Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Flashback 2009: Walking the thin blue line

Chicago police on parade, 1897

     Much reader reaction to my Monday column about the five Memphis cops charged with murder. One stood out, a Chicago police officer accusing me of harboring long-term animus toward Chicago's finest and never writing anything positive about the force. While it is true that I sometimes write critical things, I also write positive stories, whenever I can — such as this column, about two officers helping Englewood students plant a garden. I sent it to him, and a conversation ensued. People usually just want to be heard, and respected, and he went away with a far different attitude than when he first wrote. I also saw the police perspective more clearly than I had the day before. Supervision is an important factor that too often gets overlooked.
    Rooting around in the clips to get a sense of what I've written over the years about the CPD, I noticed this 2009 column below, when I joined officers picketing City Hall. It was not a warm welcome, but I did my best to present what they had to say. The column is from when my column filled a page and ended with a joke, and I've kept the joke.

     A great many Chicago Police officers —I didn't count them, but it was at least 2,000 — circled City Hall on Thursday to protest their lack of a union contract.
     Whatever the number, they made for an impressive display of law enforcement displeasure, a ring of cops, five or six deep, completely surrounding the block-square building, timed to coincide with a key visit of Olympic officials who will decide whether the mayor's dream for bringing the 2016 Olympics here will become a reality.
     With so many officers gathered in one spot, and since the most frequent comment I get from the law enforcement community is their voices are never heard, I could not pass up the opportunity to go there and talk to as many as I could.
     Of all the sore points — the 21 months without a new contract, their deep dislike of Supt. Jody Weis — the strongest beef is the way the city yanked back its contract offer.
     "We were in extremely late in the negotiations, they had an economic offer they made to 37 other city unions . . . and on March 16 they pulled it off the table" said Dennis Mushol, the Fraternal Order of Police union rep for the 19th District. "That's what precipitated this."
     They blame Daley, personally.
     "Why would he do that, a slap in the face of first responders?" said Bill Dougherty, FOP first vice president.
     Mark Donahue, the FOP president, said the city's withdrawal was "the most stupid thing I've ever seen happen."
     Dougherty said that if progress doesn't occur soon, their public struggle will continue on billboards, with another mass protest, perhaps at Taste of Chicago.
     The marchers were white and black and Hispanic, young and old, men and women, gray-haired veterans and kids held on shoulders and pushed in strollers.
     With the exception of union officials, the officers wouldn't give their names, because of fear of repercussions and disdain for the media in general (and, some made clear, for me in particular).
     Weis, a former FBI agent, was singled out for special contempt. "He's not a cop," said one.
     "Why is he still getting $310,000 a year?" one asked. "He doesn't deserve it."
     The protest was animated but orderly, and — needless to say — there were no arrests.
     To show you what kind of romantic I am, some part of me hoped that Daley might even show up — his office is just upstairs, after all.
     Because really, what kind of boss, what kind of leader, would let thousands of unhappy workers circle his office for 90 minutes and not stop by and at least pretend to care?
     I've written some critical things about cops, and walking among them — they tend to be a lot taller than me — trying to talk to them for two hours is not my idea of fun. But just as it was my job to be there, so it is Daley's job to give these officers the attention they demand and deserve, because in the end, whatever affects the police force affects us all.
     Any hope the protest will spur the city to action on a contract?
     "We'll see," said Donahue, noting that negotiations reconvene at noon today. "If he doesn't get the message now, he never will."
     The rank and file are not optimistic.
     "We could have twice as many guys out here, and he's going to do what he wants," said one.
     "I don't think it's going to be a good summer in Chicago," said another.

Today's chuckle . . .

     This slogan, from a T-shirt at the police protest, struck me as printable, barely:
     Q. How often do Chicago police officers get screwed?
     A. Daley.
                 —Originally published in the Sun-Times, April 3, 2009

Monday, January 30, 2023

Five reasons why Tyre Nichols was killed

     How could five police officers beat a man to death earlier this month in Memphis? The answer is so obvious people overlook it: because they thought they could. Obviously, since they were in front of numerous witnesses — each other, the cameras they wore, bystanders — and still did what they did. Not impulsively or momentarily but over many excruciating minutes.
     As to why the five beat Tyre Nichols, 29, a FedEx worker stopped by police while driving home from a park — possibly after some traffic infraction, though there’s no evidence of that — numerous possibilities present themselves.
     The top five — there are more — in no particular order:
     1) because they’re cops.
     2) because Nichols was Black.
     3) because he might have questioned them or hesitated following their orders, which gets some police officers mad.
     4) because the cops were in a group and so reinforced each other’s violent behavior.
     5) because we live in a racist society where the lives of Black people aren’t seen as significant.
     That last one might seem improbable because the five cops, fired from the force and charged with second degree murder — things move faster in Tennessee — are themselves Black.
     That detail figured prominently in the reportage of the release of the video Friday night. Why not? It’s news. Usually, officers who kill Black citizens are white, which should not be surprising, as police departments are typically white clubs.
     In Chicago, a city that is 30 percent Black, only 20 percent of the Chicago Police Department is Black. Nationwide, the figure is 12 percent.
     Implied in the coverage is that Black officers would somehow be more sympathetic to their victim. Remember Reason No. 1. Police officers will be the first to tell you that their race is not Black or white, but blue.
     Notice how in Tennessee, as with George Floyd, or Rodney King for that matter, there were a lot of officers involved. Making none of them responsible — in their own eyes — to the citizen they were supposedly being paid to serve and protect. Their only concern was each other.
     Racism infects the downtrodden in society as well as the dominant class. Just as Jews can be anti-Semitic (hello Stephen Miller) Blacks can unconsciously absorb the diminishment of themselves and their own worth that has warped our nation’s attitudes and policies for 400 years. How could they not?

