New Blood is Needed!

New Blood is Needed!

By Patrick F. Cannon

I live in Illinois’ Seventh Congressional District, a classic of Gerrymandering (look it up). Danny Davis is the current congressman. I’ve met him a couple of times, and he is a courtly and affable fellow, and is known for excellent constituent service. He is, however, 81 years old. Although I’m not sure, I think he will probably run for re-election in 2024. Frankly, I think it’s time for some younger blood, so I’m seriously thinking about running against him.

            “Wait!”  you might say. You’re even older than he is! Strictly speaking, you would be correct. But I have decided to be 32-years-old when I run. How could this be possible? In this great country of ours, one is not bound by one’s birth certificate. If you can change your sex on an official document, why not your age? Thirty-two seems a good age to me. The minimum age is 25, but that seems a bit young. While you might well have graduated from college – and even graduate school – by then, it doesn’t suggest much real experience in the world. That extra seven years could make all the difference.

            “But see here,” you could respond, “the jig would be up when they see you. You might pass for 75, but no one’s going to believe an old codger like you is 32!” I have to agree, but I plan to hire an actor to handle the public campaigning. As you may know, Chicago is a major center for live theatre, and there are always plenty of out-of-work actors looking for a juicy role. I’m thinking a clean-cut fellow, whose skin has just a hint of brownness. That way, it would seem believable when I claim that I have both distant African-American and Hispanic ancestors.

            As to educational background, mine is perfectly acceptable, but it lacks a bit of exotic cachet.  You may recall that former President Bill Clinton had Georgetown, Yale and Oxford (as a Rhodes Scholar) on his resume. Alas, there are several Rhodes Scholars in Congress, so claiming one for myself might cause a problem. But I very much doubt that there are any graduates of the Institute National du Service Public (INSP) in Paris, which has trained numerous French presidents and prime ministers. My French is a bit rusty, but I could stipulate that my stand-in actor has some French. Problem solved!

            What, you may ask, did you do for that seven years between getting your advanced degree at INSP and today? Well, I could claim to have been a deal maker for Goldman Sachs, but that’s a bit overdone. Instead, how about a stint digging water wells in Equatorial Guinea? No one really knows where it is, but it sounds needy and exotic. And maybe followed by several years teaching Bangladeshi women how to start their own fabric businesses? And how about working with a new generation of Juan Valdezes to establish organic coffee plantations in remote areas of Columbia?  Finding time to start a homeless shelter in Lake Forest should make up  the rest of those seven years!

            Of course, I’ll eventually be exposed, just like that George Santos fellow, but so what? With such a divided Congress, they’ll need my vote. And if they try to get rid of me, I’ll claim age discrimination!

Copyright 2023, Patrick F, Cannon

Shush! It’s a Secret!

Shush! It’s a Secret!

By Patrick F. Cannon

I don’t think anyone really knows how many classified documents exist in the various branches of the Federal government, but some of them have recently been found at the offices and homes of former President Donald Trump and the current occupant, Joe Biden. Biden’s seem to have been holdovers from his years as vice president. Special counsels have been appointed in both cases to discover if any laws – other than common sense – have been broken.

            While it would be prudent to let the investigations decide the seriousness of these lapses, it has been reported that at least some of the documents found in Biden’s former office were briefing documents related to foreign trips. If you were planning a trip to Russia, you would be well advised to visit the Department of State web site and get a briefing document to alert you to the pitfalls of travel to that worker’s paradise. It obviously wouldn’t be classified. But if you were vice president, your briefing document would include juicy details that your hosts might object to – and it would be classified.

            I happen to have a Top Secret security clearance, although it’s not active. It seems you keep your security clearance – which I’ve had since 1961 – unless it’s specifically cancelled. The most famous cancellation involved J. Robert Oppenheimer, who led the team that developed the Atomic Bomb. He lost his clearance in 1954 during the “Red Scare” because he had been associated in the 1930s with some “progressive” (read Communist) organizations, and had opposed the development of the Hydrogen Bomb. The Biden administration has recently restored his clearance, a purely symbolic gesture. He died in 1967, his career ruined.

