Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Dispatches from Arm's Length, Part 12

 Exactly as I feared, we're taking a collective step backward. COVID cases are on the rise in all 50 states and DC. Even though Illinois was getting high marks from the CDC, we're not immune in any way. The Chicago area is in a "red zone" like the rest of the state, and in Illinois' five-phase outline, we're probably going back to phase two, if not phase one. One of my districts will go back to all-remote learning starting Monday the 26th, just three weeks after they reopened the buildings (to appease annoyed parents). Local restaurants will stop offering al fresco dining on Friday, though that's partially because of cold weather. I guess that means more Lyft and Postmates for me. An unwanted third wave is here, and we need to stay the course. 

Other notes:

+ I think nine Supreme Court justices is just the right number. No more and no less. Increasing the number to 11 just feels like a power move to appease progressives. Also, even though Clarence Thomas is "only" 72, I'm sure he's contemplating retirement. 

+ Let me emphasize again that whoever wins the White House in two weeks will do so by a razor's edge. Here's why. 

+ I predict Dodgers over the Rays in seven. I haven't been following baseball as religiously as I normally do, but I anticipate a fun, back-and-forth series.


Friday, October 9, 2020

Dispatches from Arm's Length, Part 11

 This past week has been to much of a whirlwind to ignore. The unwatchable "debate" between President Trump and former VP Joe Biden begat unintended free publicity for the Proud Boys, an anti-Semetic "next-gen" hate group. Soon after Trump weakly denounced the Proud Boys, his top aide Hope Hicks was diagnosed with COVID-19, then Trump and his wife both announced they had the coronavirus. An abbreviated hospital visit led to speculation that Trump either didn't really have COVID-19, but the more likely explanation is that Trump wasn't (and still isn't) taking the pandemic seriously.

While I'm happy to be working in a school again, it's at a questionable cost. Several school districts in the west suburbs that had been doing remote learning since mid-March caved to parents' demands, and began "hybrid" (IRL and remote simultaneously) learning. Most of the students I've encountered are happy to be out of the house, but with COVID numbers not tapering off, I fear a step backwards. The adjustments made for learning remotely have been clumsy, but I have faith my teaching peers will somehow make it work.

Every other late October/early November, I write a blog post imploring everyone reading this to take part in the democratic process and vote. This is my eight election cycle since I started this blog, and with each passing election the stakes continue to rise. This election, like 2016, is a no-brainer. Donald Trump has been an abject failure, if not close to complete ignobility as president, and does not deserve a second term. If you prefer to vote by mail, do so. If you're willing to risk voting in person, do so early. Everything is at stake here.


Sunday, September 27, 2020

Dispatches Part 10 / Random Notes, September 2020

 I thought I was going to have time to post three blogs in September. I guess not:

+ Fall is on the horizon in the American Midwest, and I wonder how restaurants that had to ret-con outdoor seating will recalibrate and survive. We slowly felt comfortable going outside again, and now we have to go back in. A rough Spring and Summer will give way to an equally formidable Fall and Winter. It makes sense to hoard supplies again. Alas, I am reminded of Aesop; we aspire to be a nation of ants, but in reality we're a bunch of grasshoppers.

For liberals and progressives alike, the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg we both anticipated yet we feared when it would happen. She was sharp and resilient as ever, but her body failed her. It doesn't make sense to appoint anyone before the election --six weeks away, friends-- but Trump and his cronies will push it through. Amy Coney Barrett is the most moderate of Trump's three picks, though that's not saying much.

+ What becomes of the U.S. Supreme Court remains to be seen. Jimmy Carter was the last president to not appoint anyone, so from 1969 to 1992 all the justices were appointed by Republicans. Some, like Sandra Day O'Connor and William Rehnquist, proved to be more moderate than others. Today's GOP clearly doesn't want centrists. At the same time, Clarence Thomas is "only" 72 years old but approaching 30 years on the court, and could easily be succeeded by a progressive judge. 

