Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Sapiens

“This is the best reason to learn history: not in order to predict the future, but to free yourself of the past and imagine alternative destinies.”  Yuval Noah Harari

artist illustrations of Home Erectus and Neanderthal

Sapiens, from the Latin, literally means rational or wise and refers to modern humans developing imaginaation as distinguished from extinct predecessors such as Home erectus, arising about 1,8 million years ago in east Africa and subsequently spreading into Europe and Asia, in time developing simple tools and harnessing fire. Early Homo sapiens included Neanderthals, who developed between 150,000 and 300,000 years ago and had a greater brain capacity, allowing for imagination, and developed means of communicating by language.  Neanderthals disappeared around 30,000 years ago, and around 10,000 years ago modern man began a transition from hunting and gathering to settling down and growing crop, necessitating a modicum of largescale cooperation.


Sheila Brown and Jackie Stone
Wearing a VIP pass, I arrived at the Gary International Film Festival, was greeted warmly by community activist Walter Jones, and enjoyed a women’s panel discussion for those desiring to make a career in media.  Participants included celebrity stylist Latricia Edwards, producer/directors Christine Swanson and Jackie Stone, and Sheila Brown, former production manager for Sports Channel Chicago and founder of Cinespace Foundation.  Two panelists, inspired by Spike Lee, attended NYU.  The others advanced as a result of, as Sheila Brown put it, “Polite persistence,” getting a foot in the door, making contacts, and then seizing opportunities.  Next, I went to Bergland Auditorium for the Sin City Deciples documentary.  At some point there was a stir, and close to 200 bikers arrived wearing their colors, about equally divided between members and Angels and probably as many whites as blacks.  They quickly filled the auditorium to capacity, with more outside.  In the front row was Sonny McGhee, just 17 when he founded the club in Gary in 1967.  When some audience members were talking during Karen Toering’s introduction, MCGhee stood up, told the audience to show some respect, and suddenly you could hear a pin drop.  He thanked a group of Hell’s Angels for attending and credited that group for inspiring him to form the Deciples. The documentary made clear that members took care of business when necessary (“Death before Dishonor” being their motto), especially when harassed by racist clubs at biker roundups.  McGhee stressed the “blood in blood out” loyalty bonds.  The experience was quite educational and, I’ll admit it, exciting.

Saturday Evening Club (SEC) host Abe Ibrahim prepared a tasty Middle Eastern dinner and spoke on the topic “Amazing Homo Sapiens,” what Jim Albers called prehistory, based largely on Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.”  At one point, I learned, the world population was reduced to around 1,200; two thousand years ago the number was approximately 2 million compared to billions at present.  My contribution was to emphasize how new development in DNA research and other fields, including physics, anthropology, medicine, communication, archeology, and history have drastically change the prevailing wisdom of reality. I chatted at length with old friend Larry Galler and Scott Brown, who owned Phil-B’s, where the SEC once met regularly.  Now the club has become more nomadic, this time meeting at Nina Clare’s on calumet Avenue in Valpo.  Scott recently sold Phil-B’s to a Mexican family who previously worked for him, and, sad to say, some customers ceased patronizing the restaurant and chastised him for selling to Mexicans.  He recommended the Justice John Paul Stevens book, “The Making of a Justice: Reflections on My First 94 Years,” published posthumously.

Back from Egypt, Dick and Cheryl Hagelberg took us to Memorial Opera House for a presentation of Agatha Christie’s murder mystery “The Mousetrap.”  Toni reminded me that we had seen it 30 years ago in London, but I had forgotten whodunnit.  The acting was excellent although I had trouble understanding what the characters were saying, due in part to the British accents. Afterwards at Pesto’s for dinner Dick and Cheryl showed us photos of pyramids and other Egyptian wonders dating back thousands of years.

I remain undefeated thanks in large part to Patriot Tom Brady’s two rushing TDs, an oddity. Next week Carolina is on a bye, so I’ll be without running back Christian McCaffery.  He was held to under a hundred total yards but also scored twice, enabling me to beat grandson Anthony’s team, The Powerhouse, by exactly 14 points.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Authenticity

