Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Flashback 2007: "The hook man got him"

 


      Happy Halloween! Though honestly, I'm not feeling the "happy" part, what with the relentlessly grim news. Nor the "Halloween" ... all those grinning skeletons and cartoon ghouls, cardboard memento mori at a time when actual death is already all too present. You want to snarl "Read the room!" and send them packing, scrambling back to the red hell from whence they came. 
    So what then? I glanced into the vault and found this, with manages to combine both concern for Israel and the demons of the seasons, but in a more light-hearted fashion. It was from when the column filled a page, and I left in the original subheads.

OPENING SHOT . . .

     Israel has a problem with Palestinians blowing themselves up in public places.
     So it built a fence, to keep bombers from infiltrating Israel. And it started pulling down the houses of the families of suicide bombers, since it's hard to punish somebody who has blown himself up.
     Not the most extreme governmental action in this woeful world, yet one that sends certain idealistic Americans into a frenzy, such as the protesters who broke up the Caterpillar annual stockholder meeting in St. Charles this week. They don't want the company to sell Israel bulldozers.
     Why stop at bulldozers? I bet Israeli soldiers eat corn flakes. Shouldn't they also picket Kellogg's? And the Jews who support Israel drive Fords. Better demonstrate against Ford, too.
     And the sun — it shines upon the Israelis, warming them, doesn't it? Maybe it can be boycotted, the way British academics are shunning Israeli universities.
     It's silly. One can criticize Israel. It makes mistakes, like any other nation. I don't equate condemning Israel with anti-Semitism, though both can sure smell similar. To be an American, to survey this world of bloodshed and repression — the charnel house of Africa, the slave camp of China, the rigid theocracies of the oil states — and to decide to shout down companies doing business with spunky democratic Israel is out-of-balance, almost perverse. I'd be indignant, but these people are mere stooges, more to be pitied.

BEWARE THE MAN WITH THE HOOK

     An article — a fake article, running down the right side of this column, headlined:

                              "TOP COP SLAMS HOOK MAN FEAR"

     As I put together the tent poles, I merrily composed the article in my mind:
     "Northbrook Chief of Police Buck Jackman assured parents there is no reason to be concerned about the 50th anniversary of the escape of the deranged killer known only as 'The Hook Man.'
     "'All usual summertime activities, including sleepovers, should proceed as normal,' said Chief Jackman. "'The myth of his return on the anniversary to kill again is only that, a myth.' 
       "It was June 13, 1957 — exactly 50 years ago Wednesday when a serial killer whose right hand was replaced with a razor-sharp hook escaped from the Northwest Suburban Facility for the Criminally Insane. The same night, four boys camping in Harms Woods were found brutally slaughtered . . ."
     I would fold the paper over, hiding the part that explained the joke to readers, and pass it across the kitchen table to the birthday boy.
     "Look at that," I'd say, idly. "We'd better not tell your friends. Wouldn't want them to be frightened . . ."
     But I had already turned in Wednesday's column. I briefly considered phoning the paper and having them tear up the page. But the copy desk might look askance at that . . .
     So I let it go. The party proceeded as planned. Bocce ball and dinner at Pinstripes. Home for a ballgame, the pinata, gifts.
     Darkness fell. The boys were settled in the tent to play poker, and I was getting ready to go to sleep when my younger son appeared. His older brother was teasing his friends.
     I went into the yard, found Son No. 1 raking his fingers across the outside of the tent and crooning about a Hook Man — it must be in the genes. I sent him to his room, established that the five boys within were calm, and hit the hay.
     At 3:45 a.m. one of the boys appeared in our room — feeling ill, he said, no doubt a combination of massive sugar infusion, late hours and excitement. His folks were called and they returned him to the comfort of his own room.
     "The boys are going to wonder where he went when they wake up," my wife mused, in the 4 a.m. darkness. Then she smiled — I could hear it. "It must be you guys rubbing off on me, but I'm tempted to tell them that the Hook Man got him."
         — Originally published in the Sun-Times, June 15, 2007

Monday, October 30, 2023

Zombie babies nibble at Texas freedom


     My sister got married and moved to Texas. Almost 40 years ago. Don’t ask why; it’s complicated. The family would occasionally haul down to Texas to visit.
     I can’t honestly say I relished those trips. Yes, it was educational to visit Dealey Plaza, where John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Seeing how compact the layout is, you go from “How could Oswald hit him twice?” to “How could he miss?”
     But Texas is so .... my sister lives outside Dallas, which is not a proper city, like Chicago. The skyline, with its neon trimmed buildings, seems an inflatable backdrop, something the Army Corps of Engineers would set up overnight to create the decoy of a city.
     Though one early visit stands out. We rented a Lincoln Continental — when in Rome — which I dubbed “The Fat Man’s Car,” thinking of that TV detective Cannon. He drove a Lincoln.
     Back then, in the mid-1980s, Texans could drink and drive — they had drive-through liquor stores. At one point, my brother and I slipped away, picked up a 6-pack of Lone Star beer and tooled around, enjoying the full Texas cultural experience.
     Steering with one hand and nursing a beer with the other was perfectly legal. Why? Because freedom. They would be gosh-darned if they were going to let some gubment bureaucrat tell them how to live. They not only drank and drove but celebrated the practice.
     “Texans love to drive and drink,” Jan Reid wrote in Texas Monthly in 1983. “I’ve done it many times ... gained new vigor for the upcoming stretch of road from the rousing feel of a cold one wedged between your thighs ... the freedom to imbibe behind the wheel represents a level of personal liberty that is denied residents of more thoroughly urbanized parts of the country. We tenaciously defend our right to drink and drive.”
     Tenacity slips, and personal liberty is on hard times in Texas. Not because they passed an open container law in 1987 (for drivers; passengers could imbibe until 1993). Having seen the ravages of alcohol up close, I applaud common sense so clear it even sank into rock hard heads of Texans, eventually.

