Thursday, March 30, 2017

You may, or may not, know...

...that the 1960s Chicago-based band the Buckinghams took its name in part from Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park. But do you know where Buckingham Fountain got its name? It was with that question in mind that we set out last night on our weekly Urban Hike With Mike.

The five of us -- Alan, Jack, John, Michael and I -- left 1212 W. Flournoy at five o'clock sharp, as always, and walked east on Harrison toward the Loop. We zigzagged our way to Union Station and the old Chicago Mercantile Exchange (where I began working in 1981), past the Sears, er, Willis Tower, to Firehouse Subs at the corner of Jackson and Wells.

Founded in 1994 in Jacksonville, Florida by former firefighting brothers Robin and Chris Sorensen, Firehouse Subs is a restaurant chain with locations in 44 states, Puerto Rico, Canada and Mexico. Never been there? Neither had any of us, even though the one downtown has been open since summer, 2015. The sandwiches are tasty, by the way.

After dinner we continued down Jackson, past the old Chicago Board of Trade Building (now listed on Google Maps as "CME Group Inc.") at the foot of "Money Canyon." Although this particular structure was completed in 1930, the Board itself was established on April 3, 1848, prompting our trip. (We won't be meeting next week.)

For over thirty years, until 1965, the Board was the tallest building in Chicago and visible from my current neighborhood. I can just imagine what people in Little Italy used to say about it.

"You can see the Loop from here. There's the Board of Trade."

"What's the Board of Trade?"

"They trade grains there."

"What does that mean?"

"I don't know."

The Board of Trade Building is a great example of Art Deco style, of course, clad in gray Indiana limestone and topped with a copper pyramid roof. And on top of that is a 31-foot-tall statue of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture. The sculptor, John Storrs, left off its face, figuring no one would ever see the top of the forty-five story building anyway.

As you can see from the picture above (taken from the rear, juxtaposed with the postmodern Willis Tower), as with many skyscrapers of the era, the exterior was designed with multiple setbacks at increasing heights, which served to allow additional light into the ever-deepening concrete valleys in urban cores. At night, the setbacks are upwardly lit by floodlights, further emphasizing the structure's vertical elements. The night illumination design was a common contemporary Chicago architectural theme, seen also in the Wrigley Building, the Tribune Tower and others.

(On a personal note, my grandfather, great-grandfather and a couple of my great-uncles were all members of the Chicago Board of Trade. My father and one of his brothers also worked there as runners during their vacations from school. And even though I was a proud "Merc guy" for 25 years -- and gloated a little when the CME ended up buying the Board in 2006 -- I'll always consider this building to be the Board of Trade.)

A short detour around the Federal Building (the sidewalk was closed) took us serendipitously past the Flamingo, by Alexander Calder, where I snapped what I would modestly call the Photo of the Evening.

We then paused for a moment to consider the Monadnock Building, at Jackson and Dearborn. The structure, made up of two halves designed by different architects and built at different times, is the tallest load-bearing brick building ever constructed and was the world's largest office building when it was completed in 1893.

Beginning at the corner of Jackson and State we encountered DePaul University on both sides of the street (what a presence!).

The law school is housed in a high-rise building at the corner of Jackson and Wabash that I've always admired. (Tudor on a skyscraper in a downtown business district? Outstanding!)

Formerly the Finchley Building, it was designed in 1928 by local architect Alfred S. Alschuler and was acquired by DePaul in 1972. Originally home to the Finchley Co. Men's Store, it's described this way by my handy dandy AIA Guide to Chicago:

The Gothic style of the stone base changes incongruously to a Tudor half-timbered treatment at the top. 

I don't care if it's "incongruous"; I love it!

Alfred S. Alschuler (1876 - 1940) was one of Chicago's most prolific and versatile architects during the height of the city's architectural boom on the eve of the Great Depression.

A native Chicagoan, Alschuler's designs included warehouses, department stores, industrial buildings, synagogues and offices. Several of his works are listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Coincidentally, Alschuler also designed the old, old Chicago Mercantile Exchange Building, which was in use from 1927 until 1972. (The "Green Box," over Union Station, was the Merc's home until 1983.) Despite a spirited set of protests organized by local preservation groups, the 17-story structure on the northwest corner of Franklin and Washington Streets was demolished in 2003. What a shame!

The old CME building was originally referred to as the "Butter and Egg" building, which I think must have been a mildly derisive term originating from the superior-minded but slightly insecure (and, let's face it, anti-Semitic) folks at the Board of Trade. (I remember my father, upon learning that I got a runner's job at the "Merc" -- established in 1919, the year of his birth -- sniffed, "Oh, year, the Butter and Egg Board.")

We then crossed Michigan Avenue, walking past the Art Institute, which was built in 1893 for the World's Columbian Exposition. Founded in 1879, it is one of the oldest and largest art museums in the United States. In fact, only the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is larger. (Damn you, Big Apple!)

After reaching Lake Shore Drive ("as far as this train goes") we turned south and walked up to the evening's destination, the Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain, answering that age-old trivia question at the beginning of this post.

The fountain was donated to the city by Kate Buckingham (whoever she was) in memory of her brother, Clarence, (whoever he was) in 1927. (Ever notice how much was built during the Roaring Twenties?) One of the largest fountains in the world, it was designed by beaux arts architect Edward H. Bennett in a rococo wedding cake style. Inspired by the Latona Fountain at the Palace of Versailles, it represents Lake Michigan, with four sets of sea horses (two per set) symbolizing the four states -- Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana -- that border the lake. (If I was really smart I would have waited until next month, when the water gets turned on. Oh, well.)

Speaking of water, the rain, which up until this point had been pretty light, began to fall a little harder as we headed toward the Blue Line Station at LaSalle and Congress. We passed one more architectural gem, however, the Auditorium Theatre (which John noted, correctly I think, is redundant) built in 1889 and almost torn down -- twice. (What's wrong with this town?)