“Soul is about authenticity.  Soul is about finding the things in your life that are real and pure,” John Legend
Migos
In “Johnny Cash Never Shot a Man in Reno. Or, The Migos: Nice Kids from the Suburbs” (2016) essayist Hanif Abdurriqib addresses his barber’s criticism that Migos are not authentic rappers because Offset, Takeoff, and Quavo grew up in the suburb of Lawrenceville, Georgia, north of Atlanta. Proverbial sword drawn, the hair stylist sneered that they’re “rapping about all this trap shit and they ain’t never even been to the trap.”  Trap houses are successors to crack houses and refer to places where kickback parties take place young participants go to get high, perhaps have sex, and play video and bondage games.  Abdurraqib wrote:
  Culture is the album that is set to be the group’s coronation.  The first single, “Bad and Boujee,” is the country’s number one song.  It’s being sung in trap houses and minivans.  They have entered the realm of many rap acts who have had number one songs in recent months: fascination in the suburbs.  And in the hood, a gentle resentment.
The previous year, after a Migos concert at Georgia Southern University, Offset was arrested for possession of narcotics and a loaded gun and incarcerated for eight months due to a previous criminal record. Abdurraqib wrote:
The members of Migos are what they are and what they’ve always been. Like Johnny Cash in the mid-1960s, they spent time getting too close to the fire.  It is hard to build a myth so large without eventually becoming part of it. I’m less interested in what happens in the hood you’re from and I’m more interested in how you can honor that place, especially for people who might not know that history.  Migos, more than anything, are still North Atlanta’s party starters; now it’s the rest of the world that is catching on.
  Back on stage in New York, Offset yells to the crowd.  Something about how good it is to make it out of where they are from alive. The word “from” hangs in the air.  The lights fade to black.
Regarding the question of whether Migos’ music is authentic, Abdurraqib concluded: “I do not know what it is that makes a person real, but I imagine it is the way they can convince you of the things they have not done.”

Being from the Philadelphia suburb of Fort Washington, I’ve never felt the need to apologize for my  WASP (white Anglo-Saxon Protestant) legacy or background. Nor, I believe, does it make me less authentic when I have long embraced black music, not rap necessarily but rhythm ‘n’ blues and soul, from Ray Charles to John Legend.  If part of growing up is rebelling from one’s roots, I’m thankful for the security my parents provided.  Besides, guilt, liberal or otherwise, is a wasted emotion and a poor substitute for helping the less fortunate.  That said, it’s frustrating being powerless to prevent our White House mad hatter from carrying out unconscionable actions.  His latest, dwarfing all others: giving Turkish leader Recap Erdogan the green light to wage war against the Kurds, America’s staunchest ally against ISIS.  He has put to rest the veneer of American exceptionalism and exposed the worst features of the axiom that power corrupts.
 Kurds fleeing bombing by Turks

In the Northwest Indiana suburbs of Chesterton and Valparaiso, I enjoyed two successful bridge games partnering with 76-year-old Joel Charpentier, who still referees high school soccer matches and volunteers at a food pantry.  I had trouble pronouncing his name until learning that it was French and the correct pronunciation was in four syllables with the accent on the second, like French actor and cabaret singer Maurice Chevalier. I continued my innocent flirtation with 89-year-old Dottie Hart, massaging her shoulders during a break.  “Can I take you home with me?” she joked. “Only if your daughter is not home,” I replied.  With the treats I found a napkin inscribed, “Make your rap about the day.” I’m totally without imagination and couldn’t even contribute a simple line to Corey Hagelberg’s group poem about Gary.  At Strack and Van Til the check-out out lady, Dominique, asked if anyone had told me I resembled novelist Stephen King.  Actually, the answer is yes. It must be the hair.  I almost replied that people used to say I looked like Rick Nelson and now it’s Bob Barker. I envy Stephen King’s fertile mind.  I couldn’t begin to write fiction.

above, Stephen King; below
Harris and Parton
The next-to-last Country Music episode profiled Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton.  Harris quit college to pursue a music career in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Performing folk songs in coffeehouses and small clubs, she met Gram Parsons, a Floridian who came to love country music while at Harvard.  Emmylou’s Grammy-winning “Roots” album “Blue Kentucky Girl” (1979) contains standards by the Louvin Brothers (“Everytime You Leave”) and Willie Nelson (“Sister’s Coming Home”).  Parton, born in a one-room cabin in East Tennessee, joined Porter Wagoner’s TV show at age 20 and had a huge hit with “Jolene,” about a woman who begs another not to steal her man (“Please don’t take him just because you can”).  Dolly claimed she modeled her image after a hot-looking town prostitute (Jolene?) whose style she admired. She dismissed “dumb blond” jokes by countering that she’s neither dumb nor blond.  She moved on to pop and acting success, co-starring with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in “9 to 5” (1980), but never forsook her image as a country girl at heart.  Parton’s astute business sense led to a line of Dolly dolls and the water park Dollyland.
 NWI Times photo of Hatcher below by Lauren Cross

