Monday, October 19, 2020

Court Packing

    “The switch in time saved nine.” Humorist Cal Tinney in 1937 after Justice Owen Roberts changed his position and allowed a Washington state minimum wage bill to stand.

With Republican Senators prepared to confirm Amy Coney Barrett as the 2020 election is in full swing, after blocking President Obama’s ability to fill a vacancy for almost a year, both parties are raising the issue of court-packing. Democrats have charged Trump with packing the court with nominees who passed his litmus test of vowing to overturn Row v. Wade and the Affordable Care Act. Republicans are attempting to make a big deal over Biden’s refusal to disavow court reform, including legislation to increase the size of the court should the Court undo longstanding precedents.


In 1937 Republicans made “Court-packing” a rallying cry after President Franklin D. Roosevelt pushed for legislation, The Judicial Procedures Reform Bill, that would have added up to six additional justices should incumbents fail to retire within six months of their seventieth birthday. Since the Constitution does not specify the number of Supreme Court justices, this would have been perfectly legal. At the time there were four reactionaries on the high bench, three progressives, and two “swing votes,” those of Owen Roberts and Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, sophisticated in the ways of politics, being a former New York governor and Presidential candidate. In a series of 5-4 decisions the Court had invalidated many New Deal measures and threatened to nullify Social Security and the Wagner Act, the latter that protected labor unions’ right to bargain collectively. While FDR failed to get Congress to pass the bill, it had the desired effect of convincing Roberts and Hughes to pay more attention to public opinion and political realities. In Roberts’ case, while in Adkins v. Children’s Hospital he had voted to strike down a New York minimum wage law, in West Coast Hotel v. Parrish he reversed course.


Supreme Court in 1937; Chief Justice Hughes, center, front

During the Barrett hearings Democrats, fearful of alienating Roman Catholics, treaded lightly when bringing up Roe v Wade while emphasizing the damage, especially during the pandemic, to the uninsured and folks with previous medical conditions should Obamacare be struck down. In my view, this was cowardly and wrong. Should Democrats win the Presidency and both houses of Congress, they could save and even improve on the Affordable Care Act. On the other hand, the main threat to a woman’s right to choose – to control her own body – is emanating from Red states over which Congress has only indirect control. As John F. Kennedy stated in 1960 when a candidate for president, an officeholder’s religious faith should not dictate his position on issues of state. Amy Coney Barrett, who is on record as being morally opposed to abortions, calling them barbaric, at the very least should have pledged to recuse herself from decisions involving this issue on which she holds rigid religious beliefs.


Furthermore, it would be foolhardy for Joe Biden to make any pledges that would diminish his freedom of action once in the White House. During the Democratic primaries he made clear that he is cool to the idea of expanding the court, and hopefully that will not be necessary. Chief Justice John Roberts has shown that he cares deeply about the integrity of the Court, and there are indications that he has an unlikely ally in Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch even if both are expected to give conservatives a 6-3 majority. An overwhelming Democratic victory in November is vital in protecting the integrity of all three branches of government.


Dean Bottorff commented:

    It occurs to me that despite lofty aspirations to the contrary, the Supreme Court does not operate in a political vacuum. I suspect that the justices, particularly Chief Justice Roberts, fully understand that any decisions rendered that are far distant from the will of the majority of Americans will, ultimately, undermine the power of the court. If the majority of Americans, say 74%, support Roe v. Wade, and if the Supreme Court were to overturn this, the faith of the majority in the legitimacy of the Supreme Court will, to a degree, vanish. Ultimately, no court has the power of enforcement. That power rests only with those who accept the legitimacy of a court’s decisions and have the ability to enforce them. Therefore, if the Supreme Court becomes seen as only the tool of a political party it will be seen as little more than the judicial system of Germany in the 1930s when all judges were required to be members of the NAZI party. Were such the outcome, no one would see the court’s decisions as valid or enforceable. Sadly, although the long-time justices on the court may understand this, the appointments selected by Trump, especially Amy Coney Barrett, seem to be intellectual lightweights whose limited acuity and devotion to right-wing dogma, will lead to lasting damage to the courts and, by inference, the rule of law.