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Sunday, January 29, 2023

The Rookery endures

Chicago Botanic Garden, Jan. 1, 2023
     Call us crazy. But my wife and I continue to visit the Chicago Botanic Garden throughout the winter. Yes, it's less glorious than in springtime with its explosion of colors. Far less warm than in summer. And none of the golden muted palette of fall with its spicy brown autumnal smells.        But the garden in winter has a unique austere beauty. Not to forget far fewer people and, as Sartre reminds us, "Hell is other people."
     This is also the first winter with Patrick Dougherty's installation, "The Rookery," the star of the summertime, "Flourish: The Garden at 50" celebration marking the CBG's first half century. I loved catching sight of the little fairy castle made of willow saplings, an homage to the North Carolina woodlands of Dougherty's childhood. Some of the woven willow branches seem living, sending off green shoots. I enjoyed showing the castle off to guests, and felt sad that it would vanish with the summer 50th anniversary festivities. 
    Then it didn't. We were surprised by that. All the other artworks were removed, The Rookery stayed.
     I wondered if that was always the intention, or a spontaneous call, perhaps a reaction to how tremendously cool the piece is. So I asked. Turns out that was the plan all along.
The Rookery in summer.
     “We knew Patrick Dougherty’s creations held up well at other sites where he’s worked, so we planned for The Rookery to remain at the Garden following the completion of Flourish," said Jodi Zombolo, Associate Vice President, Visitor Events & Programs. "This type of installation is a great fit in its location here at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and we encourage visitors to regularly return to enjoy The Rookery and experience it in different seasons.”
     Which is where I'm going with this. I haven't yet gotten back to see it covered with snow — this weekend would have been perfect, but other responsibilities intruded. We'll make a point to do so at the next opportunity.
    In the meantime, I was browsing through my photo file and came upon this. In the summer of 2016, our oldest boy was interning at a Washington D.C. think tank, and of course we went to visit him in his Potomac exile. We impulsively visited the Corcoran Gallery, one of the smaller museums in DC, featuring contemporary art. There I photographed — then promptly forgot — this installation by Dougherty. I don't want to say setting is everything. But the Chicago Botanic Garden certainly did seem to inspire him to greater heights. Anyway, congrats to the garden for bringing him in, and double congratulations for realizing that the Rookery is too fun an addition to let go just yet. 

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Northshore notes: Sunsets

Clasped Hands of Rob't and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, by Harriet Hosmer (Metropolitan Museum)

     "Connection." Caren sure nailed it today. As if reading my mind. Friday afternoon. I went straight from researching a story next to Midway Airport to a Wicker Park coffee shop, to meet an old friend I hadn't seen in years. In town, briefly. We both smiled at each other, and toed the corpse of our old friendship. But the thing never stirred. We didn't really have anything much to talk about, and then I stood up and went on my way. Maybe the problem, as Caren suggests below, is that we were never equals. That could be it. Anyway, this helped.

By Caren Jeskey    

     “so he said: you ain’t got no talent
      if you didn’t have a face
     you wouldn’t be nobody

     and she said: god created heaven and earth
    and all that’s Black within them

     so he said: you ain’t really no hot shit
     they tell me plenty sisters
     take care better business than you

     and she said: on the third day he made chitterlings
     and all good things to eat
     and said: that’s good

     so he said: if the white folks hadn’t been under
     yo skirt and been giving you the big play
     you’d a had to come on uptown like everybody else

     and she replied: then he took a big Black greasy rib
     from adam and said we will call this woeman and her
     name will be sapphire and she will divide into four parts

     that simone may sing a song

     and he said: you pretty full of yourself ain’t chu

     so she replied: show me someone not full of herself
     and i’ll show you a hungry person
                     "Poem For A Lady Whose Voice I Like," by Nikki Giovanni

     “There is only connection when there is equality,” observed my British pal Pat. Yesterday morning we engaged in an enjoyable video chat with a couple of other friends. Only one other person made it past the third hour.
     I finally cut myself off to write this so I can send it to Neil before too late. This way, he won’t have to pad to the computer in his socks at 3:45 a.m. — I think that’s the regular waking time for a newsman — to weed through my weekly (sometimes stream of consciousness) musings.
     The Zoom hang satisfied the ennui I didn’t know I was experiencing. I thought I was just tired. The perk-up led me to do a bit of research about the dangers of isolation, which “causes a cease in brain activity, as the stimulation of thought and action leads to the firing of more neurons in the brain. Without that, we are left with nothing but a state of stress.”
     Living in solitude means one must actually leave the house to have human contact, unless you want to make your neighbors uncomfortable and overly chat to them over the fence. (Now that I’ve finally landed on my feet back home in Chicago, I’ve started dating again. I decided I want the company of a man to do the dishes with after coffee, croissants and crosswords on Sundays, before we head out to kayak and fossil hunt).
     Virtual connection, a la Pat and company, is the next best thing to flesh and blood. He sat cozily in a low-backed armchair, long legs crossed in that elegant European way. A knit cap warded the cold off of his balding dome. There was give and take in the conversation, but Pat really has a voice worth listening to, both for its content as well as lyrical timbre.
     He addressed a recent piece I offered here on EGD recently. On Camus, Pat said “he observed an absurdity in the human condition, but also wrote from a depressed state of mind as German tanks rolled into France.” Camus also posited that the myth of Sisyphus reveals that acceptance of the mundane nature of living "allows the sorrow and melancholy of life to become bearable," and perhaps even enjoyable. Finding intrinsic value in work itself. You probably know that this king of Greek mythology's fate, a punishment for cheating death, was to push a boulder up a mountain repeatedly, only for it to roll back down and need to be pushed up again and again, each time.
     Then we laughed at Samuel Beckett’s more playful idea that one can decide the purpose of their life, and it can be absolutely anything. Waiting for Godot, perhaps.
     The sun eventually set over Pat’s left shoulder through sheer lace curtains. “Is that the sun setting? Or a streetlight?” I asked. “It is the sun.” He sat up straighter and chuckled gleefully. “A reflection on the window across the street,” a phenomena of physics adding a bit of joy to his dusk.
     Another Zoom friend mostly listened but then piped up to offer up a song suggestion, Sunshine on Laith. I found the Scottish Proclaimer's song on Apple Music and offered it to them via nifty little vibrating oscillator circuits embedded my bluetooth speaker. We all swayed along, eyes closed, and took it in. A Standing Bear protest poster hanging on another friend’s wall prompted Pat to request Buffy Sainte-Marie. We all sat back and contemplated her deep voice singing "Now That The Buffalo Is Gone."
     I envisioned Pat in his UK town down the road from Roman ruins, and again realized how young we are in the U.S. An adolescent mess these days, it seems. Pat conjured up the image of a wagon wheel to remind us that all roads lead to Rome. This picture created an instant sense of connection with the rest of the world. Someone then chimed in that the Earth is not, in fact, round, but an oblate spheroid.
     It’s comforting to know how little I know. Sometimes I can be just one of the gang, keeping each other company. Equals sharing ideas.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Welcome back, Donald Trump!

