Thursday, August 31, 2023


     The immigration columns Monday and Wednesday certainly shook the nuts out of the trees, and there are too many good ones not to share. This one made me smile, just for its opening rhyme, thorough reasoning and that priceless circum vita/kicker after his signature. Of course I'm including my answer. Enjoy.

Hello Neil,
     Yet again you are drunk like a junk punk lunk bunk chunk dunk sunk skunk on your disgusting, revolting and nauseating moral and ethical arrogance, vanity, conceit and hubris! My brother once ran the Border Patrol, Neil. You are entitled to your own opjnion (sic), but not your own facts, Neil. You lie yet again when you write that Texans regret the illegals did not die on the razor wire. The barbed wire keeps the barbarians out, Neil.
     You lie yet again when you write it is just as legal to sneak over the border as it was to arrive at Ellis Island. You are a mendacious prevaricator not fit to wipe the ass of a Border Patrol agent, or for that matter Thomas Jefferson or Christopher Columbus! You have disgraced yourself yet again, Neil, with your ignorant opining on an issue, illegal immigration, about which you know virtually nothing. It was my brother who implemented the legalization of 4 million illegal aliens in the 1980s under Simpson-Mazoli.
     Neil, it would have been better if your ancestors had stayed wherever their original home was instead of arriving the Steinbergs in America to have their reputation shredded by your moronic writings. The only question is whether that overestimates your IQ and it is actually that of an imbecile. Certainly you need to go back to kindergarten and learn some kindness to cure you of your immoral heart, Neil!
    Charles Whitty Everson
    Harvard BA with honors
    Vanderbilt JD

My reply:

     Didn't Ted Cruz go to Harvard? I'm beginning to see a pattern.


Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Don’t be like Texas’ ‘Murph’

La Guia The Guide, by Rigoberto A. González (National Portrait Gallery)

     There are a lot of heartless people. They held a festival on social media after I wrote Monday about how Chicago could do a better job housing refugees shipped here from Texas. I wish I could address the top 25 reactions. One will have to do:
     “Multiply all this by hundreds and you have what Texas has put up with for years,” a reader from Murphy, Texas, — let’s call him “Murph” — wrote on Facebook. “Sorry, but BS. I’ve had my car struck twice by uninsured motorists with no papers. More than half the patients in the Dallas County public hospital were undocumented. The strain is enormous, on all services and neighborhoods.”
     A lot to unpack. First savor “had my car struck twice by uninsured motorists with no papers,” a version of what I call the “an immigrant peed in my alley” argument. And I heard Spanish spoken at a McDonald’s once. We all carry our private crosses.
     But let’s try to be sympathetic, the liberal superpower.
     Gosh, struck twice?!?! That’s terrible Murph. All these undocumented immigrants so busy greedily gorging at the public trough they can’t even be bothered to insure their luxury vehicles. What’s wrong with them?
     Hmmm ... could it be they can’t buy car insurance in Texas? Why sure they can. All they have to do is produce a valid driver’s license. And how do they get that? Easy, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. Merely “present proof of lawful presence in the US.”
     Ooh, kind of a deal-breaker for the undocumented, huh?
     Shame Murph doesn’t live in a civilized state, like Illinois, where not only do we show Christian sympathy to the families drop-kicked here, because his governor is awful, but Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill last June — HB 3882 — allowing undocumented residents to get Illinois driver’s licenses. So they can buy car insurance. Like regular people.
     Speaking of regular people, another go-to move of haters is to damn the group they scorn for doing the exact same things that they do themselves. Like getting sick.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2023

One bad ass wasp

    Nearly a million known species of insects in the world, and many more yet unknown, despite biologists fanning out everywhere, cataloguing them hand over fist.
     So we shouldn't be a surprise to be confronted with any bug not seen before.
     And yet ... you just don't expect to bump into a new one. 
     Such as Sunday, when my wife and I were strolling in bliss around the Chicago Botanic Garden, I was drawn to an outcropping of a familiar white flower.
     "Queen Anne's lace!" I exclaimed, rejoicing in a particularly bright white array. "I haven't seen much of it this year."
     Three steps away, my wife announced that I'd better be careful; there were bugs on them. A lot of bugs. Sure enough, small black insects that shone iridescent blue when the light angled a certain way. 
     I could pretend I knew them on sight. But in truth, identification had to wait until I got back to the office and could ask my Uncle Google. The blue mud dauber wasp, or chalybion californium, which the U.S. Forest Service dubs "The Black Widow Killer" because it is "most famous for its predation of black widows." 
     Not round these parts, I hasten to add. As far as I'm concerned, the blue mud dauber wasp isn't famous at all. On the other hand, who am I to quibble with the United States Forest Service? 
     The wasps snatch spiders right off their webs, sting them to death (don't worry; they aren't physically able to sting humans, which is a relief). Then they take them home to feed to the kiddies. (The main biological difference between bees and wasps, which both belong to the order hymenoptera, is that bees feed their young with pollen mixed with honey, while wasps provide them with captured insects).
    And those homes might be, ah, borrowed from other wasps. The blue mud dauber will  taking over the nests of other species of wasp, booting out their larvae and replacing them with their own.
    All told, one bad ass wasp. As a rule, I'm not fond of wasps — based mostly on an unfortunate encounter with more mundane yellowjackets almost a decade ago. More of a bee man, myself.
     However. It must be that iridescent blue. A great blue will cover many sins, such as being a wasp. Anyway, it was news to me, and I figure I'd share it.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Chicago needs every busload

Maria Caripa, an asylum-seeker from Venezuela, holds her daughter, Maria Caripa, 1, outside             the District 18 police station (Photo for the Sun-Times by Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere).

