Friday, November 30, 2007

End of November Friday Random Ten

Can it really be December tomorrow?

When Adam was little, someone, one of his grandparents, I think, told him that time would go faster and faster as he got older. He didn't understand it then, but as he's gotten older, he has started seeing it. I can't believe we're looking at Christmas-- Kim's family's annual party, gifts, a visit to my parents-- and the end of the year.

The good thing, I guess is that the new year coming is an election year and a chance to turn out this pack of bastards.

1. Been Down So Long- The Doors
2. X Offender- Blondie
3. Sweet Hitchhiker- Creedence Clearwater Revival
4. Animal Boy- The Ramones
5. 48 Hours- The Clash
6. Never Said- Liz Phair
7. No Matter What- Badfinger
8. Purple Rain- Prince
9. Hanky Panky- Tommy James and the Shondells
10. Corrina, Corrina- Bob Dylan

1. From the great LA Woman album.
2. A lesser-known Blondie song, but a great one. From the fabulous No Thanks! collection of '70's punk.
3. "Creedence? I love Creedence!"
4. Ramonesmania should be in everyone's cd collection.
5. From the British version of the Clash's first album.
6. My favorite Liz Phair song.
7. Badfinger was the first group that the Beatles signed to Apple Records.
8. Kim grew up in Chaska, Prince's hometown, and used to see him in the grocery store.
9. I'm embarassed to say that I'm old enough to have heard this on the radio when it was a hit. That was 1967, I think.
10. A lovely little Dylan song, from when he was a folkie. I'm eager to see I'm Not There, the weird little Dylan biopic.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The "Governor Ryan Hail Mary" Strategy

As this administration winds down (can we really still have more than 400 days left to this pack of idiots?), they're apparently looking to secure some kind of legacy other than thousands of unnecessary deaths in an unnecessary war, running the deficit back up to record levels, using the Constitution as toilet paper, straining relations with long-time allies, etc. Apparently they want to try one big Hail Mary pass, and attempt to settle the half-century old dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. It's apparent to me that they're taking a page from former Illinois Governor George Ryan's playbook.

In 1994, there was a horrible automobile accident in Wisconsin. A piece fell off of a truck that was driving on an Interstate. A minister and his large family were driving behind the truck in a van. The van hit the debris and they lost control. Six of the family's children were killed in the resulting crash.

When the police questioned the truck driver, who had an Illinois license, they discovered that he spoke zero English. How, then, had he acquired his truck driver's license? Investigators backtracked until they discovered that the Secretary of State's office (Illinois' version of the DMV) was full of corruption. There was a racket going on in which certain driving schools regularly bribed the Secretary of State's office to guarantee that their students would pass driving tests, even if they spoke no English, or for that matter, couldn't even drive. As long as a portion of the bribes were kicked back to the Illinois State Republican Party, it was all overlooked.

And who was the Secretary of State of Illinois back then? Funny you should ask-- it was George Ryan. Yes, that George Ryan.

Mr. Ryan went on to become Governor of Illinois. And investigators continued following the evidence. And the evidence led right up to Governor Ryan's door. The last couple of years of his governorship became embattled, as he was indicted in what came to be known as the "Licenses For Bribes" scandal.

Ryan, in trying to save his legacy, tried for one Hail Mary pass. Another scandal that was brewing in Illinois was how many innocent people were on Death Row. A professor at Northwestern University and his students began systematically examining the cases of people on Death Row in Illinois and discovered that there were serious flaws in procedure in the cases, and that a many people were probably innocent. A number of people were eventually exonerated and freed. Finally, just before he finished his term, Governor Ryan commuted the sentences of every person on Death Row in Illinois, including those who were probably guilty, and set up a review process. For the time being there is, for all intents and purposes, no death penalty in Illinois.

This made national news. Ryan recieved international accolades for what he did; there was even talk of a Nobel Prize. Meanwhile, here in Illinois, we saw it for what it was-- a blatant attempt to divert attention from his scandal and save his legacy.

So Bush and company are trying the same thing-- one Hail Mary pass to try to save the legacy of the administration, an administration that makes those of Harding and Nixon look great by comparison.

I won't go into whether they can do it or not-- should I mention that the Palestinian Authority "leader," Mahmoud Abbas, who they are going to negotiate with, controls only a part of Palestinian territory? The fundamentalist terrorist group Hamas controls the Gaza Strip. No, I won't mention that. I'll just mention the outcome of Governor Ryan's attempt to deflect attention from his scandal:

He reported to a Federal Prison Camp in Oxford, Wisconsin on November 7 to begin a six and a half year sentence.

Good luck guys!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Evil Dictator Is Back!

A few bloggers have mentioned the lack of posts from The Evil Dictator (aka my 13-year-old son Adam) the last few weeks.

There were a couple of reasons for this. First, the little Ibook I got him for Christmas last year was on the fritz. The Ibook was giving us the dreaded "kernel panic" warning. I took the Ibook to the Genius Bar at the Skokie Apple store and discovered that The Evil Dictator had apparently inadvertently thrown out an important system file in the course of throwing out some other file. Fortunately, thanks to our friends Greg and Christina, who are Mac people like us, and had a System X disc, we were able to fix the system files. Big bonus: none of the files on the computer were lost, including music files.

In checking out The Evil Dictator's Itunes to see if his music files had been lost, I had some surprises. Ian Dury and the Blockheads' "Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll" was on there, along with some other old punk and new wave tunes. Did I raise him right or what? Wait a minute... Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll?

The other reason he was unable to post was that he was in China with my ex and much of her family for ten days. He returned this Sunday with many tales and pictures he took on the digital camera I got him before the trip. I returned his now-repaired laptop to him today and he's got a post up already, where he talks about spending a total of 35 1/2 hours on airplanes, Olympic jade medals, sampling Chairman Mao's favorite dish, inexpensive souvenir keychains, the most popular drink in China ("What?") and being grilled by machine-gun toting Chinese policemen (I'm not making this up).

How Johnny Yen and Kim Celebrated Idea of Progress Day

How did Johnny Yen and Kim celebrate The Idea of Progress Day? By toasting The Idea of Progress Day with a delightful Cote du Rhone while wearing matching Motörhead t-shirts and sunglasses, of course!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Hearts of Darkness

I occasionally post about DVD's that I hope will eventually get released. Among the ones I've been waiting for are the Frank's Place series, the movie Sammy and Rosie Get Laid and the documentary Hearts of Darkness. Happily, I need wait no longer for Hearts. It was released on DVD on November 20.

Hearts of Darkness was put together from home movies that Frances Ford Coppola's wife Eleanor took while they were in the Phillipines while Coppola filmed his Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now. The movie, based on Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness, began filming not too long after the actual Vietnam War ended, in 1976. It was not released until 1979, after drastic cuts imposed by the studio. Eleanor Coppola's camera captures a Francis Ford Coppola struggling to get the movie made, unaware, apparently, that his quest is beginning to mirror the story the film was based on.

The filming of the movie was a textbook study in Murphy's Law-- that everything that can go wrong will, and at the worst possible time. From the start, filming in the jungle locations was an ambitious-- and expensive-- proposition. Things go wrong right from the start. Coppola begins filming with Harvey Keitel in the part of Captain Willard, the lead character. Coppola fired Keitel just a few weeks into filming, and hired Martin Sheen to play the part. In the meantime, Marlon Brando, showed up to play the part of the gaunt, malarial Col. Kurtz-- but weighed over 400 pounds.

Coppola was able to work around these things, but more and more goes wrong. The Phillipine government, which had been renting helicopters to the production, suddenly needed the helicopters to fight a guerilla insurgency. A typhoon demolishes the set-- and then actor Martin Sheen had a heart attack. All through this, Coppola begins to unravel. He is afraid that the studio discovers that Sheen had a heart attack, it will pull the plug on the production, which is way over budget, and is rumored to be heading toward being one of the most expensive film ever made, at $20 million. Coppola frantically tries to control every aspect of the production, including any information going out about the production.

