Monday, March 27, 2017

Standard Answers?

"When you're an Addams
The standard answers don't apply
When you're an Addams
You do what Addams do or Die!"
         "When You’re an Addams"
 James Lane as Fester and director Kevin Giese

Friday evening I attended the Portage High School annual variety show, a fundraiser for the Thespian Drama Club, of which James is a member.  The grand finale was “When You’re an Addams,” the opening number of the spring musical “The Addams Family,” in which James plays crazy Uncle Fester, with a perpetual weird smile on his face, whose lines in the song, following “When You’re an Addams,” include, “you smile a bit the moment you smell blood” and “you keep your sunshine and keep your glee.”  Highlights among the 36 performances: the seven-member PHS flute choir (Jes Stone, Kylie Norton, Athena Dover, Mary Myers, Gina Tibbs, Alexis VanCuren, and Jolie Hurley) performing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” pianist Christian Zepeda in costume playing “Pirates of the Caribbean,” Autumn Maiden belting out Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over,” and guitarist Mason Wilson singing Radiohead’s “Creep.”  The crowd really got into two hip-hop dance numbers, one by five black guys, the other by the Fantastic Four (Skylar Allen, Autumn Brown, Precious Turner, and Jasmine Wiley).

Earlier that day, I spoke to participants in IUN’s PlaceSpace project about my research  areas of concentration. Since the Gary Voices team was concentrating on poetry and the STEM Learning team focusing on oral interviews, those were my concentrations as well. Describing myself as a social historian interested in race, ethnicity, labor, family dynamics, and the contemporary history of adolescence, I got everyone to read selections from Steel Shavings magazines.  Community partners Corey Hagelberg and Samuel A. Love passed out a zine that contained selections from Carl Sandburg, John Sheehan, and other Gary poets.
 Corey Hagelberg, Samuel A. Love and Walter Jones; NWI Times photo byJoseph Pete

City of Gary seal

Saturday Allison Schuette brought 20 VU students to Gary to meet with community activists Naomi Millender, Samuel A. Love, Corey Hagelberg, and Walter Jones.  She asked me speak to them during lunch at Mama Pearl’s BBQ across from the SteelYard baseball stadium.  Showing them the cover of my new Steel Shavings, with photos of Vivian Carter and the city’s official seal showing molten steel poured over the globe and the motto “City of the Century,” I mentioned that Gary symbolized the rise and decline of industrialization and urbanization over the past 110 years.  I stressed that in its heyday Gary offered opportunities for black newcomers from the Deep South, such as Vivian Carter’s family.  After a delicious buffet of rib tips, fried chicken cornbread, and other soul food fare, I gave a five-minute capsule history of Miller, concentrating on Marquette Park, the group’s next destination, in particular the Aquatorium statues of Octave Chanute’s glider and one honoring Tuskegee Airmen.  Samuel A. Love told them about efforts he’s involved with to preserve Black Oak savannah, and Corey mentioned the many migrating birds flying over his Miller home this time of year.  Most students had never been to Gary, but a senior from Griffith was familiar with the Miller Farmers Market (her brother’s band had performed there), had seen ball games at the SteelYard, and had worked at urban gardens, similar to the one on Stewart Settlement House property referenced on the t-shirt I wore for the occasion.
Corey Hagelberg, Samuel Love, Walter Jones and Jerry Crisler at Mama Pearl's; photo by Liz Wuerffel
VU students at Marquette Park Aquatorium; photo by Liz Wuerffel
In “Crooked Politics in Northwest Indiana,” Jerry Davich quoted me in a chapter titled “In Defense of Public Officials in ‘Da Region,” where I claim that federal prosecutors have concentrated too much on going after officeholders for minor offenses while ignoring white-collar crime and corporate malfeasance. Davich wrote:
  “That’s legal graft, isn’t it?” asked Calumet Region historian James Lane.  “I think it’s outrageous how U.S. attorneys have gone after people like Katie Hall and George Van Til for petty things – such as their staff selling candy bars or picking up a tuxedo – while millions in legal graft are siphoned into law firms for attorneys’ fees.”
  Lane insists such indictments against “small potatoes” illegal shenanigans by certain elected officials are based on political pressure from corporate industrialists. It’s no secret that public officeholders have used their staff, for campaigning and reelection purposes for decades.  Why have federal prosecutors singled out certain politicians but not others, who also have had their hands in the taxpayers’ proverbial cookie jar?
  “I can only speak about Gary, but I think the degree of corruption there is much exaggerated,” Lane said.  “It is true that the Democratic Party between the 1930s and 1967 was in cahoots with vice and gambling interests, but Hatcher was the most investigated mayor of his generation and he came out clean. So, if they can’t get to Hatcher, they got to his allies, such as Mary Elgin and George Van Til. Throw the book at them, and something will stick.”
 John Petalas; Post-Tribune photo by Carol Napoleon

