Boy, That’s Annoying!

Boy, That’s Annoying!

By Patrick F. Cannon

It’s a rare day that something doesn’t annoy me (and you too, I bet). Just the other day, I was at the grocery store. Ahead of me in the checkout line was a woman who was paying cash – a rare occurrence these days – and didn’t have enough dough to pay the bill! Normally in a situation like this, the customer will give back sufficient items to have her purchases match her cash. Not in this case. She actually made us all wait while she went back to her car to get more cash. She had money in her car!

            I watched her through the window as she shuffled to the far reaches of the parking lot, then shuffled back with the cash. All of this took 10 minutes or so on a busy day. During the interim, there was much rolling of eyes. Needless to say, she didn’t think to apologize.

            On a more intellectual note, I’m reading a book on movie directors. It’s an interesting and well-written book, but the author generally gives only the titles of the films in their original language – French, Italian, Spanish, etc. – but not the English version for which they are better known to the likes of me. French director Jean Renoir’s La Regle du Jeu is better known to most of us as The Rules of the Game. It’s a deserved classic, as is Renoir’s other well-known film, La Grande Illusion, which fortunately ends up being Grand Illusion in English.

            Why did this writer assume everyone knows several languages? As it happens, I’ve taken both French and Spanish in school and can often make a decent translation. Fiction writers are also guilty of inserting foreign-language dialog in their stories, forcing the reader to either haul out a dictionary (which they are unlikely to have) or make a guess. I find this both annoying and arrogant. If there’s too much of it, I simply stop reading.

            I have to admit this is partially my fault for even watching, but the local news programs in Chicago spend a considerable amount of their air time pretending that the happenings of their network’s entertainment programs are actual news. While most viewers probably don’t know it, the Chicago outlets of CBS,NBC and ABC are owned by the networks, as are the outlets in New York, Los Angeles and a few other cities.

A 30-minute news program actually has about 22 minutes available for news, weather and sports. In that 22 minutes, there will be at least two endless weather forecasts and a briefer update. After a sports report, and an exciting feature on who has been chosen to appear on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, there is hardly any time left to cover the latest shouting match between Mayor Lightfoot and the Chicago Teacher’s Union’s perpetually whining Jesse Sharkey.

            I wish I could say that most politicians are just annoying, but they’ve gone beyond that. Many of them are actually scary. Donald Trump only heads a very long list. We know he’s a pathological liar, but what are we to think of the hundreds of Republicans in Congress who amplify those lies in order to get reelected? Lying with a straight face has been elevated to a high art! And before you Democrats start smirking, would you care to count the number of Democrats who have been convicted of public corruption, just in Illinois?

            And please don’t get me started on the dwindling number of free parking spaces on the streets of cities, towns and villages across our great land. They’re almost as numerous as the politicians and bureaucrats who wallow in  the revenue. And as my dear daughter reminded me, how about the knuckleheads to whom a stop sign or even a stop light are mere suggestions? How annoying are they?

Copyright 2022, Patrick F. Cannon   

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year?

By Patrick F. Cannon

I’ve been wracking my brain to come up with something positive to say about 2021. Before the Omicron variant of Covid hit late in the year, I might have said we had made some progress in our battle against this scourge. Vain hope. In 2022, I guess we’ll have to settle for the suggestion that this variant is less fatal than Delta. And, of course, we can look forward to the Zebra variant, when we shall all turn both black and white, thus conquering racism for all time.

            Another vain hope – that the large numbers of people (mostly Republicans) who say they will never get vaccinated will change their minds when they realize that well over 90 percent of Covid deaths are among the unvaccinated. Good God! Even Trump has admitted he’s not only vaccinated, but boosted. Maybe it’s because die-hard Republicans would rather not live during a Democratic administration? At any rate, only 58 percent of GOP voters are vaccinated as against 90 percent of Democrats. The surviving Republicans better all vote in November.

            When the infrastructure bill passed with some Republican votes, some deluded souls thought this might be a sign that a new era of bi-partisanship might be at hand. Ha! Ha! The few Republicans that voted for it were branded as traitors, even as those who voted against it did so often at the expense of their constituent’s needs. Strange; as I somehow recall that former President Trump was a big supporter of a quite similar bill. Now, of course, he’s doing his best to see that these disloyal Congressmen – and the ones who voted for his impeachment – are opposed in upcoming primaries.