In the meantime, Coppola's life and marriage were headed toward meltdowns. Eleanor Coppola's camera is unsparing, often unflattering to her husband and amazingly frank in documenting what was going on. Watching the documentary, one is amazed that the movie finally did get made (a version that restored the cuts the studio forced on Coppola was released a few years ago) and that the Coppola's marriage survived. This movie is definitely worth a rental.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Day John Kennedy Died

Exactly 24 years ago today, I was driving with a couple of friends in my green Volkswagon Beetle from my college, Eastern Illinois University, to join my family in Chicago for Thanksgiving dinner. As usual, as we passed Kankakee, we began to pick up Chicago radio. I tuned in to WXRT, the FM station I'd listened to since I was a Freshman in high school.

As I drove, a Lou Reed song I'd never heard before came on. Unlike most Lou Reed songs, it was soft, slow and sad. It was the song The Day John Kennedy Died

As I listened, I realized that the day was the 20th anniversary of Kennedy's death. As I listened, the song grabbed me:

I dreamed I was the president of these United States
I dreamed I replaced ignorance, stupidity and hate
I dreamed the perfect union and a perfect law, undenied
And most of all I dreamed I forgot the day John Kennedy died
I dreamed that I could do the job, that others hadn't done
I dreamed that I was uncorrupt and fair to everyone
I dreamed I wasn't gross or base, or criminal or on the take
And most of all I dreamed I forgot the day John Kennedy died

Oh the day John Kennedy died

I remember where I was that day, I was upstate in a bar
The team from the university was playing football on TV
Then the screen want dead and the announcer said:
"There's been a tragedy;
There are unconfirmed reports the president's been shot
And may be dead or dying."
Talking stopped, someone shouted: " What?!"
I ran out to the street
People were gathered everywhere saying:
"Did you hear what they said on TV?"
And then a guy in a Porsche with his radio on
Hit his horn and told us the news
He said: "The president's dead, he was shot twice in the head
In Dallas, and they don't know by who."

I dreamed I was the president of these United States
I dreamed I was young and smart and it was not a waste
I dreamed that there was a point to life and to the human race
I dreamed that I could somehow comprehend that someone
Shot him in the face

Oh the day John Kennedy died

Over the years, John Kennedy has been assassinated again-- in character. His flaws-- womanizing, hidden illnesses and such, have been rehashed again and again over the years. One of the things that has been forgotten was that Kennedy helped the United States emerge from the oppressive fifties-- the Cold War, McCarthyism, oppression of minorities, women, gay men and women, leftists-- basically 80% of the country. Yes, he was pretty tepid in his support of civil rights-- his brother Robert, as Attorney General, was much more adamant in his support. Whether Kennedy would have gotten us out of Vietnam had he lived can be debated forever. But one thing that is for sure: he handled the Cuban Missle Crisis better than nearly any President who ever served would have.

A few years ago, most of the living participants in the Cuban Missle Crisis, both Soviet and American, got together for a conference. It was fascinating that these old men were able to talk to their opponents whom they'd been trying to read and sometimes bluff. The truth that emerged was that the United States and the Soviet Union came dangerously close to an all-out war over the missles. Both Kennedy and Soviet leader Krushchev had hawks around them, urging them to go to war.

Kennedy had learned his lesson from the another American adventure in Cuba-- the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Kennedy had inherited the plan from the Eisenhower administration. The plan was to support 5,000 Cuban exiles in their attempt to invade Cuba and overthrow the Castro regime. From the start, the plan was fraught with assumptions and bad intelligence. Indeed, the idea that you could secretly train 5,000 guys in the Everglades and keep it a secret was absurd. The Cuban army was waiting for the invading force on the beach, and the United States was left with egg on its face.

When the crisis in Cuba started, Kennedy grabbed hold of the reins. The entire Joint Chiefs of Staff was trying to push him into invading Cuba, and act that would certainly have brought the United States to war with the Soviet Union.

This time, Kennedy was more confident. He questioned every assumption, considered every move. He asked his brother Bobby to sit in on the meetings and discuss them afterward. He clearly realized what the goal was: to get what the United States needed to achieve its security needs-- the removal of the missles-- while allowing Krushchev to save face.

Kennedy's performance was brilliant. For instance, he declared a "quarantine" of Cuba rather than a blockade; a blockade is considered an act of war. He used quiet channels of diplomacy to pursue a solution. And in the end, he offered a carrot along with the stick: the United States agreed to remove nuclear missiles it had in Turkey. Ironically, the Soviets were living with U.S. missiles a short distance from their territory.

In the end, Kennedy and Krushchev resisted the short-sighted men around them and found a way out of what turned out to be the closest the two powers ever came to a full-out nuclear war. Krushchev paid dearly for his role in it; the hawks around him thought that the Soviet Union was humiliated, and two years later removed him from power. I guess I should consider him lucky, that unlike other people who lost in power struggles in the Soviet Union, he was allowed to live. Kennedy was not so lucky. I'm not sure where I stand on the whole Kennedy conspiracy theory-- even today, in the New York Times there is new evidence about it. But whether it was Oswald, a supporter of Cuba, acting alone, or a cabal of right-wingers who were in a froth over what they considered Kennedy's "betrayal" of Cuba, in the end, I believe that the missile crisis had a role in Kennedy's death.

So, on this Thanksgiving Day, one of the many things I'm thankful is that the two men involved, Kennedy and Krushchev, both of them strong-willed and patriotic, were intelligent, resourceful-- and humane enough-- to bring their nations back from the brink. I hope that history brings us more men and women like them in the future.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Wednesday Occasional Forgotten Video: Jane Child's "Don't Wanna Fall In Love"

In 1990, I was rooming with my lifelong friend Dobie in one of the coolest apartments I ever lived in. I was working construction, reading a lot and hot damn, we had cable. And MTV and VH1 still played videos. This was a vid I really dug for some reason. I didn't quite buy Jane Child's "punk" look, but I liked the message-- that when you're not looking for love, that's when it happens.

Monday, November 19, 2007

One More Heartache

Today, during my break in my Biology class this morning, as I drank my diet Dr. Pepper in the hallway, Josue, a guy in my class who I've come to like, walked by. He looked upset. I asked how he was. He told me he'd had a rough weekend.

He's a medic in the Army; he served a year in Afghanistan. He told me that a friend, one of the guys he'd served in Afghanistan with, had taken his own life this weekend.

His friend had returned from Afghanistan very troubled. A guy who was easy to get along with and hard-working was suddenly sullen, lethargic and sometimes combative. He was having marital troubles. He had all the clear and classic symptoms of clinical depression-- and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Last week, he checked himself into a VA hospital in Texas, where he lives. He was discharged, and committed suicide two days later.

The New York Times and other news outlets have been reporting on how a lot of the men and women who are returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are having trouble getting the medical benefits that they're entitled to. Obviously, this problem remains unabated.

My god, I hate this frickin' administration.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Send Lawyers, Guns and Money. Okay, Just Lawyers and Money.

A couple of Saturdays ago, Adam and I sat down to watch a movie. I gave him a choice: the newly-released DVD of the 1960 version of The Lost World, John Frankenheimer's classic political thriller Seven Days In May and Grand Theft Parsons. He chose "d, none of the above." He wanted to see one of his favorites, Midnight Run, instead. It reminded me to tell him how often I have found myself surrounded by a bunch of people with guns.

Right after I got out of college, I lived for a few months at my aunt's apartment in the southside Chicago Beverly neighborhood. Since Beverly had nothing going on for a twenty-something year old guy and I hated her live-in boyfriend (now her husband), I moved out as soon as I got a job.

I lived for a few months in the north side Rogers Park neighborhood. When our landlord sold our building and ended our month-to-month lease, I suddenly had to find another place to live. Fortunately, a co-worker offered to let me stay with him in his Lakeview apartment. It worked out well for both of us-- I didn't have to rush so much to find a place, and he got someone to split the rent with for a couple of months.

One night, when I was living there, I went out for a walk. In 1986, Lakeview was a much rougher neighborhood than it is now. I was walking for a while, when suddenly I noticed that there were about twenty cops crouched down behind cars to my left. A couple of them shouted for me to get the "F" out of there-- that there was a guy in the building to my right barricaded in there with a gun. I took their advice hastily.

