Thursday, October 31, 2019

Facebook bans commercial fraud but welcome political lies


                             The Fairy Queen Takes an Airy Drive by Richard Doyle (Metropolitan Museum of Art) 


    If I decide to sell faeries, and buy ads on Facebook, describing the delightful woodland nymphs that could be yours for only $19.99, plus shipping and handling, customers would complain after they received their empty jars, and Facebook will then take down my faerie ads and refuse my money in the future.
    Commercial fraud they understand.
    But when the Republican takes out deceptive ads, filled with distortions and outright lies, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who is becoming second only to Rupert Murdoch as a media enabler of the GOP plot against America, has deemed this sort of chicanery to be free speech, and will not turn it away.
    That's wrong, and to show how wrong, another big social media company, Twitter, announced Wednesday that it will refuse all political ads leading up to the 2020 election, rather than try to sort through what is fact and what is fiction. You know you're in trouble when you don't have the high standards exhibited by Twitter.  If they kept to their own rules about hate speech, they'd deactivate the president's account tomorrow.
    As if to underline the ethical correctness of the move, Donald Trump immediately condemned it as "very bad." For him. Very bad for him. Trump knows anything that Twitter's action limits the ability of the Russians to spread deception on his behalf. That isn't good for his re-election chances, which, like his 2016 election, is based on falsehood passing for truth among those who no longer care about the distinction. 
    And in case you're confused, remember the First Amendment relates to the government suppressing speech. Businesses are free to conduct business as they like. When a TV station refuses a political ad because it is morally offensive, or deceptive, that is not a violation of free speech. And as with Twitter, when television has higher ethical standards than you do, you know something is wrong.
    Strange that Facebook would wink at political deception while policing the commercial version, because the former is far, far worse than the latter.
    Really, what is the harm of the faery scam? A bunch of gullible people are out $20, plus shipping and handling. They get an attractive jar, with holes punched in it so the supposed faeries can breath. They learn a lesson, maybe. The country is not harmed.
    Compare that to political fraud, which helps allow the once respected United States of American to be led by a reality TV show host and confirmed fraud. It gives a free hand to the Russians and any nation that cares to to meddle in our elections. Why should politicians be permitted to broadcast literally any lie on Facebook, if they have the bucks to meet the bill? It isn't right.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Loved or hated, candy corn is as Chicago as deep dish pizza

  
     This column was so much fun, I had trouble stopping—the first draft was twice as long as could fit into the paper. And still two essential aspects were left out: I had hoped to consider candy corn as an iconic design, an instantly recognizable image. And I wanted to point out that the hidden subtext of all the hate about candy corn online illustrates the frictionless, consequence-free toxicity of the internet. Next time.

     At least candy at Valentine’s Day makes sense. Love is sweet; you woo the object of your affection with a big heart-shaped box of chocolate.
     But what’s with Halloween? The ocean of candy ladled out Thursday to an army of children. Bribes? An echo of when Tom and Huck would soap your windows if you didn’t satisfy them after they rang your doorbell? Rewards? You did such a good job putting on that Spiderman mask that I’m giving you a Snickers?
     Controversies linger because they have depth, layers beneath the surface that sustain them over the years. For instance, I believe the whole you’re-not-a-Chicagoan-if-you-put-ketchup-on-your-hot-dog nonsense is not really about the mix of condiments atop a frank, but an unconscious parody of the get-off-my-block bigotry that Chicagoans used to casually exhibit. Can’t do that anymore but there are always hot dogs.
     Ditto for candy corn, the white, orange and yellow triangular treats that proliferate in October.
     For years the Internet has echoed with derision of candy corn. And not mild criticism. Full-throated condemnation.
     BuzzFeed’s 2013 list of “19 Things That Taste Better Than Candy Corn,” included chalk, urinal cakes and earwax.
     “Deodorant-flavored earwax nuggets,” Deadspin raged in 2014. “Wee little warhead-shaped misery pellets.”


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Tuesday, October 29, 2019

There are a lot of sane ones too


    Most people aren't nuts. Most people are sane enough. And smart. So it occurred to me Sunday, sharing yet another Alan P. Leonard letter—the sixth—that I was perhaps doing my readers a disservice by being a valve where only the toxically vindictive can pass through to join the cyber wordstorm.
     Actually, it didn't occur then. But later, cleaning off my desk. Sometimes the thing devolves to a mass of business cards, electronic cords, receipts, clippings, rubber bands and discarded Post-It Notes, and I have to just dive in and start filing and flinging into the garbage can.
     There, I usually find a letter or three, so interesting and well-reasoned that I set it aside to contemplate at my leisure and then answer in some witty, measured way, but invariably never do.
    Such as this, from David Stein, who has been writing to me for years. He offers some worthwhile advice—"QUIT FACEBOOK"—supporting it in a strong and articulate fashion. "Really, what would happen if you opted out?"
     I don't know, I'd ... ah ... disappear. Actually, the image he offers, "the Untouchable of Northbrook," with his begging bowl and the neighbors averting their eyes, sounds about right. This business is all about clicks, right now, and Facebook is the biggest pond where we fish for them. Anyway, there's some good lines in this, a bit of Orwell, and I felt guilty just pitching it after it sat on my desk for ... ulp ... two years, judging by his mention of naked women, which I think is a reference to this column about Howard Tullman's art collection, which got banned from Facebook for violating community standards by reproducing a photo of the risque artworks I was talking about. Anyway, it's a good read. Thanks to Dave, and to all the readers who take the time to write in, and deserve a response, even though I don't always have the time to send one.


Monday, October 28, 2019

Trump doesn’t know Chicago, but Chicago knows Trump





     Alice Qiu works in a law firm. Yaraneli Otero is a sixth grader at Thorp Elementary. Roger Green is homeless on the West Side. Desmond Sullivan is a plant operation engineer at the University of Illinois . . .
     Four of the 2.7 million people living in Chicago, the third-largest city in the United States. A complicated metropolis that President Donald Trump tries to reduce to a caricature, a buzz phrase for, take your pick: epidemic crime, failed Democratic leadership, unwise immigration, ineffective gun control or some toxic combination of all of the above.
     “The city of Chicago,” he once said, whipping up a rally in Florida. “What the hell is going on in Chicago?”
     Trump doesn’t wait for an answer. He doesn’t want an answer, batting away any reality in conflict with the comic-book Midwest Gotham City of his imagination.
     But with the president set to visit the actual Chicago, our Chicago, on Monday for the first time since being elected — to talk to a police chiefs’ convention and squeeze money from deep-pocketed backers — this seems a good moment to welcome him with a healthy portion of the one thing his administration is most starved for — the truth, served up by those in the best position to tell it: the people of Chicago.
     “Chicago is beautiful. I like Chicago,” said Qiu, who came here from China a year ago and hopes to remain. “That’s why I stay here. It’s hard for Chinese people to come here and stay here, now, because of Trump.”
     Otero is an 11-year-old girl but knows how Trump could be a better leader.
     “He needs to accept people,” she says, marching in a CTU protest with her mother. “It doesn’t matter the race. To learn to accept everybody. People have emotions and they have feelings. He needs to know that.”
     Good manners keep Green from revealing what he would tell the president.
     “You don’t want to know,” he said with a laugh, wishing Trump understood this is a city of “people living, struggling.”
     Sullivan, 58, of East Ukrainian Village, has only a few words for Trump, but they’re choice.
     “Be a man,” he says. “Men don’t lie. Men tell the truth.”


