This is It; I Promise!

This is It; I Promise!

By Patrick F. Cannon

I know. You’re sick and tired of me harping on how politicians of both political parties use redistricting to rig the democratic process in their favor. You have my solemn promise that this is the very last time – at least for this year – that I’ll point out that they do it to insure that they keep their jobs and stay in power, much like Putin does in Russia (and Stalin did before him).

            The map above is the latest outrage. Since it was designed by the Democratic Party, it should result in a Congressional delegation for the next 10 years from Illinois of 14 Democrats and 3 Republicans, instead of the 13 Democrats and 5 Republicans at present. If you’re a math wizard, you’ll have noticed that Illinois has lost a seat because it lost population for the first time in its history.

            The Democrats have no shame; nor do the Republicans who do the same in states where they control the map. They’ll ignore the complaints of groups other than the Republicans who feel they’ve been shafted. In Illinois, African-Americans have already claimed they’ve been under represented. No doubt we’ll hear from other groups in due course, Hispanics for example. They’re actually split in two – Puerto Ricans and Mexican Americans, with little love lost between them. And who knows? Maybe White Illinoisans will wake up some day, realize they’re in the minority and demand equity.

            (It should be noted that on Tuesday, a three-judge panel for the Federal court for the Northern District of Illinois declared the map formerly approved for state legislative districts was unconstitutional, not because it was partisan, but because it was not based on final Census figures. It will be interesting to see how the legislature and Governor Pritzker, who signed off on the map, will spin this. I’ll be shocked if any “new” map results in significant changes.)

             All of this will continue so long as we separate our fellow citizens by race, ethnicity and voting history. The Founders – those poor discredited saps – actually believed in the concept that “all men are created equal,” even if they fell short in implementing it. They would be bemused and confused to discover that many now believe that African-Americans, for example, can only be properly represented by another African-American. Ditto Puerto Ricans, Mexican-Americans, and, presumably, Whites.

            As it happens, I’m White (too white to go out in the sun without sunblock). My state representative, LaShawn Ford; state senator, Kimberly Lightford; US congressman, Danny Davis; and Cook County commissioner, Brandon Johnson, are all African-Americans. This doesn’t bother me in the least; as far as I know, they’re doing decent jobs. What does bother me is that their districts are configured so that they can’t lose. When I go to the ballot box, I have as little actual choice as a citizen of Russia. No credible Republican candidates ever appear on my ballot.

            In my view, “voting rights” should be limited to just guaranteeing that no arbitrary barriers should be constructed to prevent American citizens from voting. These rights should not extend to insuring that racial and ethnic minorities should be in districts where they are the majority of voters. Nor do I believe that requiring a form of identification is a real barrier. In Illinois, you must register to vote. When you do vote, all you need do is give your name and address. You are required to sign a form, but who believes that the signature is ever validated?

            Dividing the state into equal contiguous legislative districts – both Federal and state – is easily done by an impartial computer program. Better a dumb machine than the kind that has a vested interest in retaining its power.

Copyright 2021,  Patrick F. Cannon

Can I See Your License?

Can I See Your License?

By Patrick F. Cannon

If you live in Illinois, or any other state for that matter, you are required by law to have a driver’s license if you want to legally operate a motor vehicle on public roads. That doesn’t mean you can’t drive without one. It’s certainly possible to learn how to drive and decide not to bother learning the Rules of the Road and taking the driver’s test required to get one. And if you’re very careful and very lucky, you might get away with it. But what if you get in an accident and the cop asks for your license? Or you run a stop sign? The fact is that most people get a driver’s license without considering whether or not it’s an infringement on their freedom.

            And it’s amazing how many licenses are required to make the world work (and fill government coffers). Now, you may live in a perfectly nice but nondescript house. You imagine it was just one of many similar houses in your subdivision, but if you went down to the village, town or city hall and looked up the original building permit, you would find that it likely lists the architect. Why? Simply because the law stipulates that a licensed architect sign the plans. Even if your carpenter cousin Joe – talented though he may be – designs your house, the permit won’t be approved until a licensed architect signs off on his plans.

For more complicated buildings, a licensed structural engineer may also be asked to sign off. Then, if the building falls down – and this occasionally happens – the authorities know where and who to investigate. I don’t recall off hand it happening in this country, but elsewhere architects and engineers have gone to jail or even been executed for their failures.