            In Chicago, the ebb and flow of sports was mostly ebb. The Bears continue their embrace of mediocrity. Many of us hope that the McCaskey family will finally sell out, even though the team has provided employment for most of the family over the years. Surely, with the team worth billions, none of them would have to apply for unemployment benefits. And maybe new owners would keep the team in the city, where they belong. (On the other hand, we have Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the White Sox and Bulls, who seems intent on winning, and smart enough to make it happen.) As to the Cubs and Blackhawks, looks like “wait till next year” will be a mantra for some time to come.

            Chicago, like most large American cities, is facing another pandemic – a steadily increasing murder rate. Of the 800 or so murders in 2021, approximately 80 percent of the victims were African-Americans, and the majority of those, young men. Just a couple of days ago, someone trotted out one of the standard reasons given for the high murder rate – lack of jobs and education. Yet, jobs are going begging, and essentially free education and job training is available in Chicago through the first two year of college. Will just one more academic study do the job?  

            My hope for 2022 is that more people will recognize that the great majority of African-Americans are hard-working and productive. Because they want a better life for themselves and their children, they have left and are leaving Chicago in great numbers. Who can blame them? Especially when a leader like former President Obama chooses to build his presidential center in a park instead of a neighborhood like Lawndale or Englewood where vacant land is readily available. (On a personal note, a couple of weeks ago on the local news I watched a bulldozer tear up a football field in Jackson Park that was in the way of the Obama monument; it was where I once intercepted a pass as a lad of nine and ran it back for a touchdown.)

            There have always been divisions in this country, except perhaps during World War II. But aren’t they worse than ever? I can’t get over the feeling that disagreement has turned into outright hatred. How else can you explain January 6? There are people who don’t think it was any big deal. I ask them this – what would have happened if the mob had actually caught Vice President Pence?  A discussion? If I have any wish for 2022, it’s this – before we hate someone, can we just listen to what they have to say?

Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon

Can I See Your ID?

Can I See Your ID?

By Patrick F. Cannon

Now that folks are traveling again, I’m sure they’ll make sure they have a photo ID before they go to the airport. If they don’t, they aren’t likely to be permitted to get anywhere near a departure gate. And if they drive to the airport, they are well advised to have their driver’s license handy. How about cashing a check, even at your own bank? Do it on faith, do they?

            Why then is requiring you to have a government issued ID card when you go to vote considered “voter suppression?” In Illinois, where I vote, you have to be registered to vote, but not show an ID, only sign your name. What is the likelihood that your signature is compared to some ancient record (I’ve been registered to vote continuously for more than 50 years)? Nevertheless, the chances that Illinois will change its voting laws to require an ID are slim and none.

            It comes as a surprise to some people, but there are no uniform voting laws in this country. Although Congress could do so for Federal elections, they never have. They should, although the Voting Rights Act of 1965 did ban literacy tests, poll taxes and other barriers to voting. Although I believe IDs should be required for all local and state elections as well, I’m not sure the courts would uphold a federal law mandating this.

            Another surprise for the Democrats who think IDs are a method of voter suppression: in Europe, only the UK doesn’t require an ID to vote, and a law to require it is pending there. Our neighbors to the north – Canada as you might recall – also require a form of identification.

            What kind of ID should be required? To begin with, the majority of the voting age population in this country have a driver’s licenses. In Illinois, you can also easily get a state-issued identification card. A valid passport should also suffice, as would a military ID. I’m sure there are others that would be acceptable.

            I’m afraid I also believe that citizens should be required to vote in person, unless they are going to be out of town or physically unable to do so. Absentee ballots have always been available for these reasons. In addition, in Illinois, many jurisdictions permit people to vote in person for a specified period before election day. I have done this twice, when I knew I would be traveling on election day. Why, all of a sudden, are people thought incapable of finding a polling place?

            (By the way, I think legally-resident non-citizens should be able to vote. I think “no taxation without representation” is just as valid today as it was in 1775.)