photo by David Lane

We celebrated Angie’s fiftieth birthday at the condo with a scallops and crab clusters meal that Toni prepared followed by French silk chocolate pie and ice cream.  James had a dance rehearsal that included hip hop (which he first learned at IUN’s Kids College a decade ago) but found time to play Space Base with Dave and me.  Next day, I watched the Bears edge out Carolina; meanwhile both Washington and Philadelphia lost heartbreakers when last-minute two-point conversions failed.

IUN Dean of Student Services Beth Tyler (above) polled freshmen on their first semester experiences.  Despite dislocations caused by the pandemic, most responses were upbeat.  In addition to balancing schoolwork and obligations at home and work, the biggest problems seemed to mastering the technology and taking subjects like math and a foreign language online. Here’s a sample of the 87 responses:


1.     This is my first semester attending IUN, and I absolutely love it! I am doing well in all my classes and I enjoy being here. The biggest challenge would be trying to remember what days are on zoom and in person. I am glad to be attending this school and I am looking forward to the next four years! 


2.     I’m a little stressed with homework and classes. I feel like I’m having to teach myself some things.  I’m struggling with asking teachers questions because most respond a while after I email them. I also feel I’m bothering them because I’m asking so many questions.  I don’t know many people so I don’t know who to reach out to for help.


3.     The only challenge is getting used to Canvas; it is very new to me and I have never used it before. To be a student now it is really fun actually;  so far all the students and all the staff are extremely nice and happy to help when I get lost on campus or have trouble getting in a zoom meeting. All of my professors are great; they are very kind and always asking questions to make sure that everyone is doing well, if people can hear them, if they need to go slower, and much more. 


4.     I am feeling burnt out already, so that is worrisome. Being a student right now, at IUN or anywhere else I'm sure, is exhausting. I feel like I am teaching myself everything, even more so than usual. That in combination with the workload is rough, plus outside factors like money and stressors of the world. I am pushing through but it is hard. I am hoping that once I get through these first exams, I will have time to refocus and feel better. 


5.     I am doing fairly well all things considered. I didn’t know if I wanted to go back to school with the uncertainties this year has brought, but I am glad I did.  Finding out the other day that my best friend is hospitalized with Covid has made it hard to concentrate, but I am managing.  I love the fact that all my classes are online; if I have had a question, my professors have gotten back to me in what seems like record time.


6.     The university is really enjoyable.  I even found out there’s a Muslim Association and in the library an Islamic room.


7.     I'm doing ok. The things that are super challenging right now is balancing work and school and not having childcare still due to Covid, 


8.     It's a really weird time to be a student, and I'm sure it's just as weird to be faculty as well. I would say my biggest challenge this semester is stress. Balancing work and school, surviving pandemic culture, all of that. The only challenge outside of that is transportation. I can't afford a car and live a bit far from campus, so getting there for things like picking up shirts from orientation, or for campus events just can't happen right now so I miss out on that. 


9.     In one course the professor is oblivious to how technology works. I have personally attempted to help the 2 days we've been able to have in person classes but some profs need a little extra assistance. 


10.  It definitely has become a very un-easy time as my personal life has frequent turns of unfortunate events, not knowing if my job is secured, and completing a practicum with virtual barriers. While the unfortunate events are not something I can control, I leave it to God to handle what is out of my control. 