      Carlisle (Pa.) Indian School, Classroom debating society, 1901 (Library of Congress)

     “Social media is rooted in the belief that open debate and the free flow of ideas are important values,” begins Nicholas Clegg, president of global affairs for Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, in a post announcing the return of former president Donald J. Trump to both those wildly popular services after two years of exile.
     How to characterize that statement? “A lie segueing into a mischaracterization” sounds about right.
     First the lie. Think about your interaction with social media. How much would you characterize as “open debate”? Pretty much zero, right? Actual debate requires the notion of impartial assessment of verifiable reality. Each side offers arguments backed by facts — ”evidence,” we called it in middle school debate club. A judge would decide whose case is best and thus carries the day. You had to prepare a strong case because you knew your opponent would have a logical argument and solid evidence supporting their side.
     Nobody is debating on social media because nobody is open to the possibility that the other side might have a point, never mind be right. And nobody is judging because everybody has already made up their minds, which perceive the living world in a state that too often borders on pure hallucination laced with bottomless malice. Opposing arguments are dismissed immediately in a blast of contempt.
     Which leads us to Clegg’s mischaracterization, “the free flow of ideas.” Sure, ideas are free-flowing on social media. (And here I’m struggling to find a metaphor that doesn’t involve diarrhea.) Unimpeded flow isn’t the problem, it’s what is flowing that’s the trouble: an endlessly gushing firehose discharging every possible unfiltered thought, notion, lie and fantasy.
     Example? This week MAGA-world decided that ... well, let them explain:
     “I believe that Damar Hamlin is dead unfortunately. We have yet to see his actual face there appears to be a clone,” announced one seer.
     Or a robot. Or a body double. Died on the field. Of the COVID vaccine. Aggregate lifetimes were spent arguing about it online this past week. Right wing twitiot Stew Peters demanded Hamlin provide evidence of his continued existence, much like Trump crying for Obama’s birth certificate: “I want to see video of Damar Hamlin holding today’s newspaper with the date visible.” When Hamlin blocked him, Peters mocked the recuperating football star. “I used to think football players were tough” Peters pouted.
     “Open debate” my foot.

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Thursday, January 26, 2023

Flashback 1996: Culture is lovely, but bring on the fat lady

"The French Comedians" by Antoine Watteau (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

     For a decade, I'd take a group of 100 Sun-Times readers to the Lyric Opera. Then the Lyric got their nose out of joint over something I wrote, and told me to scram. That was five years ago. But the Lyric Opera is performing "Carmen" in a few months, and I thought it a good time to venture back. In rooting around the column closet, checking out matters operatic, I found this, and was surprised to discover where my opera predilection originally came from. I had forgotten.

     A sure sign of autumn, as definite as the Canadian freezer air whooshing over the city: my wife searching for the big pasteboard sheet of Lyric Opera tickets, which arrived in the balmy days of summer and was squirreled safely away.
     She found the tickets, alas. I wasn't exactly rooting for them to be lost, but I wouldn't have been heartbroken, either. Six operas between now and Valentine's Day. 
     And mountaineers think their sport is a test of endurance. Hah! What can climbing the Matterhorn demand compared with sitting through five hours of "Gotterdammerung"? I did that last season, and should have gotten my picture taken afterward, thumb in the air, a look of giddy victory on my face.
     Granted, the music isn't bad. I even like certain operas. But nothing is so good that it doesn't start to grind you down after a while. If the Lyric offered an evening of naked supermodels performing the opera "Neil Steinberg Is Swell" I still would be fidgeting and glancing at my watch toward the end of the third hour.
     Of course I could have resisted subscribing. I always consider objecting, consider waving the "Money's tight!" flag that my wife so happily hoists whenever I propose an entertainment more costly than tossing cards into a hat.
     Marriage is a give-and-take, however, and I know that resisting opera would only come back to haunt me. I will be struck by some terrible disease, and want to go to the Mayo Clinic to see an expert, and my wife will give me that look and say, "Who's throwing money around now, Mister Fancy Clinic?"
     So I didn't say anything. Besides, she didn't ask me. She got tired of all my throat-clearing and eye-rolling, and just went ahead and got them, without consultation.
     So now opera is officially routine. An established part of our lives now includes plump middle-aged Italian ladies pretending to be German milkmaids at the top of their lungs in a language we don't understand. I'll just have to live with it.
     I know what my wife will say when she reads this. "But you like opera," she'll say, which only shows how successfully I've been fooling her all these years. I see too many of those grumbly, scowling hubbies harrumphing after their terrified wives.
     Can't be like that. Better to go and enjoy what I can and pretend to enjoy when I can't. Being Jewish helps. Like many Jews, I grew up attending services I only dimly understood, and years of neglecting my faith, such as it is, haven't made Hebrew any more comprehensible.
     Growing up, I was trained to sit through it, nodding along and waiting for the parts I could appreciate.
     Rather like opera. I'm surprised the two institutions, opera and Judaism, don't learn from each other. Oh, some synagogues have opera-singing cantors. But why not borrow more? Supertitles, for instance, those translations projected above the stage at operas. They might help enhance prayer services, too.
     Or not. Perhaps too much is lost in translation. While the singer is reeling off a mouthful of Italian — "Il mio sposo! Oh Dei! Son morta. Voi qui senza mantello! In questo stato . . . un ricevuto foglio, la sua gran gelosia"*— the supertitle is always something like: "My husband! We're in trouble."
     Congregations might not be too happy to see some cherished prayer — "Here O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is One" — projected in front of them as: "Hey Israel! The Lord's one."
     Opera definitely could benefit from a synagogue tradition called "staying until the end." There is a final blessing and everybody kisses one another and shakes hands and goes home and gets something to eat.
     At the opera, about three minutes before the end, a shocking percentage of the audience leaps to their feet and bolts for the exits as if the place were on fire.
     Any subtle sense of pleasure the music may have instilled is wiped away by the shock of watching these people. If your time is so precious, if you can't wait 10 minutes for your coat or a cab, then why are you sitting through five hours of Wagner? Why go out at all? Stay home and work.
     My only hope is that these fleeing people, at some moment in their hectic lives, will realize they have lost their souls. I hope that, kneeling down beside Fluffy after she has been run over by a car, or watching their home burn, or whatever, they will look up and have a flash of insight: "This is because I left early at the opera. This is because we couldn't even stay and applaud for the 50 people who had just spent three hours singing their throats to a pulp. We have earned every bad thing that can ever befall us."
     Me, I clap heartily, big, potching claps, drawing my hands about three feet apart and slamming them together, cheering. This is the best part of the opera. It gets the blood, which tends to settle during hours of inaction, going. And I am genuinely delighted and enthusiastic— I mean, the thing is over and we get to home.
                  —Originally published in the Sun-Times, Feb. 15, 1996

* Translation: "My husband! Oh God, I'm dead! You here, without a cloak! In this state . . . a note give him his great jealousy."

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

What does an abortion look like?

