Carte blanch vs. “pussy”


I haven’t been shy about expressing my disdain for Donald Trump in this space. He’s a disaster on every level, and I cannot imagine a scenario in which I would ever vote for him.

Writing about his as often as I do is therapeutic, and it also preserves my objections for anyone who ever wants to know about them. In 2016, the United States is heading on a path that would be, I think, destructive to what this nation is. We cannot survive a Donald Trump presidency, and I’m trusting that enough of my countrymen and countrywomen will realize this.

A recording made of Trump speaking in what he thought was an unrecorded moment on a bus in 2005 has surfaced within the past 24 hours. The date of the tape is immaterial to me. If it was recorded in 1965 or 1995 or yesterday doesn’t change the content of what was said. People change in life, and I’m sure that I have said stupid things in my past that I wouldn’t want dredged up today. But the underlying mentality is what really gets me.

And Trump’s use of the word “pussy” isn’t what troubles me, either. We all throw some words into our discussions that we wouldn’t want our children to hear, even if they hear these terms–and probably much worse–in conversations with their friends. So “pussy” it is, because Trump used the word and I won’t sugar coat anything here.

What Trump said that was so outrageous was premised upon his belief that he can kiss a woman, or grope her, or do whatever he wants to do with her. His celebrity entitles him to act in any way he sees fit. The objects of his behavior are expected to either be flattered by his attention, or at least remain quiet about it for fear of reprisals from him. Unlimited authority to do anything he pleases. That’s what Trump told Billy Bush that he thinks he has.

Trump’s staged apology on this matter is not sufficient to dispel any damage this recording has created. A man who believes that he can do whatever he wants has no business in political office, of any sort. Democracy gives the people the right to remove such a person from their position or–even more importantly–to prevent him from attaining it in the first place. Do the right thing, America, and do not validate his warped and dangerous worldview.


Trying to understand

FC Pride

The picture above dates to 1998, and it shows a much younger, much thinner version of me during my teaching days on the south side of Chicago.

This was taken in the days before cameraphones, or even before digital photography, with an old school camera. They were fun because you wound up with a print that you could actually hold in your hands. It seems like forever ago, sometimes.

When I saw the video on Facebook of the death of Philando Castile, I thought about the kids I used to teach, two decades ago. They’re teenagers in this picture, but every one of them was already living with the possibility of ending up in a deadly encounter with a police officer. Not a day has gone by where they aren’t considered a suspect, in a way I never was and never will be.

I enjoyed teaching and coaching, but I also reached a point where I was ready to leave. For four years I tried to make a difference, in whatever small way I could. I watched as a group of freshmen–some of whom are shown in the picture–grew into seniors and got their diplomas. And then I left, disillusioned with what I was doing and the way I was doing it. I was a visitor into their world, and my skin tone gave me exit options that they never had.

I’ve since connected with some of my old ballplayers on social media, and I’m glad to see them at the stage of life where they aren’t teenagers anymore. But many of them I couldn’t name today, either. I hope they’re all happy with their lives, but I don’t have any way of knowing whether that’s the case.

The other coach, on the left side of the picture, was the cafeteria manger at my school, as Philando Castile was in St. Paul. I’m certain that there are lots of kids at that school who aren’t yet able to understand why it happened. They’ll learn in time, or possibly this event will force understandings on them that they weren’t ready to deal with. There’s pain in that school community, and it will be magnified once classes start up again in the fall.

Black lives matter. That should not be a controversial statement, but somehow it is. The ongoing shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice and Walter Scott and Philando Castile and countless others reinforces the fact that this country, writ large, views black men as suspects.  Woe unto us as a nation, if we see these shootings occur and don’t think that something must change.

I write this blog to sort through my thoughts, and then share the results with some tiny piece of the online world. Facebook posts and tweets aren’t sufficient for saying anything of importance, and this subject is about as important as it gets. The killings have to stop, and the only way of making this happen is to demand action.

Police have got to held accountable when they fail to live up to their oaths, and social media must be used whenever and however it can be to preserve events as they happen.The memory of what happened to Philando Castile demands nothing less.

A beauty of a poem about America


One of my favorite books is titled “Our American Heritage” and it was edited by Charles L. Wallis, and published by Harper & Row in 1970. My recollection is that I purchased it at the Newberry Library‘s annual book sale at least 10 years ago, and perhaps even closer to 20 years by now. It’s filled with American poetry and thought, and I decided that the Fourth of July was an ideal day to pick it up and see what spoke to me about the country I’ve lived in all my life.

I found a poem on page 92 by a poet named Allen E. Woodall. I wanted to link to it online, because of course everything is available on the internet these days. The book lists Woodall as being born in 1903 and died in 1957, so it’s very likely that his work is still under copyright, and a source for it, or at least a date of publication of his work, would be found in the book’s Acknowledgements section. As a long-time publishing guy myself, I know that’s the first place to find out more about an otherwise mysterious piece.

The editor of the book thanked the estate of Allen E. Woodall, the last author alphabetically to appear in the work, but offers nothing more than that.Without a date of publication, I couldn’t even tell if the work was still under copyright or not. But surely I could find that out through the magic of Google.

But a search for “Allen E. Woodall” turned up noting. Neither did adding “poet” or “1957” or the title of the poem I enjoyed so much. Nothing on, either. In a world where all human achievement seems to be migrated onto the internet in some form or fashion, I can’t find any record of Allen E. Woodall. It’s a shame, too, because his poem “Map of My Country” is a very positive, uplifting read about the U.S. of A.

