The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘Chicago’


It was late summer in 1964 when I arrived on campus at the University of Chicago to begin my freshman year.  I met my roommate and started to settle into college life.  But the second day as I returned to my dorm from one of the orientation sessions, I noticed an appalling smell filling the air.  I assumed that somewhere there had been a break in the sewage system and that was the cause of the foul odor.

That night at our evening meal in my dorm’s cafeteria I happened to mention this to the new classmates I had just met.  I asked if anyone else had smelled the same thing I had and if they knew the source.  One of my classmates who had been raised in Chicago rather matter-of-factly said, “Oh, that’s the smell of blood coming from the animals being slaughtered at the Chicago Stockyards.”  I remember looking at the piece of beef on my plate and decided that I was through with dinner.

The good news about the Stockyards, which were about five miles from my dorm, was that smell which was recurrent, only wafted my way when the wind blew from the west.  The bad news was that the wind almost always blew from the west.  I couldn’t even imagine how intense that smell must have been to those Chicago residents who lived in closer proximity to the Yards.

Well, the Yards finally closed.  Perhaps that was because Chicago had finally relinquished and grown beyond its position as a major animal processing center.  Or perhaps, like the clever plan that Hitler devised for the placement of his death camps, it was determined that putting these buildings devoted to killing in relatively remote places, shielded the activities that went on from the broader public view and thus allowed the butchers of humans and animals to continue with less scrutiny.

If we had our present technological capabilities in the 1940’s and an undercover group had secretly filmed the goings on at Auschwitz and Dachau and released that film footage for the world to see, I wonder if that might not have greatly shortened WWII as people worldwide and within Germany itself might have been so aroused to action that the Hitler regime might have been defeated far sooner by conscientious people who said, “This is unacceptable.  This is inhuman.”

If we had our present technological capabilities in 1964 and an undercover group had secretly filmed the “processing” of animals at the Chicago Stockyards and released that footage for the world to see, I wonder how many of us would set aside that T-bone or pork roast and adopt a vegetarian lifestyle.

Most of us would prefer to live in a world where horror and atrocity in its many variant forms was not something to which we were exposed.  That is becoming increasingly difficult as virtually all of us now have the ability to get the news and see what is happening nearly as quickly as the events themselves transpire.  That is both the good and bad news of living in a technological information age.  And as much as we might choose to ignore the disgusting and prurient, there are enough of us who actually enjoy that sort of thing and are only too pleased to bring the most appalling stories to the attention of those who might have tried to shield themselves from them.

Perhaps the reason that there has been so much outrage and disgust about the  video taped interviews with three different Planned Parenthood doctors, routinely discussing the “transacting” of human fetal body parts, is that we have removed the abortion “process” from behind the walls of one of those nice, innocent looking buildings, and seen examples of what that “process” actually looks like, particularly in the third of these films.  And for all but the most clinical of us, that picture is disturbing at the least.

Some of that anger centers correctly about the abortion process itself.  Others are focusing on a corollary issue – which is whether people who are adamantly opposed to abortion should be forced to pay for subsidies to Planned Parenthood – although that organization adamantly denies that any public funds are used for abortive procedures.  But this defense, of course, begs a larger and more fundamental question.

Why should the public subsidize Planned Parenthood at all since we now have Obamacare which was supposed to have cured all our insurance and medical ills and deficiencies?  Cecile Richards, CEO of Planned Parenthood is an ardent Obama supporter and activist and surely must be at least as well informed on the law as any of the robotic members of Congress who voted to pass this law without bothering to read it.  So if Obamacare is as efficient as the president claims, why is there a need for additional subsidies to groups like Planned Parenthood or any similar organization?

Perhaps Obama can address this issue when he returns from his trip to Africa having lectured the leaders of several countries on how they need to work on improving their record on human rights.


About twenty years ago, give or take, business was booming in my temporary help business.  We had, after a lot of work and a great deal of frustration, developed a core constituency of clients who ordered office help from us week after week.  These were major corporations like Budget Rent A Car and The Quaker Oats Company.  Not only did they order from us with regularity – we could depend on receiving payment for our invoices in a timely manner.  Naturally, we were appreciative of their business and bent over backwards to keep them happy – making sure that we filled every assignment with a qualified person.

Every so often they would throw us a “ringer” position.  Our specialty was in secretarial help – but from time to time they would request someone for the mail room or to do document copying.  We did not have a big bench of people with those skills as that was not the focus of our recruitment efforts.

One day, one of our best clients requested a person for a two month period to work in sorting and delivering inter-office mail (naturally this was long before email was in the extensive use in which we find it today).  The client indicated that if they were happy with the person we assigned, it might turn into a permanent position.

After combing through our files we called the few people who could handle the position and would be likely to accept it.  One of those, a young man named Jamal had worked on two assignments for us although it had been quite some time since we had an opening that was appropriate for his limited skill set.  But we called him and he said he was available.  That’s when I heard one of the most heartbreaking truths about poverty and the inner city.

“You know, I would like to take the job – sounds good – and I’d like something could turn permanent.  I been looking for permanent work for a year.  But, problem is, I don’t have the bus fare to get to work.”

I didn’t talk to this young man but my Sales Manager, Stephanie had the conversation with him and she came into my office to ask if there were something we could do to get him some money so that he had bus fare until he got his first paycheck.  I adored Stephanie.  She was bright, creative and I think most importantly, she had a big heart.  She handed me Jamal’s application and the first thing that I noticed was the he lived in the Robert Taylor Homes – one of Chicago’s worst housing projects.  It was so bad in this part of “the hood” that Chicago’s finest were nervous about responding to calls in “Da Homes.”