     Never underestimate the role of imagery in Christianity’s march toward world domination. Christ crucified on the cross. The Virgin and Child. The Last Supper. The faith would circle the globe and centuries pass before anyone wondered how it was exactly that Jesus ended up a pale white northern European.
     I don’t want to credit good graphics for the religion’s entire success; violence was also key, along with a doctrine that sounds good on paper. But compelling visuals, executed by craftsmen like Michelangelo, Raphael and El Greco, were in the top five.
     So it was surprising Monday to turn to the New York Times editorial page and see images of early abortions that did not resemble diced up Gerber babies. The gore that for years volunteers from Joe Scheidler’s Pro-Life Action League displayed along Madison Street in color photographs five feet high.
     These were not the babies conjured up and branded into the public mind for years, but splotches of tissue an inch or two wide. Illustrations from a guest essay, “Early Abortion Looks Nothing Like You’ve Been Told,” by a trio of doctors, Erika Bliss, Joan Fleischman and Michele Gomez.
     ”Primary care clinicians like us who provide early abortions in their practices have long known that the pregnancy tissue we remove does not look like what most people expect,” they write. “It’s important to us to counter medical misinformation related to early pregnancy because about 80 percentcq as published of abortions in the United States occur at nine weeks or earlier. So much of the imagery that people see about abortion comes from abortion opponents who have spent decades spreading misleading fetal imagery to further their cause.”
     “Important”? How about “kinda late”? “Important” would have been decades ago. Now, the damage is done, the zombie baby army that anti-choice fanatics conjured up and relentlessly flaunt as if real has already conquered the country. The right to an abortion, assumed in most of the civilized world, already has been yanked away from half the women in the United States. The debate not focused on whether women should be in charge of their own reproductive care or whether men should make those choices for them. But on saving babies.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Taste and decency

     Whenever I write on a topic that crosses the border into disgusting, I hear an echo of Australian press lord Nigel Wade's voice ringing across the newsroom on the fourth floor of 401 N. Wabash. "STEINBERG!" he'd bellow. "I was eating my POACHED EGG when I read that!!!" So a warning to those who might be enjoying their breakfast, or just unwilling to read an essay that includes reference to Amy Schumer's husband's anal orifice. You might want to set this aside to read later, or not at all.

     "Taste and decency." Now there's a concept that doesn't get floated much nowadays. Yet there it is, twice in one brief Daily Herald article by Jake Griffin on vanity license plates. Honestly, I find even unobjectionable vanity plates — "MOMS VAN" or "LAWYER" or whatever — somewhat suspect. A little blurt of "look-at-me!" that most of us manage to do without. Though I suppose if you're popping $100,000 for a car, what's another $94 to put your own individual spin on it?
     To be honest, I'm reluctant to present myself as the champion of taste and decency in any particular situation. First, it's the oldest gripe in the book. There are cuneiform cylinders sitting unread in drawers in the Oriental Institute (speaking of objection, weren't they going to change their name in January? I see by their website they're still using the language of hate) complaining that these kids nowadays don't give proper reverence to the gods.
     Besides being an antique qualm, taste and decency are both relative. I've heard from enough people to whom just the name of this blog is an objectionable slur on the deity, far outside the bounds of propriety. I once wrote three out of four columns about picking up after my dog. I've written about being flogged by a dominatrix and the people who open the jars of shit at Cologuard. Still, I'd never consider myself "tasteless," though I do like to dance along the boundary, convinced that is often where interest lives.
     Unless it doesn't. Pop icon Madonna recently announced her first tour in years. I was never a particular Madonna fan, from the very start. I happen to remember the first time I saw her first video, "Like a virgin," on that modern marvel, MTV. It was about 1983. She was in her waif-in-lingerie get up, shimmying on a gondola in Venice, if I recall properly. I leaned in, fixed my gaze at her bare midriff, and thought: I'd better get a good look at this bimbo because I'm NEVER seeing her again.
     Predicting the future, not my forte. And apologies for the "bimbo" which indeed was the word that formed in my head nearly 40 years ago. I was 23. I hope we aren't at the point where certain people aren't allowed to express a risque thought.
     That sure doesn't hold for Madonna. "Madonna’s upcoming tour will defy society’s limits on female pop stars" is the headline on the Post critique, by Robin Givhan, which lionizes the singer for "40 years worth of club dancing, provocative shape-shifting and sex-positive proselytizing."
     All true. Back in the Reagan era, when anyone who wasn't Ward and June Cleaver was encouraged to keep out of sight, Madonna put what then were the fringes of human society into her songs, music videos and at least one coffee table book. (I'm old enough to recall when you could reasonably expect her 1992 metal-covered $50 coffee table book, "Sex," to be on a hip Chicago coffee table. I still remember certain shots — the baby powder — so it must have pushed some buttons). That was real society approval, and it's worthwhile to remember that, beside all the commercialism and camp and self-regard, she did do real good. Not to forget the music, which was okay.
     The Washington Post story on her return linked to the video where she announced her "Celebration" tour. She's sitting at some Mad Hatter dinner — an homage to her 1991 "Truth or Dare" movie, apparently — with Jack Black and a few guffawing confederates, playing the adolescent challenge game. At first I focused on Madonna's face, which has that unmistakable immobile plastic surgery mask-like look that makes me think of a line from Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast" about the bedribboned World War I vets he'd see drinking in the 1920s in almost every cafe in Paris. “I watched… the quality of their artificial eyes and the degree of skill with which their faces had been reconstructed. There was always an almost iridescent shiny cast about the considerably reconstructed face, rather like that of a well packed ski run.”
     Madonna takes up a basket of bread rings.
     "I want you to show me, with this bread," she says to Amy Schumer, "how you lick your husband's asshole."
     Ewww. Maybe I'm outing myself as 62, or a prude, but that wasn't something I wanted to know.
     "This is kinda like sad and gross," observes tablemate Eric AndrĂ©, immediately reading my mind. Which is as far as curiosity would take me. Maybe they brilliantly turned the conversation around to why anyone would pop $250 or $500 or $1,000 or whatever tickets cost. But I didn't stick around to find out.
    If Madonna really wanted to transgress societal norms, she should have let herself grow old. I believe women should be allowed to grow old, to age and sag and get wrinkles, just like men do. Judge me harshly if you must.
     Honestly, my self-protective instinct urges me to walk away at this point. With the Washington Post casting every Madonna's excess as the triumph of a female pioneer, any objection becomes by definition the bile of sexists and haters and male pigs, none of which I consider myself to be. To me, based on the brief clip I saw, Madonna is not in the vanguard, but like a dotty old aunt well into the prosecco prattling on about the guys she balled at Woodstock while her younger female relatives exchange worried looks. If Madonna is so freeing, then I'm free to disapprove, yes? Maybe not. 
     Anyway, no hard feelings. I saw Madonna perform once — the paper sent me to a show for her "Blond Ambition Tour" at the Rosemont Horizon in 1990. It was memorable, in that I still remember aspects of it: skillful theatrics at the Rosemont Horizon, with lit candles rising out of the stage, vigorous male dancers, the song "Like A Prayer" and an audience that included 6- and 7-year-old girls in lace bustiers and gloves. But that's about it.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Making beautiful music together

Greg Sapp in his workshop.