With apologies to any copyright holders who may exist to his work, I’m going to type it out here and share with the world. I’m humbled and inspired to present–for possibly the first time in the online world–“Map of My Country” by Allen E. Woodall:


by Allen E. Woodall

Every now and then, when the world grows dull,

And the edge of sunshine or the song of a bird

Frays away to the shadow of a dream,

I take a map, a map, perhaps, of my state,

One of my states-New York of the glorious hills,

Or Pennsylvania of the shaggy woods,

Or great high-shouldered, blue-eyed Minnesota,

Or swart New Jersey, the commuters’ pocket,

Or cramped and memory-riddled Massachusetts,

Or the enigmatic steppes of the Dakotas,

 Or California of the laughing sunshine-

They are all my states, and I have loved them all,

Worked, sweated, hated, and taken joy in them.

I know their streets, their roads, and the ways between

The great green stretches south of the Great Lakes,

The hills and dunes, and plains, and sunny crossroads,

Remember the turns, the heartfelt run of the land,

The weeds beside the road, the meadow larks,

The waiting houses, the whispering cry of rain,

Lakes in the sunlight, and darkness over the land.

And I see roads I have not yet come to travel-

But I know they, too, are good, and I shall be there

Some day, all in good time, for this is my home,

This is America, my own country.

I love the optimism here, and the idea that there will always be something new to discover and enjoy in America. We know all about it because it’s our home, and if we haven’t yet seen parts of it for ourselves, maybe we will someday.

Happy 4th of July to everyone reading this. May we appreciate our home, today and always.


A horrible image



Since this is the 4th of July weekend, I pulled a copy of “Masterpieces of American Literature,” published by Houghton Mifflin Company in 1891, off my bookshelf about an hour ago. I once bought it for 50 cents at an estate sale, and have found interesting things in it from time to time. I wanted to see what insights it would offer me this evening, so I started paging through its contents.

I came upon an essay written by James Russell Lowell for The North American Review in January of 1864. For some people, anything written that long ago has nothing to say to them. A world without the internet, or even indoor plumbing, holds nothing of interest to those who think that the 20th century was a long time ago. But the historian I’ve always tried to be takes the opposite approach. As Patrick Henry once said, “I know of know way to judge the future, but by the experiences of the past.” And 1864 certainly qualifies on this front.

Lowell was an influential poet and an abolitionist, and his writings received considerable attention at the time. Something that he wrote, in the midst of a lengthy election-year defense of President Lincoln, made me realize what a horrible candidate–and person–Donald Trump truly is.

In describing Lincoln, Lowell wrote that “he has always addressed the intelligence of men, never their prejudice, their passion, or their ignorance.”

I stopped when I read this, because Donald Trump’s appeal seems rooted in a continuing appeal to all three elements. The historic stereotypes about Jews and money seem to be on full display in the image above. And if replacing the image of a six-pointed star with a circle instead is all it takes for Trump to avoid responsibility for this image, that will be the most stunning example yet of what Trump has been allowed to get away with in this campaign.

How about passion? Consistently referring to Hillary Clinton as “Crooked Hillary” instead is about as low as it gets on this front. People don’t want crooked politicians, in any form or fashion, and attempting to use this term to create an automatic, unthinking association to his opponent is a manipulation of people’s passions about politicians.

The third element Lowell refers to is ignorance. Is Hillary the “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever”? How would that ever be quantified or proven? The point is there’s no desire to do so. Trump says it, so it must be true. That’s about as ignorant as it gets.

For James Russell Lowell, who lived during Lincoln’s time as president, there were some appeals that simply weren’t made. And we continue to love Lincoln for exactly the reasons that Lowell described. So when Donald Trump–or any of his supporters–attempts to lay claim to Lincoln’s political party as his own, his routine appeals to prejudice, passion, and ignorance must be pointed out. He’s no Lincoln, as this affair makes perfectly clear.


No More Guns Over People


I’ve never held a gun, owned a gun, fired a gun, or had the first thing to do with a gun. They aren’t my thing, but they are many people’s thing. That’s fine. I’m not here to pass judgment on anybody for that. But the Columbine shooting happened just a few days after my older daughter was born, and how many mass shootings have happened since then? Sandy Hook hit me hard, and Orlando did too, but there are probably a hundred others where I shook my head and moved along until it happened again. That can’t happen anymore.
I’m quite comfortable with the 2016 elections being a binary propositions about guns in this country. Either we do nothing at all to limit people’s access to guns–the NRA model–or we do something in the hope that it saves even one life somewhere. If your home is on fire, you don’t passively watch it burn. But that’s what our Congress is doing, and will continue to do. The NRA owns them, and their inaction on this matter is entirely by design.
So vote guns this fall, or don’t. It really is just that simple. Mark Kirk, my senator in Illinois, broke ranks with his party (the GunsOverPeople crowd) but it won’t be enough to get him re-elected, not when his war hero opponent was on the House floor during yesterday’s sit in. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and these are indeed desperate times. Grieving families from coast to coast will attest to that.

American Ugly


This is what Donald Trump appeals to. This big scary guy filled with rage wants to intimidate anyone who he doesn’t see as “American.” This guy is only one Trump supporter, but he’s also a symbol for the dark, destructive urges that Trump plays to. If Trump wins, this guy wins, too. That simply can’t happen.

The video is filled with as much ugliness as you would expect, so watch at your own peril. But the picture and the story are enough to paint a very disturbing picture. Silence in the face of this is not an option, either.

I’ve been struggling with the idea that one of the two main political parties could nominate Trump to run this country. I’m still convinced they’ll snap out of it before it’s too late, and throw the nomination to someone else. That person could even be worse than Trump, but the folly of putting Trump on the ballot should be clear for everyone to see, except for maybe this guy. And that’s precisely why Trump is so toxic for this country.

One Proud Nation

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I’m heartbroken over the attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. It’s a guns problem, for certain, because not a single person deserves the right to take 49 lives in an instant. Banning assault weapons makes perfect sense to me. Keep some guns if you want to, but don’t put that kind of firepower in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to control themselves.

