Nuns: A belated appreciation

IMG_8304

Since I don’t think I’ve ever written about nuns before, it’s time to change that today.

I was raised a Catholic, and attended Catholic schools until I was 18 years old. This included interactions with several nuns, and they generally weren’t good experiences. One particular story from first grade, back in the spring of 1975, stands out in my memory. I get to tell the story on occasion, and it’s a backdrop for the rest of my comments here, so it goes like this:

It was a rainy day, and my buddy and I were playing tic-tac-toe on the fogged-up classroom windows. I don’t think I had ever played it before, and it was a new thing which I was enjoying very much. For reference’s sake, I’m the kid in the top row in the green shirt, second from the left, and my tic-tac-toe buddy is in the top row, far right, in the striped sweater. This was a class picture, and our teacher has been deliberately cropped out. But she ruled our classroom with an iron fist.

In the middle of one game, the teacher grabbed me hard on my right ear and dragged me across the classroom, where she proceeded to scream at me about my lack of respect for classroom decorum. From that day forward, I never gave any nuns a fair shake. When I described the incident to my mother one day, 30 years after it happened, she was visibly upset and asked why I never said anything about it. I remember telling her “Would anybody have believed me if I did? I just kept quiet, because bringing it up would only mean more trouble for me.”

This week, long after I left Catholic school and the church altogether, the Pope is in Rome, trying to come to grips with a crisis of a much bigger magnitude. For many decades–basically the whole time I was growing up–the culture that prevented me from speaking out was known and exploited by a staggering number of pedophile priests. The men who had the authority to step in and prevent these abuses looked the other way, and allowed priests to move from one parish to another, leaving priests free to continue their evil behavior unabated and unchecked. What happened to me once in a first grade classroom is literally nothing by comparison.

The power structure of the church–then and now–is such that women are routinely victimized and are powerless to do anything to prevent it. My heart breaks at the revelations that women have been raped by priests, which runs contrary to everything that Jesus taught. It’s an abomination that women have been treated so poorly by a church that they only wanted to serve.

I never in a million years thought I would ever have a nun in my family, but it turns out that I do, and she’s now in hospice care. I appreciate the sacrifices that she, and countless other women, have made in the service of a church that has–quite frankly–abused their good intentions.

How can Pope Francis make things right, going forward? He can’t undo any past misdeeds, either at the individual parish level or at the larger, diocesan level. Thousands of victims and their families will continue to suffer, just as they have been for decades. But maybe this wreckage also offers a singular opportunity for the church.

Since men have transgressed against women and children on a scale which nobody will ever completely understand, it’s now time to admit women into the priesthood and all higher levels of the Catholic hierarchy. Most Catholics won’t want to hear this, and would rather fall back on the old ways, instead. But that is EXACTLY what has led everyone to such a terrible state of affairs. The moral authority of the church has been sacrificed at the altar–literally–of a throng of wicked and predatory men. It makes sense that men must never again be allowed to have a similar monopoly on church power.

The truth is that I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m now a recovering Catholic, and have no desire to be anything else for the rest of my days on this earth. But I’m willing to speak up for the women who have been mistreated and marginalized for far too long. Suggestions to end celibacy requirements and allow gays to serve as priests do not go far enough. The only way to make such terrible actions a thing of the past is to turn the page and start over. But I’m not going to hold my breath on this, either.

UPDATE: Sister Mary Lucy Bottosto, O.S.M. passed away on February 25, 2019, less than  48 hours after I wrote this. I never met her, but I hope she’s now at peace, wherever she is.

A tragedy Trump didn’t talk about at the SOTU tonight

 

 

I watched the President’s Address to Congress this evening, against my better judgment. I say that because he’s not interested in speaking to me. Never has been, and never will be.

As he spoke about the virtues of building a wall on the Southern border, he introduced some of the family of  a couple who was recently murdered by an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador. The couple has children, grandchildren, and even great grandchildren who are grieving their loss. But he made no mention of a family who wasn’t nearly as fortunate.

Remember the Abbas family? Because I sure do.

The Abbas family was driving north to their home in Michigan almost a month ago. There was a father, a mother, and three children, some of whom were probably asleep as the car sped northward from a Florida vacation.

I’ve made that drive before, whether on Interstate 75 where the Abbas family was, or on many other highways across this country. They slept while I drove, and eventually we ended up back at home, to carry on with the normal routines of our lives in Chicago.

But the Abbas family never made it back home to Michigan that night. A man named Joey Lee Bailey was drunk behind the wheel of his pickup truck, speeding down the wrong lane of traffic on Interstate 75. I wonder if the Abbas family even saw him coming toward them.

The vehicle carrying the Abbas family burst into flames upon impact, and all five family members perished, along with the drunk driver who stole their entire  future. There won’t be any children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren to be introduced by a president looking to score some political points from their heartbreaking loss.

Should it matter that the victims introduced by the president were white, while the Abbas family was Islamic? Or should it matter that the evil deed of a Salvadoran killer was acknowledged, while those of a white killer—who wiped out not just a married couple but their entire future as well—was completely ignored? I have a feeling that was entirely the point of what the president was doing tonight.

Of course, there’s no way that every tragedy can be avoided. Bad things have always happened to people, and they always will. But to selectively highlight one tragedy—whose victims and perpetrator fit a preferred racial  profile—while ignoring another—whose victims and perpetrator do not—is simply wrong. But what else can we expect from him at this point?

What the pundits missed in Trump’s Oval Office speech

Government Shutdown Trump

I’m not at all a fan of Donald Trump. Spend five minutes on my blog reading some of the other posts I’ve wriiten, and that much becomes clear. I’ve essentially shut down this blog, which I once really enjoyed writing, because responding to Trump’s actions can be an all-consuming task, especially when it’s done on a volunteer basis. In other words, life is too short to engage with a Trump presidency.