When you go to see your physician, you can ask to see his or her license, since they must have one to practice medicine. If they have been granted one, it means they have – at a minimum – graduated from an accredited medical school, served internships and residencies, and passed required exams. This doesn’t guarantee that they will be brilliant or have a pleasing bedside manner, but it does suggest at least a basic competence. If you practice medicine without a license, you’ll almost certainly end up in jail.

While lawyers don’t have to have the same kind of competence, they do at least have to graduate from law school and pass the bar exam. It’s hard to believe, but even the knuckleheads who leer at us from highway billboards are licensed to practice law. You also need a license to sell booze or weed, or start any business. The rest of the list is long, and includes acupuncturists, barbers, funeral directors, auctioneers, nail technicians, public accountants and pawnbrokers, and – well, you get the idea. Like the driver’s license, you could try to do these jobs without a license, but why take the chance?

The state also mandates vaccination against specific diseases for school children (at all levels) and those who teach and otherwise interact with them. This is yet another example of the state limiting people’s freedom to do whatever they want in favor of a greater public good. As a result, scourges like smallpox, measles and polio are no longer annual concerns for parents. And when finally approved for younger children, the state will be within its rights to mandate Covid-19 vaccines as well. Other institutions and corporations are also within their rights to mandate vaccination as a condition of employment, as the courts have endlessly upheld.

(Religious exemptions are, of course, possible. But I find it interesting how many people have suddenly found the Lord.)

Yet, there are still people who say forcing them to get vaccinated is an unamerican attack on their personal freedom. Apparently, the concept of the greater good doesn’t apply to them. If their refusal to accept science and common sense affected only them, it would be harmless. But it doesn’t. It has killed people, including themselves. I recently heard a doctor tell of a patient who denied he had Covid, despite being gravely ill. As a result, he refused treatment. He died with his illusions intact.

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon  

Just Wondering

Just Wondering

By Patrick F. Cannon

            I’m a faithful reader of the Sunday Chicago Tribune. There was a time when it took most of a leisurely Sunday morning to get through, but that was when it was privately owned. Now, with shareholder profit uppermost, it barely takes an hour. It still includes a real estate section which, among other things, includes a report on high value residential transactions. It’s amazing how many of these involve sports figures from the city’s major teams (Bears, Bulls, Cubs, Sox, Blackhawks); and how many of them involve selling at a loss.

            Now it’s true that we occasionally get someone like Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, or Walter Payton who spend their entire career with one team and live their lives out in the Chicago area, but more often than not a player will be traded or leave in free agency after just a few years. Yet, for reasons which are incomprehensible to me, they think nothing of spending multi-millions for a house or condo of a size they don’t really need.

I’ve often wondered if they do this to keep up with their teammates, who seem to need seven bedrooms and seven bathrooms, a wine cellar and a six-car garage for their stable of Bentleys, Land Rovers, Escalades and Lamborghinis (all declining assets). Of course, if you’re making $15 or 20 million a year, why worry about losing two or three million on a house sale? Of course, sports figures aren’t the only folks who over buy. I know of one Chicago billionaire who owns something like seven homes spread around the country and overseas. If you’re wondering why, maybe he just hates to make hotel reservations, or is afraid of bed bugs.

While I’m making fun of sports figures, let me wonder when it became OK to be “bush.” Now, for those of you too young to know what that means, it means a ballplayer who inordinately calls attention to himself, acting as if he’s still in the “bush (minor) leagues,” instead of the major leagues, or the “big show” as it’s often called.  Acting “bush” is, of course, not limited to baseball, although posing at the plate and watching one’s home run ball sail into the stands, then flipping to bat with aplomb, is now a common occurrence.

It has become an accepted feature of the NFL, too. It is now expected that scoring a touchdown will result in a carefully choreographed dance performance. This used to be limited to the player who scored the touchdown, but now he is often joined by some of his friends in a carefully rehearsed routine. When these “look at me” shenanigans began, the NFL took a dim view until it discovered that the “me” generation thought they were cool, and now they not only don’t frown on these displays of ego, but, within limits, encourage them.

