Friday, June 23, 2017

I'm still alive, in case... were wondering. Just really depressed about the state of the country.

How did we go from the greatest president of my lifetime to the worst president ever? How could that happen?

In so many ways, the United States is in the worst shape of my life. Worse, even, than the Vietnam - Watergate era. It's not a particularly good time to be an American.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to Patricia Knatchbull, a great-great-grandchild of Queen Victoria, who died this week at age 93.

Lady Patricia, also known as Lady Brabourne and later Lady Mountbatten, was the daughter of Lord Louis Mountbatten, who was killed by the IRA in 1979. (The name Mountbatten was changed from Battenberg, originally a German name, during World War I due to anti-German sentiment.)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

This video is one of the strangest...

...things I've seen in one of the strangest years of my life what has to be the strangest year of my life.

How on earth did this get choreographed? Did President Trump tell everyone how this was supposed to go down before the cameras went on? ("Okay, I'm going to go around the room and I want each of you to tell me how great I am. Got it?") And just check out the looks on Rex Tillerson's and James Mattis's* faces! (Are they sending us secret messages in Morse code with their blinking eyes? "Help! I'm being held hostage!") How could anyone with any self-respect at all serve in this administration? The only possible answer is that they are there to protect the country from a president who is clearly unfit for the job.

And how about all that crazy stuff coming out of Trump's mouth?

A record-long delay in the Senate confirmation process? The vast majority of jobs are waiting to be filled by the administration!

And "passed more legislation?" Trump has passed no significant legislation. None. Granted, a really awful tax cut for the rich health care bill could still emerge from Congress this year but tax reform and infrastructure are at best a figment of the president's imagination.

(The only thing Trump has "accomplished" so far is selecting a name for the Supreme Court from a list he was handed. But this was really Mitch McConnell's "W," wasn't it? After all, it was the majority leader that kept Merrick Garland off the Court last year and ended the filibuster to pave the way for Neil Gorsuch. Anyone could have "appointed" Gorsuch after that maneuver.)

Job creation? It's actually down a little -- certainly not up -- since Trump took office.

OMB Director Mick Mulvaney's budget? Double counts $2 trillion. "Taking care of the people that have to be taken care of"? No, just the opposite: it throws them to the wolves.

As the president went around the room and listened to everyone all I could think was, what do they say about him in private? To their spouses? "You wouldn't believe what this jackass said today..."

After watching this I can honestly say that my job suddenly looks a lot better -- a lot better. At least I don't have to embarrass myself on national TV! (What could Reince Priebus have possibly told his wife when he got home? "I know, I know, but I'm playing the long game! Just don't let the kids see that, okay?")

Seriously, is this America, or North Korea?

* I heard Mattis singled out by some commentators for praising the troops and not The Leader. He has to be on thin ice now.

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to Clyde Sniffen, Assistant Attorney General of Alaska.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Adam West, who played...

...Batman in the eponymous TV series from the 1960s, died last Friday at age 88. Really, it's hard to overstate that show's impact during its two and a half year run.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

A final look from...

...our balcony on 1256 W. Lexington Street at Arrigo Park in Little Italy:

And a first view from the deck of our new loft at 1111 W. 14th Place, about a mile south:

Ranting Blogging should resume shortly.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The other Name...

...of the Day belongs to Michael Sprinkle, a Nevada legislator.

While the surname Sprinkle isn't so bad in and of itself, when preceded by the name Michael it doesn't exactly roll off the tongue smoothly, does it?

P. S. All kidding aside, Mr. Sprinkle is the author of a very interesting "Medicaid for all" bill in the Nevada Assembly. Worth a read. (Isn't Mr. Sprinkle's plan far preferable to the current Republican "plan"?)

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to Reality Winner, a contractor with Pluribus International Corp.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

"Manuel Antonio Noriega, the...

...brash former dictator of Panama and sometime ally of the United States whose ties to drug trafficking led to his ouster in 1989 in what was then the largest American military action since the Vietnam War, died Monday night in Panama City. He was 83."

So reads the first two sentences of Manuel Noriega's obituary in the New York Times today. If you squint a little, though, it could have just as easily read:

"Saddam Hussein, the brash former dictator of Iraq and sometime ally of the United States whose ... ouster in 2003 in what was then the largest American military action since the Vietnam War..."

And my point is that I've always thought that President George H. W. Bush's invasion of Panama in 1989 served as the model for his son's invasion of Iraq fourteen years later.

Read the following and substitute "Saddam Hussein" and "Iraq" when necessary (my emphasis):

Mr. Noriega, who became the de facto leader of the country by promoting himself to full general of the armed forces in 1983, had a decades-long, head-spinning relationship with the United States, shifting from cooperative ally and informant for American drug and intelligence agencies to shady adversary, selling secrets to political enemies of the United States in the Western Hemisphere and tipping off drug cartels. Whose side he was on was often hard to tell.

“He craved power and became a tyrant,” Mr. Koster and Mr. S├ínchez wrote in laying out Mr. Noriega’s ultimate undoing. “He craved wealth and became a criminal. And the careers came in conflict.”

Mr. Noriega’s two-facedness was known to American officials. But they saw him as useful in helping them maintain influence in Panama at a time of leftist uprisings in Central America. He provided, for one thing, an important listening post in the region.