11.  IUN has gone above and beyond to make sure that everyone is learning in a safe environment. At this point I do not have a challenge being a student at IUN. Last semester my challenge was my math class. I do not like math and at the age of almost 50, some things do not always "stick" with me. This semester I was able to take the class online and I'm able to go at my own pace which helps a lot. I pray that I do better this time around. My second class, Career Perspectives, was also offered online this semester. I could not go further with my studies until I completed this course. I'm a single mom to two teens who are very active in sports and other groups at school and I work full time, so being on campus half of the day was not an option for me. 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Early Voting

Toni and I voted at Chesterton Town Hall. Arriving around 10:15, we found approximately 20-25 people ahead of us. The line extended outside the building, and a nonpartisan candidate for school board stated that it will get longer as the day goes on. The first couple days last week were evidently a madhouse. Everyone, including kids accompanying their mothers, wore masks and obeyed social distance guidelines. One young mother took a selfie with her kid to mark the occasion. Arriving at the table to sign in and obtain the ballot, we were asked to use thin paper to write our signature with our finger on a machine and then sign the envelope with a pen. Four voting machines were in use, and a couple voters seemed to take forever. Since I was voting straight Democrat, all that remained was to vote whether or not to retain judges and vote in a handful of local races. As always, I felt good about going to the polls.

Allison and Liz

Indiana governor Whitcomb rejected automatic mail-in voting but allowed 28 days for early voting, which is a fairly recent phenomenon. I’ve only done it once, also at Chesterton Town Hall. Our normal election day place, Brummitt Elementary School, has never been crowded, but this year might be an exception.


Red state line

In Red states such as Texas and Georgia, where the polls indicate close races, Republicans are doing everything possible to make it difficult for nonwhite voters to cast ballots, drastically reducing the number of polling places and drop-off sites. In some places voters waited over five hours. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are rushing through confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Any Coney Barrett, who has refused to recuse herself if Trump contests the election results. She would not even concede that a President cannot delay an election. Republicans are claiming without evidence that Democrats are attacking Barrett’s Catholic faith and warning that Democrats intend to “pack the court” if they gain control of the Upper House.


Congress has voted to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the World War II jungle fighting unit known as Merrill’s Marauders, nicknamed for their commander, Brigadier General Frank Merrill.  In 1943 President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave permission for the army to assemble a ground force (officially the 5307th Composite Provisional Unit) charged with a secret mission involving long range penetration operations in enemy territory in Burma (now Myanmar) to cut off Japanese communications and supply lines.  The ultimate goal was to capture an enemy-held airfield in the town of Myitkyina.  Over a five-month period the Marauders journeyed about 800 miles on foot through heavy jungle and over rugged mountains, along the way fighting five major engagements and 30 minor ones, during which time their ranks were depleted from 3,000 to 200 men still able to fight.


This was part of a three-pronged Pacific strategy to defeat Japan.  In addition to the Admiral Chester Nimitz’s’s island-hopping efforts General Douglas MacArthur’s campaign to recapture the Philippines as a location from which to invade the Japanese home island, General Joseph Stilwell (above, with Gen. Merrill, left) advocated opening an air route over the Burma “hump” to supply Chiang Kai-shek’s Chinese forces for their eventual invasion of Japan. Unfortunately, the Chinese leader had less interest in fighting the Japanese than in eradicating Chinese communists.  

According to Russ Bynum of the Associated Press, Gilbert Howland (above), 97, one of the few marauders still alive recalled: “It was a hard job, but we did our best.”  Sleeping on the ground, down to one K-ration per man a day, soldiers were susceptible to malnutrition and various jungle diseases, including malaria and dysentery.  Corporal Howland, in charge of a machine gun unit, was wounded by artillery fire and evacuated to a hospital in India; but when Myitkyina airfield was in danger of being re-captured, he rejoined his outfit.  Bynum wrote: "The airfield was thick with mosquitoes, and Howland soon came down with malaria.  He remained at his post until he passed out with fever.  He was evacuated on a stretcher and flown back to India, then sent home to the United States."  Howland remained in the army for another 25 years, serving with combat units both in Korea and Vietnam. 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Among My Souvenirs

    “There’s nothing left for me

Of days that used to be

They’re just a memory

Among my Souvenirs”

