Accentuate the (sort of) Positive

Accentuate the (Sort of) Positive

By Patrick F. Cannon

In 1968, nearly 35 percent of African-Americans were living in poverty. By 2019, the number had been reduced to 18.8 percent. Again in 1968 – another year of constant upheaval, including riots – only 54 percent of African-Americans aged 25 to 29, had graduated from high school; in 2019, the number had risen to 90 percent. In the same period, the college graduation rate had risen from 10 to 23 percent.

            Thirteen percent of the US population is African-American; and 12 percent of the members of the US House of Representatives represent them. In 1968, there were 7 black members; now there are 50.  Of the 100 largest American cities, 39 have black mayors. In 1968, there were three. Since Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor, was elected in 1983, the city has bad two other black, and two white mayors. The current mayor is black; as have been the last two Chicago police superintendents. The last four presidents of the Cook County Board have also been black.

            In 1933, the National Football League banned black players; now, 70 percent of its players are black. National Basketball Association’s rosters are 75 percent black. Only in professional baseball has the number of black players declined, primarily because young black men are choosing other sports (the numbers don’t include Hispanic ballplayers with some African blood).

            With the current pandemic, unemployment figures are meaningless. But in September of last year, the white unemployment rate was 3.2 percent; and the black, 5.5. While any gap is troublesome, in late 1973, the gap was higher, white 4.3 and black 9.3.

            I am old enough to remember when African-Americans would be turned away from downtown Chicago restaurants; and be told that no seats were available at Sunday mass in Catholic churches in white neighborhoods. No open housing laws existed; and not only blacks, but Jews also, were banned from living in certain neighborhoods. Although subtle methods still are used to steer blacks to certain areas, the fact is that they can now live in any neighborhood or suburb they can afford; and through housing subsidies, in places they normally couldn’t.  

            Yet, just a few days ago, I heard a black college professor say (and I paraphrase): “we were brought here as slaves 400 years ago, and things are just as bad now as they were then.” Really? No progress? No Emancipation Proclamation? No 14th Amendment? No Civil Rights Act? No Voting Rights Act? No Brown vs Board of Education? No affirmative action?  No Barack Obama?  This was not an isolated statement; one hears similar claims almost every day.

            Here’s  the truth. Things are still bad for many blacks, but not as bad as they once were. This country still has a serious and chronic problem with policing in black communities. I am not a sociologist, but both communities and police feel under siege. Young black men, in particular, are targeted by police far more than their white counterparts. For example, if I were to get stopped for speeding, I would probably be given a ticket and sent on my way. Too often, when a black is stopped, the police look for some vague reason to search the vehicle. And that’s when things can escalate.

            I heard Senator Tim Scott (R, South Carolina) – a rare black Republican senator —  say in an interview that he has been stopped roughly 15 times by police for no apparent or very minor traffic violations. I know for a fact that the police in a nearby affluent suburb used to routinely stop blacks who had the temerity to drive through its leafy streets on their way to somewhere else. In recent years, I have noticed this less and less.

            Almost every case of questionable police-involved killing of black men has been in cities like Chicago, Atlanta, Minneapolis, New York and St. Louis. But the actual numbers of these killings pales in comparison to the number of black young men killed by other black young men. In Chicago, for example, 75 percent of murder victims are black men; 71 percent of them are killed by other black men. Almost all of these killings – which often catch children in the cross-fire – are related to a toxic mixture of gangs and drugs. Chicago, in particular, suffers because it has become a distribution point for the Mexican drug cartels, who let African-American young men do the point-of-purchase selling.

            As they are able to, African-Americans are leaving Chicago for safer communities with better schools. Since 1980, approximately 400,000 have moved out. And despite Chicago being the city most often denigrated by the likes of President Trump as “Murder City, USA,” it ranks only 16th in murder rates among major US cities. The top five are St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit, New Orleans and Baton Rouge. 

            Nevertheless, if there’s one thing we should have learned by now is that dwelling on past mistakes does very little to solve today’s problems. Two that can be attacked almost immediately are access to health care and nutritious and economical food. If hospitals, clinics and food stores don’t exist in a particular neighborhood, in the short term why not simply provide free and regular transportation to areas that do?

