Lucky Guys!

By Patrick F. Cannon

I was in at the beginning. The beginning of the women’s movement I mean. The marches, the bra burnings, the demands for equality in opportunity and pay. It was also the heyday of the “sensitive” man, the husband or partner who was willing to share child care and household chores. “Stay at home” dads suddenly became commonplace; those who resisted often found themselves in the divorce court.

            If this social revolution had happened 20 or 30 years sooner, it might have been truly earthshaking for men. I remember my mother hauling out the wringer/washer once a week and spending most of the day doing the laundry. During warm weather – and if it wasn’t raining – the laundry was hung outside to dry. During the winter, it was hung in the basement or attic (if you had one). The next day, out came the ironing board and iron. There was no such thing as no-iron or permanent press, so almost everything had to be ironed. Another day shot.

            In my youth, men didn’t cook. And, if you can believe it, the food you bought was largely raw, expecting to be actually cooked. The floors one trod upon did not then have protective coatings that provided an everlasting shine. The poor housewife could often be found on her hands and knees scrubbing away, then applying a coat of wax that had then to be buffed.

            But in the secret halls of male power, wise heads could see the inevitable rise of feminist discontent. A series of meetings were held in remote locations. For example, manufacturers brought to fruition long suppressed plans for labor-saving  appliances: automatic clothes washers and  driers; dishwashers; frost-free refrigerators that actually made and dispensed ice cubes; micro-wave ovens; and ranges that cleaned themselves!

            Also unveiled were the long-known secrets for treating fabrics so laborious ironing was no longer necessary. Rugs and carpets that repelled stains suddenly became available. Wood floors could now be coated with miracle finishes that retained their shine. Linoleum – which required constant upkeep – gave way to perpetually-glowing vinyl. The large and clumsy vacuum cleaner with its annoying cord gave way to the battery-powered light-weight wand.

            Beginning with the TV dinner, food companies developed a sometimes bewildering variety of prepared dishes that one could simply pop into the oven or micro-wave. Already-prepared gourmet dishes became available at the local super market. No longer was ordering-in limited to the local Chinese restaurant or pizzeria; meals could dash to your door from even the finest eatery.

            All of this and more was planned to come to fruition just as the women’s movement reached its peak. Men were thus shamed into sharing housework that had largely ceased to exist. House-husbands were able to ship the little tykes off to day care. When they reached school age, things got even better. After they put them on the school bus, they could get together with their fellow men for coffee or some poker, or even a round of golf. Thus refreshed, they could commiserate with their returning wives, who had spent the day clawing their way up the corporate ladder.

            So, men everywhere have this now-disbanded secret society to thank for their new-found leisure. I can now reveal that one of its leaders, the legendary Henry Kissinger, has just celebrated his 100th birthday. Happy birthday Hank, and thanks!

Copyright 2023, Patrick F. Cannon  

Wretched Excess?

By Patrick F. Cannon

When I was a young lad in the Pittsburgh area, my choice of beers seemed more than adequate. The main brands were Duquesne, Iron City and Fort Pitt. McKeesport, where I lived from 1950-56, had its own brand, Tube City (McKeesport was the home of the National Tube Company, part of US Steel). If you had a few extra pennies, and wanted to show your sophistication, you could order Rolling Rock from distant Latrobe, PA. The country and private club nabobs may have quaffed national brands like Budweiser or Schlitz after their golf or tennis, but not we mere mortals.

            In those days, bars had to close on Sundays. Wily and thirsty Pennsylvanians would leave their favorite tavern at midnight on Saturday and meander (or stagger) over to their nearest private club, which were exempt. As it happened, the Sons of Italy, the Greek American Protective Association or the Ancient Order of Hibernians, didn’t care much about your ancestry as long as you paid your membership dues.