At the unveiling of a bronze statue near City Hall of five-term mayor (1968-1987) Richard Gordon Hatcher Gary Crusader publisher Dorothy R. Leavell eulogized: “When nobody will disturb the norm, a disruptor who knows what it ought to be will come in and speak truth to power.  It’s is the greatest compliment I can give you.”  Carolyn McCrady thanked Hatcher for caring about the less fortunate: “When NIPSCO was throwing people out of their homes in the middle of winter because they couldn’t pay their bills, Hatcher used the power of his office to let people know that NIPSCO was wrong, and the people were right.”  I don’t have many political heroes, but Hatcher is the most authentic officeholder I’ve ever met.  He remained true to his ideals and endured 25 years in the arena unbossed, unbought, and with head unbowed.
 IUN Police force; Roy Dominguez top, second from left; below him are Brady Ratcliff and (seated) Chief Lazar

Lake County sheriff Roy Dominguez was another authentic public servant who I came to know well when collaborating on his autobiography “Valor.”  He recently posted a photo of the IUN police force in 1975, (he was a cadet), asking how many I recognized.  Right away, Chief Andy Lazar and African-American officer Brady Ratcliff stood out in civilian clothes. Former campus cop Don Young recalled: 
  Chief Andy Lazar never yelled or screamed and talked to me like I was his son.  He made you realize that mistakes happened but that one should learn from them.  Brady Ratcliff had spent 20 years in the military, never wore a uniform, and made it a point to socialize with students. He was a great mechanic and a stickler for being on time. If I came in a minute or two late, he’d say, “You see that clock? You’re late.  Don’t let it happen again.”
Roy remarked: "Andy and Brady always elected to wear the blazer. Andy retired from Gary PD, and I guess he had his fill of the regular police uniform. He always preferred the softer approach to his job and life. He was a wonderful mentor and taught us all that public service included politeness and patience until it was to no avail. Of course, Andy was a pretty big man and no one in their right mind wanted to test his patience.  We would say Andy should have been a priest and his equally, beloved brother, Father Lazar should have been the cop in their family."  
A judge sentenced Sherquell Magee (above) to 40 years for shooting an 11-year-old bystander while defending himself after being jumped by several kids from a rival East Chicago neighborhood.  Magee had pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter.  The judge chastised Magee for showing no remorse, but the defendant’s attorney claimed he advises clients not to apologize during the trial.
Karen Toering, founder and director of the ninth annual Gary International Black Film Festival, greeted me with a VIP pass since I donated 20 copies of the latest Steel Shavings.  Friday highlights included “Bakoso: Afro Beats of Cuba” and the feature film “Truth” written and directed by Gary Roosevelt grad Charles Murray, about a man whose cousin took her own life after an affair with the church pastor. Tomorrow I plan to wear my black “Straight Outta Gary” t-shirt while viewing a documentary about the Sin City Disciples, a biker club founded in Gary in 1967, the year Hatcher was first elected mayor.  Karen told me that a hundred Sin City Disciples have purchased tickets and that the filmmaker will be in attendance. I’ll be happy to give the t-shirt to any biker who considers my wearing it inauthentic and wants it in exchange for one of theirs (fat chance) – or, more realistically, a selfie. The inspiration was the N.W.A. CD and biopic “Straight Outta Compton.”
In 1991 N.W.A.’s Eazy-E received an invitation from President George Bush to a White House lunch fundraiser.  Paying $4,000, he showed up in a suit and L.A. Kings cap.  Fifteen years later, Hanif Abdurraqib wrote: 
  I watched as a child who only knew that Eazy-E was a part of a rap group that scared people. But there he was, in the White House, with businessmen, senators, and a president who would likely prefer his music to be banned. It was at the time a rare access granted to any rapper, but especially one who was seen as too intense for some of rap’s younger, more eager fans.  Not everyone was impressed.  For some it was an item of shame and ridicule.  In the diss track “No Vaseline,” Ice Cube opens the final verse, repeating the same line, a thinly veiled shot: “I’d never have dinner with the President.”
  Above my desk now, a picture of Barack Obama, surrounded.  Rappers on every side of him, dressed however they chose to dress. Rappers with their honest sings about the people who live and die in places often used as political talking points, standing proud in front of their proud president.  All those smiling black people in the Oval Office.  Miles away from a past where none of them, I imaging, ever thought they’d get to make it this far. The door that Barack Obama pushed open for rappers to be seen and comfortable in his White House presented a new type of power dynamic.  What strikes me is that it may never be like this again.
The latest Traces magazine contains an article titled “The Weird and Wondrous Fiction of C.L. Moore.” Indianapolis native Catherine Moore (1911-1987) had an amazingly fertile imagination.  Most famous for stories published in the fantasy horror magazine Weird Tales, she also delved into science fiction and wrote TV scripts for the Warner Brothers series Maverick and 77 Sunset Strip.

