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Paper or plastic? No choice for you!

Updated: July 18, 2013 6:09AM



Unintended consequences.

Two of the most important — and underappreciated — words in the English language. We see them all the time, usually after it’s too late. The handgun Biff buys to protect his family from notional perils abruptly becomes a very real peril to little Biff Jr. Chicago sells its parking meters because it’s going broke only to end up poorer than it would have been had it kept them.

And the environment. Unintended consequences loom large in the environment because nature is so very complex and our minds tend to function in simple, the-mouse-trap-snaps ways. So we import foreign predators to control minor pests and then they become pests themselves. True story: An environmental group halted an Inuit seal hunt in Canada. Deprived of their ancient livelihood, the tribe sold its land to oil developers. It would be funny were it not so sad.

All this came to mind when I heard that Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) and a crew of do-gooders are pushing to ban plastic grocery bags in Chicago. Again. Efforts in 2011 came to naught, and while they will probably come to naught once more, it’s worth pausing to consider the unintended consequences of slapping Chicagoans’ hands away from the 3 billion plastic bags they reach for each year.

The idea is they’ll switch to environmentally friendly cloth bags, like those brandished by save-the-Earth sorts in Moreno’s Wicker Park ward. Pretty to think so. Some may do that. But most, busy with their lives, will just demand paper bags instead, which cost more — three times as much, a dime versus 3 cents. That’s why plastic is so popular in the first place (in that sense, the ban is a do-good tax unduly hurting poor people).

Manufacturing paper bags also — and this is counterintuitive, the little brother of unintended — creates more waste and pollution than making plastic bags does. It’s hard to tell just how much more, given the spin put out by the petroleum industry (plastic comes from oil; I hate to be the one to tell you). But no one seems to argue the fact.

Plastic bags also take up less room in dwindling landfills than paper, which degrades fast only in the pristine nature of our imaginations. So while getting rid of plastic feels good, it means more pollution, not less.

It’s a shame Ald. Moreno and his supporters couldn’t pass an ordinance merely banning plastic bags in their own wards, as a test, rather than inflict this wholesale on the city. They could show us how easily it is done.

Hockey is not boring

While a chunk of Chicago is watching the Blackhawks battle the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final with joy and enthusiasm, because they love hockey and this is their dream, there must be some fraction of the city — a 10th? A quarter? — who either ignore the games or watch them for tepid reasons: because the games are on TV and others are watching, or because the finals seem important and they don’t want to be left out. That’s why I watch.

Typically, during these spells of civic sports hoopla, when the papers and airwaves are jammed with knowledgeable, we’re-all-on-the-bandwagon-now commentary, I like to give a quick wink and a thumbs up to all those souls who, like myself, just don’t get it.

And as much as I want to whisper: “It’s OK. Hockey is boring.” I’m not doing it this time. Even though that’s my sincere belief. To me, in hockey, you lose the individuals. In basketball, you can tell who’s playing. Nate Robinson, tiny and energetic, Joakim Noah, with that ridiculous poof on his head, tall and loping, Derrick Rose, on the sidelines in a business suit, his face a mask of focused dolor. Everybody on the Blackhawks is a bearded white guy in a helmet. They all look the same to me.

But when I ran this by people who have been watching longer — aka, just about everybody else — they disagree. “You can’t tell the players apart, right?” I asked my brother.

“No,” he said. “Sharp is fast. Toews is big. And they have their names on their backs.”

“Toews isn’t that big,” said Pete at the coffee shop. “And you’ve got Hossa, the sniper.”

So you understand what’s going on? I asked amazed. How long have you been watching?

“I went to my first game with my dad,” he said, recalling Bobby Hull in the mid-1960s.

So, as much as I’d like to moan that the games are meaningless blurs, that I can barely see the puck, it isn’t about me. Despite action — an odd term for a game where teams score once an hour — that seems skidding commotion, chaotic and random, there’s an undeniable poetry and loyalty and tradition going on that, well, let’s say: Just because you don’t see a quality doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Sometimes a man needs to remind himself that what he likes and what is valuable are two different things. So I’ll be watching, primarily because my younger boy watches, but also because there has got to be something in hockey worth watching, if I could only figure out what that something is. I’m working on it.



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