I got Jamal on the phone, asked if he would meet us in a half hour outside his apartment building and said that we would be happy to give him a cash advance so that he could get on the bus to take the job.  There was a brief pause when he heard this and then he emotionally said he would be downstairs and described the clothes he was wearing.  So I grabbed one of the guys in the office (without telling him where we were going) and we headed out to the projects, stopping at the bank to cash a small check and make sure I had some singles and quarters in the forty dollar advance as the CTA frowned on its riders who didn’t have exact change.

True to his word, Jamal was downstairs as we pulled up, navigating between the empty McDonald’s containers that littered the area in front of his building.  I handed him the details of the assignment, two time sheets and the forty dollars.  The Cheshire Cat had nothing by way of a grin that came over the face of this young man.

This is one of those stories that has a happy ending – well sort of.  Jamal showed up at our client on time and did a great job.  After the first week he came into our office and brought his time sheet.  He thanked everyone, starting with our receptionist, then Stephanie and me for giving him this chance.  The client apparently was very pleased with him and had told him that if he kept up the good work for the two month duration of the assignment they would make arrangements with us to hire him permanently.  Jamal was 22 years old and had never had a full time job.  And that is, in fact, what happened.

About two years went by.  Our relationship with the client grew and in a typical week we had more than thirty temps working at their corporate office.  One morning Stephanie came into my office, tears streaming down her cheeks.  I got up from my desk, fearing that something tragic had happened with one of her family members, put my arms around her and asked what was wrong.

“I just got off the phone with Vera Jackson.  (She was the lady who placed orders for temporary help for this client.)  Jamal was coming home from work on Friday and when he got to his apartment, he was killed in a drive by shooting.  Vera said that he had told her that he had nearly saved up enough to move out of the projects and into a safer neighborhood and was looking for an apartment.  If only he had found one a few weeks sooner.

I thought about Jamal yesterday as I watched the riots in Baltimore.  According to the news report, the thugs who had the accelerant and the matches burned 140 cars in one night.  They did their work in a poor neighborhood, burning down what little was there in the first place.  I thought to myself that those cars were the biggest asset their owners held, the way they got to work.

And I thought in light of this destruction, I hope these poor souls have bus fare.


Once upon a time in America, long before we had large clunky voting machines which now have largely been replaced with far smaller, more sophisticated and technologically advanced apparatuses which enable us to determine who will mis-govern us for the next few years until we repeat the exercise, people cast their ballots using paper and pen.

With the introduction of the voting machine, at first we used them for the “important” races – president, senators, congressmen, governors and the like.  Things like constitutional amendments and people running for judgeships were still conducted using paper.  After all, no one understood the implications of those constitutional amendments and it was virtually impossible to get any information on any of the people running for judicial office so people, if they bothered to vote in those elections did so based on whether the name of one of the candidates appealed to them.  It seemed as good a way as any to cast an uninformed vote.

This is not to say that the votes cast on the machines were necessarily much better informed.  In Chicago, the Cook County Democratic party typically handed out a simple instruction guide for those who were unclear on which candidates might best represent their interest.  The one page instruction guide was simply entitled, “HOW TO VOTE.”  That pretty much said it all – and despite the fact that many voters in Chicago were Polish or Hispanic, the simple guide was only available in English.  But the graphics certainly overcame the prospective voter’s possible lack of familiarity with the lingua franca.

The “guide” instructed the voter to:

1)  Pull the red lever to the left.  (This closed the curtain to ensure privacy as the citizen went about his or her important business).

2)  Pull Lever “A”.  (This was a straight Democratic party vote).

3)  Pull the red lever to the right.  (This opened the curtain and recorded the vote on the meters at the back of the machine).

The guide concluded with the congratulatory message:


As simple as this was, there were some precincts in which technological advances somehow languished.  Interestingly, these were often in precincts which had a heavy concentration of SRO’s – Single Residence Occupancy buildings whose tenants were often street people who would panhandle during the day, buy their bottle of Ripple and return to their residencies at night to curl up with their bottle and a tattered copy of “Tropic of Cancer.”

These voters were often hung over on Election day and every other day, yet getting them out to vote was an important part of the local Democratic precinct captain’s job security plan with the city so a different strategy was adopted to make sure that they not only got out to vote but that they voted “correctly.”  The entire voter fraud scheme relied on stealing one blank paper ballot.

The precinct captain, perhaps in conjunction with the Judges of Election for that precinct, would obtain a blank ballot and mark it with black ink and then go about his business of knocking on the doors of the SRO’s residents to get them out to do their civic duty.  The prospective voters would have only one responsibility, other than to hand the pre-marked ballot over to the Judge in charge of dropping it in the secured ballot box, thereby ensuring the integrity of the election.  It would be his duty to return to the precinct captain one blank ballot which he would be given after he presented the Judges with his name and they certified his right to vote in that precinct in the election.  The reward, other than taking pride in performing his civic duty, was a pint bottle of booze.

Now the city of Chicago, concerned that people voted in a conscientious and sober manner prohibited liquor stores, bars and restaurants from selling alcoholic beverages during the time the polls were open.  So the precinct captains had to obtain the hootch in the days before the actual election.  Rumor has it that there were quite a few liquor stores that did a land office business during that period and there was one incident reported where a precinct worker’s car was vandalized while the polls were open and a substantial amount of cheap alcohol was stolen from it.  I never heard whether that precinct captain met his quota for getting out the vote that particular day.

Those who were all atwitter about the Florida “hanging chad” controversy, might have been interested to know that in the primitive days of paper ballots, we had our own controversies on how ballots were marked and whether those ballots were marked legally.  According to the Cook County Board of Election Commissioners, a valid ballot was one in which the voter had made an “X” in the little square to the left of the candidate’s name.  Some voters, unclear on the concept, circled the name, marked an “O” in the square or wrote the word “Yes” there or failed to have the lines of their “X” intersect – all of which were grounds for disqualifying that particular vote.