            While I drink beer only rarely now, my local liquor store – Binnys, a major Chicago-area chain – probably has at least a hundred brands to choose from (actually more like 700. I checked). In addition to the traditional national brands (Bud, Coors, Millers, etc.), there will be a bewildering array of imports and “craft” beers. I’m sure Pittsburgh has a similar culture of beer lovers thinking they have come up with a new way to make beer. They go into (and out of) business on almost a daily basis. Some succeed in a big way. In Chicago, Goose Island was such a notable success that it was bought by the folks who own Budweiser.

            I rarely drink beer myself anymore, but I do keep some on hand for guests. At the moment, I have some Stella Artois from Belgium, Bernard Bohemian Lager from the Czech Republic, and Two Brothers Domaine Dupage Ale from Warrenville, IL (which happens to be in DuPage County). Lurking in the back of the fridge is one 16 ounce can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. It’s there in case my daughter Beth wants a Radler, which is beer mixed with 7-Up or something similar. She feels using expensive beer is a waste for this German-invented thirst quencher.

            Just think about this embarrassment of riches! What a great country! Instead of choosing from maybe 10 brands of beer, Capitalist entrepreneurship has given you 700! (Actually more, but that’s all my Binnys has space for.) There are lagers and pilsners, ales and stouts. Some are now aged in used bourbon barrels, or flavored with rare fruits and spices. You can find the palest of pale ales, and the blackest of stouts. Like dry? Like sweet? Like hoppy? Or malty? Some brewer is ready to please.

            Don’t like beer? The craft spirit folks are ready to oblige. Just take Bourbon for example. Binnys has 277 kinds available, priced from $10.99 to $399.99 for 750 ml (you can actually pay up to almost $3,000 for the rarest of elixirs).  If you prefer Rye whiskey, don’t despair (although you have only about 100  brands to choose from).

            I won’t even start on wine. The point is that it’s a Golden Age for the drinker. As long as people are willing to risk their money, talent and passion to come up with a better brew or spirit, they’ll have a receptive audience. It’s like building a better mousetrap.

            But I wonder what they’re drinking in Havana and Pyongyang tonight? 

Copyright 2023, Patrick F. Cannon

Ah! Spring!

By Patrick F. Cannon

Spring has sprung! I know, I know. According to the meteorologists, it sprang on March 1, that being the date, I suppose, when meteors start falling from the sky. The astrologers beg to differ, claiming it actually sprangs when we experience the vernal equinox, which can happen between March 19-21 (it was March 20 this year). In case you skipped Science in school, that’s the day when we have equal amounts of day and night.

            To me, however, it only begins when the first Crocuses begin to appear, followed by the Daffodils, Tulips and flowering trees. It culminates on or around Mother’s Day, when people who live in our climate feel it’s safe to begin planting their annual flowers. When we still had our Oak Park house, my late wife Jeanette and I would make our annual pilgrimage to Pesches Garden Center in Des Plaines to buy flats of Impatiens, Begonias and Petunias. Most years, we would also get a new perennial or two, as well as tomato and, pepper plants; and seeds for lettuce, carrots, basil, mint and parsley.

            I was the preparer, and Jeanette the planter and nurturer. Before planting, the vegetable and annual plots had to be tilled, adding compost and fertilizer to get the stuff growing properly. We also had extensive perennial gardens, which required similar care. I also did some weeding and mulching, but my main  task for the rest of the growing season was watering, one of the more satisfying of human endeavors.  In later years, an outside service dealt with the lawn, keeping it healthy and cut.

            (Let me come here to the defense of the beleaguered lawn. There is a radical element of the population that thinks yards should be left to themselves; that the dreaded Dandelion should be permitted to prosper; that maybe you should even plant the front yard with corn, wheat and alfalfa. The general idea is this would be better for the pollinators. They seem to forget about the annuals, perennials and flowering bushes that gardeners plant in and around their grass. I frankly never had a lack of bees, wasps, hornets – and even hummingbirds – in our yard. Of course, it is easier to take care of a prairie – you just ignore it, even if your neighbors can’t.)