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Sunday, October 29, 2023

Haarlem Nights

 

      Why buy postcards when you can just snap a photo? Such as the one above, taken last month, of the De Adriaan, a rustic windmill in Haarlem, Netherlands. 
      The windmill isn't original — built in 1779, it burned down in 1932 — but a lovingly-crafted reproduction on the precise spot, opened in 2002. Edie and I took the tour, and learned a lot — particularly about the connection between the windmills and Amsterdam's meteoric commercial rise. We think of them as charming anachronisms, now, but they were cutting edge technology 300 years ago.
     I can't share the photo without giving a shoutout to Karen Turner and her Wanderlustingk blog. She is the reason we were in Haarlem in the first place. My wife and I decided to go to Amsterdam at the last moment — just a couple weeks ahead of time — and after we bought our plane tickets, I was surprised to find nothing in the way of affordable hotels, meaning under $300 a night. Even the $400 and $500 hotel rooms were nothing to get excited about. Basic rooms, quite small, most lacking a queen sized bed.
     With what-have-we-done panic setting in, I fled to the internet for guidance, and immediately found Turner's 25 ESSENTIAL TRAVEL TIPS FOR AMSTERDAM FROM AN AMSTERDAM RESIDENT. The first few — don't stand in the bike lane, wear comfortable shoes, carry ID at all times — while no doubt useful, did not address our particular problem. But No. 5 was: "BOOK YOUR HOTEL OR HOSTEL EARLY, ESPECIALLY FOR PEAK SEASON (SPRING/SUMMER)" and for those for whom this was impossible, included this key piece of advice:
     Some people choose to stay outside of Amsterdam to save up to 40% (like my dad did), however you’ll need to factor in the cost of traveling to/from Amsterdam daily per person. Haarlem is a lovely city about 20 minutes from Amsterdam.
     That sounded like a plan. I went online and found a number of suitable hotel rooms for about $200 a night, and booked a stay at the Lion D'Or, right at the train station in Haarlem. The view out our window looked like this:
   
    We really liked Haarlem — not only was there a charming windmill, but a perfect little restaurant, Jacobu Pieck, at 18 Warmoesstraat. We ate there three times. We also visited the Franz Hals museum, and took in an organ concert at the Grote Kerk, the town's main church, which has been at that location since 1307. The organ was finished in 1738, and played by Mendelssohn, Handel and a 10-year-old Mozart. We saw Rob Nederlof play, and he was excellent. Tickets were four Euros.
     I liked Amsterdam, particularly the Van Gogh Museum, a must-see lifetime experience, and the Rijksmuseum, which isn't the Prado or the Art Institute for that matter, but worth a look-see. But we loved Haarlem. 



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Saturday, October 28, 2023

Works in Progress: "You’re The Best…And…You’re Fired"

 
John Howell

     There's big money to be made worshipping the Trumpian Beast. It's actually something of a vicious circle — The Former Guy fundraises off his vileness, churning content that is then highlighted by an entire Trump Uber Alles media substrata that only starts with Fox News. Holding hands, all make money off the dupes. 
     It takes courage to opt out, as we noted here when Big John Howell was shown the gate at WLS because his blood does not run sufficiently orange. The popular radio host has more to say — that's the job in a nutshell — and asked if he could share his thoughts on EGD. With pleasure. Take it away, John:
  
     I was fired by WLS AM, September 2023. Not unexpected.
     First, I find it deeply ironic (and beautiful career symmetry) that the same station that inspired me to enter the business in 1983, pulled me off the air 40 years later, almost to the day.
     Management: “Great show. You’re the best. A historic run. So sorry. It’s just business. Thanks for your service. Now get out…and we’ll need your parking pass”.
     Howell: “No problem. Thanks for the cash. My kids are launched, the nest is feathered, debts are paid, my professional reputation is secure…By the way, I’m taking my WLS hallway portrait for my home office”.
     Management: “Just understand Cumulus has made the decision that WLS is going to be the most conservative station in America, and you don’t fit in”
     Me: “Understood. Tightening down a playlist is standard practice for stations in trouble. Play the hits, even if they’re bad records.”
     Will it work? Who knows. But be careful of the audience you covet and empower.
     I enjoyed my time at WLS. Still legendary broadcast beach front property, despite the ratings. My colleagues were terrific, the facility top notch. Also, for the record, they offered me a “goodbye show”. I declined. This was a termination, not a retirement.
     I always prepared my shows to be Chicago centric, locally focused. I thought after 6 hours of syndicated hosts (all politically far right), the audience would appreciate a different opinion and local coverage. I was wrong. BTW: I used to be considered “conservative”.
     Why couldn’t I just toe the company line? Because, it would have been lazy and cowardly to ignore the biggest national political story of my lifetime: The rise of Trump and the death of the GOP. Unlike others, I wasn’t going to sell you chicken excrement while claiming it’s chicken salad.
     It was long apparent that my style and content was not in sync with the rest of the hosts. Not even close. My approach fit in as well as…well…intelligence, truth, context, science, evolution, good grammar, good manners (and good grooming) at at MAGA rally.
     I know, that’s a cheap shot.
     Once again, “too hip for the room”. A familiar refrain throughout my career. Having the right to “go along to get along”, but not the ability. I was taught that truth is truth, and truth is supposed to build trust. I was wrong.
     I made the decision, quite a while ago, to do it my way. Knowing the inevitable repercussions could happen. I only presented topics, guests, information and opinions that I considered worth my time, and yours.
     For example, in my world, January 6th is a major historical event, criminally and politically. Hunter’s laptop is a distraction.
     If I wasn’t interested in a topic, It wasn’t on my show, period.
     So often I would hear listeners regurgitate the preprogrammed ”What about, what about, what about” lines. I figured WLS provided blanket coverage of “what about the Dems?” on every other show. Why do I have to play along?
     Of course, historically, WLS famously played the Beatles twice an hour. I would have opted for the Stones.
     Again, just for the record: In 2016 I THOUGHT Trump was manifestly unfit to be president, by 2017 I KNEW Trump was unfit. I wasn’t going to give him a pass for approval from his minions. That’s a dereliction of broadcast duties.
     Is Trump a delusional ignoramus? Or a duplicitous grifter? Both? I hope I live long enough to read the history.
     But here’s the problem:
     His messianic hold on the hard core Trumpians is both comically fascinating, and incredibly disturbing. Historically, we’ve seen collective stupidity, gullibility and cultish, slavish behavior lead to ugly nationalistic political movements. I have news for you, they don’t end well. Gird your loins America.
     And to the enablers in the party, donor class and the media. When you break the stupid, you own the stupid. They’re all yours. When you’re a purveyor of political pornography, it’s tough to get that sticky mess off your hands. And remember, the excuse “it’s just business” is the same one the cartels use. I pointed that out to several in the biz, they refuted this, but they immediately looked down at their fingers.
     Some in the political media and radio business have lauded me for “sticking to my principles” and “walking away when it became untenable.” Not entirely true. I picked up every single dollar WLS made available to me. I thought I’d stick it out through the next round of Chicago corruption trials and maybe 2024. Wrong again.
     This break in my career is the first one in 40 years. I probably wouldn’t have stopped on my own. I might be back, we’ll see.
      Truth be told, my goal was to keep churning the direct deposits as long as possible. I stayed for the tall cake and that sweet SAG AFTRA health insurance. Reminding me of the old country song: “I’m Ashamed To Be Here, But Not Ashamed Enough To Leave”. What’s more “Conservative” than that?
    Regards, John Howell

      Howell is a native of Holland MI. A graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston (1982). Howell began his broadcast career at WZND/Zeeland MI (1983), WLAV AM/FM, WJFM, WGRD/Grand Rapids (1984-1988), WCKG, WUSN, WIND, WLS/Chicago (1987-2023). He still has a daily show. His audience? His 3 dogs, who agree with every word.



