If health care practitioners are reluctant to deal with Medicare and Medicaid, then the cities and counties need to address this. In the long run, it’s better to invest tax money in health care than in fruitless attempts to encourage corporations to invest in depopulated and crime-ridden neighborhoods. While Walmart was willing to reopen a damaged and looted store on Chicago’s south side, this was a rare example of corporate responsibility.

And I believe leadership in encouraging better nutrition and health care – particularly pre-natal care – is going to have to come from within the black community. The deep distrust of not only the police, but the white “establishment” generally, makes this almost mandatory, at least in the short term. This is where the “Black Lives Matter” movement could really matter.  

After our Civil War, the former slaves were given their freedom and became citizens. There were no scientific surveys then, but most historians believe that almost all white Americans then would have said that blacks were inferior to them in every way. Many also believed that, though inferior, they still deserved all the benefits of their new status. And those who study history also know that a vengeful South, sadly abetted by the Federal courts, systematically stripped many of those rights away.

Blatant racists are now a dwindling minority, but one that will be with us for the foreseeable future. It’s fruitless to try to shame them; like President Trump’s 40 percent, they won’t be moved, at least not in this generation. We know what we’ve done wrong in the past. And all the breast beating about “white privilege”  may make some in academia anxious to disavow any achievements by white Americans as illegitimate, but it won’t make them go away or help create a better future.

Nobel prize-winning novelist William Faulkner, once said, in trying to explain his fellow Southerners obsession with the Civil War and its aftermath, “The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.” Until we learn from the past, but decide not to live in it, it will continue to haunt and burden the present.

Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon

Eat Your Vegetables!

Eat Your Vegetables!

By Patrick F. Cannon

There are people in the world who are both alive and thriving, and yet have never eaten broccoli, much less Brussel sprouts. Unknown in America until after World War II, it’s impossible now to avoid great piles of broccoli blocking the aisles of every grocery store in our fair land.

            My first experience with it came one day when my mother returned from the High Low supermarket on 71st Street in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood. Among the items in her grocery sack was a package of Birdseye frozen broccoli. Frozen vegetables were then a new and daring culinary advance, particularly since the refrigerators of the day had only vestigial freezers. Heretofore, vegetables either came in cans, or fresh (but only in season). Canned veggies were the staple in our house. Apparently, broccoli couldn’t be canned; although neither could asparagus, but  they did it anyway.

            When you took the vegetable out of the package, you were left with a frozen brick. This you placed in a pot of boiling water. In a few minutes, the brick was transformed into a soft and unnaturally green mass, with a vaguely cabbagey taste. Now, of course, the fresh vegetable is readily available year round. It still tastes the same, however.

            (By the way, most green vegetables are mildly unpalatable. The better cooks will roast, fry, or even burn them to impart some flavor, adding copious amounts of garlic and salt to further hide the natural blandness.)

            From whence did it come? As it happens, broccoli (or Brassica oleracea, to be precise) is native to Italy. Like so many vegetables and other plants, it started out as a roadside weed. One day, the ever inquisitive Roman Emperor Hadrian noticed it as he rode his horse along the Appian Way on his way to his suburban villa. Being famished and still some way from home, he decided to risk a bite. He wasn’t overly impressed, but he survived. It then occurred to him it would make a cheap supplement to the diets of his many slaves. And not only that, but they would do the public a service by tidying up the famous road. I should also mention that the legendary emperor also built the famous Hadrian’s Wall to keep the Scots out of Britain. It didn’t work; nor did his famous saying that “all roads lead away from Rome.”

              Eventually, “ebraverde”, as it was called, lost favor and was all but forgotten until it began to be cultivated in the 19th Century in the Calabria region of Italy, primarily as food for pigs. The son of one of the farmers, Guido Broccoli, decided to emigrate to America. Hearing that the Americans would eat anything green, he decided to bring a sack of ebraverde seeds along. Sure enough, he planted some seeds in the back yard of his Brooklyn home. He decided to sell the crop at the local market, but decided “green weed” might be a turn off, so he named the vegetable after his ancient family’s name.