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Sunday, October 27, 2019

The Era of Contempt VI

    How long can genius maintain its spark? Can any person, being mortal, be expected to top all previous effort, time and time again? Is it even fair of us to even hope it might be possible? No, of course not. A miracle cannot be demanded with regularity.
    But people are greedy, and it was with a thrill of expectation that I lifted an envelope from the mail and recognized the Tinley Park peel-and-stick return address label of Alan P. Leonard, and held my breath at the thought of what wonders must wait within. 
     Regular readers of course remember his introduction to these pages, his March 10, 2018 defense of "our wonderful president." A star was born. "A masterpiece of unintentional humor," one critic raved.  Not to forget his four subsequent installments, a body of work I labeled "The Era of Contempt." You can—indeed, you must—catch up with them here and here  and here—his classic attack on Michelle Obama, a racist excrescence one can hardly believe exists in the real world—and here, his most recent symphony in words, inspired by a passion for Trump, now elevated from "wonderful" to "glorious." What's next? Gloria in excelsis Trump.
     In light of those marvels, well, what can I say of his latest opus? Even noble Homer dozed. And while Mr. Leonard does reprise a few of his trademark flourishes: the misspelled name, the grammatical flub in the midst of calling for editorial rigor—"Does anyone review your articles and verify there accuracy?" You can see why I can't help but cherish the man—the seething contempt, the whole somehow never comes together.  It's so ... unspecific. he doesn't take time to articulate the supposed errors and departures from fact—so precious to a man of his caliber—that have moved him to once again take pen and floral stationery in hand. 
    Still, credit where due. He has produced another letter for our times, which the Republicans have has made into being far more about abuse than argument or correction. His points are at best allusions. Nothing like his previous installment's demand: "What do all of 'God's mistakes' have to be proud of?" The subtext of course being that he, Alan P. Leonard, is the self-appointed editor of God, and can confidently red pencil His errors. 
     But enough preface. Perhaps, spoiled by past masterworks, I have become overly-critical. You can judge for yourself. Has the craftsman entered into a decline that is the inevitable fate of a prodigy? We can only hope that he is merely tired. Sapped by his labors. That is certainly the prerogative of genius. And remember, he has disappointed before; his third letter also prompted me to wonder, "Is this up to his high standards for nitwittery?" Perhaps this is merely another dip, a fallow period, a retrenchment, the natural variance that even the artist at peak talent is liable to experience. A rest, a lacuna before he comes surging back, full strength, blooming anew, as he did after that third letter, once again the Alan P. Leonard that we have come to know and love. I'm sure you, as I, will be able to greet this latest missive not with disappointment, but with the proper sense of gratitude of those who have already been given so much. We must be thankful for this latest message, limited though it may be, and not demand too much of the man.






Saturday, October 26, 2019

We're going to need a bigger tent.



     Just when you get comfortable with something, it changes. That's life. I had wrapped my mind and my tongue around LGBTQ—for "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (or Questioning)"—when along comes this new designation: LGBTQIA, the last two letters standing for Intersex and Asexual, which I actually knew, perhaps thanks to osmosis, though not with enough confidence to do away with a quick check online. Plus I was challenged to parse one from the other. 
     "Intersex" is a more physical term.
    "Intersex is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male," says the Intersex Society of North America, which should know. "For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside."      
     There's quite a bit more, and if you want the details, you can find them here.
     "Asexual" is lack o
f sexual attraction to others. I might volunteer that this seems a sad way to go through life, but then that is exactly the kind of judgment that spurs churches to put out signs behind little red picket fences. Though I leap to point out that I'm not at all against including them in whatever I was doing: beach parties, book clubs, bowling leagues, whatever. (Dances, well, they'd kind of just sit there, right?) I think people get confused when it comes to differing between inclusion and acceptance. I'll never accept anti-vaxxers, but they can ride the bus if they've got $2.50. Were I a baker working in a public establishment, I would feel obligated to bake a cake commemorating the 25th anniversary of an asexual couple not being drawn to each other. Tolerance doesn't mean you have to like everything; I hate egg salad, but I'm not trying to stop anybody from eating it, so long as I don't have to join in. Ditto for asexuality.

    Maybe I'm showing my age, but my primary concern regarding this topic is fear of having to adjust to an-ever growing acronym of acceptance. Before you know it, we'll be adding handicapped persons and immigrants and those who go to furry conventions—LBGTQIAHPITWGTFC—and the term will start to look like the name of a village in Wales.
     Yes, this is serious stuff, with the U.S. Supreme Court at this moment deciding if you can fire anybody in the quintogrammaton (bad pun, a play on one of my favorite obscure words, tetragrammaton, or YHWH, the unutterable Hebrew name of God). It's too easy to be light-hearted when the topic is the rights of others. Maybe because those who drape themselves in the mantle of religious piety, using their faith as a club to beat down others they've never met, I just can't align my mouth into the same grim set as theirs in the name of humanity's glorious spectrum of possibility. 
     A little irreverence might even help this brave new world go down a little more easily with the general population, which can be good at heart and well intentioned and still sometimes feel like a high hurdler going over a never-ending string of hurdles.
     Maybe we could find a general term. Repurpose "weird" the way a spectrum of homosexuality rescued "queer" from being a slur. "We welcome the weird" is a sign I'd put on my front lawn, though my neighbors might mutter with a significant look in our home's direction that they've been doing that for years.
     Good for them. Including people is broadening. Being asexual has its advantages, I suppose. None of those sticky situations which we attracted-to-folks types stumble into during the course of our lives. No need to hurriedly gather your clothing and fling yourself naked out the window when the hubby unexpectedly arrives home from his business trip.  Not that I've ever found myself in a situation like that, mind you, though I'm sure if I put my mind to it I could recall a moment or two better left sealed in the vault of memory. I hope you accept that, because you kinda have to.