    


Friday, October 27, 2023

No thoughts, no prayers

     

     Nah, I don’t care about the mass shooting
     This latest crop of gunfire victims leave me completely unmoved.     
     I know nothing about them and am indifferent to the tragedy, to the lives cut down in a hail of bullets. I don’t feel sorry for them. don’t want to know their names or see their faces. I’m not expressing any thoughts or prayers, no sympathy extended to their families.
     In fact, were they to hear from me today, as I write this, they would not welcome my condolences, even though I would be the very first to reach out to them. Doing so would only leave them confused, even frightened.
     Nor do I care about the reasons the killer did what he did. Terrorism? Mental illness? Po-tay-to, po-tah-to. The breathless wait for a “motive.” As if that matters to the dead or anybody else. The only reason we want to know what prompted the murderer to pull the trigger is so we can dismiss the whole thing even faster than we already do, which is plenty fast.
     I’m not even curious about the kind of gun, though it doesn’t take a genius to assume it’s another assault rifle, because it always is. That’s what these guns are made for, to mow down many people quickly.
     Yet we’re always surprised when they do. Or at least we pretend to be. We put these guns in the hands of millions of people. Then press our palms to our cheeks when they use them. Pathetic.
     To summarize: Don’t know anything about the shooting, its location, how many victims or who they are, who the shooter is or why he — it’s always a he — did it.
     I don’t know because I can’t know, since I’m writing this not in the aftermath of the recent atrocity, as is custom. But before, on April 9, 2021. To prepare for the inevitable.
     As I type, the victims-to-be are still going about their lives. Their as-yet-uncrushed loved ones have not seen the initial bulletin, felt the sinking dread, frantically tried to find out, learned the awful news and been stunned, stupefied, devastated.
     I’d warn them, but I don’t know who they will be. They could be anybody. Could be me. Or you — well, not you, since you’re reading this. You were lucky. This time.
      Journalism is a kabuki, a stylized form, the telling of the same story again and again. So please forgive me for trying to experiment within the confines of a long established tradition, the ritual post-slaughter hand-wringing.

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Thursday, October 26, 2023

"There is another way"


 
   There is no shortage of Jewish people sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. Which I'm tempted to portray as a stark contrast to Palestinians, who do not seem awash in sympathy for Israel and its sufferings. I can't recall hearing anybody say that Israel is a nation that has a right to exist and its people should continue to live. 
     I've been reluctant to say that in print simply because I have not done a survey of everyone everywhere, and for all I know there are Palestinian voices that echo the compassion that flows from Jewish quarters, I just haven't heard them. Besides, Jews can express themselves without worrying the Mossad will kill their families, which is not be the case for critics of Hamas. I try to be fair.
     That said, a reader, Harry R., sent this to me. It seemed a worthwhile, if idealistic, opinion. I asked to post it here today, and he said yes. He didn't ask that I shield his name, but given the tenor of the times, I did so, as a courtesy and precaution.

Dear Palestinian Neighbors:
     I’m reaching out to you as a friend, a neighbor and someone who cares about my many friends and family who live in Israel/Palestine. We need to reach out to each other, today, more than ever, before the entire region blows up. 
     First, a little background. I am a Jewish man who grew up in the Chicago area and lived in Israel for 16 years, from 1985 to 2001. During that time, I devoted myself to building bridges between Israeli Arabs/Palestinians and Israeli Jews. It is still upsetting for me to note that non-Jewish citizens of Israel grow up almost completely separated from their Israeli Jewish neighbors, living in separate communities, going to separate schools and living separate lives.
     The non-Jewish communities often lack the quality services and infrastructure that their Jewish neighbors have. During the time I was in Israel, living in the Galilee (indeed on land formerly owned by Arab neighbors) a group of Jews and Palestinians living in neighboring villages chose to break down the barriers between us. We created joint summer camps, leadership programs, community shared holidays and events. When peace was achieved between Israel and Jordan we took a group of youth leaders to Jordan. We were at the forefront of a peace movement in the 1990s that was going to change the face of Israel/Palestine. We had hope. 
     Then it all imploded. The second Intifada broke out after Ariel Sharon led a group of Israeli leaders onto the “Temple Mount/Al Aksa.” Then he was elected Prime Minister. It was at that time that I moved with my family, for personal reasons, back to the Chicago area, where I grew up. Today my heart is breaking for all Israelis and Palestinians who are suffering under leadership that does not believe in peace and has led them all to the brink. I cry for the many Israelis of all ages who were massacred by militants who were sent on a mission to “liberate” Palestine and kill Jews. These were not freedom fighters, they were murderers. 
     I cry for all the Palestinians who have been brutally murdered by Jewish settlers, while the Israeli army looked on. I cry because the peace that I worked for and believed in for many years is now farther away than ever. Last weekend I was in downtown Chicago and saw many of my Palestinian brothers and sisters rallying and calling for the destruction of Israel. Their signs read: "Palestine from the River to the Sea." They did not leave any room in their rhetoric for a peaceful Israel. And worst of all, they did not reach out to me to cry together over all the innocent lives lost. They did not criticize the cruel leaders in both countries that do not show enough care for human lives. They only saw their friends and families in Gaza who were being killed. Likewise, many of my Jewish friends and family only see and grieve over their friends and family in Israel, and demand revenge. Friends, the killing may go on and on, but how will it end? Neither side will win. It is an impossible situation filled with ongoing hate, and ongoing sorrow. But, there is another way. We can sit down together for a proper “sulha,” (Arabic for a mediation). We don’t need to agree. We need to sit down with each other and listen. We can do this at the dinner table, in our places of worship and community centers. There are many examples for how this can be done. Slowly we can rebuild trust and create something new. It isn’t too late! We have a choice. I am calling on all of you today to sit down again, share our sorrows and hopes. My friends, let’s work together before it is too late.
    Harry R.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Think before becoming the monster

By Takashi Murakami

     “Wer mit Ungeheuern kämpft, mag zusehn dass er nicht dabei zum Ungeheuer wird
,” 
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche writes: “Anyone who fights with monsters, should be careful that he does not become a monster.”
     That aphorism has been clanging in my head like an alarm bell ever since Israel began its counter-attack on Gaza. The trick is “How?” and the honest answer is: Once the blood-letting begins, it’s already too late.
     The monster is unleashed, to rage for a long time, maybe years, before we realize what we’ve become. Or never realize, because the killing has gone on so long, it just makes sense. We had to massacre those folks. They had it coming.
     Fourteen hundred Israelis slaughtered Oct. 7, mostly civilians. Five thousand killed in Gaza since then, with more slain every day.
     All hidden behind a solid wall of justification. As if every atrocity ever committed in the history of the world weren’t backed by solid reasons, in the eyes of the perpetrators. Hamas and its supporters have plenty of excuses for the Oct. 7 attack, starting with the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 and stretching back to the construction of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem around 957 B.C.
     Israel can cite the brutal Hamas attack as reason aplenty to unleash its murderous fury. They have to destroy the terror group, root and branch. Destroy those tunnels. Destroy command centers and weapons caches. And if Hamas located those under mosques and apartment buildings, well, whose fault is that? Yes, Hamas doesn’t exactly poll the neighbors before setting up shop. But that is one of those fine points lost in the fog of war.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2023