    By Edgar Leslie and Horatio Nicholls

First recorded in 1927 and a number one hit for the Paul Whitman Orchestra the following year, “Among My Souvenirs” was covered in the 1940s by Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra. The song had special meaning for Saturday Evening Club (SEC) zoom meeting speaker Melvin Bohlmann (above).   It resonated with young Bohlmann returning to America after World War II. Now it can be seen as encapsulating memories of a long life.  A 1959 version, which I was familiar with, became a smash hit for Connie Francis, and a tear jerker for countless teens who’d gone through recent breakups. The final verse mentions that among the souvenirs was a broken heart.

Learning that the title of Bohlmann’s talk was “Mindful Dreaming,” I found books with that title by David Gordon (subtitled “Guide for Emotional Healing Through Transformative Mythic Journeys”) and Clare Johnson (“Harness the Power of Lucid Dreaming for Happiness, Health, and Positive Chance”). The latter promised advice on turning nightmares into healing devices, so I prepared to bring up common student and faculty nightmares (i.e., being unprepared for a test or lesson, showing up in the wrong or empty room). Bohlmann’s main subject, it turned out, was daydreaming, which Sigmund Freud, he said, labeled a form of wish fulfillment. Mel regarded daydreaming as a boredom-relieving exercise that he developed while recuperating at an army hospital in postwar Japan. One of Mel’s enduring childhood memories was watching daredevil pilots do the Lomcevak Maneuver, tumbling toward the ground rotating in a clockwise direction before at the last moment pulling out of free fall. Mel concluded with a moving recitation of “Wings” by World War I pilot and poet David Hay. It begins:

    Oh, to catch the winds of flight

 And soar where eagles go,

 To leave the woes of troubled souls

 Behind me far below.

 I’d listen to the song of birds

 And sail in endless flight,

 Then chase the sun through cloudy paths

 And play with stars at night.

I can imagine Mel daydreaming of pulling off the Lomcevak Maneuver. The final lines of Hay’s “Wings” go: “And when my wings could fly no more, I’d take the hand of God.”

Reacting to the presentation, Hugh McGuigan (on right), longtime coordinator of Valparaiso University’s overseas program, commented that he sometimes daydreams about winning the lottery and using the money to shore up support for international students and contribute to other worthy causes crippled by the pandemic. My fantasy daydream is winning the MacArthur Genius Award (for Steel Shavings) and owning a residence near IUN large enough for me and needy students that I’d eventually bequeath to be the Chancellor’s residence (none presently exists). Jim Albers brought up learning about the meaning of dreams from a VU Martin Luther King Day speaker. I interjected that I’ve been attending Martin Luther King Day at Valpo since IUN simply treats it as a holiday and once heard a moving talk to an overflow audience by Richard Morrisroe, who in 1965 was jailed for protesting segregation and then grievously wounded by a Lowndes County, Alabama, deputy sheriff upon his release. Imagine the nightmares that episode must have produced. Morrisroe almost died and walks with a limp to this day.

Richard Morrisroe then and now 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Mercy Mercy Me

   “Whoa mercy mercy me

  Oh things are not what they used to be, no, nn’

  Oil wated in the ocean and upon ourselves, fish full of mercury”

    “Mercy Mercy Me (the Ecology),” Marvin Gaye


Marvin Gaye (above) grew up in a Washington, DC, housing project and after a stint in the air force, had a string of hits with Motown Records.  On June 1, 1970, inspired by Earth Day, he recorded “What’s Going On,” but Motown mogul Berry Gordy refused to release it, claiming it was too political.  After Gordy finally bowed to Gaye’s ultimatum a year later, the song and album reached number one and yielded the hits “Mercy Mercy Me” and “Inner City Blues.”  Known as the “Prince of Soul,” Gaye continued to have success, including the 1982 smash hit “Sexual Healing.” In 1984, on the eve of his forty-fifth birthday, his father shot him dead after a physical altercation in his parents’ home.