            Today, while no one really likes broccoli – the first President Bush famously banned it from the White House — its nutritional benefits have kept it in favor. It is almost always doctored up in some way. People who prefer good health to good food even eat it raw. One often finds it on a tray with other raw vegetables, arranged around a bowl of whitish dip. At cocktail parties it is often ignored in favor of the cheese and salami tray.

            Anyway, it turns out that the descendants of Guido get a penny for every mouthful of broccoli eaten. One of them, Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, made so much dough that he decided to invest in motion pictures. Now, you might wonder where he got the nick name “Cubby.” Family lore says that one of his cousins thought he resembled the famous comedian, Ish Kabibble (real name: Ishtar Kabibblebopper). Now largely forgotten, Ish was once almost as famous as Kathy Griffin. In Brooklynese, Kabibble is of course pronounced “Cubby.”

            In any event, Cubby said yes to financing Dr. No, the first of the endless stream of James Bond movies. Although Cubby is no longer with us, his family continues to reap the benefits of his wise investment in the movies. Oh, and they still get a penny every time you take a bite of that roadside weed. And have you noticed that every time James Bond is seen eating, there’s broccoli on his plate?

Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon 

The Truth About Apples

The Truth About Apples

By Patrick /F. Cannon

The descendants of Jebidiah Mott have been misleading the American public with the fiction that their forebearer was responsible for the current popularity of the Apple. Applesauce, I say! While Mott undoubtably had something to do with the ascent of the noble fruit, he was very far from the first to call attention to its many salubrious benefits. As I have done so often in the past, I will now set the record straight.

            I’m afraid that the legendary Johnny Appleseed has no place in its history, either, despite the visual appeal of a jolly man strolling the country casting apple seeds right and left. First of all, his real name was Horace Appleknocker, and he apparently never left his home in Dismal Seepage, West Virginia. The Appleseed myth was started by Horace Greeley, which explains a lot.

            No, the popularity of the ubiquitous fruit is owed to none other than Isaac Newton. While not widely known, Apple trees were long considered to be noxious weeds. In the Fall of the year, their fruit would fall upon the ground. In the England of those days, the forests were full of wild boars. The hairy porcines would gorge themselves upon the fruit. The poor serfs noticed this and soon began to feed the leftovers to their domesticated pigs. On market days, they would sell the butchered pork, including the bacon – thus began the rage for Applewood smoked bacon, which persists to our own day.

            Back to Newton. It seems that one day in 1672, he was travelling from Cambridge to London. He was riding his favorite horse, Gravitas. A kindly man, the learned scientist decided to stop near the village of Snipping Gambrel to rest his horse. He found a likely pasture with a bubbling brook, so that his trusty steed could both eat and drink. For himself, he had providentially packed a lunch consisting of a pickled kidney sandwich, a lump of salt beef and a flagon of beer. After eating and drinking hearty, he became drowsy and lay under a nearby tree to nap.

            Well, as we now know, it was an Apple tree. As Newton slept, suddenly a newly ripe and heavy Apple fell upon his noggin. Startled, the eminent scientist found the offending fruit. Hefting it in his hand, he brought it close to his nose and noticed that it had a pleasing smell, as well as an attractive rosy glow. Knowing that it had only ever been thought suitable as feed for pigs, nevertheless his thirst for scientific inquiry led him to take a tentative bite. “Forsooth,” he exclaimed, “the despised fruit is both juicy and sweet!”

            Before continuing his journey, he filled his saddle bags with as many Apples as they could contain. As luck would have it, he was due to give a talk to the Royal Society that very evening. Instead of his original subject – The Dawning of the Age of Aquarius – he regaled his fellow societors with his amazing discovery that the humble weed actually produced yummy fruit. Samples were passed around to universal acclaim. As an aside, Newton did mention that he was puzzled by the fact that the Apple had fallen directly on his head, instead of up or sideways.

            By 1705, the Apple craze was at its height. Not only were people eating raw fruit, but were mashing it into cider and cooking it into jellies, jams, sauce, butter fritters, pies and pasties. Is it any wonder then, that Queen Anne recognized Newton’s discovery by bestowing a knighthood upon him?  Thereafter Sir Isaac often ascribed his long life to eating at least one Apple a day. You would be wise to do the same. As for me, I prefer the Golden Delicious.