They do draw a line at taunting, the practice of a pass receiver, for example, catching the ball and then saying “nhaw, nhaw, nhaw” to the defender while pointing his finger at his hapless opponent. I wonder when their research will tell them the fans love it, and the penalty flags will no longer be thrown.

Oh, and after listening to several politicians and pundits on the Sunday news shows, I couldn’t help wondering when our elected leaders, especially at the Federal level, were going to be more concerned with the condition of the Republic than about their chances in the 2022 elections.

But all my wonderment at this stuff pales in comparison to my absolute bewilderment at the numbers of my fellow citizens who still seem to support Donald Trump. That, my friends, is the wonder of the ages.

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon

Cricket Demystified

Cricket Demystified

By Patrick F. Cannon

It is not well known today that the British crown’s attempt to impose cricket upon the Colonies was one of the causes of the American Revolution. This is not remembered because, in an effort to tighten it up a bit so it would fit on one page, Thomas Jefferson was ordered to remove the following clause from the Declaration of Independence: “that he [meaning George III, of course] did order his royal governors and proprietors to impose upon his loyal subjects the incomprehensible game of Cricket; and further decreed that the necessary bats, balls and wickets must be imported from the United Kingdom…”

            In response, we revolted and invented baseball.  In all my years, I have only come across one game of cricket on these shores. One day, I was driving to Evanston (it’s a North Shore suburb of Chicago, for the edification of you provincials) and stopped at a red light next to a park. Lo and behold, I spied a group of white-clad fellows indulging in this game so beloved of the citizens of Great Britain and its Commonwealth countries. They were mostly brown skinned, so I assumed they were Indians and Pakistanis associated with nearby Northwestern University.

            I didn’t give this any further thought until I found myself sitting next to one of the games legendary heroes, Sir Algernon Shinbone, on a flight from London to Karachi. He told me he was on his way to cover a “test match” between the Brits and Pakis for the BBC. It would last for five days, not quite as long as our baseball World Series, which can last as long as seven days. Indeed, he said, cricket and baseball – which he learned  to play when he was a prisoner of war with American soldiers at Stalag 17 —  share many similarities.

            Both are played with a bat and ball. While our bat is cylindrical, the cricket bat is flat. It rather reminds me of the paddle that Sister Griselda of my grammar school used to wield against those who offended her sense of morality and decorum. In both games, the ball is round and covered with leather, although theirs is brown instead of white.

            The athlete who wields the bat is called the batter in baseball and the batsman in cricket (women are allowed to play the game, and presumably are called batswomen). The player who throws the ball in the direction of the batter is called the pitcher in baseball, but the bowler in cricket. Now, we associate the word “bowler” with another sport altogether, ten-pin bowling.

Bowling also exists in the UK, but as lawn bowling, which is similar to bocce, now all the rage in this country. It may be that in cricket’s earlier days – it is said to date from the 16th Century – the bowler might have thrown the ball underhanded, instead of using the overhanded windmill motion that one sees today. Thus, the term “bowler” may be just one of those anachronistic traditions in the UK that makes no contemporary sense, much like the Royal Family.

In baseball, the field of play can vary in size depending on the whim of the builder and the ability of the home team. While the distances between the bases and from the pitcher’s mound to home plate are the same, nothing else has to be. In cricket (and soccer), it’s called the pitch. Now, the cricket pitch is a uniform 22 yards long by 10 feet wide. Outside of this is a larger area called the boundary. Try to imagine the pitch as a baseball infield and the boundary as the outfield. If you can’t, don’t feel bad.

In addition to the bat and ball, cricket has the wicket. This consists of three stumps driven into the ground, topped by horizontal bits of wood called the bails. To confuse matters a bit, the area between the wickets is also called the wicket. Perhaps you.ve heard the phrase “sticky wicket?” This refers to the condition of the wicket after a good rain. Now, we all know how runs are scored in baseball. Simplicity itself, but try explaining it to an Englishman. Ditto cricket.

I should mention that there are 11 players on a cricket team (or side). In addition to the bowler and wicket-keeper (something like our catcher), there are 9 fielders. When they’re up, everyone but the bowler bats (sort of like our American league). To score runs, the batter can hit the ball and run to the other wicket before a fielder can hit the wicket. Each time you do this gives you a run. If you hit the ball to the boundary line along the ground, it gets you 4 runs. If you manage this on the fly, kind of like a home run, you get 6.