But having said all that, I wasn’t going to ignore his speech from the Oval Office this evening. I knew there was nothing he could say that would win me over to his way of thinking, and he didn’t really even try to do so. But I found one sentence at the end of the speech to be nothing less than stunning.

Of course, as soon as the speech was over, the paid political analysts began flooding the air at CNN, MSNBC, and (I would presume) Fox News. Some people get paid big money to tell us, the unwashed masses, what to think. It feels as though we’ve outsourced any intelligent thought of our own to the same two dozen or so talking heads who call this their career. After all, we have Kardashians to keep up with, and isn’t that challenging enough?

But I prefer to think for myself. I started this little blog–in the great online wildneress in which it resides–to put my own thinking on the record, in whatever humble fashion that may be. And here’s what nobody seems to have noticed from the end of Donald Trump’s speech.

The exact words that escaped from his mouth are linked to above, and they begin at 9:16 of the video posted to CNN.com. His exact words were “When I took the oath of office, I swore to protect our country and that is what I will always do.” But that, like so many other things he has said over the first two years of his presidency, was a misrepresentation of the truth.

The U.S. Constitution–in Article II, Section 1–sets forth exactly what the Presidential oath of office is. I think of it as a script, which has been passed down from Washington and Hamilton and all the others from 1787 to today. The presidents who take the oath are like actors, who can bring whatever inflections or verbal interpretations to the words they want to. But the words themselves are not subject to being improvised or rewritten. In order to become the president, the words have to be spoken exactly as the Founders intended.

The words that Donald Trump uttered, not quite two years ago, are as follows:

I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.

What was said on that January morning, as the Constitution requires, is that the president swore to defend not the United States itself, but the Constitution that established it so many years ago. It must be said that the land itself, and the people who live on it, are not addressed in the presidential oath.

Was this misrepresentation of the presidential oath intentional on Trump’s part? I have to believe it was. The stated rationale for building a wall on the Southern border is to keep out all the drugs and the gangs and the people who are coming to take our jobs and ruin the country we all love. But there’s no Constitutional mandate for this course of action. Checks and balances, the enumerated and reserved powers of the three branches of government, and the provisions of all the amendments made through the years are what he actually swore to protect.

To the extent that a Trump supporter would ever read these words, I would say I know that you will defend him at all costs. He’s always right, in your worldview. I’m a misguided and dangerous far left radical who doesn’t love this country in the way that you believe I should.

And you’re wrong in these beliefs, of course.

I’m merely pointing out the words that Trump uttered back on Inauguration day, and describing the role that he has agreed to take on. If he’s willing to be dishonest about that, why should anything else he says ever be believed?

The present government shutdown threatens to drag us all down, the longer it goes on. But strip all of the rest away, and it’s clear–to me, at least–that Trump does not grasp what his duty actually is. He doesn’t owe me, or you, or any other American any form of personal protection. But what he does owe to me, and to you, and to every other person in the United States, is fidelity to the terms of the document that created and sustains this nation.

 

R.I.P. to President Bush 41

IMG_1447

It’s been a few years since a former president has passed away, and George Bush 41 died today at age 94. So what is a picture of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s hat and guitar doing in this post?

Several years ago, my family and I traveled to California for Spring Break. There were many sights to see, and many memories made which I’ll always carry with me.

One day—which also happened to be my older daughter’s 16th birthday—we visited the Grammy Museum, which is located next to the Staples Center in Los Angeles. There was a Taylor Swift exhibit that my daughters were interested in, but I was drawn to their exhibit of SRV items.

I remembered very well what a shock it was when he died in a helicopter accident at Alpine Valley in Wisconsin, in the summer of 1990. In those pre-internet days, news of that nature was received very differently than it is today. And a Twitter tribute—of which there were many for President Bush—was still a long way in the future.

George H.W. Bush was the president when SRV was killed, and a note of condolence was sent from him in the White House to, I think, the mother of the guitarist.

That was how we reached out to someone else, before texts and instant messages and even emails. And as a result, a hard copy of his note survived and could be displayed, as George Bush’s note of condolence was at the Grammy Museum. I took a picture of it and would share it if I could here, but my iPhone died and so too did most of the pictures I took on that trip. The guitar shot is the only one that I still have, so it’s going to have to suffice.

Stevie Ray Vaughn and President George H.W. Bush and physical letters of condolence are all things out of another world at this point. I hope our current president still reaches out to grieving persons…..on second thought, I better not go there. I think I already know the answer to that, and it’s not a good one, either.

The decency of George Bush came out in the act of reaching out to Stevie Ray Vaughn’s family in a time of mourning. The role of the President as a voice of comfort in a time of distress seems to be absent at this moment, and I hope it will return in my lifetime.

Take this post as political if you want to, because everything seems to be so nowadays. But I’m an American—first, last, and always—and as such I’m thanking George H.W. Bush for a lifetime of service to this country. Godspeed to him.

Thank you for your sacrifice

Chicago Police Officer Samuel Jimenez | Facebook

In a few hours’ time I’ll get up, get dressed, and drive to my job at the Chicago Police Academy. And it will be filled with sadness and grief at the passing of an officer named Samuel Jimenez.

A few short months ago he was a recruit, learning all about police work and what it entails. I did not know him personally, but I’ll see hundreds of recruits just like him tomorrow, and they’ll all be asking themselves if a similar fate is awaiting them someday. Some, no doubt, will be questioning whether they really want to pursue this as a career. It would be entirely human to have second thoughts, given what happened today. And in a hospital, of all places.

