Thursday, February 29, 2024

Bravi to Reese

Reese Parish, right, looks on as at Marlene Fernandez and Keanon Kyles. (Photo by Liz Lauren)

     I've never begun observations about a performance by commenting on a particular actor's expression. But drama classes should teach the enigmatic Mona Lisa smile that Reese Parish deploys to open "The Matchbox Magic Flute," currently on stage at the Goodman Theatre. Or better, bottle it, so everyone can project that same state of benign grace. I won't say it was the highlight of the show — it's impossible to point to a single delight in director Mary Zimmerman's chocolate box of whimsical wonders — but it certainly set the tone for one of the most enjoyable evenings I've had at the theater in many a year.
     Or rather, the tone was set before the rich red curtain even went up, by the dear little stage, with its faux side boxes, trio of chandeliers, stars shining against a cerulean sky, and the quintet of musicians, in their Turkish mawlawi hats and Empire dresses, fussing before the fun begins. Then Parish comes out, as winged Spirit, delivering her wordless benediction of a smile, and seals the matter with periodic re-applications throughout the performance.
     "The Magic Flute" is the frothiest opera ever written, with Mozart's score among the most beloved music in the Western canon. Trimming it down to two hours, performed by 10 performers on a 15 by 20 foot stage condenses and amplifies the magic. For instance, Parish's character, Spirit, is traditionally played by three cherubic boys; let's just say Spirits II and III are not missed. I remember the Lyric Opera productions getting bogged down with all the stentorious Masonic hoo-haw in the second act, excess fat which Zimmerman deftly trims away, leaving the audience with just the lean highlights.  By making "The Magic Flute" smaller, Zimmerman enlarges it.
     I could rave more. Bill Rude's brings a handsome, Dudley Do-Right charm to Prince Tamino, Shawn Pfautsch is a hoot as birdcatcher Papageno. Emily Rohm's Queen of the Night nails her classic aria, a showcase I refer to as "The worst maternal advice ever" ("Here," she sings, in essence, "take this knife and kill your boyfriend or we're through.")
     Yes, in "The Matchbox Magic Flute" we're not quite sure why she's saying it — that part must have gotten cut — but nobody goes to operas for the plot anyway.  Honestly, I don't mean to re-review the performance — Kyle MacMillan captures it precisely in the Sun-Times, with "charming, zany, fun and abundantly imaginative."
     But "The Matchbox Magic Flute" buoyed my wife and me when we needed a boost. And the actor who is going to linger with me longest didn't get mentioned at all in the Sun-Times review, so I thought I'd do so here.  After the show, being of a generation that likes to put people in boxes, I was curious about where this particular actor belonged — is a bravo or a brava in order? — so immediately turned to the Profiles section in my Playbill and checked on Parish.  In the place where other cast members choose up sides with a "he/him" or a "she/her," this actor's ID reads "Reese Parish (The Spirit) is a Reese." How perfect is that? Very fitting, given that it's a role in which the DePaul senior, debuting at the Goodman, excels.

   The Magic Flute is on stage at the Goodman Theatre until March 24. You can order tickets here.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

A century of Ford cars made at Torrence Avenue

     The Ford Model T automobile was made of wood. The car required 250 board feet of hard maple — most of it used in the body — the reason the company's Chicago Assembly Plant was built on the Calumet River, at Torrence Avenue and 125th Street. Henry Ford had announced he wanted all of his new plants located on navigable waterways.
     "Making possible lake shipping direct from the Ford Plants at Detroit and establishing water connection with the Ford lumber supplies in Northern Michigan," the Ford News noted in 1923, celebrating the completion of the "'Last Word' in Progress Toward Ideal Factories."
     Wood construction of autos didn't endure. But the riverside facility did. Operations at Ford's Chicago Assembly Plant began Feb. 24, 1924 — 100 years ago last Saturday — and continue to this day, bigger than ever, a miracle in an era where factories shutter and manufacturing seems always either moving overseas or to the cheap labor South.
     Torrence Avenue is Ford's oldest continually operating plant, chugging away for a solid century — with occasional breaks, for strikes or remodeling. I was slightly surprised at the lack of attention — every 15-year anniversary of a brew pub gets ballyhooed by what's left of the media. But nobody seemed to notice, never mind celebrate this milestone. Ford says that's coming in the months ahead.
     No need for us to wait, though. The history of Ford and Chicago is closely bound together, and not just because the first Ford motor car sold — a two-cylinder, 8-horsepower, Model A in red, the only color then available — was purchased for $850 by Chicago dentist Ernest Pfennig and delivered to 18 Clybourn Avenue at the end of July, 1903.
     Two years later, Ford opened its first branch office in Chicago; the first assembly plant began operation in 1914 at 3915 S. Wabash.
     Ford also was inspired to create his revolutionary assembly line by watching the overhead dis-assembly of cows at Chicago's Union Stockyards.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Flashback 1997: Pollution debate heats up

     Seventy-one fuckin' degrees. In February. In Chicago.
     I should just leave that sentence as the entire post.
     Because really, what else is there to say? "It's scary"? No kidding. 
Broke the old record by seven degrees? For those keeping score.
     And that was Monday. The forecast for Tuesday is sunny, windy, then rainy, high of 77 with a chance of tornadoes toward evening. I kid you not. They said that on the radio. 
     Yes, weather isn't climate. A summery day in mid-winter is no more proof of climate change than a subzero day is refutation. I used to say that the deniers were people who walk into a burning house, open the freezer, point at the ice and declare, "Ha! Look at all that ice. So much for your 'global warming.'"
     And yet. Look where we are. Where we're going. I wondered if I had ever tried to sound an alarm on climate change — for all the good it would have done — and am glad to find this, from over a quarter century ago, at least trying to put the topic on the table. Too late now.

