Eliminate the Middle Man

Eliminate the Middle Man

By Patrick F. Cannon

As the season of giving begins, those of you who still have some dough should consider spending some of it where it might actually do some good. No doubt your regular and e-mail boxes will be full of pleas for financial help. Some might be on  the up and up, but by no means all.

Instead of sending your money off to some faraway place, why not think about keeping your donations closer to home? No matter where you live, there are organizations that feed, house or clothe your neighbors in need. The more local they are, the less likely they are to have overheads that reduce the amount that actually goes to the needy.

In that regard, you should be very, very careful about sending donations to national and international charities. You may get a solicitation from some organization you think is legit, but there is a difference between the American Cancer Society, and something that sounds like it, maybe the Institute for Cancer Education, for example. There are web sites that will tell you how much of your donation actually goes to recipients rather than to fundraising and staff salaries.

Many local cultural institutions – particularly those that depend on ticket and merchandise sales – are particularly vulnerable during this persistent pandemic. For many years, I have been a volunteer at a local house museum that was forced to close; it was able to reopen on a reduced basis for a time, but has now been forced to close again. Not only has it lost much of the revenue from ticket sales to more than 70,000 visitors a year, it has lost the money they would have spent in the museum’s shop. I gave them an extra donation this year.

This particular museum did not have a large endowment fund to fall back on. I am a long time member of the Art Institute of Chicago, which does have a substantial reserve. They’ll have to be satisfied with my membership dues. In your case, there may be a non-profit theatre, music or dance non-profit that’s struggling (several in Chicago have already closed for good). If you can afford it, send them an extra donation this holiday season.

If you don’t have tons of extra money, and you’re physically capable, many organizations need extra help. You might be schlepping boxes at a local food bank, or delivering meals, or performing administrative tasks. To many organizations, volunteer labor is as necessary as cash.

Try to keep a few loose dollars in your pocket or purse. Until the pandemic stopped it, I used to go to downtown Chicago a couple of times a month to give architectural tours. I took the El, which left me off a few blocks from my destination. Invariably, there was a panhandler at the corner. I tried to have a dollar bill in my pocket to put in his cup. He always thanked me; as does the one I often see when I visit the post office. I’ve had people say that if you give money to beggars, they just use it to buy booze or drugs. Maybe some do. So what?

Finally, keep in mind that cash donations are mostly tax deductible. If you send your money to any government, they’ll take their share – and a really big share! – before they send it back. Best to give it directly! I trust my neighbors more than the government.

Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon

Party of Lincoln?

Party of Lincoln?

By Patrick F. Cannon

Although I grew up in a Democratic family – my father even held office under that party’s banner – I now think of myself as an Independent Conservative.

            I have voted for candidates from both parties. Living as I do in the Chicago area, opportunities to vote for Republicans are limited; indeed, they often don’t bother to even slate a candidate for some offices. If they do, I usually will vote for them, if only as a protest to the financial shambles the Democrats have created in Illinois.

            I voted for both Bushes, and for Ronald Reagan. I wouldn’t vote for Nixon, nor Trump. I was too young to vote for Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, or Dwight Eisenhower, but I would have! But I also voted for John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Barack Obama. Bill Clinton’s charm didn’t fool me. I very reluctantly voted for Hillary Clinton, and now wish I had passed on voting for either candidate in 2016.

            The Republican Party of Ike, Reagan and the Bushes generally stood for strong alliances with allies around the world, and for fiscal restraint. They weren’t always successful – George W. Bush’s failure in Iraq is a notable example – but one basically knew were they stood. If they were criticized, it was generally for being the party of the country club set and the East Coast elite.

            Now, largely because of Trump, they seem to have become the party of the uneducated and disaffected. Look at  the electoral map. They’re strong in the South, and in what I would describe as the “wish it was still wild” West, where the Federal government is widely hated and right wing militias are particularly strong. They also seem to appeal to successful Hispanics, particularly Cubans and others who resent the influx of the poor from Mexico and Central America.

            Pandering to the worse instincts of these groups is bad enough, but supporting their looney spiritual leader, Donald Trump, makes it even worse. At the risk of repeating myself, Trump is a thoroughly bad man, and demonstrably deranged. Yet, with few exceptions, Republicans in both the Federal and state legislatures not only continue to support him, but swear his lies are true.