            I’m not naïve enough to think that some Republican state legislatures aren’t doing their best to make it harder for Democrats to vote; but then Democrats are making it easier when they can. I thought I would check one Republican state to see how their requirement for an ID works. How about big bad Texas?

            In Longhorn Land, acceptable IDs include: driver’s license; election ID certificate; Texas personal ID card; Texas handgun license (of course);  US citizenship certificate; US Miliary ID;  or US Passport. What if you don’t have any of these? You may then qualify for a Reasonable Impediment Declaration (!) with one of the following: certified birth certificate; current utility bill; bank statement; government check; paycheck; or another government document with your name and address.

            The bottom line for me is this – if you really want to vote, you can. But I do want to know that you are who you say you are. Excuse me for not being willing to take your word for it.

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon

Happy Holidays!

(In honor of the season, here’s a favorite from a couple of years ago. Oh, and a real Happy Holidays for my faithful readers.)

Happy Holidays, Folks!

By Patrick F. Cannon

Well, another year has passed, so I thought I’d bring you all up to date on the Yokum family as the holidays approach. As usual, there wasn’t a dull moment for our relatives. 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. He did tell me though that he still enjoys singing, and he’ll be doing caroling again on Death Row with the Sing Sing Singers. Says it’s nice to have a new audience every year. 

            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 ever 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 they 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 holds 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.

            Finally, 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.

            Oh, and don’t worry, I’ll still be making my famous fruit cake, laced with my home-made white lightening. Believe me, Santa prefers it to milk and cookies!

            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 the Yokum family.

Copyright 2019, 2021, Patrick F. Cannon

The Egg and I

The Egg and I

By Patrick F. Cannon

I recently read all about eggs; only chicken eggs actually. As you may know, people do eat other kinds of eggs – duck, goose, quail, even ostrich; although one wonders if anyone except my son-in-law Boyd has a frying pan large enough to handle “two ostrich eggs over easy, with wild boar bacon.”

            Let me immediately dispel a notion held dear by the Birkenstock-wearing crowd – brown eggs aren’t any better for you than white. Same nutrition. Ditto for blue, green, pink and red eggs. Egg color is determined by breed of chicken. I always thought all chickens were white, but boy was I wrong. It seems chicken fanciers – and it’s a growing breed – can get chickens in a wide variety of colors and feather arrangements. One supposes that if you harbored a bunch of different breeds in your coop, you would never again have to color your Easter eggs.

            The more exotic colors can only be found at the local farmer’s market; or maybe in your neighbor’s back yard, as raising the birds is now de rigueur with the kind of folks who also plant corn instead of grass in front of their houses. (By the way, raising livestock on your property is legal in most communities. Hearing a “cock-a-doodle-do” of  a morning may not be your imagination.)

            Your local supermarket is likely to offer only white or brown eggs. Although there is such a thing as Grade B, most of those go to processing plants. There is a Grade AA, but you will mostly find Grade A.  As to size, there is one called the peewee, but most of those are shipped to Ireland for sale to the little people. Most people would buy Large, Extra Large or Jumbo. Cooks tell me that Large eggs are the standard for recipes, but you can’t  trust most cooks to give you a correct recipe. As for me, I favor Jumbo, because if you’re going to have eggs for breakfast, why stint?

            If you want to be right with Mother Nature, by all means buy Organic eggs. They really won’t be more tasty or nutritious, but their added cost will prove you’re a good person. By the way, buying eggs from chickens who are fed only with grains and vegetables is goofy, since chickens are, like us, omnivores. When they’re pecking around on that free range, a lot of what they eat is bugs.

            Whatever their grade or size, I find it best to cook the eggs. Dropping a raw egg into a schooner of beer has long been consider a hangover cure, but I find the cure worse than the disease. Boiling eggs is easy, but often doesn’t work. One method is to put the eggs in a pan with water. When the water boils, turn it off and cover. In three minutes, you should have soft-boiled eggs; six will give you medium-boiled; and 12, hard boiled.  In the real world, you will get a phone call and when you hang up, notice that the water is boiling – but for how long? You see the problem? If you manage to turn the burner off in time, that’s when the phone will ring, or some idiot will ring the doorbell. While a properly soft-boiled egg is heaven itself, it’s as rare as a hen’s tooth (ha ha!).