     Many grave environmental threats have the benefit of being apparent. You can see the smog, the floating dead fish, the mountainous landfills. Others that can't be seen can be tested: lead in the water, pesticides in birds.
     Global warming is different. It may be a problem and then again it may not, because at present there is nothing obviously wrong.
     Concern over global warming is based on the conviction among many reputed scientists that the accumulation of certain pollutants in the atmosphere - carbon dioxide, sulfur - will have a "greenhouse effect" that eventually will raise the temperature of the Earth.
     Such a change would wreak havoc. Melting polar ice caps would raise ocean and lake levels, seasons would be altered, forests and farms destroyed.
     In Chicago, the two principal problems would be a rising, energized Lake Michigan and a crisis in the agricultural belt surrounding the city.
     The time frame for global warming is uncertain. Catastrophe could occur in 50 years, 100 years or - as the chorus of naysayers insists - never.
     To prevent this, the argument goes, we need to cut emissions by using cleaner technology and making it more expensive to pollute.
     "Small acts now to cut greenhouse gases make a lot of sense to reducing harm in the future," said Dr. Richard Kosobud, professor of economics and a specialist in environmental economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who has studied global warming.
     Those who dismiss the prospect point instead to the enormous cost of reducing greenhouse gases, which are produced by burning fuel, particularly gasoline and coal.
     "The first thing it means is higher energy prices for virtually everything that's used," said David Montgomery, of a Washington, D.C., public relations firm promoting a study from the American Automobile Manufacturers Association. "For gasoline, an increase of about 50 cents a gallon, for residential natural gas, an increase of almost 50 percent . . . for electricity, an increase of 25 percent."
     Manufacturers argue - and have spent millions of dollars on advertising to promote their claims - that fighting global warming will hurt the United States economically while failing to address the problem, since Third World nations will continue to spew pollution.
     "What they're doing is inventing a scenario of dramatic cuts soon, which I don't think any reasonable advocate wants," Kosobud said. "The kind of cuts most economists advocate is a gradually rising set of tax increases on fossil fuels. This could be managed with a tradeable emission permit scheme."
     The world's nations are meeting this December at a United Nations climate conference in Kyoto, Japan, to hash out a plan to prevent global warming.
     On Wednesday, President Clinton announced the U.S. position concerning the conference - a middle-of-the-road compromise that infuriated critics on both sides. "The Clinton administration plan fights a five-alarm blaze with a garden hose," said Dan Becker, director of the Sierra Club's Global Warming and Energy Program.
     "The Clinton administration," a spokesman for a conservative Michigan free market group wrote, after dismissing the idea of global warming as "globaloney," "is trying to stampede the world into suicidal restrictions on energy consumption based partly on a falsified UN document."
     What Clinton proposes is to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels by the period 2008 to 2012 and reduce them in the following five-year period.
     The plan would provide tax breaks to spur energy efficiency and would begin the creation of an international emissions trading program. Industries would be granted credits permitting their greenhouse gas emissions, and those who had excess credits - through pollution-abatement steps, for instance - could then sell the credits to those who needed them.
     Opponents of tough global warming measures find this plank of the plan unconstitutional.
     "Government designs on pollution trading are flawed in an important respect: They do not recognize the importance of establishing the things to be traded as property rights," said Jim Johnston, director and co-founder of the Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Palatine. "That sounds arcane, but its very important."
     He said that such a plan is a violation of the Fifth Amendment - basically seizing an asset, in this case, the right to release greenhouse gases - without compensation.
     "What they're doing is denying property rights," he said.
     Although being condemned as too strong, Clinton's plan is far weaker than that embraced by other countries. The European Union, for instance, is calling for a 7.5 percent cut below 1990 levels by 2005 and a 15 percent cut by 2010.
     Critics of the administration's plan have been trying to rally support by focusing attention on its internationalist aspects, alleging that U.S. sovereignty was being eroded by a cabal of UN overlords.
     Global warming is a vexing issue because of the wide range of opinions from entrenched groups that are not about to yield. On one side, there are those who deny the very existence of the problem. "Do not assume that the science has been settled," Johnston said. "The critics of the science are legion."
     On the other are those who are convinced, in the words of a letter sent to Clinton earlier this month and signed by 17 environmental groups, that global warming poses "the most serious environmental threat facing the planet."
     What is being furiously debated is whether we can afford to wait until we find out who's right.
     —Originally published in the Sun-Times, October 24, 1997

Monday, February 26, 2024

Don't be afraid, it's just history

Untitled (Toni Morrison) by Robert McCurdy (National Portrait Gallery)

     If the three Canadians who discovered insulin in 1921 were themselves diabetic and trying to save their own lives, would that make their accomplishment less significant?
     I'd say no. Their breakthrough still benefits uncounted millions.
     Similarly, I do not discount the American Revolution because the colonists were thinking mostly of their own interests.
     They still forged a new type of freedom. For themselves. At first.
But that freedom began to spread — rather like a virus escaping a lab — and kept infecting others.
    That is the American story in a nutshell: One group secures rights for itself, then those rights are claimed by a more disadvantaged group.
     While soaked with blood and outrage, it is still an inspiring story. That's why I'm so puzzled that Florida and Texas pretend that telling the core American narrative somehow hurts their children.
     Which is more inspiring? That wealthy planter and slave owner Thomas Jefferson paused from gardening at Monticello to write the Declaration of Independence? Or that his grandchildren, descendants of Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman Jefferson made his concubine, would some day gain their rights as free citizens — in theory — under that very same document?
     I'll take the second story. It displays the promise of America. You can't feel bad hearing it, unless you're rooting for slavery.
     The past helps us understand the present. If you are agog at the Alabama court casting embryos as children — albeit very well-behaved children — it might help to remember that while Black Americans won the right to vote in 1865, American women would not receive the same right for another 55 years, until 1920. American wives and mothers and sisters lagged two generations behind those once considered sub-human chattel.

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Sunday, February 25, 2024

The box your stuff goes in right before it becomes your stuff


    Leaving the Ace Hardware in Northbrook, I noticed this Amazon Rivian Electric Delivery Van 700 — you could hardly miss it. One of thousands rolled out over the past 16 months in cities all over the country. I think I was drawn by its rich blue grey, rounded corners, and the way the top of that back wheel is covered by the bottom trim, a look I think of as "Citroen-like." 
     The vans get about 150 miles on a charge. Drivers usually use between 20 and 40 percent of the charge in a day. There are some interesting features — the driver's side door, for instance, swings out like any other truck door, but the passenger door is a pocket door — it slides rather than opening out, to avoid being clipped off by passing traffic or dooring cyclists. 
    There isn't a passenger seat — delivering packages is a one man job, for now, until Amazon figures out how to replace that person with a gizmo — but a jump seat that folds out if there's ever a second person who needs to ride in the van. Somone put a lot of thought into making it easy to make deliveries — for instance, put the van in park, and the door between the driver's compartment and the cargo area automatically slides open.  It's tall — clearance height of 9'7, and most drivers can stand up fully inside.
     I had a shock-of-the-new moment of confusion when I saw it, because I think of Prime as one of the streaming services we get, like Netflix or Hulu or Max.
     What are they delivering? I wondered, idiotically, as I took this shot and then walked a few feet in the direction of home. Oh right, I thought, catching the back of the van. That place. They deliver a lot, actually. Hard to keep all this stuff straight sometimes. 

