Thursday, September 29, 2016

Pack your lunch!

     Pack your lunch, and slide by my last book signing of Out of the Wreck I Rise: A Literary Companion to Recovery, published by the University of Chicago Press and written with Sara Bader. It's from 12 to 2 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 29 at Chicago's iconic office supply store, Atlas Stationers, 227 W. Lake.  A 75-year-old family-run business, owned by Don and Therese Schmidt, Atlas is the closest thing Chicago has to the ancient stationery shops of London. I'll be there signing books, and since Don—against my advice, I should add—wants to show that Amazon has nothing on him, thank you very much—the books are priced at $15.95, 30 percent below list and a penny under the behemoth Amazon. Hope to see you there! 

Travels with Kitty

     We took Kitty with us down to Champaign last weekend. My idea. We were about to leave her with the neighbors—they love having her, of course. And no doubt she would be happy to be left behind, playing on the block with her dog pal Izzy. But then we would be dogless, and I decided it would be just more fun to have her along, and it was.
     She is a well-travelled dog--she has been out to Colorado, and sniffed at Rocky Mountain National Park, had tea in the Empire Room at the Palmer House, or the dog equivalent of tea anyway, padded through the Smokey Mountains, and turned up her nose at the Atlantic Ocean.
     At times wrangling both Kitty and a vacation has required a bit of ingenuity. In Durango, Colorado, we knew we would be gone most of the day taking the narrow gauge train to Silverton and back. So I slipped a $20 bill to the bellboy to walk the dog at lunch. He was happy for the easy double sawbuck, and I felt like King Farouk arranging it. Kitty didn't seem to mind.
     Hotels tend to be more accommodating to dogs than they used to be. The Palmer House provided a special dog bed. The Chateau Frontenac in Quebec has a dog in the lobby, to comfort dogless visitors. There was a line to pet her. Before our trip downstate, I phoned ahead, and the Hyatt Place was happy to have her, though they should be, considering their $75 fee for dogs, which is good whether you stay one day or six. A lot of money, and would have been a deal breaker, but I was there with a festival, which had secured a block of rooms, and special accommodations were made.  
    As soon as we arrived, we took her to lunch across the street at the Big Grove Tavern, which was also happy to have her dine with us, on the patio. We weren't even the only party with a dog waiting for a table. I looped her leash under the leg of my chair, and left her to sniff around, and snuck her bits of omelet.
     I could go on, but there really isn't more of a point today than, "Don't be afraid to take your dog places." Yes, I know, earth-shaking it's not. No matter. Take the dog. Sure, you might feel like Nathan Lane in "The Birdcage," particularly if you are a man of a certain age escorting a tiny dog. Go with it. You'd be surprised what a well-behaved small dog can get away with, if you're polite and quick about it. I walked her into the Northbrook Post Office one day last week to transact some quick business.
    "Are dogs allowed?" I asked innocently, as we conducted our transaction.
    "Not usually," the clerk said, tossing Kitty a glance. 
    "Oh, I 'm very sorry," I said, collecting my stamps and my change. "I didn't realize." And we were gone. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Only Part of Last Night's Debate You Need to See

     I don't usually share the works of other writers here. But since today's post is an expansion of yesterday's, and since I have a paternal interest in this young writer out of California, I thought, for those who had enough of Nixon, I'd post this analysis of Monday's debate taken from the Claremont Independent, written by Ross Steinberg, junior at Pomona College.

     Yesterday’s debate featured exactly the Trumpian performance we’ve come to expect: the Donald’s signature one-two punch of incoherence and lies, paired with enough bizarre non sequiturs—“I have a son who’s 10, he’s so good with computers,” anyone?—so as to border on the surreal.
     With such a ‘bigly’ amount of sheer ineptitude, however, genuinely important debate moments are being forgotten. It’s easy to miss the insanity buried amidst the absurd, the moments such as when Trump accused Clinton of fighting for her entire 68 years of life against an organization started in 2004. But one of Trump’s less provocative monologues contains the most substantive policy revelation of the debate. It is a microcosm of the debate as a whole; if you don’t have the time to watch the full debate, all you need to do to understand Round One of Trump v. Clinton is to read this three-paragraph transcript of the Republican nominee’s response to the following question from moderator Lester Holt: “On nuclear weapons, President Obama reportedly considered changing the nation’s longstanding policy on first use. Do you support the current policy?”