            Unless you have one of those gizmos that does the job for you, avoid making poached eggs at home. Most breakfast restaurants will do a decent job with them, particularly with Eggs Benedict (named after the saint who favored them of a morning). Another thing to avoid at home is the omelet, unless you’re more than normally coordinated.

            Everyone should at least know how to fry and scramble eggs. Do not give into the temptation to fry them with left over bacon fat. You have made bacon to eat; why would you want your eggs to taste the same? Butter is the only fat you should use for eggs. Some would argue for olive oil, but do you really want your eggs to taste like olives?

            Eggs should be cooked at room temperature, unless you live in Greenland or England. The reason should be obvious, unless you’re a knucklehead. I find that people overcomplicate when ordering or cooking the standard fried egg – up, over easy, over medium, over hard. If an undone or not quite done egg white makes you  queasy, the answer is simple: cover the eggs with a lid while cooking, checking occasionally until the whites are done to your satisfaction. Turning the eggs over to cook the whites is really beyond the capability of most home cooks.  

            There is only one acceptable way to scramble eggs. Break the eggs into a bowl. For every two eggs, add a tablespoon of heavy cream; or two tablespoons of whole milk. Beat with a whisk (or a fork if your kitchen is too small for a whisk). Turn on the fire under a non-stick frying pan. When hot, add a generous dollop of butter. When melted, add the egg mixture. With a spatula, keep moving the eggs around until done to your satisfaction (not too dry, for heaven’s sake).

            I know people who will splatter hot sauce on their eggs. They might just as well eat gruel.

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon

Who Are These People?

Who Are Those People?

By Patrick F. Cannon

There are countless people around the world telling you all about what you’re looking at. They might be behind a microphone as you roll around London on a tour bus; or as you stroll down an ancient street in Rome; or as you look at a Velasquez at the Prado in Madrid.

            Some are called docents; some tour guides; and some interpreters. In my experience, the quality of what they say and how they say it varies widely. Some can be highly amusing, but highly inaccurate. And we’ve all let our minds wander as another drones on and on and on, accurate or not. As someone who has been talking to groups about architecture for more than 40 years – in buildings, on foot, and rolling along on a bus – I can tell you that among the best and most knowledgeable guides I have heard have been those at the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC).   

            On September 3, these volunteers were fired, although the Art Institute would not have used that word. Historically, the majority were white women who could afford to devote considerable time and attention to their duties. Training was extensive, and included classroom and independent study; regular testing; and even a requirement to submit research papers. The AIC is an encyclopedic museum, which means it has permanent collections from multiple disciplines and periods. And of course it always has several special exhibits in various areas of the building. It has been said that the training was the equivalent of a master’s degree in Art History.

            In addition to giving tours of the permanent and special collections to visitors, the docents had a role in supporting the education of the numerous school groups that regularly visit the museum (pre-Covid), which has a facility dedicated to that task in the Modern Wing. In announcing the change in the docent program from volunteers to paid staff, the administration stressed the need to make the docents more reflective of the races and ethnicities of the children and visitors it serves. Because it has an endowment of $1.1 billion, it can presumably afford to make the change. To be fair to AIC, current docents will be able to apply for the paid positions; in reality, most will not fit the new criteria.

            I am a volunteer and supporter of the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust, which operates tours of various Frank Lloyd Wright-designed buildings, two of which it was responsible for restoring – Wright’s own Home and Studio in Oak Park; and his famous Robie House in Hyde Park, which was honored as a World Heritage Site. Like so many small and house museums, it has little if any endowment to draw upon, so it depends heavily on unpaid volunteers. By the way, those volunteers also have a high level of training, including testing, mentoring and regular evaluation. You will find similar rigor at other organizations, including the Chicago Architecture Center, which gives the popular Chicago River Tour, among others.

            AIC isn’t the first attraction to eliminate its volunteer docents. Quite a few years ago, a very good friend was similarly terminated at the Lincoln Park Zoo, a place she dearly loved and gave dedicated service to for many years.