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Jim Tyree

      Live long enough, and men you know become statues.
      Well, that's how it's been for me anyway. Maybe for you, not so much.
      Some I knew fairly well: Roger Ebert, Irv Kupcinet, Jack Brickhouse. 
      Some I only spoke to once or twice: Michael Jordan, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Harry Caray.
      All men, so far. Women don't seem to get statues. I'm not sure why, but lucky them. Being rendered into bronze has to be a mixed blessing. You need to be dead, usually. They make an exception for sports heroes. Though some of the statues — Ebert's, for instance — well, not the best likeness. 
      Some have other memorials as well. Harry Caray, for instance, the broadcaster, has a statue outside Wrigley Field, and a namesake restaurant in River North. I was trucking there Monday, through the double-deserted downtown. Especially empty because it was both President's Day, when many government offices were closed, and a Monday, when many workers wring out an extra day of weekend.
     So pretty much alone, proceeding along the 300 block of North Clark Street, heading to Harry Caray's to have lunch with a reader who had bought the meal in a charity auction, when I was stopped in my tracks by the plaque above.
      First, I'd never seen a memorial like this — a metal marker, not on the public way, but a private sidewalk between blocks, on a shortcut I was vectoring through.
      And second, I knew Jim Tyree, CEO of Mesirow Financial. He rescued the Sun-Times in 2009, leading a group of investors who, by paying $5 million and assuming $20 million in debt, snatched it from the vultures who'd have picked it clean long ago. 
      I remember the cocktail party he threw after he bought the paper. It wasn't for everybody — just machers — and I was surprised to find myself among the select. I wandered the crowd, nibbled appetizers, while running what I would say to him over in mind, smiling a little, thinking of Luca Brasi practicing his greeting by himself in the opening of "The Godfather."
    "Don Corleone. I am honored and grateful that you have invited me to your home... on the wedding day of your daughter..."
     I finally worked my way up to Jim, waiting for an opening and inserting myself into a gap in the circle of well-wishers. He looked at me. I introduced myself and said, formally "Mr. Tyree, thank you for saving the Sun-Times."
      To which he replied, "People tell me you're the reason they read the Sun-Times."
      Which left me speechless, groping for a response.  What I came up with was this:
      "Thank you. I'm reluctant to quote David Radler ... " — the predatory felon who owned the paper before Tyree — "...but he liked to say, 'When you make the sale, close your briefcase and walk away." 
    And I turned and left. We spoke again in the brief time he owned the paper — when he came down with cancer, I gave him Evan Handler's "Time on Fire," a primer on staying alive and keeping your spirits up while battling the Big C. 
     That wasn't what killed him — a technician preparing him for dialysis messed up the line into his artery, introduced oxygen, and that got him. An unfair end for a very giving man, someone who loved Chicago. 
     And now he is part of Chicago, literally an element of the infrastructure, like a fire hydrant or a lamppost, built into the ground, part of the pavement.  I'm not sure whether I'd like it if this caught on — you're trying to get somewhere, and all these prominent individuals call to you from below your feet. It's cool that there's the one. Jim Tyree deserves much more. But it's a start, and made me think of him, which is the point of these tributes. 

Clark Street, 12 noon.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Chicago is not the City that Bumbles

     Oh, Mayor Johnson. Really? You show up at an editorial board meeting on Monday and are shocked — shocked! — to discover the meeting is on the record, meaning the newspaper reporters present reserve the right to listen to what the mayor of the city of Chicago says about important matters and then relate that information to residents.
     So you flee, shrieking (or so I imagine. I wasn't there, alas).
     Surprised, were you? I'm surprised too. Amazed, really. The bar is pretty low at this point, but it wouldn't surprise me more had the mayor shown up not wearing pants.
     Because, really. If Brandon Johnson doesn't even trust himself to open his mouth and let words come out, can't even try, then how is anybody else supposed to trust him?
     Mr. Mayor, let me level with you: You are playing into the media's hands.
     Yes, we ask our questions, getting all sad and belligerent when you don't answer, or rather, start tossing some off-point word salad that means nothing.
     But we're also secretly pleased. Because we don't really want to hear your side. We're just pretending to, because our job demands it. When you clam up, you're putty in our hands. It's liberating.
     How so? Let me tell you a story.
     So a highly placed Illinois judge comes to my office at the newspaper for the purpose of planting a dagger squarely in the back of Tim Evans, chief Judge of the Cook County Circuit Court, whose management style is lacking in her eyes. She's a respectable source. Her complaints seem valid — court system run poorly, yaddity yadda yadda. I prepare my column, pinning Evans wriggling to a board for the amusement of all.
     But journalism is a kabuki, a highly stylized form. It has its finely-calibrated rituals. Before I can run my vivisection of Judge Evans, there is something I must do — you kids, fresh hires, any ideas? C'mon, don't they teach you anything at the Medill School of Storytelling, Communicative Arts, Interpretive Dance, or whatever they call the place nowadays? (Actually, it is — checking my notes — "The Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications." A staggering example of malpractice, which I only mention because I intend to start a fundraising campaign to purchase an ampersand for the school).

