A Dog’s Life

A Dog’s Life

(A one act play)

By Patrick F. Cannon

Scene: In a drab, institutional room, there is a counter; above it, a sign proclaims: “Bureau of Vital Statistics.” Behind the counter is a drab, institutional man of indeterminate age. Let’s call him the clerk (C). Facing him is a well-dressed younger man. He wears a suit and tie, and a fresh haircut for his full head of hair. Let’s call him the supplicant (S). Although there is no  one else in the room, the clerk ignores the supplicant until he rings a bell on the counter.

C – Can I help you, sir?

S – Yes, I need to change my birth certificate.

C – Is there some mistake on it?

S – Not exactly.

C – Would you want to be changing your sex? We get a lot of people who think they got the sex wrong when they filled out the Birth Certificate. The legislature passed a law that says it’s OK to do that now, so no problem. If you’ll give me your name and date of birth, I’ll pull up the record and fix it. Would you be going from male to female, or female to male?. Oh, I’ll need to see your driver’s license and Social Security card.

S – No, that’s not it, although if someone wants to pretend they’re the opposite sex, who am I to object? Live and let live, I say. Anyway, the Constitution guarantees equal rights for everyone, as it should. No, I want to change my species.

C (looking more than a little perplexed) – Your what?

S – My species. I want to change form Homo sapien to Canis familiaris.

C – I don’t understand. You what?

S – I decided I wanted to be a dog instead of a human. Dogs are loving and loyal; everyone loves a good dog, and I intend to be one of the best. So, if you’ll just change the record, that’ll make it official.  

C – I don’t know. There’s no box on the form for that. I guess it just kind of assumes everyone is a human being. Besides, you don’t look anything like a dog.

S – Not to worry. I’ll let my hair grow and learn how to bark. I’d consider plastic surgery, but I’m not sure it would work in this case.

C – But you wouldn’t really be a dog! You can’t be a dog by just deciding to be one.

S – You can’t really change your sex either, so what’s the problem?

C – Well, I guess you’re right. What breed would you like to be?

S – I rather see myself as a Labrador retriever. Oh, and I’ll need to change my name too.

C – What would you like?

S – How about Fido?

C – How’s that spelled?

The End

Good Luck, Joe

Good Luck, Joe

By Patrick F. Cannon

On March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as president. Several of these United States had already seceded, and more was to come – four years of Civil War that left 600,000 Americans dead. Yesterday, a new president was inaugurated, despite an attempt to force the Congress to reverse the will of the people.

It happens that I was not particularly enamored of any of the Democratic candidates who vied for the chance to run for President last year. I have to admit that some of them scared me. Had Bernie Sanders been chosen, I doubt if I would have voted at all. But Biden was a known quantity, even if a bit too well worn. To me, center left is better than radical left. I voted for President Biden because the traditional Republican Party had all but disappeared.

            Four years ago, I remember thinking that maybe Donald Trump would rise to the occasion and stifle his baser instincts on behalf of the office and his country. I sincerely wished him the best. He didn’t. In fact, he turned out to be a worse human being that I expected. But I did make him prove it.

            I’m past wondering why anyone would have voted for Trump again. They did, and a significant number still believe – with no credible evidence – that he won the election. And some of them, egged on by a then sitting President of the United States, tried to overthrow the legislative branch of that government. I suppose none of them, as I once did, swore to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…” Once taken, this oath never expires. How many of the people who stormed the Capital violated it?

            I’m past wondering why people would have voted for Donald  Trump. But as I did four years ago, I would ask them to accept the results of the election and give Joe Biden a chance. That’s the way the system should work, after all. Do we really want another Civil War?   

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon

Nighty, Night

Nighty, Night

By Patrick F. Cannon

I admit to being abashed when, as a well-known eminent authority, I was caught off balance when recently asked to provide a brief history of the bed by a curious fellow traveler in this journey of life. I had to mutter an apology and beg for time to make my ignorance right.

            I put in abeyance my quest for the meaning of the cosmos, and attempted to redeem this gap in my considerable knowledge of just about everything. We take our beds for granted. They beckon us at the end of a tiring day. Their soft comfort rejuvenates us, making us ready for another day in the struggle for enlightenment. But where did they come from?