     Three factors determine the price of a violin, Mel Sapp explained, just as I was leaving the bright, airy shop she and her husband Greg run in Batavia: one is workmanship. Two, materials. And three, the name of the luthier who built it.
     “You notice I didn’t say, ‘sound,’” she added. “Sound is subjective. You can change it.”
     Indeed, most masterpiece instruments of old —by Amati, Guernari, Stradivari — have been modernized over the years, their necks and fingerboards lengthened, to bring them into line with current musical tastes.
     I am not in the market for a violin, alas. But I visited Sapp Violins earlier this month because of a quip. When the shaky future of journalism is being discussed, with what colleagues I yet retain in a rapidly contracting profession, I’ll sometimes attempt to both sound a positive note and move the conversation along by observing, “They still make violins.”
     Meaning, even antique trades thrive, for some.
     Though it got me wondering: How is the violin business doing? Chicago, being home to one of the world’s great orchestras, is unsurprisingly also a center of violin craftsmanship. After I visited Sapp, the January Chicago magazine took an in-depth look at John Becker, the Fine Arts Building luthier to the multi-million dollar instruments of musical stars such as Joshua Bell, the article by Elly Fishman itself a finely constructed marvel.
     So how does one get into the violin making biz?
     Greg Sapp was a music education major at Duquesne University in the mid-1970s when he had a realization that often comes to those whose ambitions lie in the arts:
     “This isn’t going to work.”
     Luckily, senior year, he had a class with the very 1970s name, “Creative Personality.” His final project was constructing an Eastern European folk instrument called a “prim.”
     “It’s kind of like a mandolin,” Greg said, pointing to the ur-instrument, displayed on the wall. “I was the only one in my class that made something so functional.”
     That wasn’t a complete accident — his father was a woodworker and singer.
     Greg moved to Chicago in 1978 to attend the Kenneth Warren & Son School of Violin Making (now the Chicago School of Violin Making). He also bumped into Mel, whose car had broken down and needed a lift to the train station. When Greg told her he was going to violin school, Mel, who’d known her share of prevaricating creeps, assumed he was lying.
     “How do I find these guys?” she asked herself.

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Sunday, January 22, 2023

EGD Orphan #1: Alexander Woollcott

Alexander Woollcott (Bettmann Archive)

     The book inspired by this blog, "Every Goddamn Day," has been out for more than three months.  I'm assuming you've all bought a copy by now and if you haven't, well shame on y... whoops, I mean, your admirable restraint has been rewarded, as the University of Chicago Press is now offering it among their bestsellers at 30 percent off in their Great Chicago Book Sale. You can access their catalogue here.  
    "Every Goddamn Day" is a daily history of Chicago, with 366 compact essays keyed to the date. When writing the book, occasionally I'd find a new story for a particular date that would efface something I'd already done. That is, I'd prepare a vignette for a day, then research would cough up another for the same day that I liked more, either because it was inherently more interesting, or better added to the mix of themes in the book. So the original tale got bumped. But I kept the banished stories in a file called "Orphans" thinking I might serve them up here when their dates came around. 
     The tale below, while interesting — how often do radio commentators die on the air? — was only loosely tied to Chicago, and didn't reach the level of Clint Youle, "Mr. Weatherman," perhaps the first television meteorologist, predicting a chance of snow in a windowless WMAQ studio in 1951 while a blizzard howled outside, the episode included in the book for Jan. 23. 
     Looking over the vignette below now, after not reading it for a year or so, I think I would have added an explanation of how the Tribune, at least among those conversing on the program in 1943, was seen as a moral stain and journalistic embarrassment, sort of the way Fox News is viewed by liberals today.

Jan. 23, 1943: Alexander Woollcott said a lot of witty things. It is he, in 1921, who coined the term "ink-stained wretches" to describe "those who turn out books and plays." It is Woollcott, one of the founders of the Algonquin Round Table group of clever inebriates, who launched a million refrigerator magnets when he quipped "all the things I really like to do are either illegal, immoral, or fattening." 
     His final remarks are not so much sharp as knotty, a moral question to be untangled. On the CBS "People's Platform" coast-to-coast radio program, Woollcott responds to one of his fellow panelists trying to put some daylight between Hitler and the German people by saying, "Germany was the cause of Hitler just as much as Chicago is responsible for the Chicago Tribune." 
     This is less a defense of Germany and more an indictment of both. The suggestion is made that this is perhaps unfair: there is a chance that Germany at least, may someday return to the realm of decent places. 
     "I think time may do it," allows Woollcott, his last public utterance. Time does indeed do it, to him anyway, and has its revenge. Woollcott suffers a stroke, on air, is hustled out of the studio and dead by midnight, at age 56. The hazards of live broadcast. 

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Northshore notes: Hitchhiking

Female musicians, Egypt, c. 1400 BC (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

     Today's finds our Northshore bureau chief, Caren Jeskey, in something of a dark place. Yet her two word directive at the start of the sixth paragraph, well ... I've never heard it said so plainly before. 

By Caren Jeskey

     EGD reader John once commented that times have never been simple. It’s hard to believe that they have ever been this messy and out of control, but I am sure they have. Perhaps during World War II when my grandfather, and many of your ancestors, had to leave home and fight when their brains were still trying to develop. When much of the world was suffering.
     My Great Uncle Tommy never recovered from landing at Normandy. My mother and I visited Utah Beach once, which brought the horror to life. Many of our vets have been abandoned, but all is not lost. Unprescribed is a documentary that shines a light on the effective use of THC for the recovery of PTSD. (Rx’d medication is necessary at times; what an evil racket it’s become). 
     My optimism is wearing thin, as maturity sets in. There is no “them” to take care of us. Systems are failing, from health insurance to the post office to EMS and police services. An attempt to level out the playing field by defunding the police was premature. We do not have the systems in place to provide resources to criminals to ease them out of their dangerous lives. A discouraged, dwindling PD means more suicidal officers, and more crime.
     If we are lucky individuals, we’ve developed a support system that helps us thrive, and get our needs met when we get ill, or when we are down on our luck. Health insurance is a joke for many of us. I pay nearly $7,000 a year for shoddy insurance with a $9,000 deductible. My annual checkup last year cost over $300 out of pocket, plus over $500 for the plan. Absurd. I just hope that when my times comes, friends and family will help take care of me, and I won’t be placed in a scary situation and die a painful death, alone.
    So what’s the solution?
    Ignore it. Focus on other things as long as we still have the breath in us, and the ability to read a blog post. There’s no possible way to change the system, other than in dribs and drabs by voting and other social responsible action.
    I say sing more. Dance more. Hang out at the beach. I’m telling you, it works. If your get up and go has got up and went, call someone, anyone, who can lend you some energy until you have your own again.