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Thursday, February 22, 2024

Train accident

     A long, continuous train horn. Unbroken. Wehrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.... 
     "That's a person," I said to my wife.
     Meaning, the only reason an engineer lays on the horn like that is someone on the tracks.
     Suicide, most likely. At least I hoped it was. The only thing worse than jumping in front of a train, intentionally, is to be blundering along, earpods screwed in, chatting on your iPhone, look up and think, "Shit a train," and bam it's over.
     Besides, most are suicides. There is that subtle hint of the ringing bells and flashing lights and lowered gates to help even the most careless avoid accidents.
     I live one block from the Northbrook Metra station. Quite intentionally. When we bought this house, nearly a quarter century ago, I wanted to live by public transportation so I could go into work without driving. Driving sucks. At least city driving. If I need to drive north, to Wisconsin, or west, to Iowa, I'm all for that. Coffee, tunes, the semi-open road.
      We can see the tracks from our dining room window. 
     Of course we thought about the noise. Those train horns. The clanging bells. And, such as Monday night, the ambulance and fire trucks that quickly arrived on the scene. I gazed uneasily out the living room window at the strobing lights. Some poor person...
     We were smart. Before we bought the house, we sat in what would be the master bedroom and waited. A train came by — a sort of gentle whoosh. We decided that we could live with that. Then we moved in, and the first freight came by, rattling the century-old windows in their dry frames. You get used to it.
     I'd taken the train downtown Monday to have lunch with a reader and his wife who bought the experience at a charity auction. They live in Kenosha. I told them, rather than go all the way into the city, we could meet at Prairie Grass —run by Sarah Stegner, the former chef of the Ritz Carlton dining room. I tried to tempt them with pie. Door County Sour Cherry. Coconut Creme. Pumpkin.
     But they wanted the full Chicago experience. So I suggested Harry Caray's on Kinzie, my go-to restaurant showing off the city. That lovely little Dutch revival building that somehow survived the ravages of time. The walls, a museum of memorabilia. It doesn't hurt that there is a photo of my younger son, on the mound at Wrigley Field, throwing out the first pitch at the Cubs/Sox game on the 3rd of July. A frozen rope to the catcher.
     Why would anyone jump in front of a train? I know the answer. Despair and sorrow and sadness and hopelessness and mental illness and addiction. Lost romance, lost job, lost hope, just plain lost. A permanent solution to a temporary problem.
     The devastated loved ones of those who perish under the train often put little white crosses and plastic flowers on the spot where the death occurred, and Metra leaves them for a polite period, sometimes for a good long while, to bleach in the sun and become faded and pitious. One, just off the platform by a tree, lingered for years, and I would eye it uneasily waiting for a train. Maybe even with a trace of annoyance — I'm sorry for your personal tragedy, but it's sobering enough to be going to a depopulated downtown to attend some meeting you could as easily conduct on Zoom or never at all. Must I consider your tragedy too? A petty thought, but you have to be who you are. It isn't very much to ask. Pause to remember this person was here.
     Monday night, the commotion lasted for a couple hours. Emergency trucks coming and going, other trains blasting their horns, loud and long, as they inched past what I assumed were recovery efforts. What I think of as, "picking someone up with a tweezers."
     Only it wasn't that. I checked the news the next day. Not a suicide — a 23-year old woman, running across the tracks. Taken to Evanston Hospital. Condition unknown.
     Running across the tracks. Jesus F. Christ. It mystifies me. Where are they going? Monday, when I returned from downtown, I got off the train, crossed Shermer, and tucked myself behind the crossing gate. Everyone else, getting off the train, stayed between the gate and the train, the better to surge across the tracks when the train pulls away. Timing their bolt from the blots so they're in motion even before the stainless steel wall of the train has removed itself. Which can be a problem if there is a train coming the other way. I've seen people start, then dance back as a train passes the other direction.
     A cautious move, on my part, to wait behind the gate. Habit. When we moved here, the boys were 3 and 4, and I realized the best way to inculcate train safety in them is to do it myself. It's very hard to be hit by a train if remain behind the gate until it raises up.
     This is not to criticize the young lady, whom I hope is alright. Maybe she was just grazed. That's unlikely. Usually, you get hit by a train, you know it. Maybe she'll reach out when she gets out of the hospital, and can tell us where she was going in such a hurry. Though I wouldn't expect that. It's got to be embarrassing, to be so careless. It's got to add insult to injury.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Should America care about felons?

     This was over 1,200 words long when I finished the first draft Tuesday morning. Cutting it to size required loss of this bit of promotion I had wanted to tuck at the end. If, after reading this, you would like to hear Ben Austen speak, and are free tonight, he will be discussing his book Wednesday, Feb. 21 at 6 p.m. at the Northwestern University School of Law, Strawn Hall, 375 E. Chicago Ave. Admission is free, but you need to register.

     "Vindicta" is Latin for vengeance — payback for wrongs others have done.
     Or wrongs you imagine they've done. Or might do.
     Look around. We are in the golden age of vindictiveness. It's the thread that holds everything together, the hidden hand. The only questions: Who is the object of retribution this week? Who can we safely hurt?
     Nearly a decade ago, when Donald Trump went down that escalator, vindictiveness was directed against Mexicans (rapists) and Muslims (terrorists). We were building the Wall and banning immigrants from Muslim countries. Trump was elected president on that platform and might yet be again.
     Like fashion, the specific objects of our scorn change with the seasons. Now Mexicans and Muslims are out, more or less, and Venezuelans (too many) and trans people (predators) are in.
     In a pinch, there's always criminals.
     You don't need Trump to tell you to disdain felons. That's the default. The United States incarcerates nearly 2 million people, more than China, four times our population. The U.S. is the world's top jailer — our incarceration rate is 531 per 100,000, nearly double the 300 of Russia. Canada's is 85.
     Our country is in such peril right now that I'm reluctant to bring up a another concern. But when you consider our problem as one of general vindictiveness — the urge to punish driving our political nightmare — the fate of prisoners becomes very relevant.
     Particularly after reading "Correction: Parole, Prison and the Possibility of Change" by Ben Austen, a compelling, well-reasoned book that looks at incarceration in Illinois through two longtime prisoners.
     First, Michael Henderson, who borrowed a .38-caliber snub-nosed revolver and shot a fellow teen outside a bar in East St. Louis in the summer of 1971.
     Then 18, Henderson was offered a deal — plead guilty, and be sentenced to 7 to 21 years. He declined, was convicted, and sentenced to 102 years.
     Second, Johnnie Veal, convicted of gunning down two policemen in Cabrini-Green in 1970. The notorious murder of Sgt. James Severin and Officer Anthony Rizzato shocked the city. There was no physical evidence tying him to the crime, but Veal was a Cobra Stone, and several rival gang members fingered him. He was sentenced to 100 to 199 years in prison
     Both men were sentenced before 1978, when sentences still could be adjusted by a parole board. Austen focuses on this dwindling population of men who have been in jail for decades and are offered the carrot of release, as a goad to self-improvement, while that decision rests with parole boards, often staffed with retired cops and prosecutors more interested in regurgitating the details of a crime than considering any improvements in the criminal over the past 20 or 30 or 40 years.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Today in cat news


