Administrations, leaders, and civilizations come and go, and through it all, warfare seems to be the one unavoidable constant that afflicts our world. For all our technological advancements, we as a species still just can’t seem to all get along.
This week, with the horrific chemical weapon attacks by Bashar al-Assad in Syria and the nuclear missle tests by Noth Korean madman Kim Jong-Un, we’re reminded yet again how fragile global stability is.
May cooler heads prevail and a saner world lie ahead. Peace.
Fall has definitely arrived to the Chicago area, and with it the end to the summer’s familiar ambient buzzing sound coming from the native cicada. This year’s brood was the annual cicada, which according to Wkipedia, are also known as the dogday cicada or harvestfly, though I’ve never heard them called either. I’ve taken some artistic license and depicted the orange eyed and wing tipped 17 year cicada (aka. the periodical cicada) who, according to the “Chicago Botanic Garden website”, aren’t expected to emerge until 2024.
As for the walnuts; our next door neighbor’s grand & glorious walnut tree has branches which extend over our fence, towering far above our driveway. Throughout the later summer months, the sound of squirrels cracking open the hard shells can be head clearly and constantly across the back yard. The falling nuts striking the metal garbage can lids from 20-30 feet act as a warning gong for anyone passing beneath. They’re fairly substantial and a direct hit on the head could lead to hospitalization or, at the least, a nasty bump.
Like cicadas emergences, walnut tree production can vary greatly from year to year, and may be on an “alternate bearing” schedule, producing nuts one year and reserving their resources the next. As it happens, this was a very bountiful year for our neighbor’s walnut tree, with a sea of green, nearly lime-sized walnuts dotting the rear part of our driveway. Later, those that remain after the squirrels have had their fill take on the familiar wrinkled, brown look of dried walnut shells. As a bonus, I’ve discovered that disabling the electric eye on the garage door results in a powerful nutcracker.
Note: This post was started before this past weekend’s disastrous flooding. So far the count stands at 17 dead and 10 missing. I considered holding off on putting it out there, but ultimately decided while we all sympathize with those affected by the deluge, we can still recognize the peculiar character of the state that will still be there long after the water recedes.
The state of Texas has long has a long reputation for marching to its own paranoid beat. So it makes sense that many of the fringiest and most persistent conspiracy theories trace their roots to the Lone Star State. How fitting is it that the granddaddy of all conspiracy theories originated on a Dallas street more than 50 years ago? The brief 8mm footage of the John F. Kennedy assassination taken by Abraham Zapruder has been dissected and analyzed more than any other film in history, healing and the general consensus of the official forensic experts is that Lee Harvey Oswald was the single assassin acting alone. But thanks in large part to Mark Lane’s 1966 book “Rush to Judgment” and Oliver Stone’s “JFK”, terms like “pristine bullet” and “grassy knoll” have become part of everyone’s vocabulary, and a large majority of Americans today believe that there was in fact a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy. Though who exactly was involved is up for debate.
More recently, radio talk show host, blogger, and Texas native Alex Jones has yet to find a conspiracy too outlandish or offensive to broadcast. Some of his greatest hits include theories that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings were faked and the U.S. government was directly tied to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. In a crazy hall-of-mirrors style twist, he himself is the subject of a conspiracy theory now making the rounds which posits that Alex Jones is none other than the alter ego of deceased comedian Bill Hicks (himself a firm believer in the JFK conspiracy theory). It’s pretty amusing to watch the video of Alex Jones accusing the “Alex Jones is Bill Hicks” crowd of being conspiracy theory loons.
Since President Obama has been in office, general distrust of the U.S. government has played a huge role in a number of conspiracy theories, especially when it comes to immigration policy. Starting with the general presumption that minorities tend to vote democratic, it wasn’t long before right-wing GOP politicians in Texas, including Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Louie Gohmert, promoted the idea that Democrats were busing young illegal immigrants across the border en masse who would eventually be allowed to vote, thus keeping them in power.