            AIC is not likely to change its mind. Like so many organizations, it has jumped on the “inclusion” bandwagon. It probably never occurred to them that they could simply have phased out their volunteer program over a period of years. Perhaps now they can concentrate on investigating the provenance of works in their collections. Who were these people who gave us all this money and art? What were their motives? Just where did they get all that cash?

            Museums around the world are being called to account for the sources of their money and art. While it is just to return works that were obtained illegally – art looted by the Nazis being only one example – what of money and works donated by former and current “robber barons” or other retrospectively shady characters? To some of our Marxist-leaning fellow citizens, any wealth is just money confiscated from the working stiff. While I would support taking Jeffrey Epstein’s name off a building or gallery, just as I support removing Robert E. Lee’s statue from public areas, what should we do with a work of art donated by some Pooh-Baw from the past, now known to have been a racist or anti-Semite?

            Since their money and art have made great works readily available to the public, regardless of their economic status, I would regret their actions, no matter how common during their lifetimes, and keep their money and art. If it was honestly acquired by the standards of the times, I’ll judge the Rembrandts or Picassos on their merit, not on whose money gave them to us.

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon  

Unasked Questions

Unasked Questions

By Patrick F. Cannon

Indulge me while I tell you a story. Before I retired 20 years ago, I was the manager of  communications for the largest association of its kind in the world. As such, over the years I hired dozens of writers, editors and graphic artists. Although I occasionally had to hire a senior manager, most of these hires were for entry level jobs. Most applicants were graduates of journalism schools, or schools with public relations majors.

            These kinds of hires are handled quite differently today, but in those days the personnel department would sift though the sometimes hundreds of resumes we would receive and send me candidates whose education and background actually fit the position. Although we didn’t keep records of this, I would guess that 75 percent were from women, based solely on the names. I almost never received a resume from an African-American. Obviously, we didn’t ask what race the applicant was, but having lived in Chicago and its suburbs most of my life, I had a feel for both typical names and addresses.

            We got very few, so I was pleased to get a resume from an applicant who was a likely African-American, and a male to boot.  Both his cover letter and resume were well written; and when he came in for an interview, he was just as impressive. Because I thought it was important for the association to have more African-Americans (we had numerous Hispanics and Asians), I talked my boss into letting me offer him a couple of thousand dollars a year more than was usual. But he got a much better offer elsewhere and we lost him.

            Over the years, we employed three major PR firms to do some of our work. They made even more concerted efforts to hire qualified African-Americans, but I recall only seeing two over the years, one of whom worked on our account. The reason was simple: journalism and public relations programs at colleges and universities were simply not attracting many African-Americans. Those who did major in these areas were snapped up by news rooms and agencies hungry to prove they valued diversity in their organizations. Many became adornments to their professions.

            So, my response to articles on the lack of diversity in industries and professions has always been to ask this simple question: how many qualified minority candidates are denied jobs only because of their race or national origin? What we get in articles and features instead is: African-Americans are 13.4 percent of the US population. Why aren’t 13.4 percent of screenwriters, or directors, or sound technicians, or set decorators (to take only the movies as an example) African-American?  That’s it – the implication being that racism is the only reason. They never ask the obvious next question: how many are denied jobs they are educated and otherwise qualified for simply because they’re African-American?  Or women? Or Hispanics?

            One article you won’t see – if non-Hispanic whites comprise 60 percent of the population, why aren’t 60 percent of NFL and NBA players white? Or 60 percent of jazz musicians, or pop singers? While your died-in-the-wool racist hates to see any African-American succeed, most people accept the fact that African-Americans both want to do these things, and indeed excel at them.

            Since I’ve actually read and studied our history extensively, I fully realize how racism has stained it. I also know that, beginning when President Truman desegregated the armed forces in 1948, progress has been made in redressing the balance. To deny this is to deny the struggles of so many African-Americans and, yes, whites of good faith, to eliminate institutional racism. For example, the dropout rate for African-Americans has gone from 15.2 percent in 2010 to 7.9 percent this year. Last year, the unemployment rate for blacks was 5.5 percent; it was 14 percent in 2000.