Jim Spicer’s joke of the week:
    A new pastor was visiting in the homes of his parishioners. At one house it seemed obvious that someone was at home, but no answer came to his repeated knocks at the door. Therefore, he took out a business card and wrote “Revelation 3:20” on the back of it and stuck it in the door.
    When the offering was processed at the next worship service, he found that his card had been returned. Added to it was this cryptic message, “Genesis 3:10” Reaching for his Bible to check out the citation, he broke up in gales of laughter. Revelation 3:20 begins “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” Genesis 3:10 reads, “I heard your voice in the garden and I was afraid for I was naked.”

Monday, October 7, 2019

Diamond in the Rough

“Gary remains a diamond in the rough.  Some will say ‘very rough.’  That may be, but the best response is to keep polishing that diamond until it sparkles.” Calvin Bellamy
Civic leader Cal Bellamy wrote the NWI Times to take issue with its publicizing an obscure Business Insiderwebsite article written by two people who’ve never set foot in Gary labeling Gary America’s “most miserable” city – more mischief, in all likelihood, from editor Marc Chase, who has turned his dislike of Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson into a vendetta.  Bellamy cited Gary’s advantages of location and infrastructure and impressive recent developments, including Miller’s South Shore expansion and double-track project and IUN’s new Arts and Sciences Building.  He concluded: “Many fine people make their homes there.  Several neighborhoods show impressive vitality.”  Accompanying the column was a photo by John J. Watkins of Ryne Wellman kite surfing at Marquette Park.

Times correspondent Joseph Pete, who addressed me as sir when he phoned for background information about the 1919 steel strike, wrote an impressive feature article about the important and traumatic event in Gary’s past, which split the city along class and racial lines. On my advice Pete consulted “Black Freedom Fighters for Steel” author Ruth Needleman,  who asserted that during the work stoppage almost all of the 3,000 black workers hired during the war refused to break ranks with their comrades, mostly unskilled foreign-born laborers. “US Steel Board Chairman Elbert Gary’s strategy to divide the workforce along racial lines,” Needleman concluded,  “did not work.  Strong inter-racial solidarity built intentionally to avoid the conflicts developing elsewhere [in Eastern mills] prevented trouble.”
 union march down Broadway

Pete obtained four photos from Steve McShane to go with the piece, but the paper neglected to cite the Calumet Regional Archives as the source and instead simply wrote “Provided.”  After 4,000 army troops rounded up and jailed strike leaders branded as “Reds” and forbade public assemblies, skilled workers gradually broke with the rank-and-file, crippling the effort for an 8-hour-day and decent wages and working conditions.  Pete quoted extensively from “The Autobiography of Mother Jones,” written by a participant in the struggle.  She described World War I veterans marching in solidarity with the workers:
  Some 200 soldiers who had come back from Europe where they had fought to make America safe from tyrants, marched.  They were steelworkers.  They had on their faded uniforms and the steel hats which protected them from German bombs.  In the line of march, I saw young fellows with arms gone, with crutches, with deep scars across the face – heroes they were!  Workers in the cheap cotton clothes of the working class fell in behind them.  Silently the thousands walked through the streets and alleys of Gary.  Saying no word.  With no martial music such as sent the boys into the fight with the Kaiser across the water.  Marching in silence.  Disbanding in silence.
  The I saw another parade.  Into Gary marched U.S. soldiers under General Leonard Wood.  They brought their bayonets, their long-range guns, trucks with mounted machine guns, field artillery.  Then came violence.  The soldiers broke up the picket line.  Worse than that, they broke the ideal in the hearts of thousands of foreigners, their ideal of America.  Into the blast furnace along with steel went their dreams that America was a government for the people – the poor, the oppressed.
I interviewed Patrick O’Rourke about his 50—year union career representing teachers in Hammond and at the state and national level.  A born storyteller, O’Rourke had interesting anecdotes about such personages as American Federation of Teachers president Albert Shanker, Bechtel Corporation CEO Riley P. Bechtel, and conservative Indiana governor Mitch Daniel. Appointed to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards on Shanker’s recommendation, O’Rourke solicited a significant contribution from Bechtel, the nation’s largest construction and engineering company, and so impressed its executives that they offered him a position in public relations that would have made him a millionaire.  He turned it down since as a lifelong Democrat he foresaw irreconcilable conflicts between his philosophy and theirs.  Appointed to the Indiana Governors Education Roundtable by Democrat Joe E. Kernan, O’Rourke expected to be replaced when Mitch Daniels succeeded him but so impressed the governor-elect with his candor and wit that he was re-appointed.  “Daniels and I disagreed on almost all aspects of public education,” he recalled, but added that they respected one another’s intelligence and integrity. At O’Rourke’s recent retirement celebration, Daniels, now Purdue’s president, honored him, as did Cal Bellamy, Mayor Tom McDermott, AFT president Randi Weingarten, and State Representative Vernon Smith, a close friend.