In the early 1930s, estimates were taken to demolish this great example of Richardsonian Romanesque style, but the cost of the demolition was more than the land was worth. (Thank God!)

The theatre survived the Great Depression, somehow, only to go bankrupt and close in 1941. It was then taken over by the City of Chicago and used as a World War II servicemen’s center. The stage and front rows of the theatre were converted to a bowling alley (!) and much of the ornate stenciling, plasterwork and art glass was covered over. More than two million servicemen were housed, fed and entertained at the building between 1941 and 1945.

In 1946, Roosevelt University saved the venue from demolition a second time by acquiring it, but lacking the money required to renovate the theatre, kept it dormant for two decades. After extensive restoration, beginning in 1963, the Auditorium Theatre reopened in 1967.

The theatre, with almost 4,000 seats, is the second-largest concert hall in the country, after the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. (Second fiddle to Gotham again!)

We finally made it to the Blue Line stop at LaSalle and were home a little after seven. Next week I'll be in California for my son's wedding so the Hike won't resume until Wednesday, April 12. Where will we go? I have a few ideas, but I'm always open to suggestions.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Is the mainstream media liberal?

I'm going to say "yes." Surprised?

Last month I wrote a post in which I said (emphasis added this morning):

But why was the mainstream media considered so liberal in the first place? Was it true? Was it fair? And I'm going to surprise you by saying, "yes." Why is that? And I'm going to say (and open myself up to charges of snobbery) that the members of the mainstream media are just plain smarter, better-educated and more open to new ideas than the average person. Also, while doctors, lawyers and businessmen are more motivated by money, the average reporter is more attracted to what they would consider an "interesting" career. So members of the media are, in effect, the intelligentsia, the vanguard, the cutting edge of society while the rest of us struggle to keep up. And who can blame us? We're busy with marriages, careers, kids, etc. and don't have time to be as well-informed as our brethren in the media. So, it's true, I think, that the media is more "liberal" than the population as a whole. It's their job, I suppose, to drag us kicking and screaming into the modern world while we bitch and moan that we would rather be left where we are (it's more comfortable). Make sense?

Why do I bring this up again? Because that guy at the top of this post, Bill Minor, died at age 94. From his obit in the Times:

Bill Minor, whose courageous reporting helped open Americans’ eyes to everyday racial discrimination in the South in the 1960s and won him recognition as the “conscience of Mississippi,” died on Tuesday in Ridgeland, Miss., outside Jackson. 

“No Southern newspaperman has done more for civil rights and civil liberties than Bill Minor,” Claude Sitton, another son of the South who covered the movement for The Times, once said.

So, yeah, Mr. Minor was a liberal. And he was probably more liberal than his readers. I bet they hated him. And, to paraphrase FDR, he should have welcomed their hatred.

At the risk of sounding... a Republican, the Russians may have a point on one issue. According to Reuters:

Russia's defense ministry said on Tuesday it regarded U.S. naval patrols in the Black Sea as a potential threat to its safety because it was unclear what kind of missiles the ships were carrying, the RIA news agency reported.

See that map of the Black Sea, above? See how close it is to Russia?

Now just imagine if there was a Russian ship in the Gulf of Mexico. It might be enough to make even a Republican object, wouldn't it?

With all the talk...

...about "repeal and replace," the budget, and now tax reform, it's easy to overlook two other troubling aspects of the Trump presidency: his massive conflicts of interest and the ongoing controversy concerning Russia. I don't pretend to understand either one very well; and I haven't paid as close attention as I have to the fight over health care.

(Health care has been one of my hobbyhorses ever since I temporarily "lost" my insurance -- long story -- back in 2008. I got it back after a few months, but I realized first-hand just how vulnerable we all are in this incredibly important area of our lives.)

So now that Republican efforts to "repeal and replace" Obamacare* are effectively over (and, despite what anyone is saying, they most certainly are), I'm turning my attention (a little bit) to this whole Russian "thing." (What are you supposed to call it?) Josh Marshall at TalkingPointsMemo is one of my go-to guys on pretty much any subject and in his post last night, "The Gravity Is Strong, Part #2," he has this to say which is just too long to retweet:

Trump built his "second act," starting in the first years of this century, on a free flow of money from the former Soviet Union. Numerous Trump business ventures partnered with people tied to the Russian or post-Soviet criminal underworld. This pattern is so widespread and consistent that it is a hugely important story in itself, though it tends to get overshadowed by the hunt for ties to President Vladimir Putin. Many of these ventures bear key hallmarks of money laundering. The most straightforward explanation is that Trump needed capital but had ruined his access to legitimate lenders and scared off most sensible investors. He was a perfect match for overseas money, specifically post-Soviet money, which needed to get out of its countries of origin and into the safety of the US, particularly US real estate. This was money you couldn't ask a lot of questions about; and Trump was happy not to ask.

As I said, most of this is above my paygrade, but I'm beginning to believe this "thing" may be what ultimately takes Trump down. I know that sounds a little hyperbolic, but the smoke keeps building and building and spreading and spreading and involves so many people. There just has to be a fire here somewhere.

* Obamacare was the Republican health care plan; single-payer was the Democrats'. One of the many, many morals of the health care story last week is that Republicans should have worked with Democrats to craft a health care bill back in 2009. That ship has sailed!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Last week's Republican... care debacle illustrated for me the main problem with President Trump and the Republican Congress: they have never been, and are still not, on the same page. It's interesting to me, for example, that more attention hasn't been paid to the fact that the Ryan health care bill was pretty much the opposite of what candidate Trump campaigned on. No wonder it failed.