He grew more belligerent, however, and by 1989 American patience had run out

The United States Senate in 1986 overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling on Panama to remove Mr. Noriega from the Panamanian Defense Forces pending an investigation of charges of corruption, election fraud, murder and drug trafficking.

“That was enough,” President George Bush said in announcing the invasion, which included more than 27,000 troops.

A White House statement as the invasion got underway said the United States had acted “to protect American lives, restore the democratic process, preserve the integrity of the Panama Canal treaties and apprehend Manuel Noriega.” Political commentators assigned other motives, including a way for Mr. Bush to shake off perceptions of weakness; his poll numbers rose significantly after the invasion.

Panamanian forces were overwhelmed as Mr. Noriega escaped into hiding, surfacing days later, on Dec. 24, at the Vatican Embassy in Panama City. Twenty-three American service members were killed and more than 300 wounded in the invasion; casualties among Panamanians have been disputed, with the Panamanian government at the time estimating that several hundred soldiers and civilians had died, while some human rights groups insist the toll was much higher.

He surrendered on Jan. 3, 1990, and was flown to jail in Florida, leaving behind a new president sworn in on an American military base and a new era for Panama.

If only Iraq had been that easy! But I think that was how it was supposed to go down: invade Iraq, be greeted as "liberators," capture Saddam Hussein and install a new Western-style democracy all within a month. Beautiful!

Spoiler alert: it didn't happen exactly that way.

But the bottom line is this: If you're a foreign leader and you piss off an American president named Bush don't be too surprised to find your country invaded and its leader (you) jailed or, worse, put to death. The corollary to this, of course, is that if you're an American president named Bush don't think this will all go quite as smoothly as it did for your dad. While history often rhymes, it is under no obligation to repeat itself.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

I still feel very conflicted...

...about Hillary Clinton.

On the one hand, I think she would have made a very good, if not great, president: highly intelligent and hard-working with a more impressive command of policy than probably anyone else out there. (Kind of like the opposite of You-Know-Who.)

And then, on the other, I just can't believe what a horrible politician she is. I mean, come on, first she loses the Democratic nomination to a black freshman senator with the middle name Hussein and a last name that rhymes with Osama, and then to the least-qualified and most unfit candidate for president ever. And she was the overwhelming favorite in both. Sheesh! (Makes me sympathize a little with this guy.)

piece in New York Magazine also hints at a fatal flaw:

Her team recalled the persistent feeling of being in uncharted territory. As McIntosh says, “Should she have showed more emotion? I don’t know. We don’t know whether women who show less emotion get to be the president. Should she have been less hawkish? I don’t know. We don’t know if we can elect a pacifist woman president. We can’t point to where she diverges from a path that other women have taken because she was charting that path, and that might fuck with your analytics a bit, as it turns out.”

Double sheesh! Should we do this? Should we do that? And how does the fact that she's a woman impact all of it? Oy!

Just run as yourself. That's how Bernie and Barack and What's-His-Name all ran and look at how well they did.

Face it: some people are just not good at running for president: Al Gore, Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton. Deal with it.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Any obituary in the Times...

...that combines writing and surfing is going to catch my attention, particularly with a picture of a guy at a typewriter on a beach in California in front of a Volkswagen bus.

John Severson, whom I had never heard of before, "a pioneer of modern surf culture who founded Surfer magazine in 1962 and created paintings, films and photographs depicting the surfing lifestyle, died on Friday at his home outside Lahaina on the Hawaiian island of Maui. He was 83."

Sounds right up my alley, doesn't it?

And then I read that Mr. Severson's name was pronounced SEA-ver-son and I thought, a guy with that name writing about the sea? That's Name of the Day-worthy!

P. S. His obit also mentions that Mr. Severson was drafted in 1956 and joined an Army surfing team. What?

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Greg Allman, 1947-2017.

I guess "Ramblin' Man" was the first song I'd ever heard by The Allman Brothers Band. According to Wikipedia it was released in August 1973, but I'd swear they were playing it on the jukebox in my high school cafeteria when I was a freshman in 1972.

The song, written and sung by guitarist Dickey Betts (and the band's only top 10 single), contains the lyrics:

My father was a gambler down in Georgia,
He wound up on the wrong end of a gun.

Little did I know, according to his obit in the Times, that Greg Allman's father, "Willis Turner Allman, a combat veteran of World War II, was murdered by a hitchhiker in 1949."

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to Sarah Vowell, an American author, journalist and essayist. In other words, someone who works with vowels for a living.

Friday, May 26, 2017

When I noticed...

...that the Pullman Strike of 1894 took place on May 11, I thought it would be a good excuse to finally explore this famous neighborhood on the Far Southeast Side.

I had originally planned on visiting Pullman on May 10, but rain forced us to postpone the trip. Then last week our Hike through Big Marsh took longer than I had expected and didn't leave enough time. So on Wednesday we set out again after eating sub sandwiches at Fontano's in Little Italy.

As the seven of us -- Dele, Michael, Nicco, John, Jack, Mike Novak (an old neighbor of ours from Glenview who joined us later) and me -- piled into two cars it began to sprinkle, and by the time we got off the expressway at East 95th Street (yes, East) it was positively pouring. (I was beginning to think that the universe just didn't want us to go to Pullman for some reason.) We pressed on, however, and arrived at our destination, 111th Street and Cottage Grove, a little before seven o'clock.

Now what? It was still raining but we decided to wait a few minutes in the parking lot in case the skies happened to clear up. And, as if by magic, they did. Or at least enough for us to get out of the car and walk around the "town" a little.