Earth day 1970 was a response to several recent environmental disasters, including the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland catching fire and a huge oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California.  While Earth Day had broad popular support, a few antiwar activists were skeptical, believing it was an establishment effort to distract from protests over the Vietnam War.  Nevertheless, inspired by Rachel Carson’s 1962 bestseller “Silent Spring” and the civil rights movement, an estimated 20 million people took part in demonstrations across the country. The movement led to bipartisan legislation regarding air and water quality as well as the banning of certain insecticides and the protection of endangered species.  Earth Day has continued annually, and Trump’s efforts to roll back health and safety standards, combined with fires and flooding attributed to global warming, has brought increased attention to the impending dangers to planet Earth.


High school friend Gaard Murphy Logan turned me on to Jane Fonda’s “What Can I Do? My Path from Climate Despair to Action.” Fonda offered to hold zoom meetings with small groups to discuss her new publication, and Gaard’s book club has scheduled one for later this month. Dedicated to “the next generation of climate activists,” Fonda wrote that when young she believed activism was a sprint; in middle age she learned it was a marathon; and at 82 she realizes that it is a relay race.  Well put.


Sixty years ago, a week at Big Sur Hot Springs with Human Potential Movement activists who later founded Esalen Institute transformed Fonda’s life and gave it meaning being a successful actress.  After a decade in the antiwar movement she became devoted to environmentalism. In recent years she was feeling impotent in the face of public apathy despite overwhelming warning signs until she read Naomi Klein’s “On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal.” Klein profiled 16-year-old Swede Greta Thuunberg, who launched a Friday for Future movement involving student strikes on behalf of climate change.  Because Thunberg was autistic, upon learning the stark facts about the destruction of the planet’s ecological balance, she was unable to compartmentalize or cope with the public’s seeming indifference and her first reaction was to stop eating or speaking. In time she single-mindedly devoted her life to the cause. 

Inspired by Thunberg, Fonda decided to move to Washington, DC, and, in conjunction with Greenpeace, organize Fire Drill Friday activities for several months in the nation’s capital.  The events included teach-ins and rallies, sometimes culminating in arrests of prominent celebrities, such as Ted Danson and Sally Field, for trespassing on government property.  During a Greenpeace planning meeting Fonda met young Vietnamese artist Vy Vu and asked where she was originally from.  “Hanoi,” Vy Vu replied.  When Fonda said she’d been there several times, Vy Vu asked the reason why.  Fonda wrote:

    I loved it.  There was no reason Vy should know all I had done to oppose the Vietnam War, decades before she was born, or for her to know that because of my trip in 1972, in some political circles they still refer to me as Hanoi Jane.

Fonda’s unforgivable sin in the eyes of many was to pose for a propaganda photo on an anti-aircraft vehicle, for which she has since continually apologized.  A false rumor spread that Fonda had even fired at American pilots dropping bombs on Hanoi.  Some folks continue to refuse to watch her movies, and at Cressmoor Lanes in Hobart urinals contain “Hanoi Jane Urinal Targets” for bowlers to piss on.


“What Can I Do?” features a dozen essays by experts of all political stripes, including “The Plight of Sea Turtles” by Whitney Crowder (on left), sea turtle rehabilitation coordinator at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton, Florida. I learned that young sea turtles are starving to death due to their stomachs being clogged by plastic. Some turtles become entangled in discarded fishing nets; others develop tumors on their flippers and eyes, blinding them and rendering them unable to swim. Crowder declared: “Sea turtles are an indication of the health of our oceans. Without healthy oceans, life on earth cannot exist.”