            My son suggests the reason that obvious next question is rarely asked is simply because news organizations do not permit their reporters to ask them, lest asking will somehow be seen as racist. I presume this is their thinking (if one can use that word): if 13.4 percent of the population is black, then if 13.4 percent of civil engineers aren’t black, then it must be racism that is keeping them from getting their share of the jobs. It never seems to occur to them to discover how many blacks want to be and are educated as civil engineers, but are not hired because of their race.

            If reality did intrude into today’s journalism, pointing out the low numbers of blacks in a branch of engineering that provides the most jobs, has a median income of nearly $90,000 a year, and is projected to grow at a steady eight percent a year, might encourage young African-American men and women to consider this profession. Or not; that’s their decision.

            Regrettably, we live in an era when too many news organizations believe they must advocate rather than report the news impartially. They need to learn that being “woke” isn’t the same as being awake.

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon

Do You Shift for Yourself?

Do You Shift for Yourself?

By Patrick F. Cannon

Last week, I wrote about the now rare wringer clothes washer, and mentioned that you could still actually buy one. This week, I thought I’d write about another archaic throwback – cars with manual transmissions. Although it gets more difficult every year, you can still get one.

            Of the 19 cars I’ve owned in my lifetime, six had manual transmissions: two VW Beetles, a Volvo station wagon, Fiat sports coupe, Ford Escort hatchback, and a Ford Probe GT (my favorite). Before I owned my own cars, I occasionally drove some friend’s beater, which almost always had a three-speed column shifter. I learned to drive on one of these. While in the army, I regularly drove a ¾-ton truck; a few times a 2-1/2 ton truck; jeeps of various vintages; and even an International Scout, which was used for guard duty at Fr. Erwin, California. All, of course, had manual transmissions.

            As far as I can recall, the first car with an automatic transmission I ever saw was in a pristine Pre-World War II  Oldsmobile sedan that picked us up when we were hitchhiking to caddy at the Edgewood Country Club near Pittsburgh. This would have been in the early 1950s. While automatic transmissions were more widely available by then, they were still an expensive option. They also provided poorer gas mileage, and took longer to accelerate than a well-handled car with a manual transmission.

            Automatic transmissions are now standard equipment and none of the above is true. To provide maximum flexibility in today’s generally smaller engines, 8-speed transmissions are common, but as many as 12 are available. Some have various modes, depending on how you’re driving. Most common would be “economy” or “sport.” The latter would delay shifts for maximum acceleration. My BMW can be shifted manually by moving the shifter to the left; you can then shift through five speeds at any RPM point you choose. I rarely do this, as most of my driving is done on level terrain, on expressways and city streets.

            While I concede there is a certain pleasure in driving a sporty car with manual transmission on an empty road, this happens so rarely that it’s not worth the trouble of constantly shifting gears in city driving. If I had the extra dough, and the room, I confess I would like nothing better than to have a Morgan Plus 6 (look it up) to tool around the hinterlands of New England of Appalachia (or even parts of Illinois).

            Even the most sophisticated race cars – Formula 1 – do not require the driver to tramp down with his left foot on a clutch pedal to change gears. He (there are no women currently) simply uses a steering-wheel-mounted paddle to change gears, a system that is also becoming available on passenger cars. As with most systems on cars today, all of this is controlled by computers.

            Speaking of computers, who would actually wish to return to the days of the regular tune up? In the “good old days,” you would bring your car to a mechanic every 10,000 miles or so for a required tune up, which consisted of changing distributer points (again, if you’re a youngster, look it up), installing new spark plugs, cleaning and adjusting the carburetor, changing the oil and filter, greasing running gear and suspension components, and adjusting the timing with a gadget called a timing light. When you picked up your car, you would expect it to run once again like a fine watch.

            I once took a course to learn how to do all of this myself, but never really used the knowledge because my next car had computerized systems. People who own and cherish classic and collector cars often still have and use these skills. Of course, some day most cars will be electric, and have no transmissions at all. We’re also told they will drive themselves. While I don’t miss shifting gears, that’s where I think I might draw the line. I can just see Comrade Putin directing his minions to cause chaos on our highways (or at least more than we already have).