Friday, October 25, 2019

‘Lucky to be alive’ — morbid cartoonist faces dementia





     Charles Addams isn’t forgotten. Not with “The Addams Family,” the black-and-white TV trifle that lasted two seasons in the mid-1960s and forever in syndication. Plus the sharp 1991 movie and a new, animated one, out last week.
     Addams was more than that, of course. Readers of the New Yorker magazine savored his gorgeous, full page cartoons delving into the macabre. My favorite showed a pleasant suburban couple, the father with his pipe, the mother informing a trick-or-treating spaceman at the door, “I’m sorry sonny. We’ve run out of candy.” A second look shows the darkened neighborhood overrun with identical spacemen, the sky filled with hovering motherships. 

     After Addams died in 1988, his mantle of morbid fun, though not his fame, was taken up by Gahan Wilson. No movies to make him a household name. But he checked in at every phase of my life. In the 1960s, he illustrated a series of kids books by Jerome Beatty Jr. about a moon boy name Matthew Looney.
     In the 1970s, Wilson had a monthly strip in the National Lampoon. It was something of a horror story about growing up, called “Nuts” — that had to be a play on “Peanuts.” Its protagonist was a large-headed boy in a plaid cap, his face just peeking out, rolling in the agony of childhood that Charles Schulz could only hint at.
     “Nuts” hit the sweet spot between the hope and disillusionment of being a kid. I was shocked at how many specific strips came back after 40 years, particularly the one where the boy builds a pathetic shelf of a fort: just a board in a tree. “Nice to have something work out OK for once,” the kid muses. You could feel the weight of all those things that didn’t work out, hovering just off the page.


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Among my favorite Gahan Wilson cartoons is the one heaven I could imagine actually existing.
The caption: "Somehow I thought the whole thing would be a lot classier."




Thursday, October 24, 2019

Pride comes from what you do




     Status is a stern taskmaster. Wherever we are on the greased pole of life, we wish we were a little higher, our bright shiny life a littler shinier.  Whenever I get to know a rich guy, even a little, one of the first things I discover is that he's pricked with shame because there are even richer guys.  There'a always a bigger plane, and if you have the biggest plane, well, there are always doubts stowed aboard it. 
     Look at Donald Trump: president of the United States, famous, powerful, rich, though not as wealthy as he pretends to be. Air Force One—a mighty nice ride. Yet his life is a cleary desperate hunger for status, a junkie scramble toward the sense of adequacy that obviously eludes him, and is replaced by an inflamed egotism frantically trying to obscure the hollow within. He's truly pathetic.
     The virus that corrupts his blood infects us all, to a greater or lesser extent. Look at the car above, which I pass on my way walking Kitty through our leafy suburban paradise of Northbrook. Do you see what caused me to stop, smile, and take its picture? And no, not the license plate, I obscured that, so as to protect the privacy of the owner. Here, I'll give you a closer look.
     See it now?
     The car is a Hyundi which someone has tricked out with a Jaguar logo. My impulse was to march up to the door, ring the doorbell and quiz the owner. But it was early and, besides, what would I say? "What's wrong with you?" Nobody responds well to that question.
     First off, Jaguars are not even status cars, not anymore. Too problematic. Having an actual Jaguar is like owning a Hummer—you wonder about the judgment of the owner as it is. It's like wearing a Trump brand necktie. Really? You're trying to impress us with that? Couldn't you just wet yourself?
     If that's the real McCoy, what is a cobbled-together approximation of a shoddy grab at status? What do you call that? Being human, I suppose. There was a time when I was as susceptible to status as the next guy.
    But a few decades of lumpen suburban living squeezed that out of me. Consider it a benefit of age. I'm happy to drive my 2005 Honda Odyssey with 180,000 miles on it. When my older son scraped off the driver's side mirror, I reattached it with wire and duct tape. Repairing my car with duct tape, I realized that I had also put on a piece of aluminum siding that had fallen off the back of the house with duct tape. Which made me smile: both the house and the car sporting duct tape for the world to see. That's some serious lack of concern toward the opinion of the world which—spoiler alert—doesn't care what kind of car you drive. Or whether there's duct tape on it. 
    There's a nice coda to the driver's mirror story. My wife nudged me to get a replacement mirror. Not because of the opinion of the world but because you couldn't adjust the reattached mirror. The controls didn't work. The Honda place said a new factory-authorized mirror would cost $600. The car is barely worth $600. So I bought a brand new generic replacement on Amazon for $60. The guy at the shop said it would be $75 to $125 to install my new mirror. Girding my loins, I took a screwdriver, popped off the cover inside, removed the four bolts, unattached the electrical connection, put on the new mirror, reattached the connection, and the car was good to go. Took 10 minutes and cost 10 cents, for the bolt that I dropped on the driveway and lost and had to replace at the hardware store. 
    And was I proud? You better believe it. Clever, handy me. Proud without anyone even knowing. Which is the secret lost to all who grab at status. Pride comes from what you do. Not what you own.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

A scary spider adventure for Halloween



     Maybe I’m doing this whole column-writing thing wrong.
     I try to choose interesting topics. But maybe I’m dancing to music nobody hears. There are worrisome hints.
     One day earlier this month, I posted two items on Facebook. The first was an in-depth look at a hospital emergency department, written after hours spent observing, talking to doctors, nurses, patients.
     That column got 13 comments and 18 "likes."
     Then I posted a photo of a spider.
     ”Anyone able to ID this bad boy, noticed on our front porch?” I asked.
     That got 78 comments and 40 "likes."
     Readers, it seems, care about spiders.
    Fine. I can do spiders.
     The obvious question is: what kind of spider are we talking about? How do you go about identifying a spider?
     ”I love that question! It’s a great question” said Petra Sierwald, associate curator of arachnids and myriapods—spiders and centipedes—at The Field Museum.
     She directed me to the Field’s online Common Spiders of the Chicago Region. I didn’t have to hunt long: my new neighbor is No. 2, Argiope aurantia, or yellow garden spider.
     Spiders have complicated sex lives. A male spider will wrap a fly in silk and mate with the female while she’s busy eating it. If no bug is handy, he’ll wrap a pebble in silk and trick her, deceit on a near-human level. 