            My clearance was related to my service as a cryptographer in the US Army from 1961-63. In case you think I labored to break Russian codes, that’s what a “crypto analyst” does. Instead, I used machines to encode and decode classified messages in a communications center located in La Rochelle, France. Lucky me! Or at least until I had to spend the last six months of my two-years’ service in middle of the Mojave Desert!

            I had a Top Secret clearance because it was possible that I might have had to handle such a message. As it happened, I never had one classified higher than Secret. By the way, the other (and lowest) classification was and is Confidential. These are still the main classifications, although there are permutations.  I still can’t tell you the content of the messages I encoded/decoded, but I was in the Army during the Berlin Wall and Cuban Missile crises; and the early stages of the Viet Nam debacle. The reason I was in La Rochelle? The Army operated a major supply port just down the Atlantic coast at La Pallice.

            In addition to taking a lie-detector test, I found out later that the F.B.I. had interviewed my friends, neighbors and employers. Homosexuals were barred from serving in the armed services then, so the lie-detector and background check was designed, among other things, to discover your sexual tendencies, or whether you were a Commie or anarchist. The sexual thing may have been related to the reports that several of the British intelligence officers who had spied for Russia had been gay, and it was presumed – without any real evidence – that their sexuality made them vulnerable to blackmail.      

            By the way, having a Top Secret clearance doesn’t mean you have total access. For example, my signal company commander had the clearance (all officers do), but he wasn’t permitted access to the secure room where we did our work – we called it the “vault.” Even Members of Congress, who are automatically given clearance, are only granted access on a “need to know” basis. Certain officials, including the president of course, are given total access.

            Once I had decoded a message, it was either delivered personally or picked up by the addressee(s). They were required to show identification, proof of clearance, and sign a register. What they then did with it was out of my hands. Of course, that’s the rub. Legally, they had to store the message – or any classified material – in an approved safe, not in a box stored next to their favorite Corvette. Of course, that’s the problem. Who’s checking on this stuff? No one, it seems.

            There are any number of cases where government employees – even C.I.A. agents like Aldrich Ames – walked off with classified documents and sold them to the Russians. And who can forget Chelsea (born Bradley Edward) Manning? But there are many more cases of simple carelessness. Instead of locking it up, bureaucrat X just leaves it on his desk; or brings it home to read later, where it gets mixed up with the bills and bank statements. Since there are millions of pages of this stuff floating around, is it any wonder that so much of it goes astray?

            Every study of security classifications has concluded that much of it need not have been classified to begin with. Reform is suggested; reform never happens.  It has also been suggested that documents are often classified to avoid disclosing embarrassing missteps or even illegal activities.   I don’t doubt that for a minute. Finally, I have a modest proposal. Let’s hire James Earl Jones to read the contents of the documents found at Mar El Lago and Wilmington outload on national television for all to hear. It might take a while, but it could be quite amusing.

Copyright 2023, Patrick F. Cannon

Everyone OK With Puppies?

Everyone OK With Puppies?

By Patrick F. Cannon

You may wonder why I’m illustrating this week’s article with a photo of cute puppies. Well, I thought, who could object to seeing puppies? Then I remembered the more avid members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who would object to the “enslavement” of dogs, cats and other animals for the amusement of their human owners.

            In any  event, I thought a photo of inarguably cute puppies would be safer than, say, a painting of the prophet Muhammad. As it happens, some, but not all, Muslims object to the visual depiction of the founder of their religion. They think it smacks of idolatry, much as the early Christian protestants did during the Reformation when they painted over and otherwise obliterated the iconography in the cathedrals and churches of Northern Europe.

            Erika Lopez Prater, an adjunct professor of art at Hamline University (St. Paul, MN), showed a 14th Century Persian painting of Mohammad receiving revelations from the Angel Gabriel, and got fired for her transgression. This, even though she warned Muslim students beforehand, giving them the choice of watching or not. Since a Muslim student complained anyway, the university saw no other possible remedy than denying Prater a new contract and apologizing to its Muslim students.