Several  “Country Music” episodes document the long, remarkable career of “diamond in the rough” Johnny Cash, known as the “Man in Black” whose deep baritone voice embraced rockabilly, blues, gospel, and folk music.  His signature song ”Folsom Prison Blues” inspired Merle Haggard, a prisoner at San Quentin when he witnessed Cash perform it, to change the direction of his life.  Embracing an outlaw image, Cash once explained that his decision to wear black was for the poor and the beaten down, living in the hopeless, hungry side of town, I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime, but is there because he's a victim of the times.”  Banned from performing at the Grand Old Opry when dependent of pills and booze, Cash cleaned up his life and went on to host a network TV show featuring such controversial guests as Bob Dylan (they performed “Girl from North Country” together) and Pete Seeger (despite threats of censorship).  Seeger sang the antiwar ballad “Osceola’s Last Words” by Floridian Will Mclean, about a Seminole chief imprisoned in a dungeon who declares: “I shall not live among such evil men, who mock the sign of truce, this flag of white.”   Invited by Nixon to perform at the White House in March 1970, Cash refused a Presidential request to sing “Welfare Cadillac” or “Okie from Muskogee” and ended the show with “What Is Truth.”  Here are the final verses:
A little boy of three sittin’ on the floor
Looks up and says, “Daddy, what is war?”
“son, that's when people fight and die”
The little boy of three says “Daddy, why?”
A young man of seventeen in Sunday school
Being taught the golden rule
And by the time another year has gone around
It may be his turn to lay his life down
Can you blame the voice of youth for asking
“What is truth?”

A young man sittin’ on the witness stand
The man with the book says “Raise your hand”
“Repeat after me, I solemnly swear”
The man looked down at his long hair
And although the young man solemnly swore
Nobody seems to hear anymore
And it didn't really matter if the truth was there
It was the cut of his clothes and the length of his hair
And the lonely voice of youth cries
“What is truth?”

The young girl dancing to the latest beat
Has found new ways to move her feet
The young man speaking in the city square
Is trying to tell somebody that he cares
Yeah, the ones that you're calling wild
Are going to be the leaders in a little while
This old world's wakin’ to a new born day
And I solemnly swear that it'll be their way
You better help the voice of youth find
"What is truth?"
At the song’s conclusion, Cash said: We pray, Mr. President, that you can end this war in Vietnam sooner than you hope or think it can be done, and we hope and pray that our boys will be back home and there will soon be peace in our mountains and valleys.”
The earliest literary reference to “diamond in the rough” is in John Fletcher’s “A Wife for a Month” (1624): “She is very honest and will be as hard to cut as a rough diamond.”  The expression came to mean a good-hearted person of exceptional character somewhat rough around the edges and lacking in refinement. Literally, before diamonds are polished, they lack glitter and sparkle.  In Disney movie Aladdin Jafar addresses the title character in the song “Diamond in the Rough” by declaring that beneath the dirt and patches and under the filth and the fleas, “you’re a diamond in the rough”:
And though you might need finesse,
and perhaps some sniffs disinfecting
You'll be the one who succeeds 
when the lamp of their needs collecting
I met Ron Cohen at an IUN gallery reception for Willie Baronet’s exhibit “This Is Awkward For Me Too,” featuring signs used by homeless victims begging for money, work, or food.  Ron gave me the September 2019 issue of Journal of American History, whose cover features a rally for whistleblower Philip Agee, a former CIA caseworker whose memoir “Inside the Company” (1975) exposed U.S. support for authoritarian Latin American leaders that led to grievous atrocities.  The British government subsequently expelled Agee despite protests from students and Labor Party MPs.  At the gallery I ran into bridge buddy Barb Mort with husband Ascher Yates and Marianita Porterfield, coming from an aquatic exercise class.  Marianita recalled her son J.J. and Phil being in the same class at Marquette School taught by Willa Simmons.
In Fantasy Football I am undefeated since a week one tie with Pittsburgh Dave and in first place a half-game ahead of Phil, whose record is 4-1.  The primary reason is that Carolina running back Christian McCaffrey (above) is having an MVP season.  Last week against Jacksonville he gained 237 yards rushing and receiving and scored 3 TDs. Meanwhile, the overall number one pick, Saquon Barkley has been out since week 3 with a high ankle sprain. Injuries are a crucial factor, so knock on wood that my guys stay healthy.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Cut to the Chase