About a year later, I was getting off of the el downtown, at the Lake Street station. It was a Sunday afternoon, and I expected the Loop to be very quiet. As I got off the el, near the old Trailways bus station, I realized that I was once again surrounded by guys with guns-- maybe 75 or 100 of them. At first I thought I'd once again walked into a shootout. Then I noticed cameras and realized that I had walked into a movie set. It turned out that it was the scene in Midnight Run where Deniro and Grodin get off the bus to find both the FBI and the Mafia waiting for them, to capture and kill them, respectively. I'm always reminded of that moment whenever I see that scene in the movie.

The last time it happened was in 1993. I was in the now-gone Aspidistra Book Store on Clark Street. I was rummaging through a bin of used books and was thrilled to find Patrick McCarthy's biography of Albert Camus. I'd last seen the book in 1982 new in a bookstore, but having been a poor college student, couldn't then afford it.

As I excitedly perused the book, I began to realize that I was once again surrounded by guys with guns-- this time, well-dressed guys with guns. My first thought was that they were detectives about to arrest someone. I noticed that they all had radios with ear buds. I looked to my side and saw why they were there. I was standing next to the governor of Illinois, Jim Edgar.

It so happens that he and I are both graduates of Eastern Illinois University. I chatted him up for a moment, mentioning this fact. He joked that he probably went there a few years before I did. I laughed, talked to him for a minute more and let him continue shopping.

I later thought about how often I seem to be surrounded by gun-toting guys. It's happened three times. Maybe-- I hope, at least-- that like celebrity deaths, these things happen in threes, and that I'm done with it.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

An Update On Judge Butthead

A couple of days ago, Deadspot sent me a link to a BBC article about Judge Roy Pearson. He's now "About-To-Be-Former Judge Roy Pearson."

Here's the article:

If you'll recall, he sued the cleaning business of Soo and Jin Chung, in Washington, D.C. for $54 Million for the alleged loss of a pair of pants, citing their sign promising "Satisfaction Guaranteed." This was down from his original demand of $67 Million. Though the Chungs found the pants, offered to replace the pants, and even offered thousands of dollars to settle the suit, they ended up spending tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees fighting the lawsuit. I posted about it this summer.

He ended up losing the suit. The court noted that he'd been sanctioned $12,000 for dragging out his divorce proceedings a couple of years before.

The Chungs moved to recover their legal costs ($83,000) from Pearson, but dropped it when fundraising websites recovered their costs. The Chungs, unlike Pearson, aren't dicks. Though I kind of wish he'd been fined anyway.

According to a Wikipedia articlehis salary as judge was $100,512 a year. It's ironic that the last settlement offer that the Chungs made was $12,000-- the same amount he had to pay his ex-wife for being an asshole in their divorce. Deadspot has a brilliant theory: All it takes is just don't be a dick. ("That's ALL IT TAKES!") If Pearson had settled for the $12,000 from the Chungs (a ridiculous settlement, but a settlement, nonetheless), he could have paid off his divorce settlement, would not have consequently been an international laughingstock and would still have his job. But he chose to be a dick. And now he's out a job. As one of my favorite bloggers, Skyler's Dad has stated in the past, "In general, the universe is self-adjusting." The Chungs still have their business-- it's probably thriving due to the unexpected publicity and general public empathy, Pearson's ex-wife has an extra $12,000, and Pearson is about to be pounding the pavement, looking for a new job, with every possible employer knowing what an idiot he is. It all ended up as it should be.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Feelin' All Right Friday Random Ten

Got to work today to discover I've been scheduled for a couple of nights next week. That's good news-- nights are very lucrative.

Adam and his mother flew to China for a ten day stay yesterday. They're going to visit the village that his grandparents grew up in the Canton region of China, then fly to Beijing and see the Forbidden City, Tiannenmen Square, the Great Wall and other sights. I bought him a digital camera for the trip, so he should have some great pictures on his blog when he gets back. It'll be the trip of a lifetime. I'm glad that he's getting to go with his mother. I think it'll be good for her as well; though she's of 100% Chinese ancestry, she's never been to China.

Kim picked up that I was a little pensive about the trip. When I travelled overseas for the first time, right around the time Adam was born, when I went to Germany, it was the experience of a lifetime. To be in another country-- you realize how different a place and people can be. Looking back, I realize that I came back a very different person. That also happened when I went to China in 2002. I realize that he's going to come back a different person. A little more of my little boy will disappear, and a little more of a young man will come back.

Without further ado, my Friday Random Ten:

1. Used Cars- Bruce Springsteen
2. Give Me Just A Little More Time- Chairmen of the Board
3. Anniversary Song- Cowboy Junkies
4. Diddy Blah Diddy- The Sonics
5. Badge- Cream
6. Southern Nights- Glen Campbell
7. Minute By Minute- The Doobie Brothers
8. Welcome To The Boomtown- David and David
9. Bay of Kids- The Uptown Rulers
10. Girl From The North Country- Pete Townsend

1. From the great Nebraska album
2. A seventies hit.
3. Love these guys. I saw them with my friend Mark back in 1990 or so. I love the line "And you can have it all for a cup of coffee and a wedding ring..."
4. By Seattle legends The Sonics.
5. One of my favorite-ever songs. George Harrison co-wrote it and played guitar.
6. One of the few Glen Campbell songs I didn't like, but it grew on me over the years.
7. This was after the Doobies got kind of poppish, but I love the line "You think I'm your fool/You may just be right."
8. This song is so eighties!
9. This was a great ska band from central Illinois. This is digitized from vinyl.
10. A great live Pete Townsend cover of a Bob Dylan song.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

My Friend Stuart, Nelson Algren, The Haymarket Martyrs and My Folding Chairs

A few weeks ago, the cover story in the Chicago Reader was about the Nelson Algren memorial fountain that's in Wicker Park. The article focused on the complaints of a Polish-American guy who thought that the fountain should have honored the high number of Polish-Americans that have long inhabited the neighborhood. I disagreed with him. I'm all for honoring Polish-Americans or anybody else who's contributed to the rich cultural heritage of Wicker Park. But Nelson Algren was a great author, and an important part of Chicago's literary heritage and deserved the honor. He was a long-time resident of Wicker Park, where he hung out with his friends, the writer Simone de Beauvoir and her boyfriend, French philospher Jean-Paul Sartre-- and Stuart McCarrell. I disagreed with the gentleman in the article largely it was Algren's-- and my friend-- Stuart McCarrell who was responsible for the tribute to Algren.

That Algren tribute was what led, indirectly, to my meeting Stuart. Having successfully gotten a monument to Algren, my group figured that he might help us navigate the intricacies of getting statue honoring the Lincoln Brigade erected in Chicago.

For several years, I was co-chair of a Chicago group dedicated to preserving the memory of veterans of the "Lincoln Brigade," Americans who'd gone to Spain in the late thirties to try to save Spain's Republic from a fascist takeover that had been supported by Hitler and Mussolini. About 3,000 Americans had gone there to fight; nearly half of them died there. Their heroics were immortalized by the dispatches of Hemingway, Dos Passos and other writers who covered the war as journalists.

In the course of researching the possiblity of getting a Lincoln Brigade marker in Chicago, our group discovered that Eddie Balchowsky, a Lincoln Brigade vet, had been buried in an unmarked pauper's grave; he'd been indigent when he died in 1989. His friend Stuart McCarrell had had Eddie's ashes interred at Forest Home Cemetary (formerly Waldheim Cemetery) in Forest Park, Illinois. Forest Home is the resting place of many leftists, including Emma Goldman, Claude Lightfoot, Ben Reitman and of course most of the Haymarket Martyrs. There is a monument to them there. The picture at the top of the post is of me today in front of the monument to them at Forest Home Cemetery.

For most Americans, the significance of the Haymarket incident is little known. In the 1880's, Chicago was the center of the movement to bring about an eight hour workday. There were many labor and political activists in Chicago, many of them (though not all) German immigrants.