            As it happens, Hamline is the oldest university in Minnesota. It has a student body of about 1,800, and prides itself on its high ranking among smaller universities. Its mission statement has the usual twaddle about diversity and inclusiveness. I saw nothing in its literature to suggest it has any religious affiliation. Yet, it has decided to give in to religious pressure and commit an afront to academic freedom, thus joining the increasing number of schools that have disgracefully done the same.

            What Hamline has done is wrong in so many ways that one hardly knows where to begin. It has decided that the students, not the university and its faculty, are the best judges of what will be taught. As someone who knows something about the history of the visual arts, I can say with some conviction that artists have often tested the limits of toleration. In this case, the 14th Century Persian artist was not doing anything of the kind. What he did was perfectly acceptable for that time and place. But today’s students seem to think history started with them; and that their beliefs are the only ones that matter.

            The Muslim students claimed that showing the image was clearly Islamophobic (I’m sure that would have been news to the Muslim artist who painted it). Hamline’s president, Faneese S. Miller, agreed, claiming that respect for Muslim students “should have superseded academic freedom.” Far too many university leaders seem to be of the same mind.  The word “pandering” seems to fit.

            The men who founded our republic – some of them religious themselves – understood that religion needed to be separated as much as possible from government and education. We have struggled with this from the beginning. We need to keep struggling. We need only look at countries like Iran and its enemy Israel to see how religion can distort rational public life. If we permit Muslim (or any religious) students to limit what can be taught, where does it end? 

Copyright 2023, Patrick F. Cannon

Hope Springs Eternal!

Hope Springs Eternal

By Patrick F. Cannon

I’ve been a fan of thoroughbred horse racing since 1957. In addition to the Chicago tracks – Washington Park, Arlington Park, Sportsman’s Park, Hawthorne (all now gone except the latter) – I have been to the races New York, Florida, California and Arkansas; and overseas in England, Ireland, France, South Africa, and Hong Kong. While never a big bettor, I’m sure I’ve lost more than I’ve won (the fate of most gamblers, whether they admit it or not).

            After all these years of fandom, I decided last year to take the plunge and become an owner. Partnerships in owning horses have become much more common, as the cost of buying well-bred young horses has increased. Among others, MyRacehorse – which I chose –  enters partnerships and offers small shares of their share in a variety of horses to folks like me. One of them, Authentic, won the Kentucky Derby and Breeder’s Cup Classic. So, for less than $300, I bought miniscule shares in three two-year-old horses. On January 1, as all race horses do, they all became three years old.  

            Only one of them, Ein Gedi, has actually run, finishing fifth and seventh in her two starts. In watching her races, I had the feeling that she was more comfortable being part of the herd than leading it. In both, she was among the leaders, but seemed unwilling or unable to break free and lead. Horses are, after all, herd animals, and most herds have only a few leaders. She was supposed to run recently at Tampa Bay Downs in a turf (grass) race, but heavy rains caused the race to be transferred to the dirt track, and she was scratched.

            Because she seems uninterested in being a race horse, she may be sold as a brood mare prospect. She was bred in England; her sire is the highly successful Oasis Dream, and many well-bred but unsuccessful mares have themselves produced excellent race horses. By the way, she was named after an oasis in Israel called Ein Gedi, which translates as “spring of the kid.” A good name, but a horse that won’t make me rich.

            Another filly that I own part of, Night Combat, is not going to the races at all. It seems she had an injury that will prevent her from ever standing the rigors of training and racing. She is also well bred, being a daughter of Malibu Moon, who sired more than 130 stakes winners (and counting) before he died in 2021. She will also be sold as a broodmare prospect. My share might be a couple of bucks.

            Still alive – as we horsemen are wont to say – is Three Jewels, a colt by the Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah. Last year, he had a small bone chip removed, a common occurrence for young Thoroughbreds. Just the other day, he was diagnosed with bone bruising, another common ailment. He will spend the next 90 days living in grassy splendor in sunny Florida. If he heals properly, he might return to training for a summer debut.   

