Monday, December 28, 2015

Walter Did It

I joined a book group where we each bring a favorite book to recommend to the others.  I just finished reading one of the selections and I loved it.  This is a good idea!

Now I'm thinking about what book to recommend at the nest meeting.  Which got me to remember that I still love Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned by Walter Mosley.  I'm going to pull it off the shelf and get ready to talk about it again.  I'm going to say it has a great plot.  And, what I got from the story is that dignity can occur in the most impossible ways and in the worst times and places.  I've tried to remember that.

Selecting this book is an act of forgiveness toward Mosley that doesn't come easily.  I'm still mad at him for killing off my favorite of his characters -- Easy Rawlins.  I'm not the only one who loved Easy.  He appeared in ten books.  Denzel played him in Devil in the White Dress.

I guess authors get to do whatever they want with their characters.  And readers get to react.  It's what keeps us connected.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Champ at any Age

If you hate boxing movies, move along.  But, if you could take a punch during Raging Bull or if you still remember The Harder They Fall, you won't be able to help yourself watching the latest great one -- Creed.    And no, you don't have to be able to recite the Rocky movies to enjoy this.  (Although the references and visual cues are everywhere.)  It's a contemporary take on the often told tale.

Ah, Sylvester Stallone.  He joins the many actors who are back for one more shot at the Title -- and he is perfect.  He just plays OLD so well.

This oldster was with him all the way.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

For the Rest of Us

I've been invited to a Festivus Party.  Festivus sounded familiar and the hosts included a link to the Seinfeld episode that explains it all.  In the spirit of Larry David's idea of merriment, guests are expected to get up and share their grievances for the year.

Since I would never expose the endless loop of grievances that comprise my inner dialogue; and in the spirit of parlor games and with my tongue placed firmly in my cheek, here goes:

My grievance is with the grown men who have decided to become women.  These "women-come-lately" are getting way too much attention and praise.  These are the former men who never waited to get asked to the prom, who never took a job as a secretary.  They never got pregnant, or worried about getting their period.  They never marched for the ERA amendment or for equal pay.  They were never invited to the casting couch.

But now that women are graduating from college at a higher rate than men, are going in big numbers to medical and law school, now it's okay to want to become a woman.

And when they do cross over, they want to slather on the makeup and go for the cleavage.  Enough of these nouveau femmes!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Here Comes Michael

Who will dislodge Donald Trump from the top of the Republican pack?  Will another Republican candidate be able to do it?  Or, one or more of the billionaire big-wigs?  For those of us who watch cable news this seems to be the ONLY news and the ONLY question.  And, so far, it's nobody.

So, when I read today that Michael Moore was putting on the gloves and stepping into the ring for round one vs. Trump, I was intrigued.  Is this just a publicity stunt for Moore's new documentary?  Or, does Moore think he (being the ultimate anti-Trump) can even things up a little bit?

I have long believed that Moore begat Bernie.  Yes, it was Moore who softened us up to accept and throw some love at another disheveled provacateur.

Looking at the title of Michael Moore's autobiography, I say "Here Comes Trouble" for Donald Trump.  I hope I'm right.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Life Under the Gun

It's scary out there, and in my mind as well.  It reminds me of when I was a girl during World Ward II.  The grownups would be talking in the other room and I could tell by their voices that they were scared.   Like when my friend MaryAnn Heileman decided she was my enemy and chased me down the block after school.

My father had just died.  That hadn't even sunk in.  I don't think of that time being about his death.  That only came way after when I was trying to explain things to myself.  As if I ever could.

My mother was traveling for work and when she was gone we were in the care of our maid Mattie. One night her daughter and her daughter's boyfriend came over.  They were talking about the Japs.  The boyfriend said the Japs skinned people alive.

Mattie told him to be quiet but it was too late.  It feels like that now.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Future is Now

There's a fascinating article in this week's New Yorker magazine about Artificial Intelligence.  The same scientists who are bringing us the self-driving car are meeting to ponder the ultimate question:
Will we develop A.I. to the point where it will be capable of engineering us out of human existence?
Some consider this the prime threat while others concede that humanity may occupy a temporary spot on an ever-evolving continuum.

 The A.I. people think of themselves as futurists;  but I say there's really little to wait for. In our puny state of non-artificial intelligence, we are capable of extinction right now. The atomic bomb scientists were unable to resist the urge to solve the power puzzle no matter the result.  We watch as the polar bear swims to his death. The shooter's dream is to turn the gun upon himself.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Lost and Found

My friend Bonnie's review of a play about a heist at the Art Institute reminds me of a story I love to tell.  Many years ago, I was friendly with a man who owned a warehouse on the near south side.  The business specialized in small storage for short periods of time.

One day a man came in with a package, left it for storage, took his claim ticket and left.  Over time, since no one picked it up, and since the package was sturdy and flat, someone put it next to the coffee machine.  It was a convenient surface for cups and sugar.