In 2016 the Republican Party had no fewer than 17 candidates for president -- seventeen! -- with all but one running on Ronald Reagan's legacy of small government, entitlement reform, balanced budgets, free trade, immigration reform and an internationalist foreign policy. But the primary voters ended up choosing the one guy who ran on preserving Social Security and Medicare; a $1 trillion infrastructure stimulus plan; fair, as opposed to free, trade; deporting undocumented immigrants and constructing a border wall along the southern border (which the Mexican government would somehow pay for); and an America First foreign policy.

Now, while the Republican Party establishment remains united on Saint Reagan's unfinished agenda from the 1980s, the Trump "movement" is really only a movement of one. (Okay, it also includes Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions and Stephen Miller.) But no other "Trump candidates" were elected to Congress on his coattails. In fact, I can't think of any who actually ran.

So the Donald surprised everyone (including himself, I'm sure) by winning the general election in November. And since he lacked Washington experience and had no followers there anyway, Trump naturally turned to capitol insiders like Mike Pence and Reince Priebus (and Paul Ryan, I'm also sure) to form a cabinet. Like any new administration, with a few exceptions, they essentially appointed the party's "shadow" cabinet to fill all the jobs Trump didn't really care about: Tom Price at HHS, Elaine Chao at Transportation, Betsy DeVos at Education, Mick Mulvaney at OMB, Scott Pruitt at EPA, Andrew Puzder at Labor (since withdrawn), et cetera, et cetera.

But this is where the problem comes in. As demonstrated by the 2016 Republican primaries, the party's base is no longer where the establishment is. If they were, they would have nominated someone like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or any one of the other Reagan clones. Instead, they're no longer buying what the establishment is selling. So when Paul Ryan put forth his health care replacement plan it generated a 17 percent approval rating overall with only 41 percent among Republicans. What might have been warmly received in the 1980s, a time of inflation, problematic budget deficits, high marginal tax rates, burdensome regulations, etc., just isn't what's called for in 2017. Despite what establishment Republicans like Ryan might think, the average middle-class voter today wants security, not "freedom." So Trump ended up supporting a health care bill that would have reduced coverage and increased premiums and deductibles for the middle class while at the same time handing a giant tax cut to the rich after getting elected on an agenda promising to do just the opposite. Is it any surprise it went nowhere?

Now that health care is off the table (probably for good) tax reform is next on the docket. But, from what I've been reading, that won't be easy either. Apparently this border adjustment tax is going to be a big point of contention.

Then there's the budget, which I've read will also be divisive. So then the border wall, which I've always thought was delusional, and a Keynesian stimulus infrastructure spending -- with full employment and rising interest rates, no less! -- are looking more and more unrealistic.

What if Trump ends up empty-handed, not at all unlikely, at the end of 2017? He'll make Jimmy Carter's administration look like a well-oiled machine in comparison!

Again, here's the problem as I see it: you have a Republican Congress that wants to put policies in place that no one else wants and a president who ran on a populist agenda that has very little support within his own party. Unless Trump begins working with Democrats, also unlikely, I just don't see how this ends well for him.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Jimmy Breslin, newspaper columnist...

...and best-selling author, died last Sunday at age 88.

I hadn't mentioned Breslin's death before for two reasons. One, I didn't really know that much about him; and, two, I didn't notice anything in his obit that was worth writing a post around. Until now.

Breslin was the author of the 1969 novel, The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, which I've never read even though I remember it lying around our house when I was growing up. I've always liked that title, though, and have used it many times to describe an incompetent person or group of persons.

Despite my previous post, in which I (wrongly) predicted that Paul Ryan would push the Republican health care bill over the finish line by hook or by crook, I had been telling people lately that the Trump administration (and Paul Ryan and the House GOP by extension) were the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. Looks like I should have stuck to that.

I've also been telling anyone who will listen that Donald Trump's closest presidential analog is not Andrew Jackson but rather Jimmy Carter -- a true "outsider" who didn't understand or appreciate the ways of Washington and therefore couldn't get anything done.

(My apologies to President Carter: he's a thoroughly decent man -- and easily the greatest former president -- who in no other way resembles the current occupant of the White House.)

But it looks like even I gave Trump and Ryan too much credit yesterday. I just thought this bill, even though deeply, deeply flawed (by anyone's standards, not just mine), was just too important for them not to pass. As I wrote (and still think), these guys desperately need a "W." Now it looks like they really are the gang that couldn't shoot straight. (Whoever thought that a Republican White House and Congress would be the best thing that ever happened to the Affordable Care Act?)

I always thought that infrastructure and the border wall were long-shots at best (who's going to put up the money, this Republican Congress?), but I figured Trump and Ryan would at least cut taxes and regulations. (Isn't that kind of like falling off a log for Republicans?) But now, after this fiasco, I'm not so sure about even that. Barney Frank said on Bill Maher last week that Republicans are mostly leaving Dodd-Frank alone and, apparently, the border adjustment tax (whatever that is) may be a bit of a sticking point in tax reform.

I haven't been writing a whole lot about politics lately; I've just been trying to tune out the buffoon in the White House and the right-wing fanatics in Congress. But after yesterday I'm feeling a little less depressed. Maybe I was right all along: maybe this crowd really is the gang that couldn't shoot straight.

P. S. The really strange thing about this whole episode is how far Ryan's bill was from what Trump campaigned on. Didn't the Donald say he was going to "take care of everybody"? Didn't his voters assume he was going to expand coverage and improve on the ACA, not the opposite? If I didn't know any better, I'd think this guy didn't really care about health care policy at all and was just saying whatever was necessary to get elected.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Here's my last-minute call...

...on the Republican health care bill: Paul Ryan will push it over the goal line either tonight or by tomorrow if necessary.

And here's my reasoning: both Ryan and President Trump are positively desperate to put up a "W" on the scoreboard. (Why else would they be pushing so hard for this piece of crap?) If they can't do this, it could very well be their Waterloo. (Where have I heard that before?)