            So, I am the part owner of one horse who has run without winning; one that will never run; and one that may run – if he doesn’t run into a fence or other solid object – this coming summer. Discouraged? Not a bit of it. Indeed, I just bought three shares in a handsome two-year-old colt by Candy Ride, an undefeated champion who has sired numerous takes winners, including the new sire sensation, Gun Runner. His name is Secret Crush, no doubt a reference to the on-line game, Candy Crush.

            I like the name, and, you know, this could be the one!

Copyright 2023, Patrick F. Cannon

You’re Only as Young as You Are

You’re Only as Young as You Are

By Patrick F. Cannon

In an effort to buoy our spirits at this time of the year, the print and broadcast media search out heartwarming storiesto at least try to give some balance to what has been a typically gloomy year – war in Ukraine, famine in Africa, inflation, and Donald Trump announcing his candidacy for president in 2024. Closer to home, Chicago’s professional sports teams have been uniformly mediocre; even my alma mater, Northwestern, had its second losing season in a row.

            So, it’s all to the good that the media find positive stories, of which, thank God, there are no lack. Let me remind you that Americans are the most generous people on earth. In 2021, donations reached $485 billion; on a per capita basis, nearly twice as much as the second most generous country, New Zealand. Americans are also generous with their time, leading the developed world in that category as well, with New Zealanders again second.    

            But some news stories have both positive and negative aspects (you know, the “good news, bad news” conundrum). . You may have missed it, but the voters in Florida’s 10th Congressional District elected Democrat Maxwell Frost in November. When the new Congress convenes in January, he will be its youngest member, at 25 years and 351 days. The Constitution requires members to be at least 25, so no problem. (The youngest member of all time was William Charles Cole Claiborne, who was a mere 22 when he was elected in 1797. Despite the Constitutional requirement, he was seated anyway!).

            So, the good news for young Frost is he got elected at such a young age. The bad news – as reported by the New York Times – is that his credit rating is so bad he’s having trouble renting an apartment in Washington. One of the reasons for this embarrassing state of affairs is that he maxed-out his credit cards running for office, despite getting a donation from another up-and-coming young fellow, Sam Bankman-Fried. It may now be too late to touch him for another donation.

            Frost is of Afro-Cuban heritage, probably an advantage in Florida. Aside from being an Uber driver, he has been primarily employed as an organizer, most notably for March for our Lives, which advocates for stricter gun control. He also did a stint at the American Civil Liberties Union. He “attended” Valencia College, but doesn’t seem to have graduated. Of course, neither did Abraham Lincoln or Harry Truman, who didn’t go at all. For the record, the universities with the most representation among congressmen and senators are Harvard, Stanford and Yale. Do they share the blame for the mess we’re in? or is it just a coincidence?

            As you may know if you’re a regular reader, I think Joe Biden will be too old to run again. Ditto Donald Trump, although he’s also burdened with other handicaps. Since I’m 84, I think I have some perspective. While I’m perfectly capable of doing this blog, and even writing what will be my eighth book, could I lead the country and the so-called free world? I don’t think so, and I think President Biden – at a mere 80 — has shown himself to be not quite up to it.

            So, if you can be too old to hold high office, can you be too young? In general, I think the answer is “yes.”  I see nothing in Frost’s background to suggest he has the kind of experience that would give him perspective on the needs of the broader country. He will no doubt become a member of the “Progressive Caucus” of his party, along with the Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her “squad.” By the way, for what it’s worth, he was endorsed by both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and will represent Orlando, which includes Disney World and all those other fantasy lands. I wonder if Goofy voted for him?

            While I think he lacks the experience to be an effective legislator, I must admit he shines brightly in contrast to the 34-year-old newly elected Republican congressman from New York’s Second District, George Santos. Santos lied about almost everything one could lie about to get elected  — his education, employment, ethnic background, marriage history; I could go on and on. Look him up for all the gory details (which the vaunted New York media failed to discover until after the election). Despite the marriage, he’s the first openly gay Republican.

            Will he be seated when the new Congress convenes on January 6? You would think not, but Kevin McCarthy might need his vote to become speaker. He has overlooked much in the last few years to become speaker, why not this?

            Happy New Year! 

