Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Old Years Day

Here we are, looking back on our lives and the state of the world at the end of another year. I find it hard to believe that 365 days have passed since I wrote this piece, it seems like only a fleeting moment. That's the way it goes, one inevitable fact of life is that, like the odometer on an accelerating race car (if there ever was such a thing),  2015 will probably fly by faster for me than 2014.

As every year, a lot has happened since December 31, 2013: the Ebola outbreak, unrest in Ukraine, the rise and unspeakable barbarity of Isis, ongoing troubles in the Middle East, Iraq, and Afghanistan, more craziness out of North Korea, the list goes on and on. In this country, the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown at the hands of police officers have polarized this country along racial and ideological lines to an extent we haven't seen in years.

For us at home, we experienced the expected personal triumphs and setbacks of life. One thing I did notice was that for some reason, each little happy moment this year seemed to be tempered by a cloud of one sort or another. Just last week on Christmas Day, we had a lovely celebration at our house. As we sent our guests on their way home, we smelled smoke and heard the sirens of several emergency vehicles. Frantically I searched our building for a fire. After I was satisfied that our home was safe, I went into the alley where a garage a block away was engulfed in flames. The fire had destroyed the power lines cutting off all the power on the block. The view down that dark, smoke-filled alley punctuated by flames shooting twenty feet into the nighttime sky was what I imagine the road to hell would look like. 

By far the most indelible memory of 2014 for us was the quick succession of sudden deaths of four friends and family members, two from automobile accidents, one from a heart attack, and one from an unbelievably aggressive cancer. For their life's contributions, these four individuals all left the world a far better place than they found it.

I'm not big on making New Years resolutions but this year I'm making an exception. I resolve to keep the memories of Peter Hales, Bob Miller, Richard Frye, and Jeremy Pollack alive in my thoughts and deeds. And I resolve to never again take any person or moment for granted as we never know what lies in store for us.

For despite all the crap in the world, it sure is good to be alive. 

I wish you all a joyous, peaceful, and blessed New Year.  

Monday, December 29, 2014

If you can't beat 'em...

As a Christmas gift to myself I broke down and bought a smartphone. Not that I needed any justification, but I convinced myself there would be plenty of times that such a device would be useful to me, such as now, blogging while riding the train to work. Not that I have anything particularly interesting to say other than, "hey, I'm blogging while riding the train."

 I can even post a picture:

OK, this picture and this post certainly won't win me any Pulitzer Prizes but as a photographer, at least it will be nice to have a camera at my disposal wherever I go.

Someone who next to me was one of the last smartphone holdouts in my circle of friends told me that I've just gone over to the dark side. I can't say she's wrong but I sure am having a good time.

Just be sure to slap me if I start posting pictures of my food.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas in a simpler time...

Through all the trials and tribulations of life, I think it's human nature to think of the past as a simpler time. Seeing the world through a child's eyes, right was right, wrong was wrong, and everything seemed to make more sense than it does through the jaded, cynical eyes of a grown up. And that past seems simpler the farther we are removed from it.

However when I think realistically back to when I was a child in the sixties, the world was anything but a simple place. I remember one particular year, 1968, when everything it seemed, started to unravel right before our eyes: a war with no resolution in sight, Russian tanks rolling through the streets of Prague, assassinations of two prominent national figures, and the subsequent riots that consumed cities across the country. And that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Yet as turbulent as those times were, I do believe our society was less fractured back then than it is today. Wonderful as the great strides in technology that have taken place in the past fifty years, the downside is we have so many venues to embrace the world through technology, we can now afford to cut off the information that is not pleasing to us. Everyone communicates, but no one talks to each other anymore.

Back in the sixties when information and entertainment outlets were a mere trifle compared to today, most everybody saw the same stuff. The phenomenal success of the Beatles for example was due to the fact that everybody in the US, (not just their natural fan base), saw them when they performed on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964. Predictably, as the distribution of media outlets catering to more and more specific demographics and tastes has exploded since then, no one has come close to achieving the tremendous universal fame of the Fab Four.

Likewise, this beautiful little spot which aired on CBS for several years after it first aired in 1966 was seen by the vast majority of the country:


It is the creation of graphic designer R.O.Blechman whom you can read about here.

It's almost impossible to imagine something this simple and beautiful being broadcast to hundreds of millions of viewers today. Much of that is largely due to the genius of Mr. Blechman (who is still with us), whose team was able to convey in a minute's time, a very powerful message, actually many of them at once, all in simple line drawings and an equally simple and sublime soundtrack.

Of course our views of Christmas have changed in the subsequent years and while the tone of this short film is secular, the tune (God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen), played by the woodsman on his saw is not.

I can just hear the network executives today after screening this film: "Oh that tune has religious overtones, can't we change it to say, Winter Wonderland?"