To continue reading, click here.

Trump is going to win (redux).

Illinois GOP chairman Tim Schneider at the City Club Tuesday. 

     No, this isn't deja vu. Today's column is a reworking of Tuesday's post. It seemed something worth sharing in the paper, and so I fleshed it out by sliding over to the City Club to hear what the chairman of the Illinois Republican Party had to say about Monday's debate. So apologies for the overlap, though you fans of nuance—and I know you're out there—might enjoy spotting the various differences between the two pieces. 

     Donald Trump is going to be elected president of the United States on Nov. 8.
     At least I believe he will. I’m not the Delphic oracle. But that seems the direction we’re heading, and Monday night’s debate only reinforced my suspicion.
     What? You think Hillary Clinton won? Since I have my seer cap on, let me peer into your mind, read your thoughts and make a bold guess:
     You liked Hillary Clinton before, right?
     Amazing. But that cuts both ways. Trump fans were equally buoyed. Eighty percent of Drudge Report readers picked Trump the winner in a post-debate poll, as did viewers of Fox News. They’ve supported him so far; what could possibly happen to shake them?
     The Democrats and the pundits were ululating Clinton’s victory Tuesday. I watched every minute and agree that, under the usual rules of what I think of as SaneWorld, Clinton won, looking poised and presidential while Trump babbled and flailed. But his supporters recounted something very different the morning after.
     “Honestly, and the truth is . . . a draw,” Tim Schneider, chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, told the City Club of Chicago on Tuesday. “I don’t think anything that happened last night in the debate changed anybody’s mind. If you were going to vote for her before the debate, you’re going to vote for her after the debate. Donald Trump the same way.”

To continue reading, click here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Donald Trump wins

     Donald Trump is going to be elected president on Nov. 8.
     At least I think he will. I'm not the flippin' Delphic oracle. But that seems to be the direction we're heading, and Monday night's debate only reinforced that belief. Hillary Clinton was vastly superior, yet it was a draw, I am certain, in the minds of Americans. Each candidate spoke to his or her audience, which had only scorn for the other. 
   And then there's Richard Nixon. 
     I pulled down Elizabeth Drew's book on Nixon, part of Times Books'' series of brief biographies, The American Presidents.
     And I happened upon this sentence: "Nixon had transformed the party of Abraham Lincoln into the party that welcomed racists and despisers of big government, setting in motion a Republican conservative ascendancy."
    Sound familiar? 
    Yes, the past is not prologue, necessarily. 
    But it is a hint.
    All those commentators decrying — correctly — how Trump is the worst candidate in modern history are missing the point. Yes, Trump is terrible. But Nixon was pretty bad too. He had been a congressman and a senator and Eisenhower's neglected vice president (is there any other kind?) for eight years.
     But he was also seen as uniquely unqualified, a House Un-American Activities Committee's henchman, there for the jobs too unpleasant for Joe McCarthy to handle himself. During the 1960 campaign a Herblock cartoon had shown Nixon emerging from a sewer while someone in a gleeful welcoming committee shouted, "Here He Comes Now!" 
     His opponent, Hubert Humphrey was enormously qualified. Also vice-president, but with none of the drawbacks and personal deficiencies of Nixon. Humphrey was the mainstream politician from Central Casting.
    Sound familiar?
    Just. Like. Hillary. Clinton.
    As with Clinton and Bernie Sanders, Democratic Party passion had been drained by more dynamic opponents: Eugene McCarthy, whose candidacy fizzled, and Robert F. Kennedy, who would have probably taken the nomination had he not been assassinated.  
    Nixon was law and order. Humphrey was violence in the streets. There was a third party candidate attractive those disgusted with both. 
    When the smoke cleared, Nixon just barely won: 43.4 percent of the vote, to Humphrey's 42.7 percent, with George Wallace earning 13.5 percent of the vote.
     So if — when — Trump wins, we can't be surprised. It has happened before. 
     And the truth is, Nixon wasn't so bad, as presidents go. Which leaves hope for Trump. As a man who constantly shifts position, who makes vows today and abandons them tomorrow, denying he ever made them in the first place, he could be among the great Democratic president ever. We just don't know, and to be honest, I doubt it. More like one of the great disasters. Either way, I have a feeling we're going to find out.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Those good-guy-with-a-gun fantasies have a real world price

