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

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