     The worry about spiders is, like snakes, whether they’re venomous. All spiders are, but usually their fangs are too tiny, designed for incapacitating insects, to hurt something as big as a human being. And Illinois’ 800 or so types of spiders are particularly benign.
     ”You are pretty safe,” Sierwald said. “Driving a car is far more dangerous than encountering a spider.”
     Yet half the Halloween displays seem feature huge, menacing spiders. Why are people so afraid of spiders? We should be terrified of bees instead—eight times more Americans die of bee and wasp stings than spider bites. Where does this fear come from?
     ”Certain things we are evolutionarily prepared to develop phobia of,” said Dr. Stewart Shankman, chief psychologist at Northwestern Medicine. The threat from spiders might be less now, but “throughout history more people get hurt by spiders than stoves.”
     Shankman noted that fears are transmitted from parent to child—your mother screams because of a spider, that scares you too.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Night of 1,000 Jack-O-Lanterns



     "My wife is going to count how many pumpkins there actually are, and if they have fewer than 1,000, she's going to file a class action lawsuit," I said, to our friends as we entered the Chicago Botanic Gardens' "Night of 1,000 Jack-o-Lanterns." 
     Kinda lame, as far as wry remarks go. But I was a bit nervous—coming here was my idea, and I really didn't know what we were getting ourselves into. The Botanic Garden began this event in 2016, and it wasn't on my radar at all, even though we're members. but the bag of swag they gave me for judging the Spooky Pooch contest earlier this month not only contained a way cool Chicago Botanic Garden members' baseball cap (Sorry CARA Program, you've been displaced) but a quartet of tickets to this event, a $72 value. 
    So we asked some friends who had invited us to dinner whether they wanted to take a field trip afterward, and they gamely agreed.
    The smattering of small, regular-sized pumpkins soon gave way to ... what can I call them? Show pumpkins. Huge, intricately-carved pumpkins, dozens and dozens of them, lit from within and so skillfully done we wondered if lasers weren't involved—I decided that had to be impossible, given the uneven surface of the pumpkins.
    The ornately carved pumpkins were grouped thematically: first Dia del Muertos pumpkins, followed by "Botanimals," animals whose names were also parts of the names of plants, like the "Dandelion" at left. Classic movie monsters, even notable Chicago gargoyles. There were pumpkin carving experts showing off their art, and scattered food stands and bars.
     I was amazed at how mobbed the place was—the thing is sold out this year. Which might be disappointing, individually, but does carry some general good news: despite the grip of social media around our throats, lots of families will still turn out to ogle well-decorated pumpkins. 



     

Monday, October 21, 2019

Lee Bey’s plea for South Side architecture



   
     Lee Bey is a reporter.
     Yes, he wears other hats — architecture expert, urban planner, lecturer at the School of the Art Institute, photographer of growing renown.
     But a newspaperman is what he was when he joined the Sun-Times in 1992, and he remains true to the basic imperative of reporting: Tell people something they don’t already know.
     This educational process began, for me, with the very first photograph in his new book, “Southern Exposure: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago’s South Side.” (Northwestern University Press: $30). A simple, flat-faced building with a sloping roof. At first I thought it was some 1950s geometrical whimsy; the caption reveals it to be the Lavezzorio Community Center, 7600 S. Parnell Ave., designed in 2008 by Jeanne Gang — the most famous architect in Chicago today, whose Aqua Tower opened to raves in 2009. 
Lavezzorio Community Center
     ”It’s a fine little building that should have ridden Aqua Tower’s slipstream to some modest fame, at least,” Bey notes.
     That it didn’t — I had no idea Gang’s community center exists, and I pay attention to this kind of thing, or try to — is the point of Bey’s new book. Just as America still can’t seem to wrap its head around the fact that black lives carry the same weight as white ones, so Chicago’s architecture south of Cermak Road rarely shows up on our cultural radar, even though it should.


To continue reading, click here.


Sunday, October 20, 2019

Flashback 2000: Drugs damaged little Leanna from the start


     With the Chicago Teachers Union strike, I was looking at columns I've written over the years about the public schools, and noticed this column. It's the sort of thing that sticks in the mind. My mind anyway. Not only cradling little Leanna as a drug-damaged infant, but sitting in front of the television, half listening to a local news report about a 13-year-old girl dropping dead in front of her 7th grade classroom, snapping to attention when they mentioned her name.
    "That's my cocaine baby!" I shouted to my wife. I hate to make a sad story even sadder, but I realize now she would have been 33 years old had her mother not taken those drugs. I'd draw your attention to the reaction of the principal: It isn't easy teaching children, not if you do it right.