“The explanation requiring the fewest assumptions is most likely to be correct.” William of Ockham
William of Ockam
I first learned about medieval philosopher William of Ockham (1287-1347) reading Richard Russo’s “Straight Man,” whose antihero has a dog named Occam, named after Occam’s Razor, the principle that the simplest explanation is usually the most valid. The Franciscan friar disagreed with Thomas Aquinas that faith and reason can be reconciled.  According to Phrases.org, “cut to the chase,” which has become synonymous with “get to the point,” originated in Hollywood and referred to moving quickly to exciting chase scenes in silent movies rather than dwelling too long on the background story line.  Michael Warwick’s “Theatrical Jargon of the Old Days” (1968) reported on a similar phrase “cut to Hecuba” from Shakespeare’s Hamlet that refers to shortening plays, especially for matinees, by leaving out long orations.
With all the pontificating about the Mueller report, Trump’s phone call to Ukrainian President Zelensky exposes in the simplest of terms the embarrassing nature of his presidency.  He believes that the wrath of what he brands the “fake” news media is worth the price of tarnishing the reputation of Joe Biden, in his opinion his most formidable potential opponent in 2020. In fact, he’s quite open about his nefarious actions, now suggesting China should open a similar investigation.  His apologists simply say he was being sarcastic and didn’t really mean what he said.   
Trump’s near-total domination of the news cycle is maddening. The Post-Tribune failed to report the sentencing of former Dallas cop Amber Guyger to ten years in prison for murdering Botham Jean after mistaking his apartment for her own and believing the native of the Caribbean island of St. Lucia to be a burglar.  While protestors were chanting “no justice, no peace” outside the courtroom, Botham Jean, the victim’s brother, took the stand and said to Guyger, “If you are truly sorry, I forgive you.”  Then he asked the judge, “Can I give her a hug?  Please.”  What happened next, according to the Dallas Morning- News,was that “Guyger hesitated for just a moment, and then she rushed toward Jean and wrapped her arms around his neck.. . . Both were in tears when they finally broke away.”  Witnessing the scene on CBS morning news, I thought of Bill Pelke, who forgave Paula Cooper for murdering his grandmother and subsequently founded Journey of Hope . . . From Violence to Healing, an organization dedicated to abolishing the death penalty.  Similarly, essayist Hanif Abdurraqib learned that Dylann Roof, who killed nine black people in a Charleston, SC, church, was sentenced to be executed, he wrote, “My desire for his death had long passed” since “the insidious spirit of his motivations” would sadly endure.

I had a good couple of days in duplicate bridge, finishing second at Chesterton Y out of 12 couples (58.33%) partnering with Helen Boothe and third out of 15 couples (59.52%, top among East-West pairs) at Banta Center with Ric Friedman despite playing only a couple times with each.  Helen is liberal to the hilt while Ric is quite conservative, but they get along.  Helen is working on him.  Helen ran into 88-year-old Frank Casario who was on his way to a Zumba class and still teaches tap dance.  Mary Ann Filipiak complimented Ric’s pink shirt that he claimed his wife had purchased to support breast cancer prevention.  It shows off your feminine side, I said; he laughed and didn’t take offense.  I had a hand containing 29 points and took all 13 tricks after bidding 6 No Trump doubled for second high board. Only Fred Green had the nerve to bid 7 No Trump, playing with Terry Brendel. It was a virtual laydown.
above, Gary Book Club; photo by Jerry Davich; below, Felicia Childress in 2018; NWI Times photo by John Luke
Gary Booklovers Club dates from 1921 when African American women teachers started holding monthly meetings. Shirley Thomas told Post-Trib columnist Jerry Davich: “When I was invited to join over 30 years ago, we always met in members’ homes.  As younger members replaced the older ladies, they decided it was less work for the hostess if our meetings were held in a restaurant.”  Stalwart Felicia Childress, 102, came to Gary in 1946 and taught several of the current members, including Carolyn Dillon, who grew up poor in a Gary housing project.  Books saved my life,” Dillon told Davich.  Others whose names were familiar to me included Jacquelyn Gholson, Jenell Joiner, Gloria King, and Loretta Piggee.  September’s speaker at Asparagus Restaurant was Purdue Northwest philosophy professor David Detmer, author of “Zinnophobia: The Battle Over History in Education, Politics, and Scholarship.”  It deals with attempts by Governor Mitch Daniels, who became President of Purdue, to ban books by radical Boston University historian Howard Zinn.
Marion Merrill with photo of Sam
What I admire most about Hanif Abdurraqib’s “They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us” essays is that they cut to the chase. Almost without fail, the initial paragraph sets the tone and conveys the theme, something my Maryland faculty adviser Sam Merrill drilled into his grad students.  Another of Merrill’s rules was never write in the passive voice.  Abdurraqib opens “On Future and Working Through What Hurts”: “My mother died at the beginning of summer.  What this meant more than anything was that I didn’t have school or some other youthful labor to distract me from the grieving process.”  Here the first sentence of “They Will Speak Loudest of You After You’ve Gone”: “What I got to experience in moving to the Northeast after living my entire life in the Midwest is the different masks that racism wears.” As critic Kiese Laymon concluded: “No writer alive writes first sentences like Hanif.”  Or, for that matter, last sentences. “They Will Speak Loudest,” about racism, ends: “And the impossible weight of it all.”
Billie Eilish songs get straight to the point about flawed relationships with menacing humor.  In “Wish You Were Gay,” about one who doesn’t respond to her overtures, she pleads:
To spare my pride
To give your lack of interest an explanation
Don’t say I’m not your type
Just say I’m not your preferred sexual orientation
The lyrics of “Watch” reflect disillusionment with unreciprocated love:
When you call my name
Do you think I'll come runnin'?
You never did the same
So good at givin' me nothin'
The final line of “Watch”: “Never gonna letcha back.”