It’s also a hatred problem, too. The shooter targeted people whose lifestyle he didn’t agree with. If there is a hell, hopefully he’s in it. But either way, dozens are dead, and millions are crushed and angry at the same time. And moments of silence must not become a token gesture, or a cover for a Congress that won’t change a damn thing, no matter how many lives are lost.

When I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, gay people were hidden deep in the closet. They were a curiosity, a punchline, and something to be afraid of, because of course they wanted to make everybody else gay, too. But then I went to college in the late 1980s, as the AIDS epidemic was raging. I began to realize that even though being gay wasn’t my thing, it didn’t pose any threats to me, either.

I moved into Chicago in the early 1990s, and found the Gay Pride Parade, as it was known back then, to be the highlight of the summer. People came from far and wide to line Broadway, soak up the sunshine, and have a good time together. For as long as I lived in Lakeview and what later became known as Boystown, it was the summer event I looked forward to all year long.

It’s amazing that society–at least the part I want to be a part of–has moved to gay rights acceptance so quickly. But on the other hand, maybe it’s a shame that it didn’t happen sooner than it did. But it has happened, and people can live their lives openly and marry the person they love, regardless of what gender they are.

And that bothers some people, clearly. But those people are being pushed to the fringes, on their way–hopefully–to ultimate extinction. The person I got into a shouting match with across Diversey Avenue more than a decade ago, about whether bringing my young children to the Pride Parade (as it was known by then) was a sin, has hopefully moderated his position since then. But if not, he’s quickly becoming outnumbered in society, as he deserves to be.

I haven’t been to the Pride parade in many years, because I don’t live in the neighborhood anymore, and because fighting the crowds–routinely estimated at over a million people each year–seems like a hassle. But this year, in light of the Orlando shooting, I feel as if I have to go.

Pride started out as something organic within the gay community, but it’s since grown far beyond that. And the millions who will line Broadway Avenue again in ten days’ time will serve as a beautiful testament to our capacity for celebrating ourselves and having a good time in the process.

About the guy in the gold top hat above: I’m not sure why I took his picture a long time ago, but my daughters and I have affectionately referred to him over the years as “Captain Buttcheeks.” I couldn’t quite bring myself to devote an entire post to him, but I definitely wanted to share him with the world. Wherever he is today, I hope he’s still rocking the boots with the top hat, and waving at everyone he meets.

In the #HamZone


The Tony Awards are tonight, and I plan pay attention to them this year because of the Hamilton phenomenon. I’m surprised I haven’t written about it here, because I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for months on end. If Prince hadn’t died in April, it would now be month three of solid Hamilton listening for me.

The music tells a fantastic story, and has succeeded in bringing history into the mainstream and–more importantly–making it relevant to schoolkids. That’s something of a miracle, in its own right. I taught history for several years in the Chicago Public Schools, and always tried to make the past interesting. But music has charms that I never possessed, either.

So I’m figuratively in the Hamilton zone, for sure. I think this will last through the end of the year, at least, because the first Hamilton run outside of New York opens in Chicago this fall. Hamilton will open in other cities after that, and the diffusion of this show will bring new excitement along the way. How lucky we are to be alive to see it.

But I’m literally in a Hamilton zone of a different sort. I’ve written before about outliving people–usually writers–and musing about the random nature of life and how much of it each of us is allowed to have. Whenever someone dies now, the first question I ask is how old they were when they passed. For instance, I am younger than Muhammad Ali, and older than Christina Grimmie, when their days came to an end.

Ali himself said “Don’t count the days, Make the days count”  so age isn’t a measure of very much. But in terms of sunrises and sunsets, I’ve had more than Henry David Thoreau, George Orwell, Albert Camus, and many others. And I’ll keep having them until further notice, however long that may be.

But whether I’ve passed Hamilton or not is an open question. Everyone knows Hamilton died in a duel with Aaron Burr in the summer of 1804, but when he was born isn’t so clear cut. He considered his birthday to be 1757, and gave that as his birth year when he immigrated to America in 1772. By this count, he would have died at the age of about 47 and a half.

But the official documents from the island of Nevis tell another story. They indicate he was born in 1755, making him two years older than he told the world he was. We would all, at a certain point in life, like to be two years younger than we really are, and Hamilton lived his life this way.

So the birthday I have coming up in two days is the first of two in what I’m calling the #HamZone (Hamilton has devised all sorts of interesting hashtags of this variety, so I’m running with it here, as well). I’m already older than Hamilton told the world he was at the time of his death, but still younger than what he may actually have been. And in a year when Hamilton’s life has become relevant through Lin-Manuel Miranda’s amazing show, it’s a pretty cool place to be, I must admit.



Sign O’ the times, mess with your mind


Learning that Prince died from an overdose of fentanyl makes his death harder to deal with than ever. I’ve forgotten by now what the original cause of death was reported to be, but people swore up and down that his religion and/or his healthy lifestyle meant that drugs could not have played a role. But that lie has now been exposed for what it is.

When I was in graduate school a quarter of a century ago, I was given an assignment to find artifacts from different periods of history. The artifacts I used were a metallic bell that purported to be made from the USS Maine as a relic from the 1890s, the iconic image of Rosie the Riveter as a relic of the 1940s, and Prince’s song “Sign O’ the Times” as a relic of the 1980s. We were hardly even out of the 1980s at that point, and it already felt like Prince had encapsulated that decade as well as anybody could.

The lyrics to the song addressed everything from AIDS (“a big disease with a little name”) to crime (“being ‘ in a gang called the Disciples high on crack, totin’ a machine gun”) to the space shuttle disaster (“when the rocket ship explodes”). It was a snapshot of, well, the times we were living in back in the 1980s. I knew it then, and am even more aware of it now, all these years later.