            I began my journey at the Serta Institute for Sleep, Dreaming and Somnambulism. In its storied stacks, I hoped to go back in time to the very dawn of bedey-bye. I discovered that our earliest ancestors couldn’t go to bed. They wandered the landscape, hunting and gathering until they got tired, then tried to find a piece of ground sans rocks. They would lay down and hope a toothy animal didn’t happen by. The more woke would climb a nearby tree and find a likely branch to support them, hoping the bow didn’t break. As they were naked anyway, whether it rained or not was of little concern. Indeed, after a hot and dusty day, they were inclined to welcome a cooling shower.

            When people ventured out of Africa to more frigid climes, they sought to get out of the weather in the caves that are such a feature of the Northern Hemisphere. Increasing sophistication found them gathering grasses to spread on the floors of their dry domiciles, thus making for a more comfortable night’s sleep. If they had been lucky during the hunt, they might even have a bear’s skin as a warming blanket. The pillow not having been invented yet, they rested their heads on a likely log. The word “Logarhythm’s” comes from the sound of the family group rolling their logs into comfortable positions.

            It is to the early residents of Ireland that we owe the first identifiable mattresses. It seems that the Emerald Isle was covered in hay fields. Even after the native cattle had eaten their fill, enough was left over to stuff a rough linen sack. Before lying upon it, the Hibernians would “hit the hay” to dislodge any vermin that had set up housekeeping during the day.

            Apparently, the Egyptians were the first to raise the bed off the ground. It seems the great Ramses III got weary of having rats and asps crawling over his royal visage, and had the Chamberlain of the Royal Bedchamber add some legs to his bejeweled sleeping pallet. Mattresses were made with woven reeds harvested along the Nile, the very same reeds where young Moses was found by Cecil B. DeMille napping in a basket.

The Romans filched the idea of the raised bed, but improved upon it by having a woven rope base instead of a wooden platform. This permitted the mattress to have a bit of give in it, improving their comfort and hanky-panky endurance. The Romans were also the first to eat in bed, which may explain why the empire eventually crumbled.

Not much happened sleep-wise until the Renaissance, when the four poster was invented. These always had canopies that provided a kind of roof. This was needed – try to follow me here – because window screens had yet to be invented. Leaving the windows open during warm weather permitted birds to fly in at will. These often perched in the rafters and beams. Birds being birds, they would often poop, but the canopy would prevent their dreadful defecations from plopping onto the sleeping heads below.

 I should mention that mattresses for the wealthy were now filled with cotton, feathers and occasionally horse hair, providing a more luxurious and cushy experience. Of course, the poor still made do with hay. Simple cotton mattresses are still very much in use in primitive areas of the world, and in the United States Army. I recall fondly sleeping on bunk beds that the Emperor Nero might well have recognized, although tired horizontal springs had replaced the ropes. I shall never forget the first time I saw one of these simple metal beds with its mattress rolled up in a cylinder, ready to unroll and provide discomfort to the budding warrior. But enough of this personal reminiscence.

 The next great advance in beds was undoubtably the inner-spring mattress. One day, Cadwalader Simmons was bouncing down the road on his pogo stick when it occurred to him that the coil spring that gave his conveyance its thrust might well provide a bit of comforting bounce to his bed. It must be said that early versions were inclined to squeak. Many a child was awakened by the rhythmic squeaking sounds coming from the parent’s bedroom, creating unimaginable visions in the little tot’s developing brain. Eventually, Simmons found a way to encase the springs and separate them sufficiently to calm the little tike’s slumbers.

While memory foam now plays its part, sometimes in combination with inner-springs, I should say something about that most nautical of sleep aids, the water bed. How it came about is one of those accidents of fate that often changes the course of history. In the 1960s, the French undersea explorer, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, built an underwater habitat. He and his crew lived and worked there for some time. To save weight, they slept on air mattresses.