     Help me here.
     Chicago is a city famous for ... what, exactly?
     Burning to the ground in 1871? Prompting residents to emit a shriek of dismay and give up?
     No. Chicago boosters fanned out across the country, raising money in a flurry of civic pride. Chicago rapidly rebuilt itself, better than before.
     Maybe Chicago is known for volunteering to host an enormous exposition in 1893, then realizing it had bitten off more than it could chew, tossing up its hands and hiding behind the sofa when the world started rattling the doorknob?
     No. The city tapped Daniel Burnham to oversee the quick construction of an enormous, ornate White City. The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition boosted Chicago into the modern age.
     So how come in 2023 Chicago is in agony over a daily busload of immigrants? Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s quotidian middle finger to tolerance and decency, a jeer of Texan regret that they didn’t die tangled in the miles of razor wire Texas has strung across the Rio Grande.
     Their arrival is a logistical nightmare. It has to be, for the city to house refugees in police stations, as if they were public facilities designed to help communities deal with crisis — oh wait, that’s what they are, right? Still, it must be hellish for some cops to be daily confronted with objects of their scorn.
     At least judging from FOP head John Catanzara, who last Thursday snidely suggested immigrants be housed at City Hall. (Hmmm ... not a bad idea. Have you been to City Hall? Mostly dead space, particularly in the upper floors. You could house 300 immigrants there and never see them).
     Both police stations and City Hall are desperate choices. We must do better than this. We have the track record. Assimilating immigrants is Chicago’s brand. No need to trust me. “Immigration from abroad ...” The Encyclopedia of Chicago notes, “has been the city’s hallmark characteristic in the public mind.”
     We’ve got it light, relatively. In 1890, 68% of people living in Chicago were born abroad, a situation so chaotic that three years later, Chicago threw a fair for 25 million visitors.
     Today, 20% of Chicagoans were born outside the United States. We need every one. Chicago’s population in 2023 is 2.7 million. In 2000, Chicago’s population was 2.9 million. In 1980, it was 3 million. Between 2020 and 2022, Chicago lost 3% of its population.

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Sunday, August 27, 2023

Coveting thy brother's tomatoes


     It's tomato season. As readers well know, every year I plant a tomato garden and ... well, just look at these beauties, above, on display in a bowl in my kitchen.
     Am I proud? Why, sure! I'm so proud that ...
     How does Trump do it? Lie continually, I mean. I can't even lie about tomatoes.
     Okay. To be honest, which I seem doomed to being, not so proud. Not proud at all. Because I didn't grow them. My sister-in-law did.
     There, I said it. Are you happy?
     The tomatoes were a bolt from the blue. My brother and I were having a belated birthday lunch — 10 weeks late, in fact. We're both busy guys.
     I arrived at the restaurant — Blufish on Willow Road, excellent sushi, great prices, first-rate service, and a lux room like some trendy Manhattan eatery — and he was already sitting there.
     "I brought you a present," he said, pointing to a shopping bag on the floor. I seized the handles. Heavy. Lifting it to the table with both hands, wondering, What could this be? I look inside. Tomatoes. A lot of tomatoes. Big, beefy, red. Perfectly ripe.
     I felt a surge of complicated emotion that, in a movie, would involve flashing to the stunted tomato plants in my garden, and their pathetic output — mostly green, a few quivering on turning red — with this bounty. Game, set, match for my brother. Or, rather, his wife, since she had grown them.
     "What's Japanese for 'tomato shame'?" I asked. My sister-in-law is from Osaka. 
     "Tomato no haji," he said.
My tomatoes are just sad.
     I am shamed, tomato-wise. Plunged into tomato shame hell. It wasn't always like this. I remember those years, of carrying bags of tomatoes to the neighbors. Share the bounty. My bounty, the bounty of tomatoes grown by me. 
     But in recent years, not so much. Okay, not at all. I have an idea what's been stunting them — my apple tree, planted unwisely next to the garden 20 years ago, must hog enough sun. Switching out the soil for fresh compost hasn't done the trick.
     Don't get me wrong. I'm not completely lame in the garden. The cucumbers have been fabulous this year. Massive. Each one bigger than the next, monsters the size of my forearm. As soon as we polish off one there's another on deck. Which is good because, as you know, a cucumber goes bad in about three days, so it's great to have a steady, fresh, free supply.
One of the first paintings of tomatoes in
Japan, by Kanō Tan’yū (1602-1674)
     Being a word guy, I distracted myself by focusing on the Japanese word for tomato — tomato — which seemed odd, since the fruit came to that country in the Edo period — the 1600s — by Portuguese traders. At first they were considered merely decorative; it took several hundred years for people there to start eating them.  
     Europeans, too, were slow to eat tomatoes, which remember are part of the nightshade family, along with deadly nightshade and belladonna. (The leaves and roots of tomato plants are indeed poisonous). 
      The Oxford English dictionary offers some interesting historical takes: Grimstone's 1604 D'Acosta's History of the Indies, mentions "...Tomates, which is a great sappy and savourie graine." Then there is an evocative 1753 citation from Chambers Cyclopedia Supplement, "Tomato, the Portuguese name for the fruit of the lycopersicon, or love-apple; a fruit eaten either stewed or raw by the Spaniards and Italians and by the Jew families in England."
      The "love apple" term was due to its supposed aphrodisiac properties Noah Webster mentions it in his 1828 dictionary, though Samuel Johnson omits any hint of tomatoes in his 1755 dictionary, despite the word being in use. My Wentworth & Flexner Dictionary of American Slang cites the "a very attractive girl or young woman" meaning back to 1951, and R.S. Prather's Bodies in Bedlam: "The idea that such a luscious tomato might be mixed up in a murder went square against the grain."
"Karaage-kun Tomato BBQ Sauce Flavor"
is a mixture of BBQ sauce and ketchup.
    Circling back to Japan, which originally called tomatoes 
togaki, which means, "Chinese persimmons;" they made up for lost time becoming fans of both tomatoes and ketchup, which they call tomato kechappu. Southwestern Japan is Japan's tomato growing center — I've been there, to Kumamoto, for its regional mascot's birthday party, and remember that tomatoes are mentioned in Kumamon's calisthenics song. Japan also holds the Guinness world record for largest tomato plant
      So how did Japanese tomatoes end up with tagged to an English loan word name? The short answer is: they didn't. Both Japan and the United States borrowed the word from the same original source. Tomatoes are thought to have originated in South America, probably Ecuador or Peru, then found their way to the future Mexico, where the Aztecs named them tomatl. English has a number of foodstuffs that echo Nahuatl, the Aztec language: avocado (ahuakatl); chocolate (xocolatl); and chili (cilli).
     It's sorta cool to think that the ingredients you're assembling for dinner were called for, using basically the same name, by someone hungry after a long afternoon watching ritual victims having their hearts torn out atop a pyramid to the greater glory of Quetzalcoatl 500 years ago.
     I've been eating my bounty at almost every meal. On fresh bread, with goat cheese and butter. In peaches and tomato salad. Or cucumber and tomato salad. Or just sliced, eaten with a knife and fork and a spritz of fig vinegar. I've even experienced the joy of sharing. A neighbor stopped to chat, with his beautiful Doberman. We talked politics for a long time, then I had an epiphany.
    "Say," I said. "Would you like some tomatoes?" He nodded happily yes, he would. I ran in the house and selected four big beauties. 
     "Here you go!" I said, handing them over. I meant to tell him that I had not in fact grown them myself, but was regifting the tomatoes. Before I could, however the conversation wound up and he went on his way. Maybe not so honest after all.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Big Trump is Watching You