I’m profoundly saddened by the loss of an officer, at the age of 28 with three children who he won’t be able to watch as they grow up. And as a resident of Chicago, I’m exceedingly grateful for the men and women who are willing to put their lives in danger to serve and protect the city I call home. I’ll be sure to show this gratitude to them in whatever small ways I can, in the days and months and years to come. Each of them deserves nothing less.

Republicans are no longer the Party of Lincoln

58ade11d898c8.image

The nomination of Corey Stewart for a U.S. Senate seat in Virginia, and the president’s embrace of him, means that the Republicans can no longer call themselves the Party of Lincoln. It’s just that simple.

Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president, and the entirety of his time in office was dedicated to settling the question of whether states could leave the Union. He killed the Confederacy, and a Confederate sympathizer then killed him. It’s still the worst episode in American history, but its lessons have apparently been lost on far too many people.

To repeat: Abraham Lincoln killed the Confederacy. He was their kryptonite. The reason they are historical relics is because of him.

By embracing the Confederacy in any way, shape, or form, the modern Republican party effectively spits on the memory of the man who gave them their greatest accomplishment. If the Confederates had their way in the 19th century, we wouldn’t have a United States of America in the 21st.

So embrace Corey Stewart if you want to, Republicans, but understand that you can never again consider yourself the Party of Lincoln. This Lincoln won’t allow you to do it.

We must do better than this

investigation-launched-after-men-arrested-at-philadelphia-starbucks-philadelphia-video

When I see the story of two African American men arrested inside a Philadelphia Starbucks, waiting for a friend to arrive, it’s a troubling moment. They know, and I know, and everybody who lives in America in 2018 knows that this only happened to them because of their skin color. Fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis, it was the color of these two men’s skin that landed them in police custody. The content of their character had nothing to do with what happened to them.

The manager of the store somehow determined that calling the police was the right course of action to take in this situation. This should have never been a situation to begin with, but since it became one we need to sort through its ramifications. It’s not my intention to blame the police in this, either. It was the decision to call the police that led to this story in the first place.

Firing the store manager is the obvious first step to take. Whatever lapse of judgment was committed can never be allowed to happen again. No amount of remorse or retraining or unpaid suspension time can undo the toxic views this person carries around inside of him or her. We all make mistakes, but this is one that must not be repeated.

Public businesses like Starbucks provide washroom facilities for their customers. But access to these facilities–which I believe is what gave rise to the incident in Philadelphia–must not be predicated on skin color. There’s not a business around that would deny a white guy like me the ability to use their washroom. There’s no valid reason for denying the same courtesy to anyone else, either.

Starbucks will likely develop and implement guidelines over access to facilities in the wake of this incident. It’s surely leading to the type of backlash that isn’t good for the company’s well-maintained public image. But even more importantly, it’s a chance to examine who we are as people. I like clean bathrooms as much as anyone else, but I’m not comfortable with telling anyone that they can’t use washroom facilities, particularly when skin color appears to be the determining factor in the equation.

We must do the right thing here. All of us.

Farewell to the Loop

The-Loop-97.9

It’s now the last hour of WLUP’s existence as a radio station, at least as I’ve always known it. It’s changing formats at midnight tonight, and it will apparently continue on at a different frequency and on the internet. So that’s something, I guess.

Listening to “Stairway to Heaven” for the final time on 97.9 FM in Chicago is surely a bittersweet experience. It’s an awesome song, that I’ve written about before in this space, but it has an otherworldly sense that lends itself to moving on to the other side, whatever that looks like. A radio station in Albuquerque once announced a format change by playing “Stairway to Heaven” continuously for 24 hours. No such dramatics for the Loop, though. It’s on to the next song already.

Europe’s “The Final Countdown” is exactly the type of 80s rock that I’ve always come to expect on the Loop. Life has moved and changed a thousand ways since 1986, when I first started listening to the Loop, but the music can always take me back to that time in my life. Not too many things have that power, after all.

Next up is Lynrd Skynrd’s “Freebird.” If there’s a better song to encapsulate what the Loop is (or what it was? I’m still not sure just yet) I don’t know what it is. There’s a live version of “Freebird” where the audience is calling out for the song and the singer asks “What song do you want to hear?” And when they played it, the crowd went nuts, just like they always do.

About 15 years ago, give or take a few years, I was having dinner at a restaurant in East Lansing, Michigan, and a couple of college kids were playing some live music. To be a goofball, I called out “Freebird!” and they obliged me by playing the entire song. It’s moments like that one which make me proud to be a rock and roll lifer, along with those who’ve listened to the Loop over the 41 years they’ve been on the air.

The guitars at the end of “Freebird” are a wondrous thing, aren’t they? I’ll hear them again after tonight, but they take on some added bite knowing that this is the last time on a space where I’ve always expected to hear them.

REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know it (and I Feel Fine)” is up next. I don’t feel fine that the Loop is ending in a half hour, but here it comes, so why not embrace it? If I live to be 100–and I won’t–I’ll never be able to sing this one correctly all the way through. I may get 70% or so of the words right on a good day, but that won’t keep me from continuing to try…birthday party, cheesecake, jelly bean, Boom!…. What a ride it’s been through the years.

An addiction rehab commercial is playing now. Rock and roll and addiction have always seemed to go hand in hand, and so many brilliant artists have been snuffed out as a result. Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, Tom Petty….and so many others. So this commercial seems fitting. Now there’s an iPhone commercial playing. Nobody could have ever seen something like an iPhone when the Loop went on the air back in 1977. How far everything has come since then! Lowe’s Hardware is up next. Kudos to them for getting in on this farewell party. And the Eagles are coming back to Chicago this fall, apparently. Minus Glenn Frey, of course. How many times have the Eagles been played on the Loop over the years? The mind reels at that thought.

