Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Abner Mikva laughs at 90



     Abner Mikva turns 90 Thursday. To mark the milestone I took the revered Chicago icon, who made his mark on all three branches of government—former congressman, retired federal judge and White House counsel—to lunch last week.
     How does it feel to be 90?
     "It's going to be kind of a shock," he said, using the future tense with a lawyerly precision. "I keep thinking of all the good reasons why I should be happy about it... I've already given up all the things I really enjoy: golf, tennis, sex, poker. There's nothing left to give up in the 90s."
     I get the golf, tennis and sex part. "But why poker?"
     "I have macular degeneration," he said. "I can't see the cards. I love the game."
      Mikva used to in just for the Washington Post's poker game. He said his favorite Washington figure to work with was Bill Clinton.

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15 comments:

  1. I've noticed that age and candor go hand in hand. I hope the latter doesn't get Abner in too much trouble. I'm a lot younger than him, but still have managed to put my foot firmly between my lips on more than a few occasions, including this one I guess.

    john

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  2. Did Abner really admit to calling Obama "one of those uppity Blacks?" Autres temps, Autres moeures.

    Tom Evans

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    1. I wouldn't give him a pass based on his age, personally. This is a man who has kept up with the times, to say the least. I respect and admire him, but a little less now. And what is wrong with a black attorney preferring to clerk for a black judge, who could no doubt help him navigate obstacles a white attorney will never encounter?

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    2. As opposed to me manufacturing the quote? Yes, he did. And I don't think it takes away from him. Why should Donald Trump is the only man who can speak with candor and be unscathed?

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    3. No disrespect, but do you really think more of Trump's version of candor is a positive step? I'd like to resist being dragged down to his level.

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    4. No, of course not. But if Trump can get away with frankly stating his hateful insanity, than I'm sure Judge Mikva can tuck in a less-than-PC phrase or two. That was my point.

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    5. "Uppity" was an unfortunate choice of words, but the context rules out any serious pejorative intent. After all, he'd just named Obama the smartest president ever along with other superlatives and he wanted to hire him as a law clerk, based not on some notion that having a good looking black guy on his staff would enhance his liberal credentials, but on the recommendation of his present law clerk who admired Barack's legal skills.

      john

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    6. I think the only reason Trump gets away with all the candor is because we know it's all BS. Anything truthful or meaningful coming out of his big mouth would be a revelation.

      SandyK

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    7. I missed the reaction to my comment because I was at the opera -- "Nabucco:" beleaguered Jews; fabulous singing. My "really" was rhetorical. Didn't mean to imply that Neil manufactured the quote. Or that Mikva really had any less than the highest admiration for Obama. Only registering some astonishment that so savvy a gent would inadvertently use a word so freighted with negative meanings.

      Tom Evans

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  3. Interesting article...and very telling.

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  4. Agree with Neil. Abe's comment was pretty tame considering he came from a time and place where African-Americans were called "shvartzers". That's a Yiddish word meaning a black person. Derogatory to be sure but very common in much of 20th century.

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    1. I've always wondered if it's really derogatory. "Schvartz" is YIddish for "black." What were Yiddish-speaking people supposed to call them? "Negro" is from the Spanish for "black." What's the difference?

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    2. Well, I just had to see what "Google" said. Lots of entries, but the first three said:

      a) Urban Dictionary.com
      "A Yiddish slur for/against a black person. something your aging
      racist grandparent might say."

      b) Dictionary.reference.com/browse/schvartze
      Usage note --
      "Schvartze was used through the 1960s (and even later by the older generation) to refer specifically to a black housekeeper or servant. The term was not always used contemptuously; in fact, the Yiddish noun is derived from a merely descriptive adjective meaning "black" (German schwarz). However, schvartze has been categorized by some as an inside “code."

      c) Wictionary.com
      "Jewish. (often offensive or racist.) A black person, especially
      a man."

      SandyK


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    3. Mel Brooks:"May the Schwartz be with you!" Spaceballs. That's the first thing that popped to mind with this schvartz talk. I didn't know it was Yiddish for black before now.
      Great article. One of my favorite Chicago history bits is the nobody sent story.

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    4. Now that you mention it, my first exposure to the word was also Mel Brooks based, from Blazing Saddles.

      http://youtu.be/jsj4s9z-EAE

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