(Next week – Broccoli explained.)

Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon

Goodbye, Sweet Rosie

Goodbye, Sweet Rosie

By Patrick F. Cannon

On Tuesday, we brought our darling miniature Poodle to the vet’s to bring an end to her beautiful life. She was 15, and her heart and other organs were failing. People who know and love dogs will know how we felt.

            Jeanette and I have been married for nearly 35 years and have had to go through this three times. All of our dogs were Poodles, the greatest of breeds. Before we married, I had Mimi, a rescue my first wife Mary’s mother Lil got for us. When she was killed by a neighbor’s car after six years, we got a black miniature Poodle puppy, and  named her Emma.

I had Emma, a black miniature, when Jeanette and I got married in 1986. When Emma died at 17, we got Rumpole, a Standard Poodle. We still had him when we inherited Rosie upon the death of my first wife. She left behind two sliver miniatures; we got the younger. She was then five, and made losing Rumpole nine months later a little more tolerable.  When I add them all up, I find I have owned Poodles for 53 of my 82 years.

I will not rank them, except to say that most dogs will bond more with one member of the family, while loving all of them. I don’t know if science backs this up, but I do believe that male dogs bond more with men; and females, women. If Rumpole was a bit closer to me, then Rosie was Jeanette’s dog. She had lived with Mary for five years, and suddenly losing her must have been both confusing and terrible. It took a while, but she transferred her love to Jeanette.

An example: when we would come home, I would generally be the first one she would see. She would run and jump up on me briefly, then rush to find Jeanette. During the day, she would always be where Jeanette was. If she woke up from a nap – dogs sleep a lot! – and Jeanette wasn’t in sight, she would rush around the house until she found her.

She had known my children Patrick and Beth longer than us, and was always excited to see them. Patrick now lives in Florida and usually only visits once a year, but her excitement on seeing him never flagged. She was always shy with people she didn’t know; and frankly was not a fan of other dogs; but she was not aggressive with dogs or people.

As with most Poodles, she was a star athlete. If you threw a toy to her, she would invariably catch it in mid-air. Until just recently, she was also tireless; we would get tired of playing long before she did. And she was a Frisbee champ. When we had a large back yard, it was poetry in motion to see her catch the disk in full flight and in mid-air. She was just a little dog, but she was mighty. I wasn’t surprised to discover that miniature Poodles were consistent winners at dog agility trials.

Life has a certain rhythm when you have a dog. Rosie was an early riser, and Jeanette always did the first walk, I the second, and  so on. Treats started early, and were repeated at regular intervals through the day. Until the last few days, her appetite was excellent. It was really when she stopped eating that we knew her heart was finally giving out.

I know that some people simply don’t understand why some others love dogs. That’s fine. Truthfully, they require a lot of care and attention. Like human babies, they have to be fed. They also have to be walked regularly, and you have to pick up their poop. If you’re going on a trip, you have to find someone to take them (either a kennel of a friend).  But to a dog lover, it’s all worthwhile. As lousy as your day might have been, when you walk through the door, your dog is always glad to see you, and is happy to prove it.

Rosie is at  rest now. But Jeanette and I aren’t there yet.

Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon

Good Money After Bad?

Good Money After Bad?

By Patrick F. Cannon

I suspect that if all the money that’s being spent trying to convince Illinois citizens how to vote on the graduated income tax amendment was instead spent paying some of the state’s outstanding debts, we would all be better off.

            Before it’s over, I guess that much more than $100 million will be tossed into the fray.  Several billionaires have kicked into the “anti” fund; while our own billionaire Governor Pritzker has reportedly ponied up $50 million to get it passed. He and his supporters – the politicians who have spent the state into bankruptcy, and the public employee unions – are pleased to call it the “Fair Tax Amendment.” What is really should be called is the “Bail Us Out Amendment.”