Commercials are over, now back to the music. Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” leads it off. The programmers are pulling out all the stops down the final stretch, aren’t they? The bell is tolling for a station I first heard as an 18 year-old college freshman, but as the song lyrics say, “time marches on.” And so will the Loop, once the midnight hour arrives.

Rush’s “Limelight” is up next. Living on the lighted stage approaches the unreal…All the World’s a stage and we are merely players, performers and portrayers…This is another one that will always be played on the radio somewhere, but thousands of plays later, and it won’t be found where it seemed like it would always be.

More commercials up next. Coffee made by homeless vets (a worthy cause, for sure). A male enhancement pill that calls itself “viagra on steroids” (and this is the perfect place to reach the market for such a product, amiright?) Another Lowe’s ad. There’s just 15 minutes left until midnight. Time for two songs, maybe three. Let’s see how they bring the curtain down. And unlike at a rock concert, pulling out the lighters and yelling for more probably won’t work this time.

Motley Crue’s “Shout at the Devil” is next. Where to begin with this? I bought the Crue’s album of the same name on vinyl back in 1983, as a high school freshman. They hadn’t yet become what they would later on in the 80s, but they had a sound that would define the decade for me. Guns n’ Roses, Ratt, Poison, Twisted Sister, and a hunderd other bands that nobody remembers wanted to be half as good as Motley Crue was.

Iron Maiden’s “The Number of the Beast” brings us to the doorstep of the end. I’ll possibly never hear this one on the radio ever again, because Iron Maiden was never quite commercially popular, but the guitars and the vocals are something that isn’t for everyone, anyway. Anyone who considered the Loop their station loved it, though.

And here we are. The end of the hour, and the end of an era. AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” brings it all home. These three songs seem determined to tweak the Christian music that’s coming to take the place over once this song is finished. But let’s ride the “devil’s music” off into the sunset, shall we? As the late Bon Scott sang, Don’t stop me!

WLUP, 97.9, Chicago’s rock station…over and out.

Thanks for all the memories through the years.

American Hash

39381282-3AB9-4016-AE4D-255144636FCE

I’ve never written about this before, but I was in a fraternity when I was in college. Drinking and hazing and general stupidity have given fraternities (I don’t like using the term “frats”) a bad name, and I wouldn’t disagree with much of the criticism of them. But one element of the fraternity life seems relevant in these times, and that’s the experience of fraternity rush.

Rush in my time, back in the 1980s, was soaked in alcohol. There was talk of moving to “dry” rush, and that might be a better way to do it, because nobody’s really at their best when they’re drunk. I’m certainly no exception to that, either. But the reason rush exists is to find new members, to keep your house growing for the future. It’s recruiting under a different name, really. And it needs to be done, for the long-term survival of the House.

But just showing up at a party wasn’t enough to gain acceptance. A prospective member needed to show that he could offer something to the existing members, to the point where a bid, or an invitation to join, would be offered. The members of the house would meet people, take their measure in whatever social setting was going on, and decide what to do about offering a bid. That’s where the hash came in.

After a rush party was over, the existing members (you can use the term “brothers” if you want, but I never cared for the term too much) met to discuss the various people who came to the festivities. We called it “hash” because we hashed out our differences about particular people. Some prospective members were generally liked, some people were not, and most fell somewhere in between.  Speeches were made in support of some prospective members, and in the end votes were taken.

In my house, at least, the strongest gesture in support of a prospective member was “jumping the couch,” and if someone I respected in the house jumped the couch for someone else, that was enough to get me to vote in their favor. People who warranted a couch jumping generally received a bid.

At the other end of this spectrum was a “blackball” which I now realize has loaded racial meanings, but the effect of a blackball was that a member would put their opposition to someone in the strongest terms possible. Blackballed persons didn’t get bids, because doing so would be disrespectful to whoever offered it.

The people known as “Dreamers” are essentially prospective members of the American fraternity. They didn’t come to our rush party by themselves, but were brought here by their parents as children. They aren’t “illegal immigrants” as the blackballers among us prefer to call them. They grew up here, and think of the United States as their home. 700,000 of them, give or take whatever the actual number is, are now waiting for our national hash to play itself out.

Extending a bid to these Dreamers will shape the future, without a doubt.  Sending all these people away—or worse, forcing them to live in fear of deportation in the land they call home, as most of them would surely do before leaving on their own terms—would be an act that goes against what America is all about. They’re here now, waiting for the chance to raise their families in the only land they know.

With that in mind, I’m ready to jump the couch on their behalf. Let’s ensure America’s continued survival by giving the Dreamers a path to citizenship, and welcoming them to the American fraternity. It’s the smart and compassionate thing to do, so let’s do it.

Out with the old

DRh8hWYWkAAmNgX

2017 sucked, no two ways about it. The Cubs didn’t win the World Series, my older daughter went away to college (which is good for her, but I miss her a lot), and we’ve had a bully and a buffoon sitting in the White House. And the tax bill that just got passed by Congress will reshape America in ways we don’t yet fully understand.

So what to do with a year gone wrong? Shut it down. Bring down the curtain. Throw away the calendar and get an early start what has to be a better year in 2018.

Finish out the string in 2017 if you want, but I’ve already moved on. Here’s to better days ahead.

A letter to the president concerning Confederate “heritage”

1860

“You can’t change history, but you can learn from it.”