But first, I suppose, I should answer the question, Just what the heck is "Pullman" anyway?

According to Wikipedia, Pullman is one of Chicago's 77 defined community areas. The neighborhood in which we were interested, from 111th on the north to 115th on the south between Cottage Grove and the railroad tracks, is only about a half-mile square and easily walkable.

Historic Pullman was built in the 1880s by George Pullman as workers' housing for employees of his eponymous railroad car company, the Pullman Palace Car Company. He established behavioral standards that workers had to meet to live in the area and charged them rent. Pullman's architect, Solon Spencer Beman, was said to be extremely proud that he had met all the workers' needs within the neighborhood he designed. The distinctive rowhouses were comfortable by standards of the day, and contained such amenities as indoor plumbing, gas, and sewers.

The first thing we noticed from the parking lot was the Stables, above, at the corner of 112th Street and Forrestville.

How can you tell it was originally built to house equines? By the wooden horse heads, of course. (You'd be forgiven for having flashbacks of that famous scene in The Godfather.)

From there we turned east and encountered the magnificent Greenstone United Methodist Church on 112th and St. Lawrence. Established in 1882 as a Universalist Church "for all to unite in a union body and get a broad-minded evangelical clergyman," its first minister was Pullman's brother, the Rev. Dr. James Pullman. The building was later leased to a Presbyterian congregation and then sold to the Methodists in 1907.

The church is constructed of green limestone imported from Pennsylvania (or New England, depending on your source) and unlike anything I've ever seen. Apparently the interior, much of which is carved from cherry wood, is equally beautiful, but we only saw it from the outside.

According to my handy-dandy AIA Guide to Chicago:

This showpiece combines the peaked roofs of the Gothic with the round-arched openings and rock-faced masonry popularized by H. H. Richardson. 

(Hence the term Richardsonian Romanesque.)

Walking farther east on 112th Street brought us to Market Hall, a town square (or circle?):

Four excruciatingly narrow curved units with bachelor apartments above arcades are bookended with matching town houses in this touch of Italy. They were inserted into the town fabric after a market hall on this site burned down. In the center is the remaining single story of the second Pullman Market Hall.

I have to say, passing through this section of Pullman was a little disorienting, but in a good way. I felt like an American G.I. walking into the middle of a small European village after it was bombed in World War II. Dele said if it wasn't for the late model cars he would have thought he had traveled back in time. It was very cool. You have to see it!

The weather was still cooperating so we turned down a few of the side streets and checked out some of the original 900 rowhouses. Solon S. Beman, Pullman's architect, designed these five-room "worker's cottages" (is that where Cottage Grove Avenue got its name?) in widths from fourteen to twenty-two feet. Each contained a front parlor and rear kitchen/dining room on the main floor. Upstairs were a front bedroom and two small rear ones split by a skylit stair hall that led to a "water closet." None of the original five-room houses are in their original state; on some, for example, porches have been added.

It began to rain -- again! -- so we ducked into the Pullman Cafe, which appeared like a deus ex machina across from the church on St. Lawrence. It had closed just a few minutes earlier at seven o'clock but when the owner, a very personable young man named Ian (third from the left in the picture below), saw our motley crew he conveniently flipped the CLOSED sign around to OPEN. (Maybe the universe wasn't conspiring against us after all.)

Most of the items had been put away for the day but we were still able to order a small pizza and some drinks. (It's important to keep your strength up on these Hikes.) There were also a few of the locals in there and we learned from one of them that Pullman is known as the "City of Bricks." He said we could consult their Facebook page about upcoming Sunday afternoon walking tours.

The rain had let up again by the time we finished eating and Ian, who is also an artist, took us outside for a short tour of the alley in back which functions as a sort of outdoor neighborhood art gallery. A transplant from Los Angeles, of all places, Ian made his way to Pullman a few years ago where he opened the cafe and found himself in the midst of a budding local art community. He explained that many artists were migrating to Pullman after being priced out of more traditional bohemian neighborhoods such as Pilsen and Wicker Park. (Is "traditional bohemian" an oxymoron?)

John later asked me how the art survived the elements, particularly the harsh Chicago winters. I don't know; we'll have to ask Ian next time we visit Pullman. And, believe me, there will be a next time.

The neighborhood's fortunes may have peaked around the time of the Pullman Strike in 1894, which lasted for two months and led to intervention by the U.S. government and military. George Pullman died three years later and in 1898 the Illinois Supreme Court found the company in violation of a state law forbidding businesses to own land in excess of their industrial needs (who knew?). The following year, the town and other major portions of the South Side were annexed by the City of Chicago. And by 1907 the court-ordered sale of Pullman had been completed.

While the Pullman Company continued to prosper well into the 1920s, it was sold to a consortium of railroads in 1947, and in 1981 the last of the Pullman works was closed.

The neighborhood went into a slow, steady decline after World War II as jobs and people migrated to the suburbs. In 1960 the original Town of Pullman, approximately between 103rd and 115th Streets, was threatened with total demolition for an industrial park. Forming the Pullman Civic Organization, the residents lobbied the city and saved their community. In 1969 it was designated a National Landmark Historic District and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In recent years Pullman has seen a resurgence with the rest of the city as newer residents have moved into the neighborhood. In a contest sponsored by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Pullman was one of seven sites nominated for the Illinois Seven Wonders.