A few months later, the FBI arrived: "We need to search the warehouse."  They found what they were looking for:  the Cezanne painting stolen from the Art Institute.  It was undamaged except for a few coffee stains on the packaging.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Angry Times

John Grisham is angry.  His new novel, Rogue Lawyer, reflects these angry times.  As always, America's favorite storyteller tells a legal eye opener that is fierce on the page.  And, as always, his hero is up against it.  But this time, Sebastian Rudd doesn't waste a minute thinking decency plays a deciding role.  No more knives to the gun fight.  Rudd is willing to bring and use any amount of ammunition.  Grisham, in explaining his new character, puts it this way:  "If they play dirty, Rudd plays dirty.  If they play clean, he'll keep it clean."

Bernie Sanders is angry. And, he lays out in eloquent detail how Americans are up against it. "We need a social revolution," he says.  Bernie is counting on a nation of voters as tough as Sebastian Rudd to show up at the polls.

Hillary Clinton is angry.  But she will never show it. She knows personally and politically how dirty the game is played and she will be tough but cool.  She is counting on a nation of voters who will consider her good enough for the job.

John Grisham's novels always win.  He begins a new one each January and completes it by April.  The rest of the year he pursues his interests, including the Innocence Project, and golf.

I wonder who will win politically in these angry times. And, I wonder if the infuriating issues raised in Rogue Lawyer will ever be addressed.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


Learning that many sports stories are "written" by computers shakes me up, but not too much.  I remember when baseball announcers worked off the wire that gave them the stats inning by inning. They would then spin these facts into a tale of action on the field that they could not see or hear. Ronald Reagan did this.  Good start, huh?  Stories come from many sources.

I wonder what the robot writers are preparing for the Cubs story.  My friend Rex, the novelist and baseball lover, could get them started in an interesting direction.  Of our down-three-games team he says: "Why not stay in last place in the first place?"

I'll take that a little further.  Why not revel in being the Kings of Last Place?   Is one spray of champaign worth a metamorphosis?  Face it.  Do you feel happy or frustrated when the '85 Bears or the '05 White Sox are paraded around town?

Would anyone remember Casey at the Bat if not for the last line?

Thursday, October 15, 2015


Now that Bernie wants us to look at Denmark's social policies, my interest in Danish TV takes on an aura of "current events."  Netflix brings you the world!  My favorite show is Borgen which goes on for three seasons so it must have been a favorite in the Democratic Socialist country.

It follows the career and personal life of the first female Prime Minister.  We get high-stakes bargaining among the various parties in a parliamentary system, orchestrated by a determined and high-minded pro who takes humane policies seriously and is up to the infighting.  (Oh, if only Hilary was for real.)

This plays against the equally dramatic scenes of domestic turmoil caused by her 24/7 career. Another plot involves the Prime Minister's "spin-doctor" and the relentless, ambitious news team who cover it all.

Bernie is on to something.  Borgen portrays a complicated but better world than the mean and terrifying House of Cards.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Human Element

In the class I am taking about robots, we oldsters are in various phases of astonishment and dismay at how much "human" activity has already been accomplished by machines and how much more there is to come.  "But the machines are only as good as the people who program them.  We're still in charge," some of us say.  No so, we learn.  The computers can identify problems and fix them all by themselves.  (Did I just refer to a robot as "self"?)

I was thinking about this when listening to my sports guys rail against the umpires in a recent playoff game.  "That plate umpire was atrocious!"  Or,  "Instant replay showed he was clearly out!"  Ah, instant replay.  Until recently, we were content with the "human element" in sports.  Bad calls and grumpy umpires were part of the game.

With technology, the urge to fix is insistent.  So, now we have overlords sitting in a room far away with the power to reverse a call -- or let it stand.  With that, sports takes a step away from life.  So far, life doesn't give us instant replay to correct our mistakes and alter the consequences.

If you are comforted by instant replay and the "justice" implied, remember this:  it is a surrender of the "human" element.

Did I just slip?  Is that a slope I see?

Friday, October 2, 2015

Matt and Water on Mars

I wonder if the announcement of the discovery of water on Mars was aimed to tie in to the opening of the movie The Martian starring Matt Damon.  After all, we know these CEO's love to talk about "synergy" and maybe NASA is for sale now too.

The film is about a scientist in space who mistakenly gets left behind by his crew.  Familiar?  We'll never forget little ET who didn't make it back to the spaceship.  The whole world unites to try to get Matt back to earth.  Familiar?  We all know that one sure way everyone on earth will get together is when we are attacked by aliens.  Of course, there's nothing alien about the likeable Matt Damon.

When a film touches on these familiar themes, there's something for everyone.  Including me!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

State Dinner

I know you're probably pooped from watching all the Pope stuff.   It's redundancy for ratings that's at work and I got bored after the first go around.  So, I'm not going to linger too much with this but just make a small observation.

I wish some of the Pope stuff had rubbed off on President Obama in his choice of guests for the state dinner with the Chinese head of State.  I know Michele looked gorgeous and she was wearing Vera Wang.  Careful choice.  I also know that these dinners are payback for big donors.  So what else is new?

With the Pope in mind, maybe a few Chinese restaurant owners could have been invited?  Not the ones in New York or here in Chinatown, but a few from Idaho or North Dakota?  It always amazes me that there's a chinese restaurant no matter where you are.

I hope the egg roll was crisp not soggy and the fortune cookies held out hope for us all.

Friday, September 11, 2015

C'mon Al

C'mon Al, please lighten up.  I saw you on TV last night and I felt sad.  That's something I thought I would never say about Al Frankin:  the man with the grin, the chuckle and the dead aim at the overblown.  Yes Al, we all know you are a SENATOR now, and it is SERIOUS work.  But does it have to be a metamorphous?  If so, this is one in reverse:  the beautiful butterfly that you were on Saturday Night Live has become the grey caterpiller we don't pay attention to.

When asked to comment on the Presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, I sat up.  "If anyone can handle this one, it's our Al," I grinned.  Instead, he went all sour.  "I am a SENATOR now."  He looked like he would go home and burn all of his copies of Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot.

They say Washington ruins everyone.  It does take its toll.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Don't blame me

 Michael Brown, the notorious ex-Fema Chief during Katrina,  has written a plea "Don't Blame Me for Katrina."  It turns out to be all about him.  Sorry, we don't feel sorry for you.

Now, is Andy Cohen, the ebullient guru of Bravo TV Network and King of Reality TV,  going to have to do the same?   Is Andy going to have to write: "Don't Blame Me for Donald Trump?"

 I'll bet he doesn't because Andy is so likeable and savvy.  And he is never defensive because  he learned so well from Jerry Springer.  Andy elevated the game to fight-fests for the middle class.  He loves and respects all of his trashy "real" characters as he rolls his eyes and carts his money to the bank.

My favorite awful show is "Housewives of New Jersey" followed closely by "Housewives of Los Angeles."  Jersey has two players taking turns in jail and LA has one just arrested for shop lifting from Target.  So it goes.

The best person I can imagine to interview The Donald would be Andy.  I'm sure he understands him completely.

C'mon Andy.  Make it happen.

Friday, August 21, 2015

"I've Lived a Wonderful Life."

Oliver Sacks, the neurologist, professor, and masterful story teller, is facing death.  He is doing it in the way we love best about him -- writing a revealing story that draws us close.  Sacks is the author of so many best selling books.  His brain damaged patients become inspiring characters we can learn from and admire.  I'm sure you also remember Sacks' book Awakenings.  Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams played in the film.

Now, Oliver Sacks is giving himself the dignity and love he lavished on his patients as he opens up about his own life. Early on,  he fled from his Orthodox Jewish upbringing -- even from religion itself.  For many years he exiled himself into a sexual wilderness before accepting his homosexuality and love.  Sacks says: "Life is a welcome gift."  The gift of Oliver Sacks is ours to receive.

Jimmy Carter once again astonishes us with the calm way he moves in the spotlight  -- his only purpose to improve the lives of those around him.  This time we learn about his brain cancer.  Because he is not afraid,  maybe we can better face our fears.

People rush to agree that Carter has been a wonderful ex-President, devoting himself to humanity at every turn.  I agree of course, but also say that he was a great President in many important ways.  No wars, no drones, no prison camps, and those solar panels on the White House roof.  I'm happy enough with that.

Shortly before he died, Bill visited with his boss Sydney Pollack.  He told Bill he was sad to go and then said "I've lived so many of my dreams.  I've lived a wonderful life."

Friday, August 14, 2015

Two Kings

Michael Jordan returned to Chicago this week.  Adoring fans flocked downtown to catch a glimpse of him as he entered the Courthouse.  Michael was here to testify in a lawsuit over protecting his identity against illegal use. The illegality had already been affirmed.  Now it was time to find out what that identity is really worth.  Jordan's hefty contracts with Nike, Gatorade, Hanes and others add up to millions.
It's very good to be Michael Jordan.

Le Bron James returned to Akron, Ohio last year.  He chose to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers because he missed his roots.  Adoring fans forgave him for leaving and cherished his return.  Today, King James announced that, through his foundation, he is going to put up the money for more than 1,000 grade schoolers to attend college.   If they keep up their education, they will be able to attend the University of Akron with Le Bron footing the entire bill.

It's very good for deserving kids to know Le Bron James.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Could it be?

When my baseball loving friend Don died a few years ago, I lamented: "Another Cub fan dies too soon."  I was thinking about the White Sox fans who in 2005 flocked to cemeteries around Chicago to let their loved ones know that the Sox had finally won the ultimate prize and were world champs.  It wasn't quite as startling as when Obama was elected President, but it had that same feel of "I never thought I would live to see the day."

 Wrigley field held no allure for me. It seemed like a falling apart dump the last time I was there.  Maybe I didn't get near enough to the ivy to feel it was special.  And, the owners always seemed like they wanted to big foot the neighborhood.

But now I am ready to put this all aside and hope that the Cubs win.  When they swept the Champion San Francisco Giants over the weekend, I decided it would be small minded not to urge them on.