            On the surface, the claim that a graduated income tax – with the poor paying next to nothing and the rich picking up more of the tab – seems to make some sense. And I would be tempted to vote “yes” if I didn’t know that the state’s finances have been mismanaged for decades; and that the Democratic Party is just looking for another bailout.

            Let me remind you that the state’s pension funds are still underfunded by $137 billion (an amount, by the way, that most experts believe is considerably higher); along with a shortfall of $56 billion in retiree medical benefits. Despite the increase in the flat tax to 4.95 percent, the State has been unable to make a dent in the $7 to 8 billion in unpaid bills that it has  consistently owed suppliers for years.

            Governor Pritzker has been praised for his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. I agree that he has done better than most. But I remember one of his daily news conferences when he mentioned the financial hit that Illinois would take. He was asked this sensible question: should the state be cutting jobs and other expenses as other states had been doing?  “No,”  he said (and I paraphrase), “this is not the time to lay off the workers who provide such essential services.” While that may have been true of public health workers, what about the dozens of state departments, agencies, bureaus and boards that had nothing to do with the virus? Our diligent media failed to ask that follow-up question.

            Well, just the other day, our earnest governor gloomily predicted he might be forced to ask those same state departments, agencies, bureaus and boards to make five percent across-the-board cuts if Illinois didn’t get an expected Federal bailout. Five percent! As if this was a catastrophic amount that would leave the good people of Illinois homeless, heatless and hungry.

            Cutting government jobs is anathema to a Democratic Party that has developed this symbiotic relationship with its public employee unions: we’ll protect your jobs; in return, you will donate money and election workers to perpetuate our power. Illinois isn’t the only state that features this partnership, but it is the most successful in preventing budget or any other needed reforms. Need I remind the citizens and taxpayers of Illinois (and other states) that the union dues that supports Democratic candidates actually is paid by them – our taxes pay the worker, he or she pays union dues, part of which goes to support only one party?  Did you ever get a “thank you” note? Especially you Independents and Republicans?

            By the way, the graduated tax amendment had no trouble finding its way to the ballot. Two initiatives that the majority of Illinoisans favor —  pension reform and the so-called “Fair Maps” amendment that would take legislative redistricting out of the hands of the party in power – have never made it to the ballot. For some reason, the Democratic-controlled Illinois Supreme Court always finds some arcane technicality to keep them off.

            In Illinois, as always, you get what you pay for.

Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon

Live Free or (Maybe) Die

Live Free or (Maybe) Die                                  

By Patrick F. Cannon

I was watching the news the other day, and some old codger (he might actually have been younger than me) attending a rally for President Trump loudly proclaimed (sans mask) that it was nobody’s business but his if he died from Covid-19; his God-given freedom as an American to do as he pleased being paramount.

            He is obviously not alone. And if he were only putting his own life at risk, he’d have my support, if not understanding. People do all kinds of risky stuff. They say that there are still unrecovered bodies littering the slopes of Mt. Everest. Dozens of rock climbers die every year. Not everyone who jumps out of an airplane makes it to the ground alive. It’s true that they may leave a saddened friend of loved one behind, but few people actually die of grief.

            Before I go any further, let me say that I am a staunch believer and supporter of the Bill of Rights. Go ahead and shoot your mouth off! Tweet to your heart’s content. There is almost nothing you can say that would cause me to put a sock in it. Of course, if you shouted fire in a crowded theatre, I would draw the line, just as the Supreme Court has. Because, if you did so just for the hell of it, people might well be trampled and even killed in the resulting panic. And advocating the violent overthrow of the government is against the law, although actually trying to do it these days seems OK in some cities.

We also have freedom to assemble for redress of grievance. But notice that the now-vilified Founding Fathers qualified that right by using the word “peaceably” before “to assemble.” Throwing rocks and feces at policemen does not fit the qualification. Nor does destroying livelihoods and jobs by looting.

            If I’m of a mind, I can call any politician – even the president – a son-of-a-bitch and stay out of jail. I can even peddle some lies and half-truths, as long as the victim is a public figure and can’t prove “actual malice.”  Notice that President Trump, who sued right and left before he was elected (and rarely if ever prevailed) is now satisfied with yelling “fake news.”