            The recent election has shown how shameless Republicans have become. Despite Joe Biden clearly winning it, they pander to the Ogre by declining to admit the obvious. Trump is clearly afraid of what’s going to happen to him when he leaves office, so is desperately trying anything to prevent the inevitable. He will go eventually, and so will the Republican Party as a force for probity and conservative values.

            Most Americans are either center right or center left in their basic beliefs. Both the Democrats and Republicans are in danger of being hijacked by the fringes. Perhaps it’s time for moderates in both to come together as Lincoln and his associates did in 1860, and form a new party, which might be called the Pragmatists. In the meantime, maybe “Sleepy Joe” would be just the ticket. We could all use a little rest.

            Oh, and finally, Happy Thanksgiving!

Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon

Bleeping Socialism!

Bleeping Socialism!

By Patrick F. Cannon

            “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings.

The inherent virtue of Socialism is the equal sharing of misery.”

                                                            Winston S. Churchill

If you want to scare your Republican neighbors, just run outside and start yelling: “The Socialists are coming…the Socialists are coming!” This sure fire alert is akin to yelling in the 1950s: “The Russians are coming…the Russians are coming!”

            The Russians didn’t come, except on the internet, but folks are seeing Socialists under every bed (and in their dark closets too). The problem is that far too many of our fellow citizens can’t really explain what they mean by that scary word. Alas, there is more than one way to define it.

            We have Karl Marx to thank (or blame) for defining pure Socialism as we know it today. He believed that capitalism would wither away and die from its inherent contradictions. It would be replaced by a society that operated on this principal: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” In simple terms, that means that the ditch digger is just as important as the doctor, so should live just as well. All resources should be shared equally through the common good (which meant the State, which would also own the means of production on behalf of the people).

            Unfortunately, Marxism and its more extreme form, Marxist-Leninism, has always failed in the real world. It’s contradiction is the notion that people who work hard and achieve more will be happy not being rewarded for their efforts. Britain tried a form of this after World War II, and eventually dismantled most of it. They discovered to their amazement that people simply took their money and their talents elsewhere. It’s called human nature.

            A harsher version also failed in the Soviet Union and its Eastern European dependencies. All have now abandoned it, either for autocracy or some form of social democracy (of which more later). Of course, we do have holdouts, but I don’t see any rush by our home-grown Marxists to move to North Korea, Cuba or Venezuela. What good is great health care, if you just live longer in squalor?  China is a special case, as they have embraced capitalism, but call it Communism.

            Like most of Western Europe, the United States is a social democracy. It has a capitalist economy, along with social programs meant to insure that everyone has enough to eat and a place to live. Oh, and access to a level of education consistent with their abilities. Thus, we have decided to have pensions for the elderly; unemployment insurance for those thrown out of work through no fault of their own; basic health care; and even tax credits. All of this – although some are loath to admit it – is supported by that capitalist economy.

            It is the tension between those who think these programs have gone too far, and those that think they should be expanded, that defines our current politics. When someone expresses a fear of Socialism, they generally mean a fear that more of their money is going to go to someone else. The real question is: where do we draw the line?

            Now, students and young people who have yet to earn much if any money are inclined to think the government, for example, should pay for their higher education. They are aided and abetted in these demands by professors who have suddenly discovered Marxism, and think its time has come (again). Let’s take from those that have, and give it to those who don’t. This from often tenured professors who make a more than tidy living. The concept of working your way through college by working part time during the school year and full time in the summer seems to have been lost. Also lost it must be said, are colleges and universities that remember that spending other peoples’ money prudently is an actual responsibility.

            Before I get lost in the bushes, let me just suggest there’s a difference between Socialism (with a capital S) and social welfare programs. This country has gone from essentially no national welfare programs for much of its history, to too many in the view of some people. I try to remember that high earners already pay for most of it, and that we would do well not to kill that goose. Joe Biden advocates expanded social welfare programs, not nationalizing the mines, railroads, public utilities, steel mills and airlines. When he does, you can start calling him a Socialist.

            In the meantime, there are actual Socialist parties one could join, instead of lurking on the far left of the Democratic Party; and one could abandon the far right of the Republican Party to join up with any number of Fascist organizations, and get to dress as a storm trooper to boot (and  in actual boots).

Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon

Facing Reality

Facing Reality

By Patrick F. Cannon

It would appear that President Trump has failed to win a second term. Although the numbers have surely changed since then, on Wednesday, November 11, he had 4,924,464 fewer popular votes than President-elect Joseph Biden. Biden, of course, also had more than the 270 electoral votes he needed for election in our quaint system (which is unlikely to change).

            The president, and many of his supporters, find this impossible to believe. Indeed, they are flooding the internet with the usual conspiracy theories, all of which will turn out to be false. I am reminded of the president’s own consternation in 2016 when – although he had won the electoral vote contest – he couldn’t accept that Hillary Clinton had gotten more popular votes. He convened a special commission to look into the rampant vote fraud that had contributed to this outrage. They found almost none; and certainly not enough to have materially affected the election. It’s funny how, when you have to raise your hand and tell the truth, the so-called witnesses to vote fraud don’t actually step forward.

            Trump of course, being Trump, says he won this election. Some of his more weaselly supporters in the Congress are only too happy to aid and abet him. Senator Graham, whose betrayal of his friend John McCain was stunning even for a politician, has suddenly become an expert on the rampant corruption in Philadelphia; as has the smart but oily senator from Texas, Ted Cruz.

            (Although I don’t think there’s much election finagling these days, I’m reminded of the Chicago politician who told me that they encouraged the denizens of Chicago’s Madison Street skid row (long gone) to vote Democratic by passing out half pints of cheap whiskey. He also said it was only to counteract what the Republicans were doing down state!)

            I have friends and relatives who voted for Trump. Most of their reasons for doing so were political or economic. As a conservative myself, I can almost sympathize with them. If the Republicans had nominated a sane and principled candidate, I likely would have voted for him or her. They didn’t, so I didn’t. Most are going to eventually accept Trumps defeat and hope for the best.

            But far too many are going to buy into one or more of the conspiracy fictions that are polluting the internet. Some of you reading this are already guilty of  forwarding them to your weary and unwary friends. Please stop. Or do you really believe that if you tell a lie often enough, it will eventually become true? You can’t really believe it’s all true, can you? Give it up and try to find a Republican candidate for 2024 who tells the truth and  gives a crap about the other guy.

Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon

Where Doth the Wind Blow

Where Doth the Wind Blow?

By Patrick F. Cannon

My regular readers will know that I have a rather dim view of politicians. One of the qualities that most successful politicians share – and that most rankles me – is their ability to change what they claim is their bedrock philosophy if it becomes clear that their constituents are moving in the opposite direction. I’m sure the recent election was replete with examples.

            Thinking about this reminded me of something similar that I witnessed in the late 1960s. At the time, I was working for a small company whose factory and offices were in the same small Northern Iowa town. My title was operations manager; in reality, I was responsible for public relations, marketing communications, office management and – alas – personnel. The actual personnel manager was a local boy wise to the ways of the local employment market. Let’s call him Billy.

            Considering inflation, it would now be a company with roughly $20 million in sales. It was in the packaged beverage business, for which it also made small vending machines. As it happened, most of the packaging went on in the Fall and Winter months, and many of our employees were farmer’s wives looking for seasonal work. One such was an older woman who I will name Flo.

            Flo, to say the least, was a thorn in Billy’s side. She was often late, or overstayed her breaks, or called in sick. She was also a chronic complainer. Even in those days before the tort bar had fully appreciated the riches available in employment law, Billy knew he would have to fully document her transgressions; he did so fully and at length. He then, along with the plant manager, came to see me to seek permission to fire her. I enthusiastically agreed.

            I wasn’t present, but she didn’t go without a lot of yelling and screaming. One of her parting shots was a threat to sue. We didn’t think anything would come of it, but one day Billy got a call from a local attorney, let’s call him Lawyer Ezra, seeking an interview. Billy agreed, but decided he and I should be joined by our comptroller, a much older and more experienced hand (our boss was out of town).

            Let me tell you about Lawyer Ezra . His practice mostly consisted of wills and farm-related real estate. Of somewhat advanced years, he had passed the bar without actually graduating from law school. Like Abe Lincoln, he was able to “read the law” while working for a licensed attorney. Unlike Lincoln, his ambitions were modest. He stayed in the town where he was born, probably sometime in the 19th Century.