So, this White Sox fan is embracing diversity.  I'm not going to watch or anything.  Just wish them well.

Saturday, August 1, 2015


There was a time when "disposable" was considered cutting-edge innovation.  I remember when, at the hospital, I was offered a sample supply of the new disposable diapers -- the first ones on the scene before they reached the market.  They were pretty awful so I stuck with the diaper man who picked up and delivered the cloth ones twice a week.

I was reminded of "disposable" when I went to the grocery store today.  No more plastic bags.  You get one free shopping bag -- the next time you have to pay for one.  "Re-use" and paper is the new innovation.

So is Uber and Airbnb.  They are the two "sharing" services that take advantage of internet connections.  Just as everyone can be a journalist on Facebook, etc., now everyone with a car or spare room can have a "job."

The diaper men were the ones who became disposable.   Will pensions, safety regulations, and "expertise" be next?

I wonder.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

No Guns Allowed?

"No guns allowed." I noticed the sign on the doorway to my doctor's office.  These signs have been popping up a lot lately.  I guess they're a small gesture against the epidemic of gun violence.

 I went into the waiting room ready to take my stress test. Suddenly, a man in one of the offices started screaming threats and obscenities.  We couldn't see what was happening but it sounded like a fight or an effort to subdue him.  A nurse came out and asked us to wait outside.  "We've called 911," she said.  The man was still screaming.

I left.  I could schedule my stress test for another day.  Stress indeed.

And what would have happened if the man had a gun?  Was the sign enough?  I'm pretty sure no one would have frisked him.  So that's how it is now.  Your in school, in a movie theater, in church, at the doctor.  You're there and then you're dead.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Out of the Bubble

David Raup and Bumble Bee Bob died this week.  I was friends with them at one time or another along the long and winding road.  Raup was a famous paleontologist at the University of Chicago. When I knew Dave, he was eager to prove that an asteroid killed off the dinosaurs.  I helped him with a few sentences and he was generous enough to acknowledge me in one of his books.

Bob Novak was a funky musician and popular artist -- Chicago through and through.  Marguerite has one of his paintings.  I'm sure his life will be celebrated now at bars around town.

As an oldster,  I joke that I live life in a bubble.  My friends and I seem to look at life through the same lens. Yes, there are a few other-minded men in some of my classes, but nothing too challenging.

Last week, my friend Trudy posted this quote on Facebook:  "Become friends with people who aren't your age . . .   people whose first language isn't the same as yours . . . who don't come from your social class. . ."

Thanks Elsa, Shelby, Soo, Gerry, Helena, Molly and of course Dave and Bob for some good times out of the bubble.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Oak Lawn Memories

I woke up this morning thinking of my detour years in Oak Lawn.  Before I lived there, I thought of it as the place where south siders moved when real estate hucksters knocked on their doors crying: "the blacks are coming . . . the blacks are coming" and the homeowners scurried away.

By the time I arrived things were built up:   ranch homes, Catholic churches, great park facilities. It was the good union middle class life we yearn for today.  I loved it.  Probably because I was in love with Gerry -- the man who had brought me there.  And probably because his friends were so welcoming of this exotic north sider.

On Sundays we would go to one of the many golf courses.  He played, I struggled.  I say now: "I loved everything about golf except the golf:  the early morning quiet, the grass and trees, the sunshine and the big breakfast after.

There were comedy clubs, dance clubs, diners and steak houses, many on and around 95th Street.  The joke was: "on the north side it's "sauce."  On the south side it's "gravy."  Oak Lawners loved to jitterbug and drink.

Gerry and I (and Oak Lawn) lasted for about 5 years.  Then the impossibility of it all caught up with us.  That impossibility was definitely personal, not geographic.  I'll always have Oak Lawn.

Monday, July 13, 2015


Sandra Verthein's post about reading stats caught me off guard.  80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.  42% of college grads never read another book after college.  This puts a new slant on "best sellers," doesn't it?

My friend Kathy always said that reading great literature was the best form of therapy.  If you agree that reading expands our place in the universe and inspires empathy you understand what she is getting at.

Maybe health care professionals should start book clubs among their patients.  I'll always take the written word over popping a pill.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Sky High

Watching Million Dollar Listing: New York, the Bravo reality show, isn't any fun anymore.  The millions have gone as sky high as the buildings.  The real estate and the people who buy it are way too "special" -- even for a natural voyeur like me.

New York is going the way of Venice and other "trophy" cities: only affordable for global oligarchs and other billionaires who often don't even live there but touch down every once in awhile and boast of the precious address.

So where do the squeezed out New Yorkers -- especially the creatives --  go?  Brooklyn has been mined, as have Harlem and Queens.  Some are in eastern Pennsylvania.  Others are snapping up depressed real estate as far away as Detroit.

Bill says many are coming up the Hudson River to Kingston, New York, where he has his office.  It is a delightful little town.  I especially liked the big comfortable independent book store and the little pizza place next door.  Delicious!