            Americans don’t lack for rights; indeed, they have been greatly expanded over the years. Black citizens can now vote in the South; job discrimination based on race, gender or sexual orientation is no longer legal; abortion is legal, if restricted in some states; same sex marriage is permitted; you can even flout biology by deciding you would rather be another sex, or no sex at all. I don’t doubt that someday you’re be able to be your own grandpa.

            But here and there, there are some limitations. In most states (I think) you can’t marry your sister. Sexual relations with underage children is beyond the pale, with prison if you get caught. Although less of an issue now, you can’t knowingly infect another with AIDS. You can’t drive as fast as you want, or park your car wherever you please. In some jurisdictions, you even have to pick up your dog’s crap or face a fine.

            Asking people to wear a mask in public, and keep their distance, seems to me a reasonable public health precaution. As of yesterday, 196,500 Americans have died from Covid-19. That is about five times as many as die from the annual flu outbreak. I would only ask the “freedom at all cost” folks this question: if you’re willing to die in the cause of freedom, are you willing to take someone with you?  Like your granny, or your child?

Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon

I Know it’s Corny

I Know it’s Corny!

By Patrick F. Cannon

During these bleak days, when America seems to be tottering a bit, it would be well not to lose sight of the things that made us great – and still reverberate around the world.

Mass production – starting with the assembly line deconstruction of livestock in the stockyards of Chicago and perfected by Henry Ford in the assembly lines of Detroit – transformed Capitalism and led eventually to a dramatic reduction in abject poverty around the world. And who would deny that the personal computer and cell phone – both American innovations – have profoundly changed the way the world thinks and works.

Our Republic – though it has struggled from time to time – is the longest surviving in the world. From 1941 to 1945, we fought a war that saved the world from tyrannies that had killed tens of millions of innocents and would have killed tens of millions more. We have produced scientists whose genius has earned them more Nobel Prizes than any other nation.

Yet, with all of these accomplishments, it may be in these culinary staples that our greatest contributions lie – the tomato and sweet corn. While neither plant is native to the United States —  corn having originated in Mexico, and the tomato in South and Central America – it is here that our agricultural genius has permitted them to reach their edible peak. While the arrogant Europeans refuse to embrace sweet corn, Italians concede that the unification of their country only became possible when all parts of the peninsula embraced the tomato. The explorer who introduced the scarlet marvel to Italy, Salvatore Pomodoro, has been honored with statues throughout the country.

Mexico was an early adopter of both. Its now internationally-famous cuisine depends almost entirely on corn-based tortillas and tamales; and the tomato-based salsa that graces most of its hot and spicy dishes. Is it any wonder that they executed the French-backed Emperor Maximilian I in 1867, after he tried to introduce asparagus, green beans and pate de foie gras into their diets?

For reasons that only make sense to themselves, the word “corn” in England refers not to the golden ears that make the mouth water, but to any pedestrian grain, even oats. Although one finds a grilled half tomato on many English breakfast plates, they are sad mealy things best left uneaten. Here, your local farmer’s market will offer the noble fruit – for such it is – in all shapes, sizes and colors. Once available only in red, one can now find not only red in all its many shades, but yellow, orange and purple (and even green, if your taste runs to fried green tomatoes).

Sweet corn must not be confused with the varieties that feed our livestock; produce fine cooking oil; sweeten our soft drinks and syrups; produce corn bread or mush; or even fuel our cars, trucks and tractors. Unlike them, sweet corn is tender, sweet and mostly golden (white kernels are not unknown).

There can be no better meal – not even in Paris or Rome – to equal a grilled prime steak, a sliced tomato, and an ear of corn. The tomato might be enhanced with a drizzle of olive oil and a dash of salt. As to the corn, three minutes only in boiling water produces perfection. While some are happy to eat it unadorned, I prefer to slather the steaming ear with butter, adding salt and pepper to taste. Ambrosia isn’t adequate to describe the result!

But you must make haste. I confess I should have written this a month ago. Now, in early September, the sweet corn season has only a couple of weeks to run. Vine-ripened tomatoes will be available for several more weeks, unless we have an early frost. We get our corn and tomatoes at the Oak Park (IL) Farmer’s Market. But such markets exist almost everywhere these days; and farm stands still survive in  the hinterlands. But need I tell you that there’s not a moment to lose?

Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon




A Saint, He Ain’t

A Saint, He Ain’t

By Patrick F. Cannon

People who support Donald Trump often concede he’s something of a buffoon, but say the good he has done for the country far outweighs his personal failings. I confess to being skeptical about these claims. Like most presidents, he has taken credit for an economy he really did nothing to create. But even if he had managed to do some good, I would still oppose him simply because he’s a bad man.

In thinking about what might constitute a “bad” man, I thought it might be more helpful to list the qualities that a good man should have; then you can judge him or any politician by these qualities. Thus, a good man:

  • Has good friends, instead of sycophants.
  • Is loyal to his friends, thus engendering loyalty from them.
  • Is generous, not only to his relatives and friends, but to the needy he will never meet.
  • Never takes credit for the work of others; generously shares credit with his associates.
  • Tells the truth as a matter of course. Only lies to confound his country’s enemies, or to spare a friend’s feelings.
  • Actually believes that all men and women are created equal, and treats them accordingly.
  • Has strong opinions based upon deep knowledge, but is willing to compromise with others to achieve a common good.
  • Never insults the defenseless, whether alive or dead.
  • Is not boastful.
  • Is so proud of his financial acumen, that he would gladly share his tax returns.
  • Has more friends and associates at large than in jail.
  • Does not have plastic hair.
  • Would never cheat at golf.

Now, it’s true that almost nobody, except maybe Jesus Christ or St. Francis, could tick all these boxes (I certainly couldn’t and I know of no politician who could either). On the other hand, I don’t know how you would describe a man like President Trump who ticks none of them.

Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon


Lay On, Macduff!

Lay On, Macduff!

By Patrick F. Cannon

Several days ago, I resumed my theatrical career by playing both Duncan and Macduff in a production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, or the “Scottish Play” as superstitious actors call it to avoid the curse associated with actually naming it. The cast also included my wife Jeanette; daughter Beth and son-in-law Boyd; his sister Cathy, and brother Bart and wife Lisa; their children, Riley and Rachel and niece Hannah. Everyone played multiple parts; in addition to Duncan and Macduff, I was also the first murderer (of three, there being copious amounts of blood in the play).

The venue was not the Old Globe or Stratford-Upon-Avon, but on various laptops and tablets, courtesy of Zoom. Actors joined from Seattle, the Chicago area, Minneapolis, and Madison, Wisconsin. I have to confess we didn’t do the play as the Bard had written it, but a somewhat abridged 45-minute version. Nevertheless, everyone involved played their roles with great spirit; my own performance received high praise from my dear wife. Alas, when the doomed Macbeth yells “lay on Macduff” during the climactic battle, I was unable to do so, being in another room.

My theatrical career actually goes back many years. I believe I was in the fourth grade when I appeared in a production of The Wizard of Oz. It was a joint effort of Chicago’s Aquinas High School for Girls and the adjoining St. Philip Neri grammar school, both run by Dominican nuns. The main protagonists came from the high school, but I was given an important supporting role – heroine Dorothy’s faithful mutt, Toto. I was very serious about learning my lines, and declaiming them when cued. They varied based on the situation – either “woof woof” or “arf arf.” According to my parents, I handled both with aplomb.

It would be 30 more years before I almost trod the boards again. The company I was then working for had transferred the management staff from Chicago to its plant in Lake Mills, Iowa, a town of about 2,000 souls with limited housing choices. All of us chose to settle 20 miles to the north in Albert Lea, Minnesota, a comparative metropolis of 20,000. Built around a lake, Albert Leas was not without its charms, but had limited cultural attractions; one had to drive about 100 miles north to what they called the “Cities,” namely Minneapolis and St. Paul, for professional entertainment.

The one exception was the Albert Lea Community Theatre, which typically did three productions a year, including one musical. My first wife, Mary, partly to stave off boredom, had auditioned for a production of Guys and Dolls. She got a part in the chorus, which required both singing and dancing. I was eventually dragooned into doing some publicity work for them, then began doing the programs. The leader, and lead actor, was a Scottish doctor who had a long history of amateur theatricals, including in nearby Rochester, where he had been associated with the Mayo Clinic.