            When we sold the house and moved to a rental townhome, we still had a planting area in the front yard, and a deck, where we put some planters and pots. There was also a community garden in the back, and Jeanette did her share to make it pleasant. We finally found a condo we liked, and it has a balcony only. While it’s only about 5 feet wide, it’s fully 18 feet long. While obviously limited, Jeanette managed to fill oversize pots with flowers, cherry tomatoes, basil and other herbs. Again, I was the designated waterer.

            As many of you know, Jeanette died last February. When Spring came, I looked out at the lonely balcony and decided that the season demanded my participation. So, I did the logical thing, or at least the logical thing for a man with no horticultural talent. I went to Pesches and bought four pre-planted flower pots. Each has a variety of flowers and green plants. To contain them, I bought four plant containers that I could hang on the balcony railing. I watered them faithfully and they lasted until late Summer, when I replaced them with mums.

            Last week, I again went to Pesches and bought four of the same. I’m looking at them now. At last, it’s really Spring.

Copyright 2023, Patrick F. Cannon

A Grammar Lesson

By Patrick F. Cannon

I’m inclined to think that no citizen of this great republic needs to own a military-type assault rifle. Most of my fellow citizens agree with me. But there is a minority, most of whom are just as appalled at mass murder as the rest of us, who think that any limitation on gun ownership is counter to the Second Amendment to our Constitution.

            If you read the Bill of Rights, which I do from time to time, you can’t help but be impressed by the simplicity and  clarity of its language. Let’s take the famous First Amendment as an example: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Notice that there is a semi-colon after the freedom of religion clause. To me, that means that the framers saw all these freedoms as related, but that freedom of religion was distinct enough from the others to merit a semi-colon instead of a comma.

            Let’s now look at the Second Amendment, which reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Now, the founders could have proposed an amendment that read simply: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” But they didn’t, and because there are only commas separating the clauses, it’s clear that they saw a direct relationship between the militia and its arming. (By the way, “arms” in those days didn’t just include firearms, but swords, lances and similar weapons.)

            There are many legitimate reasons why one would own a firearm – hunting, target shooting, and personal protection, among them. But we have long outgrown the concept of the “militia” as was understood in 1787. It has been replaced by the National Guard system, which is a partnership between the Federal and state governments. While a governor may be the titular commander-in-chief of his state’s National Guard, its organization and arming are under Federal control. No  member of these units provides his or her own weapon, just as they don’t provide their own fighter planes, tanks or howitzers (are these “arms” also protected under the Second Amendment?).

            I think it’s interesting that the judges and other folks who prattle on about “original intent” are so willing to ignore it in this case. But then many of our politicians and judges see the Constitution more as a suggestion than the basis for our government. I suppose that’s why so many of them think we’re a Christian nation, and consider the Bible our real Constitution.

Copyright 2023,  Patrick F. Cannon    

Au Naturel

By Patrick F. Cannon

We come into this world pre-programmed. Despite what some people may think, we are either male or female; our eyes and hair will be one of several colors; and we will end up being short or tall, stocky or lanky. Our genetic make-up will determine these and other traits, including intelligence. But being the only organisms that are conscious of these traits, we are also the only ones who think God or Mother Nature, or some other power, has made a mistake or two.

            You may be surprised to know that only 2 percent of folks are naturally blonde, since about a third of women you see seem to have blonde hair (and, it must be said, increasing numbers of men). Red hair is even rarer in this country – one percent or less – so all those red heads you see are flying false flags. But at least the false blondes and red heads are sporting colors that actually exist in nature. What are we to think of those brave souls who wander the earth with purple, pink, orange or blue hair?

            They are making a statement: I want to be noticed, even if I look goofy. While this abomination is largely limited to young women, I have recently noticed that older women are splashing some primary colors in their hair, as if to say: “you don’t have to be young to be foolish.” I can just imagine what some young rebellious teenager must think when she finds mom has gone nuts too. Her only recourse might be to shave her head and have it tattooed.

