Swine Flu: Deadly, and Politically Incorrect

We already know that the swine flu–RUN FOR THE HILLS!–has the potential to be a pandemic (just like Avian flu, Hong Kong flu, and Cindy Lu Flu before it). If that wasn’t bad enough, now we find out that it’s religiously offensive as well. From the AP:

Israeli official: Swine flu name offensive

JERUSALEM (AP) — The outbreak of swine flu should be renamed “Mexican” influenza in deference to Muslim and Jewish sensitivities over pork, said an Israeli health official Monday.

Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman said the reference to pigs is offensive to both religions and “we should call this Mexican flu and not swine flu,” he told a news conference at a hospital in central Israel.

Both Judaism and Islam consider pigs unclean and forbid the eating of pork products.

Scientists are unsure where the new swine flu virus originally emerged, though it was identifed first in the United States. They say there is nothing about the virus that makes it “Mexican” and worry such a label would be stigmatizing.

“Whatsis, a Dagger I See Before Me Here or Whaaat?”

Today was William Shakespeare’s birthday, and there were festivities throughout the cultural landscape. You might have had some thespians traipsing through your downtown spouting iambic pentameter while wearing baggy shirts and tight hose, all nonny and such. But here in Chicago, Da Mare (give Chuckie his due) went everyone one better: He made today in Chicago Talk Like Shakespeare Day. While many of you may have thought Chicagoans possess mellifluous speaking voices anyway–full, resonant, with nary an “A” held too long or nasally–the proclamation should put to rest any lingering doubts that The City That Works is also The City That Iambs, and the average cop on the street sounds like Sir Ralph Richardson.

But those cadences don’t satisfy me. I had the idea last week, after watching “The Ten Commandments”, that we need to talk more like Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner did in that movie. You know, full of metaphors, ominous portents, and ageless prophecies.

For example, when a waitress asks you if you’d like coffee, you’d respond, “It would take a river of coffee to rouse me from contemplation of your beauty.”

If a cop pulls you over and asks you if you knew how fast you were going, you’d answer, “Fast or slow, someday we must face our maker with the deeds of our existence.”

If your friends ask you out for a beer, you’d say, “I respect jollity and comradeship. The night is long that contains no laughter.”

Try it yourself, but I think it would be good to wait until next Passover/Easter season, or else no one’s going to get the joke. Unless you already shave your head but leave that goofy ponytail on the side, “like a true prince of Egypt.”

Free of the Torture of Christopher Buckley

I’ve always tried to be generous with Christopher Buckley. Though I don’t know him, he apparently was insightful enough 15 years ago to assert that I was obviously a conservative if I wrote Politically Correct Bedtime Stories. I cut him some slack, probably out of professional courtesy/envy. I can’t think of anyone else who gets paid to write satirical novels on a regular basis (though I’ve only managed to finish one of them), so slagging him might collapse the whole genre. And many of his articles are funny, though not as funny as he seems to think.

But something he wrote for The Daily Beast yesterday takes him off the protected list. On the subject of the released torture memos, he upbraids many commentators for getting “sanctimonious” about the fact that the US tortured its prisoners at Gitmo and Abu Gharaib. For those of us who are appalled that our government engages in torture, he takes pains to remind us that:

It is, yes, good that the U.S.A. is not doing this anymore, but let’s not get too sanctimonious about how awful it was that we indulged in these techniques after watching nearly 3000 innocent Americans endure god-awful deaths at the hands of religious fanatics who would happily have detonated a nuclear bomb if they had gotten their mitts on one. And let us move on. There is pressing business. (Are you listening, ACLU? Hel-lo?)

The operative question becomes: What do we do now with captive bad guys who possess information that could prevent another 9/11? We may have moved on. They, assuredly, have not.

