Friday, February 11, 2005

How to remove steroids from baseball

Since Jose Canseco's new book, Juiced has hit the news, the already hot-button issue of steroids in baseball has hit a fever-pitch. Some folks are saying that Canseco is just trying to make a quick buck; others are saying that his book will finally support the anti-steroids campaign since Canseco "names names". The 24-hour sports radio shows have being talking about the issue around-the-clock, especially here in Chicago, where one of our star shortstops (no, not Juan Uribe, the other one) was named, accused, vilified, unnamed, and exonerated all within a short period. Most of the outcry has continued to revolve around Barry Bonds, although there have been no reports about his connection to the book whatsoever. To be fair, Bonds is the most accomplished and most controversial star of his generation and due to past allegations of steroid use, he's usually the first name to pop into people's heads when they hear the magic "S" word. Folks want him banned from baseball, asterixed, barred from the Hall of Fame or elected with a plaque that states that he's a big fraud that poops his pants.

But this does nothing to solve the problem that we are supposed to be so outraged at: the rampant steroid abuse in baseball. If you really think that vilifying a couple ballplayers that you hated and have been looking for an excuse to excommunicate for the last dozen some odd years is going to cure the ills of the world, I fear for you. My prescription: Read "The ones who walk away from Omelas" twice and call me in the morning.

As usual, the good folks at Baseball Think Factory have stepped up their pastime of cage matches debating the issue and have come up with a few constructive responses rather than the pure vitriole running through most of the sports community:

Here is crazy, reactionary kevin's constructive suggestion in terms of a policy response.:

Bonds, Giambi, Sheffield and anybody else who tested positive has one strike on them.

Strike 1-drug counseling and 2 week suspension with pay.

Strike 2-1 month suspension with pay and more counseling.

Strike 3-banishment and cancellation of all contract obligations.

By not fining on the first two offenses, teams would be penalized when their players get caught so there would be incentive for them to discourage juicing and incentive not to sign free agents who are suspected of juicing.

My main problem here is that first, the Bonds, Giambi and Sheffield picks are rather arbitrary in the face of what many have described as an epidemic in which nearly every teams has at least three or four users. Penalizing just the players who happened to be called before a grand jury that was illegally leaked doesn't seem equitable. Especially since they have never tested positive.

That's the key problem here: No one has tested positive because there has never been a decent testing system in place. Who is responsible for that? Most would place the focus on the player's union which has resisted most proposals for widespread testing. But that's their right in negotiating the privacy rights of their membership. The single person most responsible for maintaining the integrity of the sport is its commissioner, Bud Selig.

Selig has been in baseball's top position since 1992 and has time and time again put the owners' profits above the integrity of the sport. In past crises, the commissioners have intervened to clean up the messes. But Bud is not like other commissioners, he is the first commission to have been appointed to represent the owners rather than the game itself. This conflict of interest has hurt the game in minor ways up to this point, but now we can see its most serious affect. Bud has happily watched the steroid waves engulf the game as long as the blame for it was placed firmly on the players and there was no evidence to force him to take any action. Now, it is too late to find out who has been doping for the last ten years, but there is still opportunity to banish steroids if that is what's best for the game.

I believe that baseball should take the following steps:
1. Banish Bud from the Commissioner position.
2. Set up a full testing system and compensate the players for their loss in privacy.
3. Establish a strict penalty system with a short suspension for a first offense, a long suspension for a second suspense and banishment upon a third offense. There should be no provision for compensation of the player's franchise unless their contract already has a steroid clause.
4. Allow players to establish exempt status if they can demonstrate an ability to produce a false postive. I'm not exactly sure how this is scientifically done. Unfortuately, if this is not possible, the whole system may have to be reconsidered.
5. Pass an amnesty for all players who may have used steroids during the period where proper testing was not undertaken. The circumstantial persecution of small pockets of players is not fair nor healthy for the sport.

With these steps hopefully baseball can move out from the cloud of steroids without resorting to pointless scapegoating.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Kids in Fake Pundit Suits

"Illini Pundit" is a pretty epic political blog out of downstate where I am from in Champaign-Urbana (or Urbana-Champaign depending on which side of the border you pledge your allegiance to).

He puts out a ton of content from a very conservative slant. That's wonderful--both sides of the political spectrum need more content--as long as that content incorporates different perspectives respectfully, it deepens the discussion.

The problem I have with many of the politically minded on both sides of the spectrum is the "What? Are you stupid?" mentality. Reactionaries accuse their detractors of this all the time. They say that disdain for Bush is blind and therefore illogical and worthless.

It is true that Bush bashing has become a sort of pastime for some quasi-liberals. For upper-middle class, white political wannabes on either side of the spectrum, it's always been more about the trendy positions rather than the support for those positions. But this idiocy doesn't make any critique of the current president dismissible. I mean if Jeffrey Dahmer hates Bush and eats people, that doesn't mean that anyone who hates Bush likes to chop on other people anymore than Jerry Falwell being a shallow-thinking hatemonger proves that right-wing people have nothing good to share.

Recently, Illinipundit posted this piece mocking Urbana Democrats dealing with the issue of giving the indigent vouchers for food and clothing.

When you disagree with someone or don't understand them, what's you first response? Ask them to clarify? Do research on this position? IlliniPundit decided to mock them as having "lost their friggin' minds" and implying that any town that provided cash to indigent was foolish.

I'm wasn't sure one way or the other, but I was willing to entertain the possibility that Prussing may have not lost her friggin' mind, so I dropped her an email.
She forwarded me a write-up of the reasons to support vouchers put together by Esther Patt, another local politician who supports vouchers:

I am writing to all of the candidates for whom I have an email address after reading the coverage of last night's candidate forum in the Gazette. I urge all of you who win election to please reject the
suggestion that Cunningham Township return to the use of vouchers for township assistance.