–Donald Trump, August 17, 2017

Mr. President,

Your sentiment about history and our collective ability to learn from it could be the truest thing you’ve ever said. Since you’ve opened the door to history’s teachable qualities, this former U.S. History teacher from Chicago is delivering a lesson from the past that you need to hear.

In 1860–on November 6, to be exact–a presidential election was held. The victorious candidate was Abraham Lincoln of Illinois, and he received less than 40% of the popular votes that were cast. Like you, Lincoln did not win a majority of the popular vote but, as you well know, a majority of votes in the Electoral College is what the successful candidate needs to acquire. I’m absolutely certain that you would not quibble with the validity of a presidency based upon an Electoral College majority. Indeed, without that provision of the Constitution nobody would be addressing you as “Mr. President” today.

The Confederacy was born from the unwillingness of many Southern states to accept the 1860 election as legitimate. South Carolina was the first to leave ihe Union in December of 1860, and Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas all followed suit, before Lincoln was even sworn in as president. Four more states followed after Lincoln was inagurated in March of 1861.

I’m sure it isn’t lost on you that each of these states (with the exception of Virginia) were also won by you in last November’s election. The script from 1860 was completely flipped on its head in 2016. The reasons why that happened are a discussion for another day. All that matters here is that the states which couldn’t abide the election of Lincoln contributed to your own election, 156 years later.

By advancing the preservation of statues honoring Confederate generals as part of your “heritage” (which makes no sense, given that your home state of New York was instrumental in the Union’s defeat of the Confederacy), you dishonor those who gave their lives fighting to preserve the nation that you are now privileged to lead. But even more than that, you send the message that states should be able to disregard election results they do not agree with.

To put it another way, did California, or New York, or my home state of Illinois secede from the Union following the 2016 election? Of course not. The Civil War settled that issue, once and for all. That “heritage” benefits you, every single day of your presidency.

By siding with those who chose to fight rather than accept the results of a presidential election,  you are undermining the legitimacy of the institution upon which your presidency rests. Can you not see the inherent contradiction in this position? And are you willing to learn from the events of the past, as you stated we all could do just two months ago?

I urge you to take this message to heart, before going any further with your racially coded appeals to Southern “heritage.” The legitimacy of your own claim to the presidency depends upon it.

Why I’m taking a knee today

MASH83

If you wanted to be somebody at my high school (which no longer exists, by the way) you had to be on the football team. There were other sports teams and activities, but the attention that was given to the football team made many of my classmates put in the time and effort that were needed to suit up and play a game on Friday nights in the fall.

American society has put football–and particularly the NFL–on an exceedingly high platform. The athletes who play the game at this level have made enormous sacrifices to be where they are, including the newly-understood risks to their mental health and well-being. The players live lives the rest of us can hardly imagine, and when their time on the field is over, many of them painfully wither away. All the fame and adulation given to them today won’t  restore what’s being lost underneath their helmets.

So if a player at that level of the game wants to use their notoriety to bring attention to causes or issues they believe in, who among us is qualified to say they can’t? The act of taking a knee during the National Anthem–which many players are poised to do–is only disrespect to those who want to see it as such.

When Donald Trump went to a rally in Alabama and called players taking a knee in this manner “disrespectful” and labelled them as “sons of bitches,” he scored some cheap, racially-motivated points. But he also set off a firestorm that America doesn’t need, especially not now. Houston needs rebuilding, the Florida Keys need rebuilding, and Puerto Rico needs basically everything: Power, water, you name it. But rather than address those issues, Trump decided to ride the racist wave one more time. It’s not surprising, and it’s not leadership, either.

Last night, I went out to dinner with my wife and youngest daughter to a Thai and Chinese restaurant in Chicago. At the end of the meal, there were three fortune cookies brought out, and the one I opened up read as follows: “People are waiting to take cues from you. Lead them well.” If only Donald Trump could have such wisdom and insight as my fortune cookie did last night.

Let’s do what we can to help Americans in need, and not let a dictator wannabe set the tone on what patriotism looks like.

In defiance of Donald Trump–who took multiple draft deferments to fight in Vietnam and has wrongly impugned the actions and character of his predecessor, Barack Obama– I’m reviving my blog today in order to take a knee. I love this country, and even though I was never a football player, I did play one onstage once. I was 15 at the time, and the man I am today is grateful that whatever physical concerns I may have, potentially having CTE is not among them.

Whatever is said or written about the actions of these players today will be a distraction from the profound needs of many Americans right now. Donald Trump can’t see that, but I’m hopeful that others will. Think of this blog post as my attempt to live up to what a fortune cookie told me to do last night.

 

Broken eggs and the end of my blog

 

1914942_1135638945674_2799805_n

Today’s the first time I’ve put anything into this space since June 11, which represents a span of dormancy that never would have happened in the first six years I wrote this blog. At one point I was averaging ten posts a week, and sometimes five or six posts would erupt from my mind in the very same day. I had things I wanted to say, and was glad to finally have an outlet for them on the Internet.

In my experience, many blogs take a similar arc to mine. The person who starts them opens up with a burst of energy and creativity, only to have their interests dulled over time. Life changes, and priorities get reshuffled to the point that the blog isn’t so important anymore. I had managed to avoid that fate as of June 11, 2017. I even wondered how many more years I would keep my individual soap box going. It turns out–as I’m shutting this down the moment I finish writing this–that the number is smaller than I ever would have guessed.

Abraham Lincoln has been one of my most significant muses when it comes to stories for my blog. I’ve always admired how he came from nowhere, and left a mark on the world that those with superior advantages and opportunities never will. The greatness of this man is beyond our ability to fully grasp it, but I find it encouraging that some have continued to try.

