exacerbated by a three-year absence from his family. Broken communication on both sides have left the family’s troubled history frozen in time for the PTSD-afflicted Isaac. His father is a bully. His mother is a work hausfrau and his sister looks to him for leadership. These truths and the horrors of the battlefield are what he knows. There is predictability in familiar discomfort.

The physical timeline of the production’s two hour and 15-minute run (with one intermission) spans one very long day. One in which a newly returned Isaac must adjust to a stroke-addled father, drugged into further decommission by a mother who disguises revenge as a form of experimental enlightenment. Isaac’s sister is now Max (Em Grosland), a precocious, transgendered teen who also serves as the namesake of “HIR.”

The dialogue includes a running discussion, replete with helpful chalkboard diagramming, of gender fluidity. “HIR” is the pronoun that bridges the male/female gap, welcoming and including everyone occupying space outside of staid, heteronormative boxes. The education is held up by Paige as detached and redemptive, and yet her rules for living 2.0 are perversely rigid and uncompromising. Where once Arnold represented the excesses of a fragile, yet dominantly violent male ego, Paige is the id run amok in one lane. Cleanliness, ownership and categories must be rejected wholesale.

What exactly either ideology has to do with the living, growing Max, searching for himself and establishing principles amidst psychological warfare is deliberately unclear. At one point, Isaac asks his sibling (insensitively) if his gender transition is driven by Paige’s anarchy. A more prescient question for all of the central characters, as well as the audience: Are any of our values and belief systems the product of enlightened free will? Or are they driven by history, environment and rebellion?

There are laughs aplenty sprinkled throughout the script. The different challenges confronting each character offer fertile ground for absurdity. All four performances are nuanced, complicated and fully formed work that defy categorization.

Yet I suspect few audience members will be chuckling during and after the production’s final scene. Mild spoiler alert: Max is the only one left standing. We’re left with the impression that Paige, Arnold and Isaac’s stories could only ever have ended one way. “HIR” journey has just begun — and is likely to be endured alone.

“HIR” runs through August 20 at the Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre, 1650 N Halsted Street, Chicago, IL. For information or tickets, call 312-335-1650 or visit the Steppenwolf Theatre website.

Misogynist-in-Chief

Nine months ago, after the release of the infamous Access Hollywood “grab ‘em by the pussy” audio footage that got Billy Bush sacked from The Today Show, my brave younger sister Jennifer wrote I Am You: An Open Letter to Trump’s Accusers and Promoters of Rape Culture. Both of these events suggested the promise of an honest conversation about the country’s regressive and damaging gender politics.

With Trump’s exposure (word deliberately chosen) as a misogynist pig of the highest magnitude, it seemed impossible that his presidential campaign could continue. After all, 51 percent of the American voting population?  Female. And for one beautiful moment, our male allies on both sides of the ideological spectrum united in rebuke at the notion of mothers, sisters, friends, wives and daughters seized by the genitals. Some of the language used to condemn Trump smacked of patriarchal appropriation (cough, Mitt Romney) but there was a brief, national consensus that a sexual predator ought not to be Leader of the Free World.

At the same time, women like my sister – a suburban wife, mother and broadcast journalism professional – seemed to reach a breaking point. Jenny’s long radio career makes her no stranger to working in a male-dominated field and the public and private discrimination and harassment that come with it. She’s tough, hardworking and certainly not a snowflake. But to read her story is to absorb the traumas of millions of American women who stopped feeling safe in their own bodies, and became aware of unequal opportunity, shortly after hitting puberty. We were tired of staying silent and refused to let Trump’s behavior become normalized for our sons and daughters. Pussygate was ugly. It was dehumanizing. It was painful. But if ever there was that overused trope, the old teachable moment, we were there.

Yet on November 8, 2016 the Misogynist won the election. The Electoral College perversity was more than an affront to a popular vote that overwhelmingly favored Trump’s opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton.  It was more than the selection of an inexperienced, proudly unread corporate grifter over the most qualified candidate to ever run for President. The real punch to the vagina was the clear opinion, articulated at the ballot box by voters of both genders, that the possession of lady parts is the ultimate leadership disqualifier.

How else to explain why white women in every demographic pulled the metaphorical lever for Trump more often than Clinton? Slate’s L.V. Anderson bespoke the November 9 anguish of the sane, Caucasian female minority and gave voice to the anger of intersectional voters: “What leads a woman to vote for a man who has made it very clear that he believes she is subhuman?…Self-loathing. Hypocrisy. And, of course, a racist view of the world that privileges white supremacy over every other issue.”

The months following the election – the effectual end of Hillary Clinton’s long career of public service, the elevation of a clownish, perverted reality television personality to the nation’s highest office, and above all, the undeniable truth that the climb from the pit of social, economic and political misogyny has barely begun – were so difficult. I stopped writing altogether. I avoided media – social and traditional – of every kind. Existential depression and disappointment. The knowledge that the country was under the executorship of a gaudy, classless and ignorant shithead who may or may not be in the pocket of Vladimir Putin. It was all too much.

But like many other Americans, male and female, I found my voice again. I stood with my Midwestern sisters at the January 21 Chicago chapter of the Women’s Marches. With renewed determination, I picked up a keyboard to critique a Trump administration that poses a cornucopia of threats to peace, security, freedom of speech and social morality.

The current occupant of the White House has brought a dizzying amount of shame and scandal upon the office and the country – in a very short time. Hateful immigration policies, withdrawals from international agreements, an illiteracy so appalling that complete sentences and a basic familiarity with American history prove too much to ask. Frederick Douglass deserves every moment of his surprising 2017 resurgence but come on…

And last week’s Twitter war between President Trump and the hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe is a stark reminder that Access Hollywood is no regrettable fluke of early Aughts “boys will be boys” braggadocio. America’s leader is an active and determined misogynist. He will not be educated. He will not apologize. He will not even be discreet. However, could this ultimately work to the pissed off poon advantage?

Peter Beinart of The Atlantic writes:

“Hostile sexism seems to motivate women even when they merely observe it happening to others…There’s some evidence that Trump’s hostile sexism, as evidenced most infamously in the Access Hollywood tape released last October, has had exactly that result…”

It’s worth noting that Trump’s current approval rating with women is just 28 percent. Yes, #AllWomen. Even the white ones who’ve finally figured out that placing patriotism – and pussy – in this POTUS’ care is an act of self-annihilation.