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon

Be Thankful, For Goodness Sakes

Be Thankful, For Goodness Sakes

By Patrick F. Cannon

I’ve had the occasion recently to do the laundry. As most of you know, this consists of putting a load of dirty clothes in an automatic washer, adding detergent and other stuff, pressing a few buttons, and wandering off to muse on the state of the world. Some kind of bell or buzzer will eventually signal that the machine has done its duty; whereupon you toss the damp stuff into a dryer. While that’s doing it work, you might peruse the morning paper, or just stare out the window.

            The clothes and other stuff that emerges rarely needs the touch of an iron. When I buy clothing, I always make sure it says “no iron” or “permanent press.” We own an iron, but it spends most of its life in lonely isolation.

            When my mother did the laundry, she rolled the wringer washer up to kitchen sink, filled it with water and soap, put in the clothes and turned it on. It had an  agitator much like a top loading automatic washer now has, which would thrash away until the load was clean (hopefully). You have to trust my memory here, but I believe the next step was to toss the whole mess into clean water to rinse the soap out; or maybe the soapy water was drained out and replaced by clean water, the machine then thrashing away again to rid the load of soap residue. And I’m not quite sure when and how they were used, but the process included bleach and something called “bluing,” both of which had some role to play.

            But wait, we’re not done, since the whole mess had to be run  through the wringers, two rollers that squeezed the excess water out of the clean laundry. After that, the still damp mess had to be dried. In warm and dry weather, this could be done on an outside clothes line. Ideally, if you had a back yard, most of it could be hung out to dry at one fell swoop. In cold or rainy weather, the basement or attic was pressed into service; that is, if you had one or the other. If you lived in an apartment building, other places needed to be found. Have you ever been to Europe and seen clothing hanging from front windows on various contraptions?

            (Just so you know, in 1946, a wringer washer cost about $50; that would be about $720 today, about what a basic automatic washer would cost today. You could actually buy a new wringer washer now for about $1,000. Go figure.)

            By the way, this process in a large family took most or all of the day. I recall that Monday was usually “wash day” and Tuesday was “ironing day.” Think about it. Two days of the week were taken up with dealing with the dirty laundry. If you had money, you could avoid all this. A truck would appear and pick up your dirty laundry; a day or two later, your clothing and other items would reappear, washed, ironed and neatly folded. On Monday, these housewives could have their friends over for bridge; on Tuesday, do a bit of shopping at Marshall Field’s and have lunch in the Walnut Room.

            Right up to my retirement, I did take my dress shirts – which I wore every day for nearly 40 years – to the laundry. Initially, these laundries were run by Chinese families. More recently, Korean families seem to have taken over this business. If you’re a masochist, you can still have your shirts starched.

            I am reminded of a scene in the movie, Master and Commander, based on the novels of Patrick O’Brian. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, the hero is British sea captain Jack Aubrey, played by Russell Crowe. In one scene, he is shown a model of a new American frigate, which is constructed in a new and novel way. He studies in in detail, then exclaims: “What a fascinating modern age we live in!”

            Even in a simple task like doing the laundry, it certainly is. Consider yourself lucky.

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon

Rat a Tat Tat

(This piece was originally published in late 2016. How much has changed? One thing: I have since fired a gun, with my son, at a shooting range.)

Rat a Tat Tat

By Patrick F. Cannon

My son Patrick has a small collection of firearms, which he showed to me during a recent visit with him in Florida. He keeps them locked away, but enjoys going to the shooting range to see if he can hit the broad side of a barn. On at least three occasions, I’ve tried to join him, but fate has always intervened. Most recently, there would have been an hour wait for a firing position, an hour we didn’t have.

            I was particularly interested in firing two in his collection, a Browning .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol, and an M1 Carbine. When I was in the Army, I had occasion to qualify with both, as well as the standard infantry weapon of the time, the M1 Garand; and the submachine gun affectionately known as the “grease gun.”  I qualified with the Garand (used during World War II and Korea) as a “Sharpshooter” during basic training. Only “Expert” was higher, so I did OK.