"Doesn't Kill to Ask"

 


     The 1960s and the 1970s were the heyday the public service advertising — the brightest minds of Madison Avenue focusing their creative genius against littering, smoking, forest fires. The idea was to push the public toward good behavior, and the commercials could be wildly creative.
     Lately, I don't see much of that kind of thing in the shattered remnants of the old school media. Which is a shame, because we still need it, as I was reminded by this poster spied earlier this year by Union Station. Sadly, too much of the debate over a sane gun policy falls into a 0-or-1 non-debate over laws. When, obviously, we aren't ready for more laws. What we need is to prepare people with more education. The Ad Council thundered against smoking for years before cigarettes were banned in restaurants (I remember people seriously suggesting that nobody would dine out if they couldn't light up after a meal). It's a journey of small steps.
     The suicide rate for gun owners is 9 times that of people who don't own guns. Buying a gun endangers yourself and your family — the odds of using to deter crime are tiny compared to the odds of accidents and self-harm. The time to find out if there's an unsecured, loaded gun in a night table drawer is before you send your kid to play over a friend's house. It "doesn't kill to ask," as the sign suggests, "if there's an unlocked gun in the house." In fact, asking might save someone's life. People ought to understand that, and the only way they will know is if somebody tells them. Over and over again.


Monday, October 23, 2023

The Great Mothball Debacle of 2023

Sergio Mejia, the hero of this story, in the basement of our home.


     Had the chipmunk not poked its head out from between a gap in the bricks of the foundation of our 1905 farmhouse at the exact moment I looked up from planting bulbs, none of this would have happened.
     Had I not said, “Oh look!” to my wife, also planting bulbs, and suggested the hole be blocked up, perhaps with steel wool, none of this would have happened.
     “Toss a mothball in,” she suggested. Had she not ...
     We had a 2-pound box of Enoz mothballs, divided into four eight-ounce packets. I trotted to the garage, grabbed one of the bags, returned to the house and poured it into the gap.
     That was the staggeringly stupid part. Doubly so, because I know how vile mothballs are, had marveled how the intense smell punches through triple layers of plastic.
     I knew this. And poured the whole bag in anyway. My thinking, to stretch the term, was: “I’m outside.”
     You know what’s inside? The inner wall of the foundation. The mothballs tumbled into the inch-wide hollow gap between the inner and outer walls of the brick wall. Irretrievable. The odor permeated the entire house.
     Our first move, after opening windows, was to grab a hose and spray water into the hole. Float them out or melt them. Mothballs don’t float. Nor melt. What to do?
     Sunday night we headed to Lowe’s for a new shop vac. Bright and early Monday, I duct taped a section of thin garden hose — to fit in the gap — to the shop vac and snaked it in through the gap. It didn’t work.
     My wife read online that vinegar eliminates mothball odor. We poured a couple gallons into the wall. That only works once the mothballs are gone. The smell intensified. We also read that mothballs are pesticides that can cause cancer, eye disease.
     Monday afternoon I took a drilling hammer and a cold chisel and loosened a couple bricks in the basement where I thought the mothballs might collect, and dug out a lot of dirt that had drifted into the wall over the years. But no mothballs.
     As a homeowner, you know you’ve screwed up when you find yourself hammering bricks out of your foundation wall.
     Monday ebbed, the thought that I ruined our house intensified. My wife said, “Call a professional,” and I did. Three: US Waterproofing and other basement fix-it types. I also ordered an endoscope online. A tiny camera on a snaking black wire. Thirty bucks.
     Monday night we slept in our older boy's room, where the smell hadn’t yet reached, while I played an endless loop of “You’re an idiot” in my head, wishing passionately to go back in time. Why didn’t I just stuff the whole bag in, on a string, so it could be pulled out? Why? Why?
     The endoscope arrived about 5 a.m. God bless Amazon. Dawn found me out front. “I can see them!” I said. Inches from the opening, little groups of mothballs, twos and threes. Inches away. See them, but couldn’t reach them, not even when I took the drilling hammer and chipped the gap wider.
     Off to Ace Hardware for one of those little flexible four-pronged grippers. I taped the endoscope to it.
     My improvised tool worked. I bloodied my hands, manipulating the device into the wall but didn’t care. Over three hours, I withdrew 23 mothballs from the front of the house. Hope flickered.
     Tuesday afternoon, one of the companies said I needed a mason. “Can you recommend one?” I pleaded. One gave me the number of someone named Sergio. I called Sergio. He said he could come by early the next morning.

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Sunday, October 22, 2023

In companionable silence

    
     My older son and I sat on the riverside park bench in companionable silence — his term, coined years ago to describe those rare intervals when his father shuts up and just lets everything be.
     A feat I like to think I'm getting better at. Shutting up, as I've said before, is an art form, and like any creative discipline, requires practice. I'm aided in that of late I sincerely have nothing to say to him. Not that my life is uninteresting, I hope. It's just that it's interesting in the same way now as it was last week and last month and last year and the year before and five, 10 and 20 years ago. I write a newspaper column, tend to a century plus house, am the lesser half of a stable marriage. There isn't a lot of news, particularly since we talk every week, more or less. So rather than fill the silence with endless prattle — my go-to move — I've learned to just sit. In companionable silence.
      Jersey City was never on my mental map before he lived there; how could it be, with the supernova of Manhattan glittering across the water? I wouldn't have been able to tell you whether it was 100 miles away or, as it is, one PATH train stop beyond Lower Manhattan. Jersey City is a very livable little urban environment — that is, if a city of more than a quarter million people can be called "little." It manages to be both populated and deserted. We walked around quite a lot, and barely had to look both ways crossing the street. The only peril was the light rail system, and the narrow train blares a horn if it seems as if you're about to blunder in front of it. Otherwise, empty block after empty block --  everybody seemed somewhere else, except for the big street festivals, which seem to take place every night we're in Jersey City.    
     Thursday, I shared a leafy photo taken Wednesday from across the Concord River, near the Old North Bridge in Massachusetts.  Today I thought this  very different view, calming and marvelous in its own way, approaching the complexity of nature. Another panorama across another river — the Hudson, at what my son calls FiDi — the Financial District of New York, dominated by One World Trade Center, the former Freedom Tower, which was built, finally, after long dithering, next to the footprint of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, now converted to a very moving memorial — well, moving to those who remember the day. Now that I think of it, a single candle would be a moving monument to that day, to those who remember  it.
      Rambling is a survival skill to the dwindling band of us whose jobs involve filling space in newspapers. But in life, it's good to sometimes just sit and watch the river go by, particularly in good company. I would steal glances in his direction. The same face as when he was a toddler, now trim and angular and bearded. But the same contours, the same blue eyes. I tried not to speak, and generally succeeded. 