Now, the other side can get the batter out by getting the ball past the batsman and hitting the wicket; by catching the batted ball on the fly; hitting the batsman’s leg in front of the wicket (ouch!); or by hitting the wicket with the ball before the batsman gets there. You would think that the winner would be the team with the most runs after a set number of innings, but it can be a bit more complicated. Alas, it was just at that point that we arrived in Karachi and Sir Algernon was unable to explain the intricacies of scoring in a five-day test match. Now, that’s a sticky wicket if I never heard one.

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon

Can We Take It Anymore?

Can We Take It Anymore?

By Patrick F. Cannon

In the 1976 movie, Network, anchor Howard Beale, played by actor Peter Finch, finishes a deranged rant by yelling, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” (You can find the whole rant on YouTube.) He was talking about the state of the country. Forty-five years later, things are just as bad, and maybe worse. While examples are limitless, here are just a few.

            In 2016, the country elected a lunatic as its president. Emboldened by this, the Republicans in Congress rushed through tax increases that added vastly to the national debt. You used to be able to count on Republicans to find ways to cut spending, or at least give it the old college try. During Trump’s administration, the national debt went from $19.5 trillion to $27.7. In 2016, this amounted to 105% of the GDP (gross domestic product); in 2020, the ratio was 129%. In 1974, it was 31%, and in 2008 – when we were in a recession and bailing out the banks — 68%. These are Republicans? Go figure. Now that  they are in power – sort of – the Democrats are proposing to make things even worse.

            Politicians of both party’s persist in involving us in wars which we don’t – or perhaps can’t – win. Afghanistan is just the most recent example of a trend that began in Korea. And after we’ve lost, we don’t seem to be able to exit gracefully. Who can forget the pictures of helicopters lifting people off the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon?  President Biden persists in claiming he did the right thing in withdrawing the military before making certain that all US citizens and our Afghan friends were out. Disgraceful.

            (Let me toss in here the curious fact that our vaunted military – lavishly funded – requires 900 general or flag (that’s admirals) officers to supervise approximately 1.35 million men and women. That’s one high-ranking officer per 1,400 other ranks. In 1945, at the end of World War II – which we actually won – the ratio was 1 for 6,000. Also in 1945, there were 13 four-star and 7 five-star officers. There are no five-star officers now, but there are 43 with four stars! Too many cooks?)

            Living as I do in Illinois and the Chicago area, it is hard not to believe that the quality of our political leaders at all levels is about as low as it could be. We have a governor, JB Pritzker, who bought the office. He made many promises about ethics and redistricting reform, but caved to the Democratic legislature on both. He’s already running for re-election; spending lavishly for TV spots even though the election isn’t until November of next year. I do believe that some towns and villages have honest leaders, but remind me: how many Chicago alderman have gone to jail or are under indictment? And let me remind you that if you asked most politicians whether they put the interests of the country or getting reelected first, they’d lie.

            Then there’s the pandemic. Despite the fact that mandatory vaccinations have been required for school children for as long as I can remember, suddenly for Covid-19 it has become a matter of “personal freedom.”  A good many of your 676,000 fellow citizens who have died of the virus did so because they refused to get vaccinated. In freedom-loving Florida, the death rate is 2.07 per 100,000.  In Illinois (let’s be fair to Governor Pritzker here), the death rate is 0.34. Other states with high death rates (Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, etc.) have governors who are still living in Trumpland.

            So maybe we should all go to our windows, open them, and yell: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”  But perhaps things aren’t quite as bad as I think. The White Sox look like they might get to the World Series; the Cubs are showing some signs of life; and the Bears stand atop the North Division of the NFC. Don’t believe me? Look it up.

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon

Lights! Camera! Action!

Lights! Camera! Action!

By Patrick F. Cannon

Action movies, defined broadly, include westerns, war movies, super hero extravaganzas, spy thrillers, space operas – well, just about any film that aims to get you to the edge of your seat. Most are forgettable – super hero films in particular have been overdone and oversold.