But we’ve come a long way from those days of marking an “X” to identify our choice of a candidate.  The main theme of Hillary Clinton’s run for the presidency next year will probably revolve around one issue – casting a ballot for an “XX” chromosome candidate.  As Ms. Clinton put it recently in one of her rare public appearances, (oh, I forgot this was a speech for which she received a $250,000 honorarium to spout forty minutes worth of generalities), “Isn’t it time we elected a woman president?”

She and the American people would have been better served if she had said, “Isn’t it time we elected a competent person president?”  That question, however, might not work well with her playbook.


It began at four a.m., waking up, hitting the shower and making sure that my game plan was in order and ready for execution.  I seldom ate breakfast because my stomach was always nervous.  It was election day, another cold, bleak November morning – and time to place wake up calls to the lieutenants in the field – to make sure they were ready for the ensuing battle.  It was Chicago – and we were outnumbered and under-armed – but we would once again venture into the fray, if not expecting victory, intent on doing our best as a matter of civic pride and honor.  Despite the overwhelming odds we were going to give it our best shot – and make sure that each of our voters made it to the polls.

By six the polling place next door to my apartment building had opened for business.  It was the responsibility of my volunteer poll watchers to make sure that within the precinct no monkey business was conducted.  In some years, depending on the intensity of the election and the offices up for grabs, that proved more difficult.  But I had learned some tactics over the eight years I had engaged in this campaign and had pre-planned to minimize or negate the enemy’s tactics.  There’s one good thing about having your opponent stick with a tried and true plan.  They seldom deviated from it – which provided as much insight as the opposition coach getting his hand on the other team’s playbook.

My Democrat counterpart was an efficient woman who had run the precinct as though it was her own (and it pretty much was) for decades.  Although it could never be proven, her job with the Corporation Counsel’s office depended on her getting out her voters and bringing in the precinct with both a vast Democrat majority and a large percentage of voters having cast their ballots.  The goal was 100% of those who had registered as Democrats.  She usually came pretty close to bringing in that number.

But for those who had indicated no party affiliation on their registration she had one last tool that she had employed with success for many elections – a last minute reminder that the Chicago machine wanted them to have before they cast their ballot.

Officially, there was to be no “politicking” within 100 feet of the entrance to the polling place.  So the night before the election she would park her car directly in front of the entrance and put placards and bumper stickers within the car – and leave it there.  The car was parked legally, even if the material in the windshield and side windows was not supposed to be displayed.  That year I beat her to the punch.  I waited until that space was available a few days earlier and parked my car there – and then took the bus to work until election day.  She was not amused at my defusing her strategy – and on election day she let me know that in no uncertain terms.  Despite my having acquired this most desirable spot, I did respect the laws and did not have any political placards within the car.

In those days, prior to early voting, election day was the day for casting a ballot.  The number of absentee ballots represented a fraction of one percent of eligible votes that would be cast.  So the primary job was to make sure that my voters got to the polls.  In close co-ordination with the poll watcher who was keeping track of who had voted, this meant placing calls, ringing doorbells and, most importantly, transporting those who were elderly to the polls by car.  Of course I had to rent a car for the day as mine was situated in front of the polling place’s door.  I didn’t have a cushy job with the city or any other government agency – so I bore that expense myself.

On election day there was usually a large group of voters who would show up as soon as the polls opened so that they could do their duty and then go to work.  After that initial flurry it quieted down with people coming in sporadically through the midmorning and early afternoon.  This was an ideal time for me to garner my voters and drive them to the poll.  As we approached the closing at seven p.m., the pace picked up once again.  And after the last voter in line had cast her ballot, the poll was officially declared closed by the Judges of Election.  It was now time to record the results from the back of the voting machines.

Someone once said, “It isn’t how you voted – it’s who counts the votes.”  That someone must have been a Chicago resident.  As the two Judges read off the tally for each office, my poll watchers and I verified the accuracy of the number they claimed was on the machine – and one of us watched as that number was written down on the official tally sheet.  On more than one occasion we found that “237” was written down as “327”.  Perhaps it was an honest mistake – or perhaps not.  The Democrats talk about their famous ground game – and transposition of numbers was part of it – at least in the Windy City.

Fortunately, because of the lulls in voting during much of the day, I had the opportunity to run home and walk and feed the dogs.  I think they sensed that something was up and they weren’t going to be on their normal schedule.  My Irish Setter, Tristan gave me a look that said, “Why are you doing this to me?”  But he was a forgiving sort and I always tried to have an extra special dinner for him and his Belgian Shepherd/Newfoundland mix companion, Josh.  Josh was a lot more tolerant than his compadre.  So the two of them got their dinner off schedule and after they had eaten I returned to the poll for the countdown.

Other than in years when there were a large number of judicial paper ballots, I usually got home at nine, after recording all the numbers for each office on my own tally sheet to be turned in to Republican headquarters to make sure that they hadn’t been changed en route to the Chicago Board of Elections’ offices when the official canvass was conducted later in the week.  In one respect, there are those who might consider this an exercise in futility as the final score was always lopsided: Democrats – a million; Visitors – forty-seven.

Looking at the final tally, a reasonable person might argue that, “Only an idiot or a masochist would expend the amount of time and effort just to prove that once again he or she would go down in flames.”  But to my way of thinking, my job, irrespective of how bleak the results, was to get out every one of the comparatively few votes on which I could rely – and if I succeeded in doing that – I had accomplished my mission.

The other day at his news conference, President Obama, in commenting on the election results, made the point that, “Two thirds of the eligible electorate didn’t vote.”  Somehow we were to take that as a tacit endorsement by those non-voters that they approved his policies and had they bothered to show up, things would have been different.  That statement stems from pure vainglory and wishful thinking on the president’s part.

