“Every life is a unique random business,” Bangambiki Habyarimana, “The Great Pearl of Wisdom”
With another cold spell plunging the temperature into single digits, my Michigan State hoodie is coming in handy except it leaves my hair in a weird pattern that is embarrassing if I don’t catch it. Getting out of the car, I dropped my lunch and stepped on it. At noon I discovered that I had squashed a small tomato. My Archives cage is so cold, I have four layers on. Custodian Cheryl Johnson is trying to get IUN physical plant to allocate me a space heater. Angela Solic, in an office near mine, has a tiny space heater that keeps just one side of her warm and not her feet.
Bowling against Pin Chasers, I left an unusual split – the 4-8 – twice, as did teammate Frank Shufran and 200 bowler George Leach. Weird! I asked opponent George Villareal how many “r’s” were in his last name, and he replied just one, adding that most of his relatives spelled the name Villarreal, with two “r’s.” His wife Betty arrived at the beginning of the third game and asked how I was doing. Terrible, I replied, too many splits and ten-pins. She cheered for both George and me, and I finished with a respectable 164 despite only one strike. George got a half-dozen, all on Brooklyn hits. A Gary Edison grad, George knows former IUN police office Hank Stemko, who evidently gets together weekly at a diner with classmates.
Because next month’s book club selection is a biography of Empress Dowager Cixi, I’m reading John Pomfret’s “The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom: America and China, 1776 to the Present.” Two hundred years ago, American clipper ships traveled to Canton (now Guangzhou) carrying sandalwood from Hawaii and, in some cases, opium. I visited Guangzhou in 1994 on a China Travel Agency tour and found it to be quite a modern city, teeming with people and containing fast food restaurants. Pomfret is more sympathetic toward Cixi than most American or Communist Chinese historians.
Four Ticket to Ride games going on simultaneously; photo by Charles Halberstadt
At Halberstadt Game Weekend Brady Wade and Evan Davis were commiserating over Trump’s election, even though Clinton received three million more popular votes. Brady was a Clinton volunteer in North Carolina, Evan in Ohio, and both found fault with the national campaign apparatus and strategy. Michigan going for Trump must have caused former UAW union boss Walter Reuther to turn over in his grave. Ditto Pennsylvania and LeeLee Devenney’s father Thomas Z. Minehart, a Democrat who was state treasurer during the 1960s. At our wedding when the band played “Hello, Dolly,” Mr. Minehart came dancing by, singing “Hello, Lyndon.” He urged me to go into politics, thinking my being descended from James Buchanan would be to my advantage. Or maybe he was joking.
I’ve been having strange, vivid dreams. In one I was at a lunch buffet with high school friend Vince Curll who I haven’t thought of in months, and after partaking at the salad table couldn’t find the main entries. When I went to sit down, the plate in my hand had transformed into a very full bowl of soup. I sipped some so not to spill any and it tasted like liquid Jell-O.
On the first day of the semester Arts and Sciences dean Mark Hoyert told me his daughter Shelby, a freshman at the University of Evansville, wrote a paper on Gary, Indiana, that made use of my writings. I told him that I’d put a copy in the Archives if she agreed and got a copy to me. Joseph Pete of NWI Times interviewed me about Region steelworkers, past, present and future. I reiterated that I am more comfortable speaking about the past and that he’d have to look elsewhere for statistics about the present. I described conditions in 1970, when jobs were plentiful, and the “golden handcuffs” phenomenon that tempted workers to put up with hostile conditions because the pay enabled them to enjoy a middle-class lifestyle.
James bowled a 466 series at Inman’s. Dave arrived later than usual because he encountered “white out” conditions in LaPorte due to lake effect snow. Afterwards, at Culver’s I saved seven bucks from coupons Toni found in the newspaper. James stayed at the condo rehearsing on a keyboard for an evening Premier concert at which he performed Beethoven “Moonlight Sonata.” The final number on the program was a Lady Gaga medley by the Premier Glee Club.
Clark Metz’s daughters put together several boxes of material to augment his Archives collection. I told Sloan that I hope to have a display in the lobby of IUN’s library/conference center and may wish to borrow some of the items that I saw at Burns Funeral Home.