The latest conspiracy theory making the rounds in Texas and throughout the southwest involves the military operation code-named Jade Helm 15 (http://www.businessinsider.com/jade-helm-conspiracy-theory-2015-5). It’s a real Special Ops training exercise set to take place this summer. What really makes this theory stand out is the surprising degree of legitimacy it’s being given by people of influence. Walker:Texas Ranger himself, Chuck Norris was recently reported to have said that he has serious questions about Obama’s “scheming”. In addition, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has directed the state guard to monitor the operation. Whether he actually believes that the Jade Helm operation is an effort by the U.S. government to impose martial law or is simply pandering to right wing extremists, it’s a pretty defensive reaction to a standard military exercise.
A while ago, I was given an assignment to create an illustration for a national conference addressing economic inequality in the U.S. I saw it as a great opportunity, since it’s a vitally important topic and one which I have very strongly feelings about. I was given the main thesis along with some thoughtful initial direction, and and I presented several rough concepts for consideration.
After a number of back and forth iterations, the one that was ultimately decided upon was a simple allegorical image depicting ladders and star-bearing trees as a metaphor for inequality. The thinking was to present the subject as being more about inequality of opportunity and not so much about class conflict. Due to exclusive copyright issues, I’m unable to show the final image, but one of my initial rough sketches, which I used as inspiration for this image, was seen as putting too much emphasis on the “99% vs. the 1%” for this particular assignment.
Now, given the recent headlines about California’s mega-drought, it’s taken on a more literal meaning. Gov. Jerry Brown’s conservation and rationing measures are already being criticized for giving unfair breaks to big business and the oil industry in particular, whose fracking technology uses tremendous amounts of water for an already controversial process. Solutions for now involve conservation and shared sacrifice, and praying for rain. In the long term, growing and engineering crops that require less water, and improved desalination and groundwater drilling techniques may help. Given the fact that nearly half of the nation’s produce is grown in California, it’s a problem that will eventually affect nearly everyone in the U.S., most of all those who can least afford it.
Lately I’ve been exploring the idea of authoring and illustrating a children’s book. So far, I have the main characters, Pangolin and Armadillo, and I’m working on building a story around them. That’s the easy part, right?
I only recently learned what a pangolin is. For others unfamiliar with the critters, they’re small to medium sized mammals native to the tropics of Africa and Asia and are noted for their scale-covered bodies and anteater-like tongues. Unfortunately, they’re also quite tasty (according to the locals) and are in danger of being hunted to extinction.
Meanwhile, separated by a vast ocean, the armadillo makes it’s home anywhere from South America to the south-central United States. Though they share some similar characteristics, most notably the body armor and the ability to curl up into a hard-shelled ball, they’re actually fairly distant relatives.
First character sketch
My story will detail the gripping adventures and unusual circumstances leading up to the chance meeting between the exotic Pangolin and a travel-wary Armadillo. Romance and hijinx ensue. Look for it at your neighborhood (or online virtual) bookstore once I get around to writing/illustrating it and find someone to publish it. Then of course there’s the film rights and the plush toy royalties to haggle out. So much to do!
“While I relish our warm months, winter forms our character and brings out our best.” ~former U.S. House Rep.Tom Allen, Maine
“Winter is not a season,it’s an occupation.” ~Sinclair Lewis
With all due respect to former Rep. Allen (quoted above), while I agree that winter DOES form our character, whether it brings out our best is debatable, if driving etiquette is any indicator.
With all of February still ahead of us, The Chicago Tribune is already editorializing on this season being possibly ‘The Worst Winter Ever’™. Not even halfway into into this winter of 2014 and it’s already shaping up to be one of the coldest on record in a city known for its fierce winters. At Lincoln Park Zoo, even the polar bears huddled inside to avoid the sub-zero temperatures of the past few weeks.
The polar vortex has brought us a 1-2 punch of near record snow, arctic temperatures, and fodder for climate change deniers’ bogus arguments. Funny how an obscure meteorological term around since at least 1950 can so quickly become part of our daily conversation.
Through all of this, Chicagoans have a tough reputation as winter spartans to uphold. So even though our home team may be absent from this year’s Superbowl, let’s fire up those grills for a weekend barbecue and show that Chicagoans won’t let winter get us down. Just be sure to keep that shovel handy for the 6-8 more inches of predicted snowfall. (UGH!)
As the year winds down, it’s traditionally a time to take stock of where we’re at on a personal level and beyond.