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Under Suspicion

“The moment there is suspicion about a person’s motives, everything he does becomes tainted.” Mahatma Gandhi
The dispiriting reports of high crimes emanating from the White House continue unabated.  What Senator Lindsey Graham dismissed as a “nothing burger” may be a tipping point in our nation’s history, one way or another, depending whether or not he gets away with it.  Ray Smock provides a historian’s perspective on what is a total disregard for the truth by Trump and his apologists.  Ray (below) wrote:
    Suspicion Always Haunts the Guilty Mind: so said Gloucester in Shakespeare’s King Henry VI, written centuries ago but still a keen observation on human behavior. In modern parlance we call this “consciousness of guilt,” where a person who has lied or otherwise committed a wrongful act, lashes out at accusers, blames others, and concludes that he or she is being persecuted unjustly and is the victim of a conspiracy.
    In the case of President Trump, the single best way to lash out at his critics and accusers, most of whom have been members of the American press, is to universally declare all news reporting (other than Fox News) to be Fake News reported by “enemies of the people.” But now, in light of the Ukraine revelations, even Fox News is taking a more aggressive and critical stance. So who is left for Trump to blame? It is forces within his own government, a giant conspiracy against him called the Deep State, which is supposedly run by holdovers from previous Democratic administrations, especially from the dreaded Obama administration.
    On the basis of the information we have learned about the telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Zelensky on July 25, President Trump used the power of his office to withhold almost $400 million in military aid from Ukraine and used this as a lever to extract a “favor” from Zelensky to get dirt on Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. It violates American law, and it brings a foreign power into our presidential election. This information became such a bombshell, such a smoking gun, that Trump and his supporters have been dumbfounded by the public reaction as well as the new impetus in Congress to formalize an already on-going impeachment inquiry.
    This new political reality came from two sources. The whistleblower report that said the president was engaged in conduct that was of such a serious nature that the whistleblower was compelled to file a formal complaint. The Trump administration immediately set out to discredit the whistleblower.
But it was the second source of information that doomed the president. In response to the whistleblower report, President Trump released a summary transcript of the July 25 call with President Zelensky. In that report, the substance of the whistleblower’s report is totally confirmed. Donald Trump, for some unknown reason, blew the whistle on himself! 
Toni and I attended the wedding and reception of Roy and Betty Dominguez’s daughter Maria to Matt Ostrowski.  At our table were four friendly couples who are Roy and Betty’s Lake Dalecarlia neighbors. Young at heart Hessville native Dan, who like humorist Jean Shepherd attended Warren G. Harding school, told Toni she must be my daughter.  Sitting next to me, a Chicago contractor named Randy introduced me to an older guy also named Randy.  Their wives were Denise and Dorothy, so they referred to themselves as R2-D2, like the Star Wars robot. Roy, addressing me, as always, as Dr. Lane, told the group that he could not have written his autobiography, Valor, without my help. The elder Randy had not known about the book and immediately ordered it on Amazon.  Learning that I had published a history of Cedar Lake (near Lake Dale), they had many questions. One I couldn’t definitively answer pertained to pylons still noticeable in the lake, possibly remnants of the ice harvesting industry or a boardwalk. They were amazed at Cedar Lake’s rich history and familiar with the disparaging nickname “Cedar-tucky,” dating to the influx of Southern white World War II defense workers unable to obtain housing in Gary or East Chicago. I told of Crown Point snobs calling Cedar Lake students “lake rats.”  IUN grad Bob Petyko was proud to be one.