     Yes, toward 7:30 EST time Thursday, I slid over to Twitter, whoops, X, and waited, monitoring the chatter. Waited for Donald Trump's mugshot to ... I almost said "hit the wires," but that would be dating myself. Waiting for it to drop. Be flung into the aether.
     The atmosphere was festive. Everyone seemed to be there. Sex columnist Dan Savage, who 20 years ago transformed former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum's last name into the term for a frothy byproduct of anal sex, offered a new, amusing definition for "mugshot" that might be useful when describing certain pornographic tableaux. 
     A fake Trump mugshot was shared as real, then rapidly withdrawn. 
     Why the huge interest? Aren't we all tired of him? Yet there we were. I suppose I could carry on about fascination with the physical body of the tyrant, his image, hewn into limestone in Egypt 4,000 years ago. I've already compared the Former Guy's curled lip to Ozymandias, the pharaoh Shelley's imagination saw peeking from the shifting sand: Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command (that post running in June, 2014, when his name defaced Trump Tower, a full year before he announced his vanity run for the presidency)
    Of course, lately Trump's command, hot or cold, sets only a dwindling band of flunkies into motion. The Washington Post reports that "scores" of supporters turned out around the Fulton County Jail for the arrival of their Orange Lord, then looked at their own photos and changed that to "a few dozen." (I would have be satisfied with "a few.")
    I don't think paying attention to Trump needs to be defended at this point. The man is the front runner for the 2024 Republican Party presidential nominee. His four-year misrule of our country is still a fresh memory, an open wound. Justice for the Jan. 6 insurrection has not reached him. Yet. Those saying ignore Trump and he'll go away have seriously misunderstood the situation, and are as detached from our unfortunate reality as his fans are. We can't ignore him. He's never going away, not until he finally occupies his hole in hell — upside down, I hope, the way Dante envisioned the resting place for Boniface VIII, his flaming feet kicking in protest.
    Frankly, now the interest is more pathological than practical. There isn't much choice in the matter on either side. It's an obsession. Forty percent of the country looks at him with the head-cocked adoration of a dog awaiting a treat. And 40 percent look at him with the focused anxiety of a beaten dog tracking a stick. Either way, the result is the same. 
     Not to forget 20 percent — and this is just nuts — who can't seem to make up their minds.  They seem worst of all. Really? Scratching your head and trying to puzzle this mystery out, are ya?
     Maybe they're just awaiting more information. That lone bit of new data to push them over the edge.
     Like his stated height and weight, which broke before the picture was revealed. 6'3 and 215 pounds. Much glee over that — the man weighs 260 pounds if he weighs an ounce. And last time he was arraigned, in April, he was 6'2 and 240 pounds. So gained an inch while losing 25 pounds. 
    Why not? To me it was barely worth an eye roll. You mean to suggest that Donald Trump is lying?!? Oh my! 
    The mugshot was finally released, and passed along immediately. "He looks broken," Scott Dworkin suggested. "He looks like Satan," my wife said. In between those extremes, a crushed loser and the slick Prince of Darkness (can he be both? I'd vote for both) every possible opinion poured forth. 
     "Trumps mugshot where he looks like a pissed off and angry badass is an iconic historic photo," tweeted Ted Cruz, whose entire reputation now consists of salaaming at Trump's feet, degrading himself like a zonked out meth addict on Lower Wacker Drive, wearing a strap t-shirt as a dress. To me, that is the saddest, most tragic aspect of the entire Trump tragedy. He can't help himself — that's who he is. But people like Ted Cruz knew better. And look at the choices they made, the choices they make. It boggles the mind.
     Of course Trump immediately fundraised with it — "O yet defend me friends, I am but hurt!" — using it as his first Tweet, whoops, message on X, in more than two years.
     The dimwit media noted the historic nature — a president's mugshot — as if history weren't made daily with each new Trump twist. He didn't look any more awful than normal, and indeed had a certain airbrushed Big Brother is Watching You quality. 
     That was my takeaway. If he's reelected — and he might be — I could see him vindictively putting that photo on postage stamps and American currency. That is the photo that will be rendered enormous, 50 feet hall, in the newly renamed Trump Square at 42nd Street in New York, and will gaze from posters affixed to every wall in every town, along with some apt slogan. "HAVE YOU GIVEN TODAY?" I suppose we'll get used to it. Look what we've adjusted ourselves to already.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Driverless cars racing toward us

A Waymo driverless taxi on the street in Phoenix last week.

   At the Clark gas station in Berea, Ohio, the attendant, Jack, would check the oil in our Ford station wagon, squeegee the windows, pump the gas, then thank my mother for stopping by while handing each of us kids in the back seat a stick of gum.
     As nice as that was, turns out that customers like my mother would happily fire Jack to save 5 cents a gallon. Not that we were ever asked. He just vanished. Too bad; I kinda liked Jack.
     Then again, I liked telephone operators, department store clerks — my grandmother was one, at the May Co. — elevator operators and bank tellers. That last group lingers past their sell-by date — my bank typically has one teller on duty, and I will stride past open ATMs to wait in line for the brief pleasant human interaction, trying to forestall the unavoidable day when I walk over to the window and it’ll be shuttered.
     People are expensive, and getting the heave-ho everywhere possible. When I went through the huge Amazon fulfillment center in Monee, my heart didn’t break for the human workers, eyes locked on video screens, arms flying like demented octopi to grab items from seven-foot-tall revolving robot pods to toss into passing cardboard boxes. Rather, I nodded grimly, watched the clockwork efficiency of those pods, and wondered whether the humans would be utterly gone from Amazon warehouses in 10 years — or five.
     Or, about the same time an A.I. program will spit out newspaper columns finely calibrated to the ideal comfort/outrage ratio to keep readers coming back — or would, if anyone wanted such a thing, if they weren’t all staring transfixed at an endless algorithm loop of car crashes, seductive dances and clips from “The Sopranos.”
     Until then, each new step into our brave new world feels significant. It was last Friday, visiting my son in Phoenix that, at 7th and Van Buren, I noticed a passing white car, drawn by the round apparatus on its roof topped with some kind of spinning device. I looked inside, and was not surprised by what I saw — or, rather, didn’t see: no driver.
     “That’s so weird!” I said.