There are a number of other historic and architecturally significant buildings in Pullman which I didn't take pictures of, including the Hotel Florence (currently under restoration) and the Clock Tower and Factory (just north of 111th on Cottage Grove). But it gives me an excuse to visit another time.

P. S. Before finishing I just have to share a nice email I received this week:

Your neighborhood walks with the young men of 1212 W. Flournoy appear to be a kind of ministry of yours. I imagine there is a communing of sorts.

Thanks Tom!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to economist Richard Bookstaber.

It's not that his last name is necessarily that odd, it's just that I've never heard it before. And taken in the context in which I just read it -- that he recently wrote a book -- is just too coincidental to pass up.

Friday, May 19, 2017

An article in Bloomberg...

...with the title, "The Next Shortage Facing Young Homebuyers: Good Schools," and the subtitle, "Since the recession, funding for construction has cratered," has me thinking about education.

I have a few thoughts on the subject (surprised?), some of which are admittedly contradictory while others are pure fantasy. But here goes.

First of all, I should state that as a late-blooming pragmatist my overarching rule should be: Do what works. (Rule No. 2: When in doubt, refer back to Rule No. 1.)

Having said that, if I were King for a Day I would immediately close all the private schools in America and make everyone attend local public schools, which would all be financed equally by the federal government. (All fantasy, especially the "king" part.)

But can we at least dispense with the fiction of "public" schools? New Trier, for example, isn't a "public" school; you have to buy or rent in its district to attend. And you have to pay a premium on that property in part because it's in the New Trier school district (it's circular, I know). But a truly "public" school system would be financed in a much more equitable fashion, wouldn't it?

Maybe I should provide a little personal background before I go any further. Coming from a typical post-war Catholic family I was educated at parish primary schools and Catholic high schools and colleges. Note the plural there; we moved around a lot and I attended a total of ten schools in my life, eight of which were Catholic. They were bracketed by public school for kindergarten and a private university for graduate school. But I attended four Catholic elementary schools, two Catholic high schools and two Catholic colleges. (The last one was my doing, not my father's.)

My wife, on the other hand, also has a master's degree but attended exactly two schools in her life from kindergarten all the way up to graduate school. Unlike me, Julie went to a fancy, nonsectarian private school in Milwaukee before matriculating to Northwestern.

(Whenever my wife says she's Catholic, by the way, I think, "You're not Catholic; I'm Catholic." It reminds me of that scene near the end of Breaking Away, above, in which the father tells his son, "You're not a cutter; I'm a cutter." In other words, if you didn't suffer through Catholic schools like I did you're not really culturally Catholic. I've often joked that while my wife's mother was an Irish Catholic and her father a secular Jew she and her brother are WASPs, due to their education. She doesn't like that joke for some reason. But it's true: if you grow up in Catholic schools you're Catholic; if you grow up in a WASPy environment you're a WASP. More on that later.)

Now as for me, I hated moving and I hated Catholic schools. I hated the nuns, the uniforms, the heavy-handed discipline, and the fact that I didn't attend the local public school like my friends in the neighborhood but instead some exotic religious school across town. "Where do you go, again? Our Lady of what? I heard they hit you with rulers there. Is that true?"

And with all that manic moving I just desperately wanted to be a part of the town in which I lived like everyone else. I envied the rest of the kids in Little League, for example, who seemed to know all the other players and coaches.

As a result, I had only two goals as an adult: to raise my children in one place and to not send them to Catholic schools. While those may sound like modest, if not downright pathetic, life goals I realized recently that they were actually in keeping with that age-old desire of every parent to give their offspring a better life than they had. Since I really couldn't improve on my own upbringing materially, unlike every other generation in history, I could at least give my kids a better childhood than I had. They may never have belonged to an exclusive country club -- where I never felt comfortable anyway -- or be chauffeured around in a Cadillac, but they could at least grow up in one house and go to the local public schools with their neighbors. And I consider that to be an improvement over my own childhood.

So that's why I have a natural affinity for public schools, and why we sent our own two sons to the local public schools. But it goes beyond that: I also have an affinity for public education.

What do I have against private and parochial schools? Well, although I'm not convinced that formal education is nearly as crucial as everyone else seems to think (I'd say heredity is a better predictor of success in life than anything else), I'll go along with the consensus for a minute and assume that it is. And if education is really as important as everyone thinks then shouldn't everyone get the same education? Is it really fair (and in keeping with American egalitarianism) for Bruce Rauner's kid to go to New Trier while a poor kid from Garfield Park has to attend Al Raby High School in the city? (Again, I'd argue that Rauner's kid is destined to be rich anyway while that poor kid from the West Side is destined to be poor, but that's another conversation.) But shouldn't everyone in America get the same start in life, the same quality of education? (Aren't conservatives always talking about "equal opportunity, not equal outcomes"?) And if that's true, shouldn't funding for schools be centralized, rather than dependent on property taxes like in Illinois? And shouldn't all kids be forced (yes, I said the word "forced") to go to these public schools? (I'm looking at you President Obama and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.)