On May 4, 1886, there was a peaceful rally near Haymarket Square (where Des Plaines Avenue and the Kennedy Expressway meet now). The mayor of Chicago, Carter Harrison, Sr. had ordered the police to stay away-- he had, in fact, stopped by the demonstration. But Chicago's police chief, widely believed to be on the payroll of Joseph Medill and other powerful capitalists, ordered the police to harass the demonstrators. What happened next will be forever debated in history. What is known is that a bomb was thrown, killing Chicago policeman Mathias Degan. Six more policemen and four workers were killed-- all by police bullets, and many more were injured.

Eight men were rounded up and tried for the bombing. The eight-- August Spies, Albert Parsons, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Louis Lingg, Michael Schwab, Samuel Fielden and Oscar Neebe-- were proven to have been nowhere near the bombing, and almost certainly had nothing to do with it. Nonetheless, they were tried, convicted and sentenced to death. Two, Fielden and Schwab, had their sentences commuted to life sentences by Illinois Governor James Oglesby. Lingg committed suicide the night before the execution by exploding a dynamite blasting cap in his mouth.

The others were hanged on November 11, 1887. As he went to the scaffold, August Spies stated the words that have now become legend:

"The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today."

Those words are inscribed now at the base of the monument.

The executions, undoubtedly influenced by Chicago's powerful capitalists, temporarily stopped the "Eight Hour Day" movement in its tracks, but the Haymarket Martyrs become heroes worldwide; May Day, May 1, is a day to honor them and the labor movement that has struggled to better the conditions of workers.

Lucy Parsons, the widow of Albert Parsons, spent the rest of her life as a political radical. Ironically, her husband Albert, had been a Confederate veteran from Texas; Lucy was of African, Mexican and Native-American ancestry. She's buried a few feet from the memorial.

I always kiddingly refer to Ms. Parsons as my "historical girlfriend." She was fiery, dedicated and quite beautiful. When I was student-teaching, I discovered that her final home was a couple of blocks from where I was living. Today, I couldn't resist getting a picture of myself with my historical girlfriend.

I think that Kim is okay with me having a historical girlfriend, as long as she's a dead historical girlfriend.

Anyway, back to my friend Stuart. This picture of Stu and I was taken about seven years ago at the monument. (Yes, that's me about 40 pounds heavier than I am now) Stu, Jeff, who is a relative of Eddie Balchowsky's, and I had driven out to Forest Home to check out the plot we were planning to purchase with the money we were raising for Eddie's grave and headstone. As I mentioned, the project had started when Lincoln Brigade vet Chuck Hall, whom I was co-chair with in the Lincoln Brigade group, and his wife Bobby had introduced me to Stuart.

Stuart had been successful in getting the Algren memorial built in Wicker Park. Stu and Algren had been friends. Stuart later told me about taking the el down to Comiskey Park with Algren to see the White Sox. Though they lived on the North Side, they considered the White Sox to be the more blue collar team, and regularly went to their games.

The project to get the grave and headstone for Eddie was epic, and sometimes surreal.

First, we had to raise the money. A big chunk of that came when legendary folksinger and activist Utah Phillips came to our rescue.

Yes, that's Utah Phillips. I'm to the right, and that's Stuart to the right of me. The guy to the lower right is Chuck Hall, the Lincoln Brigade vet I mentioned. Jeff had contacted Phillips, who was coming to town to perform at the Old Town School of Folk Music in November, 2000. My now-ex-wife Cynthia and I offered the use of our dance studio, the Flamenco Arts Center, as a venue. And Stuart offered the use of his folding chairs.

Stuart was a true Frederick Engels-- a lifelong leftist who was a successful businessman. Stuart had invented an electric cauterizing scalpel that was much less expensive than others on the market. His factory was in a building in Wicker Park, right at the intersection of Damen, Milwaukee and North Avenues. When we were trying to figure out seating at the concert, Stuart offered the use of the folding chairs he owned for his business. One afternoon, I took the station wagon I'd inherited from my late grandmother, and hauled a bunch of the chairs over to the studio.

The concert was a huge success. Our little studio was packed, thanks to an article in the Chicago Sun-Times. We didn't charge for it; instead, we soliticited donations, and raised most of the money that we'd eventually need for Eddie's grave and marker. We soon paid for the plot and began planning for the marker. Jeff, Stu and I took that trip out to Forest Home to check out the site. Stu showed us the unmarked grave that he'd placed Eddie Balchowsky's cremation urn in. He also showed us the plot he'd purchased for himself, within site of the Haymarket Monument, and, as it turned out, across the access road from Eddie's plot.

At a meeting, we decided that despite the fact that none of Eddie's family had participated in his burial-- Stu had taken care of Eddie's cremation and burial-- we needed to contact the next of kin in order to move Eddie's ashes.

Eddie Balchowsky was somewhat of a legend in Chicago. If you've ever seen the documentary The Good Fight, he's prominently featured in it. Eddie was a talented pianist. In Spain, his right arm was wounded so badly that it eventually had to be amputated. Eddie continued playing through his lifetime with only his left hand.

Eddie was a fixture in bohemian Chicago for decades. My father met him in the sixties when my family lived in Lincoln Park; Eddie was a friend of our next-door neighbor and landlord, the artist and architect Tristan Meineke. Eddie would drop by Tristan's art studio and sip martinis with him. Eddie loved the good life. He was talented, charming and quite the partier. He died with not a dime to his name.

With some detective work, we were able to contact his two kids. His older daughter lived in Northern California. At first it seemed like things were going to be fine. As our contacts were with her became more and more bizarre and strained, we realized that she was mentally ill. And she suddenly began to object to our moving his ashes.

We tried to explain to her that we were moving not a body, but ashes. And that the ashes were being moved about 200 feet.

That left us with a dilemma. Not only had we purchased the plot, but we'd also collected several thousand dollars for the marker.

Jeff came up with a solution. He did a little research and discovered that often in wars, when the body of the soldier had died was missing for various reasons-- a sailor who'd been buried at sea, soldiers and airmen who were MIA, etc.-- the families would erect a cenotaph. The cenotaph he proposed would be a thirty second walk from where Eddie's ashes were already buried. And this is what we did. I had plans with my son the weekend they unveiled the marker, but I made plans to eventually go by and see it.

In the meantime, Stu and I became good friends. He, like me, loved Macintosh computers. Whenever he had an issue with his Mac, he'd give me a call, and I'd drive over to his office to help him out. As thanks, he always took me out for dinner. I suspect he knew that I was broke, and that having dinner out was a rare treat. I loved talking to him. He'd done so much in his life-- political activism, hanging out with Nelson Algren and other interesting characters, running a successful business-- he was full of great stories.

In 2002, Cynthia and I split. I started working as a sixth grade teacher in Cicero, Illinois, not far from the Forest Home Cemetery. And one day, I opened up the Chicago Sun-Times and saw an article about my friend Stuart; it was an obituary.

I called Robert, the young guy who helped Stu run his company. He told me that he'd walked into Stu's office a couple of days before and discovered him dead at his desk. He'd had a massive stroke, and hadn't even had a chance to call for help. As I talked to Robert, it occurred to me-- the folding chairs. I asked Robert if I could drop the chairs, about a dozen of them, off sometime. He chuckled and said that actually they had about a hundred more. He didn't need them back. In fact, he said, if I knew anyone who wanted some folding chairs...

Eventually, I ran most of the folding chairs to Goodwill, along with other stuff from my basement. I saved a few of them for parties and other occasions.

Eventually, in 2003, I made it out to Forest Home to see Eddie's cenotaph and to visit Stuart's grave. I discovered that there wasn't yet a marker on Stuart's grave. I assumed that there would be one eventually.

Today, I had a rare day off of work. After my class this morning, I had a late breakfast, and ran out to Forest Home to get a picture of Eddie Balchowsky's cenotaph and to visit Stuart.

It was nice seeing the cenotaph that Stu, Jeff and I had successfully brought about. It was nice to know that it'll be there a hundred years from now, within sight of the Haymarket Monument, honoring Eddie. Somehow, it made it more special that it had a great-- and a little bit absurd-- story attached to it.