Tyehimba Jess recites at the Literary Death Match in Champaign Saturday.

     You can’t drive down to Champaign without loving America just a little bit more. All that open space. The miles of brown September corn. The decaying red barns. The communications towers against big blue skies. The fact that the crazy 55 mph speed limit finally went back up to 70, a sign that our nation still retains the ability to repair our errors, at least the minor ones.
     There are, of course, ominous signs as well — literal signs, like the “TRUMP-PENCE” billboard in one farmer’s field. Or another announcing “,” an Illinois pro-guns-everywhere group formed, apparently, because the NRA just isn’t busy enough. The website’s top story is headlined “ARE NO GUNS MALLS SAFE?” and begins “Are America’s malls with ‘NO GUNS’ polices safe for you and your kids and grandkids to visit? That’s a great question given a pair of Muslim terror attacks a week apart at malls that shared policies and/or signage that prohibits law-abiding good guys from carrying guns on their premises . . . .”
     I somehow screw up the courage to go to Northbrook Court without an AR-15 (which, I suppose I must point out, Maxon Shooter Supply notwithstanding, I could easily and legally buy if I chose to, which I don’t). But I understand others find this prospect terrifying.
     Give credit for moxie. Guns actually kill people, and when you look at the stats — hard to do, with Congress obstructing research into gun violence — you see that states with looser gun laws suffer more random gun violence. Because terror attacks — even two a week — though scary, are exceedingly rare compared with the daily slaughter that having handguns everywhere encourages.

To continue reading, click here. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Morgan Finley: "A monument to corruption"

     I tried to discuss Finley's legacy with him when he was still alive, drawing the poignant quote at the end of this obituary. I also called his son Patrick, who hung up on me when I explained that his obituary had to include his father being the highest ranking public official to go to prison in the Operation Incubator Probe. So if any of Finley's good works were overlooked in this, it was not for lack of trying to find them on my part.

     He was “the mayor’s boy.”
     As a child, Bud Finley, who came from a poor Irish family, ran errands for Richard J. Daley in their Bridgeport neighborhood. The future mayor would reward him with a quarter.
     As an adult, Morgan Finley, who died Tuesday at age 91,  lived on South Lowe, five houses down from the mayor. His wife Becky would babysit the Daley children.
     On such connections were political careers made, once upon a time in Chicago, and Finley rose through the ranks, first as secretary of Daley’s 11th Ward Democrats, then state senator from Daley’s 9th district—“the mayor’s senator”—then serving as clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court, where he met disaster.
     “Never take a nickel,” his mentor had advised him. “Just hand ‘em your insurance card.”
     Finley did not take that sensible advice, and so became the highest ranking public official swept up in the Operation Incubator Probe in the mid-1980s, convicted of racketeering and attempted extortion, “a monument to corruption” in the words of the judge who sent him to prison.
      Morgan Martin Finley was born the son of a railroad switchman.  For seven years, the slight, red-haired boy was mascot of the White Sox. He later called Bridgeport “the greatest neighborhood in the world.”
     To continue reading, click here.