Saturday, October 21, 2023

"My husband wouldn't like that"

     Sometimes there's a scrap of information that just doesn't fit into a particular story. But you just can't let go either. For instance, I spoke with veteran newspaper photographer Bob Black for my big Sunday story on how the Sun-Times covered racial issues that ran early this month.
     We of course talked about other things besides race, and he let this quote fly, which really seems a postcard from a vanished world:
     "This was in the beginning of a social change in so many areas," said Black. "It wasn't just civil rights — also women's rights were starting to take shape at that time, I remember we used to do society assignments. We'd go up and ask the women their names, they would always give their husbands' names: Mrs. John So-and-So. When that began to fade away the paper was in the forefront. The paper started asking us, when we took down names, to ask the ladies for their names, not their husband's names. Some of the women were reluctant to do that. Others said, 'Yeah, I'll give you my name. I'm Margaret So-and-So.' Some of the women would talk among themselves, wondering if they dared, and they'd say 'Oh, my husband wouldn't like that...."
     I thought of holding onto that, building a story around it. But this is one of those mornings when I'm in transit — heading home after 10 days away — and think its legs are strong enough to stand on its own. A reminder that, if for some guys the whole Me-Too movement seems just too much, that it's a pushback against something, against women not even feeling comfortable withj their own names. A reminder that a married woman couldn't have a credit card without her husband's permission until 1974 and the passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.
     I've been around enough to remember that world first hand, although my memory, naturally, has a lighter spin. I was the opinion page editor of the Wheaton Daily Journal, and got a letter signed "Mrs. Pierce Hiscock." Right, I thought, like I'm going to fall for that. The letter was halfway to the garbage can when I thought: you never know... I phoned the number. A lovely older woman answered. 
     "Is this Mrs. Hiscock?" I asked.
     "Yes...." she replied. "It is."
      "This is the Wheaton Daily Journal, and we've received your letter."
      "Oh good."
      "We we like to run it. But, ah, we were wondering if, umm, we could use your first name. What is it?"
      "Jane" (or some such thing; it's been 40 years).
      "So we'll sign it, 'Mrs. Jane Hiscock.' Would that be all right?"
     "That's fine."


Friday, October 20, 2023

So Mayor Johnson’s NOT going to Mexico?


     Media folks can be so negative.
     After Mayor Brandon Johnson announced he was going to the southern border — America’s, not Hegewisch — I was licking my lips. This is what we journalists — OK, just me — call “a duck in a bucket.”
     Imagine: the large galvanized pail, filled with water. The placid mallard, gazing up innocently as I raise the metaphorical double-barreled shotgun of scorn, squint one eye, smile, then squeeze both triggers. A simultaneous blast and quack of alarm, cut short, and gone in a cloud of feathers.
     Too easy. First, the border inspection tour is a cherished cliche of the right wing. Put on your Carhartt coat, slap a look of Ted Cruz concentration on your mug as you stare fiercely at a group of miserable refugees huddled a safe distance away. Use ing their misery to buff your image among those not savvy enough to be disgusted.
     For the mayor of Chicago to volunteer to perform that charade — it’s like his attending a Trump rally to see what they’re like.
     Besides, Eric Adams, mayor of New York, just went to Mexico, Ecuador and Colombia to tell them “New York City is full,” an empty gesture immediately denounced as a “paid vacation.” So Johnson’s trip, had it happened, would have been parroting a bad New York idea. Next he’ll suggest that Chicagoans pile garbage on the sidewalk.
      I was rubbing my hands. Christmas is coming early this year ...
      And then Johnson has to go and ruin it by canceling his trip, in reaction to the chorus of ridicule along the lines of, “Why don’t you investigate the city that you are theoretically mayor of instead, and acquaint yourself with the myriad problems right the flip here?”

To continue reading, click here.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Autumn lake

    

      If I were a big important national columnist, with a big important national following hanging on my every word, I would feel obligated to weigh in daily on the ghastly news continually arriving like so many shells raining down on us.
      But here, on this hobby blog, with my ragtag bag of fans, who for some unfathomable reason like this stuff, I don't have to pretend to make sense of the insanity of the Israel-Hamas War, as it is now being called, according to official AP style. I don't have to try to explain what is to be done with immigrants — that's Friday in the Sun-Times — or set up a felt board and use Mr. Sun and Miss Moon to illustrate what Jim Jordan's double defeat in his attempt to become Speaker of the House means for the future of Trumpism. 
     Instead I can share with you an image of this lovely lake, which is ... well, better not say, in case you decide to rush there. What I will say is that the view, in this direction, was the solitude and serenity of this weathered old grey wood building, crouched amongst the explosion of yellow leaves, placid before still water. Though it was not an isolated lake. There were lots of people all around me. But I chose to face away from the crowd, for a few precious moments. I recommend it highly. The problems will all still be there waiting when we turn around. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Is razor sharpness heritable?

Cafe reader, Amsterdam

     For all my vaunted rationality, there is an undercurrent of mysticism in me. That's nothing to be proud of — it's as common as dirt. But nothing to be ashamed of, either . . . I hope.
     What do I mean? I was reading the New York Times obituary of Louise Glück, the great American poet who died Saturday. How to describe her? Kind of the anti-Mary Oliver. If nature in Oliver's poems is affirming, redemptive, serene — those reassuring wild geese flapping into view to tell us everything's okay. -- then Glück's world is “bleak,” “alienated” and “austere.” When 
Glück writes "I set myself on fire" the reader wants to blaze alongside her.
      The future Nobel laureate allowed me to use seven of her poems in the literary guide to recovery, "Out of the Wreck I Rise," I wrote with Sara Bader, and I was grateful, and felt perhaps an even stronger kinship than the one inspired by reading her poems, since we'd spoken several times and money changed hands. I wrote about her three years back, and you can read more here.
     The Times spoke of 
Glück's "remorseless wit and razor-sharp language" and then dropped this little factoid: "Her father, Daniel, was a businessman and a frustrated poet who, among other things, helped invent the X-Acto knife."
     Say no more! My mind instantly connected that "razor-sharp language" to the small triangular heads of those hobby knives. As if her incisive genius were inherited, almost pre-ordained.
     Which is both silly and how people think. Though why should it be? We do take something from our parents — that's undeniable. Maybe the silly part is anthropomorphizing the X-Acto blade into 
Glück's raw voice. Very Mary Oliver-ish of me, now that I think of it. Oh well, I suspect that, as much as I admire the Glücks of the world, I'm really a softie at heart.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Copyediting is life.