But a line from it foreshadows Prince’s own death. Anyone familiar with the song knows what it is, but since many aren’t familiar with it, I’ll spell it out here as a public service. Think of it as my good deed for the day. Prince sings the following line:

In September my cousin tried reefer for the very first time

Now he’s doin’ Horse, it’s June

“Horse” was a reference to heroin, and the idea Prince was getting at was marijuana was thought of as a gateway to harder, more serious drugs like heroin. It’s beyond ironic, then, that a man who sang about heroin addiction could one day become a victim of it, himself. But what’s even more telling is that a gateway to heroin does exist, but it’s not marijuana at all.

The gateway that led Prince to heroin and fentanyl was opioids, and Percocet in particular. It needs to be pointed out that these drugs are legal when prescribed by a doctor. They aren’t illegal street drugs, the way that marijuana and LSD are. They are what’s known as Schedule II drugs, meaning they are entrusted to the medical community for the purposes of treating and managing pain. But once they leave the medical community, havoc ensues. And the path from there to heroin–a Schedule I drug which is cheaper and easier to obtain than the prescription drugs–is all too well-traveled.

If Prince– with all of his fame and notoriety–could not escape the clutches of these drugs, it highlights the challenges the rest of us face. We’re all just an injury or a surgical recovery away from having these things given to us. And it’s all legal, right there before us, with a doctor’s approval and an insurance company co-pay to soften the financial blow.

Congress and the individual states have at last grasped the seriousness of the heroin and opioid epidemic. May prevention and treatment be the leaders of the pack in this regard, instead of a “tough on crime” approach that our legal system isn’t ready to support. That was tried once already, and it simply hasn’t worked.

Maybe the best thing to come from Prince’s death, if anything positive is to be found, is a realization that “horse” and the drugs leading up to it are not a joke, and that those of us who have been lucky enough to escape their clutches must not judge those who are in their grip. We should instead help them in whatever way we can, which will help our society rise above the damage these drugs have wrought. If this should happen, we’ll all be much better off.

To close with another Prince lyric, in the outro part of “Sign o’ the Times” he sings

Sign o’ the times, mess with your mind, hurry before it’s too late.

It’s not too late to address the issue of heroin and its related drugs, but we do need to have some urgency as the death toll continues to rise.



Unleashing my inner History teacher

The room where it happened, 1860 style

I was a history teacher in a previous life, as I like to think of it. It was all during the same life I have now, of course, but it feels like I’m not that person anymore. Will I ever teach again? Who knows? But yesterday I presented something of a lesson to a small section of the internet. The results have been pretty gratifying, too.

On Friday, I was paging through a book by Dale Carnegie titled “Lincoln the Unknown.” I bought it at an estate sale some time ago and, like many of the books I have acquired that way, I didn’t read it right away. My thinking is you can always read a book later, but you have to first acquire them whenever you can.

On the pages of the Carnegie book, which was published in 1932, I found a story about Lincoln’s nomination at the Wigwam in Chicago, shown above, in 1860. I knew that it was the first “western” nominating convention, and Lincoln’s supporters used this to wrest the Republican nomination away from William Seward. I knew that fake tickets had been printed up, and used to pack the house with Lincoln supporters. But every story has details that can add a new wrinkle to what is already known, and this was no exception.

What I learned I tucked away in my brain, and when I saw a post on a Facebook wall from the Bernie Sanders campaign for president, I decided it provided a parallel that could apply to the present. That’s why history matters so much, after all. Patrick Henry said he knew of no way to judge the future but by the events of the past. And here was a moment to put this philosophy to work.

In reply to a post suggesting that Senator Sanders’ wide lead over Donald Trump in public opinion polls makes him a better candidate to face Trump than Hillary Clinton, I wrote the following blurb:

There once was a senator from New York who went to a party convention expecting to win the nomination. But a challenger was able to successfully make the case that he would be a stronger candidate against the nominee from the other party. The year was 1860, the party was the Republicans, the presumptive nominee was William Seward, and the eventual nominee was Abraham Lincoln. I don’t think anyone would have rather had Seward prevail, simply because that was the expected result. Fight on, Senator Sanders. You have millions behind you.

I am a Sanders supporter, and I know that his uphill climb has been sandbagged by a media and a party establishment that has opposed him at every turn. The Clintons are a known quantity, and they are the establishment of the Democratic party in every way. But Senator Sanders has tapped into a wide vein of resentment for this establishment, and has come very far to get to the point, like the Cheers theme song says, where everybody knows his name. He’s won more states, and earned more votes, than anyone imagined he would. But the headwinds against him have reached a gale force recently, and I wanted to help out.

Carnegie’s book pointed out that dissatisfaction with Seward–who was well-known and had the kind of political advantages that Lincoln never did–came from the idea that Stephen A. Douglas was a formidable opponent in the fall election. Lincoln had already run against Douglas in 1858, and was better suited to defeat Douglas than Seward. The persuasion paid off, and Lincoln won the nomination on the third ballot in Chicago. And we all know what happened after that.

My post seems to have resonated pretty well, gathering over 1,700 Facebook likes in the 20 hours or so since I posted it. There have been hundreds of replies as well, both pro and con,  and the notifications of all this activity have exploded my email inbox. Let’s say I now understand why many posts don’t allow for comments. They can get messy.

And, in response to someone’s suggestion that my post seemed like a Limerick, I came up with this beauty:

There once was a Senator Will

Who thought a convention was chill

But Abe came along

And proved Will was wrong

Just like Bernie will do unto Hill

That bit of online freestylin’ got another 50 likes, and I’m preserving it here because I’m happy with how it turned out. I’m not Lin-Manuel Miranda or anything, but a rhyme written to inform about the past came to me, and I like the way that feels.