We have made it so easy to vote – in my view, too easy – that those who do not exercise this fundamental right and obligation, have no voice in the discussion.  They themselves, not restrictive voter ID laws, bad weather or any other excuse, are responsible for their lack of civic duty.  And if they want to stay home again two years from now, it would be fine with me.


You have to say one thing about the late Richard J. Daley, Mayor of Chicago.  He was a colorful man.  (By that I refer to his speech rather than his skin tone).  Whether you were one of his supporters or one of his detractors, I think it was clear to all of us who lived under his reign that despite his heavy-handedness he truly loved Chicago and wanted to transform it into the greatest city in America.

Perhaps President Obama, as a legatee of the realm of King Richard I, has taken some lessons from the wisdom that the Mayor imparted to us during the years.  This comes to mind as the House holds hearings on the glitch-filled disaster that is the President’s Obamacare website which was rolled out three weeks ago.

“Look at our Lord’s disciples.  One denied Him; one doubted Him; one betrayed Him.  If our Lord couldn’t have perfection, how are you going to have it in [city] government?” – Mayor Richard J. Daley

How, indeed?  And at the core of that question is that if we should not expect functionality, let alone perfection, why would any rational person believe that turning over one-sixth of the national economy and our right to life to a cadre of bureaucrats who have proven, time and again, that they are inept, unaccountable and unconcerned about those things which concern its subjects?  I use the term subjects rather than citizens because that is the way that this imperious administration views the American people.

Right now the focus that the Congress is bringing to bear is on the only marginally functioning government healthcare web site.  The second portion of the investigation is centered on who should be held accountable for what now appears may amount to a one Billion dollar “glitch” when and if it is able to be repaired.

It would be unfair to say that conservatives are not taking a certain amount of glee at this massive screw up.  I know I am – other than for the fact that it is costing you, me and everyone else about $300 per person – money I would choose, if given the opportunity, to deploy on things other than a poorly designed website – like a donation to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital which charges none of its patients for treatment and actually delivers outstanding healthcare, specializing in pediatric medicine.

The first step in fixing any problem is admitting that the problem exists.  Every twelve step program is based on this fundamental truth.  And that might be the biggest impediment to repairing the website – if it is indeed reparable.  During the first days after the website’s not-so-grand opening, perhaps out of ignorance and perhaps out of denial, those who support Obamacare had a number of explanations for the site’s issues.

During the first few days, it is understandable that the source of the problem had not yet been identified.  But after several weeks, it is clear that the excuses which were offered were simply not the cause of the issues which surfaced.  To suggest that the site was experiencing difficulties because there was “too much traffic” is laughable since the goal of enrolling seven million people in the first wave would require that the number of visitors exceeded the amount of traffic the site actually received.

So, still in denial, a variety of other excuses were set out.  One of those was that there was insufficient time to get the product out.  The explanation for this argument was that the administration didn’t really have the full three and one half years to accomplish the setup for the website since the law was passed..  That is because the GOP had refused to allocate funds to set up the website and HHS had to raid various of its accounts in order to pay the vendors.  I would suggest that any government agency which can come up with over $600 million by looking in its couch cushions is overly-generously funded.  But that’s Washington.

Finally, only because the flaws in the software are apparent to your average five year old, the admission has come out that there are significant problems with this rollout and they need to be fixed.  How long that might take depends on whether the entire system has to be scrapped or whether it can be repaired.  At this point, the jury is out on that question.  But what is clear is that whichever path is followed, there is going to be a significant time lapse until people can actually get on the site and sign up as they are mandated to do by Obamacare.

This has caused five Democrat senators and five Democrat congressmen whose seats are vulnerable in next year’s election, to come forward and suggest that the mandate requiring individual coverage be delayed for some period of time.  The proposals vary in length – partly predicated on the length of time it will take to fix the website which at this point is an unknown.

Wait a minute.  Do you remember the partial government shutdown which recently ended?  Do you remember how the Tea Party and Republicans in general were excoriated as “terrorists” and “hostage takers”?  Do you remember the bill that they sent to the Senate to fund the entire government if the individual mandate were delayed – a bill which Senate Majority “Leader” Harry Reid refused to allow the membership of the Senate even to consider?

Perhaps the key to why we are where we are, not just with Obamacare but with a lackluster economy, over-regulation, the spiraling decrease in the middle class, the over-bloated and over budget federal bureaucracy, the NSA’s snooping and spying on our closest allies, can be found in another pithy quote from the late Mayor Daley – a quote that the president no doubt embraces.

“We as Democrats have no apologies to make to anyone.”


As you may know, Chicago has the largest population of people of Polish heritage, outside of Warsaw.  This makes the city a good place to live if you happen, as I do, to like kishka, kielbasa and pirogues.  The smells that emanate from the  various Polish grocery stores are noticeable a city block away.  What a treat for one’s olfactory senses.

And the neighborhoods in which people of Polish descent live are amazingly clean and crime free.  Perhaps that is because the residents make the effort to keep them that way.  On any given Saturday, taking a drive down the side streets that radiate from Milwaukee Avenue, the heart of the Polish community’s business district, you can see diminutive old Polish ladies on their hands and knees, scrubbing the sidewalks in front of their little bungalow homes.

Of course, having such a large ethnic community it is not surprising that people arrived at stereotypes for this group of people and began constructing jokes about them.  One of those stereotypes concerned itself with the intelligence level of members of the Polish community – which the joke creators determined was rather low.  And they made up their stories accordingly.

( It was not my experience in my dealings with the many people of Polish extraction whom I knew that there was any truth to this presumption).

But here’s a typical Polish, or in the parlance of Chicago, “Pollack” joke:

“Why did the Polish dog have a flat head?”

“Because he kept chasing parked cars.”

Of course, the dog in this two-liner is a canine and is not to be confused with a “Polish” that comes on a bun.  And if you are wondering, ordering a wiener or hot dog, the correct pronunciation and spelling is “dawg”.