     Riddle: they're in our house, but are not ours. We care for them, a lot, while they care for us not at all.
     What are they? Cats, of course. Who are they? Casper and Boo, in this instance, and they are not our cats, beyond the truth that cats never really belong to anyone, but also because they are our younger son's
 cats, temporarily relocated to our home while he travels doing important legal stuff.
     Which gives us three cats, at the moment, including Natasha, the 14-year-old queen of the roost. The younger pair do not bother her, at least not while we're watching. She is slow, quiet, shrinking into herself — 14 years old is getting up there — and we worry about her. She often seems somewhat stunned, lost in her own interior thought, ignoring the treat under her nose.
     Casper is pure black with a patch of white on his chest. He is a high trajectory cat, shooting through the house, pinballing from room to room, up the walls, across the ceiling. Or so it seems. 
     Boo is the opposite. Stasis in feline form. Lassitude. Inertia. Boo will spend hours in my son's closet. Just ... being ... Boo. She looks like a cow that's been transformed into a cat form by a witch's curse — a tiny head, the size of a ping pong ball, on an enormous body. No tail, which we originally thought of was due to some mishap, but now seems to be a quality of the breed, though I'm not sure which one that is: the Mini-Holstein Hippocat, perhaps. 
     Boo actually cares for us very much — for me anyway. A quality I admire in any creature. I'll be writing away and she'll pad into my office and hurl herself onto my lap, sometimes with the help of her needle claws. Which complexifies the writing process, having to reach over and/or around this dozen-pound lump of thrumming fur. What choice have I? It isn't as if I can move her — that would be ungrateful, maybe even bad form. So I stop writing and stroke her. I like the affection. In fact, when the cats were delivered, I couldn't help informing my future-daughter-in-law that dropping Boo off was a lot easier than getting her back will be. She might need a court order. 
     In the past — yes, we've done this before — we insisted on claw covers, or their nails being trimmed. There was no time for that this visit. The cats were nearly flung at us. I reacted to the change in my typical fashion — by complaining, pointing out the claw-sized divots in the edge of the Shaker hutch — Casper's work. Boo would sooner sink into the ground and vanish than climb anywhere. Though even as I complain part of me realizes that someday these claw marks will be valued souvenirs of their sojourn here.
      My wife, using that Actually-Do-Something-About-The-Problem superpower of hers, ordered the above scratching post. Assembling it, I noted that it was impossibly high — showing I can be as slow to process information as anybody, since I've seen Casper leap atop refrigerators — and that Casper would never access its topmost portion. Which he did immediately, as soon as I set the thing out, as a reproach, the "Hey Idiot Look at This!" being unvoiced. At least I had the presence of mind to snap a photo.


Monday, February 19, 2024

Robots rise up? Relax, Chicago, it's not Skynet — yet


     Hey, Windy City. Steinberg here, with a word about our new neighbors: the robots. Yeah, I'm talking AI. Artificial intelligence. All the sci-fi buzzwords that used to belong to Isaac Asimov and now clog your Twitter feed.

     Does that sound like my voice? Kill me now. I fed Google's Gemini AI software with this prompt: "Write a column defending the use of Artificial intelligence in the style of Neil Steinberg of the Chicago Sun-Times." This snappy patter came out. In seconds. I present it uncut and unedited.

      Look, I get the jitters. We Chicagoans built our skyline on steel and sweat, not algorithms. We like things tangible, like hot dogs with neon relish and politicians with even brighter ties. But before you fire up the tinfoil hats over robot overlords, let's take a deep breath and a Malört shot for clarity.

     Yes, I'd die before I'd deploy the hot dog cliche or recommend Malört for any purpose other than removing rust. But it's definitely in the ballpark. Short, punchy sentences. A certain swagger.

     Here's the deal: AI ain't stealing your job, unless your job is playing checkers with pigeons in Millennium Park. (No offense, pigeon pals.) This ain't about replacing humans, it's about making humans better. Like, say, diagnosing diseases faster, designing earthquake-proof buildings, or finally deciphering Ald. Burke's budget proposals. (Seriously, those things are hieroglyphics.)

     That's not true — lies are a feature, not a flaw of AI. Millions of jobs will vanish — in administration, law, research, writing. Many current white collar jobs won't exist in 20 years. It's already happening.

    Think of it like a fancy new tool at the hardware store. You wouldn't ditch your hammer for a robot arm just to hang a picture, right? But for building a skyscraper, having that extra robotic muscle, that precision and power, might come in handy.

     To continue reading, click here.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Jack Higgins drew from the heart of Chicago

     His reputation preceded him. Long before I set eyes on Jack Higgins, the man, I knew of the gifted editorial cartoonist who, for some unfathomable reason, was stuck drawing for the Daily Northwestern.
     Actually, we all knew the reason: Jack was knocking at a barred door. Editorial cartoonist jobs were scarce even in 1978, the year Jack joined the Daily. The Chicago Tribune had Dick Locher and would soon add Jeff MacNelly — syndicated in almost 1,000 newspapers and drawing the popular comic "Shoe." And the Sun-Times had even better — Bill Mauldin, the World War II legend with two Pulitzer Prizes, plus John Fischetti.
     So where was Jack supposed to go? He couldn't leave Chicago — the son and grandson of Chicago cops, he had Chicago politics, like art, in his blood. So work for a tiny student paper at a suburban college he didn't himself attend? Sure!
     "He was a mensch," remembered Robert Leighton, Jack's editor at the Daily, now a veteran cartoonist for The New Yorker. "He was a sweet, sweet guy. He taught me how to draw clothing on people. He said you have his arm going up and the lines on his shirt going down."
     That was Jack. Helpful. Good-natured enough to take orders from kids. Not that he'd be drawing for a student newspaper long — by 1981, he was freelancing for the Sun-Times. He joined the staff in 1984; two years later, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, which he won in 1989.
     Like all the greats, Jack loved what he did. It wasn't a job but a calling, like being a priest.
     "Jack found politicians and their antics endlessly amusing," said his wife, Missy. "He tried to be a voice for the citizens of Chicago who had no voice and had a great feel for the regular working people, across many classes, in Chicago. He sensed their resentments, sadnesses and outrages, but, when he found something just plain ridiculous, he reveled in it."
     Jack was the last of a breed going back to Thomas Nast, who brought down New York's Boss Tweed singlehandedly. Editorial cartoonists were once household names drawing unforgettable images — Herblock at the Washington Post, having Nixon arrive at a campaign rally by crawling out of a sewer. "Here he comes now!" an enthusiastic supporter cries. Mauldin, at the Sun-Times, depicting the statue at Lincoln Memorial, face buried in his hands, weeping at the death of John F. Kennedy. No words needed. Just the perfect drawing.