+ Both Chicago teams made the MLB playoffs this year, only the third time that's ever happened. How fitting of 2020 that both teams could beat the odds and face each other in the World Series... in Dallas.


Thursday, September 10, 2020

32 Teams, 32 Haiku: My 2020 NFL Preview


Hey, I guess we're having a football season.

At the onset of the outbreak nearly six months ago, it looked like the NFL was in a better position than pretty much any other team sport. After all, their season wasn't halted. Then the pandemic dragged on into the summer and fall, and probably into 2021. The league bucked trends and opted to have partially filled stadiums, at least until another spike halts the season. (At least tonight's Chiefs-Texans season opener was played without relative incident.)

With or without COVID, the NFL is still ripe for drama and storylines. How will the Patriots manage without TB12 for the first time in nearly two decades? Is the NFC West really that good, and is the AFC East really that uninspiring? What if I break it down, 17 soma at at time?

*note playoff wild cards


1. Vikings (11-5). Thielen and Cook/a two-way offensive threat/make it (purple) rain.

2. Packers* (10-6). No team needs fulfilled/"don't fix what isn't broken"/a cheesy mantra.

3. Bears (9-7). The heat is on, Mitch/you need a hot start, or you'll/make friends into Foles.

4. Lions (6-10). A healthy Stafford/is load-bearing; the improved/young D must impress.


1. Eagles (10-6). Look at Carson throw/(when he's not hurt) but watch new/look secondary.

2. Cowboys (8-8). Their O is fine; the/new boom-or-bust D concerns/me. Sleeper? Just hype? 

3. Giants (6-10). Instability/holds; unproven Jones matures/with awful O-line.

4. Washington (3-13). As anonymous/as their name; rebuild phase one/red-yellow mish-mosh.


1. Saints (11-5). Beat the Vikes and we'll/talk titles; Brees is still a/Hall of Fame QB.

2. Buccaneers* (9-7). Tampa Tommy time!/High scoring balances weak/special teams, soft D.

3. Falcons (6-10). 28 to 3/odds of playoff return; this/D still underwhelms.

4. Panthers (4-12). Young secondary/faces uphill battle. Just/McCaffery on O?


1. Niners (13-3). Love the coaches. Too/much talent now; will suffer/in free agency.

2. Seahawks* (10-6). Overhauled pass rush/will turn heads; more pressure on/Russ to carry O.

3. Rams (9-7). No Gurley? Time to/man up; Goff and remaining/backs will pick up slack.

4. Cardinals (6-10). Trendy, but I'm not/sold; don't rule out Kyler, though/young D must grow up.


1. Ravens (13-3). Lamar is so good/he's done everything but/win a playoff game!

2. Steelers* (12-4). The clock's on Big Ben/no COVID opt-outs, that helps/depth, hard to ignore.

3. Browns (7-9). They'll make the playoffs/...someday; can their Baker stop/making turnovers?

4. Bengals (3-13). Burrow's not hiding/I forgot AJ Green is/still on this team. Wow.


1. Patriots (10-6). Wham, bam, thank you Cam/most flawed team in ages, but/still best of weak bunch.

2. Dolphins* (9-7). Tua good to be/true; disciplined D needs to/speed up, make big plays.

3. Bills (7-9). Running Fromm problems?/Rough midseason schedule/deters decent squad.

4. Jets (6-10). Darnold can't say he's/green anymore; vexing gap/at outside corner.


1. Titans* (10-6). No glaring flaws here/Tannehill, Lazarus act/Super Bowl dark horse?

2. Texans* (9-7). PR disasters/aside, weak pass D countered/by Watson magic.

3. Colts (7-9). Cupcake early sked/doesn't fool me; old Rivers/won't be wading long.

4. Jaguars (2-14). The new XFL/had better teams; these cats are/domesticated.


1. Chiefs (14-2). The best get better/if everyone on offense/can stay healthy... YIKES!

2. Chargers (8-8). No QB, but lots/of weapons; D ensures a/few low-scoring wins.

3. Broncos (6-10). Stiff competition/doesn't make wins a Lock; zone/heavy D works cheap.

4. Raiders (5-11). Sin City, at last/Carr needs more drive, so Gruden/drafted some hot rods.

Offensive ROY: CeeDee Lamb, Cowboys

Defensive ROY: Isaiah Simmons, Cardinals

First Head Coach Fired: Dan Quinn, Falcons

NFL MVP: Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs

Super Bowl LV: Chiefs 30, Niners 27


Sunday, August 30, 2020