     Delores Dorsett smoked herself into labor on a crack cocaine binge. Doctors tried to stop it, but two days later, on Mother's Day, 1986, her daughter Leanna was born.
     Like many cocaine babies, Leanna was born with problems, the greatest being she was three months premature, and weighed 1 pound, 13 ounces. She lost several fingers from the umbilical cord wrapping tightly around them and cutting off the blood. She had a club foot. She was so damaged that doctors had to test her blood to determine she was a girl.
     I met Leanna and her mother that autumn. On Fridays, we would go together to Northwestern University's Perinatal Dependency Clinic. Delores Dorsett had an addict's openness. She would answer any question, and slowly it dawned on me that she had spent her life talking to officials, and I was now one of them.
     When I first saw Leanna, she was 3 months old and weighed 5 pounds, 6 ounces—underweight for a newborn. She was a shocking baby, with huge, desperate eyes that bored into you. While the terrible cocaine withdrawal at birth had passed, she was still jittery when you held her, writhing and crying and fussing, though her doctor wasn't sure if it was due to the cocaine or being born prematurely.
     Her mother was then 30 years old and had seven children. Leanna wasn't her only child harmed by cocaine. Nor did Leanna's birth end Delores' addiction. When Leanna came home from the hospital after nearly three months of intensive care, Delores prepared for the occasion by smoking crack.
     For more than a dozen years, I thought about Leanna Dorsett. Wondered what became of her. She was such a small spark of life, facing hard odds, right off the bat. Beaten up in the womb.
     My naive optimism told me that everything would be all right. I would wait a decent interval of years—and those years just snap by—until she was 18, or maybe even 21. And then I would swoop back into her life and find out.
     I truly believed, or hoped anyway, that she would be a college senior somewhere, bright, vivacious, the missing fingers the only hint that she had to battle her way into this unhappy world.
     Would it be fair of me, I often wondered, to present myself at all? This unexpected person, the observer, exploding into her life to tell her that her mother was a drug addict, that she had to be swaddled tightly to give her the sense of security that most babies have naturally but cocaine babies have lost, a balm to her shattered nerves?
     I pondered the matter from time to time. But really there was no rush. The years still stretched ahead. Maybe she would appreciate learning the truth. To have mysteries finally illuminated. Maybe she would resent it. Who could tell? I always believe that the truth helps. But what if your truth is an awful truth?
     That debate doesn't matter now. Leanna Dorsett collapsed and died last week in her classroom at Garrett Morgan Elementary School, where she was in the seventh grade.
     "She was a beautiful young lady," said her foster mother of six years, Claudette Winters. "She liked to dance. She liked music. She liked all her classes."
     She said the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services never told her that Leanna was a cocaine baby.
     "No, they didn't," Winters said.
     That's par for the course for DCFS. Sometimes they tell the parents. Sometimes they don't.
     "It would depend on the case," said Audrey Finkel, the deputy chief of communications for DCFS.
     Leanna's foster mother should have been told.
     "Absolutely," said Dr. Ira Chasnoff, who treated Leanna as a baby and is now president of Children's Research Triangle, an independent organization working with high risk and drug-exposed children. "Any family who is asked to foster or adopt a child needs to have a complete history. It has tremendous implications for the child's ongoing health and education. So even if the child is perfectly healthy, but having behavior problems, you can understand the behavior in context. So often we see children put on medication—Ritalin is an easy out—when what they need is a specific type of therapeutic approach to help manage their behaviors."
     The medical examiner's office said Friday that autopsy results are inconclusive. And while experts don't know that being a cocaine baby could cause a 13-year-old to die suddenly, it certainly might.
     "We know early on that children exposed prenatally to cocaine have an increased rate of cardiac arrhythmias," Chasnoff said. "We've followed a bunch of children and found they have cleared up by 6 months of age. We have not found any of the children having them at an older age. But I think it's possible."
     Leanna Dorsett was buried Thursday. Her classmates and teachers remembered her not as someone who was dealt an unfair blow, but as a beautiful child whose inherent goodness managed to shine through adversity.
     "There's a lot of broken hearts at the school," said public schools CEO Paul Vallas. "The principal is a veteran, and she's distraught."
     The principal, Dr. Inez G. Walton, wept as she spoke of Leanna.
     "She was still a little wide-eyed girl, a very cordial child, well-mannered, well-dressed," Walton said. "She was a loving child, she tried to please. Everybody just really cared about her because of that. She had problems in terms of academics, because she was physically challenged. She had a lot of operations. But she was a child who would hug. She was just a joy to have in the school, truly a joy. I've lost children before, and all of it hurts. But not like this. This just shook everybody. The engineering staff. The people in the lunchroom. They loved her. This little girl touched everyone in that school like she was an angel on a mission and her mission was to touch people, and she did."
       —Originally published in the Sun-Times, April 23, 2000

Saturday, October 19, 2019

The Saturday snapshot: Leaves and snow.

     "Winter arrives abruptly in the Northwoods," regular reader Tony Galati wrote last week. "Thursday it was 67° up here. When I drove up Saturday, it was snowing."
     I wouldn't know—I usually go to the Northlands in September, to visit my buddy Rick's place in the UP, though looking at Tony's photos, taken around his cabin in Oneida County, Wisconsin, it made me consider, not for the first time, relocating in that vicinity permanently. I'd have to give up my job, of course, but I'm approaching that point, now still a spot on the horizon. A buck goes a long way up there.
     "It's 36 degrees," Tony writes. "Got a fire going, feet up, and an easy to read book. Retirement is a good thing."
     No doubt. In Canto 27, Dante has Guido da Montefeltro recount that, when he gave the false advice that consigned him to hell, he had come to that part of life when it is time to calar le vele e raccoglier le sarte — “lower the sails and coil the rope.”
    Sounds nice.
    "What a beautiful metaphor!" agrees 14th century Bolognese scholar Benvenuto da Imola, in his early commentary on The Inferno. "The mariner, who has been on a long voyage, must steer for a safe harbor where me may find rest."
    He's talking about eternal salvation, not Lake Superior. And that isn't the only view on the subject of how a man should grapple with age. There is of course Yeats, who cuts the other way. 

    "An aged man is but a paltry thing," he writes. "A tattered coat upon a stick, unless/
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing."

    That sounds more my style. Clap hands as long as you can. Besides, I need the money.
     That is perhaps too weighty a reflection to hang on the delicate beauty of these photos. Plus I quoted those lines of Dante's in late August; repeating myself, another ominous sign. But these leaves should be the focus today. The words are just little black decorations to go beside them. Thanks Tony for sending these gorgeous pictures. 

Friday, October 18, 2019

Hope to miss class today? Guess again.

"The Watch" by Hebru Brantley

     Don’t be scared. The flat, floppy, beige thing that some adult just handed you is called a newspaper. It’s how people learned about stuff long ago, before phones. Don’t bother dragging your finger across the page—the text won’t change, and you’ll only smudge your fingertip.
     Fun fact: phones used to be called cell phones, because they communicate to a network of towers that cover hexagonal areas, or cells. The towers hand your signal off from one to the next as you move past, say, on your way to school, were you going to school. Though you may not go today because Chicago teachers and staff are on strike.
     Welcome to the Chicago Sun-Times Virtual Schoolroom. I am Mr. Steinberg, and I’ll be your teacher for the next six minutes, or until you lose interest and wander off. Though if you stick here to the end, I will share the secret to writing well.
     And yes, writing well is something you will need to do someday. Not a column in a newspaper, God knows, but maybe an email to a potential employer or a love note to a special someone. If it’s poorly written, the job or heart you seek might go to someone else.
     First, a lesson in the value of school. We are going to conduct an exercise. I’d like you to pair off—you can enlist your brother or sister if nobody else is around, or the parent who handed you this newspaper (a compound word, formed by combining “news,” from the Latin nova, or “new” and “paper,” from the Latin papyrus).
     This is why kids hate school, isn’t it? All this irrelevant information. You don’t find it cool that the term we use today, paper, echoes back to ancient Egypt, papyrus, leaping across 2,000 years in a single breath? No? Not even a little bit?
    See, this is why teachers are always pushing for more. Teaching is hard


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Thursday, October 17, 2019

Flashback 2012: Lessons from the last teachers strike

Unions join picketing teachers, Chicago, 1983
     With 30,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union now officially on strike (though the mayor's press office is calling it a "work stoppage," because that sounds better, to them, I guess). This is the first time the CTU has struck in seven years, and I've been revisiting the columns I wrote in 2012. In this column, I try to put the strike in context of past strikes.