There’s a ton of pressure on Bernie Sanders to drop out, based on the idea that he’s hurting Hillary Clinton’s chances by staying in the race. Seward, back in 1860, rented a cannon and brought it to his estate in New York. The idea was to announce his nomination to the world by firing off the cannon, but he never had the chance to do it. And would the Civil War have happened, and slavery been brought to its much-needed end if Seward had fired off that cannon? We can’t know that, but we can say that Lincoln’s election changed the course of history in a very profound way.

I don’t want Hillary Clinton to fire off her proverbial cannon this summer. I’m convinced that her vote for the Iraq war, and her bellicose actions and language, reveal her to be far too hawkish for my comfort. She’ll speak the language of the Republicans in Congress by leading us into a foreign entanglement somewhere, which will require weapons being used and soldiers being killed. A cannon is a perfect metaphor for her candidacy, actually. Trump, on the other hand, is a horrible danger to life on this planet, and I realize that he must be stopped. But Hillary Clinton is not the way to do that.

There are many reasons not to like her, and my point here isn’t to go through those reasons. For me, she’s a hawk who will lead us to war, which will have disastrous consequences. And I can’t vote for her for that reason alone.

How will this all play out, over the summer and into the fall? I don’t know. But the idea that a candidate should give up when they are behind, in the name of “party unity,” is not an idea that Lincoln went along with in 1860. There’s an election that must be won in the fall, but there’s still a fight to be waged over the summer months. Or, to put it in the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s HamiltonWhen you got skin in the game, you stay in the game But you don’t get a win unless you play in the game. So why not keep on playing?


Enough is enough


Opioids are taking a terrible toll on this country, and yet they’re perfectly legal. The Pharma companies that manufacture them are profiting from addiction and death. I’m grateful I don’t know anyone who has had an addiction to these things, but not everyone has been so fortunate.

Can we now have an honest discussion of legalizing marijuana everywhere for medical use, at the very least? I’d rather have Prince–or anybody else–walking around with a bong in his hand, treating his pain in a way that wouldn’t get him addicted to anything.

I’m in favor of legalizing it for recreational use, too, because people are going to smoke whether it’s legal or not. Alcohol takes an enormous social toll, but experience has shown that regulating people’s vices is a fool’s errand.

Sacrificing our brothers, sisters, friends, family members and music idols to the opioid makers doesn’t make sense anymore, if it ever did in the first place.

Note: This is cross-posted from something I wrote on Facebook this morning, commenting on a Washington Post story about Prince’s scheduled meeting with an opioid specialist the day after he was found dead. 

UPDATE: Apparently this approach worked for Jim McMahon. Why not allow others to self-medicate like this? I can’t think of a good reason not to.

A Freudian Slip


It’s fitting, in some way, that the trial I served as a juror for ended on Tax Day. I realize that taxes aren’t due until the 18th of April this year, but everyone knows April 15 is the day that we’re supposed to settle up with the IRS by filing our tax returns. Money changes hands on that day, generally in the form of a tax refund that people use for whatever they need some extra money for.

That didn’t happen for me this year. Instead of a healthy refund, I owed something to Uncle Sam, and not a trivial amount, either. But I paid that amount because, well, that’s just what you do. It keeps the National parks open, and pays for social programs and military defense and all the other places our tax dollars go to. Living in America is a privilege that I can’t fully appreciate because I haven’t lived anyplace else. But that privilege comes with a price, and the IRS is there to extract part of it from us all, whether we want to pay it or not.

Another price of citizenship in this country is jury service. In my many years of living, I had never served on a jury, of any kind, until this past week. The right to a trial by jury is an enormous gift, and that entails giving up your time when called by the courts to do so.

The trial I served as a juror on wrapped up yesterday, and I made a point to ask the judge if I was allowed to write about the case online. Writing is a form of free, self-induced therapy for me, and I needed to put a few things out into cyberspace, before the experience fades away into memory. I expect jury service to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and after this trial, I very much hope that’s the case.

Part of me wants to get into the specific facts of the case, but that’s not really going to help anything. Painting in broad strokes about what happened is probably good enough, at least for my purposes. I could write a long treatise about the case I was charged with deciding, but the end result wouldn’t change, not even the tiniest bit.

The case had to do with a fraud, pure and simple. The federal government rooted out the defendant’s misdeeds, which were filing tax returns in the name of people who had no idea they were having returns filed on their behalf. Their names and social security numbers, and access to online tax filing software, are apparently all it took to set these wheels into motion.

So prisoner A (We learned his real name and saw him testify in court, but his first name began with A so I’ll call him that here) is doing time. I learned what it was for, but it really didn’t matter that much. He’s serving time, and not receiving any Social Security benefits from the government. But a tax return was sent to the IRS, indicating that not only was he receiving these benefits, but he had a portion of those benefits withheld by the IRS, and he wanted the withheld portion back. It’s a classic case of turning nothing (as in the Social security benefits which were never paid in the first place) into something (as in a few hundred dollars that wound up in the tax preparer’s pocket.

This happened for hundreds of prisoners, and the IRS paid off like a slot machine by depositing the money in waves. There were hundreds of prisoners, and thousands upon thousands of dollars being shoveled out for this scam. The legal term is “scheme,” which sounds a hair more respectable than a “scam,” but this was the scammiest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. And it makes a mockery out of those who pay taxes and wouldn’t think to  run a fraud like this.

At the close of the trial, on Thursday afternoon, the jury received instructions from the judge about what the relevant law is. We were told to follow those instructions, whether we agreed with them or not. One juror failed to do so, and that vote was enough to result in a hung jury. Our romantic notions of “Twelve Angry Men” and the noble juror who spares a defendant from being wrongly convicted by standing up to, and ultimately persuading, his fellow jurors didn’t apply in this case. Life didn’t imitate art, at least not in this instance.