I picked up a couple of books the other day at the annual Newberry Library book fair in Chicago. In one of those books, a collection of essays about Lincoln by historian James McPherson, I learned a small nugget about Lincoln that I didn’t know. When it came to waging the Civil War, McPherson said, Lincoln often used the analogy that broken eggs cannot be mended. As I read that line, it seemed like an appropriate metaphor to bring down the curtain on my little corner of the online world.

How many posts did I throw out into the world? Over 1,500, and I stopped counting a long time ago.

How many words were contained in those posts? My initial goal was to put a million words out into cyberspace, and I’ll just imagine that between the actual posts themselves, the keywords I attached to the posts, the responses I typed out to those who left a comment about something I had written, and the drafts that were started but never saw the light of day, I made the million word plateau somewhere along the way.

How much sleep did I lose out on? Quite a lot, I would suppose. It’s probably better if I never find out for certain.

In typing out this valedictory post on a perfect summer afternoon here in my beloved Chicago, my desire to write a blog now feels like broken eggs. Rather than letting BlueBattingHelmet fade away into nothingness, I’m taking one final stab at putting some words out there, for anyone who may be interested in reading them in the future.

I had a lot of fun doing this, but now it’s time to go on to something else. As Prince sang in a song that I heard in a pet store earlier today, “Life is just a party, and parties weren’t meant to last.” The teenager that I was when I first heard this song would agree, and so do I.

And with that,

 

6 years, and how many more?

1916982_1113499632205_3315904_n

Six years ago, I had a story to tell.

Actually, I had already told the story, just as I had a hundred times before, by sitting down in front of a computer and typing away. Most of the stories I had told before never saw the light of day. I had either abandoned them halfway through, or maybe saved them onto a disk, but that was about it.

But this story was different. It hit on some of my favorite writing muses: childhood, the Chicago Cubs, and finding something new. When I finished typing it up, I decided that this story had to live on. So I started a blog and named it after the object of my story. And six years later, I’m still writing it. I daresay that many blogs have come and gone since then, but mine has somehow endured.

None of the posts that I’ve created here (there’s at least 1,500 of them, but I stopped keeping track a long time ago) would ever win any writing awards. In fact, most of them don’t mean anything to anyone other than me. But maybe that’s the beauty of creating a series of words and ideas and images over the past six years of my life. For all of recorded human history, it was not possible–until the early years of this century–to create an enduring testament of one’s own life. Somebody could have written a diary, of course, but the ability to share that diary with anyone–much less the entire world–didn’t exist. What would Hemingway’s blog have looked like? Or Thoreau’s? We’ll never know. But those of us with internet access and the inclination to share a few thoughts with anyone who cares to read them have an opportunity that is really pretty amazing.

My Facebook profile lists this blog as my place of employment. And that’s ironic, because I’ve never made a dime off of any of this. Monetizing a blog is possible, and some have been very successful with it. But as for me, sharing a thought or two with people I’ll never meet is reason enough to keep on doing this.

I’ve never stayed in the same place professionally for six years, and I’m not sure that I ever will, either. But I could keep doing this for as long as I’m able to sit in front of a computer and type. However long that will be is still an open question, but I’m looking forward to telling more stories in the days and months (and hopefully even years) ahead.

One song, Comey

150723-james-comey-jpo-500a_18fedec20ffef3fb4226c7fdced44951.nbcnews-fp-1200-800

As the six year anniversary of my blog is coming up in a few days, it’s pretty clear that my interest in doing this has waned considerably. I once thought the Trump era would lead to all sorts of insights and observations on my part about how terrible everything has become under his stewardship, but it hasn’t turned out that way. Every day new “bombshells” are revealed, each one more terrible than the one before, but nothing seems to happen as a result. And while this didn’t start off as a political blog, the nature of the times has made it difficult to muster up much interest in writing about anything else.

The plain truth is that republicans in congress are aiding and abetting Trump, and they aren’t going to change their course, either.

Jim Comey–who all but ushered Trump into office last October–will get his comeuppance against Trump tomorrow, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I hope that Trump’s malfeasance in trying to kill the investigation into Mike Flynn is as tawdry and shameful as anything that’s ever been said aloud in the halls of congress. The rest of the world is already aghast at this villain who seems bent on upending the United States and all of its democratic institutions.  They scoff at him, and at all of us Americans for electing such a buffoon in the first place. And by allowing him to remain in office for over four months so far, we deserve their contempt.

So let Jim Comey swing away at Trump tomorrow. If there were any justice in the world, his words in June would unmake Trump as president, as effectively as his words made him president last year. But with the Obamacare repeal and tax cuts for people who don’t need them and that grotesque farce of a budget on the horizon, the republicans are like Slim Pickens at the end of A Clockwork Orange: They’re going down toward certain destruction, but they’ll be waving their hats and hollering as they go. Here’s hoping that Jim Comey can at least throw a wet blanket over their ride into oblivion.

(NOTE: The title of this post is a tribute to Jonathan Larson and RENT, which I saw for the second time recently, nearly two decades after the first time. The songs still sounded as good as I remember them. Viva la vie boheme!)

An indefensible act

The Grand CanyonFullSizeRender (1)

By removing the United States from the Paris Agreement–which every other nation in the world save for Syria and Nicaragua has signed onto–Donald Trump has declared war on the planet that all of us inhabit. He clearly doesn’t care about my children, shown above on the rim of the Grand Canyon and in the waters of the Pacific Ocean. They don’t matter to him, nor do millions of other children around the world, who rightly consider this world of ours as their birthright.