Not to belabor a point I made a few years ago, but I truly believe that Christmas is both a secular and a religious holiday, and that everybody should celebrate, or not celebrate it exactly as they see fit. Maybe if all those folks who worry about offending others actually talked to people who are not Christians or religious, they'd perhaps find out they really don't mind having someone wish them a Merry Christmas.

After all, the true spirit behind those words is wishing others peace, joy and love, and who could possibly be offended by that?

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Getty

OK friends, I'm now going to bore you with some of the pictures from my recent trip to Los Angeles.

Part one, the Getty Center of the J.Paul Getty Museum of Art, designed by Richard Maier.

A jaw dropping experience if there ever was one. You too could have one of these for a cool 1.3 billion.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


The money line from this provocative George Will commentary on the death of Eric Garner is this:

(Garner) lived and died in a country with about 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its prisoners

Eric Garner, is case you've been living under a rock for the past month, was arrested in New York City for the freelance selling of individual cigarettes which is a crime in the City and State of New York, because it deprives the local and state governments of tax revenue derived from the sale of cancer sticks.

Garner resisted arrest and was subdued by a police officer who used an illegal strangle hold, the results of which contributed to Garner's death.

This tragedy, like the one involving St. Louis teenager Michael Brown, has demonstrated in no uncertain terms, the polarization of this country. Folks on the left claim both were instances of police brutality inflicted on black people. On the right they're saying that Brown and Garner, both engaged in criminal activity, defied police and were very much responsible for their own deaths.

Will who is solidly right of center most of the time, here takes a decidedly different tack, specifically with the Garner case, by laying part of the blame on what he calls, "United States’ metastasizing body of criminal laws."

As a result, an untenable number of individuals who commit what any logical person would consider petty crimes are jailed each year. Prisons are filled well beyond capacity, and most tragically, people are released from imprisonment with diminished prospects for themselves and their families. And oh yes, people are killed by the police for stupid things like selling cigarettes illegally.

As the Volstead Act proved in the 1920's, laws that criminalize undesirable behavior, often backfire. It could be argued that we are still recovering from the unmitigated disaster popularly known as Prohibition.

Will in his article takes pains to point out the differences between the wisdom of "broken window" policing, that is to say, dealing with small problems in small ways, and the foolishness of assuming that the way you deal with objectionable behavior is to throw all the misfits and troublemakers in jail.

Case in point, today a huge portion of the prison population in the United States is made up of inmates who are incarcerated for drug offenses. Now I don't for one second intend to trivialize the terrible cost that illicit drugs inflict on individuals and society. But even with our draconian approach to the problem, we are losing the war on drugs on all fronts. Demand for the stuff is as great as ever. Our over-zealous prosecution of the drug trade means the supply can't keep up. It's simple supply and demand economics, you do the math, our relentless pursuit of illegal drugs makes the trade that provides them, an amazingly profitable, if risky business. More than enough folks are willing to take the risk and have absolutely no druthers about doing unmentionable things to anyone who might stand in their way. On the other side, it's impossible to price people out of the market, folks who want drugs are usually more than willing to pay any price to get them. And how do they get the money? Again, it's not too hard to figure it out.

The way I see it, laws are on the books to protect individuals and society. The current drug laws on the books in this country protect no one, and more than likely create more problems than they solve.

I'm not suggesting we make all drugs legal, but de-criminalization may be a logical first step.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Adieu mon Capitaine

I was deeply saddened when I learned of the passing of Jean Béliveau this week. During my youth, he was the great centerman and captain of the Montreal Canadiens, the hockey team that broke my heart every year. The worst year of all was 1971 when my beloved Black Hawks finally made it into the Stanley Cup finals AND brought that series to the brink, a game seven which was played in the old Chicago Stadium. Those were the days before TV, well at least as far as watching hockey played in your own city was concerned. Despite the game's being  broadcast nationally in prime time on CBS, it was blacked out in Chicago because of Arthur Wirtz, the owner of the team. Old man Wirtz, the father of legendary tightwad William "Dollar" Bill Wirtz, and the grandfather of the team's current owner, Rocky, banned TV broadcasts of Black Hawks' home games for fear of losing paying fans in the stands, incredibly, even the Stanley Cup final game. So my father and I hunkered down around the radio just as they did back in the thirties, to listen to the inimitable voice of Lloyd Pettit describing the game, play-by-play.

Late in the first period, hopes were high for the first Chicago championship in my own memory as Dennis Hull pounced on a rebound off a shot by his brother Bobby, and flicked a wrist shot into the net over the prone Montreal goalie Ken Dryden. I was ecstatic in the middle of the second period when off a brilliant centering pass from Pit Martin, Danny O'Shea blasted another goal from the point making it Hawks 2, Habs 0.