            I ended up in the Signal Corps in La Rochelle, France. There I was issued a Carbine, with which I qualified at a former German Army indoor shooting range, which was near one of their submarine pens at La Pallice, the port just south of La  Rochelle. The pen, by the way, was the site for the film Das Boot, and is still there, the roof pockmarked by Allied bombs that never penetrated.

            In mid-1962, I was transferred to another signal company and sent to Ft. Irwin, California, in the middle of the Mojave Desert. It was combat support company, and I worked in a signals van. I was issued with both a Browning .45 and a grease gun. The idea here, I decided, was that if the Ruskies broke into the van, you would grab your grease gun and pull the trigger, with the hope that you would hit something, if only the ceiling. The pistol was reasonably accurate at 25 yards. At the same distance, you were lucky to hit the target at all with the grease gun.

            In any event, when I qualified with it in the late summer of 1962, it was the last time I ever fired a gun. I don’t own one, and have no wish to own one. If I did, I’m sure I could pass a background check, as would my son, who is what we could call “a responsible gun owner.”

            If you’re good at math, you may have noticed that I haven’t fired a gun in 54 years, which makes me just as qualified as anyone else to comment on gun control. By the way, I learned that roughly 40 percent of Americans own guns, and 20 percent own 65 percent of them. Like my son, many Americans own multiple guns. I don’t want to get bogged down in statistics, but most murders are committed with guns, with the actual firearm murder rate fairly consistent at about 3.6 per 100,000 population.  The majority are committed by criminals against other criminals. And while our murder rate is not the highest in the world, it is high compared to the countries in Western Europe, for example.

            Recent mass murders have brought these issues to the fore – who should own guns, and what kind? The members of the legendary National Rifle Association (NRA) largely agree that background checks are appropriate, but their supposedly elected leaders, personified by their doctrinaire front man, Mr. Wayne LaPierre, fear that any kind of control will lead to a mass confiscation of guns from everyone except the police. The only thing more absurd than this contention is that some people believe it.

            You may be surprised to learn that many people in countries like the United Kingdom actually own guns. To do so, they must apply for a license and pass a background check. They must also state a reason, which might include hunting, sport shooting or even, in rare cases, self protection. Just like a driver’s license, they have to renew from time to time. I imagine if you’ve committed a felony since getting your license, renewal might be a problem. By the way, in a recent year the gun murder rate in the UK was 0.06 per 100,000.

            The following sensible proposals would no doubt bring the braying LaPierre out of his stall spouting righteous indignation:

  • All gun owners to have a background check before receiving a permit to own firearms. The permit to be checked against a data base by any seller, including at gun shows. All sellers and re-sellers would have to be licensed.
  • Those not eligible for a permit should include felons, and people diagnosed with a specific mental illness, such as schizophrenia.
  • No one on the “no fly” or terrorist watch lists could get a permit, although they must be told the specific reason they are on either list, and have the right of appeal. There are too many instances of US citizens being on one or the other of these lists in error, and having extreme difficulties in getting their names removed.
  • Background checks must be thorough, with at least a full week permitted to complete them. It’s difficult to think of any valid reason for needing a firearm sooner.
  • I suppose it makes sense to ban assault rifles, if only because they can accommodate large clips. If that can’t be done, perhaps it might be sensible to ban clips that hold more than 10 rounds. Since automatic weapons are still banned, target shooters and hunters can make no convincing arguments for larger clips. Does it really take more than 10 rounds to kill Bambi?

I’m afraid I have no hopes that any of this will pass at the Federal level. And any immediate effect is highly dubious, since it’s estimated that 340 million guns are already floating around the United States. Any impact of tighter regulations would take decades to be felt, and would have little immediate effect on the illegal trade.

In any event, while the Republicans might support some meaningless symbolic gesture to mollify the public, their fear of the NRA will prevent anything meaningful. After all, this is the party whose leaders are lining up to support Donald Trump, forcing one of the most respected conservative voices, columnist George Will, to leave it after more than 40 years. He won’t be the last. Nor should he be.


Copyright 2016, 2021, Patrick F. Cannon