            But some stick in your mind, and are worth seeing again (and again!). Streaming services have made most them available to see almost on a whim. Here are a few of my favorites, classics that have more than stood the test of time, starting with the earliest. Have you seen any or all of them?

              The Adventures of Robin Hood. There have been many versions of this tale of the legendary character who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. The very best is the 1938 version starring Errol Flynn. Flynn was then in his charming prime. The lovely Olivia de Havilland was the demure Maid Marion; Basil Rathbone hammed it up as the evil Sheriff of Nottingham; and Claude Rains was the hopeful usurper, Prince John. The rest of the cast included a great selection of the era’s notable character actors, including the gravelly-voiced Eugene Pallette as Friar Tuck.    

            She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. Any number of John Ford westerns could be included, but I always liked this second of Ford’s so-called Cavalry Trilogy (the others are 1948s Fort Apache and 1950s Rio Grande). It’s the only one in color, which takes better advantage of the Monument Valley exteriors. John Wayne, of course, is the star. He is supported by the members of Ford’s  familiar reparatory group – Ward Bond, Ben Johnson, Harry Carey, Jr, and Victor McLaglen (who provides the comic relief).  The obligatory love interest is provided by John Agar and Joanne Dru. Treatment of the Native Americans wouldn’t pass muster these days, but Ford was by no means the worst offender.

            Bridge on the River Kwai.  A bit long for my taste (but not so long as director David Lean’s masterpiece, Lawrence of Arabia), this 1957 classic features a great performance by Alec Guinness as the obsessed British Colonel Nickolson, whose passion for doing things right makes him forget he’s building a bridge for the enemy. His nemesis is the Japanese Colonel Saito, played by Sessue Hayakawa. While they’re building the bridge, a reluctant American, William Holden, and a gung ho Brit, Jack Hawkins, are bent on destroying it. It all builds to a wonderful climax.

            The Day of the Jackal.  Although we know that the target of the film’s assassination attempt, Charles de Gaulle, was not in fact assassinated, the 1972 thriller, directed by Fred Zinnemann, convinces us to the last minute that he might be! Edward Fox plays the debonaire and menacing Jackal, with the late Michael Lonsdale as the French policeman who tracks him down. The excellent supporting cast includes Cyril Cusack, and a very young Derek Jacobi, on his way to becoming one of the great actors of his generation. Based on a book by Frederick Forsyth, it’s an example of a movie far better than the book upon which it’s based.

            The Man Who Would be King. Fulfilling an ambition he had had for years, in 1975 director John Huston finally was able to make a movie of this Rudyard Kipling story. It features Michael Caine and Sean Connery (good friends in real life) as two former British soldiers  who decide to travel to remote Kafiristan and use  their soldierly skills to take over a local kingdom and make their fortune. Christopher Plummer plays Kipling, who tries to dissuade them. As you might imagine, as most forays to that part of the world did and still do, it ends badly. Even so, there’s lots of action and humor along the way.

            The Last of the Mohicans.  While the 1936 version starring Randolph Scott is fairly good, director Michael Mann’s 1992 version of James Fenimore Cooper’s 1826 novel is more exciting and better acted. Casting Daniel Day-Lewis as Hawkeye was an inspired choice. He is utterly convincing as a White American raised by Native Americans. His intense preparation for roles was legendary – think the title role in Lincoln – and the toll it took was one reason he decided to retire from acting. Madeleine Stowe was suitably lovely as the love interest. Unlike the 1930s, when Native Americans were often played by Italians and Jews, here we have the real thing. Wes Studi convincingly played the menacing villain, Magua; and the late Russel Means – perhaps better known as an activist for Native American rights – was the much more sympathetic Chingachgook, the “last of the Mohicans.” Here is another case where the movie was better than the book.

            I’m sure you have your own favorites; but you could find worse ways to waste your time than by searching out and watching one of more of these.

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon

We Really Miss You, Fred

We Really Miss You, Fred

By Patrick F. Cannon

My contention that Fred Astaire was one of greatest singers of popular song of his era – hell, of any era – is often met with incomprehension or bemusement. Surely, people think, you mean one of the greatest dancers? That’s, of course, if they have any real idea of who he was in the first place. Like so many artists of even the day before yesterday, he has faded into the mists of entertainment history.