                    “The only thing better than singing is more singing.” —Ella Fitzgerald

     “Adults age 60 to 85 without previous musical experience exhibited improved processing speed and memory after just three months of weekly 30-minute piano lessons and three hours a week of practice, whereas the control group showed no changes in these abilities.”
     We don’t have to be good, we just have to play. I pick up a flute many days of the week. With this newly discovered statistic about brain training, yesterday I decided to call The Music Institute of Chicago’s East Evanston Campus to get the ball rolling on flute lessons. Once a week, and then three hours of practice per week. I’m not yet 60, but I am sure it will do me well.
     There are free online voice lessons; perhaps that can also be a place to start such as The Beginner’s Singing Lesson offered by this energetic teacher.
     If you feel you are not up to singing or learning an instrument, “in research by Ferguson and Sheldon (2013), participants who listened to upbeat classical compositions by Aaron Copland, while actively trying to feel happier, felt their moods lift more than those who passively listened to the music. This suggests that engaging with music, rather than allowing it to wash over us, gives the experience extra emotional power.”
      Some of my wealthy friends are living their best lives. Routine travel to islands, the best healthcare in the world, new cars, boats and houses. Pools and ice rinks that kept them saner during COVID. For me, living well means finding moments of joy in each day and staying connected to others IRL and even on Zoom. I’ve had some very dark days in the past few years. I am grateful, today, that I still have the ability to pick up a flute and make some sounds that don’t sound half-bad.
     I have been ever so lucky to have Neil allow me to ride along on a part of his journey of success. And his writing always hits home. Wishing you all well today. Or, as my friend Marsha says, “wishing you at least a decent day.”
     “Hitch your wagon to a star. Let us not fag in paltry works which serve our pot and bag alone. Let us not lie and steal. No god will help. We shall find all their teams going the other way; every god will leave us. Work rather for those interests which the divinities honor and promote, – justice, love, freedom, knowledge, utility.”                                                        —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, January 20, 2023

The drink no restaurant dares serve

     Chicago Restaurant Week begins Friday. As a guy who really, really likes to tuck into a plate of excellent chow at one of Chicago’s quality eating establishments, I’m going to depart from my habit of nimbly flitting from one topic to another. Instead, I’d like to pull a thread left dangling after Wednesday’s column on Go Brewing and the rise of nonalcoholic beer to ask a question that has long puzzled me:
     What’s with NA wine? You can order nonalcoholic beer at almost any bar or restaurant. But I’ve never seen NA wine on a menu. Not once. Why?
     ”From a wine perspective, we’re a little behind,” said Serafin Alvarado, master sommelier and Illinois wine education director for Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits, the largest distributor in the United States. “In all these beverage trends, wine is the last to join the party. It’s very traditional, very hesitant, not only from producers’, but from the consumers’ point of view.”
     Restaurateurs agree.“We don’t currently have any nonalcoholic wine,” said Grant DePorter, CEO of Harry Caray’s Restaurant Group. ”There’s no market for it.”
     A pity. My go-to NA vino at home is Sutter Home’s Fre. (An ugly name that looks like a typo. They’d have been better off calling it “Home Free”). To me, Fre is soft and round and red, quite winelike and a nice complement to cheese. Connoisseurs disagree. In 2021, the New Yorker’s John Seabrook slagged the NA wine segment in general and Fre in particular.
     ”Nonalcoholic wines make dreadful placebos,” he wrote. “No wine drinker ... would confuse the nonalcoholic Cabernets made by Fre and Ariel, two widely distributed U.S. brands, for the nectar of the gods. ... A vineyard can’t add a lot of other flavors to make up for the absence of alcohol. You’re left with twenty-dollar grape juice that tastes like a kids’ drink.”

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Thursday, January 19, 2023

"A safe nonalcoholic space"


     If I want to be on page two in the paper, there's only room for about 750 words, so tangents often must get shorn away.
     For instance.
     My column Wednesday on Go Brewing, the non-alcoholic brewery in Naperville, lost a digression where I marvel at the tone of the sober movement, citing a line from 2019.  
     "Cindy’s at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, has created a safe nonalcoholic space by replacing the word 'mocktail' on the bar’s menus," noted Vox, calling Chicago "a hub of sober curiosity." 
     Where to begin with that sentence? Is "mocktail" pejorative? A kind of NA shaming? Or "sober curiosity," a term that makes not drinking sound almost like a variety of fetish.
     And don't get me started with "safe nonalcoholic space." Wouldn't that be most places? Your car? Your kid's school? Just about anywhere?
     Not that I want to wax snide. I know what they mean. When people are new in sobriety, it can seem the world is one vast bar, their acquaintances, a hallelujah chorus for relapse. I was fortunate in that I immediately understood that nobody can stay sober by pretending they don't know where the booze is. Staying out of squishy places might be necessary in the initial turmoil of rehab. But very quickly you need to be able to not drink even when people all around you are.
     Eventually you realize that nobody cares what you drink. Mostly. I seem to remember that young people, more susceptible to peer pressure, do care. For a while. They like to go out and party and reinforce each other by going after the stragglers. For those who resist joining in on the fun, not drinking can result in real ostracization. Or even for the not so young. I remember being in my early 40s, trying to cut back, ordering non-alcoholic drinks when out with certain boozehound newspaper friends and getting ridiculed. 
     Now people urging me to drink merely draw a sense of amused wonder. "What? Really? You mean you don't know?" For my literary guide to recovery, "Out of the Wreck I Rise," I had to raise a good amount of money to cover legal permissions, the fees to pay poets for the rights to use their work. This I did by hitting up rich folk to donate to the University of Chicago Press, a 501(c)3 charity, which created a special fund for that purpose.
     After the book came out, I went to lunch with one particularly generous soul, head of a Chicago financial firm, at Chicago Cut Steakhouse. I brought him a copy of the book he had helped fund, as a thank-you present. Before lunch, he encouraged me to order a glass of wine, several times. I looked at him, dumbfounded, and was tempted to say, "You have no idea what this book is about, do you?" I managed to hold that back: the man did contribute a hefty sum to my permissions kitty. What I did say was: "No thanks — wine makes me sleepy." That worked.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Dry January, not Beerless January

Joe Chura, right, draws an NA beer at Go Brewing in Naperville.

     Joe Chura is more than halfway through a dry January. Or make that Dry January, capital D, now that it is an official cultural phenomenon.
     One in five U.S. adults told pollsters they planned to go the whole first month of 2023 without alcohol. It’s the same in the United Kingdom.
     Why swear off booze for a whole month?
     “One, I needed to, personally, I wanted to take a month off completely from drinking,” said Chura, a 45-year-old father of three. “But secondly, I wanted to create a challenge for a group of people that wanted to try for the first time or do it again. And I couldn’t have it without myself doing it. This is a very unique experience that someone can come here.”
     “Here” is Go Brewing, the craft brewery that Chura started in Naperville last October that brews only no- and low-alcohol beers — the first in Illinois.
     Regular readers might be aware that every January is Dry January for me — and February, and March, and on through the year. For the past 17 years, which means I remember when you were lucky to find O’Douls at a bar. Now you can buy Bud Zero at Wrigley Field and there are shelves of exotic NA IPAs at Binny’s.
     Four hundred people signed up to do Dry January with Chura, and Go Brewing offers regular activities like CrossFit-style workouts and live-band karaoke nights. (The pub does offer several full alcohol guest beers for those who just won’t be denied.)
     When Chura opened his doors, he expected his average customer to be a “40-year-old who is gaining weight and wants to be healthy.”
     ”The brand was built around that,” said Chura, who was surprised by who walked in.
     “Week one, 50% or more of the people who came in here were in recovery or couldn’t drink for health reasons. I looked at them and thought, ‘Holy shit, I got this wrong.’”