 


     The guard took my bag and wheeled it through an imposing bronze gate — the First National Bank of Jersey City, retrofitted into the Hyatt House Hotel. Waiting for a claim check, I did what I reflexively do — read, in this case a sign posted in front of me: "For Roof Top entrance, please go around the corner to our York Street entrance."
     Ouch, you see where that clunks, don't you? That doubled "entrance." It should be, I thought, 'For Roof Top access, please go around the corner to our York Street entrance.' Eliminates the redundant word.
     Sometimes using the same word over and over is powerful, each repetition resonating and building on the uses that went before. "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields..." Churchill's June 4, 1940 speech isn't improved by plucking out those last two uses of "fight" and making it something like, "We shall fight them on the beaches, we shall battle them on the landing grounds, we shall resist in the fields." It's weakened, if not wrecked.
     A more difficult call is when to drop redundant single words. Above, when I mentioned Churchill, first I used just his last name then, thinking of AP style, added his first, "Winston Churchill." Then lost "Winston." Some writers are so familiar there is no need for first names. "Shakespeare's sonnets" is fine. "William Shakespeare's sonnets" is overkill. 
   I'm amazed at how often, on labels, completely unnecessary words are left on. 
   Last week my wife and I were having bologna sandwiches for dinner — hey, it happens. She took a package of chicken bologna from the refrigerator. I'd never buy chicken bologna in a thousand years. It's like buying a beef drumstick. But bread was toasted, Plochman's applied and voila, dinner. At one point my gaze fell upon the bologna package.
     "What?" my wife asked, noticing me looking.
     "I'm copyediting the label," I said, tapping the motto curving along the bottom of the red and yellow logo: "Glatt Kosher Product." "You don't need the word 'Product' — 'Glatt Kosher' is sufficient. 'Product' doesn't add anything meaningful."
     Of course, there's a lot of that going around.

Monday, October 16, 2023

Strengthen one another

 


     Family obligations took me to New York for a quick visit — one full day and out. But I happened to arrive Friday, just in time for the "Day of Rage" that Hamas had announced to inflict their wrath on any random Jew who happened to be nearby.
     Which was worrisome, because I'm nothing if not a random Jew. Would it be safe? Myself, I wasn't concerned, but my loved ones were worried, as loved ones will be.
     So I'm waiting for my plane, about 6:30 a.m., and this gentleman is in line with his two sons — first I noticed the yamulke on the younger boy, about 7, and the fringes of his tzitzit. I saw them and thought, "If he can face the world today, so can I."
     At that moment the man whipped out his tallit, put on tefillin, and began davening his morning prayers, right there in line. Not a lot of wind-checking among these folks. No reading the room. I took one photo, and though I am not a pious person, as you know, thought of a line from Isaiah, "Fear not, for I am with you." That's why he can do this, my wife later explained. Because he believes God is protecting him. I almost pointed out that God is notoriously lax when it comes to watching out for his Chosen People, particularly last week. Hope springs eternal, I suppose. Maybe God means well, but is clumsy. Or pre-occupied. All those physical laws to keep straight, all those galaxies to keep twirling.
     On the plane, he sat a dozen rows ahead, still in his prayer shawl and phylacteries. I wanted to say something to him, out of free-floating goodwill and my own anxiety about going out and about looking like someone from the cover of Der Stermer. But I was aware from past experiences that religious Jews do not always welcome uninvited expressions of solidarity from their weak-tea religious brethren. Just because the Lubavitch are the Welcome Wagon for piety doesn't mean other ultra-orthodox sects are. Some have more of a leave-me-the-fuck-alone vibe.
     I happened to stow my backpack in the compartment over his head. During the flight, I went to get a snack from the backpack, mulling over what I wanted to say to the Orthodox Jew, should I get the chance. What came to mind was one of the few snatches of Hebrew I know: Hazak, hazak v' nit'hazek, which means, "Strong, strong and may we strengthen one another."  It's usually said when a congregation has finished reading a book of the Torah, and struck me as a something that could be repurposed as an expression of encouragement. Or not. I'm no expert on these things. More like someone trying to reconstruct a kindergarten teacher's manual based on having gone to kindergarten, long ago.
     I kept the phrase Hazak, hazak v'nit'hazek on the tip of my tongue, ready to deploy it, even as we left the airplane. He lingered — I wasn't quite up to planting myself and waiting to fake a chance encounter. Finally, I cast a final backward glance, and then vanished into Newark International Airport. Probably for the best. 
       The word hazak unlocked a memory, however. I was at a bar in Jerusalem, back in the day. The Red Windmill? I asked the bartender for a traditional Israeli drink and he made me a bieru hazaka (בירה חזקה) — a "strong beer" — consisting of a glass of ale with a shot of arak dropped into it. It did the trick, and reminds us of how the ancient and the modern mingle in Israel. IF Jews don't belong there, they don't belong anywhere, which is sorta the point anti-Semites are trying to make. Anyone who suggests that the Israelis just abandon their ancient land a) are being by definition anti-Semitic, by expecting Jews to do something that no other people would be glibly expected to do and b) have never been to Israel. It's such a small, beautiful place. There isn't much comfort to be found in this current nightmare of slaughter and atrocity with no end in sight. But this is undeniable: at least they're fighting over something worth having. You can't really blame the Israelis for wanting to be so strong and tough that nobody can take their land away. That's what we do, what every other country tries to do. 

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Guernica

 