I looked around today for Stuart's headstone. His plot, I remembered, was near where we'd placed Eddie's cenotaph. Surely, four years later, they'd gotten it in place. I couldn't find it, and so went to the cemetery office to get directions to Stu's plot. I discovered, to my dismay, that there was no marker. The lady in the office looked him up and told me that no marker had been placed. She gave me a map, indicating where Stu was buried-- the plot nearest the road, next to Joseph Powers, who did have a marker.

I walked back down the access road and found where Stu is buried.

I was stunned and sad to realize that Stuart, who'd made sure that his friend Eddie got a grave marker, still did not have one.

Stuart was one of the most marvelously unique, spirited and interesting people I'd ever had the good fortune to meet. He was a person who lived for his beliefs, made the world a more interesting place and cared about the people in his life-- even after they'd died. I don't know why his family hasn't taken care of putting a marker on his grave-- he had no children, but had two sisters who survived him.

It appears that it'll be up to someone else to make sure he gets a marker on his grave, and that in all liklihood, it'll have to be me. I don't know how I'll do it, but somehow, I'm going to get a marker on his grave. If only to make him easier to find when I visit him.

Hey, I Guess They Really Meant 13 Feet, 10 Inches...

Webster Avenue and Kennedy Expressway, today at about noon.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Where Do I Meet These People?, Part 2

For a while, some old friends from college-- Tim, Dan, my late friend Mark, sometimes Darin, and of course I-- had a tradition of getting together on the odd weeknight and having a libation. We'd take turns picking the venue. I'm hoping we get back to this tradition.

One time, when Dan got to pick the venue, he chose Gannon's, a pub a friend of his owns. This suited me fine, because it is a five minute walk from my home (the bloggers that went to the blogger get-together at Feed The Beast may recall that it's across the street from that establishment)

When I got there, Dan and Mark were there already, and had ensconced themselves in the seats that faced the front of the tavern, looking onto Lincoln Avenue. I sat down with my back to the door, and a while later, Tim showed up.

As happens when four old friends get together, old times get talked about. Mark, Dan and I had shared an apartment in Wrigleyville in 1988-89 that was the center of the universe for the group we had gone to school with at Eastern Illinois University in the early to mid eighties, most of whom had graduated by then. We were a two-minute walk (or crawl) from the Cabaret Metro, the Gingerman, the Wrigleyville Tap and had a habit of having a party every month or so.

Whenver Mark and Dan got to tippling and talking, their conversations always ended up gravitating to the antics of a guy named Brian Potrafka. He was a legend at Eastern. He'd appear at open mike nights with his sheaf of beat-style poetry. He'd continue until he got booed and heckled off the stage. One year, Dan and Mark colluded to get me a birthday present; it seems that Mr. Potrafka had managed to publish a collection of his poems, "Small and Wrong." They'd found it at a bookstore in Wicker Park. It's now one of my treasured possessions (pictured at the top of the post).

To punish them, I declared a "Twenty Days of Potrafka," emailing them poems I'd trancribed from the book. In actuality, I think I made it only three days. To give you an idea of what we're talking about, let me give you some titles of poems in the now-legendary "Small and Wrong Collection":

"Up Like A Bottlerocket Down Like a Stick"
"In A Cashless Future, Robots Will Cook Dinner"
"Serious Phone Empathy"
"A Tape, A Joint Or Some Money"

Those are titles that I chose knowing that my kids read my blog. Some are R-rated.

That evening, as always seemed to happen, Dan and Mark started remininiscing about the antics of Potrafka. Here was the problem-- I'd heard about this guy for twenty years and had never met him. He ran in the same social circles I had; he went to the same mid-sized midwestern college I had; we hung in the same bars in college. And yet, I'd never met him. I sometimes suspected that he was an outrageous fictional character that Mark and the Elk had made up.

As I sat there listening to the Elk and Mark once again spin their tale of the Legend of Brian Potrafka, I saw them stop mid-sentence and drop their jaws. They turned toward one another with stunned looks and both exclaimed "No!"

"That couldn't be him!

"I swear to GOD, that must have been him!

They jumped up from their seats and ran to the door and stopped a guy walking by, and talked to him for a few minutes. They walked in, shaking their heads.

Brian Potrafka had walked right past the bar. Right when they'd been talking about him.

He lived right near me, as it turned out. He'd been walking to the Jewel's grocery store next door to the tavern to pick up a few items. Dan and Mark had secured a promise from him that he'd stop by on his way back so they could buy him a beer.

When they came back in, we talked for a few minutes about the impossibility that this guy, in a city of 3 million people, was walking by the place we were gathered, just as we were talking about him. For my part, I was excited to finally meet this wild man that I'd heard about for two decades.

Brian finished his shopping and joined us for a beer. As we talked to him, I was stunned; this guy was astonishingly quiet, calm and normal. And he seemed like a very sweet person. After twenty years of hearing about him, I was expecting Hunter S. Thompson, Keith Richards and Norman Mailer wrapped up into one. He reminded me more of a middle-aged high school social studies teacher.

Some time later, when I thought about that night, I thought about my luck in life. I'd picked a school, Eastern Illinois University, because I could transfer to University of Illinois from there. I'd decided to stay, getting my Bachelor's and then Master's degrees there. I'd met Mark, Dan and Tim there. Somehow I hadn't met Brian Potrafka while he and I were both there but it made a better story meeting him twenty years later. Brian had published at least one book of poetry in the meantime. And had generated a thousand tales. He, the artist, was Dan and Mark's muse, ironically. It was an incredible coincidence that Potrafka had been walking by that night, but then, was that much more a stroke of chance and luck than me running into three kindred spirits,and lifetime friends, Dan, Tim and Mark, in the middle of the damned cornfields in central Illinois?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Armistice Day and The Road Ahead

Today is Armistice Day-- the day World War I ended, 89 years ago, on November 11, 1918. Some thoughts:

A few days ago, I was walking through downtown Evanston, from work to catch the el home, and I saw a young couple, a man and a woman, walking together. They were both in their mid-twenties or so and attractive. Then I noticed that the guy had a prosthetic leg, the newer kind that looks very unlike a real leg, but actually function much, much better than the old protheses. It dawned on me that this guy was, in all liklihood, a veteran of this godawful war in Iraq.

I was reminded of this Friday, when my friend Paul, who was the art teacher at the school I used to work with, forwarded me an email that he knew would piss me off as much it did him: it was a picture of George W. Bush giving a horribly burned American soldier a t-shirt, with the caption: "Sorry son, we ran out of all the shirts that said 'I had all my flesh melted off in Iraq for your pointless war and all I got was this stinkin' t-shirt'" I decided not to put that particular picture on my blog (my kids read my blog), but you can see that one, as well as the one that I did put at the top of this post, and others at the web address that follows. Be forewarned-- the images are rough. And it's infuriating to see George W. Bush cheerleading as he looks upon the damage he's caused.

With this war, I feel a strange sense of guilt; though I vehemently opposed it, and see now that every reason I had for opposing it was correct, I feel like I should have or could have done more to prevent it. I know that this is silly-- the right wing military-industrial juggernaut that brought this war on was going to get its way no matter what I personally did. I became determined to make sure to do whatever I can to make sure these men and women get the medical care-- both physical and psychological-- that they'll need for the coming years. There'll be people needing help for more than a half century, long after this war's become paragraph of a chapter buried in high school history textbooks. It's my belief that vets are entitled to excellent lifetime medical care, partiularly if they've been injured, and college. That's not happening for all of them, particularly the reservists who were mobilized.

I fished around and found a couple of organizations that seem on the up and up. One is the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, or IAVA. They're at:

According to their Wikipedia entry, they were formed by Paul Rieckhoff, who was a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was a reservist living in Manhattan when the planes struck the towers, and returned to active duty to try to do something about the bastards who were responsible. He was instead sent to Iraq.

Another is the Iraq War Veterans Organization, or IWVO. They're at:

They seem to focus on making sure vets get the benefits they're entitled to and to raising awareness about the problem of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in vets (an issue my own family deals with because of my brother).

If you're enjoying a day off of work tomorrow, remember who's paid the price for this and every war. And if you have a few spare bucks, maybe stop by one of those websites.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Stunt Train

Whenever there's a movie set in Chicago, there always seems to be a fight between the hero and the forces of evil on top of the el, our elevated mass transit trains (that actually run both underground and on the surface at various points). I noticed that unlike regular els, the trains in the movies always have a little platform or stage on top that the other el cars don't have.