But the two sides had to give closing arguments before we could begin deliberating, and the otherwise masterful defense attorney nearly gave away the game with one small, practically imperceptible slip. I may have been the only one that noticed it, but it was very telling. It didn’t make a difference, in the end, but I wanted to preserve it here, anyway.

A Freudian slip, also called a parapraxis, is when someone gives away their inner feelings by accident. As the defense attorney was summing up the defects in the government’s case–since they have the burden of proof, his job was to point out the ways they haven’t done so, regardless of whether any such defects actually existed–he said “They have fooled–failed–to show….”

The “fooling” that the defense attorney referred to, in his moment of unintended candor, wasn’t the government’s doing, but his own. He was there to fool the jury into believing that his client had been wrongly accused of defrauding the government–and by extension the taxpayers on the jury and all over the United States–out of withholding proceeds from prisoners who had not receive any Social Security benefits while they were behind bars. All he had to do was fool one juror, and the week’s worth of trial would have gone for naught. And that’s exactly how it played out, too.

I put a picture of Frederick Douglass in this post, because the holdout juror bears a strong resemblance to him. I even thought of him as Fred, though his real name was something else. Frederick Douglass became friends with Abraham Lincoln, and their unlikely rise from the circumstances they were each born into has always inspired me. I will always admire Frederick Douglass, but I’ll probably see pictures of him now and think about the juror who wouldn’t agree with the rest of us on the jury. Life takes some strange twists sometimes.

On my way home from the courthouse, after the verdict had been read and my fellow jurors and I were excused with the thanks of the court, I took a train to a bus in order to get home. The transfer point from train to bus led me to a statue of Abraham Lincoln, which I’ve written about before in this space. I looked up at Lincoln, who is depicted not as the bearded president we all know, but as a clean-shaven Illinois attorney, which he was for many years before he was elected president.

As I looked up at Lincoln’s representation, I tried putting my frustrations with the case into some type of order. And I realized that our legal system, for all of its imperfections, is still something to be proud of. The defendant wasn’t set free by my jury, and he still has to face the prospect of perhaps another trial in the weeks and months ahead. We as jury did what we had been charged with doing. I didn’t like the final result, but it was far from the first time where something I was involved with didn’t end up the way I wanted it to. Those are the breaks, whether in the courthouse or anyplace else in life.

The Lincoln statute reminded me that our legal system is worth preserving and supporting, even if it isn’t perfect. It won’t ever be perfect, but it will always seek to do justice. The truth is  that I’d rather live in such a place than anywhere else.

Everybody wants to rule the World


A song by Tears for Fears encapsulates the 80s for me like few others do. And the irony now, all these years laters, is that it was probably in the air when a high school teacher and coach named Hastert was doing some terrible things to trusting young kids.

He went from Yorkville High to third in line to the presidency. He literally did help to rule the world, at least in theory, and made millions in the process. Some of those millions would later be funneled to those who he abused when nobody knew his name. That’s punishment enough for what he did, right? If only if were that simple.

I never knew any of the people involved in this tale, so perhaps it’s not my place to say anything about this. But the good teachers and coaches who want the best for the kids they work with will bear the brunt of Hastert’s actions, far more than he ever will. And that is beyond unfortunate.

High school sucked for me, and I’m not the only one who felt that way. When adults in position of authority and trust use the circumstances of this difficult age of transition for their own benefit, in order to sexually prey on those who are still trying to figure out their own place in the world, all of us suffer, in ways that we may never realize. I’m grateful that nothing like this ever happened to me, but I can easily understand why others were not so fortunate.

After a long and financially rewarding stretch in the halls of power, Coach Hastert’s past finally caught up with him. He paid off his prey, but money alone can’t make everything OK, either for those he molested or the rest of us, as well. He’s old and going to die soon, so perhaps he’ll get what’s coming to him when that happens. But here on earth, his request for probation is an affront to anyone who’s paying attention.

His “family values” and likely unstated opposition to the very behaviors he engaged in as a wrestling coach makes him an outsized hypocrite. Sending him to prison won’t make him any different, but the idea that he can do this and slink off with nothing more than his own shame and humiliation seems wrong, on some level.

I have no doubt he feels bad about what he did, but this is only because it came up again. The abuser can forget his actions however he wants to, but the abused cannot. And to protect those who need it, neither should the rest of us.

The First Amendment, UIC, and Donald Trump


I earned my Masters degree at the University of Illinois at Chicago, or UIC for short, back in the early 1990s. I never really considered it as my alma mater, because I didn’t live on campus and my degree only took two years to complete. I was working full time and going to school at night, so my heart was never completely invested at UIC. But I am glad to have an affiliation with them, all the same.

I didn’t like the fact that Donald Trump had planned a rally on the UIC campus for the Friday before the Illinois primary. I wrote a piece for, pointing out that Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric was at odds with the life’s work of Jane Addams, who ran Hull House for decades in the neighborhood where UIC now stands, as a place where immigrants could feel welcomed into Chicago and the United States.

If you were to strip away everything else from this country, you would find that immigration is what makes the USA great. Trump simply doesn’t understand this, and it’s one of a long list of reasons why he’ll never be president.

But before tonight’s rally at UIC could commence, there were tensions both inside the venue and out. Trump called off the rally, and his supporters cried foul. They wanted to hear their guy speak, and those who opposed him had denied them of their opportunity to do so. What the protesters did, at least according to Megyn Kelly of Fox News, was deny Donald Trump’s rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution.

At the risk of sounding crass, I’m calling bullshit on that argument.

Strong language is needed here, in order to fully address the claims that have been made. The suggestion that Donald Trump has a First Amendment right to make a speech at any public venue of his choosing is simply false. It reveals an ignorance of what the First Amendment actually says, which is as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment, as adopted more than two centuries ago, restricts the actions of Congress. That’s all. And Congress has made no laws restricting what Donald Trump says,  either in Chicago or anywhere else.