NHL President Clarence Campbell presenting the Stanley Cup to Jean Béliveau
Chicago Stadium, May 18, 1971 (AP Photo)
Now I had known disappointment before, having rooted for the star-crossed Cubs in '69, but nothing in that heartbreaking season could have prepared me for what was to come. On a power play, skating past center ice in the middle of the second period, Canadien centerman Jacques Lemaire wound up and took a what-the-heck slapshot from about 75 feet away toward Black Hawk goalie Tony Esposito. Tony-O who up to that point made several brilliant saves, somehow couldn't get a good bead on the puck which sailed past him for the first Montreal tally. The momentum as they say, shifted; it was as if all the air was let out of the Stadium after that fluky goal. Later in the period, Lemaire forced a turnover deep in the Hawk zone and fed the puck to Henri (the Pocket Rocket) Richard, who scored the equalizer. Then with a little over two minutes to play in regulation time, Richard hustled past ailing Hawks defenseman Keith Magnuson, and scored what would prove to be the championship goal.

Thanks to YouTube, you and I can now watch what no one in Chicago, save for the 20,000 or so folks who filled the old barn on west Madison Street up to the rafters, saw that evening, May 18, 1971, forty three years ago:

I was brokenhearted, however deep down I had tremendous respect for the Montreal Canadiens. When I was a kid, they won the Stanley Cup just about every year, sometimes even twice a year, or so it seemed. To this day the legendary names, Maurice and  Henri Richard, Jacques Lemaire, Guy La Fleur, Jacques Laperriere, Yvan Cournoyer, Rejean Houle, Serge Sevard, Guy Lapointe, J.C. Tremblay, and Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion, still send shivers down my spine; the mere mention of them evokes nothing short of perfection.

But the name that stands above them all is Jean Béliveau. Béliveau was not a human highlight reel like his linemate, Yvan (the Roadrunner) Cournoyer, or Guy Lafleur who broke in with the Habs the year Béliveau retired. In contrast, with his movie star good looks and  6'3" frame, tall for a hockey player especially in those days, Béliveau, was all style and elegance, He made everything he did look effortless.

Jean Béliveau added substance to the style as one of the most respected players in NHL history. He was by all accounts, a tremendously generous player, who put his team first above his personal stats. His calm and positive demeanor and his quiet leadership skills made him a natural choice for the team's captain in 1961.

Off the ice he was a beloved figure, a truly genuine man. Finding something negative written about him would be a difficult task. This week the internet has been filled with tales about his kindness, generosity, and humility, things that seem to be lacking from most of today's sports stars. In Keith Oberman's tribute which you'll find below, he compares Béliveau to Joe Dimaggio, only with modesty and a sense of humor.

In 1970, the Canadiens found themselves out of the post-season, which is really saying something in hockey where just about everybody makes the playoffs. It was time he felt to hang up the skates, but his General Manager, Sam Pollock would have none of it. He talked Béliveau into hanging on for another year, convinced that new talent, including Lafleur, plus the return of their great captain, would help turn things around.

Béliveau took heed of that advice and returned for the 1970-71 season. On February 11, 1971, in a game against the Minnesota North Stars and goalie Gilles Gilbert, Béliveau scored a hat trick, the 18th and last of his career. The last of the three goals he scored that night was his 500th NHL goal, making him only the fourth player in history to reach that mark. As you can see in the video above, he brought his team yet another Stanley Cup championship. That's him in the clip, hoisting the Cup in front of 20,000 disappointed, but awe-inspired Chicago fans. That turned out to be the last game of his marvelous career.

Here are the stats:

507 goals
712 assists
1,219 points
Named team captain in 1961
1 Art Ross Trophy (NHL scoring leader)
2 Hart Memorial Trophies (Most valuable player)
1 Conn Smythe Trophy (Playoff MVP)
13 time all star
17 Stanley Cup titles (ten as a player, seven as an executive with the team)
Elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972 where they waived the standard waiting period
Awarded the Order of Canada in 1998

Last Friday night in Chicago, across the street from the site of his last game, there was another contest between the Canadiens and the Blackhawks (note the change of spelling). These days, the fortunes of the two teams are reversed, the Hawks are now one of the elite teams in the NHL, and the Habs are a good team on the outside looking in. Before the puck was dropped, PA announcer Gene Honda paid tribute to the great Béliveau. A spontaneous cheer went up among the partisan Blackhawk fans in a hostile arena who know and respect the history of the game. You could hear a pin drop when Honda asked for a moment of silence. Topping it off, John (Mr. National Anthem) Cornelison, sang "Oh Canada", in French.

M. Béliveau, a revered figure in Canada, especially in Quebec, will lie in respose for two days in the Bell Center, the current home of the Canadiens, which replaced the revered Montreal Forum years ago.

Fittingly, he will receive a national funeral on Wednesday at Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral in Montreal.

Here's Keith Oberman's tribute:


Thinking back on my childhood, Jean Béliveau was most likely my third greatest sports idol, just behind the two local heroes, Ernie Banks and Stan Mikita. He was the personification of cool, of grace under pressure, a gentleman and a sportsman in the truest sense of the words.

I was never much of a hockey player, but I tried my hardest to emulate Jean Béliveau both on and off the ice.

Not a bad role model, he was the real deal.