One day, the air delivery was late, so they decided to fill the mattresses with water, of which there was an abundant supply. An old salt, Cousteau took to its swimmy comforts immediately, but it must be said that some of his fellow frog men got a bit seasick. That eventually became its greatest drawback; that, and the fact that sometimes naughty kids were tempted to poke it with an ice pick. In any event, we now have a bewildering number of beds to choose from. So much so that an increasing number of hearty folk are going back to nature and sleeping rough upon the forest leaves. What goes around comes around!

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon

Modest Proposals

Modest Proposals

By Patrick F. Cannon

At the risk of being a bore, let me return to some of my more unpopular ideas as we enter the new year. None of them is likely to gain any favor, but what the hell?

            Once again, it’s probably too late in Illinois, but some way must be found to take redistricting out of the hands of politicians like Michael Madigan. Actually, most citizens support this; at the same time, they elect representatives who don’t. Go figure.

            I’ve heard all the arguments about limiting the number of terms an elected official may serve. One says that this is something the voters should decide by simply not re-electing Congressman Jill. But what if she is in a “safe” district and no one actually runs against her? See above. Eight years is more than enough for a representative; and 12 for a senator. If they can’t stand to leave politics, let them run for something else, maybe dog catcher.

            I’m not naïve enough to think it’s possible to put a cat back in the bag, but it was a mistake to permit public employee unions. Since it’s too late to ban them, we should at least forbid them from taking any part in elections – no cash donations, no ringing doorbells, no nothing. Please understand that I’m not  against industrial, trade and craft unions. I’ve actually belonged to a couple in my long life. But isn’t there something inherently wrong with bribing legislators to vote your way, particularly when you’re using my (and your) money to do it?

            Apparently, no one – not even Republicans – believes in balancing budgets. Now, there are times when it’s not feasible – this is one of them; World War II was another. In general, it should be a goal. The problem is that politicians don’t want either to raise taxes or reduce spending. Frankly, I wouldn’t object to a slight increase in the top income tax rate for those horrible billionaires who employ so many people; but not if we don’t also take steps to rein in the bureaucracy.

            For example, the number of Federal, state and local government employees who are involved in the administration of the dozens of entitlement programs designed to help lower-income people is staggering (governments at all levels employ 20 million people). A particular family might be eligible for food, rent, medical, utility, and educational assistance; and also for the earned-income tax credit. Can you imagine the number of bureaucrats who are involved in all of this? Why not just eliminate all the  middle men and send the family one payment to cover everything? To the argument that people can’t be trusted to spend the money wisely, I say, so what? You mean there’s no fraud in the current system?

            Finally, a couple of correctives. One hears a great deal about the income gap. In 1900, there was also a huge income gap. Our left wing friends don’t mention this, but the rich folks then paid no income tax; and the poor had literally no assistance other than local charity (if there was any). People actually starved to death, as there were no food stamps or food pantries available to them. See above.

             Let me finish by saying that no one should be punished for something they said or did 20 or 30 years ago. Making people grovel and apologize might make the thought police feel better, but it’s unnecessary and undignified. And the current holier than thou folk can’t shame historical figures into being as virtuous as they think they are. Pulling down a statue might make them feel superior, but it won’t change history. Let’s worry about the future instead.

P.S. What do you Trump supporters think of your fair-haired boy now?

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon

Leave My Culture Alone!

Leave My Culture Alone

By Patrick F. Cannon

Every year, when March 17 arrives, I find myself in high dudgeon. Although the lingering pandemic might prevent it this year, I usually find myself livid with rage as I watch the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade step off from Wacker Drive to begin its march up State Street.

            Why would this seemingly cheerful event affect me so? Let me stipulate up front that all of my ancestors came from Ireland; indeed, my father was born on a patch of the “Auld Sod.” But who will lead this celebration of Celtic pride? In days of yore, it would have been one or more of the Daleys, along with the Dunnes, Ryans and Keenes. But what do we have now? Politicians whose ancestors came from Africa, Mexico, Poland, Puerto Rico, Germany and Greece. All festooned with shamrocks and green top hats!

            This is cultural appropriation at its most flagrant! I was reminded of it when I read a few days ago that the Korean and Japanese communities felt under assault and disrespected when Chicago celebrity chef Stephanie Izzard of Girl and the Goat fame (where do they get these names?)  had cooked a beef and rice dish that she said was “inspired” by similar Korean and Japanese recipes. Talk about high dudgeon? The internet was soon aflame with indignation. How dare she appropriate these sacred dishes and then not even get them right?