     In September, the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid  announced that it is lifting its 30-year ban on visitors photographing Pablo Picasso's masterpiece "Guernica." Which sparked a brief flicker of envy in me — I was there a year ago, and of course itched to capture Picasso's stark images of the horror of the first aerial terror bombing of a civilian population.  I figured the scenes could be useful someday. Never realizing just how soon or just how awfully apt.
     Before the artwork, I was tempted to flout the rules, and take a picture anyway. But it was their painting, their museum, their country, their history, their grief. I was a guest, and so tried to be respectful and behave. No pictures.
     And you know what? Freed of the distraction of trying to capture a photo of the painting, which is 25 feet across, I was able to just look at it. 
      Able to look at it and shed tears. It was an overwhelming moment. Thinking of the people and the horses and the bull, all broken and shrieking, the mother wailing with the dead baby in her arms and the alarms at night.
     Picasso had a commission to paint something to display to bring attention the cause of the Republicans — a motley of socialists and communists and anarchists, fighting Franco and his Nationalists, who had the Nazis and their Luftwaffe on their side. But Picasso was stymied until the bombing on April 27, 1937. Horror has a way of squeezing out those creative juices. He created an enormous canvas, 11 feet tall, using black and white matte house paint. This, I thought, this is what cubism was made for. I was never a particular fan of either Picasso or his style. But this redeems both, conveying such as stark and fractured chaos, the suffering and death.
     The painting was shown in Paris — which surrendered too quickly to be bombed — then spirited to the United States, and placed at the Museum of Modern Art. Picasso, and later his estate, would not allow "Guernica" to return to Spain until the fascists were gone, and it did not get there until 1981.     
     I thought of "Guernica" of course as Israel started to pound Gaza, the shocking human toll of destruction from above. A horror that they obviously find necessary to inflict, but that no feeling human being can welcome. Something no feeling human can do anything but mourn. Most of the 1,600 dead at Guernica were women and children — the men were off fighting — and there is little question that the attack on Gaza will mostly slaughter innocents as well. 
     Whose fault is it? All the furious finger pointing misses, to me, the essential, obvious truth: it's everybody's fault. The two parties involved. How could it be anything else? The Palestinians for holding out for the impossible — to return to Israel and find the Jews vanished and their great-grandparents magically alive again, tending to their olive groves. Not to forget for supporting Hamas, a terrorist group dedicated to Israel’s destruction, which started the present cycle of mayhem and death. And the Israelis for their out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach,  for decades, packing Palestinians into their ghetto, nibbling away parcels of land for another settlement. A role so inverted, such a parody of the treatment of Jews over a thousand years, it almost makes me believe in a God, a devious, malicious deity, crafting the ultimate contrapasso punishment for Jewish pride, pressing us into the role of the oppressor. Left unsolved, the problem festers and grows, as both sides saw away at the same old failed tactics. 
      "For they sow the wind," the Bible says, in Hosea. “And they shall reap the whirlwind."
     After I posted a photo of the painting — not taken by me — on the cover of my Facebook page, as a sort of indication of general feeling, one reader shared this story, probably too neat to be true: A German officer sees a photo of "Guernica" in Picasso's studio. "Did you do this?" he asks. "No," Picasso replies. "You did."

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Mailbag

     A stressful, arduous, time-sucking week, for reasons beyond Israel — which is really saying something — and too complicated to explain. I'll write about it, eventually. Until then,  time to open up the mailbag with a few of the many emails inspired by my column on the enormity in Israel last Saturday. And to give you a heads up — if a post over the next few weeks is along the lines of, "Hi, busy, talk among yourselves," well, if you could, please roll with it. Lot going on.

Mr. Steinberg,

     Thank you for your op ed in yesterday's paper (How does this end?). I, like you, are not real hopeful. My daughter and I were discussing this tragedy the other day. My daughter, who is an atheist, said this, the worst thing to happen to the human race is religion. I think she might be right.

Susan L.
DeKalb IL

 Dear Ms. .L.:

     A lot of good comes from religion — Dante, Bach, cathedrals — but a lot of bad as well. I tend not to blame religion — I say it's like a hammer: you can build a house with it, or you can hit someone in the head. Same hammer. Ask the question this way: without religion, would human beings be kinder than they are? Probably not. Religion is just the vehicle for channeling that very human tendency to be monstrous. Thanks for writing

     NS

Mr. Steinberg,

     I have read your pieces in the Sun-Times for a long time. Noticeably absent in your piece “How does this end?” was the exploration of how apartheids and genocides have ended, not just political conflicts. Where was the comparison to the Khmer Rouge, Pinochet, Stalin, and colonizers of Africa and the Americas? And while it is not popular in America these days to address the irony and brutality of Israeli-led apartheid tactics and the genocide of Palestinians to Nazi Germany and the Gestapo, you are in a position to delve into this paradox. It’s a fine line to walk without being branded an antisemite, which I know you are not, but you are skilled enough to do it. I am a friend of Jews and Muslims who have family and coworkers in Israel and the occupied West Bank, and our text chains grapple with these issues more profoundly than your article. I challenge you to dig deeper and provide a more nuanced exploration and answers for your millions of readers to “how does it end” than “sit and watch in horror.” You were right that I didn't like your answer - not because it was a brutal truth, but because the question deserved more gradation and exploration. I look forward to future opinions.

Thank you.

Liz D.
     Dear Ms. D.:

     Those are some odd examples you bring up — I assume you just looked for history's villains. The Khmer Rouge won. So did Stalin, judging by the Putin era. The Blacks in South Africa were a huge majority, and they didn't go around killing Afrikaners. But I'm not sure what kind of dialogue can be had with someone who goes on about the brutality of the Israelis, without a word about the Palestinians' refusal to live in peace. A selective sensitivity for brutality. Where was your concern for collective punishment last Saturday? Or more to the point, what is your solution? Were you a Jewish Israeli, how eager would you be to live in a Palestinian state?
     That said, I'm sure you are sincere in your concern for this issue, and appreciate you writing.

      NS
 

     Can you please explain the facts around what others have said is the continuing Israeli encroachment and construction of homes in Palestinian territory?
     Thank you,
     Margaret B.
Why? What part don’t you understand?
     My understanding is Israel was not given all the territory after WWII that it is building homes on.
     Yes, and the United States was stolen from the Native-Americans. Yet if one were to kill your grandchildren, you would think poorly of him. Perhaps you might want to extend that same courtesy to the Israelis. Thanks for writing.

NS
Mr. Steinberg,

     Violence between a state and terrorists cannot go on forever and ever. It was unacceptable in Ireland with the British, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Chechnya, Kosovo, Algeria, and it is so between Israel and Hamas.
     Here are some ways to end it.
     The superpowers like a couple of the U.N. security council states must confront both Israel and Hamas and defang them both. Then while they bluster over being forced to disarm, the two sides must be put in a room and kept there until they work out a solution. If not two states, then an intermingled state. If not with their current leadership, then an entirely new set of leaders.
     Or, to borrow Thomas Friedman's word, these knuckleheads use nuclear weapons to shock themselves and the rest of the world into recognizing how this recurrent mayhem ends in searing light and heat and radioactivity. A nuclear weapon is a genie that must never be let out of the bottle, but I can in my worst nightmare imagine the cork pops off because of hate, anger and vengeance for continued wrongs. Lacking reasoned restraint, a nuclear explosion is too possible.
     Or, Israel is forced to vacate Palestine and given another land for their home. Yes, it's in their bible, but the bible is not a real estate covenant no matter the claims it makes. The Jewish people are wonderfully industrious, intelligent and purposeful. If they could make their current landscape bloom, they can do it again elsewhere. The Palestinians will receive their desired land, and the Jews keep their holy sites. I know this is pie in the sky, but anything is better than the blood-soaked sands.
     Or, a no man's land created by and operated by international peacekeepers who do not let hostilities disturb either side.
     Palestinians cannot be pushed into the sea. Jews cannot be eradicated. These recurrent outbreaks of murderous, destructive violence must not continue. The families on both sides, especially the children living through this horror have hate in their hearts. Somehow hope has to push out the hate.
     You, sir, cannot leave me, your reader, hanging in despair over the endless spate of violence. This must stop.
     Don
Dear Mr. N.:

     "Israel is forced to vacate Palestine and given another land for their home." Exactly what other land do you suggest? And how will the people who now have claim to that land feel about it being given away? I appreciate you sharing your plan with me, but it is not what I would call . . . practical.