Last I checked, the AHCA was polling at about 17 percent approval with only 41 percent among Republicans. No one -- left, right or center -- seems to like this thing. I seriously wonder, if the circumstances were different, if even Paul Ryan would vote for it. (And don't even get me started as to how far this bill is from what Trump talked about during the campaign. Sheesh.)

But, as I said, both the leaders of Congress and the White House will do whatever it takes to get this bill passed. Since its prospects in the Senate were never very good to begin with, Ryan will probably massage it in whatever way he needs to get it passed. Then he can say that he and his chamber did everything they could to "repeal and replace" Obamacare and if it doesn't pass in the Senate then it's not his fault. Also, I'm sure he's just dying to get it off his to-do list and send it over to the Senate so they can deal with the Donald.

As for the Senate, Jonathan Chait had a good piece yesterday in which he argued (my emphasis):

But McConnell isn’t a hopeless optimist. He’s the smartest political tactician of the modern era. The default assumption on any McConnell plan should be that it rationally pursues a coherent goal. In this case, McConnell has almost certainly sized up his caucus and grasped that Trumpcare stands no chance of resuscitation. A long bleed-out on health care will make Trump and his party even less popular, and chew up precious months during which the Republicans could instead be making use of their full control of government. The plan being pursued by McConnell is that of a man who wants to cut his losses fast.

Chuck Barris, who wrote...

...the 1962 hit "Palisades Park" and created The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game and The Gong Show, died at age 87.

Oh, and he may or may not have also been an assassin for the C.I.A.

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to Kansas Lavarnia. Add him to all those who are named after states: Minnesota Fats, Tennessee Williams and Virginia Woolf.

I had been waiting...

...for the clocks to change to take the guys over to see the Hubbard Street Mural Project on, yes, Hubbard Street, between Des Plaines and Ogden Avenue. Originally begun in the 1970s, the Project consists of a series of murals painted on the concrete railroad track embankment.

I first discovered the murals on a serendipitous weekend stroll shortly after moving back to the city in 2014. You don't hear much about them but they're really cool; I've been dying to show them to someone ever since.

So the five of us -- Alan, Jack, John, Michael and I -- set off from 1212 W. Flournoy at five o'clock sharp, as always, and zigzagged our way through the West Loop to Cemitas Puebla in the Fulton Market District. I figured since we would be looking at murals a Mexican-themed restaurant would be appropriate.

Cemitas Puebla, like so much else in that area, appears to be brand-spanking new, but turns out it's actually been open since 2014. As we were walking up to the door my son recalled that he and I had been to the original location, now closed, on North Avenue in Humboldt Park years ago after seeing it on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. As my wife would say, typical Tracy: total food recall.

A cemitas, in case you don't know (and why would you?), is a sandwich popular in Puebla, Mexico, served on a sesame seed roll with avocado, chipotle adobo and your choice of meat. (I ordered mine with breaded pork loin -- outstanding!)

After dinner we continued on up Halsted to Hubbard Street, turned left (west) and walked into the sunset toward Ogden Avenue. The paintings are on the south side of Hubbard, or the north side of the train embankment, so the light, which never shines on them directly anyway, was less than optimal in the last hour before sunset. The good news, though, was that the bare trees at this time of year afforded a more or less unobscured view of the paintings.

Hubbard Street, incidentally, was named for Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard, an early Chicago settler. (And, yes, I have that first name spelled correctly.)

Born in Vermont in 1802, Hubbard came to Chicago in 1818 as a voyageur. He eventually became the city's first insurance underwriter and was almost bankrupted by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Hubbard recovered from his losses, however, and died in 1886. He's buried in Graceland Cemetery, just north of Wrigley Field, with a number of other Chicago luminaries such as John Kinzie, Alexander McClurg and Charles Wacker. (I wonder what it takes to get a street named after you in this town.)

As you walk west on Hubbard you first encounter some of the original murals that were the brainchild of Ricardo Alonzo, a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago. Beginning in 1971, Alonzo and volunteers from the West Town Community Art Center painted a number of murals on a one-mile stretch of embankment until their funding ran out in 1979. Faded by time and the weather, you can still make out the original themes: wildlife, endangered species, ethnicity and Chicago history.

Crossing Racine, we noticed the murals were newer and brighter than the first set. In 2000, the Union Pacific Railroad began some rehab and repair work on this segment of the embankment, destroying much of the original art work in the process.

Conscious of the importance of the murals, what later became known as the Hubbard Street Mural Project was established to restore some of the panels and bring new artwork to the refurbished embankment. Again, wildlife images dominate, but there are some new Chicago-related themes, such as the blues, Pullman porters and the Imagists art movement.

At Ogden we turned left again and headed back for home. I looked over my shoulder and took one last picture of the murals. The Hubbard Street Mural Project is one of those hidden Chicago gems that's really worth a visit.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Speaking of books I read...

...a long time ago, a review in the Times today reminded me of In Defense of Elitism, by William A. Henry III.

The book reviewed today was The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters, by Tom Nichols. According to the author:

Americans have reached a point where ignorance, especially of anything related to public policy, is an actual virtue.

Or as I would put it, there's a reason you don't want me piloting your plane, performing open heart surgery on your father or even working on your car. I don't have the expertise.

Two items in the news...

...this week reminded me of a book I read several years ago, The Magnificent Ambersons, by Booth Tarkington.

I don't know what prompted me to read it in the first place, but the 1918 novel made a big impression on me that has remained to this day. I'm a little surprised I never read it again or saw the movie. Oh, well.