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Thursday, August 24, 2023

Thirteen takeaways from the first Republican Presidential Debate

     Yeah, I sat in front of the television for two hours Wednesday night and watched eight GOP hopefuls talk over each other. Because ... well ... I was curious. I wanted to see what transpired. In case you were lucky enough to have had something better to do, and missed it, here are a baker's dozen worth of bullet points:

     1. It wasn't the utter crazy clown show that Democrats expected, or perhaps just hoped for. No low point of utter cringing horror, at least not one that stood out against a background of standard Republican ideological bilge. The absence of one Donald J. Trump no doubt was a factor there.
     2. Unless you count the moment no hands going up when the group was asked if anybody believed climate change is real, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis demanded they "debate" the matter instead. That moment might linger in history.
     3. Thirty eight year old wackjob/businessman Vivek Ramaswamy promptly pronounced "climate change is a hoax,” and claimed, vis a vis nothing, that "more people are dying of bad climate change policies than they are of actual climate change.” In general, Ramaswamy was an incandescent spotlight of batshittery, confidently airing a variety of specious theories and crazed policy proposals, and was probably the big winner of the night, if drawing attention to yourself, your destructive hopes and fierce, misplaced self-regard can be considered winning.         4. Mike Pence was the other winner. Yes, he invoked his personal lord and savior, Jesus Christ, and promised to put Him in the driver's seat of the White House, without ever explaining where the Prince of Peace was when Pence was curled in the lap of Donald Trump, nodding along with his every enormity. But Pence did radiate a certain strength, perhaps just a lack of shrillness that was a welcome change of pace. He also said he was "incredibly proud of the Trump-Pence administration" except, one assumes, the part trying to overthrow the American democratic system.
     5. "Our country is in decline" were the first words out of DeSantis' twisted mouth — now there's a winning political strategy — and in general the creepy Florida governor further buffed his brand as a man so awkward and uncomfortable in his own skin he can't even execute a smile. Not to mention being an idiot who promised to send the military to invade Mexico "on Day One."And blowing the anti-Semite dog whistle, "George Soros." Twice. In closing, each candidate was asked to explain, in 45 seconds, how he would inspire a weary nation, and when it was DeSantis' turn he just stood there, staring into the camera, until prompted a second time to speak. The other candidates had to actually say something to make sentient viewers cringe. DeSantis just had to be on camera, blinking and smirking and bobbing his head.
     6.  Pence said, "Joe Biden has weakened this country at home and abroad," which is rich coming from Donald Trump's second banana.
     7. Fox moderators Martha Maccallum and Bret Baier barely kept control over the night. They made Megyn Kelly seem like Walter Cronkite. 
     8. Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said, "Is climate change real? Yes it is," but failed to weigh in on the question of whether the sky is blue.
     9. Someone should tell these Republicans that the reason a woman needs the right to an abortion up to the time of birth is if the baby she is carrying is dead, or has such massive deformities that it will die shortly after birth. Nobody has an abortion in the eighth month because they're afraid their child will grow up to be Ron DeSantis, though that seems a valid reason.
     10. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was the only one to speak forcefully about Donald Trump. "Someone's got to stop normalizing this conduct," he said. The crowd booed.
     11. While the candidates railed against China as the central enemy of the United States, one of the sponsors of the broadcast was TikTok, the Chinese-owned social media platform. 
     12. Other than China, public school teachers' unions are the central dark force undermining life in the United States. South Carolina Tim Scott promised to "break the backs of the teachers' unions," echoing Ramaswamy. Christie called them "the biggest threat to our country."
     13. Donald Trump will crush them all.


Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Unlike hell, you can return from Phoenix

    Chicagoans, nestled in the bosom of the greatest city on earth, have limited interest in the bland nowheres beyond its borders. Therefore, as a columnist for Chicago’s preeminent daily newspaper, I try not to bore Chicago readers with places that aren’t Chicago and therefore don’t really matter.
     However. With temperatures in Chicago predicted to hit 100 degrees Wednesday, I feel obligated to share my recent experience in a certain sun-blasted city, despite it not being Chicago.
     Specifically, Phoenix.
     If you know one thing about Phoenix — and who doesn’t? — you know it is very, very hot. Surpassing 110 degrees for 31 consecutive days this summer. Fate dictated I fly there last week.
     Going to Phoenix in August must seem mad. In my defense, it was one of those duties parents sometimes find themselves shouldering, in this case delivering a cat to its owner, a young man associated with the federal judiciary there.
     While I did consider simply landing, handing over the beloved pet, then catching the next fight home — it is Phoenix, after all — that seemed a failure of imagination. Besides, there was a single aspect of Phoenician life I was curious about: the temperature. What must that be like? The hottest I’ve endured as a resident of Chicago was 105 on July 13, 1995. I still remember walking one block to the dry cleaners, then returning to our apartment on Pine Grove Avenue and lying down, utterly drained. 
     But 111 degrees is ... not bad, particularly if you are lounging by a pool. Yes, the concrete is too hot to step upon with bare feet, the metal rail leading into the water too hot to touch. But once you are submerged up to your chin, 111 degrees is just fine. It is, as they say, a dry heat.
     Beyond the heat, I couldn’t imagine what else Phoenix might offer. An art museum of some sort, no doubt. But so vastly inferior to the Art Institute that going would just be sad. Third-rate works by familiar names, larded with forgettable local efforts. I never considered going.
     As my host drove me around, showing off the Sandra Day O’Connor United States Courthouse — quite beautiful — Phoenix unfolded, a rather uninspiring hodgepodge of junior colleges and welding supply yards, interspersed with occasional streets of high-rises of the most anodyne architecture imaginable. Occasional silhouettes of mountains in the background, trying to add interest. It was as if someone shuffled together Franklin Park and Central Station and began dealing cards.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Watch your aft

The life rafts are in the two big overhead compartments aft, or behind, the wing exits.