To continue reading, click here.

In the 1981 parody issue of the Daily Northwestern, produced by the school's humor magazine,
cartoonist Robert Leighton, imitating Jack's already distinct style, poked fun at him for drawing
for a student newspaper.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Flashback 2010: No more wigs, but 'Candide' still relevant

     Off to the Goodman Theater tonight to see Mary Zimmerman's "The Matchbox Magic Flute." Which made me think of the last time I saw a production directed by my fellow Wildcat and former classmate. 
     That was "Candide," 14 years ago, so I thought I'd share this account of that performance. How I wrote about it without mentioning Candide's optimistic blurt that this was "the best of all possible worlds" — a parody of Leibniz — is something of a mystery. 

     If I had to point to one single historical episode to explain the entire human condition, I would highlight the little-known fact that a number of survivors of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima Aug. 6, 1945, fled to Nagasaki in time for the second bomb dropped three days later.
     This out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire quality, so horrible that it becomes comic — at least when happening long ago to people far away whom you don't know — flashed as I sat in the Goodman Theatre Monday for opening night of "Candide."
    Leonard Bernstein's 54-year-old musical version of Voltaire's 250-year-old satire should not feel current. But something about its deep cynicism, its chain of self-interested rogues, puffed up rulers and luckless victims, makes it perfect for these times, when we stumble from natural disaster to pointless bloodletting to political upheaval. The randy Jesuits Voltaire parodies, well, let's say they did not have the dust of the ages upon them.
     I loved it.
     Then again, I'm an odd mix of deep cynicism and childlike innocence. I enjoyed the way the play's characters were casually butchered, its cities destroyed, sailors drowned, maidens defiled, all with director Mary Zimmerman's full palette of cute theatrical devices — ships on sticks, stoic red toy sheep, ribbons as blood — sugar-coating the three hours of musical mayhem. How many plays are there where the line "Throw the Jew into a ditch" draws a hearty laugh from the audience?
     For those unfamiliar with the story, Candide is a pleasant young simpleton who gets evicted from the idyllic palace where he was raised. He's forced to wander our world of endless outrage, misery and atrocity, searching for his lost love, Miss Cunegonde (played with show-stealing zest by Lauren Molina).
     No experience, no matter how awful, blunts Candide's optimism — I hate to say it, but he is very Barack Obama-ish in his tendency to place his trust in obvious enemies and his reluctance to let a steady rain of betrayals dampen his worldview.


     The music, alas, is not memorable. Bernstein wrote it, but "West Side Story" this ain't. Though when you have lyrics like "What a day for an auto de fe!" who cares about melody? Several of my associates, more experienced theatergoers than myself, complained that Zimmerman's bag of stage tricks has grown stale, so maybe enjoyment reveals a Candide-like naivete on my part. But how could you not love a musical with a number celebrating the transmission of venereal disease, sung by a character with a silver nose? ("Untreated syphilis destroys the cartilage in your nose," I explained to my 14-year-old, eager to show off knowledge that I never thought I'd have the chance to use. "People really did wear those noses.")
     That either intrigues or repels you. Now that every new musical seems designed to help 12-year-olds feel good about themselves, it's bracing to be reminded that theater used to be something adults did to make our scary world seem less so.
     A few who fled Hiroshima to Nagasaki survived both, by the way, living to face life's fresh horrors. Which is the message of the play. You survive; well, some do.
           — Originally published in the Sun-Times, September 29, 2010

Friday, February 16, 2024

Flashback 2006: Sometimes, the denial is worse than the charge

Perseus with the Head of Medusa, by Antonio Canova (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

    No column in the paper today — an editor asked me to instead write something Sunday  about my late colleague, Jack Higgins. 
    In the meantime, Facebook served this up as a memory Thursday, and I thought, "I must have already posted that." But no. It's too fun not to. Yes, sad that Jesse Jackson Jr. was lost to mental illness and prison. But that was in the future when I wrote this column, a reminder that columnists used to throw their elbows a little harder than we do today. (If there even is a "we." Some days it feels like it's just a "me.")


     A classic tale from the colorful career of Lyndon B. Johnson gives politicians of today nearly all they need to know about dealing with abuse.
     The late, great Hunter S. Thompson, of all people, tells a publishable version:
     "Back in 1948, during his first race for the U.S. Senate, Lyndon Johnson was running about 10 points behind, with only nine days to go. He was sunk in despair. He was desperate. And it was just before noon on a Monday, they say, when he called his equally depressed campaign manager and instructed him to call a press conference for just before lunch on a slow news day and accuse his high-riding opponent, a pig farmer, of having routine carnal knowledge of his barnyard sows, despite the pleas of his wife and children.
     "His campaign manager was shocked. 'We can't say that, Lyndon,' he supposedly said. 'You know it's not true.'
     "'Of course it's not true!' Johnson barked at him. 'But let's make the bastard deny it!' ''