Donald Trump can say just about anything he wants to say, and so can the protesters both inside and outside the building where the rally was scheduled to take place. Nearly everyone feels passionately about Trump, either in favor of him or against him. And Congress should have better things to do than sorting out what Donald Trump and his protesters have to say.

If Trump didn’t speak tonight, it was because he decided not to take the stage. Trump let down his supporters at UIC, but Congress had nothing to do with this.

Freedom of speech is alive and well tonight. But as for an understanding of the Constitution, that’s a different story.

The coolest card so far

Baseball cards are a cheap buzz for me. It goes back to when I was six or seven years old, when my dad gave me some change and told me I could go into the store by myself and buy a pack of baseball cards. It was the first thing I had ever purchased on my own, and it had an effect on me that I still remember all these years later. Needless to say, baseball has been important to me all through my life.

There’s a thing I do, sometimes, when I find myself in a Dollar Tree store. Up by the registers, they offer a variety of trading cards and stickers for sale. Sorting through them takes some time, but there’s a company that packages 30 cards together, of all years and brands, for the grand sum of one dollar. Somebody once got the idea that these things had some intrinsic monetary value, and as a result there are now billions of them, sitting on the shelves in Dollar Tree stores everywhere, waiting for someone like me to help relieve the oversupply.

The collective value of 30 old baseball cards isn’t even 30 cents, so it’s not a financial proposition for me. These things cost a penny apiece when I was a kid, because that’s all the value they have. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool.

But each pack of these things is a chance to find something interesting. The cards are old enough that the “promising rookies” who petered out and never got a whiff of the major leagues can be identified. Every player is a story that’s as easily discovered as a trip to google or 30 potential stories for a dollar? It’s hard to beat that.

So yesterday I found myself in a Dollar Tree store, and I picked up a pack of old baseball cards. The cheap buzz comes in from tearing open the plastic, looking at the cards inside, and enjoying the rush of potential discovery. It’s probably what heroin feels like for some people, but without the side effects like addiction and the risk of an OD. It’s the lowest grade rush that I’m willing to look for.

Yesterday’s pack contained the most unusual and unexpected card I’ve ever run across. The pictures of the front and shown above, but basically the Score company, in 1991, put an American flag on the front of a card, and a prayer for the safety of soldiers in the first Iraq war (and for world peace in general) on the back. There was no has-been (or never-was) baseball player shown, but a reminder that baseball is the American game, and some things are far more important than being able to hit a curveball (or to throw one, for the pitchers of the world).

I thought of my friends who went to Iraq, and those who have served our country in uniform. Having never done so myself, I am grateful for those who do. I don’t like wars, and I’m critical of politicians who send soldiers into battle for reasons that later turn out to be false and misleading.  But that doesn’t mean the bravery and sacrifice of those in uniform is lost on me. Far from it.

This piece is written to honor those who serve, and to recognize that the 30 chances to tell a story in each pack of outdated old baseball cards can sometimes lead to something much more interesting than I ever thought possible.

Something Old, Something New


It’s been a quiet February on the blog front. The enthusiasm I once had for doing this has ebbed, and I like sleeping at night, too. But I recently had my annual Cubs preview posted on (has it really been five years of doing that? Time flies!) and I had a piece that I reconstructed from a post in this space published on  It looks like the kind of website I’ve been wanting for a long time. May other stories make their way onto that site soon.

There’s a few things I want to say about life, and hopefully I’ll have time for it soon enough. But for now I just wanted to plug my writing a little bit, and remind myself that I still enjoy doing it.

Governor Snyder, you can’t fix this

When I think about what’s going on in Flint, Michigan, I get really angry. Whoever thought that giving poisoned water to the public–in order to save money over clean water taken from another source–needed to be reined in by the person who had the authority to do so, and in this case it was the governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder.

But Snyder let the deed go down, and the people of Flint have paid the price. A legionnaire’s disease outbreak has already killed 10 people, and everyone who drank or used that water–which had been tested at elevated levels of carcinogens–did damage to themselves that we won’t see for a long time to come.

We need water to live, and as citizens we have a right to expect our water to be safe to use. If government is to have any purpose at all, that’s one of them. And when the water is unsafe, those who approved of giving it to the people cannot be trusted to clean up the mess themselves.

Rick Snyder and anyone else who knew that Flint was receiving poisoned water–but did nothing to warn the people about its dangers–needs to be removed from office and prosecuted for a criminal act. Terrorists would love to poison a city’s drinking water, so why do the people who actually succeeded at doing so get a chance to “fix” their mistake? It won’t bring back those who have died, nor will it remove the nasty chemicals inside the people who drank or bathed in this toxic stuff.

The solutions to this situation are very pricey, and for a city and a state (and a nation, if we’re being honest about it) that doesn’t have the money to spare, things can look pretty dire. But as long as the governor who allowed this to happen remains in charge, nothing will truly get solved. Step one is to remove the present governor, and let someone else try to fix the damage from there.

May we never see anything like this ever again in an American city.

2016 and the USA



The upcoming presidential election is going to dominate the news, as it should. The person who emerges from the grotesque carnival we have constructed for this purpose will be able to make decisions that may seem important, but in the end life is going to move forward, no matter who it is.

I have my preferences, and I won’t be shy about sharing them here as the year goes on. But it’s not a process I’m going to want to watch too closely, because it seems to appeal to what’s worst in us, when it should be anything but that.