     Flying is not the special event it was when we'd take a plane to visit my grandmother in New York City, and I'd be escorted up to the pilot to receive my golden Pan Am wings. But it still is a journey, a process of imagined significance, and I try to pay attention. Even to the pre-flight safety spiel, which is tuned out so routinely by regular air travelers that it starts with a little plea to pay attention.
     I do. Pay attention, that is. Set aside my magazine, look up from my iPhone. Out of politeness for the human being standing a few feet in front of me, and from a personal interest in small differences.
     For instance, I noticed last week, flying to Phoenix, that the attendant now stipulates that only one alcoholic beverage can be ordered at a time, and no outside hooch can be consumed on the plane — no doubt a reaction to the rising number of booze-fueled assaults on flight attendants as our social fabric frays to a pile of thread and rags. The obvious solution would be to end sale of alcohol on flights, but that would leave money on the table, and airlines just can't do that, which is part of what has wrecked air travel. So it can't be that big of a problem.
     I also noticed a particular nautical term — "aft" — I'd never heard before in the pre-flight talk. Mentioned twice, in reference to where we might find life rafts. In two overhead compartments, "aft of the wing exits." Not that there would be much call for rafts between Chicago and Phoenix. And the raft storage lockers were obvious enough, hanging from the cabin ceiling above the aisle. Still, I wondered how many passengers knew that "aft" refers to the area of a ship toward the stern, or back, the place where the tiller or propellers would be, as opposed to "fore," which is the bow, or the front of a vessel. I'm all for using uncommon words; just maybe not in the emergency instructions. "Disembark expeditiously from the aircraft..."
     It might be worth mentioning that when the airline industry began, a century ago, its terminology was borrowed from sailing. Thus airports and airliners, not to forget pilots (a pilot guides a ship into harbor), galleys, cabins, etc. Planes were initially given names, like ships, and christened with a bottle of champagne broken over the propeller hub. 
     Though to me, the most striking thing about the flight was the facial expression of the attendants. A general exhausted, zombified look as they droned the snack choices — fruit snacks or a 30 calorie quinoa chocolate wafer — to one row, then the next, then the next. Staffing is a problem everywhere — our flight home was delayed an hour while a replacement pilot skedaddled over from Los Angeles — and I figure airline attendants are more overworked than ever, not to forget the aforementioned abuse. 
      That also used to be different. It didn't happen often. But there used to sometimes be a sparkle, a smile, a very human interchange between air traveler and airline staff. Or at least a realistic facsimile of such a thing. I suppose the day will come soon when we fly standing up, hanging on support bars, with beverages shot into our mouths from spigots. So I guess the thing to do now is to appreciate the human touch, such as it is, while it's still here, sort of. Human staff are expensive and won't be around forever.


Monday, August 21, 2023

He's never going away.

"Hell Hounds Rallying Round the Idol of France," by Thomas Rowlandson 
(Metropolitan Museum of Art)

      It's the whining that most exasperates me. Don't they ever tire of it? Yes, Donald Trump is famous for the lies that firehose out of his mouth, as easily as he draws breath and almost as often.
     But it's the constant complaining that drives me mad, if I didn't tune it out — I can't imagine watching Trump's interview this Wednesday with Tucker Carlson, his half-clever way of drawing whatever scant interest there might be away from the first Republican presidential debate, a gathering of gnats, all of whom, with the exception of born-again Chris Christie, can't even muster the internal fortitude to string together a few critical words against the liar and bully, fraud and traitor whom they would defeat.
     Republicans obviously want that kind of thing, though again, it boggles the mind as to why. It would be bad enough to gawp at the destruction of American democracy for a Julius Caesar. To yield your vote and the protection of a functioning judicial system in favor of Alexander the Great.
     But for this guy? That enormous baby, moaning and bellyaching. Waving a series of bogeymen over his head — mommy, Muslims are frightening me! Waaa, I can't sleep because trans people are using the toilet! Poor me! The deep state is hurting me! The world is rigged against me! It's unfaiiiiiir!!!!
     Remember, he was going on about the election being fixed in 2016, in case he lost. His squeaking past Hillary Clinton — but her emails! — shut that up, until 2020, when he actually did lose. Then the fig leaf he's slapped over every defeat he's ever experienced — the game was fixed, because that's the only way I can ever lose! — went from passing lie to an eternal, constantly-parroted verity of the Republican Party. Most Republicans believe, vis a vis nothing, that Joe Biden did not legitimately win the presidency. And yet they still participate in elections; you'd think, having been cheated in some ineffable way they can't explain, never mind prove, they'd give up on elections. And go straight to force and violence. Which is kinda where they are heading now.
     This is our new reality. Even when Trump passes from the scene — at 95, surrounded by toadies and handlers and mistresses and enablers — these mini-Trumps will ape him, trying to duplicate his success. At least when we die, and go to hell, we'll know exactly what to expect.

Sunday, August 20, 2023


     As a rule, I don't think much of slogans and truisms, particularly when offered in a commercial setting.
     However, this billboard, outside Vovomeena, the place where my son and I had breakfast in central Phoenix Friday morning, caught my fancy. Not an especially profound sentiment, perhaps. But true, and useful. Something to bear in mind, or try to, particularly as politics keep fracturing and the fate of our democracy teeters in the balance. I don't recall ever seeing it stated so plainly. You tend to want to feed stupid, mean, toxic people back their own stupidity, meanness  and toxicity— that seems like justice. But it really only brings you down to their level. Besides, they're better at it. They've had more practice. Believe me, as a newspaper columnist, I've often had the experience of responding instinctively to some base abuse, wait for the reaction, and realize that, duh, once again I've been out-stupided by an idiot.
     Maybe having just tucked into an excellent breakfast made me in a more receptive mood. 
The service was first rate, the setting, relaxed and lovely. Being on vacation, I indulged in a $19.95 smoked pork chop, sitting on a homemade waffle topped with apple-maple syrup and a layer of scrambled eggs and accompanied by a Portuguese donut. (The unusual name of the restaurant, Vovomeena, is a tribute to owner D.J. Fernandes' grandmother; "vovó" is Portuguese for "grandmother" and his is named "Meena."). 
    A lot of food, and I left behind a good deal of the eggs and waffle. But ate every bit of that pork chop, which was juicy and delicious. Breakfast held me all day — lunch was a whole grapefruit supplemented by a package of dried fruit and nuts from Starbucks, plus a cranberry juice cocktail on the plane. I'll admit, Phoenix as a city did not immediately impart its charms to me — maybe my second visit this winter will unbox those. But Phoenicians, as they are indeed called,  sure know how to serve food. Every single meal was a treat.

There's a really good smoked pork chop hiding under all that.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

The freedom to say, "Stick 'em up!"