            Tattooed! As my regular readers will know, I have written a history of this so-called art. Titled “Tattoo Mania,” in a mere 873 words it told the sad story of the transition of this body desecration from primitive peoples to drunken sailors to its present presumption as “body art.” Art shmart! I have yet to see a tattoo that improved upon Mother Nature (or Father Nature or Them Nature if you wish). As it happens, some people I know and respect have gone to the neighborhood needleman in a weak moment. Since I may myself have an as yet undiscovered fault, I am inclined to forgive them. Body piercing is another matter, however.

            I have no objection to piercing one’s ears. This has been done for so long that I would have thought that Darwinian evolution would have provided humans with pre-pierced ears. But can I argue for one hole per ear? Sufficient to hang an attractive ear ring? Rather than the six or eight studs or loops that crawl up the unwary ear?  And what can one think of (mostly women) who line their lower lips in a similar way? Or their eyebrows? And who punch a hole in their nose to insert a ring, much as one does with a bull? What, I wonder, do they do when they have to blow their nose? Yikes!

            I have no particular objection to plastic surgery if it’s done to repair, for example, a hare lip or a misshapen nose. But its use by the wealthy to stave off natural aging often backfires, as they keep repeating it on a regular basis until they have no more skin left to lift and can no longer even close their eyes.

            So let’s face the world as nature intended. Or at least mostly. I myself have a fine head of white hair. What would my friends and relatives think if I suddenly appeared with green hair and a tattoo of Old Ironsides on my manly biceps? Oh, the horror!

Copyright 2023, Patrick F. Cannon

What’s the “Real” Real?

By Patrick F. Cannon

I am indebted to David Brooks of the New York Times for pointing out in a recent column that Capitalism isn’t entirely the bogeyman that the left would have you believe. I have written about this before, but it’s worth repeating.

While free-market Capitalism is largely responsible for lowering abject poverty around the world, let’s just concentrate on the United States, which leads the world in economic development, a leadership – despite the naysayers – which is increasing. Thus:

  • In 1990, we were neck and neck with Europe and Japan in gross domestic product (GDP) per capita; now we’re clearly  ahead.
  • The US accounts for 58 percent of the GDP for the G-7 nations, up from 40 percent in 1990.
  • Per person income in the US 30 percent higher than in Europe, up from 24 percent.
  • Labor productivity here increased by 67 percent since 1990, compared to 55 percent in Europe and 51 percent in Japan.
  • And despite China’s amazing economic growth, the US has maintained its 25 percent share of global GDP.

The national unemployment rate is 3.5 percent, about as low as it’s likely to be (it’s 6.6 percent overall in the European Union, with Germany’s the lowest at 5.7). Even inflation – largely driven by excessive government largess during the pandemic – has been reduced to 4.98 percent from last year’s high of 8.54 percent.

Much is made of the poverty rate, which probably averages about 13 percent over the last few years. The rate is based on reported income. For a family of 4, in 2021, it was set at $26,500. If this were all that family had to live on, it would be pathetically low, but it’s not. At a minimum, you could add the earned-income tax credit, food stamps, free school lunch, housing assistance, job training, and the additional benefits provided by local governments and non-profits (like food banks). You’re probably tired of me pointing this out, but the top ten percent of earners are paying for 90 percent of the social spending that has increased from 14 to 20 percent of GDP since 1990.

Even our cultural life would be poorer without Capitalism. Governments at all levels provide minimal financial support for the arts, with the bulk of the funding for our museums, orchestras and universities coming from wealthy individuals and corporations. My relatives in the Pittsburgh area will know how much they are indebted to the Carnegie, Mellon and Heinz families. A similar list for Chicago would be much longer.