From Wikipedia, the story traces:

...the growth of the United States through the declining fortunes of three generations of the aristocratic Amberson family in an upper-scale Indianapolis neighborhood, between the end of the Civil War and the early part of the 20th century, a period of rapid industrialization and socio-economic change in America. The decline of the Ambersons is contrasted with the rising fortunes of industrial tycoons and other new-money families, who derived power not from family names but by "doing things."

I highly recommend The Magnificent Ambersons. It's very readable; not at all a "slog" like you might expect from a classic.

The first news item that reminded me of the novel was, of course, the death this week of David Rockefeller (second from the left in the picture above). From his obit in the Times (my emphasis):

He was the last surviving grandson of John D. Rockefeller, the tycoon who founded the Standard Oil Company in the 19th century and built a fortune that made him America’s first billionaire and his family one of the richest and most powerful in the nation’s history.

As an heir to that legacy, David Rockefeller lived all his life in baronial splendor and privilege, whether in Manhattan (when he was a boy, he and his brothers would roller skate along Fifth Avenue trailed by a limousine in case they grew tired) or at his magnificent country estates.

David grew up in a mansion at 10 West 54th Street, the largest private residence in the city at the time. It bustled with valets, parlor maids, nurses and chambermaids. For dinner every night, his father dressed in black tie and his mother in a formal gown.

Summers were spent at the 107-room Rockefeller “cottage” in Seal Harbor, Me., and weekends at Kykuit, the family’s country compound north of New York City in Tarrytown, N.Y. The estate was likened to a feudal fief. As Mr. Rockefeller wrote in his autobiography, “Memoirs” (2002), “Eventually the family accumulated about 3,400 acres that surrounded and included almost all of the little village of Pocantico Hills, where most of the residents worked for the family and lived in houses owned by Grandfather.”

It's true: when I was growing up in the 1960s and '70s the name "Rockefeller" was synonymous with almost unimaginable wealth. If I ever asked my parents for money, for example, they might reply with something like, "What do I look like, a Rockefeller?" (That translated roughly into, "No, you can't have any money.")

The obit goes on to mention that Mr. Rockefeller's net worth was estimated in 2012 to be $2.7 billion.

That's not chump change, by anyone's definition, but it pales in comparison with that of Bill Gates ($86 billion), Warren Buffett ($75.6 billion) or even Jeff Bezos ($72.8 billion). That's the second news item I was referring to, and it's from a piece in CNN.

So in 2017 the Rockefellers somewhat resemble the Ambersons from Booth Tarkington's famous novel. Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

P. S. In that same article Forbes estimated Donald Trump's net worth at $3.5 billion. Again, nothing to sneeze at, but from what I've read, if the Donald had merely invested his inheritance in the stock market and played golf every day instead of playing in real estate and casinos, he'd be way wealthier than he is today. ($13 billion, I seem to recall.) Never mind his tax returns or The Art of the Deal, I can tell just from that that he's not a particularly good businessman. If you can't beat an index fund, what's the point?

Mitt Romney was right about one thing: Donald Trump is a fraud.

The House Freedom Caucus health care plan:

“I’ll go shop around for a doctor.”"I'll go shop around for a doctor."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Racism is still one...

...of the biggest problems in America today. And I'm convinced that one of the two major political parties, the GOP, is essentially a racist party. (Don't believe me? Mention that to a Republican and see how defensive he or she gets.)

But I think I have the solution.

First a little history lesson. For tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of years, gays and lesbians were persecuted in almost every civilization on earth. As a result, they stayed safely in the "closet" (or the priesthood) where no one would bother them.

Then a funny thing happened around twenty or thirty years ago: gays and lesbians decided they had had enough and began to "come out" to their friends and relatives. And you know what? It turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to them -- and to the rest of us. Because most everyone in the straight community who had been previously homophobic now learned that there was really nothing to be afraid of. In fact, outside of the fact that they're homosexuals, gays and lesbians are really just like the rest of us. They, too, like baseball, the flag and apple pie. Some of them even want to get married! (I'm still waiting for the inevitable wave of "gay divorces.")

Even some Republicans found out their kids were gay and suddenly stopped opposing same-sex marriage. Go figure.

In the Times this morning there's a piece, "How a Sleepy German Suburb Explains Europe’s Rising Far-Right Movements," that has a term for this phenomenon: intergroup contact theory. According to researchers, "when people have direct contact with members of a particular ethnic or national group, they tend to become more tolerant of the group as a whole." You don't say!

And that to me is the solution to the problem of racism in America: blacks and whites simply need to interact more with each other. It would help, of course, if they began by living around each other. I'm convinced that if more neighborhoods were truly integrated much of the fear whites have for blacks would simply melt away. (And racism, like homophobia, is all about fear. You don't really think "gun rights" are about hunting, do you?) Whites would find out that, like gays and lesbians, they have more in common with black people than they realize. If your experience of African Americans is limited to watching the local news or Fox, for example, you probably think all black people are either gangbangers or "on welfare." (I know that's how many, if not most, of my relatives think.)

Bringing blacks and whites together, though, is difficult. And integrating neighborhoods would be practically impossible. While I know a number of guys with gay sons I don't seem to know any white guys with black sons. This may take a while.

Monday, March 20, 2017

I had intended on walking...

...the third leg of our Western Avenue project yesterday but my son wasn't up to it. So, instead, I went down to the Mount Greenwood neighborhood on the Far Southwestern Side of the city. (If you go any farther, say, west of Pulaski, you literally fall off the face of the earth are in suburban Oak Lawn.)

My main motivation for going to Mount Greenwood was simple: it's one of the very few of Chicago's 77 community areas I had never been. But, also, it's been the site of racial tension lately (you can read about it here and here) and I wanted to get a look at the neighborhood for myself.

From Chicago Tonight last November:

A diverse mix of protesters, including Black Lives Matter activists, local religious leaders and a revolutionary communist group, gathered at the intersection of 111th Street and Kedzie Avenue in Mount Greenwood on Sunday.