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Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Flashback 2011: One quarter of the country has gone crazy

Generated by Dall-E.
     The good news is that the vise grip that Donald Trump has on the Republican Party seems to be slacking. The bad news is that they don't need him to continue the carnival of crazy. As I've been saying for years about Trump: he didn't create the environment he thrived in. Not a cause, but a symptom. In case this isn't clear, I offer as evidence this column from 2011 that tills the loamy soil that Trumpism, and other fact-free totalitarian causes, bloom in. Trump cut his political teeth as a proponent of birtherism, but didn't even merit mention here.

     The expression "my jaw dropped," is usually metaphorical, the writer reaching for some oomph beyond "I was really surprised."
     But reading the New York Times/CBS poll released last week that 25 percent of all Americans — and 45 percent of Republicans — believe President Obama was born outside the United States, I could feel the muscles in my jaw go slack and my chin dip.
     Why is this so amazing?
     Well, first, let’s review the evidence that Obama was born someplace other than Kapi’olani hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Aug. 4, 1961:
     There isn’t any.
     None, nada, nothing. A slop bucket of rumors and lies. As opposed to the overwhelming hard proof that Obama was born exactly where he said he was born — a state birth certificate, not to mention two local newspapers printing birth announcements.
     So why does a considerable and growing chunk of the country — one in four, the same percentage of Americans who are men over the age of 37 — embrace this fallacy?
     The short answer is they believe it because they want to believe it. Belief and fact have almost no relationship to each other — we should know that by now. There is no situation so clear-cut that it cannot be twisted into a hall of mirrors. The 9/11 attacks were the most documented crime ever. Did that stop the conspiracy theories? No way.
     That said, why do 25 percent of us want to believe Obama was born in foreign soil?
     It’s obvious when you ask yourself what happened in November 2008. The nation elected its first African-American president, a Democrat. Of course that would inspire some to say, "Whoa, wait a second, this isn’t happening. This guy can’t be president!"
     He can’t? Why not? Well, umm, because he wasn’t born here. Yeah, that’s the ticket!
     Conspiracy theories flourish among those who find the truth too uncomfortable to tolerate. America being the victim of terrorist attacks made the nation sympathetic — better, in some minds, to view the United States as the perpetrator. The same dynamic inspires Holocaust denial. People don’t deny the Holocaust because of lack of evidence — those Germans, sticklers for bookkeeping. Rather, the Holocaust is uncomfortable, inconvenient to those wishing for the next one, and thus nutjobs like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad find it easier to just grin and insist it never happened.
     Obama being president of the United States is uncomfortable, inconvenient, for a lot of people, and rather than acknowledge that a majority of Americans elected him to an office he is entitled to hold, it’s easier to declare the whole thing a sham.
     Just as Holocaust denial is, on its face, anti-Semitism, so the birther movement is clearly racism. I’m reluctant to say that because racism has become such a frayed charge in recent years, thanks to professional wolf criers like the Rev. Jesse Jackson or Carol Moseley Braun. But just because some overplay the race card doesn’t mean that racism ceases to exist. Electing a black president might have been a milestone, but it did not make the bigots automatically wink out of existence, unfortunately. Where did they all go?
     To me, the sort of people who in 1961 would say, "Obama can’t be president because he’s a n-----," now, 50 years later, are saying "Obama can’t be president because he’s not an American." Progress!
     Although I refuse to believe that haters constitute a full quarter of the country. My hunch — or perhaps just hope — is that the birther mania is fueled by a hard core, say 2.5 percent, the full-time bigots, psychos and partisan operatives who come up with these lunatic theories and weave loose threads into this elaborate tapestry of delusion. Then the other 22.5 percent look at the "issue," feel it resonate in their guts, let out a few moos to tell a pollster that it all makes sense to them, then drop their muzzles back into the silage.
     You know what? I’m going to start a movement right now, insisting that Obama can’t be president because he isn’t 35, as the constitution requires. Barack Obama is only 32 — he was born in 1979. There, you read it in a newspaper. That this claim is false, contradicted by all evidence and common sense might be seen as a stumbling block, but not judging from the success of the birthers. People will believe anything that scratches their itch, and would much rather change the facts of the world than alter their opinions.
      Twenty-five percent. The jaw drops, the eyes pop, the mind reels, the heart breaks.
        —Originally published in the Sun-Times, April 24, 2011

Monday, January 16, 2023

On MLK Day, don’t shortchange the message

Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

     Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was not a tall man. Five-foot-7 at most, and prone to pudginess. His grandeur was not physical, but moral, verbal, philosophical and spiritual. When he opened his mouth, he donned wings and would soar, taking his audience along with him.
     Except, of course, for those left earthbound, who remained unmoved by his vision of an America where people are not judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
     Maybe that’s why I never cared for the King Memorial in Washington, D.C. First, the statue doesn’t look enough like him, in my estimation. Second, the entity honoring King is the same federal government that allowed the FBI to hound him, bugging his hotel rooms and tapping his phones, peddling his darkest secrets as punishment for the crime of trying to make the country a better place.
     Even setting that aside, the government rendering the man into granite 30 feet tall is still a two-edged honor. Official approval helped and hurt him. One of the many challenges King faced was being co-opted. King was a man squeezed — haters to the right, radicals like Malcolm X to his left, impatient young people pushing up from below, inert officials clucking concern from above.
     For the past few weeks, I’ve been immersed in King’s brief life and turbulent times because I’ve been lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy of “King: A Life.” The first major biography of King in decades is written by Jonathan Eig, the Chicago author of “Ali: A Life,” the truly excellent, bestselling biography of Muhammad Ali (and the truly excellent, bestselling biography of Al Capone and the truly excellent, bestselling ... well, you get the idea).
     “King: A Life” is such a nuanced, detailed biography, it’s like having Martin Luther King sitting in your living room, reading a newspaper. Every day, I get to join him, to hurry downstairs, pour myself a cup of coffee and get to know the man better. You’ll have to wait until May when it’s published, but don’t worry, I’ll be sure to remind you.