Artists always seem to find a way.  Just like Bill and Elsa.  They landed in wonderful Woodstock after their cross country adventure last summer.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Keeping Them in Mind

When your family lives elsewhere it's crucial to have an image of where they are. The house, the rooms, the yard, the road.  A place to put their faces.  This helps to keep them in your mind and heart.  I realized this upon returning from a visit to upstate New York, where Bill, Elsa, Natalie and Diego moved last summer from Los Angeles.  The gap in imagining their surroundings was stressful.  Yes, mental pictures are important.

So, how was Woodstock?  Lots of t-shirts, jeans, sandals, beards, and everything organic.  No chain stores, malls, fast food, or tall buildings.  Gorgeous trees everywhere.  Two-lane roads.  It's so appropriate that the Grateful Dead grabbed the headlines while I was there.

I loved the week in Woodstock territory.  And, the view from the 26th floor looked good upon my return.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Stretched Out Style

I noticed a little headline on the NY Times web page: "NBA Draft Needs a Men's Wear Makeover."
"Oh no you don't." I cried.  "You're not going to ruin one of my favorite fashion shows of the year."  I don't know these young players, or any of their stats.  I show up for the outfits.

When your legs reach higher than the interviewer's head, you don't buy off the rack.  These custom made suits are amazing.  The number one pick in the NBA 2015 draft goes to:  the electric blue suit with the skinny tie.  The number two pick are the silver porcupine shoes.

All of the lottery teams are winners.  They got NBA fashion at its finest.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Outside the Lines

I am following with interest the controversy stirred up by Laura Kipnis.  She is the Northwestern University Professor and author.  I knew her when I was married to her father. Since then, I have applauded from the sidelines as she occasionally hits the headlines with her provocative points of view.

Laura says that the current across-the-board bans against university professors dating students is caused by “sexual paranoia” on campus.  In retaliation, some NU students sued her for sexual harrassment under Title IX.  Which led to Kipnis’ argument that this is an absurd stretch for the use of Title IX.  The University has stood behind her, the suit went nowhere, but the controversy remains.

Ah, Universities.  Let’s go back for the football, basketball, or maybe a class reunion. 

Ah, Academia.  Outside the sight of those who scratch for a living.  Or, remembered fondly by those who are living their lives, and can barely remember what Ulysses was about anyway.

Ah, Professors.  Still fighting for the world of ideas and taking seriously the concept of rational thought.  The powerful have long since bent rationality to serve their material or ideological interests.

Good for you Laura Kipnis.  She says “bring it” and is smart enough to take what comes her way.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Kudos to Kerr

The NBA finals start this week.  No Bulls, but plenty to get excited about.  LeBron vs. Steph.  Star Power vs. Team Power.  Two down-on-their-heels cities (Cleveland/Oakland) that deserve some fun.

I'm for the Warriors and it's because of Steve Kerr.  Yes, he was a sharp shooter for the Bulls.  And yes, he made a game-winning finals shot inches away from Michael Jordan.  But, there's more.

Steve Kerr was born in Beirut, Lebanon. His parents were teachers at the American University of Beirut.  He father Malcolm was an international expert on the middle east and he wrote with compassion about Arab life.  That didn't stop a terrorist from shooting him dead.

Steve was back in the U.S. attending college.  He was 18.

Let's tip the scales of life a little for Steve.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Can you spell it?

In grammar school, I entered the Spelling Bee every year.  I always lost to Marvin Bernstein.  He was the Jordan/LeBron keeping me from the title.  I never scored the winning shot.  Apparently, if I tried again today, young Indian-Americans would block my way.  The 2015 Winners are Vanya Shivashankar and Gokul Venkatachalam.  Maybe it was having to learn to spell their own names that inspired their interest.  I've heard also that competing is a family thing.

For everyday spelling, computers have made champions of us all.  Spell Check will handle it immediately.  There are even programs that make sure we get the grammar right.

I'm not surprised about the spelling help.  With calculators everywhere, it's been years since I went through the mental exercise of remembering the multiplication tables.  I mean I'd be glad if I could recall them, but that would be some "senior" thing.

Aside from participants in the Spelling Bee, maybe it will be up to scrabble players to keep alive a keen interest in seldom used words and how to spell them.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Live and Let Live?

Raoul Castro was so impressed by his visit with the Pope that he said he may go back to the Church.  This was a person to person moment but it is true that secular revolutions -- even the successful ones -- beget religious counterrevolutions and this can happen as quickly as in one generation.

Michael Walzer, in his book The Paradox of Liberation tries to make some sense of this.  Walzer says that liberators look down on the people they come to set free.  As they overthrow the dictators, the liberators want to "improve" the timid, submissive populations.  They want to create a "stronger man."  In this effort religion is an obstacle to overcome. What liberators underestimate are other powerful qualities of religion:  endurance, solidarity, purpose.  These qualities can also create a "stronger man."

Is religion simply lack of education?  Can rational man and fundamentalist man ever engage?  I though about this recently while attending a funeral at a Catholic Church.  I sat among people who knew exactly what to do.  When to stand, when to sit, the words to every song and prayer.  Submissive?  Yes.  Identity, belonging, community?  Yes to that too.