If you should be exceptionally gauche and were to order a Polish dawg, which is both an oxymoron and a verbal abomination, you will undoubtedly be confined to the nethermost place in Hell after your demise and fed a diet of nothing other than Campbell’s Cream of Tomato soup through all eternity.  This would be a just and fitting punishment.

Now the reason that I thought of this old canard about the Polish dog was that this morning on my way with Gracie to the dog park, I was behind a man driving a late model car.  I happened to notice that his passenger brake light had burned out.

As it happened, we both were going to make a left turn at the same street and there were two lanes assigned for that purpose.  We were stopped at a rather long light and both of our windows were rolled down as at 6:15 a.m. it was only about 78 degrees outside.  (We had a rather extensive thunderstorm last night which cooled things off considerably).

As we were waiting for the left turn arrow, I said to him, “Excuse me sir – I don’t know if you’re aware of it but your passenger side brake light is out.”

Gracie pushed her head out of the rear window to see if there were any dogs in the other car whose acquaintance she might make.

The man (whom I took to be in his mid to late 40’s) responded, “Yeah, so what’s it to ya?”

I had expected a response more along the lines of, “I didn’t know that.  Thanks for telling me,” so this took me by surprise.

Before I had an opportunity to formulate and offer a response, the light changed and we both made our turns.

It’s an interesting society in which we live.  Fortunately or unfortunately I was raised to assist others when the opportunity presents itself – and I thought I was doing this guy a minor service by pointing out his car’s problem.  But apparently he felt that this was some sort of intrusion into his affairs.

The habit is so ingrained in me after so many years, that I guess, like the flat-headed Polish dog, I’m going to keep chasing parked cars.  Or maybe it was people like me whom Einstein observed when he formulated his definition of Insanity:  “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting to get a different result.”

So I guess there are a couple of things you should take away from this story:

1)  Never order a Polish dawg unless you’re really fond of Campbell’s Cream of Tomato soup;

2)  Be a nice person and you’ll get your reward;

3)  You better check your own brake lights because the next time I see that one of them has burned out I might not bother to mention it to you.  (Nah, I will).


I had begun go write this post (in a slightly different variation) the other day but as things would have it, other news events, notably the Zimmerman trial and its aftermath got in the way.

Then there’s also my effort to clean up my emails when I went on mental sabbatical although I’ve got that down to under 5700 and have set a goal for myself of reading them all by Labor Day.  I’m attacking them in most current date of receipt first – so don’t be surprised if a month or so from now, I comment on a post you put up in March.  This is a challenge as I get 60 – 80 new ones per day and those also need attention.

Well, back to the post.  The reason that it came back to mind was a news story about my former home town of Chicago and a vote of the City council – but we’ll get to that.

A few blocks from my home in Chicago was a wonderful deli, The Flying Lox Box.  Absolutely terrific pastrami and no ambiance anywhere in sight.  Not only was it a favorite of many who lived in the east part of Hyde Park, it was a preferred lunch stop for some of Chicago’s finest who patrolled the area.  Between the University of Chicago police and the CPD, we had a lot of law enforcement patrolling the area.  As a result of all this patrolling, the neighborhood had a reputation as being one of the safest places to live in the city.

Of course, there’s always some ungrateful cretin out there who asks a question like, “If it’s so safe, why do we need all these police?”  There’s simply no pleasing some people.

Over time, some friends and I got to know a number of the police patrons at “The Box” as we affectionately had abbreviated its name.  One of those was a sergeant who had the girth of a Jackie Gleason and the wit of a Robin Williams.  We loved it when Sgt. Adolph (his first name) would regale us with stories of his 28 years on the force.  There was no question that if he hadn’t gone in to law enforcement he could have had a successful career in stand up comedy.

As I was nibbling at my dill pickle and picking at the pastrami that exuded from the overstuffed rye bread, he told me and the friends whom I had met for lunch at the deli about a call to which his car was dispatched when he was early on in his career with the force.  It was a call that he didn’t want to get because it was a matter of domestic violence which had occurred at the Cabrini-Green housing projects.

While Cabrini-Green was not the most violent of Chicago’s ghetto housing projects, (that distinction belonged to Robert Taylor Homes), it was right up there in the top three.  At the outskirts of Cabrini-Green was one of the best rib joints in Chicago – Farmer Brown’s, which was a business owned by a black family.

When you walked into Farmer Brown’s you noticed  there were no tables.  The business was take out only.  And it was hard to miss the foot thick plexi-glass which extended from the top of the counter to the ceiling to prevent armed robbery.  After placing your order, the person who had taken it would push out a long, deep metal tray into which you dropped your money.  They would give you your change in that same tray and a few minutes later your order would be packaged and dropped in the tray as well.

Apparently, the owners deemed this method of doing business prudent after the third time they were robbed and one of their employees shot – though, thankfully, not fatally.

So that was the environment near Cabrini-Green and the monochrome, cheaply constructed buildings housed even worse.  No cop wanted to go there because there was a high probability that answering a call in the projects would result either in a medical leave from the force or a funeral.

But my friend Adolph and his partner responded, as was their duty, to the call.  Ms. Smith had reported that her boy friend was “beatin on her.”

When the two of them got to the Smith apartment, they knocked on the door and identified themselves as CPD, Ms. Smith quickly opened the door and let them in.  They could see that she had indeed been beaten.  The area around her left eye was severely swollen and she had a cut in her skin which she was trying to stop from bleeding with a kitchen towel.

“Ms. Smith, do you know who did this to you,?” Adolph asked.

She said, “I told the oprator it was my boyfriend, Lavell.”

“Do you know where Lavell is now?”

“He in the bedroom.  He drunk an I think he pass out.”

“In order for us to arrest him, it will be necessary for you to come with us down to the police station, give us the details of what happened and to file a complaint against him,” Adolph said.