While Capitalism has bestowed incontestable benefits on our economy, it’s not perfect. There have been abuses that have caused serious harm to the country. Only the government can prevent these, but it has been historically negligent in doing its job. Even when it does, instead of sending corporate leaders to jail, it lets them off the hook and fines the companies instead. Which leads me to the bad news.

While Capitalism just keeps rolling along, our politics are about as bad as they could be. Absent a miracle, it looks like we might once again have to choose between Trump and Biden in 2024. Think about that. In one poll, only 41.3 percent of Americans think Biden is doing a good job; and 38.3 percent actually look upon Trump favorably.

No wonder only about half of our countrymen and women think of themselves as Republicans or Democrats. In my own Illinois, the Republican Party has more or less self-destructed, leaving us with the Democrats who have failed to solve – or even confront – the serious problems that plague us. In addition to an extremely low credit rating, and massive pension debt, Illinois also has the fifth highest unemployment rate. It’s also losing population. People not only vote at the ballot box, but with their feet. And who really believes the criminal justice system is working?

Thank God the economic system keeps rolling along. We know there will be occasional recessions, but the general trend is up. Remember when everyone was afraid automation would put everyone out of work? And all those immigrants would steal jobs from real Americans? Sure you do, because they’re still saying it..

Copyright 2023, Patrick F. Cannon

It’s Just Annoying!

By Patrick F. Cannon

I often write about big issues, or at least what I think are big issues. Politics. Culture. Morality. Donald Trump. But I like to think I can be just as obsessed with the minutia and annoyances of life as the next person. Surely, Albert Einstein and Mother Teresa did their share of grumbling as they made their ways through this often frustrating world.

            When he walked his dog Newton, did Al rail against his fellow walkers who failed to pick up Fido’s poop? Particularly when Fido deposited his feces upon the sidewalk? I no longer have a dog, but I have more than once felt that unmistakable squish when stepping on a left-behind pile. Although I eventually equipped myself with tailor-made poop bags, at one time I had a contraption that scooped the poop without the need to bend over. The only time I forgot to bring it – it was early morning and I was groggy – I was berated at great length by a fellow walker. I fully deserved her chastisement.

            I find I’m increasingly miffed by lunatic drivers. I always drive about five miles an hour over the speed limit. Most residential streets have a 25 miles per hour (mph) limit; main streets usually let you speed up to 30 mph. If I’m tooling along at 35, inevitably someone having breakfast and talking on the phone is riding my bumper. Often, they will cross a double-yellow line and pass me. They will then go through that pesky Stop sign at the next intersection. I will often give them a discreet beep of my horn to call attention to  their disregard to the law, but it’s unwise to be too aggressive, lest the offender be armed. And when did it become OK to ignore red lights? (As an aside, I see this most often on West Madison Street in Chicago, even near the CPD station just west of Central, where the number of squad cars parked at all hours makes one wonder where the police might be who should be driving them.)

            I wonder if Mother Teresa was a golfer? I met her once, but didn’t think to ask. Since she was a saint, she probably wasn’t in one of the many female foursomes that I’ve played behind over the years. At the risk of being branded a sexist, I have observed that women take far longer to play a round of golf then men. If you’re behind a foursome of women, you can expect to do a good deal of thumb twiddling. On the greens, they take an inordinate amount of time over their puts, and I have never seen them concede a short put! Now, the rules of golf permit one to concede one’s fellow golfer a short put to speed the game along. But the main difference is this: men see golf as a game; women as a social occasion to be cherished at length. There was a time when women were not permitted to play on the same day as men. Halcyon days, indeed.

            And finally – and I know it’s not really rational – I cringe whenever I see a man eating dinner with his hat on. There was a time, when men wore fedoras to work, that when a lady entered an elevator, the men would almost always doff them in respect. And although I never quite understood the theology, Roman Catholic men always took their hats off in church, while women always wore theirs. Nowadays, even in the finest restaurants, one sees slovenly young men with baseball caps, jeans and T-shirts. Why? Because the restaurants are afraid of losing business.