This planet is my home, and I won’t keep silent as Trump attempts to ruin it by his actions. Laughing at Trump–which once seemed like it would have been enough–isn’t the answer. Scoffing at Trump hasn’t worked either, not as long as he has a sycophantic army of supporters who seem oblivious to the harm he is doing. But we all must speak out, to raise our voices in protest of this diabolical act.

Red Alert for Democracy in the USA

USAUpsideDownFlagANationinDistress

The Trump White House has gone lower and lower since it began on January 20, and today it struck an alarming new low. This president fired the man who was investigating his ties to the Russians. Make no mistake: This was the act of a desperate man.

What’s going to happen next? I don’t know. I want congress to stand up and become the bulwark against tyranny that it was designed to be. But the republicans in the house and senate (no capitalization is used because that indicates respect, and none is appropriate here) have put their own political party above the nation that they once swore to protect.

Trump is an unqualified stain on this nation, and every day that goes by drives us deeper and deeper into a quagmire that we must extricate ourselves from.

USA? How about SOS instead?

Time to give a history lesson to Donald Trump

trump

The man seems to be unaware of what the reason for the Civil War was, so here goes:

In 1860, there was a presidential election held. In that election, there were four main candidates: Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, John Bell, and John C. Breckinridge. Here’s a primer on Breckinridge, in case anyone hasn’t heard the name before.

Lincoln got a majority of the electoral votes, so he was declared the winner. I’m certain Trump knows all about that. Lincoln won 59.4 percent of the electoral vote, a landslide in comparison to Trump’s 56.5% in 2016. But 50% plus one is really all a candidate needs, Trump’s braggadocio aside.

Presidential inaugurations didn’t happen until early March in those days, so some Southern states–slaveholders all–decided they were not going to wait around until Lincoln took the oath of office. By the time Lincoln arrived in Washington,  seven states had already gone ahead and left the Union. They believed they could do it, and so they did. Election results be damned.

When Lincoln came into office and said that he was not going to interfere with slavery where it already existed, the die had already been cast for those seven states. How Andrew Jackson could have prevented this is unclear, because he had already been dead for over ten years, but Trump isn’t one to give any details, is he?

Lincoln never considered secession to be a legitimate course of action, because there is no mechanism for it spelled out in the Constitution. He always considered South Carolina and the others as part of the Union, even as they had soldiers in arms trying to destroy it.

Virginia and three other states left the Union after the Confederacy opened fire on federal troops at Fort Sumter, in South Carolina. Lincoln said there would be no armed conflict without the South being the aggressors, and he was right about that.

Flash forward 156 years, to the election of 2016. Trump got a majority of the electoral college votes, and he took office as president as the result. I really don’t like typing out those words, but that’s what happened. The issue of whether California or New York or my home state of Illinois would be allowed to disregard the election results and just walk away was definitively and forever settled by the 600,000 soldiers who died on the battlefields of the Civil War. States like mine would just have to live with the results.

The fact that this country is still united today, in the face of such overwhelming opposition to the policies of Donald Trump, is a testament to the finality of the Civil War’s outcome. But how many of those seven states who didn’t even give Lincoln a chance to take office first did Trump win in 2016? All seven. And how many of the other four states that seceded did Trump win? All except Virginia. Maybe it’s no accident that the man who won 92% of the old Confedercy’s electoral votes is ignorant about why the Civil War broke out.

The electoral college–the sole reason why Trump holds office today–was Lincoln’s key to the White House in 1860. The rash and impulsive decision by eleven Southern states to withdraw from the Union–absent any Constitutional authority for doing so–was the reason for the war’s outbreak, not any failing by Lincoln or anyone on the Northern side of the conflict. The backhanded suggestion that Lincoln should have tried to negotiate away an election that he won fair and square is outrageous, and needs to be labeled as such.

Elections have consequences, as Trump supporters are quick to remind us. If the Southern states had acted upon this conviction back in 1860, perhaps the war could have been avoided. But the Southern states are the ones that started the war, and any responsibility for the conflict and the suffering it caused lies squarely on their shoulders. Or, to put it another way, with the states that form his 21st century base.

Here endeth the lesson.

 

A blast from the past

10515319_10202980211960774_5874144911201774641_oAs what may be my family’s last spring break rolls on, here’s my favorite image from the first one, back in 2005. My older daughter–who just turned 18 a few days ago–was in kindergarten at the time, and we spent a week in Arizona.

Near the end of the week, we went to a chuck wagon supper at a place I’ve since forgotten about. One of the attractions ions we could do was pose for an old time where photo in period dress. My kindergartener saw the blue dress and decided she had to wear it. So we all got dressed up, and the photographer captured a literal snapshot in time for us.

To remember that moment, and marvel at how quickly time passes, that snapshot is presented here. Many thanks to my two girls– who will always be “little” in my mind, no matter how old they get– for allowing me to take them to places I otherwise would not have gone. Thanks also to my wife, who picked out a number of interesting places to go over the years.

Yesterday we were at the Japanese garden in Portland, Oregon when a family with three cute little girls caught my attention. I understood, in a way that I couldn’t have back in Arizona, that we are lucky to be where we are at any given moment, and that having children is like a concert or a play that’s over before you want it to be. All we can do is enjoy it while it unfolds, as much as we possibly can. And in the end, we’ll wish we had done more. But the memories of what we did do will just have to be enough.

 

Always in my heart

Sky

On the occasion of my daughter’s 18th birthday, I have boxes of pictures and just as many stories to share about her. My life hasn’t been what it was before she was born on April 4, 1999, and I don’t mind that one little bit.

Being a parent once scared me to death. Nothing quite compares to holding a little one in your hands, figuratively and literally. I put it off for all of my twenties, and by the time I hit 30 it couldn’t be deferred much longer.