            A case in point: when giving tours at the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio in Oak Park, I would mention that the actress Anne Baxter was his grand daughter. Most of the 15 or so people on the tour wouldn’t  have a clue who she was, since her heyday was in the 40s, 50s and 60s. The exceptions would be people older than 70 and cinema nuts. While Fred Astaire had a much higher status and fame than she, he is just as dead for most young people.

            Yet, he deserves their attention. In an age of increasing and unceasing vulgarity, he might offer an oasis of grace and elegance. Even his walk was worth watching. In one of his best musicals – and one of the best of all movie musicals – The Band Wagon, he has arrived in New York on the 20th Century Limited. He is a Hollywood star whose career in is decline, and he has taken a role in a new Broadway musical. On the train, he meets Ava Gardener, playing herself. They chat a bit, but when they get off the train at Grand Central Station, she is mobbed by reporters and photographers, while poor Fred is ignored.

            Alone, he begins walking to the terminal, while singing “I’ll go my way, by myself…”  I urge you go Google these opening lyrics, which should lead you to an outtake from the movie. Notice how Fred’s walk is gracefully attuned to the music, how this simple act becomes imbued with meaning and emotion. Notice also how beautifully the song is sung, how each word is presented clearly for your consideration.

                Two of the greatest composers of American song of the 20th Century – really of all time – Irving Berlin and George Gershwin both were quoted as saying that they preferred Fred above all others to sing their songs. Why? Because they could count on him to sing the song as written, to annunciate the words clearly, and to be in tune and on pitch. I should also mention that the great Tony Bennett, now 95, many years ago mentioned Fred as one of his inspirations.

            I have a CD of some of his greatest songs. I keep it in my car and play it often. Like Bach’s Goldberg Variations, I never tire of listening to it. If you don’t know Fred as a great singer, I’m sure you would be able to find albums on Amazon or any of a number of music sites that would convince you. You can also check out YouTube. While we all should keep up with contemporary music (selectively!), we should also find time to honor the great art of the past.

             Finally, if you get a chance to watch any of his movies, you’ll discover that he could dance a little, too.

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon

Knots to You!

Knots to You!

By Patrick F. Cannon

As my faithful readers know, last week I favored them with a history of the necktie. Wishing only to bore you to a reasonable extent, I didn’t explain the various methods of actually tying the colorful fabric swatches. Nor will I now. But it did get me to thinking about knots in general.

            For most of us, our first experience with knots comes when we learn how to tie our shoe laces. As it happens, I was rather advanced in this regard, having learned the useful skill well in advance of entering the first grade. I should mention that the school in question, St. Thomas in Braddock, Pennsylvania, did not offer kindergarten. (Braddock is a steel town near Pittsburgh. It was and is the home of the Edgar Thompson Works of US Steel. As it happens, it was the first area mill – started by Andrew Carnegie in 1872 – and is now the last survivor in the area.) The good Catholics of Braddock no doubt associated kindergarten with the very few Protestants in the area, who were mostly their hated bosses at the mill.

            I’m afraid my knot education did not advance further for many years. Many young men learn the ropes as Boy Scouts. I avoided this, and for good reason. It seems my brother Pete – a go-getter if there ever was one – became a Scout. We were then living in the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago, and his troop embarked on a Fall camping trip in some nearby woods. Poor Pete failed to consult the calendar and see that the camping trip coincided with Halloween, always a favorite holiday for greedy youngsters. His consternation when he arrived home the very next day was memorable.

            I was sifting through my swag when detailed by my parents to accompany Pete on his hapless quest to extend Halloween one more day. You can just imagine the reaction of the local householders when we showed up at their doors. One was shocked to hear adults using such language on little tykes! Anyway, the Boy Scouts were knot for me.

            Other than the bow and square knots, I’m afraid my knot repertoire is somewhat limited. Perhaps if I had served in the Navy instead of the Army, I would have learned all about the Knotical Knots. On a trip to  Los Angeles, I took the family to Disneyland, but ran out of time before we could visit that other City of Angels attraction, Knots Fairy Farm.

            You should not be surprised to discover that there is a web site for knot devotees; it even has a “Knot of the Day.” When I visited, the featured knot was the Flat Overhead Bend, which I’m sure comes in handy on the tennis court. According to this refuge for the have-knots, the basic knots are the Overhand, Figure 8, Half Hitch, Square, Slip and Sheet Bend. Of these, I believe I have accomplished the Square and Slip, but I can’t be certain.