Thursday, October 8, 2020


“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story in you,” Maya Angelou, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”


“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” became an instant classic when published in 1969. Raised by paternal grandmother Annie Henderson in Stamps, Arkansas after her parents divorced when she was just three, Maya Angelou grew up insecure about her self-worth and believing she was ugly. Sexually abused as a young girl, Maya began to gain self-confidence after an educated woman introduced her to books of poetry.  At age 13 her mother took her to California, and at one point the troubled home life resulted in her running away and living in a junkyard with other homeless waifs.  During World War II 15-year-old Maya found work as a streetcar conductor, and she managed to graduate from high school despite being eight months pregnant, a fact she hid from authorities. Angelou wrote: The black female is assaulted by all those common forces of nature at the same time she is caught in the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogic hate and Black lack of power.”  Nonetheless, she came of age with her spirit unbroken.


Despite their shortcomings, I have long recognized that memoirs are vital primary sources of particular use to social historians.  In Steel Shavings magazine I’ve published the memoirs of African-American Darnell Lee, Mexican-American Louis Vasquez, and Oldies music promoter Henry Farag, plus edited published memoirs of matriarch Maria Arredondo and former Lake County sheriff Roy Dominguez.  My forthcoming Shavings issue will include reminiscences of Calumet Region residents Anne Koehler and Eleanor Bailey, one a German immigrant and the other a descendent of a pioneer family.


Politicians and celebrities often publish memoirs as a chance to cash in on their fame and with a view toward posterity; it is refreshing when authors are truly candid about insecurities they’ve grappled with.  In “Dreams of My Father” Barack Obama discussed undergoing a racial identity crisis; in “Bossy Pants” comedienne Tina Fey believed herself to be impossible nerdish and remained a virgin until age 24. Favorite memoirs include Tobias Wolff’s “This Boy’s Life,” about growing up in a dysfunctional family with an abusive stepfather; Tara Westover’s “Educated,” about breaking away from Mormon survivalists who forbade her to attend school or go to a doctor; and Bakari Sellers’ “Our Vanishing Country,” about a young Black South Carolinian (son of SNCC activist Cleveland Sellers) dealing with panic attacks despite outward success. On my to-do reading list is the just released “Let Love Rule” by rock star Lennie Kravitz, reared in New York City by a Russian Jew and Bahamian mother, actress Roxie Roker, who on “The Jeffersons” sitcom was married to a white actor.  Once, when Roxie and her real-life husband went to check into a hotel, the desk clerk said, “No prostitutes allowed.” For a decade Kravitz tried to emulate the image of others, even calling himself Romeo Blue, but he finally found success when he began being himself.


Roxie Roker and Lenny Kravitz

I have frequently written about my life in the pages of Steel Shavings but remained mostly reticent about past insecurities.  I reached puberty late and remained quite short until experiencing a growth spurt in college accompanied by a bad complexion. Public speaking was initially difficult, and as a first-year teacher, I was quite nervous prior to each class. I’d often have nightmares of arriving to class and finding the room empty or totally forgetting what I had prepared to say.  Throughout my career a residue of that nervous energy remained and motivated me to be extra-prepared.  Where I once was uncomfortable at social events among mostly strangers, now I look forward to them and am good at intermingling. Where once my insecurities had to do with coming of age, now in my late-70s they have to do with incipient old age, especially in this plague year.


In the October 8 issue of New York Review Dayna Tortorici wrote about radical feminist Vivian Gornick’s memoir “Unfinished Business.”  A Red Diaper baby born in 1935, Vivian described her father as a kind soul “who stood upright on the floor of a dress factory on New York City’s West 35th Street with a steam iron in his hand” who died suddenly of a heart seizure when she was 13, an experience from which her mother never recovered (“her depression leaked into the air like a steady escape of gas when the pilot light is extinguished”).  Though a brilliant student with an imaginative mind, Gornick suffered writer’s block for almost 20 years until liberated by feminism. In the late 1960s she set out to “squeeze the slave out of herself,” to achieve a revolution in consciousness.  Dayna Tortoci wrote:

    Women had lived a half-life so that men “might gain the courage to pursue a whole one.” To set the record straight – to describe the world as it really was – required seeing everything anew.  Gornick stood at the threshold of this enterprise and felt she had arrived – “as though light and music were bursting across the top of my skull . . . Life felt good then.” 