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Sunday, January 15, 2023

Not quite so many bullets

Shooting arcade in Kissimmee, Florida (photo by Carol Highsmith; Library of Congress)

     First the good news.
     Someday soon — this month, maybe, this year, certainly — someone in Illinois is going to be mad about something. Doesn't matter what: girls won't date him, a coworker cracked a joke, just learned that Biden faked the moon landing. Whatever, this unnamed person is doing to want to kill a bunch of people, He'll — and it's always a guy — head to the local gun shop. These shops always seem to be on bleak expanses of industrial nowhere. And he'll want to buy an assault rifle with which to spray their school or store or whatever.
     And they won't be able to. Because of the new law signed in Illinois last week.
     Not that we should have the big Problem Solved Party quite yet. There's less good news. Unless they're stopped because of the law beefing up the ability of the state to keep guns away from known crazies, they'll still be able to buy a gun. (After the mandatory 72 hour waiting period in Illinois, to allow for a background check and perhaps let a person intent on murder cool off). Just not one holding as many rounds. Ten will have to do, instead of 30. Which isn't the vast improvement it seems if you get one of those first 10 bullets. But if someone cold-cocks him while he's swapping out magazines, then, heck yeah, the law works!
     How much of a victory is that? Well, it's a start. Ten rounds is still a lot. Just the bill becoming law — it also bans "switches" that can permit guns to fire in full automatic mode, and makes extends the ability of courts to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous persons — is a reminder that we are still a nation of laws, despite the tough talk of would-be frontiersmen. We aren't all shooting out our differences. Yet.

     Bottom line: it's realistic to hope that there will be some group of persons who are only alive because this new law saved them, even though they'll never know.
     That's the good part. And honestly, my first impulse is to celebrate that progress — passing laws about guns! Who would imagine? But then the candid moderate in me has to observe that we're really taking aim — ooh, wrong metaphor, it really is embedded in the culture — we're really addressing only a tiny fraction of the problem.
     In 2020, the most recent year full stats are available, 45,222 Americans were killed by guns, more than ever before, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
     Of those, most — 24,292, or 54 percent — were suicides. Another 19,384, or 43 percent were murders, and of those murders, mass shootings accounted for ... 38 people, using the FBI definition of a mass shooting. If you use the looser Gun Violence Archive definition, 513 people, or a little more than 1 percent of the fatalities.
     So while, yes, bans on assault rifles, whatever they are, and high capacity magazines are fine, and if I could press a button and have every state follow suit, I would , it's also the low hanging fruit.
     A tougher nut is to make people understand that the guns they buy to indulge in some Clint Eastwood, get-the-drop-on-the-bad-guy fantasy is actually the gun they're going to stick in their own mouth at some dark night of the soul, or that their 6-year-old is going to take to school one day to shoot his teacher. (A bad, example, because so rare). That his teenager is going to use to kill himself with — guns are the leading cause of death in children in the United States, 4,357 in 2020. No other developed country comes close.
     But then, there's a direct relationship between gun ownership and gun death. Not of bad guys coming in the windows. Of the owners. For all the sneering and shade throwing our fellow citizens in the backwater areas of the country, the gun death rate in Illinois are less than half what they are in Wyoming or Mississippi. If liberals were bad people, like conservatives, we'd push for more guns, because red states are predominantly the people killing themselves and each other. But we're not. So we cheer for even the most limited progress. Like the Illinois law signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker last week.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Northshore Notes: IRL

      Not quite grumbling, I padded up to my office Friday night, thinking, " Well, I hope Caren has something FUN to share with us." She does. Again we are in synch — this week I noticed that the more time I deliberately spend away from social media, the happier I am.

By Caren Jeskey

     Last year Netflix and I broke up. An Irish goodbye seemed the best. With a click of a button the streaming service that robbed me of thousands of hours, thousands of dollars, and a whole lotta sleep — think back to "Breaking Bad" if you can stomach it — was gone.
     There are free streaming sources that air well-crafted and informative pieces without the hell of constant pop-ups, such as BBC Reels. They offer short pieces — how whispering took over the internet, leeches: the therapy used by Stalin, and the power of psychedelics. They also have LongReels (about 15 minutes). You might not want to miss a a 50 year old audio recording of a disappearing language.
     Incidentally, psychedelics is a topic I’m learning about this coming Tuesday night via Zoom, hosted by the Schaumburg Library (which also hosts book groups, Photoshop lessons, and other free virtual and IRL events).
     hoopla® is another streaming option, stocked with digitized treasure troves of libraries. I have found that watching a funny or arty movie, or watching a few short reels, is more satisfying and less numbing that the six-season binge pattern. 
     Detangling from being a slave to tech is a process. I’m personally not aiming for abstinence, just a better balance. Zuckerberg is smart as hell and makes it hard to reduce the clutter of "friends" one has on his blue platform. He makes it as hard as he can to say goodbye. I thought about deleting my Facebook account, but I use it for several satisfying professional and hobby groups. I also have photos and memories tucked away in the Facebook cloud. So, I opted to unfriend my hundreds of connections, one tedious step at a time. The Eye of Sauron does not graciously allow you to set your own boundaries with his free-ish web-based toy. (Free only if I don't value my own time while sitting on my arse and making him richer). It took a good long time, but now I am a proud facilitator of a total of six Facebook friends — Neil of course, four mentors, and a dear friend who passed away. We keep him alive in this way.
     Last Fall I also said farewell to using Amazon, and to Prime. The best part has been shopping IRL, or at small Etsy and privately owned shops where I can chat with the owners and support the folks I want to support. The kind owner of a rock hunting supply company sent friends free scoops to give them a little bit of love after losing a loved one, and their home, on Sanibel Island during Ian. I know it's not much, but I also know they will smile. Tech-culling has cleared the way for more awesome adventures. Less reasons to be tethered to the laptop. I received an iPad for my birthday last year and my tech-savvy sister removed all distractions. No messaging, no Gmail, no App Store... nothing but Insight Timer and the Safari browser that I mindfully use for light-hearted pleasure.
     This past Monday turned into a nine hour beach day. It was the first of 38 days we’d seen the gosh darned sun. I needed it. I rounded out hours of playing unselfconsciously — the child in me dancing in the sand and singing to the waves — with working from my car parked in the sun, windows down and moonroof open. At the water’s edge at the Lighthouse Beach I noticed a piece of blinding white pottery glimmering in the sunny waves 7 meters or so offshore.
     I love to collect pottery shards. This was no shard. It was whole, intact plate, face down. (I keep meaning to throw my waders in the car for moments like this). I snapped a couple of photos of this unusual find, and headed to Walker Brothers for breakfast. (I’ve been craving their apple pancake for about 25 years now. It was every bit as good as I remembered). I had posted the plate photo on a Facebook group of Great Lakes treasure hunters, and the crowd spoke. I was to immediately return to the Lighthouse, take my boots off and go get the damn plate. I obeyed. It was not nearly as hard as I’d made it in my mind. A pretty gray dog accompanied me while her person filmed the excursion.
     After I’d dried my feet and put my warm boots back on, the spry dog leapt back and forth in front of me, waiting for me to throw the frisbee she was seeing. As dogs do, she quickly forgot and went back to frolicking.
     I hopped back onto Facebook that evening. Hundreds of fellow shard addicts had followed the story of the whole plate closely. They weren’t even disappointed when I shared that I realized it was just a $15 ceramic plate made in China.
     Good times were had by all.