Walzer says that successful secular revolutions have not finished their work, nor have the religious counterrevolutions that contradict them.  Maybe that's a weak place to land . . . or an invitation to continue pondering the paradox.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Robo People

I want to write about robots but I'm not sure what I want to say.  It started when I heard a discussion of Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford.  First there was a story about a baseball game.  I assumed it was journalism.  No, it was a robot writing it up. Ford then began talking about how robots have already taken over mechanical jobs and will march forward moving into service jobs and eventually jobs that require judgement and experience.  The robots can do this because mass data and algorithms give them the power to do better predicting and problem solving. We're in for a jobless future.

I had already pulled my car over to the curb when I heard this alarming news.

This jobless prospect was rattling around in my brain until today when I read an article in the New York Times: Why Robots Will Always Need Us by Nicholas Carr.  (Does Carr run over Ford?)

Carr champions the obvious argument that humans create robots so the robots will always need humans to fix them when they break or get hacked;  and the other argument that if you think computers will overcome human error, computer error can be just as bad or worse.

One of the jobs that Ford said was immune from a robot takeover is nursing.  So here is what I'm left with.  Maybe the jobs that will remain are the ones not highly valued today.  The ones that require empathy, patience, flexibility.  Nursing for sure . . . therapist, day care worker, minister,
comedian . . .

As far as I know, neither author dwelled on the thought that people without jobs to take up their lives would have time to devote themselves to creativity, love, and further invention.

Carr says:  "We're in this together, our computers and ourselves."  So let's be kind to both of us.

Friday, May 15, 2015

My Writing Companion

When I was leading memoir writing workshops I called on William Zinsser's book Writing About Your Life to help me create and organize my presentation.  Zinsser's earlier work On Writing Well helped me so much when I was starting from nowhere and scared about becoming a copywriter.

The people who came to my workshops weren't studying to become professional writers.  They were a diverse group of young and older.  I got the sense that they just wanted to see if writing could help them with their experiences; if telling a story could help make some sense out of it all.

Their stories were factual:  a trip, a breakup, a family gathering.  I encouraged them to see how facts become universal themes, just as Zinsser explains.

William Zinsser's obituary is in today's Sun Times.  It said: ". . . he championed the craft of non-fiction and inspired professionals and amateurs to express themselves consisely and vividly."

He was 92.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Which Came First?

Did God create man, or did man create God?  Adding his voice to this question is Rabbi Herman Schaalman.  He's 99 years old and says he's in the process of "rethinking everything."  Since I'm a fan of the idea that you're never too old to re-think, I am cheering him on.

"God is simply an idea that humans have created because they are overwhelmed by something for which there is no answer," says the Rabbi.   I agree, which means I am in the process of making peace with the Rabbi's other belief:  "I think that death is the end."

Last week my friend Phyllis told me a great story about how her daughter lost the diamond out of her ring, only to find it days later lying in the dirt by the side of a road.  Impossible!  We called it a "miracle."

And that's enough of a miracle for me.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Insider

Bernie Kerik is out of jail.  Remember him?  He is the former New York City Police Commissioner who almost made it to Washington as the head of the Department of Homeland Security before he was convicted of federal corruption charges.  Now, he's writing and speaking out about his experiences ("No one with my background or my success . . . has been on the inside . . .").
Kerik, having witnessed injustices firsthand,  is calling for prison reform and he is aiming to influence the Republican candidates for president.

With all of the brutal police stuff going on these days, the disclosure of his love nest for his affair with the hot publisher Judith Regan seems almost laudable.  (Make love not war?)

I wish Bernie good luck.  And, maybe if the Justice Department had prosecuted a few of those banksters who brought down the housing market, they could be joining Bernie in his quest for reform.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

First Responders

I’m in the process of moving some savings from one fund to another.  One thought keeps popping up:  “I hope I can still take some money out if I need it.”  Maybe that’s why I kept my dial tuned this morning to Bob Edwards’ interview with a Credit Union employee who survived the Oklahoma City bombing.  And, why I was so touched by the interview with  another Credit Union employee who flew in afterwards to help with the mess.

You don’t think of Credit Union tellers or managers as first responders.  And, maybe their duty wasn’t as dangerous as those who worked on “the pile.” But they took their share of lumps.  Survivors and family were cut off from their accounts while left with no identification and no records.  Their grief contained a lot of rage.  

When I think of Oklahoma City, I usually think of the Oklahoma Thunder and how they just missed the NBA playoffs.

Today, a distant but terrible thunder fills my mind.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

When Birds are Prey

The Bulls play the Hawks tonight in the final game of their regular season.  It's been up and down for the Bulls this year.  Lots of injuries (among them you know who) and no one is predicting a title this year.

The Atlanta Hawks have had a great year.  A team without heavy star power, they didn't attract much attention until they kept winning and winning.  Now, they are the number one team in the Eastern Conference.  Their title run looked so bright  -- until now it looks very dark --  for a very ugly reason.