     So what does history tell us the city of Chicago and mayor Rahm Emanuel can expect now that the Chicago Teachers Union has gone on strike for the first time in 25 years?
     To set the stage: Ronald Reagan was president. Our school system was a national shame—the secretary of education, William Bennett, would soon deem the Chicago Public Schools the worst in the nation—"I'm not sure there's a system as bad as the Chicago system," are the words he actually used, noting that almost half of Chicago public school teachers sent their own children to private schools.
     The strike occurred Sept. 8, 1987, exactly 25 years ago, and would end up lasting 19 days, the longest ever.
     Teachers strikes weren't the rare occurrence back then that they are today—the 1987 strike was fourth since 1980, the ninth since 1970—teachers had walked out for 15 days in 1983, for 10 days in 1984. A high school senior in 1987 would have already lost nearly 10 full weeks of school due to strikes.
     The situation was similar around the country. It was a season of walkouts—20 other teachers strikes were going on in four states at the same time, though the collective students affected in those strikes, 260,000, didn't come close to the 435,000 student who attended CPS then, about 8 percent more than today.
     The length of the strike, following the recent past strikes, finally broke the patience of Chicago's parents. Parents rebelled—they organized their own huge demonstrations, formed "freedom schools," and demanded Mayor Harold Washington resolve the situation. That was probably the biggest impact of the strike, and something Emanuel ought to bear in mind. The city will only tolerate so much.
     When the 1987 strike occurred, negotiators weren't even close. Teachers were asking for a 10 percent raise the first year, a 5 percent the second. The district was offering what was effectively a 1.7 percent wage cut.
     Union president Jacqueline Vaughn called the board's proposal "unrealistic." The board used a stronger word.
     "I am tired of raping the system to satisfy the desires of employees," said finance chairman Clark Burrus.
     As the strike dragged on, student athletes missed games, college-bound seniors predicted they'd be packing for college while still attending high school, and everyone worried about baking in un-airconditioned classrooms, which they would.
     The strike was settled on Oct. 3. The teachers agreed to a 4 percent raise in the first year, with the second-year raise contingent on funding being found somewhere. Superintendent Manford Byrd said the agreement would mean the immediate layoff of 1700 teachers and staff. Funding for the bus system was cut so severely it had trouble getting kids to school, particularly as the school year stretched far into the summer.
     Washington immediately began organizing the groundwork that would lead to massive school reform, but his untimely death on Nov. 25 removed him from the scene, an escape from political consequences that will probably not be available to Emanuel.
     Within a year, Gov. Thompson had signed a school reform law that created local school councils that gave parents a much greater say in the operation of their school.
     The last day of school in Chicago was June 30, 1988, the latest the school year had ever gone. Students and teachers suffered alike. Teachers fell ill, or quit. At Yale Elementary, 7025 S. Princeton, at the end of one sweltering day two teachers announced they weren't coming back, and they didn't. Students quit too—one class that was supposed to have 35 had only 8, by the last week.
     Yet in some important ways, not much has changed.
     In 1987, 43 percent of incoming Chicago freshmen would drop out of high school without graduating. Today's drop-out rate is 39.4 percent, the lowest it has ever been.
                —Originally published in the Sun-Times, Sept. 10, 2012

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

‘One Day’ — ace writer spins gold from an ordinary Sunday


     What do you do when you’re the best, the very best, at what you do? When you’re a writer who has done the hard work, enjoyed a stellar career, received the plaudits — not one but two Pulitzer Prizes.
     Where do you go from there?
     You could forgive Gene Weingarten had he, at 68,, furled his sails in some snug harbor. After all, this is the man who talked star violinist Joshua Bell into standing at a Metro station in Washington, D.C., playing his priceless Stradivarius violin for tossed coins. A mere prank in the hands of a lesser journalist, Weingarten and his colleagues at the Washington Post turned it into a meditation on values, beauty, and how we spend our limited time on this earth. That earned his first Pulitzer.  

     He is also the guy who took a story most readers can’t flee quickly enough — kids dying in hot cars — and put their parents’ heartbreak on the page, earning his second Pulitzer.
     How do you top that?
     If you are Weingarten, who has a funny as well as a serious side, you find a challenge equal parts epic and implausible. You try to do something virtuosic. “A stunt, at its heart” as Weingarten himself admits. The journalistic version of a swan dive off a tall ladder into a teacup.
     ”I set myself a goal that I wasn’t sure I could hit,” Weingarten told me.
     He drew slips of paper out of a hat, selecting a random day between 1969 and 1989 — old enough to be a challenge, recent enough to provide living witnesses. That date was turned out to be Dec. 28, 1986. Then he dug into records, interviewed 500 people, worked six years and produced a riveting collection of stories pivoting on that date: “One Day: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary 24 Hours in America” (Blue Rider: $28).


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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Strike flashback 2012: The one school stat that nobody’s discussing

    With a good possibility of Chicago's public school teachers striking this Thursday, I thought I would look back at my coverage of the 7-day 2012 strike. 
    It's very rare that I read an old piece of mine and think, "Man, that's cold." But there are moments in this column that, well, let's say they're not overflowing with sympathy. The sixth paragraph, crudely stereotyping parents of CPS students, I would certainly claw back if I could and replace with something more nuanced. It sounds almost Trumpian. Then again, I'm not paid to coo the party line, and I called it as I saw it at the time. The current drop-out rate, by the way, is about 22 percent, which either shows dramatic progress in seven years, or a skillful cooking of the numbers or, most likely, a little of both.