Copyright 2022, Patrick F. Cannon

Another Christmas

Another Christmas

By Patrick F. Cannon

My first memories of Christmas are of our home in Braddock, Pennsylvania, and of the real tree decorated with lights, ornaments and tinsel. The lights and ornaments stayed with us for many years, travelling with us to Homestead, PA; then Chicago; and finally back to McKeesport, PA. When the tree came down with the new year, we carefully removed the tinsel to be reused when Christmas returned.

            We also had a large portrait of Santa, maybe 3 by 4 feet, which was tacked to the wall every year. To this day, I’m convinced it was painted from life. That image will always be Santa to me. I wish I still had it.

            I think I was probably three- or four-years-old when I became fully conscious of what Christmas was supposed to mean, i.e., the birth of Jesus. We did have a creche with the usual figures standing around the manger. I don’t remember it clearly, but I’m sure we went to Mass on Christmas day (I don’t recall going to Mass regularly until I started Catholic school). Not surprisingly, I do remember some of the presents!

            My father was then a city councilman, and I suspect some of the presents we got were from “friends” trying to curry favor. I don’t really know who bought them, but one year my brother Pete and I both got hobby horses, not wooden ones, but realistic horses with hair, manes, tails and all! Pete was blessed with an excess of energy, and one day jumped on my horse and broke it beyond repair. As a result I was given his. He never did understand the justice involved! Another memorable gift was a fire truck you could actually ride on.

            We moved to Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood early in 1946. Initially, my father was a branch manager for the national Holland Furnace Company, but later started his own local heating and air conditioning company. Those  were prosperous years – I remember Erector, Tinker Toy and chemistry sets; functioning gas stations; Schwinn bicycles (with headlights and horns); football uniforms; and golf clubs (we lived across the street from the Jackson Park golf course. I hack away still). Then, sometime in 1949, it all changed. My father lost his business (for reasons murky to me still) and we left the upper-middle-class for the lower, and Chicago for the grime of the Pittsburg area, where my father returned to a much-diminished Holland Furnace Company.

            Not too long before then, I stopped believing in Santa, as all kids must. Over the coming years, Christmas lost some of its wonder for me. My father died in 1950, and my mother just wasn’t able to cope. She worked what amounted to a minimum-wage job, and eventually we had to move into public housing. Both my brother Pete and I worked, not to make pocket money, but to earn a living.  When my mother died in 1956, I moved back to Chicago to live with my sister Kathleen, who was 10 years older and married. She had stayed in Chicago when we moved. The Holidays became brighter then.

            But I think it was when I had children of my own that Christmas regained its magic. Most parents focus on their kids, choosing what gifts they can afford and keeping the myth of Santa alive as long as possible. Extended families become more important too. While it’s undeniable that Christmas and Hanukah have become more secular – the percentage of regular churchgoers continues to decline – this does not overly concern me. Unlike Thanksgiving’s one day gathering, the “Holidays” as they’ve come to be known, offer numerous opportunities for families to gather and renew their bonds.

            It seems to me that this is more important than whether Jesus was born on December 25, or was actually divine. Or even whether the whole thing is just another celebration of the winter (or summer) Solstice. His message, often ignored even by Christians, remains powerful. And what other holiday, I ask, has music as disparate as “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” and Bach’s Christmas Oratorio?

            Anyway,  Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah and Kwanzaa, and even Happy Holidays for the committed secularists!

Copyright 2022, Patrick F. Cannon

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A Balancing Act

A Balancing Act

By Patrick F. Cannon

I was born in 1938, so would have been six years old in 1944 when World War II was entering its most dramatic final stages. In those days, we went to the movies at least once a week, and I vividly recall the newsreels, with their reports of America’s increasing battlefield successes in Europe and Asia. One of the popular slogans that kids recited was based on Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: “Whistle while you work, Hitler is a jerk, Mussolini is a meany, and Tojo’s even worse.”

            We had no real idea then of the horrible carnage these men had unleashed, even though they were routinely demonized in the press and government propaganda. In the end, I learned they caused the death of between 65 and 75 million soldiers and civilians. Stalin was our ally during the war, but he was no less a monster than his Axis protagonists. For example, in the early 1930s, forced agricultural collectivization caused the death from starvation of at least 4 million Ukrainians. Stalin’s admirer Putin seems to be following in his footsteps.