Thabo Sefolosha is one of the Hawks' best players.  He will miss the playoffs because he has a broken leg.  He didn't break it on the court like the Indiana Pacers' Paul George who returned to the active roster last week as a hero.  Yet, the Pacers and the Hawks are united in the ugliness.

New York Nightclub.  4 a.m.  Fight.  Stabbing.  Not words that lead to a good outcome. This time, Pacers and Hawks players were on the scene.  How about the word "Police"?  Have we come to the point where, when we see that word,  we shudder at what we suspect will come next in the news story?

Sefolosha claims that he was a bystander and that the police broke his leg.  Apparently, there is video showing him being hit.  The NBA and especially the NBA players' union are investigating.  We won't know anything more for awhile.

What we do know is that the Hawks are crippled.  I hope they overcome the loss and beat everyone in the East.

Ultimately, I want the Golden State Warriors to win the title.  After all, their great three point shooter, Steph Curry, is managed by the Bulls' great three pointer, Steve Kerr.  It's enough of a connection for me.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Over and Outer

When you get to be an oldster you start thinking about stuff you may not be around to experience.  I joke that a  20 year warrantee is no inducement for me to buy that appliance.  So, I sighed when I read today that a chief NASA scientist predicts we will find alien life (or at least signs of it) within the next 20 to 30 years.  "We know where to look.  We know how to look," says Ellen Stofan.  Wow.

Before we get too excited, the NASA people also say they are talking about finding microbes, not creatures of our imagination.  Even so, we are on our way to somewhere.

Maybe when I return to the stardust from which I came, it will be ET waiting for me on the other side.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Away Games

Since Cuban baseball players have been flocking to the U.S., it seemed a natural that Major League Baseball would reach out to Cuba now that travel and other restrictions have been eased.  The NBA has beat them to it.

In just a few weeks, the basketball people are hosting a camp for Cuban youth.  MVP Steve Nash and Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo are adding star power to the effort.

I am still hoping that eventually Cuba will be in baseball's expansion plans, but if the kids want to play basketball, that's okay too.

I wonder if there are many 7 ft. Cuban boys?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Creepy Times in Sleepy Town

Indiana:  you've stepped in it again.  You'd think our neighbors  would lie low for awhile after everyone was reminded that Indiana staged the last lynching.  But no.  

Until now, probably the first thought I had about Indiana was that it was boring.  I know there are islands of interest like beautiful Bloomington or architectural Columbus, but the rest?  Pretty lame.

I got to see the state on a trip to Huntington.  Never heard of it?  Neither had I. My man at the time was a structural engineer and avid bridge fan.  He loved studying bridge construction around the world.  So, when he discovered, in one of his journals, that a bridge was for sale for $1 in Huntington, Indiana, he decided it was worth a visit.

The catch, of course, was that the new owner would have to pay for repairs and upkeep.  It was the sleepy little town's entry into the big business of privatization.  They couldn't have known then that they were just years ahead in this national trend.

Gerry didn't buy the bridge.  And, we didn't see the billionaires who were creeping up behind us.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Good Will

When Dean Smith died I wrote about his outstanding life -- as a basketball coach at UNC and as a human being.  He championed civil rights in the south when it was unpopular and dangerous.  He stayed in touch with his players long after they graduated.  Some of them say they consulted "Coach" before making any big life decisions because they trusted him completely.

Now comes some more good news about Dean Smith.  In his will, he has left $200 to each of his students who earned a Varsity letter at UNC.  He encouraged them to enjoy a great dinner as his treat.

One of the moments in my life when I felt the most pride was learning that my son's high school English teacher had left money in his will to Bill -- recognizing him as one of his favorite students.  Bill used the gift to take his high school buddies to an NBA game.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The House and the Tree

Winnetka takes its memories seriously and my friend Lail understands.  Being a recent widow wasn’t the only reason she hesitated to sell the family home and move on.  Her daughter had died many years before, and in their grief, the family had planted a tree in their big back yard.

Knowing that the old house and property would probably be sold to developers, the idea of leaving the tree behind was too painful.  But, this was one of those moments when the universe listens.  The woman, who Lail approached at her daughter’s grammar school about replanting the tree on their grounds, had also lost a child.  The tree found a perfect new home.

Next, the people in charge of protecting Winnetka’s landmark properties wanted to be sure that no people or events of landmark status had preceded Lail and her family.  It was expensive and she had to pay for it, but a history of the house had to be obtained.

I visited Lail at her bright new apartment in Evanston on the same street where we had been sorority sisters.  That house was long gone, but we still had our memories.  She showed me the “history book” about the Winnetka house.  There were stories of some really interesting people who Lail and her family will now join as “the ghosts of Cherry Street.” 

So now the memories of her wonderful house live on in the book, as the memories of her wonderful daughter live on in the roots of the tree.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

On the Way Out

The Post Office is hiring people but they are only accepting applications online.  These are temp jobs, people!  What the plaque was to Europe, "online" is to the Post Office.  The end times are here.

Maybe after the elimination, they'll keep stamps around for some obscure function (logo on your drone?), but the sentimental value will only last so long.  In the meantime, I'm going to keep on keepin" on by sending postcards and letters with interesting stamps on them.  But don't count on me to stem the tide.