I and my family have been fortunate in many ways this year and generally enjoy good health and food on the table. But for believers and non-believers alike, the phrase “there but for the grace of God” reminds us that, despite our best intentions and sound decisions, misfortune can hit anytime and anywhere like a figurative (or literal) hurricane.
Trish, Kristi, and Paula
Recently, I contacted the Community Program Manager at the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry, Kristi Braun, who kindly give me some insight into the workings of our local food pantry (Oak Park and River Forest are villages just west of Chicago) and told me how they’re dealing with this year’s particular challenges. Here’s what she had to say:
____________ Q: Has the latest round of food stamp cuts affected the food pantry’s projected need for resources?
We are seeing an upsurge in client visits. Too early to tell if that is a result of the SNAP (food stamp benefit) cuts , but the timing is right. I think we will see more people coming. Where else are they going to get the food they need?
Q: How can local residents get involved and what is the best way to donate (volunteering, cash, specific food items)?
There are a number of ways that local residents can get involved. People immediately think of donating food as the #1 way to help out. Our focus is to provide protein-rich, nutrient-dense food to our clients. Protein food donations go a long way. Food costs have gone up considerably, especially protein foods (meat, peanut butter, tuna, etc). Of the 60,000 lbs. of food that are distributed each month, only 40% of it comes from food donations. We have to purchase approximately 60%. A $1 donation enables us to purchase $10 worth of food. We purchase our food from the Greater Chicago Food Depository (1 of 8 IL food banks). So monetary donations go a long way. And volunteering is always a great way to get involved at the food pantry. We have been averaging 1,600 volunteer hours each month. Needless to say, volunteers are the backbone of our organization.
Q: How widespread is the hunger problem in our area?
Food insecurity in Oak Park is 10.5%. In Austin it’s 34.2%. The other communities we serve range from a River Forest low of 5.1% to Humboldt Park at 22.1%. One of 4 families with children region-wide are food insecure. One in three working poor and single mother-headed households are food insecure.
Q: How does the pantry get its funding? (private donations, federal/state funding, community organizations?)
All of the above. By far our biggest source of funding is individual donations. The only federal support we have is USDA commodities (about 10% of the food we distribute). We also have a Community Development Block Grant through HUD (allocated through the Village of Oak Park), but it is only about 5% of our funding.
Q: How will the pantry mark the coming holidays?
While we would love to be able to provide our clients with specialty holiday items (turkeys, hams, etc) we have chosen to spend our food dollars on nutrient-dense and protein-rich foods throughout the year rather than focus a large amount of food dollars on holiday foods that only benefit a few or by providing smaller amount of food needed for day to day meals.
The numbers of those going hungry in the richest nation on earth are sad and staggering, but maybe the most significant number is the amazing statistic that food pantries get a 1000% boost in buying power for every dollar they receive.
For more information on the Oak Park-River Forest Food Pantry, here’s a video that goes into more detail:
Many thanks to Kristi and to all the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry volunteers. And to all a great Thanksgiving and remember that giving to those in need is a year round thing.
Somewhat lost amid last week’s Syrian shuffle was the news that long distance swimmer Diana Nyad completed her swim from Havana, Cuba to Key West, viagra buy Florida, a 110-mile swim through shark and jellyfish infested waters, without the use of a protective shark cage, a feat unmatched by anyone previous, let alone someone who recently celebrated their 64th birthday.
The 53 hour-long ordeal took its toll, both physically and mentally on Nyad. Besides contending with jellyfish stings, seawater intake, and nausea, the monotony of the trip led to hallucinations. Along the way, as the hours passed, the voice of her favorite artist, Neil Young, played in her head and in a semi-dream state, imagined that she was swimming toward the Taj Mahal.
The swim was her fifth and, as she made clear before setting out, final attempt.
When she emerged,understandably dazed and exhausted, to greet her well-wishers, she had three inspirational messages for the crowd:
1. We should never give up.
2. You’re never too old to chase your dreams
3. It looks like a solitary sport, but it takes a team.
As a postscript, it should come as no surprise, in those post-Lance Armstrong era, that skeptics and naysayers are now surfacing to pee in Nyad’s proverbial pool. Some have noted that, according to progress logs, her swimming speed nearly doubled along one stretch. While her team attributes the boost to favorable currents, the skeptics believe she must have been pulled along for a while by a support boat. Other open water swimmers criticized her use of a special jellyfish repellent swimsuit and mask, saying that it violates strict guidelines known as the English Channel rules.