     When the first smirking colleague passed along a letter purporting to be from Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., I thought it was a joke.
     "You wrote this yourself, didn't you?" I accused. He swore it was legit.
     Could it be? Was the congressman really denying being dumb ? And at such length. He mentions the word "dumb" seven times: dumb , dumb , dumb , dumb , dumb , dumb , dumb.
And the amazing thing is, I never called him " dumb ," not directly. What I said was that he "isn't very bright" — a premise that he amply illustrates below.
     Just to assure you that this isn't some kind of elaborate parody — a fantasy sequence – I should say I spoke directly to Jackson 's press secretary, Frank E. Watkins, and he assures me, albeit a bit frostily, that the congressman did indeed pen the letter.
     But enough preliminaries. Let me step aside and present Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., in his own words. He writes:
     "Neil Steinberg says he doesn't like me . . ."
     Actually, I never said that either. The fact is, I do like him. A lot. It's the Jesse Jackson Jr.'s of the world that make my life a bed of ease.
     ". . . because he has a bias that I'm not very smart. Note that he doesn't just say my ideas are dumb , but that I am dumb . . ."
     What I actually said was that Mayor Daley "isn't dumb " — which is also true. He sure didn't write me a long, aggrieved, self-indicting defense. The man's too smart for that.
     ". . . a very personal and subjective view without a factual basis. The last time I checked they don't award college, seminary, law and honorary degrees to dumb people."
     That's the dumbest — now I am using the word — part of the entire letter. I graduated from Northwestern University and, trust me, they slapped degrees upon some world-class idiots. Not to single out NU — I think anyone who ever attended any college, seminary or law school anywhere would heartily agree. With the exception of Jackson , that is.
     "Steinberg says I'm dumb because I've offered an amendment to the Constitution that would provide all American students with a 'public education of equal high quality . . ."
     The key weasel word here is "provide." If I thought Jackson's amendment had a chance to provide anybody anything, except perhaps a cynical chuckle, I'd be all for it. But it wouldn't. How could it help? Right now parents allow their own children to fail in school, even though it dooms them, hurts the economy, raises crime, drug use and a raft of social woes — if that isn't inspiration enough to make school work better, then what's a constitutional amendment going to do? Nada.
     "It's not a dumb idea to put one of our basic beliefs into our most important legal document — that every child in America has the right to a public education of equal high quality."
     Window dressing. Product placement. Chin music. How could kids across the country have a "right" to an equal high quality education when kids in the same school, even in the same room, don't get an equal education? It's impossible.
     "He says such an amendment would be a 'waste of time and make the Constitution a place for meaningless symbolism.' That's like saying the phrase 'shall provide for the common defense' is merely symbolic when it just resulted in a 2006 Defense Department appropriation of $453 billion . . ."
     Well, he prattles on from there, but you get the idea. Bottom line is: He stands by his charmed notion that a constitutional amendment would somehow fix our broken schools. Why stop there? The biggest problem in our schools — as any teacher will tell you — is not money, but parents who don't care. Why not get a constitutional amendment to fix that? A line demanding that parents love their children and take an active interest in their education. Jackson could call it "The loving parents amendment." And obesity. With fat kids being such a problem, why not tuck in a line that all children have a right to be healthy and of moderate weight. Why not put that in the Constitution, too?
     Because it would be . . . no, no, I won't say it.


     Then, as if holding some kind of master class on ham-handedness, Jackson proceeds to send the offending column out to everybody he knows, begging them to support him (perhaps he sensed that, prior to his plea, I didn't receive a single communication backing the congressman. Not one).
     This provoked a mighty trickle of confused, automatic support — and quite a bit of name calling, which always helps one's case — as well as e-mails such as the following:
     "When I got an email from Jessie Jr. soliciting an attack on you I knew you must have been right on target. Bravo."
     Which should explain to my colleagues the hoots of laughter that have been echoing out of my office all day.
            — Originally published in the Sun-Times, January 11, 2006

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Unpublished files 2020: Magnificent Mile looting Foxx’s gift to city

     This week, the paper moved from one computer system, Chorus, to another,  something called BrightSpot. My immediate concern was the advance obituaries written over the years, which I tend like a flock of prize sheep. Some I've been watching over since the days of glowing green Atex screens; people live a long time. I called their names, and nudged them with a crook, guiding them toward a new pasture.
     This was necessary because only published stories migrate over to the new system. The unpublished are lost. So my obituaries secure, I went looking for anything else worth rescuing before Chorus vanished down the well of time, and found just one, this. I didn't know why it wasn't published, but my blog post of that day — Aug. 11, 2020 — gives a hint:

      I wrote three columns—that's the good news. The bad news, from your perspective, is that none of them are running here today....
     As to when they'll run, well, that's above my pay grade. Both could run today, or neither, or one Wednesday and one Friday, or never. 
     Or three and a half years later. This must have failed to meet the light of day because of the trenchant editorial comments, which I've included — this doesn't happen very often and, rattled, I might have set it aside to consider them, then just forgot about the story in the commotion. Anyway, with candidates jockeying for Foxx's job, and the serial bumbler being nudged off-stage, at long last, this seems relevant. I was downtown twice this week and, given how empty certain stretches remain, my point certainly has merit.

     Thanks Kim Foxx!
     Before Monday morning’s looting of Michigan Avenue fades into memory, someone should tip their hat to our state’s attorney, who invited this mayhem by dropping charges against rioters in June. Hundreds of cases were tossed out.
     Yes, police can only do so much. Time spent trying to put away someone for grabbing an armful of Nike t-shirts is time not spent solving murders. I get that.
     But the flip side is, why bother arresting anybody if crimes short of murder are going to be ignored?
     If you can drive to Michigan Avenue, bust out a window, load your car, then drive away without being arrested, or secure in the knowledge that if you are, you’ll merely have the back of your hand patted by the Cook County state’s attorney, guess what? People will do it.

     there are two relevant points below from yesterday’s Hinton story below that we need to better address in here. they don’t negate your point but they do need to be incorporated somehow - you can talk the perception of “getting off the hook” as it relates to announcing that you were dropping all sorts of minor charges in June. BUT you can’t say looters were let off the hook if they simply haven’t gone to trial yet.
     Foxx said she hasn’t prosecuted any of those people arrested in connection with the May or June looting because the cases are just getting trial dates now, blaming the delay on the pandemic largely shuttering courts until July 1.
     Foxx announced in June that her office would focus on dismissing charges stemming from arrests at demonstrations and for citywide curfew violations after a week of protests and civil unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