What will happen to the marvelous Post Office buildings constructed in the '30's to keep the country and the people alive?  These buildings are cathedrals of a secular society, where everyone could stay connected for the price of a 3 cent stamp.

The Chicago Public Schools, another endangered entity, is considering turning some of the 50 shuttered schools into retirement homes for teachers.  Maybe we can do the same for postal workers.

If we do, I hope Mr. Walker, my postman for 15 years until he retired, gets the penthouse.  He was the most friendly, efficient, and engaging person to visit us six days a week.  We had a big cake in the lobby on his retirement day.

Retirement day for the Post Office?  I don't think that cake will taste very sweet.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Rahm World

I was happy when I went to my doctor the other day.  He had given me a series of shots six months ago that kept my creaky knee working and I was back for another round.  He walked into the room with needle in hand.

When he saw my Chuy button he smiled that terrifying smile.  You know, the smile those killers have in the movies I never go to see.  The smile was the least of it.  He launched into a lecture about how dumb it would be to vote for Chuy.  It was at least ten minutes of rat-a-tat bullying.  This is my Doctor!  

What a nightmare.  I felt as if Rahm himself appeared as my M.D.  Wait . . . isn't his brother one of those doctors on TV?  One of those "medical authorities.?"

 Here's the worst of it.  I have to go back for two more shots.  Maybe I'll think of something clever to say.  But then, he has the needle, doesn't he?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

An Unlikely Pair

Sports fans in Chicago will understand when I suggest that Jay Cutler and Hillary Clinton have a lot in common.  Both are talented and bring a lot of experience to playing on the big stage. . .   and both leave us groaning.

Jay and Hillary seem to be bewildered at the fuss we make about their missteps.  Are they blind to their public persona?  Or just unwilling to address their mistakes.

Jay and Hillary are also alike because it looks like it is going to be impossible to replace them.  Jay's big contract is "too big to eat" just like Hillary's stranglehold on the Democratic nomination.  They are both going to stay in place.

Even as both put us in danger of letting the other team win.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Follow the Money

Do you have any of those Susan B. Anthony silver dollars lying around?  Neither do I.  So now, despite that misstep, there's a boomlet of interest in having a woman on our currency.  This time it's the folding kind that people actually use.  I think they want to replace Andrew Jackson.  (He was pretty bad, wasn't he?)

Who would you like to see on your $10 bill?  My vote is for Eleanor Roosevelt but I'm sure you have others in mind who are equally deserving.  (Please don't get cute and say Oprah or Angelina Jolie.)

Last week the Canadian government said it was okay to mark up their $5 bills to make Sir Wilfred Laurier look like Dr. Spock.  Let's not settle for some transgender scribbling here.  We need a full makeover.  And, while we're at it, let's add some color.  Our currency is so drab.  Women shouldn't have to put up with that.

Friday, March 6, 2015

It Goes Deep

I wore my Chuy button to my bridge game on Thursday.  The game is in the suburbs so there aren't many Chicagoans, but I thought I could engage one or two in conversation.   One of the women asked me if I was a "peon."  That surprised me so much I didn't have even one arrow in my quiver for a response.  Earlier, a good friend told me he wanted a Mayor who is "smart."  He took it for granted I'd know he was talking about Rahm.

When the blizzard hit last month, I read that the same people who were connected with the "hired truck" scandal were being paid to plow the snow.  I was thinking: "Why don't the Aldermen go to the high schools with shovels and pay the students who want to make a little money to shovel the side streets?"  "Or, provide parking in school lots so the plows can reach the curb."

This run-off is reminding us of some deep stuff. In Chicago, we hate the way we are in debt.  We hate the crooked deals we know are being done every day.  We hate it that the same people run for re-election time after time.  And, when someone new tries to open a crack, swarms of "volunteers" pour over every signature to keep the newcomer off the ballot.  This time, however, a few have made it through to the run-off.  It's a chance.

 We Chicagoans complain, but we must not really care because we don't vote.   Let's not be afraid to try another way. It's a mess, so why not shake things up and see what happens.

Monday, February 23, 2015

My Private Oscar

Best acceptance:  Patricia Arquette.  Bad hair, bad dress, and heartfelt speech.  Since I wanted Boyhood to win best picture, she got the only moment for that great film.

Best performance on the show:  Hands down to John Legend and Common for Glory.  Just a wonderful song that I think will be performed for a long time to come.

Made me happy moment:  When they showed Harry Belafonte receiving the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.  This used to be an important part of the Awards show.  It still should be.  And, seeing just a glimpse of Harry in Selma.

Cringeworthy cheap shot:  Neil Patrick Harris making a snarky reference to "treason" as Laura Poitras and Glen Greenwald were getting well deserved honors for Citizenfour.   Stay classy, Oscar.

Last Word:  The Golden Globes used to be a small time event you had to pay to attend.  Now, it is more fun and more entertaining than the Academy Awards.  You let it slip away, Oscar.