            Now, you may wonder what “cultural appropriation” actually means. According to our friends at the Oxford Dictionary, it’s “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoptions of customs, practices, ideas, etc., of one people or society by members of another and more typically more dominant people or society.” Simple enough, I should think.

            But it can get complicated. In the bad old days, politicians used to visit Native American reservations on their trips to the West. Almost inevitably, they would be photographed with the tribal leaders, usually wearing an elaborate feathered head dress. One of the more famous showed President Coolidge looking more than usually dour. But apparently it was OK for Cal to wear the feathered hat because it was placed there by a chief.  But donning it later at a cabinet meeting would have been a no-no, although obviously worth seeing.

            Anyway, it got me to thinking about the more egregious examples of this demoralizing manifestation of cultural insensitivity. One came immediately to mind. Over the years, I have often eaten at diners, pancake houses and other restaurants owned and operated by Greeks. Among the usual eggs, burgers and liver and onions on the menu, one almost always finds spaghetti and meat balls. What in God’s name is spaghetti and meat balls doing in such a place? Would you expect to find Gyros or Moussaka at Luigi’s?  

            While on this subject, one of my favorite restaurants is a local Chinese emporium that we have favored with our trade for many years. While we do take-out generally, we occasionally dine inside. Recently, they have expanded their offerings to include both Thai fare and Sushi. The next time I go there I fully intend to march into the kitchens to make certain that only native Thais and Japanese chefs are preparing these dishes. If they are not, I will never darken their door again!

            And one often hears of African-Americans objecting to their White fellow citizens doing up their hair in dreadlocks. Actually, it is the Minoans who should be up in arms, as convincing evidences exists that they used the ‘do as long as 3,000 years ago. But who now speaks up for this exploited group?

            Finally, let’s all condemn the millions of Americans of all races who daily unroll their mats and assume the position. After all, Yoga is an ancient religious practice of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. That it should be appropriated by hordes of suburban matrons and urban millennials is tasteless and even sacrilegious! If they feel they have to do the exercises, they would at least find a new name for it. How about Yoda?

Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays!

By Patrick F. Cannon

Just some random thoughts on this Christmas Eve.

            In the new stimulus package passed by the Congress, I see that most taxpayers will get a check for $600 (assuming the bill is ever signed). If you need the dough, great. If you don’t, please consider giving it away to a needy group in your community – maybe a food pantry or homeless shelter. Maybe you’re involved in one of these programs, or another that directly helps people in your community. Keep a few bucks in your pocket or purse, and give in to the impulse to make the day for some panhandler – and don’t forget the Salvation Army kettle.

            The election is finally over, so forget about it. How people voted isn’t as important as how they treat their friends and neighbors. Give the new president the benefit of the doubt. I did with the current one until there wasn’t any doubt left.

            Keep in touch. This year has been unique and difficult. We have always celebrated the holidays with family and friends – my wife Jeanette likes nothing better than a full table on Thanksgiving. No dice this year; same for Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Zoom has been able to make up for some of this, but you can’t enjoy my famous stuffing over the ether! And although it seems strange to say it, some people are stuck in sunny Florida, when  they would rather come north and be cold with family. So, do what you can – pick up the phone or even write a letter!

            Watch a sentimental holiday movie! Maybe they stray from reality, but if the ending of “It’s a Wonderful Life” doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, nothing will (and who could have been more beautiful than Donna Reed?). We recently watched “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen. The usual silly plot, but what a joy to watch and hear these great talents.

            Finally, it’s easy to forget the real meaning of the season. While most religions have similar messages, the ones Jesus tried to get across, it seems to me, were tolerance and forgiveness. How these simple concepts have gotten lost among many Christians and other religionists is a paradox. Although I’m sure other religions have similar basic documents, Christians would do well to remind themselves of  two: The Ten Commandments, and the Beatitudes.

            Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon

Travel in the Time of Plague

Travel in the Time of Plague

By Patrick F. Cannon

I have been traveling the seas since 1961, when the United States Army so generously conveyed me to Europe on the USNS General Patch, one of the fine troop ships whose accommodations rivaled those of the legendary King Oscar sardine tin. Since then, I have spent much pleasurable time on the waters of the world.

            I have had the pleasure of manning sailboats on the Atlantic and on Lake Michigan, often captained by almost sober sailors. A mighty cruise ship took me to the pleasures of Alaska; a somewhat smaller one to the Celtic Lands. A river boat took me down the Danube; and a barge through the canals of France.  All of these, alas, forced one to consort with numerous fellow wanderers, not ideal in this era of the pandemic. But I had the wanderlust! What to do?

            As it always does with me, fate took a hand. I was perusing my latest copy of National Geographic when I came upon a story of an intrepid chap who sailed around the world on a tramp steamer. As one of only six passengers, social distancing presented no difficulties. For those who might be interested in such a trip, he recommended purchasing a copy of the quarterly magazine,  Tramping for Fun, which lists opportunities for such travel. I eagerly went to my local Walgreens to buy a copy.

            There were several trips on offer. I chose the S.S. Despond leaving from Charleston with a load of cotton bound for Havana. From there it would sail to Tampico, Mexico with sugar and cigars. At Tampico, the ship would load barrels of tar bound for Frontera in the State of Tabasco. There it would ship chile sauce for the trip through the Panama Canal to the Port of Paita in Peru, to slake the Peruvians well known passion for the tongue tingler. As experienced travelers know, Peru is the world center for the trade in guano, which is the polite word for bird poop. This powerful fertilizer was destined for San Francisco, where it was prized by the pot farmers of Northern California. Although the good ship Despond would continue on  to the Orient, I would debark in Frisco after two months at sea, with the hope that the dreaded virus would have run its course by then. 

            I duly booked my passage. Upon arrival at the dock in Charleston, I was greeted by the skipper, Captain Charles Allnut.  He gave me the good news that since I had been the first passenger to book passage, I would get a favored stateroom, next to his own on the upper, or Melchiza Deck. I must say he was a rather grizzled fellow, and would constantly chew on an unlit cigar. I learned later that he had spent much of his career plying the Zambezi as skipper of the river steamer,  the African Queen.

            I was one of only four passengers. Kasper Guttman was a rotund chap, who had a hearty laugh and a fund of amusing stories. Traveling with him was a slight, wiry little man named Joel Cairo, who pomaded his black hair and smelled vaguely of gardenias. Then there was Mr. Tigran Grigoryan, who spoke only Armenian and kept to himself. We had our own steward, a smiling native of Macao by name of Chan.

            The rest of the crew was a veritable United Nations. The first mate was Ezekiel Starbuck, a Yankee from Nantucket. The engineer, who we rarely saw, was a wild looking Irishman who could sometimes be heard late at night singing “Danny Boy.” The cook (I must admit the food was better than one expected) was a Frenchman called “Frenchie” by one and all. Apparently, he had been a chef in a well-known Paris hotel when inspectors found frozen asparagus and a micro-wave hidden in this kitchen. He was banished from France forthwith. The deckhands were the usual mix of Lascars, Malays, Filipinos and Montenegrins.

            At our ports of call, neither Cairo or Grigoryan would go ashore, but Guttman was game. In Havana, we sipped Daiquiris at La Floridita, Hemingway’s favorite watering hole. Guttman claimed to have known Papa in Spain during the civil war, but I had my doubts. Anyway, we loaded up on cigars and rum before returning to the ship.

            As we steamed into the Gulf of Mexico, the heat became intense. I took advantage of this to perfect my tan, while Guttman stayed in the shade and fanned himself with a fan imprinted with the name of Marrakesh funeral home. At Tampico, we quaffed cold beers and ate the famous tacos. At Tabasco, the skipper kindly laid on a tour of the famous chili fields – bright red as far as the eye could see. I declined a tasting, but Guttman was game. It took him a half dozen Modelo’s to cool his palate.

            I stayed on deck for our trip through the Panama Canal. The required canal pilot seemed miffed at being assigned such a small steamer, particularly since Starbuck kept muttering “we should never have given it away.” But we made it to the Pacific and continued south to Peru, where we offloaded the chili sauce and loaded the sacks of guano. I must say the stevedores treated the sacks of fertilizer with more than the usual care.