On my way to work, I change trains at the Howard station, going from the Red Line to the Purple Line, which runs through Evanston. The Yellow Line, which has only two stops, at Howard and in Skokie, also stops there. A couple of weeks ago, I realized that the sole train used for the Skokie Swift has the movie platform on top of it. I figured this was as good a time as any to try out the camera on my new phone. Yes, I've been dragged kicking and screaming into this decade. But it's good to know that I always have a camera handy; you never know when you'll run into a movie star.

Friday, November 09, 2007

It Might Be A Giant Friday Random Ten

It was a long, productive week. Worked a double yesterday (both jobs, one shift each), busy day today. We (Kim, the kids and I) had a great time this evening with our friends Gregg and Christina, celebrating their 25th anniversary and her birthday.

I postponed my Random Ten until my drive to work today because Lin Brehmer had John and John from They Might Be Giants on this morning. As I listened to the interview and performance, I pondered the fact that while Lulu and TenS think I know everybody, it's actually Lulu who's the raconteur-- she's friends with both Mr. Brehmer and the Johns.

1. Where Have All The Good Times Gone- The Kinks
2. Good Morning, Good Morning- The Beatles
3. Running Down a Dream- Tom Petty
4. Obsession- Animotion
5. Self Control- Raf
6. I Can't Quit You Babe- Led Zeppelin
7. Autobahn- Kraftwerk
8. Misty Green and Blue- UFO
9. Shelter From The Storm- Bob Dylan
10. Ten Years Gone- Led Zeppelin

1. One of the great opening riffs in rock history.
2. From Sgt. Pepper.
3. Another great rock opening riff. Great video, too.
4. This song is so eighties, isn't it?
5. This was a big pop hit for Laura Brannigan here in the U.S. This is the original-- very European and very dark (see vid below)
6. from Zeppelin's first album.
7. The full 22+ minute version of a song called "Highway" in German, from a band called "Factory" in German. I skipped past it after 7 or 8 minutes.
8. Seventies arena rock. I never noticed until I was playing it loud in my truck today that the MP3 I have is from vinyl-- you could hear the pops and clicks. I felt nostalgic.
9. This was one of the songs I learned guitar to play for. I was shocked to find out it had only two chords. Still a beautiful song.
10. Got the Led out twice today. When I finally read Hammer Of The Gods a few years back, I learned that this song was about one of Robert Plant's old girlfriends who died. That's all right-- he still had about 3,000 ex-girlfriends left.

Didn't I Warn You?

I came home last night from work, looked at the New York Times online and saw that our great friend and ally Pakistani General/President Musharraf has placed opposition leader Benazir Bhutto under house arrest. Apparently he's learning from the example of Myanmar.

Didn't I warn you not to ask how it can get worse? It can. And will.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Sometimes You Don't Even Need A Punchline

I had to laugh when I saw an article in today's New York Times about a group of five conservative authors who have sued Eagle Publishing, the parent company of right-wing publishers Regenry Publishing, because the company is allegedly depriving them of royalties by selling their books at big discounts through book clubs and other organizations owned by Eagle Publishing.

Here's the article:"

This includes such right-wing whacko piece-of-shit classics like Jerome Corsi's "Unfit For Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry" and Col. Robert (Buzz) Patterson's "Dereliction of Duty: The Eyewitness Account of How Bill Clinton Compromised America’s National Security." I was laughing out loud as I read the list of plaintiffs. Apparently they're fine with promoting a vicious. lying, unethical money-grubbing capitalist right-wing agenda as long as it's not they who are the victims.

Hey Mr. Bartender...

A few days ago, I saw an online headline that said that one of my favorite country singers, Hank Thompson, had suddenly cancelled a tour and retired. The next day, it was announced that he was headed for a hospice. He never made it that far. Mr. Thompson died yesterday of lung cancer.

Hank Thompson wrote and sang one of my favorite-ever songs, Six Pack To Go. It's got particularly fond memories for me.

Back in my honky tonkin' days (before I was a parent), I hung at the Hopleaf tavern in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood. I'd known the owner and his wife before they opened the place, which had been an "old man" bar before. For a couple of years, me and a group of fellow slackers hung out and tippled with the old clientele as they slowly literally died off. We had a lot of good talks, a lot of good times. Back then, the place was just a bar, not a restaurant, and there was an old-fashioned jukebox providing the music. One 45 that I spent a lot of quarters on was Hank Thompson's Six Pack To Go.

These days, the place is a "gastropub." The jukebox is long gone. The place is more popular than ever. But for tonight, I'll remember back in the day (the early nineties) when it was just a bunch of old hillbillies, me and a couple others hanging out, with Hank Thompson providing the soundtrack.

Six Pack To Go
Hey Mr Bartender please don't be so slow
I've got time for me more round and a six pack to go
Tomorrow morning's Sunday I'm gonna be feeling low
So please please bartender I want a six pack to go

I've been a drinking all day long taking in the town
I've done spent my whole paycheck just a honky tonking round
Well I don't have enough to pay my rent but I ain't gonna worry though
I've got time for one more round and a six pack to go

Hey Mr Bartender please don't be so slow
I've got time for me more round and a six pack to go
Tomorrow morning's Sunday I'm gonna be feeling low
So please please bartender I want a six pack to go

I've been a drinking all day long taking in the town
I've done spent my whole paycheck just a honky tonking round
Well I don't have enough to pay my rent but I ain't gonna worry though
I've got time for one more round and a six pack to go

Wednesdays (Or Thereabouts) Forgotten Video- The Debut

I'm starting a new feature on Wednesdays (or thereabouts), inspired by Frank Simarco's great regular feature, The Wednesday 15. Although I can't guarantee that it'll always be precisely on the occasional Wednesday. It'll be, I promise, within 3 to 4 days of Wednesday. Always. You can count on that.

Today's forgotten video is Jim Capaldi's 1982 video Living On the Edge.

This video is so eighties. It was obviously done on the cheap. The main expense was either the rental of the bird or the gas to drive to the location. Despite the drug reference ("Mescalito's song will help you to be strong") and the motorcycle, I don't think that the song was about living literally dangerously. It was about living on the edge metaphorically-- taking chances on things like love, friendship and creativity. It's also about cutting your losses with things that aren't working out and moving on to new adventures, friendships, loves, etc. I like the message.

Jim Capaldi's main claim to fame was being a founding member, along with Steve Winwood and others, of the group Traffic (Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys, John Barleycorn Must Die). He also played drums for Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and George Harrison. He was a cool guy-- long involved in supporting environmental issues and helping Brazilian street children (his wife was Brazilian, and he lived in Brazil). Capaldi died of cancer in 2005 at the age of 60.

Living On The Edge
You know I've had my share of dealing with despair
I'm tired of seeing my dreams vanish in the air
Enough of users and all them two time losers
I've seen that killing floor, but I just won't take no more

So I'm gonna move out on the highway
Head on down the road, leaving it all behind
Had enough of lying, there'll be no more crying this time
Living on the edge, running with the wind
Soaring to the heights on an eagle's wing

If you wanna see your spirit flying free
Then step outside your mind and cross over the line
Don't spend your lifetime weeping
For things that ain't worth keeping
Life can be so short and you know ev'rybody's bought

So I'm gonna move out on the highway
Head on down the road, leaving it all behind
There's been too much lying, there'll be no more crying this time
Living on the edge, running with the wind
Soaring to the heights on an eagle's wing
Living on the edge

It's time to go down to Mexico
Mescalito's song will help you to be strong

So just move on down the highway
Head on down the road, leaving it all behind
Had enough of lying, there'll be no more crying this time
Living on the edge, running with the wind
Soaring to the heights on an eagle's wing
Yeah, you're living on the edge, running with the wind
Soaring to the heights on an eagle's wing ....

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Oh Yes They Can...

A couple of weeks ago, my son and I were talking about the current administration and how just when it seems like things can't go any more wrong, they do.