Great Chicago Fire

“Voices screamed out. “Fire! Fire! Fire!” Alarm bells clanged. Firefighters readied their horses and raced their pumpers through the streets. But it was too late. The flames blasted a shower of fiery sparks into the windy sky. Like a swarm of flaming wasps, they flew through the air, starting fires wherever they landed. Shops and homes erupted in flames. Warehouses exploded. Mansions burned.” Lauren Tarshis, “I Survived the Great Chicago Fire”

In Chicago 149 years ago, according to legend, Mrs. O’Leary’s cow knocked over a lantern and started a conflagration that burned down a third of the city, destroyed over 17,000 buildings, killed over 300 people, and left a hundred thousand residents homeless. The cow story was a fabrication invented by a newspaper; the proximate cause remains unknown although some have blamed gamblers playing cards in the barn, others speculate someone started it on purpose as a diversion from a crime he was committing. Adverse weather conditions – a severe draught, heat wave, and high winds – were a key factor as well as the wooden structures and primitive fire prevention measures in place. Fires also destroyed numerous villages in Wisconsin and the town of Peshtigo, killing thousands; and similar tragedies occurred in several area of Michigan.

Chicago’s elite feared the influx of Irish working-class immigrants, so it was not surprising that Mrs. O’Leary, a hardworking, law-abiding woman, was scapegoated. As Jim Murphy wrote in “The Great Fire,” “Simply calling the Great Fire an accident did not satisfy some people, most notably the local newspapers. They demanded a culprit.” The press also spread exaggerated rumors of looting and other mayhem. Self-appointed vigilantes carried out summary executions of suspected thieves. At Mayor Moswell B. Mason’s request, martial law was declared, and federal troops under the command of former Union General Philip Sheridan patrolled the streets, meting out harsh penalties.


Not unlike the present, when rightwing conspiracy dupes are blaming the West Coast wildfires that have caused unprecedented damages on Antifa radicals, so in Chicago some believed that anarchists or communists were responsible for the catastrophe. While Trump has not yet embraced a conspiracy theory, he cavalierly has blamed poor forest management even though most acres burned are under federal, not state control.


In 1996, the 125th anniversary of the traumatic event, the Chicago Historical Society produced an interactive website titled “The Great Fire and the Web of Memory” that included a wealth of memoirs from descendants of Chicagoans whose lives were affected by the conflagration. Because of the “Windy City’s” importance as a transportation hub, Chicago recovered and grew rapidly to an industrial behemoth whose population grew by six-fold within 30 years.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Sports Overload

 “The only way to prove that you’re a good sport is to lose.” “Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks

Despite high hopes for both the Cubs and the White Sox, both Chicago teams exited early in the MLB playoffs. The Cubs faced off against the Miami Marlins in Wrigley Field, resurrecting bad vibrations from 2003 when the home team, up 3 games to 2 with a lead in the eighth inning and their ace, Mark Prior, on the mound, seemed headed for their first World Series appearance since 1945. Then Marlin hitter Luis Castillo stroked a foul ball to left that Moises Alou seemed to have a bead on until a fan, Steve Bartman, appeared to snatch the ball before Alou could snag it (see below). Then the roof caved in: the Cubbies botched a surefire double-play and eight runs scored. This year, losing 2-0 and facing elimination, over the past three innings, except for Jason Heyward and Wilson Contreras (above), Cub batters fanned or flied out swinging for the fences even though the wind was blowing in. The so-called core – Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Javier Baez – were a combined 0 for 12 in the game and 1 for 24 in the series. Marlins players were wearing shirts reading “Bottom Feeders” - what a Philadelphia sportswriter had labeled them at the beginning of the season after they lost 105 games in 2019. The Phillies did not even make the playoffs, despite the expended format.