The demonstration took place near the site of the Nov. 5 fatal shooting of Joshua Beal, a 25-year-old African-American man from Indianapolis, at the hands of off-duty police officers. Law enforcement officials say Beal pointed a gun before he was fatally shot.

Several protests have taken place in Mount Greenwood since the shooting. Some residents of the predominantly white South Side neighborhood have gathered to oppose the protests and express support for the Chicago Police Department.

(Now, before I go any further I should state that I'm not interested in judging either side. While I've said many times in this blog that "I'm not color-blind but I'd like to be," I'm also well aware that I grew up in a succession of affluent, lily-white suburbs and can't honestly put myself into the shoes of either the white residents of Mount Greenwood or the protesters. So I'm strictly an observer here.)

According to Wikipedia, Mount Greenwood's population in 2010 was a little over 19,000, of which almost 86 percent was white. As it mentions at least three times, the neighborhood is home to many people of Irish ancestry (all emphasis mine):

It is a predominantly Irish-Catholic neighborhood on the South Side of the city. 

Mount Greenwood is home to many Chicago firefighters, police officers and union workers of Irish heritage.

Mount Greenwood, like many other Chicago neighborhoods, has its own branch of the Chicago Public Library. The library has a significant Irish heritage collection.

Okay, we get it.

Since 111th Street seemed to be the main drag, I parked my car on Whipple and 110th and walked west. The street is lined with Irish bars like the one above, but St. Christina Catholic Church also figures prominently.

I had heard of St. Christina's before: it's a big feeder school for Catholic high schools like Mount Carmel, Brother Rice, St. Rita, Marist and Mother McAuley. According to its website:

Geographically speaking, St. Christina church is located at 111th and Homan, but since its inception its spiritual foundation has been solidly cemented deep in the hearts of its loyal parishioners.

The beginning of the journey of St. Christina Parish began in the year 1921 when the Rev. Peter Geraghty saw the need for a Catholic church in the expanding Mt. Greenwood community and proceeded to purchase two and a half acres of land in the area around 111th and Homan.

With the population of Mt. Greenwood growing in leaps and bounds it was obvious that the Christian community of St. Christina needed a school. On July 25, 1938, Father Rebedeau signed a fifteen year lease on the old Central Park school located on Central Park avenue. When the sisters of the Dominic were commissioned to teach the Catholic students, the former Mt. Greenwood school became St. Christina parochial school. On August 27,1938, Mother Geslaus arrived with her fellow Dominican sisters. When the new school welcomed the children of the parish on September 6, 1938 there were 173 pupils ready and eager to learn.

Rev. Rebedeau lived to see the building of the beautiful and stunning church that we utilize today. It comfortably accommodates 1,500 parishioners. This new church was dedicated by Cardinal Stritch on May 27, 1956.

So why does the cornerstone say 1954? No matter.

I'm not sure how to describe the church architecturally, except to say that if it's an example of Mid-Century modernism, it's a pretty good one. Mostly red brick with limestone (?) trim, its three brass (?) front doors are set in one type of marble and framed by another. But its steeple, which is made of some sort of shiny metal (stainless steel?), positively glistened yesterday in the midday sun. For a church designed in the 1950s, this was one I actually liked.

But the key phrase from its website was, "its spiritual foundation has been solidly cemented deep in the hearts of its loyal parishioners." You can just tell that the parish is at the figurative, as well as the literal, center of Mount Greenwood. I ducked inside to get a look (it was too dark for pictures) and saw a display in the vestibule that described a $4.9 million investment that DNAinfo Chicago reports as "the addition of four new classrooms, a new wooden floor in the gym and a new entrance to the Catholic elementary school."

And I have to admit I was struck by this. It seems like the Archdiocese of Chicago -- like others around the country -- is closing more and more parishes every year as the culture at large becomes increasingly secular. And in the face of all this the working-class community of Mount Greenwood is committing almost five million of its hard-earned dollars to improvements to its parish? Even a cynical agnostic like me had to be impressed. Obviously, the parish is central to its members' lives.

While there were still a lot of Irish flags and decorations up only two days after St. Patrick's Day, there were also a lot of American flags out. On this particular half-block stretch of 110th Street, for example, I counted six of them. And it's nowhere close to the Fourth of July!

The streets were clean as a whistle yesterday (a refreshing change from all the litter in my own neighborhood) and it was quiet. There were very few people out on such a beautiful day (my guess is they were all inside watching the Blackhawks game on TV) and so I felt like I had the neighborhood all to myself. I'll bet Mount Greenwood is filled with regular folks just trying to get by as best they can while raising their families with a minimum of Sturm und Drang.

Needless to say, though, this is Trump country:

In the 2016 presidential election, Mount Greenwood was the only community area won by Donald Trump. The area cast 5,445 votes for Trump and cast 3,320 votes for Hillary Clinton. Mount Greenwood had also gone for the Republican candidate in 2012 with 4,908 votes cast for Mitt Romney and 3,983 votes cast for Barack Obama.

That's 62 and 55 percent, respectively. I'm almost surprised either one was that close!

But why back Trump in such numbers? He's already lent his support to a Republican health care plan and a draconian budget both of which will harm his own voters in particular. Have they been conned? And, what's more, will they ever get wise to the con? Or will the Donald just distract them with something else four years from now?

Seriously, why did the residents of Mount Greenwood vote so overwhelmingly for Donald Trump? Did they hope to make America great again? Mount Greenwood doesn't look so bad right now; my guess is the unemployment rate there is low and the incidence of opioid addiction is even lower.

Was it abortion and Supreme Court justices? Maybe. But then why did some of the counter-demonstrators carry Trump signs? What does abortion have to do with that young man's death? And why would they assume that the demonstrators hadn't voted for Trump? Surely they want to make America great again too, right?