    If I ran a hospital where 40 percent of the patients who checked in died rather than getting better, how long would you allow me to debate the details of our doctors’ salaries, our hospital care guidelines, or specific room amenities before you raised a finger and said, “Hey, let’s talk some about that 40 percent dying part. Because that would seem far more important than whether your doctors buy their own scrubs or not.”
     That’s basically my attitude toward the spectacle of the 2012 Chicago teachers strike. Teaching is hard, and teachers deserve respect, and I am not saying that 160,000 of the current 400,000 Chicago public school students will drop out because they have lousy teachers. If I had to guess, I’d say for every student driven off by mediocre teaching — or no air conditioning, or lack of counselors — there’s another who would have been lost were it not for a great teacher. Maybe two.
     But that dropout number sits there and ticks. I’ve seen it cited as high as 44 percent; as with all statistics, there’s an amazingly wide range of opinion regarding what the true figures are and what they represent.
     Whatever the actual number, it’s been ignored lately — the only story I saw it in was mine, plus a William Bennett column quoting me (queasy company to keep, I admit). Maybe part of the game is we have to assume students want to learn, that they are coming to school to soak up good teaching. Otherwise, what’s the point of sweating all this? In light of 40 percent of students dropping out, why bother with teachers at all? Why not just hire security guards — cheaper, less training required — to keep an eye on teens as they sit in classrooms watching TV, awaiting the inevitable moment when they shrug and wander into the street to live whatever kind of life you can live without a diploma?
     There is an argument that the crux of the problem isn’t really teachers, good, bad or indifferent; it’s parents. If your parents are paying attention to you and care about your education, then you’re generally going to be fine, no matter what kind of school you go to or what caliber of teachers you find there.
     But if your mom’s a drug addict and your dad’s who knows where, then you could be set down in the front row of Freshman Success A01 at New Trier and you’d still most likely screw up, and quickly, too, because you couldn’t cope with this strange new world.
     The Sun-Times did a survey, years ago, of kindergarten teachers, one that made a huge impression on me. It asked teachers to evaluate how prepared Chicago 5-year-olds are when they arrive for the first day of school.
     There were kids who didn’t know their colors or couldn’t count to 10. Some kids didn’t know their own names, only what street tag they went by. The best teachers in the best schools in the world couldn’t help kids like that catch up, and while those were the exceptions, you can’t give teachers an impossible task and then punish them for not doing it. Which seems to be what often happens.
     The dropout rate in Chicago is about 40 percent. Any idea, any clue what the national average dropout rate is? Brace yourself for another shocking figure that isn’t seen much:
     About 30 percent. About a third, which is almost as bad as 40 percent. Something has gone very wrong in this country if we can’t get one out of three kids to finish high school.
     Public high school, that is. Private schools are an entirely different matter. The National Catholic Education Association reports a dropout rate of 0.9 percent, or a 99.1 percent graduation rate. Why the difference? Is teaching so incredible at Catholic schools that their students are kept engaged and studying, then sent off to college with a fancy diploma and a pat on the head? Perhaps.
     Or maybe any student whose parent cares enough and has the resources to get him or her into a private school is going to do well.
     The strike is going to be resolved, maybe as early as Friday. If not, then next week, or eventually. What will not get resolved — we sure haven’t resolved it yet — is the staggering failure and human potential tragedy represented by that 40 percent dropout rate.
     Why haven’t we? Because it’s hard. Because it cuts to the very core of society. Failure among Chicago public school kids is acceptable to the rest of the city and country because it’s not their kids. The dropouts don’t even look like their kids, generally.
     On the national level, we have one party pretending we all begin at the same starting line, and anyone who gets ahead deserves it, while those who fall behind can be justly ignored. But that’s simply a lie. The playing field is skewed. My kids exist in an education-rich culture where students scramble over each other to strive, to succeed, to grow and learn. While a few miles away, 40 percent of students and their parents don’t even grasp that without a high school diploma, your chances are somewhere between little and none. That problem is going to exist long after the cheer goes up and the strike is over.
                    —Originally published in the Sun-Times, Sept. 14, 2012

Monday, October 14, 2019

The mocking laughter of Trump’s base





     Winston Smith isn’t sure why he is writing his diary in George Orwell’s novel “1984.” For the future, he speculates, “for the unborn.”
     For whatever reason, he sits down to describe an ordinary evening at the movies:

April 4, 1984. Last night to the flicks All war films. One very good one of a ship full of refugees being bombed somewhere in the Mediterranean. Audience much amused by shots of a great huge fat man trying to swim away with a helicopter after him. first you saw him wallowing along in the water like a porpoise, then you saw him through the helicopters gunsights, then he was full of holes and the sea round him turned pink and he sank as suddenly as though the holes had let in the water. audience shouting with laughter when he sank...
     That scene flashed into mind, watching Trump perform his repugnant fear mongering act in Minneapolis last Thursday, as he bragged:
     Since coming into office, I have reduced refugee resettlement by 85 percent. And as you know, maybe especially in Minnesota, I kept another promise. I issued an executive action, making clear that no refugees will be resettled in any city or any state without the express written consent of that city or that state. So speak to your mayor.
     He said this because the mayor of Minneapolis, like the mayor of Chicago and the mayor of any big city worthy of the name, welcomes immigrants, particularly refugees, as the essential future American citizens that they are and always have been.
     ”Consent given” tweeted Mayor Jacob Frey. “Immigrants and refugees are welcome in Minneapolis.”
     Patriotic Americans embrace immigrants not only because it’s the right thing to do, but out of self interest, because immigrants built this country. To act otherwise is as anti-American as undercutting the military or the press or the justice system—three elements of society Trump has continually attacked, trying to dim the light they shine on his betrayal of our country and all that it represents.

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Sunday, October 13, 2019

Party.