Case in point: what we were referring to specifically was that it looked like Turkey, a longtime U.S. ally, already pissed off by Europe's dragging its feet in allowing it into the European Union and by Congress nearly voting on the Armenian genocide, would invade Iraq's Kurdish region after Kurdish separatists based in Iraq attacked and killed some Turkish soldiers.

That would have put the administration's you-know-what in a wringer-- a putative ally, whom we've asked for help in the war, attacking Iraq. Somehow, they dodged that bullet. Congress decided to save the Armenian issue for another time, and the Kurdish guerillas returned the prisoners they took in the raid. For the moment, Turkey is holding off on the invasion.

My son and I decided that we should never ask "How can it get worse?" Because it can. And it did.

Our terrific ally, Pakistani President-For-Life Musharraf has declared a state of emergency, suspending the Pakistani legislature and courts, rounding up and jailing those dangerous human rights activists, and publicly and unabashedly having Pakistani police and troops beat the crap out of the lawyers who are demonstrating, objecting to his illegal power grab.

This comes on the heels of a couple of things-- Musharraf's protracted public fight with Pakistan's chief justice, Muahmmed Chaudhry, whom Musharraf illegally tried to fire after court opinions he objected to, and the return of Benazir Bhutto.

So let's sum up things since oh, say, November 7, 2000.

  • Al Gore wins the popular vote in the United States by over 500,000 votes. The electoral votes for Florida, where George W. Bush's brother Jeb is Governor, hang in contention. Katharine Harris, the Republican Secretary of State, the person whose job it is to assure fair elections, was Bush' campaign co-chair in Florida. She had hired a firm, ChoicePoint, to purge the voter rolls of convicted felons. As it turned out, 97% of the people purged were not convicted felons. The majority of those purged, and denied the right to vote on November 7, 2000, were African-American. After a great deal of wrangling over "hanging chads" and other things, Harris "certifies" that Bush won Florida by 537 votes.
  • The Florida Supreme Court overturns Harris' ruling, ruling for a recount. The United States Supreme Court, stacked with Republican nominees, overturns the Florida Supreme Court's ruling, 5-4. So much for the supposed conservative support of States' rights.
  • In early 2001, CIA director George Tenet warns George Bush that Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network, based in Afghanistan and supported by Afghanistan's brutal fundamentalist Islamic regime, the Taliban, was the main, and a major threat to U.S. security, and that there was no doubt that bin Laden was going to strike U.S. interests at some point. Bush' predecessor, Bill Clinton had authorized the CIA in five separate incidences to try to disrupt and destroy al Queda, including a cruise missle strike on an al Queda base in an attempt to kill bin Laden. The strike missed bin Laden by minutes. Republicans had claimed that this was an attempt by Clinton to take attention away from his sex scandal-- to "wag the dog."
  • Bush does nothing against bin Laden, al Queda or the Taliban. Pakistan, with Musharraf as leader, supports the Taliban. Iran supports the opposition to the Taliban, the Northern Alliance.
  • FBI agents frantically try to get the administration's attention concerning men, Middle Eastern citizens, here on student visas, who have been training to fly jets, but have made it clear that they have no desire to learn how to take off or land. One agent, in a now-famous report, says that he fears that theses guys are going to do something drastic like fly a jet into the World Trade Center. The administratoin ignores these reports, focusing on putting together a package of tax cuts for the rich.
  • On September 9, 2001, anti-Taliban leader Ahmad Shah Massoud is murdered by Taliban suicide bombers masquerading as journalists.
  • Two days later, on September 11, 2001, a group of terrorists, trained and funded by bin Laden successfully attack US targets by hijacking commercial jetliners and flying them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing over 3,000 Americans.
  • United States troops invade Afghanistan in support of the Northern Alliance and quickly rout the Taliban.
  • Many of the Taliban, along with Osama bin Laden, are able to escape to Pakistan.
  • The Bush Administration begins planning to invade Iraq, though there is no evidence that Iraq was involved in the attack. They cite Iraq's alleged development of "Weapons of Mass Destruction," chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, though UN inspectors have repeatedly stated that Iraq has not been doing so.
  • United States troops invade and quickly take Iraq.
  • There is an insufficient number of U.S. and "coalition" troops to prevent individuals from carting away huge amounts of weapons.
  • Iraq rapidly degenerates into factions, with different ethnic and religious groups using weapons they took, and status as soldiers, policemen, etc. to advance their causes, or simply form militias with various and sundry violent agendas. Attacks on U.S. troops escalate.
  • Iraq quickly becomes awash in killing. Civilians, police officers, Iraqi military members, politicians and of course, U.S. troops and U.S. and other civilians working in Iraq are targets.
  • Saddam Hussein, captured on December 13, 2003 by U.S. troops, is tried and convicted of charges concerning the execution of 148 Iraqi Shiites accused of plotting to assassinate him. He is executed on December 30, 2006. This has zero effect on the preventing the increasing political and religious chaos in Iraq and consequent murder and mayhem.

Which brings us to where we are. Iraq is nowhere near a cohesive national government. It's beginning to look more and more like the series of sham South Vietnamese governments that the U.S. kept successively and unsuccessfully propping up from 1962 to 1975.

And of course, in the meantime, Pakistan has officially became a dictatorship.

Could it get any worse? Don't you remember? We told you not to ask. Of course, it got worse. As of today, this is the deadliest year of the war, with 852 American troops killed. And there's still 7 weeks left to the year. So much for the "surge."

According to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count's website, 3,857 American troops have been killed in Iraq. That does not include American mercenaries "civilian contractors," truck drivers, etc. killed there. And of course, it doesn't count the thousands of U.S. troops grievously wounded and maimed.

The intent of Paul Wolfowitz and the other neo-Conservative geniuses that got us into the mess was to make Iraq a shining example of democracy in the Mideast. And where is that fabled democracy? Certainly not in Iraq. Or Pakistan. Or Egypt, where political opponents are regularly imprisoned and tortured. Saudi Arabia? Kuwait? Syria?

Or even the United States. Among the responses of this administration to the attack was to gather up suspected terrorists and hold them illegally in prisons at Guanatanamo Bay, Cuba and others, denying them legal counsel, or for that matter even acknowleding they even exist, in some cases. And of course, there was the "Patriot Act," which infringed on basic Constitutional rights of U.S. citizens like Due Process, guarantees of privacy and the First Amendment.

And on top of all that, the Taliban is making a comeback in Afghanistan because of Taliban troops based in the territory of our good friends in Pakistan, and the fact that American resources are tied up in a futile war in Iraq.

To the people who fear we may be headed for an invasion of Iran, I disagree, not because of any faith in the good judgement of this administration, obviously, but because we simply don't have the troops to do it. We can't even control Iraq, an ethnically-fragmented country with a broken military. How would we attack Iran, a country with nearly three times the population, a relatively ethnically homogenous population, and with an excellent and well-equipped military?

I don't dare say "How can it get worse?" Because it still can.

It's clear that Iraq is headed for a break-up, and that the overall intent of the neo-Cons is headed for abject failure. Even after a break-up, the new states will fight internally. Decades of thwarting political development are coming home to roost. Iraq was an artificial country to begin with. The neo-Con fantasy that they would magically develop a stable western-style democracy was just that-- a fantasy-- especially in light of the fact that these idiots did so much damage to our own democracy in the process.

Day after day, American soldiers are asked to die for ideas that are clearly monsterous failures. And to quote 2004 Democratic candidate Senator John Kerry, speaking before the U.S. Senate a generation ago, on April 23, 1971, about the Vietnam War, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a failure?"

To quote a sign I'm seeing more and more, "Support Our Troops; Bring Them Home."

One More Character Actor...Or Actress, Actually

With both jobs and school going well, I decided I have the room and resources here at Casa De Yen to add one more character actor-- or actress, actually-- in Splotchy's "Adopt-A-Character-Actor" program.

After a lot of thought and consideration, I've decided to adopt Lupe Ontiveros. You may recognize her as the mother in the 2002 movie Real Women Have Curves. Up until that point, she'd most been cast mostly as a maid-- by her own estimate, somewhere between 150 and 300 times.