            During my lifetime, these monsters have had many descendants – Mao, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, both Assads; the various Kim’s of North Korea – not to mention the serial killers and mass murderers who seem to fill the news almost daily. Compared to them, and to be fair, Donald Trump hardly measures up, loathsome as he is.

            It’s easy then to be pessimistic about the human race; and yet, while these and other monsters were plying their gruesome trades, others were making positive contributions – and are still doing so. No one really knows how many people were kept alive by the development of Penicillin, but its wide availability starting in 1942 certainly saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of soldiers in World War II. I think we can gratefully thank Alexander Fleming and  his colleagues at Oxford University, Howard Florey and Ernest Chain, with beginning the process of vaccine development that has saved many more lives than Hitler and his ilk were able to end. (If we could have kept politics and religion out of medicine, even more people would be alive today.)

            I have said this before, but it bears repeating: abject poverty around the world has never been lower, thanks largely to free-market Capitalism. Advances in agriculture, primarily due to American scientists, are feeding a growing world population. Starvation does exist, but primarily in war-torn areas of Africa. Although you might think otherwise if you believe the doomsayers, malnutrition is almost nonexistent in this country, and is largely limited to medical conditions, mostly anorexia. Do some children occasionally go hungry? Yes, but not because food isn’t available for them.

            Although climate change is real, the alarmists who predict the end of mankind don’t seem to have any faith that mankind will find a way to “not only survive but prevail,” as the American writer William Faulkner said in his acceptance speech when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. It will be a much slower process than the idiots who throw paint on works of art would wish, but emerging technologies will eventually solve this problem just as Fleming and his successors had found ways to kill the bacteria and viruses that once killed so many of us.

            I know how hard it is to be positive when we’re burdened with what seems to be the worst gang of politicians in our history. To stay sane, I try to remember that the Austria that spawned Hitler also gave us Mozart; the Italy that fostered Mussolini also fostered DaVinci; and the Japan that followed Tojo to its ruin has enriched us with the work of Katsushika Hokusai (see above) and, more recently, economic and ubiquitous digital photography.

            So, let’s not give way to despair. And why not make that year-end donation to your favorite cause? Or give a buck or two to the next panhandler you come across? It is, after all, the season to be jolly.

\Copyright 2022, Patrick F. Cannon

Happy Holidays From Dogpatch!

Happy Holidays From Dogpatch!

By Patrick F. Cannon

Well, another year has passed, so I thought I’d bring you all up to date on the family as the holidays approach. As usual, there wasn’t a dull moment. First the bad news: old Uncle Abner won’t be with us this year – once again, the Parole Board turned him down. I guess he’ll have to serve the full sentence. Heck, he’ll only be 70 when he gets out. If he watches his health, he ought to be able to enjoy some of the cash he has stashed away. He still refuses to tell me where it’s hid, despite me telling him inflation is eating away at it, and I’d be happy to invest it for him. Oh, well, he’s as cantankerous as ever.

            Daisy Mae is pregnant again. Not sure who the father is this time either. As you know, all her kids look just a little different. I call them the rainbow coalition. She’s a worker though. Taking an online course in beauty culture, using money borrowed from the government. She says no one every pays off them loans, so it’s like a free education. Aren’t these young folks smart?

            As you know, young Georgie is in the army. He made it all the way to corporal before he got busted back to private for drinking on duty. At least they didn’t give him a dishonorable discharge like his brother Amos. I guess they treat drunkenness and attempted murder different.

            You probably heard that Aunt Nellie got married again. You kinda lose track, but I think this might be number six. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that her former husbands all died suddenly.  At least they all left her some money. Maybe she’ll have better luck this time. The new husband looks healthy enough.

            I’m proud that the family remains on the cutting edge of social change. Cousin Charlie announced that he was changing his name to Charlene. Guess we’ll all have to bone up on our pronouns. I suggested to Charlene that the beard might be considered odd for a lady, but he’s (she’s?) quite fond of it, reminding me that the carnival that comes through town still features a bearded lady. So, it looks like a career change might be in the offing too.

            I’m sure you’ve seen all the media stories about son Ralphie. As you know, he’s the only member of the family to graduate from college – and Harvard no less. He’d already graduated by the time they found out he’d phonied up his transcripts and ACT scores to get in, and by then were too embarrassed to go public. Ralphie says the trick is to get in. After that you don’t have do much, since they think you’re already smart enough.

            Anyway, Ralphie’s now got the record for the greatest Ponzie scheme in history. Unlike old Madoff, he got away to Russia with the dough before it was discovered, so all that education sure paid off.  That picture of him and Putin riding those white horses bare-chested made all the papers. Funny though, when we tried to get a passport to visit him, we got turned down. I complained to our congressman, and he told me he was surprised too, since he thought they would be happy to see us leave the country. Not sure what he meant by that.

            I hope you won’t believe that story about wife Rosie being found naked with the preacher. She told me it was just a new way or praying; something about going back to the innocence of Adam and Eve before they ate the apple. She said it made her feel so good she might try it again.

            As for me, my run for Congress didn’t work out so good. I thought for sure having former President Trump’s endorsement would do the trick, but those crooked Democrats foiled me by actually going to the polls and voting. I was wrongly criticized for not having any political experience, which I thought was actually a plus. I also thought it was unfair to bring up those accusations of sexual misconduct, especially since the statute of limitations had already expired. Anyway, if the former president of the United States can play grab ass, why not your humble servant? I guess I’ll just have to go back to selling used cars salvaged from the recent hurricanes. I always hate to see stuff go to waste.

            My brother Caleb says he won’t be attending any of the family’s Christmas gatherings this year. Says he can’t afford to, since he claims I borrowed $5,000 from him some years back and never paid him back. He’s the eldest you know, and it’s sad to see his memory starting to fail him.

            Well, that’s all for this year. You have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. As for me, I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for Yokum family.

Copyright 2022, Patrick F. Cannon

Have Some More Ice Cream!

Have Some More Ice Cream!

By Patrick F. Cannon

I’m obese. Not morbidly obese, but I could certainly stand to lose 20 or even 30 pounds. I even know how I could do it: dispense with the daily cocktail (occasionally supplemented by a glass or two of wine); cut down on the pasta; and forgo the almost daily dish of ice cream. Oh, and the cookies too. I already exercise, but I could do a bit more.

            So, I know why I’m overweight and how I could lose the excess. Yet, a “guest essay” in the New York Times reported that the world’s top researchers on obesity met at the Royal Society in London and couldn’t agree on anything but one thing: obesity is not a personal failing.  This is reassuring to me and my fellow fatties. And it must be more than reassuring to the morbidly obese, many of whom have always claimed that being chubby is simply a result of hormones or even a lifestyle choice.

            As it happens, part of our weight problem is related to our relative prosperity. Sugar, once a luxury, is now relatively cheap. We like sweet stuff and can afford to indulge on a daily basis, whereas our ancestors enjoyed it only as a rare treat. The number of jobs where physical labor ate up the calories have also dwindled. Meat was once an occasional luxury. Fast food outlets did not exist; nor did prepared and packaged meals.

            I don’t want to go too far into the weeds here, but about 41 percent of Americans are technically obese, defined as have a body mass index (BMI) 30 or higher (have the 60 percent who aren’t obese been vaccinated, or do they just have better self-control?). Morbid obesity starts at a BMI of 40 or more, or 100 pounds above normal weight. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that obesity added $173 billion to our  health care costs in 2019, mainly from some kinds of cancer; coronary artery and cardiovascular disease; type 2 diabetes (with its own litany of problems); and stroke, among others.

            While there are some medical and mental conditions that can cause obesity, the majority of overweight people know why they’re chubby and can actually do something about it, despite what the experts might believe. Many of you reading this have gone on diets and lost weight. Others have resumed their former eating habits and put it back on. It would be nice to blame your backsliding on fate, wouldn’t it?