            Several years ago, when the Million Room restaurant at Arlington International Racecourse still demanded jackets for men, I noticed two young men without them. I asked the maître de how they got away with it. “Heavy bettors,” he replied. By the time it closed (forever, alas), only a collared shirt and no jeans was the standard (unless you were a heavy better, that is).

Copyright 2023, Patrick F. Cannon

Dear Mayor-elect Johnson

By Patrick F. Cannon

First of all, congratulations on your election. Although I no longer live in Chicago, I have lived on its western border for more than 40 years. Before that, I had lived in South Shore, Rogers Park, Logan Square and the near Southwest side. I have regularly attended and supported Chicago’s wonderful theatres and restaurants; and belong to and support no fewer than five of its museums. I am also a long-time member of its public radio and television stations. I have even written seven books on Chicago architecture and architects. Bottom line: I have a vested interest in your success.

            Considering that more than 60 percent of Chicago’s registered voters didn’t bother to go to the polls, you should keep in mind that only some 20 percent of Chicagoans actively supported your candidacy. And I’m sure you realize that one of the prime factors in your election was the support of your former employer, the Chicago Teachers Union. Many people now assume you are “their” mayor, and will carry out the parts of their agenda that have nothing directly to do with educating Chicago’s children.

            What they don’t understand – and what you need to accept if you are to succeed – is that your country and your city are part of a Capitalist economic system, a system it shares with most of the world; and that has been largely responsible for almost eliminating abject poverty. Granted, it can be messy, but it certainly seems more rational – and fairer, to be honest – than the Socialist paradises of Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea, where the governments still try to  control means of production that hardly exist anymore.

            When you claim that the rich and corporations must “pay their share,” of taxes and fees, are you aware that 10 percent of the nation’s taxpayers pay 90 percent of its taxes? I haven’t been able to find actual figures for Chicago, but I suspect they’re roughly the same. Also, keep in mind that our unique Federal system permits corporations to shop around for better deals. If the folks in Texas and Florida offer lower taxes and less red tape, then there’s nothing to stop the Boeings, Caterpillars, and Citadels from leaving town. By all means, add a “head tax” to the burden of doing business in Chicago; just don’t be surprised when more corporations vote with their feet.

            You’re on record as advocating defunding the Chicago Police Department (CPD). When it became obvious that the increase in crime had become a major issue, you claimed you really didn’t mean it. But when you said it, you really did mean it.. Has experience, or the need to get elected, changed your views? If so, why not just admit it? One of your biggest challenges will be to restore the morale of the rank and file of the CPD. It should come as no surprise that they don’t like you.  I don’t envy you this task, but you might start by appointing a new superintendent that they can trust and support, but who will also actually seek to comply with the 2018 Federal Consent Decree.

            You should also meet with the head of the police union, John Catanzara. I know, he’s a jerk, but he represents a third of your future employees. He almost certainly thinks you’re out to destroy the CPD. Don’t tell him what you plan to do; ask him to tell you what he thinks you should do. Don’t argue with him; just listen. Confrontation didn’t work for Mayor Lightfoot, and it won’t work for you.

            Test the conventional wisdom. Just like most candidates, you claim that what’s needed is economic development on the south and west sides, and the jobs this would provide. The reality? Chicago’s unemployment rate is 4.3 percent, about as low as it’s ever going to be. If you want to work, you’ll probably be able to find a job. It might be a menial job, but it will at least pay the $13/hour Chicago minimum wage. It won’t, however, tempt the young gang member lured by the untaxed income available in the drug and organized-theft trades. And don’t criticize retailers for closing up shop in these areas; you know the real reasons only too well.

            It’s no accident that 400,000 African-Americans have moved out of Chicago since 1980. Many of them were  my neighbors in Oak Park. They moved to provide a safe haven and a better education for their children. The claim that they were forced out of the city by gentrification and high rents is ridiculous. Are rents in Austin and Humboldt Park higher than in Oak Park? Really?