Whatever details emerge in the coming days, there’s little argument that Nyad’s achievement is remarkable regardless of the details and as in every controversy, believers will continue to believe and skeptics will continue to have their doubts.
“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”
John F. Kennedy
‘Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs’ speech
May 25, 1961
With those famous words, JFK issued a direct challenge to America’s technical ingenuity and competitive spirit. At the time, many older folks in the crowd remembered an era when the idea of manned flight, let alone traveling to outer space was considered the stuff of science fiction. Yet on July 20th 1969, a full six months under the deadline imposed by JFK, all of America and much of the world were fixated on live TV images of astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin beamed back from the lunar surface. The seemingly impossible had been achieved.
The second part of the goal, bringing the Apollo 11 crew back safely to earth was no mean feat either, and once that was accomplished, they returned to an historic hero’s welcome. Nearly a month later, on August 13th, Chicago prepared it’s own ceremony for the moon walking superstars which included a huge ticker tape parade ending at the Loop’s Civic Center (later renamed Daley Plaza) beneath the then two-year-old Picasso sculpture.
My mom and I arrived early to snag a good view along the LaSalle Street parade route. This was the second such parade in the same day for the jet-setting astronauts. In a prophetic foreshadowing, New York City was first.
But as exciting as all of this was, it wasn’t the ONLY reason for this young Chicago area boy’s euphoric state throughout much of that summer of ’69. While Neil and Buzz were hopping along the Sea of Tranquility and in the days that followed their return, the Chicago Cubs baseball team was building up an apparently insurmountable lead in the National League East and were well on their way to fulfilling the long-awaited promise of bring a pennant to Chicago’s north side.
With a roster of unstoppable All-Stars including Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Don Kessinger, Glen Beckert, Billy Williams, and Fergie Jenkins, they were 75-44 on August 16, up by a season high nine games over the second place New York Mets and bound for glory. I’d attended my first game the year before, and was a diehard fan by the time the ’69 season began, faithfully tuning into the games announced by Jack Brickhouse (HEY HEY!) on WGN.
design by Arnold Skolnick
Meanwhile, just 90 miles away from where the Apollo 11 astronauts were hightailing it out of Manhattan bound for Chicago, a music festival billed as “An Aquarian Exposition” and more commonly known as Woodstock was just about to get under way in the tiny hamlet of White Lake. What began as a paid event ended up being free as the number of attendees grew to more than half a million. Despite some cases of drug overdose and heat stroke, the event was a largely peaceful gathering and quickly turned into a cultural phenomenon. August 17th marked the final day of the festival, and to match the “high” of the festival goers, the Cubs hit their peak two days later with a no-hitter thrown by Ken Holzman against the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field. The Cubs, now 8 games ahead of the second place Mets, were on top of the world. But like many hallucinogenic highs, this one ended up in a terrifying “bad trip”, namely to the Mets’ Shea Stadium for two games in early September. By that time their lead over the surging Mets was down to 2 games and on Sept. 9th and 10th, in the midst of a disastrous losing streak, and following a bizarre incident in which a black cat crossed behind Ron Santo standing in the on-deck circle, the Cubs dropped both games to the Mets and, despite a 1/2 game lead at that point, the writing was on the wall. The Cubs finished up the season a full 8 games out of first place and the “Miracle Mets” went on to win the 1969 World Series.
In the years since then, there have been other heartbreaks and near-great teams, but the totality of the ’69 Cubs collapse still goes down in the record books as their most famous downfall. Yet, as we approach the opening of the 2013 baseball season, Cub fans will once again dream the impossible dream of bringing a World Series to the North side.
Hey, if we can put a man on the moon, why not?
Now that we’re in the midst of the holiday season, tadalafil just as sure as you’ll hear the ringing of the Salvation Army’s red kettle Santas, you’ll also be bombarded with Christmas tunes and, correspondingly, the complaints of those who despise them.