            My office had a small conference table, so we met there. After some pleasantries, Lawyer Ezra got down to business. At length, he listed the indignities that poor Flo had been forced to endure at our hands. When he was finished, Billy, prepared with his carefully written evidence, droned on for some time in rebuttal. When he was done, the plant manager, who had suffered most from her, added a few additional details to the long list. The comptroller, who was well over six feet tall and weighed in at about 300 pounds, tossed in a few more in his basso profundo.

            When they had finished, Lawyer Ezra sat for a moment in stunned silence. Finally, he composed himself and said, “That’s terrible. I think you ought to let me slap a suit on that cookie!”

Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon

Arts for Arts Sake

Arts for Your Sake

By Patrick F. Cannon

While driving on an errand the other day, I was listening to WFMT, Chicago’s classical radio station. They were playing Franz Joseph Haydn’s trumpet concerto. It’s tuneful and lyrical, and a suitable challenge for a soloist. I’ve heard Wynton Marsalis, Maurice Andre and Chicago’s own Adolph “Bud” Herseth do it justice.

            These days, with the presidential election only days away, I find myself avoiding the news as much as I can. Haydn will abide; his music will be played and listened to long after today’s political babble is forgotten. I doubt if the current president even knows who Haydn is; I’m sure he thinks classical music – and art in general – is for losers and suckers (and he actually boasts about not reading).

            But if you’re as tired as I am of the debased politics of our time, then turn it off and turn on the arts. Instead of watching MSNBC or Fox, tune in to your favorite music, whether classical, jazz or pop. If you feel able, go to the movies; or find favorites on one of the many streaming services. Watch public television, and don’t forget to donate. If your favorite live theatre company is doing something on-line, sign up and send them some money. Can you imagine what is must be like to be a stage actor, a dancer, or a free-lance musician at a time like this? Try to keep them alive.

            If you’re a Chicagoan, get yourself to the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC), the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), the Chicago History Museum – or the Field, Adler or Shedd. Or your favorite house museum or historical society. If you value them, go. Become a member of the one’s you love best. If you can afford it, donate extra.  If you don’t live in or near Chicago, I’m sure there are arts organizations near you that need support.

            Always have a book, or two or three, to read. When was the last time you read one of the classics?  Moby Dick, despite what people who haven’t read it say, is both readable and a great book. Even War and Peace, at a mere 1150 pages, is doable, especially if you have a good memory for Russian names. Or you could read the collected short stories of Oak Park’s Ernest Hemingway; I think they’re his best work.

            What visual art you value is subjective. Jeff Koons, at least in terms of what his work fetches at auction, is one of the great artists of the day. I happen to think he’s a con man and charlatan, but if you love him, you can see some of his work at the Art Institute or the MCA. But at AIC you can also see the work of Rembrandt, Titian, Velasquez, Monet, Manet, Hopper, Homer, Matisse and Picasso. All have stood the test of time, the best art critic of all.

            One of the greatest paintings of all time is Velasquez’s Aesop. It’s home is Madrid’s Prado museum, but it was on loan to AIC several years ago. Hung next to a similar painting by Manet, it showed the Greek fableist (is that a word?) holding a sheaf of papers. The artist’s model was a Madrid street beggar. He shows the wisdom gained through experience and pain. Look it up on the internet or at your local library. But if you prefer a Koon’s bunny or puppy, so be it.

            Finally, to give poetry its due, here’s one President Trump should read, but won’t. It may offer some of us perspective and consolation. It’s Shelley’s Ozymandias.

            I met a traveler from an antique land

            Who said – “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

            Stand in the desert…Near them, on the sand

            Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

            And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

            Tell us that its sculptor well those passions read

            Which yet survive, stamped on those lifeless things,

            The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

            And on the pedestal, these words appear:

            My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

            Look on these Works, ye Mighty and despair!

            Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

            Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

            The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Copyright (except the poem!) 2020, Patrick F. Cannon 

Accentuate the (sort of) Positive

Accentuate the (Sort of) Positive

By Patrick F. Cannon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon

Eat Your Vegetables!

Eat Your Vegetables!

By Patrick F. Cannon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon 

The Truth About Apples

The Truth About Apples

By Patrick /F. Cannon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Next week – Broccoli explained.)

Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon

Goodbye, Sweet Rosie

Goodbye, Sweet Rosie

By Patrick F. Cannon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon