29 January 2008

American Idealist(s)

So I just finished watching American Idealist, this excellent documentary on Robert Sargent Shriver, whom you may or may not know as an in-law of JFK and the main shepherd of the Peace Corps and a whole host of Great Society programs (JobCorps, VISTA, HeadStart, Upward Bound, Community Action, the list goes on). Good old public television.

Though I admire people's willingness to volunteer in unfamiliar places, I've never been the biggest fan of the Peace Corps, mostly because I think there's plenty to do in this country (if you're looking for a task...). After seeing the documentary, however, I can see another angle of it. Though the Corps was certainly as much a play for power in the Cold War as anything else, it put a phenomenal amount of trust in young people. Really, all of Shriver's programs put trust in previously underrepresented constituencies (young people, black people, poor people, slum-dwellers) in an effort to empower the average American citizen and end poverty once and for all. Most of these programs were all but killed by the diverting of funds to Vietnam, but Shriver's legacy is still an interesting one. I'm not sure there's been that kind of hope or that kind of shift in power since.

Which brings me nicely to the Kennedy family. In 1968, Shriver was very close to being chosen as the running mate for Hubert Humphrey. Incredibly, his candidacy was basically derailed by the Kennedy family (his in-laws, remember) because, just a few months after Bobby was shot and killed, the Kennedys worried that Shriver could hamper Ted's chances at the presidency in 1972.

This is all well-timed, since an editorial in support of Barack Obama appeared in the New York Times this week by none other than Caroline Kennedy. Now, Caroline seems like a nice woman, and we're all certainly sorry about the tragedies that seem to befall the men in her family, but with all due respect, who the hell cares what she thinks about who should be president? Her only experience in politics beyond being a Kennedy figurehead was interning with her Uncle Teddy. I think she's smart and all, but how is her opinion any different than what everyone else thinks? Talk about a succession. And though I do see the irony of perhaps Shriver's best political move being his marriage, this kind of old guard glad-handing is something I can only hope Shriver would not want.

*For the record, Bobby's kids (her cousins) have come out in support of Hillary Clinton. And again, who cares?

21 January 2008


I have a friend who recently moved to Denver. And loves it. Which, from what I hear from people who have been there, isn't surprising. And she thinks I would love it as well. I'm not so sure about that (I don't ski. Who ever heard of someone living in Colorado who doesn't ski or camp?), but I've heard enough similar sentiment lately to get me thinking.

I've always liked Seattle and I certainly wouldn't turn down the sun in Las Vegas, and then there's this whole Colorado thing and for the first time since junior year of college, I'm honestly considering the possibility that I could live somewhere else. I wouldn't say I'm unhappy here by any means, but in some ways it isn't quite what I had in mind either.

While this will always be home in some sense, my family isn't here anymore. I have a crapload of acquaintances and a few real friends that I love, but there are still times when I feel that in the majority of my relationships, I'm the one doing the work. I'm working on staying in touch and making plans and remembering birthdays and siblings and...food dislikes. Which is probably unfair, but that's how I feel. I realize that people aren't necessarily here to be my family, but I'm that kind of friend when I choose to be, so I don't know why I shouldn't expect it from other people.

Actually, sometimes I wonder if this is related to most people's lack of general togetherness. I think I like to have very close friends and family because my own thoughts and experiences aren't really enough to occupy me 24-7. Despite being perfectly happy spending time alone, other people genuinely do interest me. I enjoy trying to figure out what their families are like or what they think of federal holidays no longer being observed (or whatever. this just comes to mind today). But for a lot of people I know, it seem to be all they can do to keep their basic day-to-day from falling apart. And I guess I see, then, why they seem to prefer acquaintances. And that's not a judgment, really. But boy, are they bad choices for me.

Back to the point, there have been three job searches with varying and ultimately disappointing results, a host of mildly fun sports teams, and way too many nights where everyone around me is drunk. And with my only other experience being in a rural college town, it's hard for me to decide whether any of these things would be different in another city. But I guess what it all boils down to is that the next time I look for a job (likely late this year), I will look in other places. And maybe there's a time limit on this whole Chicago thing. Or at least a time to actively make a decision about it. Like 2010, which sounds like a time sufficiently in the future (despite the complaining, I know it would be tough to leave). I was surprised to find myself thinking that in the car the other day.