As for myself, I generally love Christmas music. Just as most of us have a special fondness for the music we listened to in high school and college, holiday music for me conjures up fond memories of childhood holidays. The dilemma seems to be that as media consumers, we are always seeking out something new, but we still crave the familiarity of the music we grew up with. So, as a compromise, we settle for yet another rehash of White Christmas, even though nothing beats ol’ Bing’s version. Even so, as a kid, there were a few Christmas songs that I found a bit unsettling for one reason or another:
Topping my list would be the following:
1. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
No mystery why this would be disturbing to young believers: Here you have a child eavesdropping on their own mother carrying out an illicit relationship with the icon of all that is good in this world, unbeknownst to the child’s father. Is the implicit twist to the song that Santa is in fact the father in disguise? If so, for whose benefit is he going incognito when the child is supposed to be in bed. And is the mother in on the ruse, if that’s what it is, or is she fooling around behind dad’s back? Meanwhile, the child speculates on “how funny” it will be when father discovers the affair. Funny?? More like very confusing and potentially a Shakespearian tragedy in the making.
2. Blue Christmas
This belongs to a sub genre of depressing holiday songs. Others in the category include Miles Davis’ REALLY depressing Blue Xmas and the Pogues REALLY REALLY depressing and hilarious Fairytale of New York. Compared to those, Blue Christmas is a fairly mild lament about being separated from a loved one during the holidays. What made this one especially unsettling to me as a child was the dirge-like, minor key background vocals coursing through the song like a ghostly, mournful wind.
3. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
It should come as no surprise that this shallow morality tale ostensibly dealing with bullying started as a commercial enterprise. Montgomery Ward came up with the character and story as part of a Christmas promotion in 1939. It was adapted into the popular song and recorded by Gene Autry a decade later in 1949. Rudolph, one of Santa’s reindeer, is subjected to merciless teasing and ostracism because of his physical abnormality, a glowing red nose. In what’s supposed to be the redemptive final act, the other reindeer exhibit a fickle and implausible turnaround once Rudolph proves his worth to their master. Is this what true friendship is all about?
4. Nuttin’ for Christmas
My parents had a couple of 45 records that we nearly wore the grooves off of during the holidays. One was the first and most iconic version of All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth by Spike Jones and his City Slickers recorded in 1947. The other was another novelty record by voiceover actor and comic Stan Freberg called Nuttin’ for Christmas in which a bratty voiced kid recites a list of his transgressions as a reason why Santa won’t be paying him a visit that year. The most unsettling part of the song comes near the end, when the boy hears what he thinks to be Santa Claus entering his home. Instead the intruder turns out to be a burglar intent on robbing the owners of their silverware and jewelry. Though the kid doesn’t seem all that upset and may even be in cahoots, the idea of someone violating the sanctity of house and home was a bit troubling to my younger self.
5. Misunderstood lyrics
These are the songs that include archaic phrases or odd line breaks that led to misinterpretation. One of these was Winter Wonderland, namely the line “In the meadow we can build a snowman, and pretend that he is Parson Brown”. As a young Catholic boy, I was unfamiliar with the term “parson” so naturally assumed that “parson brown” was some sort of tawny shade which I thought to be a very unusual color for a snowman.
Another misunderstanding occurs in the first line of the plodding We Three Kings, “We Three Kings of Orient are.” Due to the awkward line break, I believed they were from the land of “Orentar”, which I imagined to be a sub-region of the far East.
Have a joyful holiday season and may the peace and good will of the season continue long after the radio stations and malls have resumed their regular programming.
Lately, Abe Lincoln seems to be getting the kind of front page periodical coverage once reserved for pop stars and celebrities. Besides being featured recently on the covers of Newsweek and Time , he soon-to-be-released biopic “Lincoln” will examine his final year as President. And of course, who can forget his heroic deeds as fearless vampire hunter?
Besides the fact that this year marks the 147th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination, our own troubled times seem to have sparked a renewed interest in a time of even greater divisiveness and strife, when the future of the U.S. was truly in doubt. At no time since the civil war has there been such a sharp ideological division in the U.S. And we all know what Lincoln said about a house divided.
Make your voice heard in tomorrow’s election if you haven’t already voted. And though it’s a tall order, let’s hope the outcome is decisive, fair, and undisputed.