But what about religious schools? you might ask. And even an agnostic like me has to concede that that's a fair point. Nearly all of my relatives were educated in Catholic schools and want to send their own kids to the local parish school. I get that. (We had a neighbor in Glenview who worried that the Catholic kids who attended public school couldn't even recite a prayer correctly. Psst: religion is mostly about culture -- another conversation for another time.) But, again, I get it: some people want to send their kids to a Catholic school, or a Lutheran school, or an evangelical Christian school, or a Jewish school, or a Muslim school, or whatever. What's the harm, you might say, in that? And I would maintain that, besides giving everyone an equal start, public schools require everyone to go to school with everyone else: rich kids with the middle class and poor; white kids with black and brown; Catholics with Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc.; smart kids with not-so-smart; jocks with nerds; typically-developing kids with the disabled, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And you know what? Catholics, for example, might find out that Jews aren't so different from them after all. (Imagine that?) And, most important, we'd learn that we're all Americans just trying to live our lives: work, go to school, raise kids, make a marriage work, etc. Public schools, I think, foster a sense of Americanism: we're all in this together, our similarities outweigh our differences, and what benefits one benefits all. I really believe in that. (Might that help, by the way, with all this crazy polarization we're currently experiencing? For instance, I've become friends in the last couple of years with a Southern Baptist minister. We have coffee once in a while and I've often told him that more people like me should meet more people like him. Southern Baptists might discover that agnostics aren't necessarily libertine heathens while agnostics might learn that not all evangelicals are intolerant, judgmental cretins.)

As for magnet schools, charter schools and vouchers (depending on the research, which I believe is incomplete), well, I have to refer back to Rule No. 1: Do what works best. Parents in the city of Chicago, for example, want more, not fewer, school choices. And I get that too.

So to sum it up: everyone should go to their local public school with the same funding source. Private schools, whether religious or not, contribute to the Balkanization of America. But I realize this is fantasy; after all, I think private schools in this country preceded public ones, so they're not going anywhere. And the rich are never going to give up their privileges. So where does that leave us? Well, I think if nothing else we could make the funding fairer; rely less on property taxes and more on, say, state income taxes or the federal government. But, beyond that, we're in Fantasyland.

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to Ransom LaLonde, shortstop for the Windy City ThunderBolts of the Frontier League.

Hat tip: Kevin G.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Last Thursday was the 123rd...

...anniversary of the Pullman Strike so I thought it would be a good occasion to take our weekly Hike down in that neighborhood. It rained on Wednesday, though, so we had to postpone our trip until last night.

While we were down on the Far Southeast Side, I figured we could kill two birds with one stone and visit Big Marsh.

What is "Big Marsh"? (Hint: it's not my brother-in-law Ed Marsh.) According to the Chicago Park District's website (my emphasis):

Park 564 "Big Marsh" is a 278-acre property on the Southeast Side of Chicago in the area commonly known as the Calumet Area Reserve. Once an active industrial property, the site was acquired by the Park District in 2011 and opened as a new public park in 2016. The vision of Big Marsh is to provide a new type of recreation in Chicago that marries habitat restoration with public use. Roughly 45 acres are developed for eco-recreation opportunities including hiking, adventure courses, and off-road biking. The eco-recreation elements are located primarily on existing slag fields where plants have a hard time growing and good habitat creation is unlikely. Other acreage is reserved for more passive recreation including bird-watching and nature walking. All acreage is being developed to protect or further enhance the overall natural habitat of the park property including sensitivity to flora, fauna, and wetlands. Through much planning, investment, and local stakeholder input, Big Marsh is now a safe, open, and inviting park space for Chicago and the neighboring communities.

I wasn't familiar with the area and, besides, we needed to let rush hour traffic die down a little, so we ate dinner in the neighborhood first, at Carm's in Little Italy. (Public transportation would have been difficult so we opted to drive.) Steve, the owner, was happy to see us but commented that we were only there because I felt guilty for walking my dog, Stewart, past the restaurant every day without ever stopping in. (He wasn't too far off.)

After a hearty meal of mostly hot dogs and cheeseburgers, we left 1212 W. Flournoy in two cars a little after six o'clock and arrived at Big Marsh just before seven. With the exception of a couple of people on bicycles the seven of us were the only ones in the park. It didn't seem quite finished and is definitely geared more toward bike-riding. (Yes, pun intended.) But just look at those pictures. Hard to believe you're still in the City of Chicago!

Big Marsh is actually located in South Deering, not Pullman. The largest of the 77 official community areas of Chicago, South Deering was traditionally an industrial neighborhood, consisting of only a small group of homes in the northeast corner with Lake Calumet taking up most of the remainder. It was the home of the now defunct Wisconsin Steel Works, originally the Joseph H. Brown Iron and Steel Company, which opened in 1875 and was the first steel mill in the entire Calumet region. Since the closing of the plant, the neighborhood has gone through an economic depression.

Oh, and South Deering is in the 10th Ward, once the power base of Alderman Edward ("Fast Eddie") Vrdolyak. Remember him?

(It was also the home for a time of the notorious mass murderer Richard Speck -- yikes! -- and it's probably just as well we didn't know that when we were tramping around the place alone.)

After admiring the view, taking some pictures and braving the wind (at least it was warm out!) for about an hour or so we returned to the parking lot. We hadn't made it to Pullman yet and there were still a couple of landmarks I wanted to see. Dele and Michael chose to go back, but Alan, Bradon, Jack, John and I decided to drive over and at least check out the Pullman National Monument.