If he thinks the “captive bad guys” are fleshy repositories about Islamic doomsday plans (especially after being in custody for 6 years), then Buckley’s not as smart as he thinks. (The question of what to do with the men themselves is certainly thorny, now that they will either be tortured more in their home countries or set loose on the streets, living testimony that America is some kind of devil.) If he thinks it’s “sanctimonious” to want to hold people accountable for giving the order to torture, then he’s a suck-up to power.

And since elsewhere in the article he makes joking comparisons between the now-open torture techniques and his rough handling from the senior boys at boarding school, then he’s a turd, pure and simple.

In the days and weeks after 9/11, I remember telling people that we should take every one of those filthy desert barbarians and remove them to places where they could be tortured until they gave up every name in their rolodexes. And if they died in the meantime, small loss. And I bet a lot of other Americans were screaming the same thing. But I’m not a leader. This country would be in ridiculous shape if I were even given an honorary mayorship for the day. But there are smarter, saner heads than mine in Washington. Some were in leadership positions 7-8 years ago. We need to find out who overruled them and made torture our policy against our enemies.

I’m not being naive. I’m aware this country has engaged in secretive torture (and worse) during my lifetime. And at the risk of sounding cynical or paranoid, nothing will ever be done about that. But during this decade, torture has been used as an official tool in the “war on terror,” and I want it investigated, repudiated, degraded, eliminated. Not to have a witch hunt for lower-level ops, but to get to the highest levels, the ones who told the agents in the field, impressed with their machismo in the face of moral uncertainty, to “take the gloves off.” Because when the higher-ups sanctioned torture, they did it in my name as a citizen.

I was ecstatic on the day that Illinois set a moratorium on the death penalty because I didn’t want the state killing people in my name. Regardless of whether it was an effective deterrent for criminals (it isn’t), or whether victims’ families need “closure”, I don’t want Illinois as a policy killing people in my name. It’s too bad it wasn’t done legislatively, but I’ll take it anyway I can.

Sure, people will make political hay out of the torture memos, but such is life. You can get as realpolitik as you want here, but you’re still faced with the question: What’s the right thing to do? If you cast the whole struggle as a battle of civilization vs. barbarism, where did we land? Do you want to look your kid in the eye–or your mother, or John Wayne, or Abe Lincoln–and say, “Yes, some fanatic medievalists hate America, and blew up innocent citizens, so in response we gathered up a bunch of people on the battlefield in that part of the world and tortured them repeatedly over years until they told us some stuff that may or may not be accurate, just to stop the pain, though it wasn’t really torture, more like hazing, really–and it was the right thing to do. We’re all safer now. And they had it coming to them anyway. So let’s move on.”

If that’s how Buckley thinks, then I should be grateful he was honest. Now I don’t have to feel obliged to read any more of his dry satires of Washington. He always seemed too comfortable with the bullshit he was ostensibly making fun of, now we know why. (I’ve always been suspicious ever since I saw a blurb from him on someone’s novel–possibly one by Stephen Fry– praising it as “Trenchantly, tootingly funny.” For that, he deserves a punch in the kiwis and a week chained to Carlos Mencia.)

A Poem for Mark Fidrych

Up today at BARDBALL.COM:

The Wings of the Bird

Every kid thinks that he
Could mow down the heart of the Yankees order
If given the chance,
And someday everybody gets that chance,

And it’s good luck to talk to the ball,
And cheers are love that never dies,
And the world would love you if you showed them who you really are,
And magic can happen at any time.

That kid never dies.
That kid was the Bird.

Mark Fidrych, RIP

There has been too much death to start this baseball season. The superstitious among us (which probably means every baseball fan, at some point in his or her life) might say it’s a bad omen, that we should stop the season now before something else happens. But if baseball is like life, then death certainly is a part of it.

First Nick Adenhart is snatched away by a drunk driver after an exciting start to a promising rookie year. Then, Harry Kalas, the voice of the Phillies, passes out in the broadcast booth and dies after 44 years of broadcasting. And Mark Fidrych, one of the most fabled Tigers of all, dies after an accident at his home in Massachusetts.