I was not surprised that Roy chose “Ave Maria” for the traditional first dance with Maria.  As he wrote in “Valor”: “Maria was born August 23, 1988.  At first I wanted a son, but after my sister Maria died in 1986 [at age 36] after a long battle with leukemia], I prayed for a daughter whom we would name Maria Virginia.” The deejay played “Suspicious Minds” by Elvis Presley, followed by a combination of electronic music and traditional wedding reception numbers such as “Twist and Shout.” Despite my gimpy right knee and Toni’s weak lungs, we danced to “Footloose” by Kenny Loggins, whom we saw years ago with Phil and Delia at the Holiday Star.  

I spoke to Patrick O’Rourke, who I’ve been interviewing about his union career representing teachers.  He was seated next to Lake County Prosecutor Bernard carter, a close friend of Roy and Betty. At the family table I greeted Roy’s brother Hector, who for many years worked with Nancy Cohen and Gloria Metz as a bailiff for a Gary city judge.  They’re all still in touch, Hector told me.  Roy introduced me to Betty’s siblings, and I noted how their father, a former Philippine army officer skilled in martial arts, had been a role model to Roy, who in “Valor” called him a Renaissance man. The photographer had set up a booth and funny hats for candid shots.  Good sports that he is, Roy accommodated several groups and people, myself included who wanted one with him.

I started David McCullough’s “The Pioneers,” about the settling of the Northwest Territory, but to my disappointment it concentrates almost entirely on Ohio and contains virtually nothing about pioneer Hoosiers.  I also picked up Billie Eilish’s 2017 CD, “Don’t Smile at Me.” My favorite cut, “(I’m Not Your) Party Favor,” about a break-up phone call, begins:
Hey – call me back when ya get this
Or when you’ve got a minute
We really need to talk
My favorite lines go:
Look, now I know
We coulda done it better
But we can’t change the weather
When the weather’s come and gone
The “Don’t Smile at Me” album cover reminds me of someone at the Lake Michigan beach huddling under the lifeguard stand on a cool, windy day.  “Ocean Eyes” repeats the verse, “No fair, you really know how to make me cry when you gimme those ocean eyes.”  Eilish appeared on SNL’s season debut hosted by Woody Harrelson.  Both were great. Eilish was born Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell 18 years ago in L.A. Her latest album, “When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” contained a single “Bad Guy,” which replaced Lil Nas X’s 19-week run at number one with “Old Town Road.”

Rehashing weekend activities with high school friend Gaard Murphy, I mentioned that hearing an Elvis Presley number at the wedding reception reminded me of a party where drummer Doug “Duff” Roberts, Robert Hosfeld, and a couple other guys banged out hits by Presley and other original Sun Records artists that sounded fantastic to one who had never before heard live rock ‘n’ roll music in such an intimate setting.  Scanning my 1960 yearbook, I noticed that Roberts hoped to become a professional musician and signed his photo, “To a nice guy and fellow bowler.”  I have no recollection of ever bowling with him, but who knows?  Memory works in strange ways. After school a bunch of us often jumped in Bob Reller or Pete Drake’s car, drove up Bethlehem Pike to Flourtown, picked up the latest WIBG Top 50 sheet at the record store, and either went bowling or played miniature golf. Doug Roberts must have been part of the group. I found Doug’s email address in the last reunion booklet and inquired about where the party might have taken place.  He responded (our first contact in 59 years) that he didn’t recall the specific gig but added: Bob H. and I and several other players did do a short performance at our Class Night. There is even a picture in our yearbook attesting to our short-lived claim to fame.”
Before I spoke to Nicole Anslover’s Post World war II class about the civil rights movement in Gary and the rise of Richard Hatcher to become America’s first black mayor, she discussed the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, emphasizing Robert Kennedy’s moderating influence and back channel negotiations with the Russian ambassador in resolving the standoff.  A student asked why the U.S. hadn’t simply made Cuba a colony after the Spanish-American War, Nicole cited the Teller Amendment and noted that military occupation was a lengthy one.  I added that the U.S. kept control of the island but without taking responsibility for the welfare of Cubans, only American business interests.