Davich quoted Lake County treasurer John Petalas, a former student of mine, who asserted:
  There are hundreds of elected and appointed officials who work in Lake County.  It is not fair to label everyone a crook because of a small minority who betrayed the public trust. Every time one of these guys gets in trouble, they make bigger headlines than a double murder investigation. The bigger the headline, the bigger the perception that all politicians are crooks. There are some elected officials in this part of the state ho went to jail for things that are completely legal for state officials to commit.

Petalas was Northwest Phoenix editor-in-chief in the spring of 1979, when I was its faculty adviser.  In an April 16 editorial, Petalas called the Phoenix office the “Animal House” of IUN and bid farewell to some associates and Chancellor Dan Orescanin:
  First to Joe Slacian, my sometimes bashful and timid partner in crime.  Then to Angelo [Vasos], a big fan and big mouth (how about some pizza and soda pop).  Now to Michele [Yanna], our efficient, affectionate secretary. Then to Dr. Lane, the 007 of IUN.  Then there is our chancellor, what’s his name?  He’s a great administrator, a great golfer, and has the best line of bullshit I’ve ever heard.

Phil turned 49 and after celebrating with family went off to play soccer. I watched the exciting Kentucky-North Carolina NCAA game with keen interest, having picked the Wildcats to win it all.  The referee made several horrible calls against them in the first half, but with 5 minutes remaining Kentucky held a 5-point lead before quickly squandering it.  With ten seconds left, Kentucky’s Malik Monk hit an unbelievable three-pointer to tie the score only to have Luke Maye nail a buzzer beater from 20 feet.   
above, Algren Museum; below, Art Shay
Art Shay photo of Nelson Algren

On hand for a festive celebration at the Nelson Algren Museum was 95-year-old photographer Art Shay and many Miller mainstays, including the Spicers, Ayers, Lees, and good buddy Ron Cohen, who filled me in on an Urban League banquet where Richard Hatcher was honored.  Joseph Pete of the NWI Times wrote:
        The museum at 541 S. Lake St. in the 1928 Illinois Bell Telephone building will have a grand opening celebration with 18th Street craft beer, wine and birthday cake at 3 p.m. Sunday, a few days before what would have been Algren's 108th birthday. Chicago Tribune writer Mary Wisniewski will appear to discuss her new Nelson Algren biography, “Algren: A Life.”
        Museum founders Sue Rutsen and George Rogge transformed the building into a replica of Algren's Chicago writing space with the desk, chair and typewriter he used to write “The Man with the Golden Arm” and “A Walk on the Wild Side.” There's also a facsimile of the bicycle he rode around Miller and took on the South Shore Line back to Chicago.
        They're already drawing attention to the museum with a huge 8-foot-by-10-foot photo of Algren leaving a Gary liquor store with a six-pack, which they've posted nearby on Lake Street, downtown Miller's main drag. Rogge said the hope was that the life-sized poster would become an attraction all its own, and draw photographers and selfie-takers the way Felix "Flex" Maldonado's nearby Jackson 5 mural has.
In the photo of Algren leaving the liquor store is a sign advertising cases of beer for $2.25 and quarts bottles of Schlitz for 35 cents.
 Al Capone's Cadillac

Gene Clifford forwarded this historical tidbit from David G. Smith:
  Hours after Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941, the Secret Service found themselves in a bind. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was to give his Day of Infamy speech to Congress on Tuesday, and although the trip from the White House to Capitol Hill was short, agents weren't sure how to transport him safely.  At the time, federal law prohibited buying any cars that cost more than $750, so they would have to get clearance from Congress to do that, and nobody had time for that.  One of the Secret Service agents, however, discovered that the US Treasury had seized the bulletproof car that mobster Al Capone owned when he was sent to jail in 1931. They cleaned it, made sure it was running perfectly and had it ready for the President the next day.  Al Capone's 1928 Cadillac V-8 town sedan became the President's limo the next day.