It was only a few minutes away and all I can say is, Oh My God! (Or, OMG, as the kids say nowadays.) A small area, bounded only by 111th Street on the North, 115th on the South, Cottage Grove to the West and the railroad tracks on the East, the neighborhood contains a very cool church made of greenish stone, a market square (or circle) of some sort as well as blocks and blocks of row houses. We were all tempted to get out and resume our Hike but agreed it was getting too dark. "We should come back here sometime," I said. "Yeah," someone replied, "How about next week?" Everyone nodded enthusiastically, and John said, "It can be Part II of a two-part Hike." "Brilliant!" I decided.

So we drove home with the knowledge that next week, weather permitting, held the promise for a very good Hike. And we'll get there early enough to take plenty of pictures. How come I had never been to Pullman before?!?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

I can't believe I wrote...

...that last post before reading in Bloomberg, "How Trump’s Rust Belt Voters Have Changed Since the Election."

It's hard to be "all-in" for democracy after reading some of these profiles. Check out these responses to the following questions (all emphasis mine).

William Chaney, 41, of La Crosse, Wisconsin, is an account executive at a wholesale mortgage lender and married with one son.

On February 15, when Andy Puzder withdrew his name to become Department of Labor secretary, Mr. Chaney said:

I do feel a little sorry for Trump on how he has been treated by the Democrats during his first month. Had the Republicans obstructed Obama like that, we’d have been labeled racist. Honestly, if Trump were to hang himself with a brand new rope, the left would find something to criticize.

Bryn Biemeck, 31, of Milwaukee, is single and a fast-food worker. Until recently she was a life coach living with her mother.

A life coach who still lives at home?

On May 5, after House approval of the Republican health-care bill (which would presumably take away her health insurance) she said:

I’m more inclined to think it’s part-way decent, though my stance is still that I would prefer a full repeal.

Kim Woodrosky, 53, of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, is a single real estate investor. Same question, about Trump's health-care bill:

I have a feeling the Senate is going to put a stop to the whole thing.

She'd better hope so.

Michael Makowski, 54, of Concordville, Pennsylvania is a small-business owner and married with three children. Same question:

I’m happy about it. Sounds like it’s going to save us a little bit of money and not hurt too many people.

Except him and his family, probably.

On January 30, after a weekend of airport protests in opposition to Trump’s immigration order, Mr. Makowski said:

They’re worried he’s going to put them back to work. If you can stand in the middle of a highway and wave a cell phone in the middle of the night, you're certainly capable of holding a job during the day.


Tom Anslow, 62, of Port Clinton, Ohio is semi-retired and married with three children.

On December 13, shortly after Trump was elected, Mr. Anslow said:

We are hurting over health care. It’s a weekly discussion in our house. I never wanted to be 65 in my life, but I do now.

Wow. Sounds like this guy can't wait for single-payer Medicare. The next three years could be a long wait.

Geno DiFabio, 54, of Youngstown, Ohio, is a driver for an industrial repair shop and married with one child.

In regard to the health care bill:

I think that when we see the final product, it's going to be better than what we have. I'm hoping.

Keep hoping.

On Mar 22, Mr. DiFabio said:

All they’re doing is solidifying the people that voted for him, believe me. Sometimes he says stupid stuff, but he’s still the only one that’s going to do anything for us, fight for us, actually fight for us.

And I think that's the secret to Trump's success: he was the only candidate (except Bernie Sanders) who actually spoke to the white working class. They're hurting and they want to be heard.

Tom Viviano, 50, of Sterling Heights, Michigan is a program manager for a car-industry automation company and married with four children.

On Mar 17, when asked why the stock market and small businesses are so enthusiastic, he said:

It’s so much different with Trump after Obama disillusioned them.

The Dow rallied 140 percent under President Obama. Where do you suppose this guy gets his information?

Finally, there's Ann Peterson, 51, of Rochester, Michigan a real estate broker/dealer who's divorced with two children.

On April 6, after the Neil Gorsuch decision appeared heading for the nuclear option, she said:

The hard part is, with watching the news, is you don’t even know who is telling the truth anymore. So I don’t really watch the news. I have been following a lot of the other people who give real news. On TV, you’re just not getting it. I follow Michael Savage.

Well I guess that answers my previous question.

I hope I don't sound like a snob, here; I really don't. And maybe I'm no better informed than any of these nice people -- heck, I get my news from the mainstream media. But maybe -- just maybe -- the political "elites" are called "elite" for a reason. Maybe they know what they're doing.

Remember, folks, we're less...

...than four months into what's supposed to be a four-year term. (I'll let that sink in for a second.)*

And for me one of the many, many morals of the story so far is that the two major parties really need to get a better handle on whom they nominate for president. This task may be too serious to leave to the whims of primary voters.

While I'm all for caucuses, primaries and democracy (especially in the general election), I think both parties need to have more, not fewer, super delegates. That way they can assure us -- and the rest of the world -- that the nominee of their party is at least minimally qualified, and temperamentally suited, for the most consequential job on the planet. (Gee, that sounds important, doesn't it?) No matter what you might have thought of any of the other Republican and/or Democratic candidates for president in 2016, they at least all met that standard -- you could credibly see any one of them in the Oval Office.

(Think about it for a second: would you let a jackass like Trump even run your homeowners' association?)

Now if some eccentric businessman (like Ross Perot) or celebrity (like the Rock or Kanye West) wants to run for president in the years ahead he or she can run as a third-party candidate and garner some protest votes. (And if they're really that good they can win; I'm not saying we should abandon democracy entirely.) But if that individual wants the nomination of one of the two major parties he or she would have to earn the approval of the party elders. They may take a close look at him and all agree, "Yeah, this guy is real. He can be our standard-bearer." Or they might say to a Ronald Reagan or an Al Franken, "Why don't you run for governor or senator and see how that works out first?"