            Nowhere in the Times article was any mention of calorie intake and personal choice as a factor in obesity. I think it would be instructive to quote from the author’s (Julia Belluz) concluding paragraph: “Until we see obesity as something that’s been imposed on society, not as something individuals choose (my itals.), the fat shaming, magic hacks and bad policies will continue. Until we stop blaming ourselves and one another and start focusing attention on environments and systems, the global obesity rate will continue its ascent…”

            No individual should ever be “shamed” for obesity or anything else for that matter. But what of education?  Perhaps I missed it, but I see no concerted public education project to alert people to the dangers of obesity. As a former smoker, I can attest to the effectiveness of the relentless anti-smoking advertising campaigns. In 1965, 43 percent of adults in this country smoked; in 2018, 14 percent. Among young people, the rate went from 27.5 percent to 8.8 percent.

            By all means, let’s treat those who have actual medical or mental conditions, but why should the rest of us be left off the hook? Are we really that helpless and hopeless?

Copyright 2022, Patrick F. Cannon

National Service?

National Service?

By Patrick F. Cannon

I first set foot on British soil on November 11 in the early 1980s. I was enroute to India for a meeting, and decided to break the trip by spending a few days in London to see the sights. I took a train from Heathrow which left me off in a tube (subway) station just a couple of blocks from my hotel.

            The first thing I saw when I emerged from the station was an elderly gentleman dressed in a red uniform selling poppies. November 11 was for many years called Armistice Day, for it was on that day in 1918 that World War I  hostilities ceased. Since we managed to have World War II since then, it came to be called Remembrance Day in the UK, and Veteran’s Day here. I was reminded of this a couple of weeks ago when I saw a photo of the new King Charles III placing a wreath at London’s Cenotaph, the memorial designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens to commemorate those who had died in World War 1.  

            The man who sold me the poppy was, I discovered later, a Chelsea pensioner, a resident of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, a retirement and nursing home for British Army veterans; thus the red unform. Selling poppies is still a tradition in the UK; here, not so much, since the American Legion, which sold them, has declined in membership, along with so many other volunteer organizations.

            While originally meant for those who had served in the war, the day now honors all veterans, including me. I managed to avoid shooting wars, although I was in the Army during both the Berlin Wall (1961) and Cuban Missile (1962) crises. I was drafted, and served the required two years in France and the Mojave Desert. After basic training and signal school in Georgia, I can’t say my service was in any way burdensome. But it was worthwhile in many ways.

            Why worthwhile? The draft ended in 1973, although young men are still required to register when they turn 18. Sometime in the mid-1970s, I wrote an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune calling for its return, but in a different form. Instead of just military service, draftees could opt for a variety of ways to serve their country for one or two years. The Peace Corps was mentioned, but so were  things like the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which brought unemployed young men together in camps to improve the National Parks and do other needed public works.

            One of the reasons the country is now so divided is simply that our young people are segregated by class, income and education. My close friends in the Army – in just two years – included a blacksmith’s son from rural Illinois; one from New Jersey, whose father was the export manager for the Ford Motor Company; the son of a wealthy tobacco farmer from North Carolina; a black kid from Chicago who had enlisted to escape the gang culture; a banker from Long Island; and even a distant cousin of the Kennedy’s. Education level ranged from near illiteracy to a master’s degree in biology (strangely, the Army in its mysterious way decided he would make a good cook!).

            I think one year of national service would be enough. If the “draftee” opted for the military, that would be sufficient time to go through basic training and a specialist school. After the year was up, these young people (of both sexes by the way) would then be required to serve a term in the National Guard or reserves. The armed services would still be primarily volunteer forces. Everyone who does national service would receive educational benefits.

            Would the young person destined for Harvard benefit from serving with someone who was destined to be a plumber or truck driver? And vice versa? Most would.  Some of course wouldn’t. In my case, I wouldn’t be the person I am today – more than 60 years later – were it not for being forced to spend two years learning about people and places I hadn’t known existed. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to go from Lake Forest to Harvard to Wall Street with a detour to a barracks in Appalachia. Maybe the young lady from New York’s upper east side wouldn’t see the “other” as quite so deplorable. And Veteran’s Day might have a whole new meaning.

Copyright 2022, Patrick F. Cannon