15 January 2008

Christmas in...January

My company is going to move into the new Block 37 location sometime this year and someone in HR decided it would be a good bonding experience for the company to maintain a blog with all sorts of information about the new location. And I'm basically a writer who spends most of the day cleaning up hedge fund data points, so I volunteered. Thought you kids could read it.

And bonus fact, since this is sort of a cop-out blog post: this year, the Smurfs turn....50!!

If youth is wasted on the young, Christmas is wasted on the old(er). Pretty much the second you hit junior high, you discover the truth about Rudolph, your gift requests suddenly go from five dollar action figures and make believe paraphernalia to electronics, and then one day your dad tells you that if you want to leave cookies out for Santa, you’re going to have to eat them as well because you kids go to bed too late now and he’s sick of getting up in the middle of the night and walking all the way downstairs for a few bites of cookie. Or something like that…

Though credit cards and the ability to use the oven without adult supervision do add somewhat to the season, there’s nothing quite like the chance to experience it through the eyes of a child. Don’t have a little rugrat waiting for you at home? The next best thing is the Christkindlmarket, a German Christmas festival that runs from the day after Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve at the Daley Center Plaza.

Whether you wait for a one of the warmer days or simply decide to bundle up and risk it, your eye will first be drawn to the four story tree on the South side of the plaza. The ornaments are similarly oversized and the effect, though slightly like Honey I Shrunk the Kids, will make you feel that child’s sense of wonder, even as your eyes search the crowd for Rick Moranis. If you brought the rugrats with you, give ‘em a good look at the elaborate model train in the shadow of the giant tree.

After you finish discussing how that tree could possibly show up every year without witnesses to its setup (elves, perhaps?), take a look around at the booths set up mostly by Germans living right here in the city of Chicago. Now, the Germans aren’t a fantastically religious people in general, but they know Christmas and they could make even the Grinch feel like having some egg nog. You’ll see everything from cozy cashmere scarves (nicely priced if you’re looking for something to get your sister) to elaborate one-foot-tall lighted houses (I guess they’re decorations? I was never too big into transforming my living space by season, but if you are, you’ve found your home planet!) to hand crafted beer steins perfect for the more refined fraternity man on your list.

All that scrutinizing tchotchkes in near freezing temperatures will likely leave you with a noticeable emptiness in your stomach, so take a moment to survey the food offerings. It won’t take you long to notice that they’re German to the core, with potato pancakes, bratwurst, sauerkraut, and even leberkaese, that strangle amalgamation of pork loaf and beef loaf. Like many German foods, it doesn’t exactly whet the American appetite, but ends up tasting pretty darn good. You can warm your belly with some hot chocolate, cool it again with some authentic German beer, then warm it up a final time before making your way home with some hot mulled wine. This year, the wine came in a commemorative boot. Is there a better commemorative item? I think not.

Despite the prior existence of Mayfest and Oktoberfest (held in September, don’t forget!), I had been thinking that another German cultural festival was exactly what this city needed. As it turns out, one can be found in the heart of loop a stone’s throw from the Block 37 location. And for Christmas spirit, it can’t be beat.

14 January 2008

Hee Hee, Doody

Whoa, long break. Sorry about that. Traveling, work, general winter laziness, etc. Happy New Year!

So, we've decided to have a player-run league for baseball, which I think is fantastic. I was about at the end of my rope for being treated like a child (by someone you may remember), and I think this presents us with a much better chance to build a sustainable organization.

But it does create more work in some areas. And it absolutely shocks me how little loyalty some people have for a cause. Everyone seems proud of themselves for engineering this newfound independence and there are about 90 voices in the circle when it's time to announce our success or plan barbecues, but ask people to make some cold calls or schmooze a little and all of a sudden everyone has plans.

I mean this in the nicest possible way, people, but grow up! If you want independence, you will occasionally have to do things you don't want to do. And furthermore, you have to kick ass at them the same way you would on things you do like. I'm younger than most people, but I feel like I'm welcoming them to real world sometimes: newsflash: this is what grassroots organization is like. Not all peace pipes and celebrations.

I'm baffled by people who seem to be utterly missing a sense of duty. Though I am starting to realize that it's the reason many of these people can't be confident that a player-run league will work - if they were running it, it wouldn't!

(Nicest possible way, remember. I'm proud of ALL of us!)