    Let's say I rob a bank. Nothing fancy. Nylon stocking over my head. Gun in my hand. Rush up to the window, point the gun at the trembling teller and say, "Stick 'em up! Gimme all the money."
     At which point I'm immediately arrested, as criminals often are. They're not geniuses, very stable or otherwise. Quite dumb really. An off-duty cop, in line behind me, makes the nab. I'm cuffed, led away.
     At my trial, my lawyer arises and airily begins my defense: "The First Amendment is the bedrock of our American freedoms. Take it away, and the rest of our quality of life crumbles. As free citizens, we are within our rights to make all sorts of statements: 'Down with the government!' or 'We need a new constitution' or 'Gimme all the money!' How sad a day it would be, when a simple imperative sentence considered against the law. Not eloquent, perhaps, not fully formed 'Give me all of the money, please,' we might prefer. But still a statement of entreaty, a request, one that no man should be prosecuted over...."
     How well would that argument go over?
     Not well, I'd imagine. Not in a world of sanity and fairness which, sad to say, we seem to be slipping away from.
     Because there are Donald Trump's lawyers, trying to frame his alleged plot to overthrow American democracy as a free speech issue. These were legitimate questions being asked by a responsible leader. A polite inquiry into the election process.
      "It attacks his ability to advocate for a political position, which is covered under the First Amendment," Trump attorney John Lauro told PBS. A political position of pressuring individual election officials, one-on-one, to overturn the election, dozens of failed lawsuits, constant airing of claims he absolutely knew to be untrue ("You're too honest," Trump told Mike Pence).
     "All of that is protected speech."
     As with any conspiracy theory, he scrapes together a ragtag bag of allegations and innuendo, fantasy and prevarication, and presents them all as a cohesive whole.
     Is there a fraud who would not use that argument?
     "My client, your honor, is not the quack peddling Neil Steinberg's Cancer-B-Gone Elixer that the prosecution just described, but a man of honor, asking legitimate questions about the medical establishment and offering a possible cure in the form of his $100-a-bottle pyramid program, which is not the 'pathetic scheme' outlined in the charges, but a growing, promising field of legitimate research in the medical community, Wishfulfillmentarianism, where the natural, innate engines of gullibility within the psyche of the patient are harnessed to promote good health..."
     We'd laugh if any other cheap crook tried it. But when Donald Trump does the exact same thing, as much as we'd like to laugh, we can't. Because too many people take this idiocy seriously for it to be funny.

Friday, August 18, 2023

111 degrees in the shade


     To be honest, when I stepped out of the air conditioning of Sky Harbor International Airpot in Phoenix Wednesday morning, I expected to be hit with a red hot hammer. After all, this is the city being crushed by the full brunt of global warming, 31 consecutive days above 110 degrees Fahrenheit. That has to be brutal.
     Yes, it was only 103 at the time, about 11 a.m. I'd experienced hotter, and perhaps that was affecting my expectations, memories of that 105 degree day in 1995. Back then, I'd walked a block to the dry cleaners in East Lake View and immediately home to lie down, wrung out, spent.
     Six hours earlier, it had been 58 degrees when I'd walked the dog in the early morning cool of Center Ave. I'd considered wearing a jacket, but figured, "Enjoy it while you can."
     Stepping through the automatic airport doors, I even formed phrase, in my mind, just to be ready, "Jesus fucking Christ!" Or some such thing. It was on the tip of my tongue.
     Only the 103 degree heat was ... bearable. Not a shock at all. Dry heat, as they say and ... could it be? ... slightly balsam-scented. Phoenix smells like a hotel sauna.
     As the temperature rose, I went about my business. Delivering my younger son's cat (I can almost hear readers who learned their parenting skills watching "The Great Santini" lunging for their keyboards to lecture me about how I am a ruinously indulgent parent. Spare me; based on how my boys turned out, you don't have a leg to stand on. Off the charts).
     We swung by Phoenix's main drag, such as it is, and the Sandra Day O'Connor United States Courthouse. Phoenix is depopulated at 12 noon. Hardly anyone on the street. At Home Depot, where I went to buy the lad the cordless electric drill that every householder should own (note to Great Santini set: shhhhhhh) groups of Hispanic men waited under trees. Day laborers, waiting for work. I bet the heat they feel is much different than the heat I shrugged off, dashing in and out of air conditioned cars and buildings. So let's stipulate that. I can only report what I experience; I'm not the all-seeing-eye.
     Phoenix reminds me of Los Angeles, not an actual city at all, in the Chicago, cohesive-place-with-a-downtown-and-neighborhoods, sense, but more of a random agglomeration of disparate locations united in a municipal totality. Streets of tiny ramshackle houses gave way instantly to the ballpark for the Diamondbacks. ("How do they play baseball in this?" I asked my son, and he pointed out that the field is covered and air conditioned, which seems wrong). The stadium yielded to a stretch of office buildings, then back to cement plants and flooring outlets, welding supply companies and yards of lawn statuary.
     I tried noting the colors of the buildings, but here words failed me — maybe it's the heat. There was red brown and copper brown and rose brown, khaki and beige and khaki beige, a spectral wheel of brown: dun brown and tan brown and brown brown, with the occasional bright yellow and faded red for variety's sake, with lots of old mustard and yesterday's oatmeal.  Blame the sun — I saw more cars whose paint jobs had been seared off in two days in Phoenix than seen in two years in Chicago.
      There are many junior and community colleges and trade schools. As we drove Interstate 17, heading to dinner, I began to notice all the billboards were for personal injury attorneys, but left off one salient detail — the lawyers' names. Instead they read "Husband & Wife Lawyer Team" and "" and nicknames like "Sweet James" and "Rafi."
     My guess is their targets have limited English skills. Digging around, I found the Arizona Republic dedicated an episode of its Valley 101 podcast on this very subject. Like most podcasts, it's an incredibly slow-moving 22 minutes of time-filling and tap-dancing — including an eye-crossing number blast probing whether Arizona has more lawyer billboards than other states, beginning with the protracted story of how, in 1977, lawyers advertising became legal in Arizona. 
     The key question — why so many personal injury lawyer billboards compared to billboards for supermarkets and accountants and every other form of human endeavor? — wasn't raised, never mind answered.
     Though one lawyer interviewed on the Arizona Republic did say, "If you have any soul at all, you have to kinda hate lawyer advertising."
    Yes, but why? That was asked.
   "Why does it feel like we're surrounded by them?" host Kaila White wonders, calling Mark Breyer, who with his wife Alexis constitute, "The Husband and Wife Law Team." 
    "The reason is ... " Mark Breyer begins, promisingly, then says, in essence, they're trying to reach people. Stop the presses!
     "If anyone can be your client, then casting a wide net kinda makes sense," host White reveals.
      The obvious answer of why we notice them — because they're numerous and crude, with their stupid nicknames and sledgehammer get-cash-now tone — is finally hinted at, toward the very end of the podcast, after 22 minutes of life I'm never getting back.
     After lunch, it reached 111 degrees, and I retired to a chaise by the pool. It was warm, but not unbearable so. My biggest trouble was my eyes — running and smarting. Did I say it's a dry heat? It is. A very, very dry heat. 
      The biggest way the brutal Phoenix heat manifested itself was when I went to relocate from the lounge chair to the pool. I went to step onto the concrete and drew my bare foot back. Too hot to walk upon. I put on my flip-flops, and walked over to the stairs. The metal handrail was too hot to touch. I slipped off one sandal, then the other, and stepped into the water.  
     We ate well , and since readers do both live in  and occasionally visit Phoenix, I probably should go into detail. Lunch the first day was at the Welcome Diner at 10th and Pierce, where I had the "Carol" sandwich — smoked pork shoulder, Carolina BBQ sauce and tangy coleslaw on a fresh baked biscuit, with homemade lemonade and a slice of their hibiscus cherry piece 
     Dinner was a place my kid discovered because it's in a strip mall by the Goodwill, the lyrically named "Soup & Sausage." I tried kvass for the first time — think a rye bread soda, not sweet, almost like an NA beer, but dark. And a platter of pierogi — chicken, onion, and two sour cherry — a pair of well-crafted sausage, and a mound of sauerkraut.
      Dinner in Phoenix Thursday night was at Taco Boy's — as much as I sometimes lament a missing possessive, the presence here made me itch to ask the oldest person behind the counter if he were the Taco Boy, and to congratulate him on his grammar. But the place was hopping, and I thought better than to bother anybody. The food hot of the grill and fantastic — the first taco I've ever gotten that was too hot to pick up when I unwrapped it.
     Speaking of hot. We were there about 7 p.m., and people were sitting outside, enjoying dinner on the patio. It was 106 degrees. But a dry heat. You get used to it.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Measuring a ruler