     NS
Hamas-Israel war reveals university antisemitism

     Hi Neil – in the wake of Hamas' despicable attacks on Israel, many have been shocked to see the level of antisemitic vitriol coming out of America’s universities. . .

     "Reveals"?

 


     

Friday, October 13, 2023

Where do Jews belong?

Human-headed, winged bull from the throne room of King Sargon II, at the Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures at the University of Chicago. Sargon, king of Assyria, conquered Samaria in 721 B.C. and dispersed the Jews living there.

     Driving to the dedication of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie in April 2009, I remember thinking: Do we really need another Holocaust museum? There’s already a big one on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
     And then I saw a knot of Illinois Nazis, in uniform, protesting. Ah, yes, right — that’s why we need another museum. Because people like this are still here.
     American Jews had been souring on Israel, with its Trump wannabe president deforming the judiciary simply to keep his ass out of prison, splitting apart the country, causing massive turmoil. It left many here wondering: What’s the point of having a Jewish state if it’s going to be like this?
     Then, Oct. 7. A thousand civilians slaughtered. And the world is reminded, yet again: that’s why there’s an Israel. Because people exist who will murder a baby because they don’t like her government. Which, if you think about it, and they never do, the baby has not yet had a say in. Hamas thought it was striking a blow against Israel. When really, with grotesque eloquence, Hamas held a master class in the urgent need for Israel. Because there are always people ready to kill Jews — or shrug off the killing of Jews as the only right and moral thing to do.
     Because Jews are guilty, not for killing Christ, of late, but still for the crime of being Jews lingering on a spot of ground where Jews don’t belong which, if we look to history, is almost anywhere Jews happen to be. Juden raus! the Germans said. “Jews out!” The fact that they had been living there for 1,500 years didn’t matter.
     When I passed the Illinois Nazis on that day in 2009, I was tempted to pull over and hear their view of life. But then I was afraid I’d start talking back, and that wouldn’t end well. Though the only thing I really have to say to neo-Nazis is: You do know, this whole Nazi business did not end well for the Germans, right? Proud and powerful in 1933, with a refined culture of Rilke and biergartens. A dozen years of Naziism later, Germany was an expanse of rubble and the scorn of the civilized world. Hatred blows back on you, eventually.

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Thursday, October 12, 2023

Seraphim


     My first instinct was something lighthearted. When the news is grim with unspeakable atrocities, one can react to that, shut up or go against the tide.  The first was unbearable. Shutting up makes for light reading. Here, I had some pretty photos from Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, a few things to say about our visit, and started to pull something together.
     No, that doesn't seem right. I'm not a believer in the call-in-the-grief-counselor, it's-been-five-days-time-to-announce-oneself-healed-and-move-on mentality. It's okay to react to horror by being horrified, and to dwell there for a while. Grief is by definition long-term. 
     How long? For how long does the pall last? Shortly after the barbaric Hamas attack, I found myself, for some strange reason, thinking of families going to vacation to Israel right now, tickets bought, hotel reserved, arriving Monday, with a full schedule of visits to the Western Wall and the Dead Sea and a winery or two. And they can't even feel bad for themselves because whole families were slaughtered, or dragged back into Gaza in captivity. Maybe that's my problem — it's horror, but it's not my horror. Only at a ... I almost said "comfortable" ... at an uncomfortable distance. It's complaining about a rainstorm when you're snug indoors on the other side of the world.
    Maybe I thought of that because the blown vacation is such tiny suffering, as opposed to, oh, having your baby beheaded. Truly beyond comprehension. The mind draws away, covering its eyes. 
     Inhuman, and a bad strategy, for Hamas. I would suggest that the future of Palestinians is not made more bright by the course of action their elected government has taken. That's one of the many reasons those celebrations are so ill-considered. They aren't just rejoicing at barbarism, but at one that undercuts the position of what they supposedly care about. Those out celebrating the attacks, when challenged, make ruffled efforts to put some daylight between being pro-Palestinian and pro-murdering-families-in-their-homes. They just happen to be out celebrating today. It seems a distinction without a difference, like those Trumpies who insist they like him for his successful businessman schtick, and not all the treason parts.
     So what I'd like to do is share these two photos I took with my pal Michael at the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires. I reversed the order — I tend to take an establishing shot and then go in for a close-up — because it seems to tell a little story. I called today's post "Seraph," at first, which is singular for a type of winged angel. Then I realized no, that isn't right. Even though there is only one in the photo, there are many in awful, unimaginable reality. So the plural is in order. As for the whole concept of angels, even though one third of Americans believe in their physical reality, me, I never believed in them, or an afterlife, not for a second. So I'm taking comfort for something all too real by offering something that isn't really there. That sounds about right.




Wednesday, October 11, 2023

How does this end?

The Destroyed City, by Ossip Zadkine (Rijksmuseum)


     Words are inadequate, almost meaningless, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where the preferred mode of communication is to kill people. We saw this Saturday, when Hamas fired 2,000 rockets into Israel as terrorists infiltrated the border with Gaza and murdered hundreds of civilians. A manifesto, written in blood.
     But what are they saying? This carnage was committed to show ... help me here ... their readiness to ... ah ... run an independent country? Located ... umm ... where exactly?
     They insist, as one sign at the pro-Palestinian rally in Chicago, one of several across the country, put it, to rule “From the River to the Sea.” That is, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, or all of Israel and beyond. That’s their game plan. And to think that Israel doesn't jump to comply.
     As for the rallies themselves, has a group ever murdered a thousand people on Saturday and then taken to the streets to declare their own aggrievement and victimhood on Sunday? That has to be a record of some sort.
     If not that, what? To punish Israel? Mission accomplished. The Palestinian argument is they are treated poorly by the Israelis — no doubt about that — and are therefore entitled to kill anyone they can lay their hands on and call it “resistance.” Odd, but when the Israelis do the same thing, it’s called a war crime.
     Not that the two sides are balanced. Hamas is a terrorist group; Israel is a nation, whether Hamas likes it or not. There’s a higher standard. In theory. In practice, Israel will, over the coming hours, days, weeks and maybe months and years, seek to avenge being caught asleep at the gate by leveling parts of Gaza, killing some of those responsible for the attacks, and a lot of others, too, while cutting electricity, gas and food to the area. That’ll teach ’em!

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