            Progressive politics and democratic socialism might seem like good ideas, but they don’t translate well to local government. You should read the Chicago Tribune’s series on the mess the Cook County court system has become. It has been operated by members of your party for decades – everyone from the judges to the states attorneys to the clerks and bailiffs. The concept that “justice delayed is justice denied” has become a joke in Chicago and Cook County.

            Again, congratulations on your election. Everyone in Chicago and its suburbs has a stake in your success. Everything that contributed to Chicago’s emergence as the capital of the Midwest – abundant water, hub of rail, air and water transportation for the entire nation, great educational and cultural resources – are all available to you. But the city cannot truly thrive again until people feel (and are) safe; and major corporations and local merchants feel they are valued as more than just taxable nuisances.  

Copyright 2023, Patrick F. Cannon


Alexis Would be Amazed

By Patrick F. Cannon

In his 1835 book, Democracy in America, the French diplomat Alexis de Tocqueville wrote this: “The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and liberty so intimately in their minds that it is impossible to conceive of one without the other.”

            In 2023, it seems that Americans don’t find it impossible at all. In 1940 (I was a sprightly two then) 72 percent of our fellow citizens went to church on a regular basis. By 2020, only 47 percent did. The other day, the results of a Wall Street Journal/NORC poll revealed that the share of Americans who say that patriotism is very important has declined to 38 percent. As recently as 1998, it was 70 percent.

            But there’s more bad news (or good, depending on your age, class and education): In the same period, those who saw religion as important dropped from 62 to 39 percent; the belief in community involvement, another American trait noted by de Tocqueville, went from 47 to 27 percent; and the share who say having children is important has gone from 59 to 30 percent. This latter confirms the reason for our declining birth rate, particularly among better-educated women.

            Religion’s decline has been reflected in the number of American children educated in parochial schools, always dominated by those operated by the Roman Catholic Church. In 1960, they enrolled 4.3 million students in elementary grades; by 2000, the numbers had declined to 1.8 million; and even with a slight increase due to Covid, to approximately 1.3 million this school year.

            I was educated in Catholic schools for eight elementary grades, but I’m among those who no longer regularly attend church. And although I no longer believe in the divinity of Christ – or any other religious figure – his basic message of forgiveness and tolerance still inform my moral opinions and decisions. But I wonder what replacement we have for this religion-based moral education when so few of our young people attend either religious schools or churches that offer Sunday School? 

            Many of our surviving Christian churchgoers seem more attached to the Old, rather than the New, Testament. They seem to prefer the vengeful Jehovah to the Jesus of the Beatitudes. How else can you explain their continuing support of Donald Trump?  And their belief –regardless of what the 1st Amendment might say —  that this is a Christian country? The odious Marjorie Taylor Greene, when reminded of the Constitution’s specific separation of church and state, responded that, after all, most of the Founders were Christians. And no doubt White and straight too.

            Patriotism doesn’t have to mean “my country right or wrong.” It should mean “my country is worth my efforts to make it a better, fairer, more democratic place.” Yet, our young people seem to be more and more disengaged from anything but their own concerns. Even their literature, art and music seems more personal than universal. I listen to the songs of someone like Taylor Swift and hear little but self-regard and complaint.

            Swift has no higher education to give her some perspective, but the decline of the liberal arts at our colleges and universities means that an important source of moral education for many of our young people has been lost. Even those with a more rounded education can be forgiven for tuning out given the quality of our politicians.

            But maybe I’ve become too cynical. Perhaps you can give me some cause for optimism?

Copyright 2023, Patrick F. Cannon   

Wasted Education?

Wasted Education?