“You mean you gwyne arrest him?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Oh, no, no, no.  Don’t do dat.  I don’t wan Lavell arrested.”

“Well, ma’am, that’s what we have to do. He obviously beat you.  Has this ever happened before?”

“Cupola times – but not so bad as dis.”

“Well, ma’am, it seems like Lavell is a violent man and is going to keep on beating you if we don’t put him away.  Don’t you see that?”

“Yeah, but he don’t beat me so frequent – mebbe evry cupola months.”

“Ma’am, if you don’t want us to arrest him, why did you call?  What is it that you want us to do?”

Ms. Smith looked at Adolph and his partner.  As he described it, a sheepish grin came over her face and she said, “Mek him say, he love me.”  And she drew out the word love for a few seconds.

As Adolph concluded the story, I think all of us who heard it were stunned that any human being would react the way Ms. Smith did in this situation.  But we were not so shocked when we heard the P. S. to this night in Cabrini-Green.

It appeared that Lavell was not only Ms. Smith’s boyfriend.  He was her pimp.  She was one of twelve young women in his stable.  And a year later, when he tried to expand his business empire into drugs, was found shot dead – a bullet through his head.

I have often thought that in order to understand another person, her thinking, her dreams, her motivations you had to be that person –if only for one day.  When I hear stories like this one, I cannot even begin to fathom how the Ms. Smiths of the world see their lives.  Do they know there is more out there than whoring and being beaten?  Or is their universe so circumscribed and limited because they are merely doing the same thing that everyone around them is doing and experiencing the same thing that everyone whom they know experiences?

There was a very good reason that in the deep South before the Civil War, all states which permitted slavery expressly forbade that a slave be given an education.  An ignorant population was an easily manipulated and controllable population.  If you look at the literacy rates and the number of high school dropouts within our urban black ghettos, not much educational progress has been made since those days.

There is virtually no way out of this cycle of economic and moral depravity for the women who were born there – and for the men the only paths are pro sports, becoming a drug dealer or pimp or having a career as a rap or hip hop star.  So when we hear comments from our pro stars that could well have been uttered by the late Lavell, are we surprised at the sorry truth of the statement, “You can take the boy out of the ghetto, but you can’t take the ghetto out of the boy?”

What we need to do in this country is forget this nonsense about racism – because it is not racism with which we are dealing.  What we have is a problem in classism and those who have created this problem through their policies (primarily whites) do not want to acknowledge their failure; and for those who are black and middle class. business people and professionals. the pain of realizing but for the Grace of God, they might also be another statistic on the police blotter of one of our major cities is too frightening and so they too ignore the problem.

Though I have no evidence to support this, I doubt that among either the black or white congregants who will amass at the behest of Massa Al Sharpton this weekend, armed with signs and hoodies to protest “American injustice” you will find many who will leave those rallies and return to their hospital, resuming their duties as an ER physician or go to work in their own small business.  I suspect that most of those involved in the rallies have no work to which they could go, (and quite probably have no desire for a change in their unemployment status).

They are the manipulated but they are so undereducated I believe that they honestly feel they are pursuing a God-like and virtuous cause.  As did those who stood in front of the guillotine as the nobility were dispatched from this world one by one.  And they cheered and held up the severed heads and celebrated – until there were no more of the oppressive upper class to murder and so the Angel of Death expanded its grip on the mob and turned on them as their heads fell into the basket.

We live in an “instantaneous gratification” world.  But problems that are deep-rooted in decades of history cannot be resolved with the stroke of a legislative pen – no matter how brilliant or well-meaning the author.  A people that has been in bondage may have their shackles removed, but it will take time for them to understand how to live as free men and women – and to understand what society expects of them.

But if we continue to address the symptoms rather than trying to find a cure for the disease, we merely momentarily assuage the problem – but will never eliminate it.  And that brings me to the City of Chicago’s council meeting today.

“The Chicago city council voted unanimously on Wednesday to toughen its existing ban on assault weapons by adding more types of guns to the banned list and imposing stiffer fines for violations of the law.“

In 2012, Chicago recorded 532 murders – an all time high.  Do you know how many of those were committed with “assault weapons?”  None.  Do you know how many fines were collected for violating the gun ordinances that were on the books?  None.

So a thinking person might reasonably ask, “If a particular form of firearm is not being used in the commission of murders, why would banning other instruments of that same class help reduce the number of homicides that are occurring?  And if the City is not collecting fines for the illegal possession of guns, how will raising the amount of the fines contribute to a better, safer community?”

Unfortunately, this kind of mindless thinking is not limited to Chicago.  It is rife throughout America today.  And while the people who pass these sorts of ordinances are stupid, it is we, the electorate who vote them into office and who keep them there who are truly the dumb ones.


In an era of jet planes and SUV’s most of us have forgotten, or never known, the importance of the railroads in helping America become the nation it is.  While the preferred Christmas gift for most youngsters today is the most recent incarnation of a smart phone or the latest violent video game, once upon a time, little boys wanted nothing more than to get a model train under the tree, whether it was a Lionel or an American Flyer.

My introduction to trains came from my summer vacations in the Catskills.  There was a bridge and if you walked over it, there was a stretch of railroad track – coming from somewhere and going to somewhere else.  One day I walked along it for several miles.  It seemed to be never ending with as much track ahead of me as when I had started my journey.  In my eight year old mind, the railroads introduced me to the concept of infinity.

This was a freight line, and as endless as the track itself seemed, the number of cars it carried were nearly as much so.  I remember watching one day from across the road as a train pulled through.  It took more than ten minutes from the time the engine made its appearance until the caboose signaled that its mission on this stretch of track had been completed.

I remember feeling overwhelmed that one engine, as mighty as it looked, could muster enough power to move all those cars.  I knew exactly how long this segment of its journey took because I was wearing my Christmas present – a Mickey Mouse watch with a bright red plastic band.