Three men, at different stages of life. Accolades won, fame flying by, promise unfulfilled, love and loss. Time, the avenger.

The only one of the three I know anything about is Fidrych. In his rookie year, I was 15, and was slowly abandoning baseball as uncool compared with music and the arts. (It was easy to turn my back on the Tigers, since they were heading straight downhill from the years I really loved them, from 1968 to 1973 and the firing of Billy Martin. My friends weren’t too into the sport, nor was my family. I only learned years later that my father didn’t take me to many games was that he hated baseball. Wish I could say I’m a third-generation fan with an unbroken streak of Opening Day appearances, but this is not my legacy.)

But you didn’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy Mark Fidrych. He had enough enjoyment bubbling out of him that there was plenty to spare. Talking to the ball, grooming the mound, he seemed like a loon–maybe not the kind of bird he would appreciate being compared to–but he certainly didn’t care. A nonroster invitee, he was living every fan’s fantasy–“Just give me the chance, and I’ll strike out the Yankees. Just give me the chance.” But he was no clown, and he wasn’t a fluke. He had a wonderful delivery, doing things with his curve and slider that players 10 years older couldn’t do. Watching him win was kind of like being in love for the first time. It was a beautiful, perfect thing, and wouldn’t last in this world.

That bicentennial year was pretty crappy in Detroit. All the teams were losing. The auto industry was chugging along making Cougars and Delta 88s, but the factories were old and the unions were bloated and something about it felt corrupt. Disco was on the rise. Nixon had resigned 18 months before, and the hippies were getting fat and/or psychotic, and my 15-year-old mind just kept saying, Something’s not right these days.

But Fidrych was a good thing. There was no whiff of cynicism or greed or entitlement about him. He was a pure soul, and stayed one even after knee and arm injuries took away his control. And in all the years since he retired, by all accounts, he never felt anger or self-pity or regret about how short his career was. He was happy pitching, was grateful for the chance, then was just as happy driving a gravel truck, marrying his love and fathering a child. That is the legacy of the Bird. And he’ll always be that. And while I rarely find that peace of mind, I’ll always be grateful to have seen it in a guy like him.

As I saw in the comments of Cardboard Gods, Rookie of the Year Forever.

Burying the Cubs Curses

“Cremating the Curse”, which happened Sunday out in Schaumburg, was one of the stranger events I’ve ever taken part in. Part fan convention, part book signing, part reading, part funeral/wake. Nearly 1000 people showed up, according to one person, which will be a boost to both book sales of Cubbie Blues and Chicago Baseball Cancer Charities (who received a portion of the door and do get a portion of book proceeds).

The event, which was hosted by Tom Dreesen, was meant to lay to rest all the curses that have plagued the Cubs through the last century. So speakers gave quick eulogies for things like the billy goat and the black cat and Steve Bartman. The speakers were all contributors to the Cubbie Blues book, including Rick Kaempfer, Mary Beth Hoerner, Julia Borcherts, and Bill Hillman. Then the items or totems we brought along for the curses were laid to rest in a Cubs-style coffin, carted off by pall bearers (including a few former major leaguers and Ronnie Woo-Woo (who frankly always unnerves me)) and placed in a hearse. From there, they were taken away to be cremated. Later, they will be placed in a Cubs funeral urn and auctioned off for the Chicago Baseball Cancer Charities.

I’ve posted some pictures to my Facebook page to give you an idea of what was going on. It all took place inside a real funeral home, if that’s not obvious, and the Cubs casket is a real deal. You can buy one for yourself, if you are so inclined. I think the coolest thing of the day was the appearance of “Mr. Ivy,” dressed as a portion of the outfield wall. He stood about 10 feet tall on four-legged stilts, and…..well, just check out the pictures. I think he’ll be in a lot of highlight reels this year.

There are also some pictures at the Facebook page here.