Yesterday my younger daughter was at the orthodontist’s office, and I was in the waiting room while they were doing what they do with her. Good Morning America was talking about the Republican debate from the night before, and they labeled it as “Showdown in South Carolina.” And the whole evening seemed to turn on Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and whether Cruz could serve as President because he was born in Canada. It made me sick to realize that the combative, frivolous nature of that moment was all that the media saw fit to show to We, the people. Grown men in engaged in a glorified schoolyard squabble. It made me ashamed for this country.

Republicans can say whatever they want to say, and do whatever they want to do. Unless they can cure cancer and bring David Bowie, Alan Rickman, and Dan Haggerty back for an awesome episode of Grizzly Adams on the run from Professor Snape with a cool soundtrack and cameo appearance from the Thin White Duke, I won’t be buying what they’re selling. But that’s beside the point.

The media can play this from whatever angle they choose to, but what they give us instead is “Showdown in South Carolina.” It’s a good thing that Montreal isn’t this country, because we would have had the “Brawl in Montreal” if it was.

Someone in the bowels of ABC had to think this one up, and they were probably very excited to see their idea up on the screen for the morning audience to absorb. But it’s a terrible reflection on us all that they feel empowered to give us that.

We deserve media coverage that befits our country, and if “Showdown in South Carolina” is truly what that is, we’re a global laughingstock for reasons that don’t have a single thing to do with ISIS or al Qaeda.

Rant over.

Thanks to the President


It’s clear to me that no amount of bloodshed or carnage would ever move Congress toward restricting guns in this country. Dead citizens are the price of having access to guns, in the minds of the people who make and sell guns. And the politicians who feed at the trough of their largess aren’t going to say otherwise.

So when Barack Obama–who could just be coasting to the finish line of his presidency, but is not–signs executive orders to close gun show loopholes and require background checks of people wanting to buy guns, that’s a ballsy thing for him to do. He knows the price that guns have extracted from our society, and he knows it’s too high.

There’s many Ammosexual types who get thrills from the power a gun provides. But they look the other way or shrug their shoulders when children are shot and killed. The never-ending gun violence in this country demands a response, but it will never, ever come from Congress.

Thanks for saying enough is enough, Mr. President.

The calendar says it’s Christmas time



I must point out that this is not my house. I drove by it yesterday, on my way to work in suburban Chicago. The warm weather, dense fog, and lack of anything suggesting winter temperatures made the collection of lawn ornaments seem forlorn and out of sorts.

Everybody has their passions in life, and whoever lives in this house has probably been collecting these things over many years. I understand that they’re lit up at night, too, which must take this display to another level altogether.

This planet is in trouble, everyone. Blame it on El Nino if you want, but I’m more than a little concerned that my younger daughter could walk around this evening, at night time in Chicago, and hand me her coat because she didn’t need it. On December 23.

We love our fossil fuels, myself included, but they’ve come with the price tag of a warmer planet, melting ice caps, and rising sea levels. And while these lawn ornaments won’t actually get flooded, they will look a little silly on those warm December days in the years ahead.

I wish peace to everyone, whether they read this or not.


Pope Francis, the AntiTrump

When I was a young kid who was prone to looking through the World Almanac on a regular basis, the list of all the popes and antipopes always intrigued me. I knew what a pope was, but the idea that somebody could be recognized as an antipope was funny to me. 7-Up called itself the Uncola in those days, so why not have an antipope, as well?

I haven’t considered myself a Catholic in more than 30 years. There’s too many things that I do not, and will not ever, agree with in the church’s teachings. But I admire Pope Francis greatly. I even follow him on Twitter, which is as close to Catholicism as I’ll ever get.

His visit to the United States over the past three days has been a great reminder of what the world needs more of: more compassion, more respect, more love. We will do well to internalize the message and the example he has brought to these shores. I thank him for reminding us that being good to each other is what it’s all about.

And he stands, in every way possible, as the antithesis of Donald Trump. Trump wants to be the leader of this nation, and his “look at what a great success I am” shtick is appealing for some people. But Pope Francis reminds us of what compassion and love look like, and those two notions seem to have no place in Donald Trump’s world.

What appeals to me about this pope is that he is everything that Trump is not, and could never be. As Francis leaves our shores and returns to the Vatican, it’s a clear reminder that Trump is lacking in many, many ways, and these deficits render him unfit to lead what some people want to believe is a Christian nation (although the Constitution makes it clear this is not the case).

Anyone who still wants Trump as their leader entirely missed the lesson of the pope’s visit. There are some–perhaps a few thousand–who can shrug off the example of this pope, and still clamor for a man like Trump sitting on the throne of government, but I hope that I don’t know any of them personally. They certainly aren’t my kind of people.

A Lincoln gallery


One hundred and fifty-three years ago today, Abraham Lincoln began the process of righting America’s greatest wrong. Slavery had existed for centuries, sanctioned by law and practiced by many of the men who spoke of human liberty when they applied it to white folks, but were more than willing to deny it to those who did not look like them. Hypocrisy at it worst, it appears to me.

But Lincoln upset that apple cart. He said that slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong. He was elected president, and the slaveholding states (most of them, anyway) decided to leave the Union before they accepted him as their leader.

Lincoln held firm to his position that secession was not allowed for in the Constitution, and was therefore not a legitimate course of action. Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and the rest did not leave the Union, because they could not leave the Union.

The first year-and-a-half of the Civil War was a fight about preserving the Union. But in the fall of 1862, Lincoln gave the abolitionists what they wanted. It’s true that not one slave was freed as a result of this action. It’s also true that slaves in Missouri and the other border states were not affected by Lincoln’s action. But the die had been cast, all the same. Slavery became the war’s defining issue, from that moment forward.

We can never do enough to honor what Abraham Lincoln did. I have tried many times to explain what Lincoln means in this space, and here’s a sampling of them on this day.


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I’ve said many times that Lincoln is with us still, so long as we want to see and acknowledge him and the new America that he brought about. May we never lose sight of this.