It was many years before I learned that the reason we have a “standardized system” of time was because of the railroads.  Before their initiatives, first in Great Britain and later here, most communities observed “sun” time, with noon being the moment that the sun was highest in the sky, in the same way that pre-industrialized man had kept time for millennia.

In the interest of commerce this was overthrown, although not before much controversy, by the establishment in 1918 of the “Standard Time Act” by Congress.  That divided the country into the time zone divisions that we know today.  The railroads had adopted a standardized time system in 1883 – thirty-five years ahead of those who made it official in Washington.  Commerce, via the railroads, helped push America forward once again.

Because of the monumental cost of building out a railroad, none of this might have happened had it not been for the incentives that the railroads received from government.  In the case of one of those railroads, The Illinois Central which became known as The Main Line of Mid-America, those came in the form of land grants made by the State of Illinois to the railroads’ founders.  Both Senator Steven Douglas and President Abraham Lincoln lobbied in favor of this award.

The Illinois Central was given land from its main terminal in Chicago to the most southern part of the state, Cairo.  This was known as the railroad’s Charter Line – and in return for its receiving this land, it was incorporated into the Illinois State Constitution that, in perpetuity, the state would receive six percent of all revenue that was derived from the railroad’s operations along this stretch of track.  Without this “gift” it is unlikely that the railroad, which served a vital role in both Illinois’ development as well as that of the Midwest, would have been built.

For those of us who are used to catching “Flight 229” or some other number which is equally impersonal, it might seem amusing that the railroads used to give their trains specific names.  The Illinois Central’s most famous was “The Panama Limited” which ran from Chicago to Louisiana.  It was later renamed, “The City of New Orleans” and became the subject of a song by singer/songwriter Steve Goodman, a Chicago native who died at the age of only 36 of leukemia.

I heard him perform this at “The Earl of Old Town” – a saloon on Chicago’s near North Side that, like Goodman, passed into history in 1984 after a wonderful twenty-two year run – but not before bringing us artists like him and Steve Prine and Bonnie Koloc.  You could also catch John Belushi there doing some impersonations if you were lucky.

I don’t know why the Christmas season always causes me to think back to the time when I was a kid.  Looking in the store windows with their displays of villages all snow covered and the little electric train pulling into the station, ready to unload their gift of friends and relatives for the welcoming residents to greet.  Or maybe it’s standing with my Mickey Mouse watch with the bright red plastic band to see how long it would take the freight train to pass by.

Those were simpler times – before we had to deal with mass shootings and mass mania.  I can’t speak for you, but I miss them.


After losing my Irish Setter, Finney there was a definite emptiness in the apartment.  Acting as his seeing-eye person for over fifteen years had probably brought us even closer than the typical relationship between a loving companion person and their canine best friend.

A period of time went by when I debated whether it would be disloyal to Finney’s memory to consider finding another companion.  But after a few months I realized that he devoted his life to making me happy and I was sure that he would approve of my finding another friend.

I was able to find an Irish Setter breeder about forty miles from Chicago in a northwest suburb.  I called to inquire if she had any puppies that were for sale to a good home.  The breeder, Irene met my inquiry with a series of questions to determine whether I would be a fit companion for one of her dogs.

I could tell that she wasn’t impressed with my being a single person, living in an apartment, working long hours and attempting to raise a puppy.  But I explained that I had lost my blind Irish Setter and had been his seeing-eye person for 15 years and that seemed to thaw some of the iciness in her tone.  She agreed to meet me – to evaluate whether I was a worthy candidate.

After an hour interview with Irene she suggested that she had a puppy who was seven months old and it would probably be better for both of us to take a dog who was a little older than an eight or ten week old.  I agreed.  So she sold Tristan to me, but she had a lot of stipulations.

I was required, under the terms of the sale, to call her every day for the first two weeks Tristan and I were together to give her a progress report.  The next two weeks I had to call her at least three times a week for the same purpose.  After that I had to call her at least weekly for the next two months.  If I failed to make those calls, she had the right to “repossess” Tristan.

I thought this was a little bit much but at the same time I appreciated how concerned she was about the people who would be companions to her dogs.  And as it turned out, calling Irene became less of an obligation than an opportunity to speak with a new friend.  In fact, we became extremely good friends and she came to dinner several times.  I think she enjoyed seeing Tristan more than my cooking.

Tristan was your typical goofy Irish Setter – but more so.  If you’ve heard that Irish Setters are stubborn – you’ve heard correctly.  Tristan would always do what I asked of him – if he had a mind to do so.  If not, he would look at me with his beautiful mahogany face and beam an expression that I translated as “In your dreams.”  But like all the Irish Setters I had known he loved people – he loved everybody.  He lived to love people.

When he was three years old I had come home late from the office – but knowing I would be home late I had come home during lunch to take him for a midday walk.  I quickly prepared his dinner and then we went out for our usual mile long walk.  It was a crisp fall evening and we both felt invigorated by the gusting wind and the cool temperature.  As we were returning on the loop home, a man came up to us.  I sensed a threat in his body language as he approached us on a not particularly well-lit side street.

I thought about crossing the street simply to avoid a possible incident but as I started to take Tristan across the street, he rushed up to us, brandishing a large hunting knife.  He demanded my money and watch.

Having been through a mugging once, I wasn’t about to put up any resistance.  But as I reached for my wallet, Tristan pulled free of my hand and attacked the man’s left leg – viciously.  The assailant dropped the knife in the bushes and tried to kick at Tristan to free him from his leg.  I could see that Tristan had ripped the man’s pants and later, when we got home, I saw blood on his muzzle.  He had done some damage while protecting me.

I started to yell for help and at the same time tried to pull Tristan away so that the man wouldn’t be able to harm him.  I finally got him to release his grip on the man’s leg and my assailant, deciding that he had met his match, started running – or more exactly – limping away from us.  Tristan and I made our way home and I called the police to report the incident.