     You can be the squishiest liberal in the world, like me, and not want to see Chicago descend into lawless chaos. You can be cheering Black Lives Matter, keen for racial justice, and not want BLM re-branded as a synonym for violent anarchy, assuming it hasn’t been already. When you see how badly Seattle botched its slide from protest into Jacobinism, you have to passionately hope that Chicago will not follow suit.
     Do I have to explain why? Let’s just touch upon the top three bad things that come from Monday’s spree:
     1. The loss to merchants already slammed by four months of COVID-19 and the rioting two months ago. Gary, Indiana also had a vibrant downtown once but, guess what? Now it doesn’t. Every day like Monday is a step in that direction.
     2. Chicago’s reputation is important. It guides investment, luring new residents and tourists, should the world opens up again. The Magnificent Mile being ransacked is big national news. I heard from a friend in Texas, for God’s sake, expressing sympathy. We know we’re in a bad way when Texans pity us.
     3. Donald Trump, the personification of bigotry and ruin, is hoping to distract voters from his miserable failures as a leader and human being by weaponizing civic unrest in places like Chicago. He was elected in 2016 by dangling the ooo-scary specter of Mexicans sneaking over the border to rape your sister; now he’s hoping for a repeat by holding a flashlight under his chin and describing what happened on Michigan Avenue before dawn Monday. If he hasn’t jubilated this news yet, he will. The fact that Lori Lightfoot felt the need to point out, “This is criminal activity,” is telling. The former prosecutor feels obligated to explain that breaking into stores and taking stuff that doesn’t belong to you is a crime. That means we’ve done enough ripping up the social contract and need to start taping the thing back together.
     These are days to challenge the best of us. New police superintendent David Brown seems to be at least talking the talk: “Criminals took to the streets with the confidence that there would be no consequences for their actions,” he said, certainly a grim nod in the direction of Kim Foxx giving lawbreakers a wink and a thumbs up in June.
     We’re stuck with Foxx — thank you, Toni Preckwinkle — and I hope she learns from this, improbable though that is. I’ve learned, but it’s a lesson I already know too well. When someone is inept in one area, they tend to be inept in another. When Foxx ran, I opposed her because she couldn’t handle her own campaign finances. A person who can’t run effectively can’t hope to govern. But she passed the not-as-terrible-as-Anita-Alvarez test and got into office, where she hopelessly bungled the Jussie Smollett case, then bungled her reaction to her own bungling. Now this. In her post-looting press conference, Foxx said she is “heartbroken, angry, confused.” Obviously. Time for her to shake that off.
     The city raised the bridges to cut off access downtown only after the looters had done their work. It’s harder to raise the bridges before trouble arrives, but that is the challenge we face. We can’t hold police officers accountable to the law and then not hold criminals accountable. That isn’t working.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Down the rat hole for Valentine's Day

Rat & Heart, by Banksy (Sotheby's)

     Once upon a time my wife-to-be lived in an apartment on Melrose, down the block from the Nettelhorst School.
     The two things I most remember about that apartment are both romance-related. First, on Feb. 14, possessing both the key to her place and more creativity than money, I let myself into her apartment while she was at work and cleaned it, thoroughly, as a Valentine's Day present.
     Second, on the south side of the sidewalk was a hole shaped like a heart. Not a perfect Valentine's heart. A lopsided heart, one lobe somewhat bigger than the other. The discrepancy made it extra endearing. 
     Whether you see what is coming next can be considered a test of how romantic you are. Take those two facts — 1) a young courting couple and 2) a heart-shaped depression in the sidewalk. 
     What happens next?
     Of course the heart becomes part of the pair's personal romantic mythology. One of us — I can't remember who, probably me — notices it.
     I say "probably me" because, in most relationships, the less attractive half tends to try harder. And as a stocky, large-headed, potato-nosed, endomorphic struggling writer improbably dating a lithe, strawberry blond stone beauty attorney sprinting up the big law ladder, try I did.
     One Valentine's Day she got in the car for our date, holding a card and a small box containing four chocolates. She handed me the gift. I glanced nervously toward the back seat. Waiting there was a red laundry basket filled with presents. A bottle of wine. Flowers. A balloon. Candy. I'd seen the basket, first, in some bazaar in the basement of Field's and decided to just fill it. Kinda pathetic, really.
     So I noticed this heart, stopped, and stood on it. She stopped. We kissed. Doing so quickly becomes a private tradition. We spent the better part of a decade in the neighborhood, first when she lived on Melrose, then when we lived together a bit south on Pine Grove. So we'd often stop on our sidewalk heart and kiss.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Genug shoyn

"Jews in a Synagogue," by Rembrandt van Rijn (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

     The rules for the comments section on this blog are fairly simple. I ask that remarks make sense. I expect them to be on topic, not to go on too much about other articles about other things in other publications, for instance. They should not suggest that I am an idiot.
     Otherwise, readers are free to expound upon ... almost anything. Their own lives. Related or semi-related situations. 
     But there are always exceptions. Novel situations arise. My 
November 6, 2022 post, "Everybody hates the Jews" recently started receiving numerous comments. At first I happily assumed that some group had noticed it, perhaps based on the latest surge in anti-Semitism, and were debating it among themselves. Pretty to think so. Then I saw what was being posted — long ruminations on Israel that had appeared elsewhere online. Written in the same style. Obviously posted by the same person. Because I agreed with them, I let them go.    
     They kept coming, usually beginning, "A person typed online earlier..." I read them, at first, then scanned them. Three dozen over the past two weeks. They kept coming and coming. And while discussion continuing on this blog, is one thing, I'm not running a bulletin board for fanatics to spew — even spew that I generally agree with. A meal is as good as a feast. Better.
     Monday I'd had enough. The only question was, how to express it?  I came up with a two-word phrase. I don't speak Yiddish, but I heard enough growing up that this remained tucked away in mind. A very useful, very Jewish expression, one that I am happy to boost here: genug shoyn. Pronounced "guh-NUUG shhhayn". Or in English: "Enough already." In the "stop it, you're bothering me" sense. Not entirely obscure — the New York Times explored the expression in 1998. Try it out: "genug shoyn. I have the sinking feeling it will be an increasingly useful concept in the near future.

Monday, February 12, 2024

We need to remember — people forget


     Talk about conspiracies!
     The first LVIII Super Bowl commercial I saw, days before that glorious pageant of sport and commerce, was the “Don’t Forget Uber Eats” spot pinballing around social media.
     It begins on a movie backlot with a young assistant handing Jennifer Aniston a green bag filled with flowers.
     ”I didn’t know you could get all this stuff on Uber Eats,” the gofer enthuses. “Gotta remember that.”
     ”You know what they say,” Aniston sermonizes. “In order to remember something, you’ve got to forget something else. Make a little room.”
     Then we’re off to the races, in a series of celebrity vignettes about forgetting. David and Victoria Beckham, in their kitchen, trying to put their finger on a certain 1990s pop group.
     “Remember when you used to be a Pepper Lady?” David asks, waving a jar of pepper.
     “Wasn’t it the Cinnamon Sisters?” former Spice Girl replies.
     Has to be a plot, right? Can’t be a coincidence. President Joe Biden is mercilessly grilled for being a forgetful octogenarian. And boom, the Super Bowl, already rigged to highlight Taylor Swift and thereby increase the impact of her eventual endorsement of Sleepy Joe, immediately unloads a highly effective ad that is basically a valentine to forgetfulness.
     None of the actors in the commercial are particularly old. Though David Schwimmer (who, for those just joining us, starred with Aniston in “Friends,”) does have a certain, ah, weariness in the best vignette, as he makes a beeline to his former co-star.
     “Jenn!” he says, arms spread for the hug. “Hey!”

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Photos provided by Uber.