At Ray’s Lanes the friend of Kevin Horn who sold me my new Nitrous drilled free of charge bigger holes in my old one, which I hope to use to pick up ten-pins. “Any 300 games on the new ball?” he joked.
Jim Quinby by Della Merrill
On Facebook Jim Quinby wished Suzanna Murphy Happy Birthday. Two classes behind me, he was a musician and good friend of my brother and lived on Fort Washington Ave. near Upper Dublin High School. At a party there I met Suzanna for the first time, and we dated all summer before I left for college. I didn’t know that she was just 15, but we didn’t go the way – just fooled around a little bit. Quinby still performs with a local band and as part of a duo in Medford, Oregon, and looks like someone I’d like to know better. Under his Facebook photo is the Taj Mahal quote, “Happy to be just like I am.”
Ron Cohen lent me the latest Journal of American History (JAH) and “The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo” by Tom Reiss - a biography of the father of novelist Alexandre Dumas, who was born a slave in Haiti and rose to be a general during the French Revolution but his accomplishments earned the enmity of an envious Napoleon. I was disappointed to learn that Jonathan Briggs is teaching his French Revolution class online. I was hoping to audit it.
I just completed Herman Wouk’s novel “A Hole in Texas,” about a physicist who had worked on the Super Collider, aimed at finding the Higgs boson. Lo and behold, in the JAH I found a review by Keith R. Benson of “Tunnel Visions: The Rise and Fall of the Super-conducting Super Collider.” Benson wrote:
The initial goal was to build the world’s largest particle accelerator to provide controlled, extraordinarily high-energy electron and proton collisions. Physicists anticipated these collisions would yield data on the nature of the Higgs boson elementary particle and other nuclear phenomenon occurring only at high-energy levels. Such information was critical to complete the standard model” of particle physics, which directed the field for much of the twentieth century.
One of this country’s costliest scientific adventures, it was proposed by the particle physics community, arguing that its construction would enable the United States to reclaim leadership in the field. Physicists convinced President Ronald Reagan of the project’s utility; he urged its construction in 1987. The supercollider was projected to cost between $2.5 and $3 billion. Unfortunately, the American economy slowed dramatically, federal deficits emerged, and Congress reacted. Consequently, when costs escalated to $6 billion, then to $8 billion, and finally to an estimated $10 billion, congressional leaders lost their enthusiasm for the project, and it was terminated in 1993.
Donald and Oenone Boyd in 1904
In the Post-Tribune was a feature about Donald Boyd (1882-1955), whose papers are housed in the Calumet Regional Archives. Jerry Davich wrote:
At 15, [Boyd] was already employed by Standard Oil in Hammond, and he later worked at the Aetna Powder Company in the Miller section of Gary.
A life-long birder, Boyd was corresponding with other birders and keeping records of his sightings as a youngster. His Whiting home was not only close to work, but also close to Whiting Park, an excellent spot for observing migrations.
According to his obituary in the Post-Tribune, Boyd spent 10 years collecting butterflies and moths throughout Lake County. Another collection included rare and exotic species from all over the world after he moved to Hobart and then to Gary.
Assessing Barack Obama’s presidency, Columbia University professor Frederick Cornelius Harris compared it with John F. Kennedy’s thousand days in office and termed it the Black Camelot. Harris wrote:
Obama’s already made his mark. You have this wonderful black family in the White House. The dreams of generations of African Americans have been realized. He was a hero to the African-American community. He demonstrated leadership when there was a lot of opposition. He stood his ground, stayed the course, and people saw him as being above the fray. That will be the lasting legacy of Obama.
Acidic humorist Dave Barry starts his 2016 year in review thusly:
In the future, Americans – assuming there are any left – will look back at 2016 and remark: “What the HELL?”
They will have a point. Over the last few decades, we have reviewed some pretty disturbing years. For example, there was 2000, when the outcome of a presidential election was decided by a tiny group of deeply confused Florida residents who had apparently attempted to vote by chewing on their ballots.
Then there was 2003, when a person named “Paris Hilton” suddenly became a major international superstar, despite possessing a level of discernible talent so low as to make the Kardashians look like the Jackson 5.