The cast parties were legendary, and during one, after having had a few drinks, I agreed to audition for a part in a coming production of Wait Until Dark. Originally a Broadway play starring Lee Remick and Robert Duvall as blind heroine and villain, it was later adapted as a movie starring Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin. It also included a husband, who appears at the beginning and end. In the movie, it was played by Richard Crenna. I was given this role.

In the opening act, I left on a business trip. I won’t go into the plot, except to say it involved a doll filled with heroin, which the husband had brought home not knowing what it contained; and the efforts of the bad guys to retrieve it. In the end, the wife prevails. The husband – me – returns home and finds that things had gotten messy in his absence, but that his plucky wife had won the day, despite being blind.

I had been learning my lines when another drama unfolded. My boss, the CEO, had hatched a plot to take over the company. I won’t go into the details, except to say that the palace coup failed and we were all fired. Finding a job back in Chicago seemed more important than my theatrical career, so I dropped out. Rehearsals hadn’t actually started, so it was no problem to replace me.

In the intervening years, I have done a good deal of public speaking, which requires a kind of acting, but it was another 40 years until my acting career resumed. At this rate, my next role might have to be the ghost of Hamlet’s father.

Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon

Last Man Standing

Last Man Standing

By Patrick F. Cannon

Smithers was excited when he learned that limited crowds would now be permitted to attend football games at his beloved alma mater, Huxley University. As a long time season ticket holder, he would be given priority for the limited number of seats that could be occupied under the protocols demanded by the pandemic.

A football power in the Northwest, Huxley’s legendary stadium normally sold out its 100,000 seats. Only 25,000 could now be accommodated. Even at his advanced age, Smithers was famous for his penetrating basso profundo, and was ready to lead the cheers for the Huxley Hedgehogs. To add to his joy, it was a clear cool day – perfect football weather.

Alas, tailgating would not be permitted, with its smokey smells and hearty bonhomie. But his status as a major donor meant he was entitled to valet parking, a blessing for his aging legs. The modernized stadium even had escalators, which made his ascent to his lofty seats on the fifty yard line much easier. Normally, his dear wife attended with him, but she was committed to a Zoom board meeting of her favorite cause, the Society for the Protection of the Spotted Polecat.

Yet, as he took his seat and waved at his social-distanced fellow fans, he was conscious of an increasing sense of dread. He noticed that the two teams were leaving the field after their pre-game warmup, and the famous Hedgehog marching band was gathering for their usual medley of peppy band music, followed by the university’s Alma Mater – “Noble Huxley, Gem of the Great Northwest.” The opposing teams would then return to the field of legendary combats – his  beloved Hedgehogs to deafening cheers!

As he sat in his seat, small beads of sweat began to appear on his forehead. He was barely conscious of the music rising to him. Instead, he looked at the space between his seat and the back of the seat in the next row below. Was there enough room? Could he perhaps leave his seat and find sufficient space on an aisle? While he was agonizing over this decision, he was suddenly aware that the Alma Mater was being played. Normally, he would heartily sing along with its stirring words; and be among the loudest to cheer as his team was announced. Today, he was distracted and sat in silence.

In years past, when all the preliminaries were over, the field announcer would say the expected words: “Please rise while the Hedgehogs marching band plays our National Anthem!”

But earlier in the year, the Washington legislature had bowed to public pressure and  passed a new law mandating that public performances of the National Anthem be preceded by these words only: “We will now hear the National Anthem.”

And now, Smithers heard the words he had been dreading. All around the stadium – on the field of battle and in the seats – people went to their knees, and raised their fists. Only Smithers stood. As the Anthem was performed by the kneeling band, all eyes gravitated to him, still standing. There was an audible gasp when Smithers actually placed his hand on his heart. Only those near him noticed that he was in fact clutching his heart, a grimace on his face. He fell to his knees, then pitched forward, dead of a heart attack.

Even so, he would forever be known as the last man to stand for the National Anthem.

Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon