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Is it unethical to be a fair-weather fan? Of course it is if you actually diss or ignore your team when it loses, and become the world’s biggest supporter when it’s on a roll. But what about less overt cases, such as the baseball lover who’s lived in the team’s radius for several years, made it to only a few games, and utterly failed to follow the standings or know who was who on the team until it went to the playoffs? Just to give a for instance. Not, you know, resembling anyone who might write this blog.

I seek absolution, because I didn’t even know the Giants were in a race for a playoff spot until I came off the BART escalator one morning to see a special edition of the Chronicle, screaming “PLAYOFFS!” Oh. Was it a near thing? Um, yes, actually, it was decided in the final game of the season.

So now I’m having Giants fever and feeling guilty about it. I have a long history of borderline behavior with ball teams, you see. My first experience of baseball was our family’s annual trip to Boston, culminating each time in a night at Fenway, and I proudly claimed the Red Sox as my team. To me, a Connecticut kid, cheering for the Red Sox instead of the Yankees was a matter of cultural loyalty, declaring myself as a New Englander instead of a resident of a mere satellite of New York. (No one paid attention to the Mets.) Besides, given the choice between a perennial underdog and US Steel, the moral choice is clear; I hated the Yankees as a matter of principle. But I wasn’t really a baseball fan. In fact, when I was in Damn Yankees! one summer in high school, I recorded in black and white in my program bio that I hated baseball, a fact that my family and a boyfriend, all of whom were big baseball fans, later threw in my face on a regular basis.

Because after that, Darryl Strawberry came to New York, and my dad became a fervent Mets fan, and the rest of the family with him, including me. In 1985 he and I went to opening day at Shea, a brutally cold outing that ended, gloriously and to our toes’ great relief, with newcomer Gary Carter’s 10th inning homer. I brought home a “K” card with Doc Gooden’s picture on it and tracked his strikeouts on it all through that 24-4 season. I made a Gooden snowman that winter. The next year, of course, was their year, and this is where my Boston-fan friends defriend me, because I cheered for the Mets all the way.

I still maintain that you can have one AL team and one NL team, so Boston is still my AL team. Although the Mets have a place in my heart, I haven’t followed them at all–my dad’s occasional updates on the team’s progress are a swirl of unfamiliar names–and I have made half-hearted attempts to pay attention to my local team. After all, my daughter, native-born northern Californian that she is, will be a Giants fan.

But a baseball stadium is no place for a toddler, with its towers of steep concrete steps, so this summer was the first one that we could have brought her along to a game, and we were out of the country most of the season and . . . well, we’ll just have to get ourselves some tickets for next year. At least we’re teaching her “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and at school she seems to have learned to chant “Go, Giants, go! Go, Giants, go!”

None of which resolves my dilemma: I’ve just moved to this city and its team has a chance at its first championship since it moved to this city 53 years ago. I’m burning with excitement, and desirous of a knockoff Giants warmup jacket, and wondering if I’m entitled to partake of the thrill, as long as I promise to go to a game next season and never to kick them when they’re down.

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Two years ago I thought we were headed for a serious depression and almost everyone else seemed to think so too. Not Great Depression levels, maybe, but a worldwide crisis, with U.S. unemployment remaining in double digits for years, perhaps pushing 20%. But two years later, the people who’ve been trying to hold the roof up seem to have done it. It’s leaking, and props like stimulus spending are causing their own, predicted problems (a high deficit, but since when have Republicans cared about those? Oh, right, since the Democrats took power). But still, it’s over our heads instead of down around our ears.

So you would think that “We kept things from being really, really bad and held them to just pretty bad” would be a strong campaign slogan (okay, after some editing), but instead, it seems to be conventional wisdom that that argument will get the Dems nowhere. Certainly, Obama has stopped campaigning on what they’ve done over the past two years and is instead trying to focus on the future. Judging from the polls, the party that saved our butts is about to take a licking, as angry voters try to return Congress to the people who created this mess to begin with.

I’m wondering how things were different in 1934. FDR had taken office with a landslide win in the 1932 election, 57.4% of the popular vote; like Obama, he also saw his party take control of both houses of Congress that year (moving from a slight to a commanding majority in the House, and winning the majority in the Senate). So the Democrats went into the 1934 midterm elections in a comparable situation to today’s party, having been able to pass legislation to address the economic crisis over Republican opposition. The Depression was far from over. Unemployment was at 21.7% that year (the Bureau of Labor Statistics can no doubt provide a month-by-month account if you’re curious).

So what happened in those midterms? The Republicans lost big.  And then, in 1936, with unemployment and other effects of the Depression still ravaging the country (the world), FDR won re-election in a landslide.

So what gives?

There are differences between 1934 and 2010, of course. The Depression was well underway when FDR ran in 1932; Hoover and a Republican Senate had had three years to turn it around, but between the 1929 crash and the election, things had only gotten worse. In contrast, Obama came into office at a time when, while almost everyone was predicting economic disaster, the tidal wave had not yet struck. It’s much less psychologically convincing to point out a disaster averted than to turn around a bad situation.

But geez, FDR and his Democratic Congress had barely turned around a bad situation, themselves. They’d created a barrelful of new programs meant to end the depression, and yet the unemployment rate had dropped an undramatic 1.9 points. Why didn’t the voters say “You’ve had two years and things are still a mess!”?

Got a theory? Know some history to fill things in for us? Recommend any books on the political history of the ’30s?

 

ETA on 10/28: Hendrik Hertzberg just took up the same question in this week’s The New Yorker.

Humorous Pictures

We were talking about our late cat Chewie, a real fighter in his youth. He got pretty torn up sometimes–a chunk out of one ear, all the fur on his tail stripped off one time–but at some point he aged out of it. Instead of getting killed by whichever ascendant young tom bested him, he must have opted out. Cats do this. You can watch them fight; they seldom fight to the death or to dangerous injury (although bites can turn septic). Instead, they size each other up and after some hissing, growling, and possibly a tussle, one backs down. Rather than get killed, or pull its gang into it to start a war, it crouches down a little (“See! I’m smaller than you! I’m not going to take you on!”), slinks away, and settles down to lick its literal and figurative wounds.

We humans have some ways of ritualizing our dominance struggles–Go Giants!–but we still have a lot to learn from “the lower animals” like the cat on the right about how to extract ourselves from a fight before we, and a lot of other people, get killed.

It took several weeks, but I finally checked out one of the non-instructional figure drawing sessions nearby. The session is held every Monday morning for three hours, and it’s a pleasant walk from the 24th and Mission BART station. If all the models are as good as today’s, I’m going to want to go every week. The lighting on strong musculature, and the props (ropes for the model to hold on to, allowing for very interesting standing and leaning poses), took it to a whole new level. Based on the owner’s warm welcome today and his teaching philosophy as outlined on his website and an American Artist interview, I’d love to take a class with him sometime, too, but the available times aren’t good right now.

So this was my day off so far: I went and drew for three hours, walked back to Mission Street, and finished reading Cat’s Eye over a lunch of ceviche tostadas. Yum on all counts.

Along the way, I stopped to browse at the outlet of a favorite clothing source, which I discovered by chance is right here a couple of blocks from that same BART station. The last thing I need is more clothes, but I do like them, and I’m going to use it as a reward: when I’ve gotten rid of those boxes full of old papers and stuff that are clogging up the garage, I can buy myself a few things there. It’s funny how we create these little games for ourselves. “Write for half an hour more and you can play a computer game.” It worked for my clean-out-the-e-mail-inbox project a couple of years ago (reward: fancy new planner), and just thinking about the clothes I saw today, I can feel my motivation to get into that garage rising.

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