By Patrick F. Cannon

I’m a graduate of Northwestern University, which is tied with Duke University at number 10 in one of the rankings of American colleges and Universities. When I started going to school there part-time in the Fall of 1956, I only knew that they had a well-established “Evening Divisions,” which was the only way I was going to be able to afford a college education. In today’s money, my salary as a clerk at the New York Central Railroad was equivalent to about $30,000 a year.

            As I recall, a course worth two-semester hours of credit was $70. Since I could normally only take three course per semester, it took me exactly 8 years of nights and weekends to graduate. You have to add two more years on to that for military service (we still had a draft then). After those two years, the G.I. Bill paid for the rest of my education. I think I even got a book allowance. I checked my bookcases, and the only books from those years I still have are a French-language edition of Albert Camus’ The Stranger; James Joyce’s The Dubliners; and Bernard Berenson’s Italian Painters of the Renaissance.

            I was that now dying breed, an English major. To refresh my memory, I recently ordered a transcript from Northwestern. I took 15 courses in my major; but was surprised to see that I took 16 in the History Department. As I recall, you were required to take basic writing and literature courses; a full year of American history; ditto a foreign language (French in my case); a full year of either science or math (I chose Biology); and something called “Logic: The Art of Thinking.” I don’t recall how many courses you had to take in your major, but I had more than enough.

            Among my electives were five courses in the Art History Department, including a course in Chicago architecture taught by recognized expert Carl Condit, which led to my lifelong interest in architecture; and, after I retired, to seven books on Chicago architects and architecture. Other electives were courses in the Greek Myths; Existentialism; anthropology; advertising; and political science, including a full year course titled “A Cultural and Intellectual History of Russia.” As a result, nothing that happens in that country surprises me.

            In those days, course registration was in person. You checked the catalog to see which courses you wanted to take, then tried to show up as early as you could. As I recall, the room was arranged by department. There would be a tab with the course name; behind it would be the number of cards equal to the number of places available for that course. If there were cards left, you snagged one, filled it out and handed it in. If no cards were left, tough luck. You just had to search for another course that had cards left. When I look at my transcript, I think I see some courses that fit that category.

            In all the courses I took, I don’t see one on the ins and outs of custom and multi-wall bags, which I had to learn for my first job when I got out of the Army in the sales and marketing department of the Union Camp Corporation. I had to learn about bags on the job. And after more than 50  years, I could probably do a decent job of explaining the different types of bags and what they’re used for. Although I hadn’t yet graduated, the most important part of that job was being able to communicate clearly with both customers and our design and manufacturing staff. Learning about bags was the easiest part.

            Later, I worked for an agency that managed and did public relations for smaller trade and professional associations. Among my clients were the Ground Water Council, the Metal Lath/Steel Framing Association and the Society for Management Information Systems. Needless to say, Northwestern didn’t have any courses directly related to these groups, but it did provide me with ability to learn, and to effectively communicate what I’d learned. Ditto with my final job, as head of public relations and communications with Lions Clubs International, the world’s largest service club organization. 

            I had what’s called a “liberal” education. These days, I’m told, students want their university education (which is generally overpriced) to have a specific point. They see no advantage in learning about Elizabethan poetry, since it’s hard to imagine monetizing Shakespeare’s sonnets. Who has the time to listen to Beethoven’s Ninth? And how could appreciating the paintings of Diego Velasquez possibly get them noticed at Goldman Sachs?

            But almost every job or profession – with the exception of the sciences, engineering and medicine – requires mostly on-the-job education and training. No wonder the majority of graduates are unhappy about their educational experience, particularly since most have gone into debt, only to discover their education didn’t really prepare them for the real world. It’s true that a degree from an “elite” university (Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and, yes, even Northwestern) can get your foot in the door and maybe even more money. In the end, though, it’s how you perform that will predict your future success.

            The young would also be wise to remember, as the Bible says, that man cannot live by bread alone. People like Shakespeare, Beethoven, Rembrandt and Jane Austen can teach us more about ourselves than “Principals of Investment Banking.”

Copyright 2023, Patrick F. Cannon