We simply cannot be subjected to something like Donald Trump again.

* Do I think Trump will serve out his term? Who the hell knows?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

As someone who trades...

...securities for a living I can honestly say that I don't add much value to society. Oh, sure, the private investment partnership for which I work provides "needed liquidity" to the markets, blah, blah, but it's really about making money for ourselves. And there's nothing wrong with that. After all, the guy who came up with the idea for Pet Rocks didn't exactly develop a cure for cancer either. No, in a capitalist system like ours people make money in all kinds of ways, not just by helping society, like doctors and social workers. Hey, we all have to eat.

An article in the Times today, "Hedge Fund Managers Don’t Always Beat the Market, but They Still Make Billions," talks about how "the top fund managers still haul in enormous paychecks," regardless of "good performance, mediocre results or even downright ugly returns."

According to Institutional Investor’s Alpha magazine, "the 25 best-paid hedge fund managers earned a collective $11 billion in 2016." And, believe it or not, I'm okay with that. (Although I can see why others wouldn't be.) To give you an idea of the numbers we're talking about here (my emphasis):

The top earner of 2016 was James Simons, the former code breaker for the National Security Agency and the founder of Renaissance Technologies, who made $1.6 billion. Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater Associates who is best known for his philosophy of “radical transparency,” came in a close second with $1.4 billion.

And my attitude is, good for them. They're probably really smart, really hard-working guys. I don't care if their funds underperform the market because I'm not invested in them. (When people ask me for financial advice I always tell them to put all their money in index funds and just forget about them.)

But what this piece did make me think about was not the return these guys achieve for their clients but rather the amount of money they contribute to the operation of the federal government.

The top rate is currently 39.6 percent, right? But under Eisenhower it was as high as 91 percent. (I know, I know, the effective rate was much lower, but that's a conversation about deductions, not marginal rates.)

And I wonder, are the rich paying enough in taxes? (When I brought that up recently to my brother he implied I was envious. And I am -- I'm trying to get rich too. But that doesn't mean we can't talk about marginal tax rates.)

Now I know all the arguments in favor of lower taxes. (I used to be a libertarian, remember?) "The rich will leave the country!" is one you often hear. And I think of Ken Griffin (above, with Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner) and Sam Zell, a couple of local billionaires. And I think, go ahead, leave Illinois: without those two Rauner would have never been elected and the state might actually have a budget by now.

According to that piece in the Times, Griffin only returned five percent for his investors in 2016. Caveat emptor, I say. But Griffin himself took home $600 million. Again, good for him! He's a businessman. But what did he "kick back" to keep this operation (the United States) running? At a top rate of 39.6 percent a heck of a lot less than 91 percent (even with all the loopholes) or even 50 percent, which would be considered confiscatory by today's standards.

And now these guys want even lower rates? Good God, their greed knows no bounds! I say we start looking at higher, not lower, marginal tax rates, and if these Masters of the Universe don't like it they can take their hedge funds elsewhere. (Try starting a business in Uganda.) As I said at the top of this post, it's not like they're contributing a whole lot to the betterment of society.

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to John Batchelor, who writes for the Daily Beast.

Normally, I'd end the post right there, but Mr. Batchelor is also the author of "The Civil War of 2017."

While the piece itself isn't all that great its title brings up an idea I've been talking about for some time now: the United States is currently in the midst of a kind of low-grade, non-shooting civil war between Republicans and Democrats.

(I would actually take it a step further and call it a religious war, not unlike the ones between Protestants and Catholics during sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe. Seriously. Rather than fighting over the Pope, today's combatants disagree about the federal government. Should it have an active role, as suggested by the New Deal and the Great Society? Or should it retreat to a more libertarian ideal, like that which preceded FDR and the Great Depression? The reason I think it's "religious" is that the two sides hold core beliefs which are somewhat axiomatic; they can't be argued. Either you believe in one or you believe in the other.)

But if what we're experiencing now is a civil, not a religious, war it's also unlike the one that took place from 1861-65 in that it isn't based on geography (although it kind of is, with rural areas facing off against metropolitan areas, with the suburbs caught in between), but cuts across families.

Unlike the old "brother against brother" slogan* used to describe "the predicament faced in families (primarily, but not exclusively, residents of border states) in which loyalties and military service were divided between the Union and the Confederacy," today's civil war probably affects most families, doesn't it? Can't you think of at least two members of your own family who are on such opposite sides of the current political divide that they can barely stand each other? (Last year I read that families in America were so divided that many had to have separate Thanksgivings!)

Take my sister and me, for example. I love her, I suppose (she's my sister after all). Joanne is the oldest, I'm the youngest, and we both love politics and current events (and arguing). The difference, though, is that she and her husband are dyed-in-the-wool Republicans while I've evolved into a Democrat in recent years. (To give you an idea how "bad" they are, as Baby Boomers in the 1960s their one act of rebellion was to vote for Nelson Rockefeller in the 1968 Republican Primary instead of the parentally-approved Richard Nixon. Oy!)

And it's gotten to the point where we simply can't talk about politics to each other. At all. It's never been said out loud, but whenever we get together now we avoid the subject entirely. If we do, we get along just fine (she's actually a good person). But we don't just disagree on policy, we disagree on the actual facts themselves. It's true: my sister and I live in entirely different universes. Which one of us is right? Who knows?