    Believe it or not, as much stuff as I write here, every ... goddamn ... day, not everything I write gets posted. Like this, a follow-up on last week's column on the Field Museum's show, "Death: Life's Greatest Mystery," that kept getting bumped by more pressing topics. Honestly, as the days piled on, given the third-rail aspect of the topic, I considered just adding it to the list of emergency, Fire Axe Behind the Glass columns to run should I get hit by a bus. Which is kinda what happened, given, that I find myself in Phoenix, where it hit 111 degrees Wednesday and is supposed to do the same today. But it's a dry heat ... More on that tomorrow, I imagine.

     The word "oriental" was retired from polite society a number of years ago because it smacked of the Western eagerness to view unfamiliar Eastern cultures as exotic. Egyptian hieroglyphics conveying tax rolls and recipes for beer were mistaken for incantations and other mystic hooha.  Asian women were fetishized into geishas and courtesans, part of the general practice of presenting classes of Others, not as complicated, multi-dimensional human beings such as ourselves, but flat cut-outs, redolent of incense, eroticism and intrigue.
     Finally scholarship rid itself of that attitude. 
    I thought.
     Though that Ripley's Believe It or Not view of the world came to mind while reading the comments after my Friday column on the "Death: Life's Greatest Mystery" exhibit at the Field Museum. I had spoken the silent part, wondering where the whitebread American death rituals were. The Field, with  charming and unexpected candor, said, in essence, two things: 1) "This is the stuff we collected" and 2) The white social baggage is in the heads of the visitors.
       Of course. Anthropology is generally the study of tribes in the Brazilian rainforest and nomads in the Punjab. While there is a fine tradition of Western academics turning that microscope upon ourselves, whether examining the social structure of city blocks or suburban cheerleading squads, that seems more the recent exception than the longtime rule. Why study ourselves? We know ourselves. We're familiar. We're normal, and the standard by which others are judged. Exploring ourselves would be like measuring a ruler.
     While I admired the pith of the reader who observed, "We don’t usually see horses or squirrels in the zoo, either," I disagreed with the thinking behind the remark. First, it's simply wrong. The Lincoln Park Zoo has a Farm-in-the-Zoo, with cows and goats and, yes, horses, or ponies anyway. A zebra might be more exotic, to us, than a horse, but it would be hard to argue that it's somehow a more intrinsically interesting animal.
     But it's also an antique way of thinking. The flip side of viewing the world as exotic is viewing ourselves as ordinary, the scenery and curtains that are to be ignored while taking in the rich pageant of life is celebrated. It is an equally defective way of thinking. I have no sympathy for the strident self-victimization of the anti-woke segment of this country, and that is not why I pointed the lapse out What I was trying to say is, that when the world is being gathered and presented, supposedly in its totality, such as at the Field death show, I would like to be considered part of it. The multitudinous sins of my race — some of them perpetrated against my religion — do not exile their descendent from the realm of the living. Not yet anyway.
     Yes, the pendulum swings, and given the centuries of unashamed bigotry, it's a fine thing to see it going the other way. To a point. My central complaint about the "Death" show is that nobody considered the bulk of visitors might appreciate learning about a few of their own culture's many odd rituals and beliefs. It seems a failure to lay out Chinese hell but ignore Dante's hell.
     I hope this isn't all about ego, the boost of being showcased. I suppose there has to be some of that. But there are interesting aspects the Field left on the table. If we wanted to show the way Western society tries to thwart death, to negate it, those Victorian death photos, such as above, would be an apt vehicle, unfamiliar to most visitors. Or below, the circa World War I New York Police Department glass plate photographs Luc Sante unearthed and gathered in his chilling 1992 book, "Evidence." You can't say they aren't interesting. There's a danger when certain realms stop being considered worthy of contemplation. The NYPD tossed thousands of these glass plates into New York harbor — Sante, now Lucy Sante, was lucky to find a few boxes overlooked under a stairwell. When we don't consider the full range of history to be significant, losses are certain to follow.

from Luc Sante's "Evidence"

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Straight from the Blagojevich playbook