I’m sharing one picture here, and one story as well. The picture was taken when she was in kindergarten, and it shows the happy but shy girl that she was in those days. Looking at it reminds me of how kindergarten once seemed far away, and yet one day it arrived. And now she’ll be going away to college in a few months. I’ve always made a point of enjoying it while it lasted, because it sure didn’t last for very long.

My favorite story about the lovely girl who forever changed my life took place a few days before she was born. My wife and I had tickets to see a musical at the Oriental Theater in Chicago. During one rousing musical number–I think it was in the second act–my wife grabbed by hand and pressed it against her side. I was amazed to feel my unborn daughter kicking along with the music. She’s always been a theater kid, and studying musical theater in high school is as natural for her as a fish swimming in water. But I truly believe it started for her on that night.

She’s grown so much in the 18 years she’s been with us, and it’s been such a joy to watch it all happen. The law says she’s an adult now, and she can do many more things today than she could yesterday. I’ve lost whatever legal rights and responsibilities I ever had for her, but my job as a parent isn’t done, nor is it ever likely to be. So we’ll keep on travelling down that path toward whatever she’s going  to be in life.

This is an important day in her life and in mine, and I’m writing this to recognize how far the two of us have come together. It’s been quite a ride so far, and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.

Here’s to a beautiful flag

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

The Pride parade in Chicago was–and still is–an event I look forward to each year, because people can come together to celebrate who they are, whatever that is. The rainbow flag captures that idea, so much so that whenever a person sees the flag, they instantly know what it stands for. I can’t imagine how good that must have made Gilbert Baker feel. Long may it wave.

Gonna sail away

How sad it is to watch people who I’ve never met–but who still enriched my life in some way–cross over into whatever comes next. In just the past week, Chuck Berry died (and I’ve had Johnny B. Goode stuck in my head ever since), followed by Jerry Krause of the Chicago Bulls, Chuck Barris of the Gong Show, Dallas Green of the Cubs (and several other baseball teams) and most recently, Sib Hashian from the rock band Boston.

I can still picture seeing Sib’s image on the back of my vinyl copy of Boston’s debut album. He had the giant afro and was standing in the middle of the group, which made him look totally badass. The album was released in 1976, which was just before I discovered rock music for the first time. I regret that I wasn’t cool enough for this at age 8, but I got there once I reached high school in the mid 1980s.

I listened to the first two Boston albums over and over again back in 1985 and 1986, as I was biding my time and waiting for life to begin. I couldn’t have the kind of life I wanted to have–and I wasn’t very clear on what that should be, either–so long as I was living under my parent’s roof. So I waited, and listened to Boston every chance I got.

Sib Hashian was not the musical mastermind behind the group’s music, nor was he the voice that people hear on songs like “More than a Feeling” or “Hitch a Ride.” But his drumming was always there with me, and it will be for as long as the music means something to me, and to everyone else who feels the same way. That’s quite a legacy to leave behind, isn’t it?

It’s gotta be rock and roll music, if you wanna dance with me

roll-over-beethoven-chuck-berry-2137225068

I’ve been writing this blog for almost six years now, and have put more than 1,500 posts up for the world to consider. I do it because I know that we’re all mortal, and when we leave this world there will be few traces of us left behind. Whether anyone alive today reads these things or not, I want future generations to have some insight into the life that I lived, in the early 21st century in the United States of America.

My main writing muses became pretty clear early on in the development of this blog. Baseball and the Chicago Cubs were one, and just behind that came a music genre known as rock and roll. I’m not a musician, so my interest in this music comes strictly from a consumer standpoint. I admire musicians a great deal, because they have a talent that I wish I had.

Rock and roll first entered my life back in late 1976 or early 1977, in my parents’ house in Jerome, Illinois. We had recently moved into the house, and their old turntable–along with a few LP albums–took up residence in the basement. When my siblings and I and our neighbor from across the street figured out how the thing worked, we immediately gravitated toward Side 1 of Beatles ’65. It was filled with two-minute songs that opened my world up like nothing ever had before. They were catchy, which was the essential part of the music, but they also told stories that went beyond “The Farmer in the Dell” and all the kiddie songs I had known before then. It was the first step in the transition away from childhood and into the world of adolescence. It truly did change my worldview in a way that nothing else had before.

My favorite song on Side 1 of Beatles ’65 was “Rock and Roll Music.” This song not only introduced me to the music I loved, but it gave it a name, too. “Just let me hear some of that Rock and Roll music…” was sung by John Lennon, but it wasn’t until many years later that I discovered he didn’t write those lyrics. Chuck Berry first wrote and recorded the song in 1957, and it ushered in a musical wave that I caught on to some 20 years later.

The first record that I ever bought for myself was the Grease soundtrack in 1978, and even though it had no Chuck Berry songs on it, it was filled with the music that he had inspired. Disco was also on the airwaves back in 1978, and I heard plenty of it on the airwaves of the AM hit music station where I lived. But it was a fad, which fortunately passed away in a few years’ time. While other genres have met with a similar fate, rock and roll has endured for me. As AC/DC once proclaimed, “Rock and Roll will never die.” And that’s exactly what Chuck Berry’s legacy will be.

If you ever wanted any perspective on how important Chuck Berry was in rock and roll’s history, consider that he opened up the Rock Hall in Cleveland back in 1995. Without Chuck Berry, the music–and the building that honors it–would not exist.

From the time I began purchasing music for myself–when I started to view the world through something other than a child’s eyes–I’ve wanted to hear some of that rock and roll music. My gratitude to Chuck Berry for creating it–and for giving it its name–is beyond my ability to describe it here. But the effort is one that must be made, so let’s just turn up his music and appreciate it for as long as we can.