Incidentally, our disputes also carry into religion itself: my sister is a devout Catholic while I'm an agnostic. (She once confided that she "has to receive the Eucharist at least once a week." What does that even mean?) And I read once that the most reliable indicator of whether one was a Republican or Democrat is the frequency of attending religious services. Those who go to church weekly, for example, are most likely to be Republicans. So the "war" has a religious dimension to it as well.

(Honestly, I'd be hard-pressed to think of something Joanne and I do agree on. She's a Sox fan, I'm a Cubs fan; she lives in a gated community in a suburb as far from the city as possible, I live on the Near West Side of Chicago -- I could go on and on.)

But isn't it true that Republicans and Democrats are in a kind of civil war? They can't work together on anything. The United States has to be more polarized than at any time since the real Civil War. (I was around during Vietnam and I think today is even worse.)

So how do we get out of this civil war? How does it end? I have no idea. I kind of expect it to last for the rest of my life. I really do; I see no way out of it. I hope someday the two sides can at least share the same reality, but that sounds like a long way off to me.

* Apparently this was a real thing. According to Wikipedia, "There are a number of stories of brothers fighting in the same battles on opposite sides, or even of brothers killing brothers over the issues."

Monday, May 15, 2017

An opinion piece... the Times today asks the question, "Was Donald Trump’s surprise victory due to his voters’ racism or their economic anxiety?"

This is probably the biggest question from last November's election and sure to be the subject of many a PhD thesis in the years to come.

The piece goes on to say, "The right answer might be that it was both."

And while I think that's probably the right answer, too, I would put it a little differently: economic anxiety led to voters' racism, which was always simmering just beneath the surface. (I know I've written about this before, but I feel like writing about it again.)

When I was growing up my parents only knew other Catholics -- usually Irish Catholics -- and didn't really want to know anyone else. Like the rest of their friends, relatives and acquaintances, i. e., their "tribe," my parents not only didn't like blacks or Jews, but weren't too comfortable around Italian-Americans, Polish-Americans, WASPs or anyone else. Why? Although they never said so, I'm sure their answer (under truth serum) would have been something like, "Can't trust 'em; they're different from us." No, if you didn't look and act and worship like my parents they just didn't want to know you.

Were my parents terrible, horrible bigots? Not really. Just typical post-war suburbanites. Since they both grew up in "virtual" Irish Catholic "ghettos" in Oak Park and the Austin neighborhood of Chicago, they didn't really know anyone who wasn't Irish or Catholic. As a result, they didn't trust anyone who was outside of their tribe. And I'd say that's actually pretty typical human behavior. You generally fear what you don't know, right? You stick with your own, your "tribe."

But unlike white southerners following the Civil War or Germans after World War I, my parents took part in the great post-war prosperity and thus felt no need to join the Ku Klux Klan or the Nazi Party or anything. My dad was far too preoccupied with his burgeoning career or watching sports on TV to worry about any other ethnic group impinging on his lifestyle. Besides, his lifestyle was great; every year he got a bonus or a raise or a promotion. Sometimes all three!

So when times are good people's fears take a back seat. In fact, they get buried farther and farther into the recesses of their lizard brains. During economic boom times all anyone seems to care about is their next job or promotion or raise and how they're going to spend it. A boat? New kitchen? New house? The possibilities are endless. And when times are good the average person just comes home from work and goes to his kid's Little League game or invites the neighbors over for a barbecue or whatever. What they don't do is get in the car and go to their Congressman's town hall meeting and shout at him about health care policy. (In good times people often don't even know who their Congressman is. Why would they?)

But in the last few decades, as the economy has gotten harder and harder for the white working class "tribe" their members have been searching around for a scapegoat. Political elites in Washington?Economic elites on Wall Street? Bad trade deals with Mexico and China? Immigrants, particularly Latinos and Muslims? Blacks and Jews (always a convenient scapegoat)? There has to be some nefarious reason behind their declining wealth and incomes!

So I'd say that economic anxiety, which is real, led to latent racism coming to the fore. People are scared. But you watch, when things get better (as they always do) the white working class (and everyone else) will go back to watching TV at night and visiting their grandchildren on weekends. Go to a town hall? What for?

Sunday, May 14, 2017

I just noticed...

...that this blog, which I began in October, 2008, just surpassed half a million pageviews yesterday. Thanks for reading, everyone!

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to Robert Mickey, a professor of political science at the University of Michigan.

When I first encountered his name in a piece in the Times yesterday, "Comey’s Firing Tests Strength of the 'Guardrails of Democracy,' " it didn't strike me as so odd. But then the second to last paragraph begins with, "Mr. Mickey, however..." and I thought, it's a little hard to take anyone seriously with a name like Mr. Mickey.

"Now don't get angry, Mr. Mickey."

"Cheer up, Mr. Mickey."

"See here, Mr. Mickey!"

How do you say any of those sentences without breaking into laughter?

P. S. The writer of this headline in an article in the Michigan Daily was so distracted apparently by his last name that he referred to him as David Mickey.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The fate of the Republic...

...may rest on this guy's shoulders.

Now, I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but does Rod Rosenstein look like the kind of guy who could stand up to Donald Trump?

God help us. (I guess it's true: there are no atheists in foxholes.)