Cunningham Township stopped using vouchers about 22 years ago for several good reasons. When Linda Cross ran for City of Champaign Township Supervisor in 1989 she pledged to get rid of vouchers but never followed through on the promise. Here are some things to consider regarding vouchers:

1. Cash grants, not vouchers, are used for all other forms of public assistance such as Transitional Assistance to Needy Families (TANF -- the replacement for AFDC) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

2. The monthly cash assistance for general assistance paid by the Township is $204. Do you really think people move to Urbana to get $204 a month? City of Champaign's grant is $212 a month! Considering that this amount is not enough to pay rent anywhere, it's likely that people receiving General Assistance from Cunningham Township either already live in Urbana or moved here to live with a friend or family member willing to take them in.

3. The use of vouchers cheats General Assistance clients out of a portion of their tiny $204 monthly assistance in many ways and often prevents their use of the grant to meet basic needs. Here are some examples:

a. A City of Champaign G.A. client was given a $20 voucher for Penny's
and a $20 voucher for Target. The purchase at Target cost $16.89 and with a voucher, the store cannot give the client the change. So this impoverished person lost $3.11. She didn't need new underwear and $20 wasn't enough to buy anything else at Penny's so the township saved $20 because the woman couldn't use the voucher. But, if she needs a quarter to put into a tampon machine in the women's bathroom, too bad. Since she's poor, the voucher system doesn't trust her with money.

b. With a cash grant, a G.A. client can do his or her laundry in a coin-operated machine at a laundromat or in an apartment building. With a voucher, the client has to pay the laundromat to provide cleaning service which costs much more than just putting quarters into a machine. When Ken Zeigler, the former Cunningham Township Supervisor got rid of vouchers, this was one of the examples he gave to explain why vouchers were not a good way to provide assistance.

c. A voucher for rent would have to be paid to the landlord. Most landlords will not sign a lease with someone whose only income is $204. Check with Carol Elliott to be sure, but I believe that the only G.A.
clients actually on a lease are either living in subsidized housing or they are people with roommates who were already on a lease before receiving assistance. The others are staying with friends or family. With a cash grant, a G.A. client can give a friend or family member a little bit of money to delay the point at which the person may overstay his or her welcome. With a voucher system, the G.A. client cannot get a voucher to pay someone else's rent or water or power bill so the person has no way to contribute to the household expenses. This increases the risk of the G.A. client becoming homeless.

d. A few years ago, I had a client who became homeless while on City of Champaign township assistance. When she became homeless they wouldn't give her most of her grant since she didn't have housing costs that month. The township saved the money, but the woman was homeless (and Center for Women in Transition was full).

If you share the belief that poor people are poor because they are bad and deserve to suffer, then you might like the idea of vouchers being a mechanism for legally cheating people out of their statutory entitlement to General Assistance, thus saving the township money.

Instead, please think about how many people receiving General
Assistance are disabled and waiting the 2 -3 years it takes for social security to acknowledge their disability (Cunningham Township has had clients die of their disabling disease while waiting to be designated as disabled by SSA). Please think about how many of our G.A. clients are just down on their luck and not harming anyone. Do we need to go back to the archaic system of vouchers? I think not.

Urbana's crime rate is up and some people immediately blame the poor. For example, last week, a woman who was a crime victim at Osco on Philo told Tom Kacich that crime has risen recently because of the new Section 8 housing built in SE Urbana. But, there has been no Section 8 housing built in SE Urbana for the last 25 years. She was talking about Sunnycrest II which is tax-credit, not Section 8 and it was built more than 7 years ago in 1997.

She was hurt and is afraid so she has to blame someone. How about blaming criminals for crime, rather than blaming everyone whose income is low?

Thank you in advance for your thoughtful consideration of the voucher

Esther Patt

What do you think? Are these the ravings of a madwoman? I'm sorry, but if I have to choose between the name-caller and the person with itemized arguments with supporting situational data, I'd having to side with the latter.

I sincerely would love to hear explanation for what's so wrong with Patt's reasoning. Also, the empathy gap bothers me. It's possible they have done so, but it sure seems the critics of vouchers have never had to live on $204 dollars a month in cash or vouchers and don't seem to have put much practical thought into the realities of trying to do either. The reasoning seems to be, "If you are poor, go make more money!" To have never been poor and consequently have trouble understanding the realities of being poor is not a crime, simply a lucky privilege. To use that ignorance to cynically attack others and hold up oneself in a self-righteous manner is entitlement thinking at its worse. It does nothing to deepen discussion. It does nothing to improve our community, state or country.

In the end, just like Illini Pundit's namesake, a white guy in a fake indian suit, Illini Pundit is a person in a fake pundit suit.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Sick of being "In-between"

I get tired of seeing us characterize ourselves as "in-between" or "torn between two worlds". It's an absurdly common theme. From academic studies to MTV Real World profiles, these is a cliche framing of the Asian American experience. It's worth studying since it's obviously how we are perceived by mainstream Americans, but why have we internalized it as the way to communicate our experiences? Just like the way Malcolm cast off his "slave name", we need to cast off this colonial language and value system.

The simple fact is that people moving around and cultures changing is a natural process. Even as we pick up and drop "new" cultural properties, we are causing others to do the same. After all, Europeans had to come from somewhere. Latinos developed out of native populations originally descended from Asian explorers being brutalize by European invaders.

So I don't think we are "in-between"--we are just "in-process" like everyone else. There's "Asia" and all its parts and peoples. There's white America and all its parts and peoples and there's us and all our parts and peoples. I don't belong to Asia and I don't belong to America. I belong to me and my community and a struggle that will show everyone else what we already know--we aren't caught between worlds--we are a vital part of the only world there is.
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