About 15 students and faculty attended a History department “Meet and Greet,” including Chancellor Bill Lowe.  Jonathyne Briggs introduced IU ABD (all but dissertation) grad student Justin Ellison, who’ll be teaching two Fall classes.  David Parnell asked for suggestions on future courses, and one student mentioned the Vietnam War.  When someone wondered how much interest current students had in that distant war, I noted that many Mideast combat veterans are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders similar to Vietnam vets.  Briggs brought up students role-playing in his French Revolution seminar, and I mentioned the 1793-1794 Citizen Genêt Affair, where the French minister to the United States became persona non grata after outfitting French privateers to prey on British shipping.  Meanwhile, Edmond-Charles Genêt’s political enemies, the Jacobins, came into power and demanded his recall.  Fearing for his life, Genêt remained in America, married the daughter of New York governor George Clinton, and became a gentleman farmer.

New York magazine devoted two pages to Trump jokes.  The most outrageous were by Samantha Bee, who compared him to “a leaky whoopee cushion full of expired cottage cheese,” and John Oliver, who said that he “dominates the news cycle like a fart dominates the interior of a Volkswagen beetle.  There is simply no escaping him.”  Oliver also called Trump “America’s wealthiest hemorrhoid, America’s walking, talking brush fire, an ill-fitting suit full of chickens coming home to roost, a racist voodoo doll made of discarded cat hair, a clown made of mummified foreskin and cotton candy, an upside-down piece of candy corn in a wig made of used medical gauze, [and] what happens if the secret gets in the wrong hands.” Regarding the election result, Oliver said: “Instead of showing our daughters that they could some day be president, America proved that no grandpa is too racist to be the leader of the free world.”

In “The Art of the Deal Is Not the Same as the Art of Governance,” Ray Smock wrote about the failure of House Republicans to pass a bill designed to repeal and replace Obamacare:
   [It] was expected but the way it happened was nothing short of a stunning collapse of the GOP's ability to govern this nation from the White House or from Congress, especially the House of Representatives. We really don't have good signals yet about the Senate's ability to stand up to some of President Trump's harebrained plans.
Congress has been dysfunctional for some time, especially since the advent of the Tea Party caucus, now called the Freedom Caucus in the House. This group does not want to govern. They want to block everything. They want smaller government no matter what the damage. They are always mad at government and they are blindly ideological. They drove Speaker Boehner nuts and he got out, now they have seriously damaged Paul Ryan, although Ryan's wounds are largely self-inflicted because he is simply a weak leader who cannot control his caucus. He lacks governing tools. 
        Since Congress eliminated ear marks, thinking such things were wasteful government spending, the Speaker has no bargaining chips, nothing to offer his members to get them on board. Members of Congress used to be proud to "bring home the bacon" and say they brought useful projects to their districts, things like bridges, hospitals, flood control, even a new playground for the local kids. But the ideologues in the GOP declared earmarks evil and so there is no longer a device to sweeten deals. Earmarks have been used to make legislation work for more than 200 years. Congress without earmarks is like an engine running without oil. It seizes up. Just like the House did yesterday.
        Over at the White House President Trump was feckless and completely unable to fathom how legislation is passed. His mythical skills as a deal maker flopped completely because he too didn't have anything to bargain with because he doesn't know how to deal with members of Congress representing diverse states and diverse local interests. Congressmen and women do not come out of a cookie cutter. You have to get to know them. Trump does not know them and he has no idea how a bill really becomes a law.
In the "good old days" that weren't all that good, but better than now, members of both parties knew one another. They sent their kids to the same schools. They went to soccer games to watch their kids play. Republican and Democrats alike. Members lived in DC, or the surrounding area. There used to be a presidential yacht that the president would use to take members of both parties, not separately but together, out for sunset cruises on the Potomac where cocktails and friendship were the main business. Today the two parties don't socialize together, they fly home to their districts every weekend to raise money, and they don't even know one another. Members used to like one another even while disagreeing on issues. Now they hate one another and refuse to compromise on anything.
What we saw yesterday was powerful proof that the Art of Governance, which requires compromise, patience, open deliberation, fairness, and respect for honest differences, is a far cry from the mythical, highly-overrated, and highly over-sold Art of the Deal, that comes from Donald Trump's ghostwritten book of the same name. He didn't even write the book. He paid someone else to write it. So he could advertise himself. We have seen the wizard behind the curtain and he is a small man with no skills to govern the most powerful nation on earth.

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