The White Sox won the initial game of their abbreviated series with Oakland before dropping the next two. Manager Rick Renteria, known for boneheaded moves during games, decided to pull starting hurler Dale Dunning after just 15 pitches, and in a crucial spot with the bases loaded, the clueless skipper brought in a reliever with virtually no major league experience who promptly walked in the tying and winning runs. Renteria will surely be gone next year (there is a groundswell to bring back 2005 Championship skipper Ozzie Guillen), as will be several Cubs who have regressed since the 2016 World Championship season.


I told old friend Paul Turk, whose favorite teams are Cleveland and Washington (the defending champs, who did not even make the playoffs) that I’ll probably root for the Padres because my favorite nephew lives there, but I still recall with bitterness 1984 when the Cubs won the first two but the commissioner forced them to play crucial game 5 in S.D. because Wrigley Field had no lights – never mind, some playoff games took place during the day.  Some say Cubs brass capitulated as an excuse to get lights approved.


This past week one could literally watch sports all day and night, from the baseball playoffs and NBA and Stanley Cup finals to college and professional football. Even golf and tennis majors are taking place, having been postponed due to public health concerns.  Premier League soccer has also gained fans. Several NCAA conferences had called off football only to fold under pressure from the President (now hospitalized with Covid symptoms) and lured by TV money into reversing policy. This week’s showdown between the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers and the 3-0 Tennessee Titans has been postponed due to the pandemic. One suspects this might be the tip of the iceberg. While the Philadelphia Eagles are 0-2-1, their Superbowl MVP from two years ago, Nick “Big Dick” Foles came in late in the third quarter of last week’s contest and led the Bears to an improbable victory in Atlanta. Down 16 points, Foles threw two apparent touchdowns only to have the calls on the field reversed, then threw three more that counted.


Week four was a disaster for the Bears, but I stayed up for an Eagles victory (barely, despite facing a backup QB) over S.D. to go 1-2-1 and capture first place over the 1-3 Cowboys and Potato Skins (as I’ve been calling them for several years).  Because nearly all Philadelphia receivers were injured I expected my Fantasy Football tight end Zach Ertz to have a big game, but the Niners double-teamed him virtually the entire night. With two NFL games postponed because of players having tested positive, old friend Marianne Tambourino philosophized, "Sports is like life, one day at a time."

holding trophy above, co-captains Juan Gomez and Carlos Mendez

At the local level, after some initial caution and several cancellations due to students testing positive for Covid-19, fall sports have proceeded, albeit with few spectators. East Chicago Central’s boys tennis team, coached by son Dave, won its first Sectional within memory, going 11-0. Next week they’ll travel to Munster in the Regional and face the fourth-ranked team in the state. Without a feeder system, most Central players didn’t even play tennis until high school. During his 20+ years of coaching, Dave has had some excellent girls teams in the spring but this is his most successful fall squad. In August the financially struggling school told coaches they wouldn’t get paid if the season got cancelled, but Dave held practices anyway, and it paid off. I’m proud of him; even in less successful seasons he’s taught teenagers to enjoy a sport that many will continue to play for years to come.

Ron Cohen loaned me “Counting Coup: A True Story of Basketball and Honor on the Little Big Horn” by Larry Colson, whom my old colleague knows from both attending Cal Berkeley. The focus is on a Crow Indian women’s basketball team and its star player Sharon LaForge. Colson opens with this quotation by Sports Illustrated writer Gary Smith: “Somehow, in the mindless way that rivers sculpt valleys and shame shapes history, the Montana Indians’ purist howl against a hundred years of repression and pain had become high school basketball.” The book looks promising.” Colson concluded: “Basketball to Indians is a war fought for spiritual rather than material terrain, including scholarships.  According to Ron, Colson was persona non grata at the Crow reservation after the book came out because of his portrayal of rampant alcoholism and other negative tribal stereotypes.