Random Notes, August 2020

 Hot takes from the guy that was writing hot takes before people started using the phrase "hot takes":

+ I'm a little confused about something. Can someone explain how a 17-year-old boy that illegally possessed a firearm, was driven from Antioch, IL to Kenosha, WI and back, walked past cops without any issue, fired multiple rounds into a crowd, killed two unarmed protestors and wounded a third, is a hero?

+ Just to clarify: you have to be 21 to own a firearm in Illinois, and 18 in Wisconsin. This boy is an incoming high school senior.

+ JB Pritzker is probably Illinois' best governor since Jim Edgar. Considering the four governors between them were George Ryan, Rod Blagojevich, Pat Quinn, and Bruce Rauner, I'll let you determine the level of praise. Regardless, he's done a good job of handing COVID-19, in spite of how much people downstate grumble. It hasn't been perfect, but given how the governors of Florida, Georgia, and California (among others) have bungled things, I'll take it. Let's see how the Illinois GOP tries to paint a weak "violation of liberty" picture in 2022.

+ I've been writing this blog for over 15 years. (The anniversary was in June, but given everything going on, it just came and went.) Even though my politics have veered from the center left to solid liberal, I've consistently tried to understand the rationale of modern conservative politics. As many regular readers know, I spent two years working at a right-wing news/talk radio station, feeling like Jane Goodall observing the apes. Not only do I fail to comprehend today's conservative moment anymore, it's almost devoid of critical thinking and independent thought. Today's Republicans are brainwashed boot-lickers. This year's election will come down to the wire again, and if Biden loses, pray for us. 

Next Week: my 2020 NFL preview.


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Dispatches from Arm's Length, Part 9

 A new school year dawns.

Two weeks ago, I sat though a 35-minute "orientation" for substitutes on COVID protocols and how things will be done differently this year. This past Friday, I witnessed the protocols executed first-hand. This particular district is doing hybrid learning; that is to say, they are attempting distance learning and in-person classes simultaneously, using Microsoft Teams. The students that are in the school are kept in consorts no larger than 14 or 15, and they stay in the same room almost all day while the teachers circulate around the building. (I was just a floater.) It was wonky in the execution, but if I sub there again this year I'm curious to see how the system evolves. Otherwise, I begrudgingly attest without personal benefit that remote learning is probably the best way to go.

It agonizes me that people are fighting over masks. I was blocked by one Facebook friend because she won't wear because she doesn't believe COVID-19 really exists. (Good riddance.) Another friend, a woman I met when we were 10 years old, went on the latest in a series of tyranny/liberty rant about wearing masks, which are mandatory in public in Illinois. Her posts laid bare her greatest character flaw: she has no concern for anyone but herself. She was called out by others for being self-centered and short-sighted, and all it did was make her double down. I didn't unfriend or block, but for now she's unfollowed. You can't fight crazy.

On the flip side of the debate, remember that gender non-binary person that was kicked out of a charity improv organization? They told someone who admitted to being inconsistent about wearing a mask that he should go commit suicide. Not only that, other people in the Chicago improv community took the person's side. A sociopath with anger issues was being validated. It was not a pretty sight. 

Finally, I've only watched highlights of the the national conventions. Where the Democrats balanced inclusion and critical thinking, the GOP has opted for a weird mix of bombast and face value. I've been trying to write jokes about it, but the late night talk shows are running laps around my ideas. The election is 10 weeks away, but it's going to feel like an eternity.