For the record, the following is what I said as I eulogized and laid to rest the curse put on the Cubs by Illinois First Lady (Macbeth):

This curse I am laying to rest has not been retold charmingly in folklore. It will not be repeated on ESPN highlight reels. It will not have cute T-shirts printed up, if only because the language and photo would be so unappealing.

This curse I am laying to rest was hidden in transcripts of federal wiretaps of our former governor, as he walked around in the sunshine and rainbows of his last days in office. We know the corporate Cub apparatchiks were looking for state funding to preserve Wrigley Field. We know that Sam Zell said he was interested in tearing the place down and erecting a stadium along the lines of Coors Field in Denver. We know that the governor offered to get state money to preserve Wrigley Field— if the Tribune leaned on their editorial board not to be so nasty.

All caught on tape. All repugnant. All a violation of governance and public finance and freedom of the press. And who chimes in to make it all worse? Who makes it a real Cubs Curse? Illinois’s own first lady—Lady Macbeth, that is, as written by David Mamet, Dick Mell’s cute and cursin’ daughter, the Rasputin of Ravenswood Manor, Patti “Potty Mouth” Blagojevich.

It wasn’t enough that the Cubs’ playing field was being used in a chess game among soulless power brokers. It wasn’t enough that a worst case scenario of Tribune ownership and government intervention was being discussed. No, Patti had to scream in the background of one of her desperate husband’s phone calls and let loose a vile, “Hold up that fricking Cubs manure…Fudge them!”

She may have been invoking Serbian black magic; sorcery is one explanation for how her husband had until then managed to stay one step ahead of the law. If so, that magic had obviously passed its “sell by” date. So, not only did she curse the Cubs with magic, it was also faulty, expired, curdled magic.

And these people were supposed to be Cubs fans. North-side born and bred. Cub fans from the cradle. Occupying the halls, doorways and phone booths of the highest office in the state. The betrayal was enormous, because it was so close to home. And the curse, uttered after its fresh date, by a hopeless third-rate wheeler-dealer with a bad haircut? Such an unstable abomination can be lifted only by burning. But who to burn? It might be pleasant to think we could resurrect the Spanish Inquisition in Springfield. But since corruption is not a capital crime in Illinois, but only a gentleman’s pastime, in order to lay this curse to rest, we’ll have to burn Patti Blagojevich in effigy.

Begone, thou corrupt crone. Begone, thou house-peddling harridan. Begone, thou greedy gone-to-seed gorgon.

“Fudge the Cubs”? Patti, you’d best hope that your hubby gets sentenced to a prison full of Sox fans. That shouldn’t be too hard.

“Cremating the Curse”

Just a quick note to tell any Cub fans out there that on Sunday afternoon, I’ll be participating in a very strange ceremony at a funeral home in Schaumburg. (Yep, that’s first time I’ve ever typed THAT!) We’ll be having a wake/eulogy/exorcism for all the curses that have afflicted the Cubs over the years: Merkle, Billy goat, black cat, Bartman. Mine is a super-secret new curse, but I’ll give you a hint: It was uttered by the former first lady of a certain corrupt Midwestern state, whose husband was just indicted with a sledgehammer yesterday.

The ceremony will be held with a book signing of Cubbie Blues, the anthology I helped with last year. It looks to be a very good time, and part of the proceeds of the book sales will go to Chicago Baseball Cancer Charities. There will be a whole lot more going on, so check out the details at the publisher’s website, and come on out if you can.

Final Spelling Bee Vocab Words

zymurgy – a branch of applied chemistry that deals with fermentation processes (as in wine-making or brewing)

embosk – shroud or conceal, esp. with plants or greenery

dirhinic – affecting both nostrils alike

peroration – a flowery, highly rhetorical speech

pendeloque – a usually pear-shaped glass pendant used for ornamenting a lamp or chandelier

vitraillist – a maker or designer of work in stained glass

anastrophe – inversion of the usual syntactical order of words for rhetorical effect

callidity – craftiness, cunning shrewdness

kakistocracy – a government by the worst individuals

meliority – the quality or state of being better