Samuel Johnson
Like the mayor, I sometimes cite quotations.
     For instance, a reader will occasionally write in, just baffled by one of my columns. What do I mean by “religion should be voluntary”? That’s craaaaa-zeeee. Maybe I could explain it to him, take his hand and walk him through it?
     In such cases, I try to hurry silently on, but sometimes pause to share my favorite quote from the great dictionary writer and wit, Samuel Johnson: “Sir, I have found you an argument; I am not obliged to find you an understanding.”
     I can’t tell if that does anything for the reader; but it makes me feel better. And, more to the point, it is relevant, a way of saying, “The column is clear enough, bub. Figure it out. Or don’t.”
     That cannot be said for Brandon Johnson’s reply when asked Monday about his firing of Chicago’s diligent health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, without the courtesy of a face-to-face meeting, or even of telling her himself on the phone. An underling did the deed, late Friday. A question was posed: What about that, Mr. Mayor?
     “You can’t always go by the things that you hear. Right? ‘Real eyes realize real lies,’” Johnson replied, quoting Tupac Shakur.
     So a follow-up question: What the heck does that mean? What are you saying? That the question is premised on a lie? Then Awardy still has her job? Was she not fired? Did the mayor indeed give her the sort of respectful termination that might, oh, I don’t know, encourage another highly skilled health professional to agree to replace her? Someone the city will desperately need as COVID rates rise and God-knows what new nightmare Hot Zone plague is at this very moment dripping out of a bat’s backside somewhere, heading to a rendezvous at O’Hare International Airport and then every block of the city of Chicago?

To continue reading, click here.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Flashback 1998: 1890s newspaperman slashing prose stings today

     Baylor University is in the news, applying for — and receiving — a religious exemption to the Department of Education ban on sexual harassment, so that any young LGBTQ person who has the misfortune to find themselves on campus can feel the full lash of Southern Baptist hospitality. 
    This of course brought to mind my hero, William Cowper Brann. I plan to channel him in the newspaper, eventually. Until then, here's a column about him, published 25 years ago.

     He wielded a pen like a razor, and gleefully slashed at his many, many enemies, one of whom stepped out of a dusty street in Waco, Texas, and shot him in the back, "where the suspenders crossed," 100 years ago this past Wednesday.
     His name was William Cowper Brann. He is utterly forgotten today — his name appeared just once in this newspaper, 41 years ago — so I thought I would take advantage of the anniversary to introduce you to this son of Illinois, whose acidic personality got him tossed out of newspaper jobs from Matteson southward until he ended up in Waco, where he ran his paper, the Iconoclast, for three years before he was murdered.
    In that short span of time, the Iconoclast went from a tiny local monthly (he ran off 50 copies of the first edition, sold those, then rushed the money back to the printer to pay for more issues) to a famed journal of international reputation with 100,000 subscribers, a testament to the eternal public hunger for a mean guy with high standards who doesn't pull his punches.
     In the first issue, February, 1895, he went after a hugely popular columnist, T. DeWitt Talmadge, who had called Brann "the Apostle of the Devil" (a nickname that even Brann devotees came to use). Brann dismissed him as a "wide-lipped blatherskite" and "a religious faker."
     "The Iconoclast will pay any man $10 who will demonstrate that T. DeWitt Talmadge ever originated an idea, good, bad or indifferent," Brann wrote. "He is simply a monstrous bag of fetid wind."
     That was mild for Brann; he suggested another group of opponents "should have been hanged with their own umbilicular cords at birth."
     Brann unspooled James Whitcomb Riley's nauseating verse ("So I stand in the dawn of her beautiful eyes.") until he couldn't take it anymore.
     "Ah, God! A little ice water and a fan, please," Brann wrote, conjuring up the image of the Hoosier poet swooning from his own muse. "He revives, he totters to his feet, he smites his breast, he gropes hither and yon in his delirious ecstasy. . . . Perhaps he can persuade his star-eyed charmer to wear green goggles or only squint at him through a piece of smoked glass."
     Is it fair that Riley's name endures, sort of, and Brann's is forgotten?
     On the celebrity wedding of Consuelo Vanderbilt and the Duke of Marlborough, Brann noted that "the fiance of Miss Vanderbilt is descended . . . through a long line of titled cuckolds and shameless pimps, and now stands on the ragged edge of poverty." And the bride? "A long, gaunt, skinny young female whose face would frighten any animal but a pauper duke out for the dough."
     One can only pine for what he would have done with the current Windsors.
     The man certainly had his faults — particularly a jarring, bottomless racism (though reading his views on the subject is a sobering reminder of what racism is, now that the term is tossed about as lightly as a beach ball in summer).
     Brann's subjects have a way of reverberating a century later. The "Slick Willie" in the White House now is only an encore of "Slippery Bill" McKinley, whose rise Brann mourned as if it were the coming of doom.
     "In 30 years we have passed, by regular gradation, from the wisdom of Lincoln to the stupidity of (President) Cleveland, and it may be the will of God that we should drain the cup of humiliation to the very dregs . . . (and elect) a political nonentity astride a vacuum."
     Brann battled the rabid anti-Catholicism that was so popular in the 1890s, primarily by attacking Baylor University, the preeminent local Baptist establishment. After a Brazilian Catholic girl, brought to Baylor to be trained as a Baptist missionary, instead got pregnant, Brann used the incident to heap an endless river of abuse on the school. A high point was his starting a fund drive to raise a marble monument on campus to the infant, who had died.
"It seems to me that the great Baptist seminary has been strangely derelict in its duty — has failed to properly advertise itself as a place where souls are made as well as saved," he wrote. "Baylor is far too modest. It received an ignorant little Catholic as raw material, and sent forth two Baptists as the finished products."
     The college, needless to say, writhed under Brann's lash. A mob of Baylor students kidnapped Brann at gunpoint, beat him, and might have lynched him had professors not interceded.
     On April 1, 1898, the father of one Baylor girl stepped out of the twilight and shot Brann in the back. Never one to treat a foe lightly, Brann whirled around and emptied his gun into his attacker. Both men died, Brann lingering until the early morning of April 2 — a day he was to begin a speaking tour that would have led him northward, perhaps as far as Chicago.
     I think he'd be pleased by the idea that, a century after his cowardly murder, his words are finally echoing here:
     "People frequently say to me, 'Brann, your attacks are too harsh. You should use more persuasion and less pizen.' Perhaps so; but I have not yet mastered the esoteric of choking a bad dog to death with good butter. . . . Never attempt to move an ox-team with moral suasion, or to drown the cohorts of the devil in the milk of human kindness. It won't work."
      —originally published in the Sun-Times, April 5, 1998