When the police arrived to take my report their first comment was that I would have to have Tristan impounded for observation for a two week period.  This was the ordinance regarding dogs who bit humans.  Obviously, I thought that this was ludicrous.  Tristan wouldn’t have bitten anyone if I hadn’t been assailed by a thug.

The good news was that I could keep him at my vet’s for observation.  Since I had a great relationship with the two vets who owned the practice, I knew that I could keep him at home and have them sign off on his quarantine after the appropriate time passed.

Well, the police never apprehended my potential assailant.  And Tristan came through his “quarantine” with flying colors.  I did have him examined as I was concerned he might have caught something from the man who tried to attack us.

Several weeks later I ran into a member of the church choir that I had directed several years earlier.  Isobella was a Hispanic lady whose family came from Guatemala.  She worked in the medical industry and enjoyed the usual socially liberal mindset with which most in my neighborhood felt comfortable.  I hadn’t seen her for quite a few months – and as it happened – this incident happened just a few doors from her apartment.

After describing the incident, Isobella looked at me and asked, “So when are you going to have your dog put to sleep?”

Naturally, this question not only disturbed me because I wondered about the state of my friend’s sanity, but it also ticked me off.  How had Isobella come to the idea that this loving animal should be destroyed for doing his job and saving me from what could have become a nasty incident.  So I asked her to explain that statement.

She said, “Well, think about it.  If you had been attacked and even stabbed, you have medical insurance.  You could have gotten treatment.  But the guy who was going to attack you is probably poor, most likely does not have insurance and will probably go through the rest of his life with a bad leg.”

I know that I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that my Chicago neighborhood was in the Illinois State Senate district that gave President Obama his political start.  I can also say with one hundred percent certainty that Isobella would have cast her vote for him, not only for the Illinois Senate but subsequently.

If there is anyone out there who wonders why this President is presiding over the worst economy since the Great Depression I would refer you back to Isobella’s thought process.  People with her mindset are responsible for putting him in the White House.

As for me and my more rational readers, I would suggest that we might all be better off if we franchised the canine vote.  At least they have a realistic way of looking at how the world really works.


There was a time in America, not too long ago, that people believed that if they worked hard and they worked smart, they had a chance of doing well for themselves and for their families.

Some of these people worked for others and realized that self-sacrifice was necessary.  They saved some out of each paycheck and spent less than they earned.  They built a nest egg and many bought small houses in which to raise their families.

Others, resounding with the pioneer spirit that built America were more adventurous than those who accepted a wage for a living.  They were entrepreneurs who took the risk, trusting in their own ideas and in their own abilities to create something where previously there had been nothing.  Some failed, yet many succeeded and in so doing collectively gave employment to millions of their fellow Americans.

I have been a member of both classes of these American workers and am appreciative that I had the opportunity both to find a job when I needed one and to found a company and offer jobs to many others.  Whether it was as an employee or as an employer, I always tried to do my best – putting forth more than the amount of effort my employer expected – and challenging myself as the employer to offer a better product and better service to ensure both my and my employees’ security.

Things didn’t always go exactly as planned – there were recessions which threw us off track – but somehow through sheer determination and a lot of faith I was able to struggle through and at the end of the day things worked out okay.  I must admit that I felt proud of both my accomplishments and my record.  It made up for the many sleepless nights wondering how I was going to meet the payroll during our worst economic times.

I cannot imagine the reaction that people who are entrepreneurs today must have had to the recent declamation by President Obama concerning their businesses that, “You didn’t build that …”  Beyond the insensitivity of the remark is something far worse – pure and blatant stupidity – which seems to run rampant in an Obama speech when he is deprived of a teleprompter.  And this coming from a man who’s career is distinguished by a lackluster stint in the Illinois and U. S. Senates, preceded by a couple of years as a “community organizer.”  When the history books are written, he will probably be remembered as the person who was most responsible for attempting to destroy the “American dream.”

Let’s look, for a moment at how this prescient President began his post-school career.

As a community organizer on Chicago’s Southeast Side, Barrack Obama accomplished several things.  First, he was involved in helping to develop “neighborhood watches” to improve the security of the residents in the high crime rate areas which were within his purview.

Security and personal safety are obviously worthwhile goals and are important to all of us.  But the reason that there was a need to develop neighborhood watches was because the residents of these communities had very limited education resulting in a high rate of unemployment and a consequent large dependence on welfare to sustain their existence.  The thugs who threatened them met the same demographic and found, since they had no useful skills, that it was easier to band together in gangs and either sell drugs or steal from others.

As an adjunct to the neighborhood watch, there were the neighborhood “clean-ups” which Mr. Obama set in motion.  By clean-up I refer to getting volunteer residents to pick up the debris which littered their streets – the refuse that came from irresponsible people tossing the containers that originated in fast food restaurants and which had been discarded wherever the purchaser decided it was most convenient for her.

It is this “business background” and resume which apparently enables the President to have a keen insight into what it takes to run a business.  Frankly, if he applied to my temporary service for a position, I doubt that I would have felt comfortable recommending him to any of my clients – except, perhaps for a low-level job in the mail room.

Given President Obama’s view of things, none of us should be surprised that small businesses, the backbone of economic growth and employment, are not hiring and the economy is stagnant.  But at least one good thing came out of his comments.

Unlike so many other issues on which he has flip-flopped repeatedly to appear in the favorable light of momentary public opinion, I think we do have a good idea of what this man is all about through his statement about small businesses.

Hang in there all you entrepreneurs.  You are a credit to yourselves and to a country that allowed you the opportunity to be all you could and chose to be.  You’ve had to endure tough times before but your faith and diligence carried you through.

And as with all things, even with Big Brother, this too shall pass.


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