A couple of years ago, all the newsmagazines had stories about how latin was suddenly "in." JLo, Ricky Martinez, Eva Longoria and other attractive young people were trotted out to demonstrate this. Yet, latino has always been "in" and part of Americana ever since the United States siezed 2/3's of Mexico's territory after the 1846-1848 War against Mexico. Actors like Edward James Olmos, Luis Guzman, and of course Ms. Ontiveros, have quietly taken roles for decades in Hollywood, often in blatantly stereotypical roles-- for men, gang members, for women, maids.

Hollywood finally seems to be wising up slowly, and actors like Ms. Ontiveros are finally being offered a little better roles. Ms. Ontiveros was cast in Real Women Have Curves as a seamstress (and business owner/entrepeneur). Yes, barely a step up from maid in the "latin stereotypes," but a step in the right direction. Her persistence in hanging in there in an industry that is slow to mend its ways is admirable, and hopefully be rewarded with some more substantial roles.

Monday, November 05, 2007

A Little Magic and The Teachable Moment

When I made the decision to leave teaching and work toward a degree in Pharmacy, I also made the decision to work as a waiter full time. There were various reasons for this. It's among the most flexible jobs when it comes to schedule. This is important in juggling school and spending time with Kim and the kids. The money is, in general good. It's something I'm good at. I can do it and still have the mental energy for school. And in the end, it's something I enjoy doing.

Today I worked a lunch shift at the restaurant that Lulu and Tenacious S told me about when they found out I was looking for a waitering job. The place has turned out to be a great place to work. The people who own it (two of the are friends of Lulu and TenS) are good at what they do and nice people. They understand that in a restaurant/pub, you're not just in the business of providing food and drink for people; you're there to provide a place and means for good times-- family events, celebrations, dates, or just a welcome lunch break.

Today, as the lunch rush started, a group of six was seated in my section. As I approached them them to tell about the lunch specials and get a drink order, one member of the group stopped me and said, "Hey, you work at Jury's, don't you?" I stopped, looked at him and said that I did, and ran through my mental rolodex, trying to place his face. He reminded me-- "Remember-- you asked my wife and I if we were celebrating something."

I remembered. He and his wife were in on a weeknight and had a bottle of wine and nice dinners-- one of them had steak. They also had dessert. People having a nice dinner like that on a weeknight is a signal that they're celebrating something. When I brought them the check, I asked them if they were celebrating something; they were, indeed. The husband had gotten a new job, one he was really happy to get. I told them that I thought they'd been celebrating something, and that the dessert was on the house.

It turned out that today was his first day on that job, and that the lunch was to welcome him to the company, obviously a small one. The boss, who was maybe 34 or 35, sprung for the lunch. I had a chuckle, realizing that I'd gotten to celebrate a happy event with this guy not just once, but twice, in two different restaurants.

As the afternoon went on, the other waiter was cut, and business dwindled down. A couple of more tables came in. One was a single guy. He started out by asking a lot of questions that I thought were pretty obvious. I was tired today, having worked last night and had class in the morning, and at first I was a little annoyed. As he asked questions, it dawned on me-- he was developmentally disabled. The old, crude term for this was "retarded." He was, in educator-speak, "high-functioning." He could obviously read, and he had a good vocabulary. He ordered a beer and after asking me to describe it, ordered our "pub lunch," a chicken breast with mash potatoes, gravy and green beans.

Later, as he finished his meal, I asked him if he needed anything else. He said he was done and just needed the check. I brought the check, which he examined for some time. I thought he might need some explanation and went over to him to check. He had a question: how much was the tip? I realized that he was looking for it on the check. I took a moment and explained that the tip was up to him. I explained that the tip should be 15 to 20 percent, based on how good you felt the about the service.

A little over fifteen years of teaching taught me to look at faces. And looking at his face, I could see he was puzzled. I tried explaining about moving over the decimal point and adding half. I could see I wasn't getting anywhere. Finally, I just told him "tip what you feel you should."

He explained to me that he was trying to get out and learn how to deal with life more. And I understood what a big step this was for him. I figured that he must live in some kind of assisted living faciility nearby, and that he wanted to get out and start living a normal life.

I picked up the check, telling him I'd be back with the change. He told me that it was all there. As I walked back to cash it out, I looked at it. For the $11.58 check, he'd handed me a ten, a single, eight pennies-- and two nickels. He hadn't given me enough money-- short by forty cents. I was going to just cash it out and not worry about the forty cents, when it dawned on me. He'd confused nickels and quarters.

In education, we have what we call "the teachable moment." It can be a lot of things. It can be a student asking a question that starts a great discussion. It can be a science or math activity that the students are really getting into, and you decide to change your lesson plans to go with it. It can be a group of students asking you to use a particular book for their group for "guided reading."

At that moment, I sensed a teachable moment. I went back to him and showed him the money he'd given me, and pointed to the two nickels, and asked if he'd thought they were quarters. He looked puzzled and said, "Aren't they?" I explained to him that quarters were silver-colored like that, but bigger. I told him that I'd give him a moment to figure it out.

I went back a moment later and saw that he had the proper amount together. There was also a dollar lying on the table. As I thanked him and took the check and money away, he said "Oh, sir, this is for you."

I gave a thought to thanking him and telling him not to worry about it. Then I realized what that dollar meant to him-- a normal life. I smiled, took the dollar and thanked him.

Friday, November 02, 2007


It's been a pretty hectic week and I'm finally getting a chance to relax and post Halloween pictures.

Last Friday, I took the kids to get pumpkins. Two minutes before we set out to the pumpkin place we go to every year, it started pouring rain, of course. Fortunately, the rain eased to a hard drizzle by the time we got to the pumpkin place.

It was fun watching them scope out the pumpkins, picking out the perfect one. I remembered doing the same-- there was something about it-- the pumpkin that matched the perfect one that you saw in your head.

The next night, we put newspaper on the dining room table and using the kit Kim picked up, carved the pumpkins.

While they worked, it was my job to sift through the "pumpkin glop"...

to extricate the seeds.

More on that later.

When they finished, I put tea light candles in the jack'o'lanterns and put them on the back porch.

Wondering about those pumpkins seeds? I cleaned them and put them in a bowl of saltwater, put them in the refrigerator for a day. Then I spread them out on a cookie sheet...

...and baked them at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes or so, turning them with a spatula several times.

One of the things I love about being a parent is that it gives you an excuse to do things that you're purportedly too old to do now, like pumpkin-carving. And to get some pumpkin seeds while you're at it. Maybe next year, I'll do a costume too, if I can think of a good one. The kids both had great costumes this year. Mel was one of the characters from High School Musical.

Adam, the Evil Dictator, became the Even More Evil Dictator, Dick Cheney, for Halloween. The picture is actually missing part of the costume-- a flannel shirt and a toy hunting rifle.

In the meantime, I'll post soon about the role that my love of pumpkin seeds played in my days as a fourth grade "playah." In honor of Halloween, here's a video of the Dead Kennedys doing my favorite Halloween song, about people who live their true lives only when they think that society approves.


So it's Halloween
And you feel like dancin'
And you feel like shinin'
And you feel like letting loose

Whatcha gonna be
Babe, you better know
And you better plan
Better plan all day

Better plan all week
Better plan all month
Better plan all year

You're dressed up like a clown
Putting on your act
It's the only time all year
You'll ever admit that

I can see your eyes
I can see your brain
Baby, nothing's changed

You're still hiding in a mask
You take your fun seriously
No, don't blow this year's chance
Tomorrow your mold goes back on

After Halloween

You go to work today
You'll go to work tomorrow
Shitfaced tonight
You'll brag about it for months

Remember what I did
Remember what I was
Back on Halloween

But what's in between
Where are your ideas
You sit around and dream
For next Halloween

Why not everyday
Are you so afraid
What will people say

After Halloween

Because your role is planned for you
There's nothing you can do
But stop and think it through
But what will the boss say to you

And what will your girlfriend say to you
And the people out on the street they might glare at you
And whadya know you're pretty self-conscious too

So you run back and stuff yourselves in rigid business costumes
Only at night to score is your leather uniform exhumed
Why don't you take your social regulations
And shove 'em up your ass