            The knot is also celebrated in song and story. Who can forget Hamlet declaiming: “To be or knot to be?”, or that enduring classic ballad by George and Ira Gershwin, “They’re writing songs of love, but knot for me.” And of course there’s the famous Forget Me Knot, which one can’t remember how to untie. I could go on and on, but you probably would rather I knot. Anyway, I’m heading for Knots Landing, for obvious reasons.

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon

Let’s Tie One On.

Let’s Tie One On

By Patrick F. Cannon

 I started wearing a necktie every working day in May of 1973; and donned the last one – save for weddings, funerals and television appearances – in August of 2001, when I retired from work that actually paid me money. That’s nearly 40 years and hundreds of ties of varying widths and lengths. Most were conservative – no fish or naked ladies for me. On a typical day, I would have perhaps 25 to choose from. I even had a motorized gadget that went round and round until that day’s tie appeared. I now own four ties (I think).

            I’m ashamed to say – considering my reputation as an historian of repute – that until today I never wondered about the history of this male adornment. I was astonished to find that these fashion accessories are a relatively recent phenomenon. I guess it never occurred to me to wonder why one never sees neckties in paintings of historical figures like Julius Caesar. Jesus Christ, Richard the Lion Hearted or the Venerable Bede. Strangely enough, they only began appearing in France (of course) during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648).

            It seems that Croatian mercenaries serving the French king were seen wearing small, knotted neckerchiefs around their necks. Even then, many Croatians had to leave the country to make a living. As a result of a later emigration, I had a Croatian uncle, John Ratesic, who was born in this country, but only wore a tie when he had to. His sons weren’t as lucky, becoming teachers and administrators. It was only after they retired that teachers became indistinguishable from hippies and other layabouts.

            The young Louis XIV, fashion forward even at the age of seven, noticed the jaunty Croats and soon began emulating their neckwear. Through some strange melding of the Croatian and French languages, the French ended up with the word cravat. For experienced linguists like me, it makes perfect sense as a combination of the Croatian “Hrvati” and the French “Croates.” By the way, the late actor and acrobat Nick Cravat had no relation to the neckwear, or to Louis XIV for that matter.

            Once men started to wear fabrics in various forms around their necks, it was Katie bar the door. Although you likely don’t give a fig, here are some of the more common versions. Still to be seen today, the “Stock” was originally a piece of stiff leather worn under the chin and tied in the back. It encouraged soldiers to maintain a proper posture by preventing them from slouching. It gave rise to the expression “pain in the neck.” Off duty soldiers often looked like they had just been hanged by the neck until almost dead. A version of the stock is still in use by the military, although now made of soft cloth, much to the dismay of drill sergeants.

            Somewhat similar is the “Ascot,” a more complicated version of the Stock. It is, of course, named after the famous British horse-race course of the same name. Its use was once mandatory if one was privileged to be in  the Royal Enclosure during the Annual Royal Meeting at Ascot in June. The Ascot tie was part of what we call “Morning Clothes,” which includes a cutaway coat and stripped pants for the gents  and extravagant hats for the ladies. The day’s festivities traditionally begin when the Queen ( or King on the rare occasions when there is one) enters the course in a horse-drawn carriage. One shudders to think what Queen Victoria might have done if she spied someone wearing a four-in-hand. I went to Ascot at a later meeting, but was only required to wear a jacket and regular tie.

            Most of we commoners wear the familiar long tie, knotted in various ways, including the Windsor,  named after its most famous devotee, the short-lived King Edward VIII, who abandoned his throne in 1936 when told he would be required to wear the Ascot tie instead of his beloved Windsor. By the way, the English take their ties more seriously than we careless Americans. Military units, private clubs and some schools have their unique ties. For example, if you attended the public school, Eton (which is actually a private school, but let’s not go into that now), you would be intitled to wear its black and white striped tie, thus being instantly recognized as an “Old Etonian.” By the way, you’re an “Old” Etonian even if you’re not strictly speaking, old.