So what is the reason? Is it all just "tribalism"? I hope not.

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to Gentry Beach, a friend of Donald Trump Jr.'s.

What, did you think it was a resort in Florida or something?

As others have noted...

...before me, let's not forget that Chuck Berry learned his craft from a white time-traveler from 1985.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Today is St. Patrick's Day...

...and a bittersweet one for me: it will be the first without my mother. I'll still make corned beef and cabbage, of course, but without the comfort in knowing that I could call her at any time for last-minute advice. Often in a panic, I would ask her, "Is this the corned beef and cabbage hotline?" Today I'm on my own, but I think my mom prepared me well: "Just boil the **** out of it!" (Actually, she almost never swore.)

But the subject of this post is actually an apology of sorts to my readers. On Wednesday I wrote about the Dutch election and -- in a moment of weakness -- wondered if Muslim immigrants did, in fact, want to impose Sharia law on everyone else.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea máxima culpa.

How could I forget, just a few days before St. Patrick's Day, that holiest of holy days, that Irish Catholics were accused of something similar in my own lifetime?

Remember John F. Kennedy, the only Irish Catholic president? According to Wikipedia (my emphasis):

Kennedy needed Johnson's strength in the South to win what was considered likely to be the closest election since 1916. Major issues included how to get the economy moving again, Kennedy's Roman Catholicism, Cuba, and whether the Soviet space and missile programs had surpassed those of the U.S. To address fears that his being Catholic would impact his decision-making, he famously told the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960: "I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party candidate for president who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters – and the Church does not speak for me." Kennedy questioned rhetorically whether one-quarter of Americans were relegated to second-class citizenship just because they were Catholic, and once stated that: "No one asked me my religion [serving the Navy] in the South Pacific."

And before Kennedy there was Al Smith (above):

The fact that Smith was Catholic and the descendant of Catholic immigrants was instrumental in his loss of the election of 1928. Historical hostilities between Protestants and Catholics had been carried by national groups to the United States by immigrants, and centuries of Protestant domination allowed myths and superstitions about Catholicism to flourish. Long established Protestants had viewed the waves of Catholic immigrants from Ireland, Italy and eastern Europe since the mid-19th century with suspicion. In addition, many Protestants carried old fears related to extravagant claims of one religion against the other dating from the European national wars of religion. They feared that Smith would answer to the Pope and not the US Constitution. 

Can you imagine anyone saying something like that about John Kerry, say, or Joe Biden? It's laughable. But that's almost the same thing as saying that Muslim Americans secretly want to impose Shariah Law on the rest of us.

You watch: in about ten or twenty years (or sooner) a Democrat named Ryan Khan or Conor Mohammed will run for president and some right-wing crank on AM radio will accuse him of having more loyalty to the Koran than the Constitution. And the rest of us will just roll our eyes because the candidate will probably be more interested in health care or tax reform or "getting tough" with the Chinese or the Russians or whomever is the current bogeyman.

So I apologize to all the Muslim readers of this blog (if there are any). Have a happy St. Patrick's Day everyone!

I somehow missed...

...the obituary of Dr. Henry S. Lodge, who died a week ago at the tender age of 58. I had never heard of Dr. Lodge, but his obit was noteworthy for two reasons.

One, isn't it just a little ironic that the author of an advice book titled, Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You’re 80 and Beyond wouldn't even make it to age 60? According to his obit, the book was:

...a breezy guide to better living that rested on seven rules that blend physical and spiritual disciplines. Readers were told to work out daily and stop eating junk food, but also to “connect and commit.”

But Dr. Lodge didn't stop there. He and his coauthor also wrote Younger Next Year for Women: Live Like You’re 50 — Strong, Fit, Sexy — Until You’re 80 and Beyond (2005), Younger Next Year Journal (2006) and Younger Next Year: The Exercise Program (2015).

Again, from his obit:

“Most aging is just the dry rot we program into our cells by sedentary living, junk food and stress,” Dr. Lodge wrote in Parade magazine in 2006. “Yes, we do have to get old, and ultimately we do have to die. But our bodies are designed to age slowly and remarkably well. Most of what we see and fear is decay, and decay is only one choice. Growth is the other.”

What he didn't talk about, apparently, were my own two rules for a long life:

1) Choose your parents carefully, and

2) Avoid [fill in the blank].

I usually fill in the blank by saying something like, "getting hit by a bus," but in Dr. Lodge's case it would have been "getting prostate cancer," which was his cause of death.

I know that sounds a little smart-alecky, but I really believe genes and dumb luck have more to do with longevity than anything else. Sure, it's good to exercise and take it easy on the junk food, but it's even more important to avoid cancer. And how, exactly, is one supposed to do that?

The second reason Dr. Lodge's obit was noteworthy is that he was by birth a bona fide Boston Brahmin, which in an earlier time was enough by itself to get an obit in the Times (my emphasis):

Henry Sears Lodge Jr., known as Harry, was born on Oct. 20, 1958, in Boston and grew up in Beverly, Mass. His father, who died two days before him, was chairman of the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority and the first president of the Metropolitan Center theater for the performing arts in Boston. His grandfather was Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., the Massachusetts senator and ambassador to the United Nations. His mother, the former Elenita Ziegler, was a freelance writer and editor active in civic affairs.

He attended Groton and took pre-med courses at the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1981, he earned his medical degree from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1985.

Don't know what a Boston Brahmin is? From Wikipedia:

The Boston Brahmin are members of Boston's traditional upper class. They form an integral part of the historic core of the East Coast establishment... They are often associated with the distinctive Boston Brahmin accent, Harvard University, and traditional Anglo-American customs and clothing. Descendants of the earliest English colonists, such as those who came to America on the Mayflower... are often considered to be the most representative of the Boston Brahmins.

The term was coined by the physician and writer Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in an 1860 article in the Atlantic Monthly. The term Brahmin refers to the highest ranking caste of people in the traditional caste system in India. In the United States, it has been applied to the old, wealthy New England families of British Protestant origin which were influential in the development of American institutions and culture.

The term effectively underscores the strong conviction of the New England gentry that they were a people set apart by destiny to guide the American experiment as their ancestors had played a leading role in founding it. The term also illustrates the erudite and exclusive nature of the New England gentry as perceived by outsiders...

Holmes, by the way, was a member in good standing of the Boston Brahmins.

The Brahmins, like any group of people who thought they were better than anyone else, usually married other Brahmins. And, just so everyone would be well aware of their superior lineage, they would often give their offspring more than one recognizable Brahmin name, such as Henry Cabot Lodge, Francis Cabot Lowell or, in this case, Henry Sears Lodge.

The best story about this practice was probably when a Brahmin named Endicott Peabody Saltonstall was appointed district attorney of Middlesex County in Massachusetts. When the Irish Catholic mayor of Boston, James Michael Curley, heard the news, he was said to have responded, "Good God, all three of them?"

But I think this famous toast says it all:

And this is good old Boston,
The home of the bean and the cod,
Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots,
And the Cabots talk only to God.

Before I leave this subject I should mention that I actually went to college with a guy named George Cabot Lodge, who was probably related to Dr. Lodge. And while I didn't know him personally, he always struck me as a nice, normal guy who didn't take any of this Boston Brahmin stuff too seriously.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Hard to believe...

...with all the snow and subfreezing temperatures we've had lately, but the World Champion Chicago Cubs (Gosh, it feels good to write that!) will be opening up their 2017 season in just a few short weeks. With that in mind, I took a group of five intrepid Hikers -- John, Nicco, Jack, Ryan and Michael -- over to the site of West Side Park, where the Cubs played before moving to their current location in 1916.

We departed 1212 W. Flournoy at five o'clock sharp, as usual, and made our way west on Polk Street with Tri-Taylor as our final destination. (I know, I know: as George Carlin once pointed out, all destinations are final.) I thought it was fitting, in keeping with our baseball theme, that we passed what was once the home of the Wrigley family that had been physically moved from Ashland Avenue to Polk. (I wouldn't believe this if I hadn't heard it straight from the owner, who strikes me as a straight-shooter.)

After crossing Ashland I just couldn't resist looking back over my shoulder and taking this shot of St. Basil Greek Orthodox Church on the northeast corner of Polk and Ashland. The Greek Revival structure was originally a synagogue, Temple Anshe Sholom, completed in 1910 by Alexander Levy. When the congregation moved west to Lawndale in 1927, a dome and crucifixes were added transforming it into a Greek Orthodox Church. Despite changes in the surrounding neighborhood over the years and at least two fires (I'm pretty sure that's the second-generation dome), the church appears to be thriving today.

We continued west on Polk, entering the Illinois Medical District, and passed a seemingly random Japanese garden in front of an outpatient facility. We had no time for any "contemplation" or "meditation," however; the guys were hungry. So we soldiered on.

At South Wood Street we turned left and reached this commemorative sign, marking the location of West Side Park, which opened in 1893.

The park, originally holding only about 12,500 fans, was the scene of back-to-back titles for the National League club in 1907 and 1908. Little did anyone know that it would be another 108 years before the Cubs would win another championship!

By the early 1910s the wooden ballpark was showing its age, in large part due to neglect by Charles Murphy, the unpopular owner. The dilapidated park found itself competing unsuccessfully with new steel-and-concrete venues such as Comiskey Park on the South Side and Weeghman Park on the North Side. In 1916, Charles Weeghman, the owner of the Chicago Whales of the now-defunct Federal League, bought a substantial interest in the Cubs and moved them to what later became known as Wrigley Field.

Murphy, for his part, tore down West Side Park in 1920 and sold the property to the University of Illinois.

On a personal note, both of my grandfathers, who were originally from the West Side, were Cub fans. My maternal grandfather, as far as I know, never wavered in his loyalty to the National Leaguers while my father's father abandoned the North Siders for the White Sox after owner William Wrigley Jr. fired Joe McCarthy -- a perfectly good Irish Catholic manager -- in 1930. Convinced Wrigley was a "Kluxer" (and not without some justification, actually), my grandfather shifted his allegiance to the South Side ball club of his fellow countryman, Charles Commiskey.

We finally entered Tri-Taylor when we crossed over Ogden Avenue just beyond Damen. The roughly triangular-shaped neighborhood sits within the community area of the Near West Side, and is bordered by Congress Parkway to the North, Ogden to the East, Roosevelt Road on the south and railroad tracks on the west.

Ferrara Bakery, at 2210 W Taylor, was founded in 1908 and is a fixture of this Italian neighborhood. Along with his two brothers-in-law, Salvatore Ferrara also founded the Ferrara Pan Candy Company, which manufactures such favorites as Lemonheads and Atomic Fireballs. Yum!

It was dinnertime now, and the guys had to decide between Bacci Pizzeria, across the street, or Baba Pita, a Middle Eastern restaurant just a few doors down. I thought since it was the Ides of March (and the day after Pi Day) a place serving pizza pie and other Roman, er, Italian food, would be more appropriate. But since our little group is a republic, not an empire, Baba Pita won with a majority of the vote after only a little horsetrading.

Two of the guys peeled off from the group after dinner and took the No. 7 Harrison bus back to 1212 while the other four of us walked home with our backs to the setting sun. We passed a small farm by the name of "Growing Solutions" that seemed to be in hibernation until the spring.

It was quite a view walking back down Polk toward the Loop just before seven o'clock, and the guys and I all agreed that Daylight Saving Time wasn't such a bad idea after all.