            The cargo was bound for San Francisco, but we needed to stop to refuel and fill our fresh water tanks at Puerta Vallarta. For some reason, Cairo decided to go ashore, but soon disappeared on some errand of his own. Guttman and I strolled through the ancient city, and once again quaffed beers at a charming outdoor café. Most of the passersby were the usual American tourists, but there were also a significant number of British expatriates and defrocked priests. We met Cairo on the way back to the ship; he was carrying a strangely-shaped package tied with twine.

            And so, finally, to the City by the Bay. Upon docking, we discovered that the dreaded virus had finally been brought under control, and that we had a new president. I said my goodbyes to my fellow passengers and tipped our steward and cook. As I went down the gangplank, I noticed that Guttman and Cairo were being tailed by a shadowy figure. It was Grigoryan in disguise! But I decided to hail a cab and go directly to the airport, where I would treat myself to a first class ticket back to Chicago. I had seen much and avoided what I was later told had been an interesting election..

Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon

The Evil Cabal Meets

The Evil Cabal Meets

By Patrick F. Cannon

 In the shadowy recesses of the Drones Club in London is a room that remains firmly locked, except for the quarterly meetings of a small group which has no name. Some call it the “Evil Cabal,” but all secretly would wish they could become a member.

            It has only five members – one each from the United States, Great Britain, China, France and Kafiristan. The chairmanship rotates; this year’s is the distinguished Napoleon of Crime, James Moriarity. The United States is represented by Richard Cheney; China by Mao Fae Dung; France by the Bourbon pretender to the throne, Louis XX, Count of Anjou; and Kafiristan by Daniel Dravot, III. All arrive at the club dressed as tradesmen, and are escorted to the secret meeting room by the Cabal’s recording secretary, Augustus Fink-Nottle.

            Moriarity opened the meeting: “Gentlemen, I welcome you to our fourth-quarter meeting. As is our usual custom, we shall go around the table for brief reports from the members. Perhaps this time we shall start with the distinguished descendent of our former member, Chairman Mao. Dung, if you will?”

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. As you know, we successfully launched Covid-19 upon the world, while limiting its effects in our own country. I’m happy to report that our factories are humming again, while much of the rest of the world is out of work and starving.”

“Most impressive, I must say,” said the chairman. “Dick, let’s hear from you.”

“We were able to build upon the efforts of our Chinese friends by encouraging the president and Republicans generally to first deny its existence, then to minimize the need to control it. As a result, they turned to our friends in the pharmaceutical industry to save the day. As we suspected, money was no object, so I trust your investments in Big Pharma are paying rich dividends? Of course, I’ll keep an eye on things and  let you know when it’s time to sell.”

“Dick, we can always count on you. Louis, how are things going in La Belle France?”

“Our clandestine project to encourage Africans to float over to France has been an unqualified success. As you know, the French hate a foreigner, especially black or brown ones, even if they speak French. The government is at its wits end, and there are already murmurs in the cafés for a return of more authoritarian rule – so I stand at the ready.”

“Le Roi de France certainly has a ring to it! You’ll let us know what’s proper to wear to a coronation, I’m sure. Daniel?”

“Our friends in Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran continue to do their level best to stir up trouble in the region, but I’m afraid the nincompoop in the White House is determined to abandon his friends in the region.”

Moriarity rubbed his chin pensively: “Well, that actually brings us to our first agenda item, next month’s US election. How do we punish Trump? As you know, we already have started spiking the water and soft drinks in key states; and have deployed the brain wave machinery. Any other ideas?”

The subsequent discussion went on for an hour or so. Finally, the chairman said: “Well, gentlemen, as usual you have come up with some capital ideas, but I propose we now pause for lunch. Gussie, what’s on the menu?”

“A garden salad, followed by a club special, kidney stew, all washed down by an ancient Hock from our cellars.”

“Splendid! After lunch, we can discuss how to monetize the mess we created with Brexit; and how to steal Putin’s billions from under his nose.”

Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon

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