     I don't go to parties much. Some combination of my not wanting to go to parties and those who throw parties not wanting to invite me to them. Mostly the former, since I do get asked, periodically, to parties that I don't attend, since doing so requires time and effort and, as I said, as a rule I have no interest, for a variety of reasons: I don't drink, so the free booze dynamic that inspires so many is off the table. Plus the food at parties is usually less good than the food I can get on my own. Then there is the whole challenge of meeting people and, well, as a young man of my long acquaintance used to say, "People are the worst."
     But sometimes a new factor enters the equation. Like last Thursday, I put on a sports coat and headed downtown to go to the Landmark Legacy Project (Un) Gala. Yes, I am a supporter of their cause: to draw attention to LBGQT history so often overlooked, still, in schoolbooks, through their Legacy Walk pylons in Boystown and various other projects and events. Important work in a country that at times seems all too determined to shove the whole LGBQT+ cohort back into the closet. Which is impossible; the closet's too small.
    But that alone would not have prompted me to go. 
    I went because Lori F. Cannon, who was being honored with the Legacy Advocate Award, asked me to go. A force on the Chicago gay and lesbian scene since, well, forever, she's doled out millions of meals, mostly through Open Hand/Chicago.  Anyone who, among her various nicknames, has been called "The AIDS Angel" is okay in my book. But most of all, she's just one of those people that you don't say no to. At least I don't. Cowardice might be involved. Having seen her features darken with contempt a dozen times while she outlines the multitudinous personal failings of someone who has fallen from her favor and landed with a thud on her expansive enemies list, I would never want to be one of those unfortunates. Besides, she's always been a big fan of mine, and I value that in a person.
     So here I was in the Chez Event space—a clean, modern two story white cube-shaped room on East Ontario.  Lori gamely introduced me to a series of people, the majority of whom regarded me blankly or with utter incomprehension. She could have been saying, "This is Neb Steebryxzn. He's a contortionist for the Shekadence Soo-Tee." People either drifted off with a shrug or fled as if I were on fire. 
    Luckily, there was a fellow journalist whom I could compare notes with on the ever-declining state of the media—Matt Simonette, managing editor of Windy City Times, and that helped. Usually a politician is good for five minutes, and I oozed over to State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (12th) and tried to talk with her, but it didn't quite work. The conversation never gelled, and I had to retreat. My fault I'm sure. 
     Lori gave detailed, Deuteronomy-level explanations of complex relationships and community network dynamics of a score or two of people whose names and significance immediately shot past me—it was loud. I did go up and speak to the mayor's liaison to the gay community about how Lightfoot's style contrasts with Rahm's, and to someone at Rush University Medical about their gender re-assignment program. I told him I'd love to write about that, and he said he'd get back to me, and who knows, maybe he will. Anything is possible. 
      Most people were dressed in what I would call sharp business casual: smart jackets, bow ties, hats. My blue blazer with gold buttons put me on the dowdier, work-a-daddy end of the scale, but was fine for my purposes. I was perhaps the polar opposite of a young man directly in front of me as the festivities started. He stood out for his silvery jacket, silver pants tucked into black boots, and matching intricate silver hairstyle. I photographed him from the back—I prefer my subjects to be oblivious of my presence—easier all around. But, deciding that this represented a lack of fortitude on my part, I approached him and asked to take his picture. 
     He was very happy to consent, graciousness itself. He said he name was Patrik—"like the saint"— Gallineaux, and he is the LGBT manager and ambassador for Stoli vodka, one of the hosts of the evening.  That must be a sweet gig. He lives in San Francisco, and we talked about the challenges of living there—he was lucky enough to find a rent-controlled apartment, he said, entirely by accident.  I apologized for being unable to enjoy his product, though I had done more than my share in my day to reduce the  world's surplus of Stolichnaya, and brought up the current vogue for NA beverages. "A golden age of non-alcoholic cocktails" is a phrase I actually uttered, causing my old self to spin in his deepening grave.  I sung the praises of Fre non-alcoholic wine, quite the boon companion to cheese, and he either was genuinely interested, or feigned genuine interest in a practiced and convincing manner. I tried a few full-face photographs, but they didn't quite capture the glory of the man. I thanked him, and as the party began to go into full swing, figured my energies could be better spent savoring the warm, almost summer-like evening just beginning to unfold on Michigan Avenue, so thanked Lori and headed down to the street. 





  

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Mail call


     One of the many aspects of journalism that have been done in by the internet are letters to columnists. There isn't space to run them, and besides, anyone who still has a job as a columnist at a newspaper is too grateful to be employed to risk the "Gone Fishin'" aspect of printing readers letters.  They can hear their boss sneer, "You know, if you don't want to do your job, I can find someone who does..."
    Oh, some papers still have comments section, but those are labor intensive, requiring more effort to pluck out the obscene, the racist, the crazy and unfathomable, than was required to write the piece itself. Most publish a few carefully-culled letters to the editor and call it a day. 
     While I do take a certain lepidopterist's interest in the wackier missives, lately I really make a sincere effort to not to read them at all, to delete my Spam filter without a glance. Because reading the stuff, well, it can make a boy sad. And if you react with anything bordering on the censure they deserve, half the time they'll go shrieking to your boss, showing off the boo-boo, complaining they've been ill-used. Because nobody cries like a bully. So why bother? What's the upside? Nobody learns, nobody changes.
     Yesterday's column on Rev. Jim Wallis, and his commonsense observation that you can't follow both Jesus Christ and Donald Trump, drew more than the usual reaction. Which I was ready to ignore. But before 9 a.m. I got this, from regular reader Kevin Illia.
Neil, Good Morning! Wait for it! Wait for it! I am talking about the"Blow-Back" to your column. Please write about it. I can only imagine the type of comments you will receive. Have a Great Weekend! Kevin
   He sounded so excited. And he said "please." So I steeled myself and looked in the spam filter, and was not disappointed. The very first message,on the top of the page, was this all-caps bulletin from Robert Craig:
ANOTHER TYPICAL JEWISH JAMOKE TRYING TO APPEAR AN EXPERT, YET LACKING DATA. YOUR COHORTS, SCHIFF, SCHUMER, BLUMENTHAL,ET AL, COULD CARE LESS ABOUT THE JEWISH FAITH. THEY CRAVE NOTORIETY AND POWER. AND CONTROL. 60 % OF ALL JEWS DO NOT ATTEND THE SYNAGOGUE ON A REGULAR BASIS. GET A JOB THAT SUITS YOUR LITTLE, FEEBLE,INDOCTRINATED BRAIN. TRY THE POST OFFICE OR AMTRAK IMBECILE. MORE AND MORE SCUM BAGS FROM THE LEFT ARE APPEARING IN THE SUNTIMES. REALLY SAD.
    Yes, a lack of statistics regarding synagogue attendance, that is the germane point here.  Is that enough? One more. Okay. Move to the next one, from Jim Courchene, who to his credit can use the shift key:
Hi Neil,

Not sure if you were able to catch the best speech ever given yesterday by your President. Just have to ask when your hatred of this great man and the millions of voters who have elected our leader and who has done so much good for our country is going to end. God bless you and hope you can tone down your hatred in the future. It has been many years that you continue to belittle and shove you hateful opinions down your Sun Times readers throat.
Have a good day and I like to see you stop such hateful writtings one day. Going to be 5 more years and I feel you may loose your sanity all together like all your violent hateful protesters that create havoc across our country.

Thanks,
Jim
      He's referring to the repulsive hate speech Trump gave in Minneapolis, where he bragged about turning away refugees and slurred Ilhan Omar, the congresswoman from Minneapolis who has the audacity to insist on being both Muslim and American. As a matter of fact, I did watch parts of it, sickened and thinking of Orwell's "1984," and the cinema audience cheering while the refugee boat is bombed in a newsreel. 
      There are worse—mean, vindictive, throwing the old mud—but I don't want to give them the compliment of attention, and will leave those to your imagination.       
       Happy Kevin? You no doubt see why I'm usually content to leave them in the filter, unread and answered. Why go to the trouble? And it's only fair; they never consider what I have to say—failure to evaluate the world around you is how a person ends up supporting Donald Trump. I don't expect reality to ever dawn; to move forward, our nation will have to go around them, or over them, with them wrapped around our ankles, crying all the while, they way they did for eight years while Barack Obama tried to help them get health insurance. Though frankly, that is, as Jim suggests, probably five years away, at least. This can't be easy, and if you imagine we're near the end, think again.