There was 2006, when the vice president of the United States – who claimed he was attempting to bring down a suspected quail – shot a 78 year-old man in the face, only to be exonerated after an investigation revealed that the victim was an attorney.
And – perhaps most inexplicable of all – there was 2007, when millions of people voluntarily installed Windows Vista.
Yes, we’ve seen some weird years. But we’ve never seen one as weird as 2016. This was the Al Yankovic of years. If years were movies, 2016 would be “Plan 9 From Outer Space.” If years were relatives, 2016 would be the uncle who shows up at your Thanksgiving dinner wearing his underpants on the outside.
Why do we say this? Let’s begin with the gruesome train wreck that was the presidential election.
Meryl Streep at Golden Globe awards
Robert, Carrie and Max
At the Golden Globe awards Meryl Streep criticized Trump for ridiculing those who disagree with him, including a reporter who has a congenital joint condition during a campaign rally in South Carolina. Robert Blaszkiewicz wrote:
The most important word in her speech was “empathy.” It was less about politics than it was about character. The one detail she singled out was his mocking of a disabled reporter. And that, right there, is also what bothers me the most. It's not the policies, it's not the politics. Those will be debated and legislated as they always are. What bothers me is the cruelty. I have a son with a wonderful heart and a quirky character. We're blessed that he has compassionate friends who have shown him kindness. I worry for those who are not so lucky. When cruelty and bullying is modeled in the highest office in the land, it is sure to be emulated by younger minds who may not see the damage that they do. Meryl Streep expressed that sentiment gracefully and forcefully tonight.
Trump tweeted early next morning that Streep was an overrated actress, demonstrating both his ignorance and childishness. As Ray Smock wrote about the thin-skinned bully, “The man has no shame.” In “President Tweetie Bird” Smock offered this sage analysis:
Donald Trump’s use of Twitter during the presidential campaign managed to keep everyone off-balance and aghast. And it worked. The American press, these days called the media, was reduced to reporting Trump’s latest tweet. When they weren’t reporting his tweets they were engaged in the mindless exercise of analyzing daily polls and passing them off as real news. In the world of mass communication Trump’s use of social media proved to be the best shell game ever invented. It completely diverted the nation and the press from Trump’s total lack of qualifications to be president. Instead we got his half-baked opinions, outright lies, and nasty blasts at every American institution with such frequency that reporters had to stay up all night just to be the first to report his 3 AM pronouncements.
Trump’s campaign tweets resonated with millions upon millions of Americans who were filled with anxieties and hatreds that have marked the past half century of increasingly polarized politics, where ideology triumphs over problem solving and where partisan politics seems more important than the real issues facing this country and the nations of the world.
Trump’s tweets since his election have not abated. They are just as frequent. They still dominate the news cycle. Some of them are getting longer because you can’t get nuanced in a tweet. His latest tweet on the intelligence community was three tweets long. Trump has hidden his ignorance of government and governance during the campaign. But he cannot continue to do this once he is inaugurated. At some point very soon he will have to begin to seriously address the issues that he sensed would lead to his election. If all he gives us is more hyper-partisanship and divisive tweets we are in for very rough sailing.
The White House is not Trump Tower. It is not Mar-a-Largo. It is not the gilded playgrounds of the rich and famous, where he has spent his life. It is not a place a leader goes to hide or to pretend. The White House represents the executive branch of the United States government. We expect its occupants to embrace the “splendid misery” of being there.
Trump thinks the press is after him because they are evil liars. We cannot allow him to continue to disparage American journalists who are a bulwark of American freedom needed now more than ever. The press is after him to tell us how he plans to govern. We have a right to know that. He has no right to be annoyed by questions from journalists. He has to tolerate them. We are the People. He works for us, not the other way around. We need accurate news reports on what he is doing, not what he is tweeting. The tweeting shell game is about to end. Who will deliver us the real news, American journalists or Trump’s tweets or his White House spokesperson? Who in the end will you trust to bring the news to you? Trump has always had people work for him but now the shoe is on the other foot. He has always been the employer who could fire people. We are the employer now and if he doesn’t measure up – He’s fired! We need so much more from him than emotional outbursts via Twitter.