            Famous English regiments also have distinctive striped ties. I once owned the tie of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. I shudder to think of what might have happened to me had I worn it in Edinburgh! As a former member of the US Army Signal Corps, I would be able to wear its tie, which has embroidered  crossed semaphore flags on an orange background. Alas, orange is not my best color.

            Current ties come in various lengths. The late, largely unlamented former president favored a very long tie, which extended as far down as his crotch. This may have been symbolic, but one can’t be sure.

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon

When Did the Melting Stop?

When Did the Melting Stop?

By Patrick F. Cannon

The final 2020 Census numbers are out. Nationally – and it’s no surprise – Hispanics had a significant increase to 18.7 percent of the total population. But so did Asians, at 5.6. Blacks held steady at 14.1, while Whites decreased to below 60 percent of the population (57.8). Interestingly, 10 percent of Americans describe themselves as multi-racial. You’ll be interested to know that you have 331,449,280 fellow Americans. That was a 7.4 percent increase in the total population since the 2010 Census, one of the smallest increases in recent history.

            The real reason for the Census – and where it gets interesting – is to enable politicians at every level to carve up the electorate into districts that favor them. For example, Illinois lost 18,124 souls (one of only three states to lose population, the others being poor West Virginia and perhaps even poorer Mississippi). Not so much, you say? Well, in fact, it will mean that the state will lose one seat in the Federal House of Representatives.

            Since the reapportionment process in Illinois is controlled by the Democratic Party, you can be certain that the lost seat will be Republican, making the split 15 Democrats to 4 Republicans. In contrast, Chicago’s population actually increased by about 50,000, to 2,746,388. It appears that someone was actually moving into all those new apartment buildings in the central city. But the good news is certain to cause a battle royal in reapportioning the city’s 50 wards.

            The current makeup of the Council is 20 African-American, 18 White and 12 Hispanic. There are currently no Asian-Americans. Based on the new Census, true parity would suggest a breakdown in the future of 16 Whites, 15 Latinos, 14 African-Americans and 4 Asians. Perhaps the last seat could go to someone of mixed race? Do you see a battle developing between blacks and Hispanics in these numbers? You can count on it. And it won’t be done in a spirit of good will.

            There is, of course, no law that says African-Americans should be able to vote only for those of that race. But that, in fact, is what happens when reapportionment takes place. By now, all of us should know what Gerrymandering means. In my case, it means that I end up in the 7th Congressional District, represented by Danny Davis. Davis is African-American. I’ve met him, and he’s an amiable former history teacher, who is getting a bit long in the tooth. To insure his election, his district extends from the lakefront through the West Side to Oak Park and Maywood; then from China Town in a very narrow corridor to Englewood. This shape results in a majority black district.

            The concept that members of a race or ethnic group must be represented only by a person of that group is now firmly embedded in most states. The Constitution is mute on this point, leaving apportionment to the states. While it has had to rule on many local battles, the Supreme Court has mostly avoided taking any position, even in the most egregious cases.

            This has resulted in the Balkanization of the American electorate. Instead of one American people – the famous “melting pot” – we have at least three competing groups: Whites, Blacks and Hispanics. There is also a growing Asian population, which no doubt will increasingly demand to be heard. Oh, and don’t forget that all of this can be further divided by sex, whatever that now means.

            We hear a great deal about “disenfranchisement.” This seems to mean that if you’re a black man, you really don’t have a vote if you can only vote for a white man (or woman). Before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, that was often the case. No longer. For example, Chicago has a black mayor; and New York will have one later in the year. Neither would have been elected with only black votes, so it appears that white and Hispanic voters are willing to vote for a black candidate if they feel he or she is the best qualified. As you may recall, Barack Obama was elected president twice, despite blacks only comprising 14 percent of the electorate.

            The number of representatives in Congress is based purely on the population of each state relative to the country’s total population. States and localities should have districts and wards based simply on population, and be contiguous. Race and ethnicity should not be a factor. Only citizenship. The party in power would hate such a system, which is precisely why it’s so badly needed. The real disenfranchisement takes place when a political party can carve up the map to insure it retains power. Even if I wanted to vote for a Republican, I couldn’t in many cases.

            As a result, ,the general quality of our politicians is only fair to poor. Under the current system, don’t look for any improvement. And there seems to be no way out.

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon