Saturday, December 31, 2016

Photographs of the Month



December 6, Light Modulator, Lazslo Moholy-Nagy, Art Institute of Chicago

December 11, Evanston, Illinois


December 13, Modern Wing, Art Institute of Chicago


December 14, Macys Department Store, State Street

December 14, Washington Avenue

December 14, Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center 

December 16, Santa Train, Howard Station

December 19, Belmont Red Line Station

December 21, State Street Subway

December 22, Wabash Avenue

December 23, Lincolnwood, Illinois

December 26,  Laughing Kookabura, Brookfield Zoo

December 27, Wilson Red Line Stop

December 30, Purple Line, near Wilson Avenue

2016, The Reaper's Bumper Crop

As I walked into work yesterday morning, I wished a friend a happy new year. He said 2017 had to be better than this year which began with the death of David Bowie and ended with the election of Donald Trump.

It's only natural this time of year to reflect upon the past 365 days. For my family and me, 2016 was actually a pretty good year, my boy and I traveled to New York, and all four of us had a lovely summer vacation which included the cities of Cleveland and Pittsburgh, as well as a memorable visit to Frank Lloyd Wright's magnificent Fallingwater, the home he built on top of a stream for the Kaufmann family in Southwestern Pennsylvania. We even managed to sneak into West Virginia, a first for all four of us.

Both kids have been doing well in school, despite not necessarily liking it one hundred percent of the time, and have been involved in other activities that give them great pleasure and keep them out of trouble. My wife and I both managed to devote time to our artistic endeavors, not an easy thing when combined with the responsibilities of working for a living and raising a family. Knock on wood, while there have been health issues here and there, nothing earth shattering thank God, and a double knock on wood, we didn't lose any loved ones this year.

And yes the Chicago Cubs won the World Series which was great news for everyone except for fans of the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox, well actually only a handful of disgruntled ones that is.

In short I'd say my family has much to be grateful for at the close of this year.

Yet many people will recall this as a year that particularly sucked.

Another New Years tradition is the reading of the passing year's necrology, the list of notable people who died. Sadly, 2016 proved to be a bumper crop for the Grim Reaper at least as far as famous people were concerned, especially musicians. In some circles, particularly at home, I'm known for my morbid fascination with the obituary pages, but this year even I couldn't keep up.

Every year has its Abe Vigodas, and Zsa Zsa Gabors, those celebrities whose death inspires the inevitable remark, "Really? I didn't know he or she was still alive."

But this year seemed to have a disproportionate number of unexpected celebrity deaths. I learned that David Bowie was seriously ill at the beginning of the year. He was not a young man, but coming through his creative spirit there was still an eternal, timeless youth about him and I was blown away at the news of his passing, coming as it did on his birthday, January 8th. Like mostpeople, I was blindsided by the death of Prince. It's disconcerting when I hear of someone who is exactly my age, as Prince was, suddenly dropping dead. I'm not proud to say I breathed a sigh of relief when I learned that his death was attributed to the pain killers he used to alleviate the agony resulting from the many years of unbelievably athletic dance moves he used in his performances. He literally gave his life for his art. Poetic and romantic as it may be, I simply can't relate.

Both men were extraordinarily talented and had they lived, they would have continued to produce remarkable music. But those two only scratched the surface of losses that the world of music suffered in 2016. Here's a woefully incomplete list in no particular order, of musicians we lost in 2016: Ralph Stanley, Buckwheat Zydeco, Pierre Boulez, Paul Kantner, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake. Glenn Frey, Sharon Jones, Neville MarrinerDan Hicks, Leon Russell, Leonard Cohen, Scotty Moore, Guy Clark, Mose Allison, Vanity, Billy Paul, Nikolaus HarnoncourtGato Barbieri, and Merle Haggard.

Although he was less known as a musician than as perhaps the most famous music producer the world has ever known, in 2016 we also lost George Martin.

Indeed, heaven's chorus added greatly to its ranks this year but it will have to wait at least a while longer for Keith Richards who remains at this writing, probably to the surprise of no one more than himself, not only merely, but really and most sincerely alive.

The sports world lost at least four remarkable legends this year: Arnold Palmer, Gordie Howe, Pat Summitt, the winningest coach in NCAA basketball history, and of course, Muhammad Ali.

They say that deaths come in threes but this year proved there is no limit to the number of celebrity deaths that can occur over a short period of time. As I remarked when Vaclav Havel and Kim Jung Il died, one right after the other a few years ago, death makes for strange bedfellows, in that case, two national leaders who were the polar opposites in everything else. The most absurd celebrity death matching I can recall was the quintessentially elegant and proper Katherine Hepburn, and the crude actor/comedian Buddy Hackett who died within a day of each other in 2003. I can only imagine the conversation that took place when the two of them marched up the steps to St. Peter at the Pearly Gates.

Just this week we learned of a trio of deaths with an unusually strong connection. revolving around the passing of the actress Carrie Fisher, best known known for her recurring role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars film series. Much was written a few days ago about that role and her portrayal of it, unique for its time, as being a female hero and role model "in a male-dominated genre."

Well it so happened that real life female hero-role model in a male dominated profession that also dealt with intergalactic space, died this week. Her name was Vera Rubin, and she was the astrophysicist who proved the existence of dark matter.

Of course the other, more tragic connection to Carrie Fisher was her own mother, singer and actress Debbie Reynolds, who passed from this world one day after her daughter.

I could go on and on listing the famous people, the pioneers, politicians, playwrights and poets, the authors, artists, athletes, actors and astronauts, who died this year, but the time remaining in this year is short, so I'll just take the easy way out by linking to the New York Times list of the Notable Deaths of 2016.

Whether we heard of them or not, they all touched our lives and shaped our world in one way or other, some of them in good ways, some of them in splendid ways, some of them in inspirational ways, and some of them, quite the opposite.

But the world would be a much different place without them and tonight at the stroke of midnight, let us all raise a glass to the lives that were lived by the people we lost in 2016.

Happy 2017.

Stay healthy my friends!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Genius

During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump famously said: "I love the poorly educated."

Here's the quote, really just an aside, in its proper context, which came at the end of one of Trump's victory speeches, as he read through a laundry list of the demographic groups he won in the Nevada Republican primary last February:
We won with highly-educated, we won with poorly educated, I love the poorly educated! We’re the smartest people, we’re the most loyal people.
That last sentence would imply that Trump may love the poorly educated, but certainly doesn't equate himself with them. In fact, our president-elect seems to be obsessed with his own IQ, allegedly in the neighborhood of 156, or so he says, well into genius territory. If it's true, that would place him (according to estimates of the IQs of all the presidents) at number two, behind John Quincy Adams and just above Thomas Jefferson.

But with all else in the Trumposphere, claims he makes about himself must be taken with at least a grain of salt, more likely a truckload. To my knowledge, proof of Trump's advanced intelligence does not come from any standardized test, rather the assumption that he must be a genius because he attended a prestigious college, Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. Needless to say, dummies need not apply to Wharton, that is unless they have friends in high places or a rich daddy. Trump had both. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from that school, not too shabby.  Still, nothing in his records would indicate he was an exceptional student. He also enrolled at that Ivy League school as a junior after spending two non-incredible years at Fordham University in New York City. Entering Wharton when he did meant he was not subject to the same rigors he would have had as a freshman.

This certainly does not mean that Trump is not a genius, all it means is that unless we believe Trump's word, a shaky proposition at best, from the information we have, the facts about his intelligence are inconclusive.

Genius or not, clearly the guy has some smarts, after all he is very successful at what he does. He also got himself elected President of the United States, doing so using a strategy never attempted before.

Is that remarkable success a result of his staggering intelligence? One of my all time favorite quotes (used in this space before), from one of my all time favorite movies, sheds some light on the issue. In pursuing the life story of the recently departed newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane in the movie Citizen Kane, a reporter interviews Mr. Bernstein, Kane's business manger. The reporter brings up the name of Wall Street tycoon Walter Parks Thatcher, Kane's adopted father/caretaker. Of Thatcher, Bernstein comments: "That man was the biggest darn fool I ever met." to which the reporter quips: "(but) he made a lot of money." Bernstein responds: "Well it's no trick to make a lot of money, if all you want is to make a lot of money."

Trump made a lot of money being ruthless and unscrupulous. by not playing by the rules. Prudent business men and women learned early on that if you did business with him, make sure you got the cash up front. Unfortunately a lot of people never learned that lesson because they were swayed by the Trump brand, which Trump the man, tirelessly promoted, despite much of it being little more than smoke and mirrors. If Trump has a genius, it's for self promotion, driven by a superhuman ego, fueled by a pathological sense of self-importance, and his legendary narcissism.

I'm reminded here about jury duty. If you've ever had the privilege of the experience, you no doubt encountered folks incensed at the inconvenience. who talk openly in the jury room about how they plan to get up in front of the judge and tell her or him in no uncertain terms that they have much better things to do than spend precious time performing their public service. But when the time comes to actually face the judge and all those assembled in the courtroom, these folks usually turn out to be sheep in wolves' clothing, trembling and mumbling "no sir" or "no ma'am" when asked if there is any reason they feel they shouldn't serve on the jury, rather than being publicly humiliated by the judge.

But not somebody like Trump. He's the guy who tells off the court then sits there stone faced while the judge reprimands him for being a cad. In the end he wins, as no lawyer or judge is willing to put up with a hostile juror, and he gets sent home.

Long before he ran for president this time around, Donald Trump understood that the key to getting votes was to set himself apart from the other candidates, and the way to do that was get his mug on the airwaves more than they did. Most candidates get attention buying broadcast time to get their point across. Needless to say that costs a lot of money. Trump did an end run around that by understanding that any free media attention, be it positive or negative, worked to his advantage. I needn't go into all the stupid, asinine, and hateful things he did or said during the campaign, it's on record and I'm sure you've heard it all. No matter how pitiful he was, it didn't matter, it got his face on the tube. And for every American who was horrified by Trump and his indiscretions, there was almost another American cheering him on. To the latter group, Donald Trump was the man who would make this country great again by leading it out of the morass of so called "political correctness". To them, his pronouncements, whether they were about Mexicans, Muslims, women, or African Americans, struck a chord, as he was saying exactly what they felt, but wouldn't dare say, before Trump came along that is.

To the other side, that is to say the majority of Americans who didn't vote for him, Trump sounded as if he were running for Doofus-in-Chief.

What ultimately set Trump apart from his opponents, was his willingness to play the role of the fool. The bigger the fool he was, the more media coverage he got. That was the key to his victory. It turned out that all he needed to win the presidency was the vote of a minority of Americans (who lived in the right places), who may not have exactly approved of him, his actions or his lifestyle, but were convinced that if nothing else, he was at the least better than "that lying bitch."

The truly difficult thing for me to understand about this election is the overwhelming willingness of so many Americans to believe every single bad thing they heard about Hillary Clinton, no matter the source. It's true that Mrs. Clinton was not entirely up front and sometimes even blatantly careless with the truth about her own indiscretions. But on the whole, every credible source points out that she was no different in that regard and certainly no worse than other politicians, better than most, and without a doubt light years more open and honest than Donald Trump.

The thing that stands out for me perhaps more than anything else these last several months is the disregard for and utter contempt of reason and facts on the part of Trump's supporters. Despite Trump's obvious character flaws, his lack of understanding of the basic functions of government, and his blatant pandering to the basest of human instincts and values, his supporters without any substantive information to back it up, insisted that Hillary Clinton was much worse. It was like someone convincing himself that the car he just bought, despite an oil leak, cracked engine block and blown transmission, was infinitely superior to the car he didn't buy because of its less than appealing color. 

I think his real draw was the way he presented his message. Hillary Clinton to many, represented the snobbish moneyed cultural elite, and the way she presented herself (especially compared to Trump) emphasized that point. Not that her speeches were exactly college dissertations. but they were substantive to a point. and did contain on occasion, bits and pieces of policy, as well as multi-syllabic words.

In stark contrast, the language of Trump's speeches, actually stream of consciousness rants, were rated at about a fifth grade level, placing him hardly in the Adams-Jeffersonian stratosphere, but bringing up the rear as far as the sophistication of presidential speech making is concerned, that is to say, more in the league of George W. Bush, and that's giving Trump the benefit of the doubt.

Personally I think that fifth grade assessment is a bit of an overreach as my fourth grade daughter uses a broader vocabulary and unlike Trump, has the ability to speak in complete sentences.

It makes one wonder if Trump dumbed down his language in order to better appeal to his beloved uneducated crowd, or did we actually see the real Trump on the stump and he is in fact, not quite as smart as he claims. 

In either case, it's clear to me that rational thought and discourse, self-reflection, honesty, truth and integrity took a real beating in this election. Through whatever force he used, Donald Trump convinced just enough Americans that he, perhaps the most unqualified person ever to be elected president, was more deserving of the job than the person who was, at least as far as experience is concerned, by far the more qualified.

In a sick and twisted way, you kinda have to hand it to him.

This is the dawning of the age of incompetence and Donald Trump is about to be ringmaster and head clown, no easy feat. Maybe he is a genius after all.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Hijacking Christmas

It's Christmas season again which means it's time for cherished American traditions like chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Yuletide carols being sung by a choir, and folks fussing over what decorations are appropriate in public spaces. The latest to-do is taking place as we speak in Knightstown, Indiana, (pop 2,182) where local townsfolk are aghast over one of their own, Joseph Tompkins, who filed a lawsuit against the city over their tradition of placing a cross on top of a Christmas tree in front of city hall. Rather than facing a costly ACLU lawsuit which they most certainly would lose, the local burghers begrudgingly decided to remove the cross, much to the chagrin of the local populace. 

I don't know Mr. Tompkins but can only assume the man has a load of chutzpah, going against his neighbors in a small town whose population is overwhelmingly Christian and in favor of keeping the cross. I can imagine he's not the most popular guy in town these days. I also don't know his motivation for filing the suit, nor do I really care.

Despite claims by the local citizenry that the removal of the cross is a violation of their first amendment rights to proclaim their faith. (I keep hearing the statement that nowhere are the words "separation of church and state" found in the constitution), the very first clause in the first amendment of our constitution declares unequivocally that government shall not make any law respecting the establishment of religion. One could argue whether or not a cross atop a tree on government property really constitutes the establishment of a religion. Whichever side you're on concerning that question however matters not in the slightest, as courts all over the country have decided that indeed it does, which is why the local government in that small Indiana town wisely captiulated rather than face an expensive court battle they had no chance of winning.

Mr. Tompkins certainly has the law on his side, but the question has to be asked, is this really a battle worth fighting? Some would say that court battles over Christmas decorations are petty, they further divide an already divided nation, and go a long way to take all the fun out of what is supposed to be the most joyous time of the year, the one time when people are actually nice to each other. In other words, political correctness imposed by the no-religious-decoration-on-public-property crowd, some feel, is hijacking the holiday.

A small part of me agrees with that sentiment.

On the other hand...

Some Americans take it for granted that this is a Christian country. While it's true for now anyway, that the majority of people in the United States identify themselves in one way or other with Christianity, as we just saw, our constitution states this is no more a Christian country than a Jewish, Muslim or Atheist country, but a nation of laws irrespective of creed. This indeed is as it should be.

To Christians, myself included, the cross has deep symbolic meaning. I won't go into all of that here but suffice it to say that in a nutshell, to Christians the cross is the symbol of God's enduring love for all of humanity. At least that's how I read it. Needless to say that symbolism falls upon deaf ears to non-Christians, many of whom see the cross as representing not God, but people throughout history who have been indifferent, intolerant, and at times openly hostile to others who do not share their beliefs.

To many, the cross is a symbol of oppression. Under the cross, the Spanish government expelled all non-converted Jews and Muslims from their country in 1492. To the indigenous people of the Americas, the cross symbolizes European conquerors who brutally imposed their faith upon them. The Ku Klux Klan during their reign of terror in this country, chose the burning cross as the symbol of their own brand of cruelty, hatred and oppression. And sadly today, the cross is becoming a symbol of the intolerance of many white American Christians whom as we saw this past election season, would just as soon everyone not like them go someplace else.

Ironically, the Christians who voted for Donald Trump last month, supported a man who at least from his outward actions, could not be farther from representing Christian ethics and values. I can only assume that what appealed to the Christians who voted for him, or at least justified their vote, was his bullet point style of addressing issues close to their hearts. Although in the past, Trump stated he was "pro choice", in this cycle he came out as staunchly anti-abortion. He also claimed to be pro-Israel, anti Muslim, and pledged that when he became president, people would no longer substitute the greeting "Happy Holidays" for "Merry Christmas". How he planned to accomplish that I have no idea, make a law I suppose.

It's true that I vastly prefer wishing people a Merry Christmas to the insipid Happy Holidays. If you're interested you can read my reasons here. Yes I understand that many people do not celebrate Christmas, at least not as a religious holiday. But while there is definitely a religious component to Christmas, it is by no means strictly a religious holiday, it never has been, and in fact, the holiday predates Christianity by several centuries. Having a winter celebration commemorating the birth of the son rather than the birth of the son was simply a palatable way for Emperor Constantine to introduce his new found faith to his pagan subjects, For the first three centuries of Christianity, the followers of Christ never even thought of commemorating his birthday.

Yet today all over the land we hear voices crying out to "put Christ back into Christmas." As I mentioned in my earlier piece on the subject, we Christians can't have it both ways. If we want the emphasis of the holiday to be on religion, we can't expect people who do not share the faith to participate, even by extending the simple gesture of wishing others a "Merry Christmas."

I have to admit being slightly perplexed at the attitude of some of my fellow Christians regarding the holiday as in reality, the secular and the sacred Christmas seasons don't even overlap. As we all know, in the U.S., the secular Christmas season begins officially the moment folks begin to digest their Thanksgiving dinner. In reality it begins as soon as the stores take down their Halloween decorations.

To the purely secular, Christmas ends on Christmas Day. For my father, an a-religious person if there ever was one, it ended even earlier as our family tradition was to have Christmas dinner and the opening of presents on Christmas Eve. Like clockwork every year, after the last gift was unwrapped, my father would proclaim gloomily: "well another Christmas is over."

Of course it hadn't even begun!

To believers, the real feast of Christmas does not begin until Christmas Day, and is celebrated for the famous twelve days, culminating with the feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. In church, the four weeks preceding Christmas Day are not considered Christmas at all, but Advent, a solemn time of prayer, almsgiving, and fasting, much like the forty days (not counting the Sundays) of Lent before Easter. Just as Lent, Advent is a time of preparation, in this case not just preparing to commemorate the historical birth of Jesus, 2,000 years ago, but more importantly, preparation for the next coming of Christ which will signal the end of the world and the beginning of eternal life. Pretty heavy stuff, small wonder why that part of the Christmas story isn't mentioned in any of the holiday songs or stories we're inundated with every year at this time.

I could be wrong but I can't remember much of a conflict between secular and sacred Christmas during the first half of my life. Then about thirty years ago I began to notice a slow but steady decline in the use of the word Christmas.

The operator of the train I was riding last night announced that at the next stop we would be able to board the Christmas Train featuring Santa Claus and his minions, something that has been a Chicago tradition for a number of years. As soon as the words came out of his mouth he corrected himself saying: "Excuse me, I meant to say the Holiday Train." As you can see in the picture, I met Santa and he personally wished me a hearty "Merry Christmas". Apparently Santa is not on board with CTA policy as far as their idea of the proper nomenclature for the holiday. To illustrate the universial nature of the holiday, Santa Claus is a Christmas tradition whose origins can be traced back to pagan times.

So of course is the Christmas tree.

Neither the secular nor the religious seem to have much of a problem with the public display of the Christmas, excuse me, holiday tree, Santa Claus, and other religious-neutral symbols of the season. Chicago seems to have worked it out pretty well I think in their approach to decorations in our most public government space, Daley Plaza. For many years there was a tradition of placing a creche in the plaza at Christmastime. When people objected to the overtly religious symbolism of the life size figures representing the characters in the Christmas story, raising of the funds for the display of the creche was taken over by the Knights of Columbus and new signage made it absolutely clear that not a cent of public money was spent on the display. Then a giant menorah was placed adjacent to the creche as were symbols of other faiths, including in recent years, a nod to Pagans in the form of a tribute to the Winter Solstice. All this in the midst of our version of a holiday festival market found virtually everywhere in Germany this time of year. No one even seems to mind its name, Christkindl Market, an anglicized version of the original German,

A local official in Knightstown was asked why a similar gesture to give tribute to other faiths couldn't be made in their public square. He said that they would have no problem with that but there were no Jews, Muslims or Pagans in Knightstown. Perhaps that's true or perhaps he hasn't bothered to check.

Meanwhile many of the citizens of Knightstown, appalled by the removal of the cross from the tree, have vowed to display crosses in every front yard in town, which is certainly their right. But it seems to me that as the self-proclaimed keepers of the holiday, we Christians could do better by keeping the Christmas spirit, not by advertising our faith, like football fans during homecoming week, but by extending an olive branch to our brothers and sisters who don't share our faith. Isn't that the true meaning of Christmas? Wouldn't that be the "Christian" thing to do?

By overtly proclaiming our faith this time of year, isn't it we Christians who are hijacking Christmas? Besides, who ever heard of putting a cross on top of a Christmas tree?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

75 Years

Today is the seventy fifth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the entry of the United States into World War II.


Here is a recording of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's message to the American people before a joint session of Congress made the following day:



Gives you goose bumps doesn't it? Well it does me anyway.

The war in Europe was already over two years old by the time the US was drawn into the battle. France and the rest of mainland Western Europe had fallen, leaving Britain alone to fight Germany. Then in June, 1941, Hitler reneged on his non-aggression pact with Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union. Meanwhile in the Pacific, Germany's ally Japan, whose empire already included Korea, Taiwan and significant portions of China, Indochina and Mongolia, looked to expand further south.

Despite all that, before Pearl Harbor, public sentiment in this country was strongly opposed to entering the war. Roosevelt understood the threat of Hitler and Nazism, and the aggression of Japan, but knew he could not declare war against the Axis powers without the support of the American people and Congress. In order to help the Allied effort as best he could, Roosevelt signed the "Lend-Lease" act, which enabled the United States to send food, oil and supplies to Great Britain, Free France, the Soviet Union and China, in return for their leasing us territories for the use of strategic military bases. In theory, the supplies would be returned after the war. Roosevelt, as a means to sell the still skeptical American public, likened the act to "lending a neighbor your garden hose to put out a fire."

German U-boats attacked and destroyed merchant marine vessels transporting lend-lease supplies across the Atlantic. Roosevelt ordered US war ships to protect those vessels and threatened Germany that any attack on the US Navy would constitute an act of war. A perturbed Hitler, already with a two front war on his hands, was not eager to engage the United States. He ordered his navy to withhold attacking US ships.

For Japan's part, the only thing stopping them from expanding their empire to the Philippines, Indochina in its entirety, Indonesia and beyond, was the U.S., who at the time controlled the Philippines and had significant economic interests in the rest of the region. Roosevelt imposed an oil embargo on Japan after their aggression in French Indochina.

Most likely the attack in response to the embargo on the enormous American naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii had been planned at least one year in advance.

As Roosevelt mentioned in his December 8th address, late in 1941 with relations between the two countries at all all time low (up to that point), Japan's ambassador to the US, KichisaburĊ Nomura met with US Secretary of State Cordell Hull, attempting to negotiate an end to hostilities between the two nations. Nomura went to his grave claiming he knew nothing of the imminent attack, and his claims were backed up by Hull who insisted that the Japanese ambassador was sincere in his attempts to make peace with the Americans. His bosses in Tokyo were obviously not on the same page.

Conspiracy theories abound that Roosevelt and his generals knew in advance of the attack, but did nothing to stop it in order to rile up American sentiment in favor of going to war. Plausible as it may seem, there is little evidence to back this theory up. Roosevelt's biggest concern at the time was the war in Europe and it's very unlikely that he relished the idea of his own two front war.

Not only is it unlikely that Roosevelt knew about the attack in advance, but apparently neither did Japan's buddy, Adolph Hitler. Rumor has it that when the news of the attack reached Nazi headquarters in Berlin, one of the generals present asked the assembled group where Pearl Harbor was. Nobody knew.

Hitler reportedly said after the attack:

Now we can’t lose the war. We have an ally that has not been defeated in 3,000 years of history!” 

Still he wasn't eager to declare war on the United States. He was on the other hand, eager to engage Japan in his war against the Soviet Union. Japan clearly had a bargaining chip, and demanded that as fulfilling terms of their Tripartite Pact signed with Germany and Italy in September of 1940, Germany and Italy declare war on the United States.

Despite objections from his generals, Hitler did so on December 11, 1941.

Next to invading the Soviet Union, that was his biggest blunder. Allied troops in a combined effort led by U.S. General Dwight David Eisenhower, attacked mainland Europe via the English Channel on June, 6 1944 and began their inexorable push east toward Berlin. Meanwhile the Soviet Army did the same from the east. The Third Reich met its end with the suicide of Adolph Hitler in his bunker on April 30, 1945. Germany unconditionally surrendered seven days later.

Which leads to the obvious question: what would have happened to Europe, and the rest of the world, had Japan not attacked Pearl Harbor?

Only God knows.

I for one, shudder to think about it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Photographs of the Month

November 5, Rosehill Cemetery
November 6, Touhy Avenue, Rogers Park

November 10, Pritzker Pavilion

November 17, South Garden, Art Institute of Chicago

November 21, Federal Center

November 15, Potawatomi Park

November 19, Modern Wing, Art Institute of Chicago

November 19, Peoples Gas Building

November 19, Arch from former Stock Exchange Building, Art Institute of Chicago

November 20, South Wabash Avenue

November 20, Auditorium Building, Roosevelt University

November 20, Rooftops, South Wabash Avenue

November 20, South Wabash Avenue

November 20, Union Station

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Chicago Then and Now...

I was looking through some of my old photographs last month and came up with this one . It was made in 1985 of the old Florsheim shoe factory in the west Loop across the street from Union Station. I've admired this building ever since I began paying attention to architecture back in the seventies. It embodied the very essence of Modernism, and looked as if it could have been an early work of the great International style architect, Walter Gropius. In fact, down to the Helvetica font that proclaims its occupants, it bears a resemblance to the 1925 building Gropius built for the famous school of art, architecture and design, the Bauhaus, in Dessau, Germany.


That building was a ground breaking work of architecture. Stripped to it bare essentials, the Dessau Bauhaus is an unadorned box of brick and glass. Gropius's tremendous glass curtain wall served two functions: to provide the interior with as much natural light as possible, and to reveal the building's structural elements, Gropius's response to the axiom promoted by the Chicago architect Louis Sullivan, form following function in the purest sense.

Until now, I never did much research on the Florsheim building, and it has for the most part been overlooked as an important work of Chicago architecture. But I knew for certain that it could not have been a contemporary of the Bauhaus building, as we simply did not build buildings in Chicago that looked like that back in the twenties.

Nevertheless it is a significant Chicago building as it is, as far as I can tell, the first International Style building to have been built in downtown Chicago. Its architect was Alfred P. Shaw, one of the most prolific, if not well known of Chicago architects, whose career spanned six decades in this city. Like his contemporary and one time partner, Charles Foster Murphy, Shaw had a chameleon-like career.  Both architects' buildings, while not showing a strong personal style, nevertheless represent the eras in which they were built to a tee, some of them enough in fact to be icons of those very different eras.

Would you believe me for example if I told you that the architect of the Florsheim building is the same man who gave us the Merchandise Mart and Pittsfield Building? In the twenties, Shaw became junior partner in the firm of Graham Anderson Probst & White, (successor firm to D. H. Burnham and Company), and in that capacity nudged that firm which specialized in eclectic, neo Classical and Renaissance styles (like the Field Museum and Wrigley Building), to the more up-to-date Art Deco. Perhaps his finest work from that era is the LaSalle Building, the signature of which is classic setback exterior, and one of the greatest interiors of the city, a walkway that transverses the building providing an indoor passage between LaSalle and Clark Streets. If you use your imagination, you can almost imagine Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing across the two bridges that cross over the walkway.

The LaSalle Building was completed in 1931 during the height of the Depression. Commissions were sparse that decade and continued to be during World War II. Shaw left GAP&W in 1936 and founded his own firm with C.F. Murphy, Shaw, Naess & Murphy. In 1939 that firm designed the Telenews Theater, which would later become the Loop Theater, just south of the Chicago Theater. The two movie houses could not have been more different, the palacious, baroque Chicago, and the very modest Loop, which in its efficient, clean line simplicity, may very well have been the paradigm for what was to come after the war.

In the intervening years Shaw left Naess and Murphy which became one of the prominent firms in Chicago in the fifties designing buildings inspired by the jet age with their boxy shapes and arriculated aluminum facades, exemplified by the Prudential Building, the one building of the firm still standing and not remodeled beyond recognition.

The Prudential is credited as the first major building in downtown Chicago in over thirty years, but the 1949 Florsheim factory predates it by five years. Shaw, now partnered with architect Carl Metz and mechanical engineer John Dolio, created a building that was groundbreaking in its own right. Its rugged, stripped down simplicity set the standard for Chicago architecture for years to come. The building's most distinct feature is its continuous band of cantilevered windows which wrapped around three sides of the structure, emphasizing the horizontal sweep of the building. It was a factory after all and its design, like Gropius's Dessau Bauhaus, is the pinnacle of form following function. The Florsheim building exemplified the principles of the Bauhaus which placed a high value on the merging of art and technology. To them there should be no distinction between a shoe factory, an apartment building or an art museum. This principle would be most boldly displayed on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology, planned and designed by one of the most famous exponents of the Bauhaus, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. On that campus, save for his masterpiece, Crown Hall, there is little or no architectural distinction between the buildings in fact, sometimes the significance of a building is in inverse relation to its design. Case in point: Mies's tiny shoebox chapel has been compared to a garage, while his massive boiler plant at the south end of the campus has been likened to a contemporary cathedral, complete with clerestory windows, and a spire (the smokestack).

In contrast, the Florsheim factory because of its no frills design, looks like a factory, albeit a very elegant one, which could be one reason it never got much attention. It wasn't until the next decade when apartment buildings, office buildings and art museums began to look like factories, that people began paying attention to the International Style in this country.

Here's an artist's rendering of the building, sans the cantilevered windows, from the time of its construction:



As the Art Deco buildings that Shaw designed for Graham Anderson Probst & White in the twenties and thirties personified that era, the buildings he deigned with his own firm, Shaw Metz & Dalio personified the bold, International Style influence of the fifties, and the less than inspired post International Style gargantuanism that dominated Chicago architecture in the sixties. In that vein, SM&D is responsible for some of the worst architecture this city has ever seen including the original McCormick Place exhibition hall along the lakefront, and the enormously flawed Robert Taylor Homes housing project. 

SM&D's McCormick Place was destroyed by a massive fire in 1967 and the Taylor Homes vanished in the first decade of this century along with most of the high rise housing projects in this city. Most people would argue that the city is better off without both.

Shaw's Florsheim Building lives on today, however in a much altered state. As much of the Loop and its environs have become converted to residential properties, the Florsheim, whose original occupants sold the building in the nineties, went condo. The firm of Pappageorge Haymes Ltd., itself a hugely successful enterprise if not a household name is responsible for the conversion. 



As you can see, the building has been altered nearly beyond recognition, but you do sort of get the feeling of the strong horizontal components that defined the original building. But no one would ever confuse the current iteration of the building with Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus or the International Style which for better and worse, defined so much of twentieth century architecture.

Which in my book, is a bit of a shame.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

REPUBLICANS ARE A BUNCH OF LIARS!


OK maybe not all of them, but at least I have your attention...

I learned a valuable lesson from a friend the other day. While embroiled in a Facebook feud revolving around what else, the last presidential election, I made the following comment: "Donald Trump called Mexicans murderers and rapists." Responding to that, my friend (who voted for Clinton) pointed out that Trump did not call all Mexicans murderers and rapists, just the ones who illegally cross our borders. I could have responded that my error of omission did not make the statement wrong, misleading perhaps, but not wrong. Instead I kept quiet. He pointed out that "our side" seems to value facts and without saying it, he implied we must not lose our credibility by being less than accurate in our arguments. He was right.

Unfortunately all sense of decorum, decency, manners, rules, and most significantly, truth and honesty, whatever was left of those values anyway, have been thrown out the window this past election. It would be impossible not to point fingers at Trump, as the very success of his campaign hinged upon his making outrageous, unverifiable comments about his opponents and the current president, getting unprecedented free press for his efforts, the truth be damned.

Then in the height of mendacity, Trump projected all of his own shortcomings upon his opponents, criticizing them for being exactly like him, only not in those words of course.

And it worked, at least well enough to get him elected President of the United States.

As we all know, the majority if Americans did not support Donald Trump, or even voted for him. More people voted for Hillary Clinton than Trump, a lot more. His victory was an anomaly, the result of the rules of electing a president that are determined by electors chosen at the state level, rather than by the popular vote of the entire country. There are practical reasons for this Electoral College which is prescribed by the US Constitution (I won't go into them here), and generally it works the way it's supposed to, except sometimes in the case of close elections like this one.

Ironically, before the election, fearing defeat, Trump and his supporters claimed that the Electoral College was a cog in a rigged election system. Funny but I haven't heard any cries of foul from that side since election day. Not surprisingly, folks on the other side have been demanding the abolition of the Electoral College, as twice in sixteen years, a Democrat won the popular vote but lost the presidency because of the EC. One can imagine had the tables been turned and Clinton won the presidency without winning the popular vote, you would have heard crickets from the Democrats regarding the Electoral College.

Well it turns out that the Electoral College which hasn't yet at this writing convened, could still elect Hillary Clinton our next president. It would be a highly unlikely scenario, one that would no doubt bring about a significant constitutional crisis, but it is a possibility nonetheless.

Right after the election I cringed at the idea of such a thing happening. As I mentioned in previous posts, our democratic republic depends upon the people of this country accepting the outcome of an election, win or lose. However the other end of the bargain is that the winners of the election respect the rights of everyone as guaranteed by the constitution. In other words, the winner is not awarded any spoils, presidents are bound by the same rules as everyone else. I'm not convinced that Trump understands this.

While Donald Trump was magnanimous in victory, (and why shouldn't he have been), in the subsequent days since his election, he has reverted back to his old self. tweeting petty complaints about being treated unfairly by a late night comedy show and by the cast of a Broadway play. It certainly is his right to do this, but it is truly unseemly behavior for a president elect, who should have more important things on his mind than his fragile ego. More significantly, he lambasted elite members of the electronic media in an off the record meeting, for their less than flattering portrayal of him and promised cutting off access to his future White House to anyone he deems as transgressors.

Trump assured the people after his election that he would be president for all Americans, but in assembling his future cabinet, he has selected a number of candidates for those positions with dubious records regarding race relations and tolerance for diversity. Despite lambasting the US government for cronyism, especially Hillary Clinton and her ties to Wall Street in the campaign, President Elect Trump has made overtures to many of his "Master of the Universe" Wall Street friends who no doubt will have an important say in what goes on in the Trump administration.

Then there is the enormous potential of conflict of interest. Already Trump has demanded the highest level security clearance be granted to family members whom he will most likely surrender control of those businesses. Last week, Trump's daughter Ivanka, who will probably step into her father's shoes as the tzar of Trump's worldwide enterprises. attended a meeting with  Japan's Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, a highly irregular move with tremendous ethical implications.

It's impossible to say what Donald Trump will actually be like as president. As I stated before many times, governing is much different from campaigning. He has already showed signs of letting up on his harshest campaign rhetoric. The mass deportations, the banning of certain religious groups, the imprisonment of Hillary Clinton, all things he promised, seem to be falling by the wayside. Even his infamous Wall is becoming shorter and squatter. In my eyes, these are all good things, although his supporters probably don't agree. Nor should they agree with his cozying up to the moneyed elite which seems to run in direct conflict with his promise of change.

What concerns me the most is Donald Trump's apparent view that the rules don't apply to him. He won the presidency essentially because he and his minions promoted outright lies, and spoon fed them to the public. His supporters, well most of them anyway, ate them up. After the election, news came out that the source of much of the information that Trump supporters proclaimed as the "truth", came from fake news web sites and even from individuals whose made up "facts" were tweeted, went viral, and taken as a matter of faith to be true.

Anyone with the slightest critical eye could pick up that most of the garbage the Trump campaign spewed about Hillary Clinton, President Obama, and the state of this country, was pure bullshit. Which leads me to believe that the Republicans who supported him, and yes there were many who didn't, were either too dumb to notice, didn't care, or put their political agenda before, decency, integrity, truth and honesty.

This is not surprising given the Republican Party's behavior over the past few decades, doing everything they could to discredit their opponents, including the impeachment of Bill Clinton, and the total lack of cooperation with Barack Obama, Even more dastardly is their history of disenfranchising voters who more than likely would vote Democrat, and their shameful gerrymandering of districts for political gain.

In short,the Republican leadership in this country, and here I don't feel I'm committing any sin of omission by not saying "some of", has no regard for truth and integrity at the moment, and have little regard for playing by the rules, which brings me back to my friend's comment at the top of this post.

How on earth can the Democratic Party, who supposedly cares about playing by the rules and the truth, possibly compete with the Republicans who will stop at nothing to win?

The idea of playing the Republicans at their own game by pulling out all the stops and challenging this election in every way possible, even petitioning the Electoral College to elect the candidate chosen by the popular majority, is not looking so outrageous to me after all.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Cubs, and how they got that way...

The Chicago Cubs won the World Series last week, cause for much joy and celebration around this town. Keys to the city have been cut and handed out to the owners of the Cubs, the Ricketts Family, the architect of the championship team, Theo Epstein, the general manager, Jed Hoyer, the field manager, Joe Maddon, and naturally the players who performed magnificently winning 103 games in the regular season before making a thrilling run through the playoffs.

First they disposed of the San Francisco Giants and their string of biennial World Series victories. The next victims were the LA Dodgers and their Cy Young award winning pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, Finally the Cubs faced the Cleveland Indians whose own decimated pitching staff sent chills through the hearts and minds of opposing batters in their own magnificent run through the playoffs. That includes the batters for the Cubs who in their three losses to Cleveland in the World Series, scored a total of one run.

Ultimately, choosing the best team in baseball for 2016 came down to the winner take all game seven of the World Series, a magical phrase for anyone who knows anything about the game of baseball. This game seven to many was an instant classic, a rain delayed extra inning affair filled with so much drama, it left most viewers, including this one, completely spent by game's end, some four and one half hours after the first pitch.

It was a truly great run for the Cubs and better still, it is very likely that the core of this team will be around for a while, helping the team continue to be a serious contender for the game's ultimate prize for years to come. Credit for that certainly has to go to Epstein who recognized when he was hired five years ago, that in order for the Cubs to get anywhere, they'd have to start from scratch at the organizational level. The key element in Epstein's plan was to develop talented young players in the team's minor league affiliates, farm system if you prefer.

The story goes that team president, Tom Ricketts asked Theo Epstein what he needed to make the Cubs a contender. Epstein told him flat out that he'd need five years. That meant for the five years it would take for his young players to bear fruit down on the farm, the team the Cubs would be forced to put on the field would be terrible. 

It takes time and resources to develop players. In order to free up resources, Epstein traded away all the high salaried players on his major league roster. Ah but weren't those his best ballplayers you night ask? Why yes they were. But there would be little point in Epstein's mind to pay star players at the peak of their careers, star salaries to play for a team that had no chance of going anywhere. Now it would be convenient if a baseball team could hang out a sign saying "closed for repairs" for the amount of time it took to harvest this new crop of players. But fans as well as the league expect a franchise to field a team every year.

It was a huge gamble for Ricketts and his organization. Most fans don't like to pay major league prices for parking, tickets, and concessions, if the talent on the field is not of major league caliber. Likewise, TV networks and more importantly their sponsors who pay their bills, are loath to broadcast games played by lousy teams. Simply put, most teams are not in the economic position to take the risk of losing five years worth of competitiveness, and the revenue that goes along with it.

But the Cubs are not like most teams. I've been saying for years they could put chimpanzees in Cub uniforms and the team would still sell out Wrigley Field. In the year 2005, the other Chicago baseball team, the White Sox, won 99 games, two playoff series and swept the Houston Artros to win the World Series. That same year the Cubs had a mediocre season, finishing four games under .500 which was good enough for fourth place out of the six teams in their division. Yet they still outdrew the Sox that year by over 750,000 fans.

With than in mind, it turned out not only was Ricketts on board with what Epstein proposed, but so were many of the fans who were hungry for the first Cubs championship in a very long time. After all, what's five years when you, your Cub fan parents, grandparents, and great grandparents had been waiting over a century for a World Series title?

Epstein signed with the Cubs on October 12, 2011. During his first season at the helm of the organization, he kept the first part of the bargain; the 2012 Cubs lost 101 games, ten more than the previous year, the third worst performance in the team's very long history. For the first time in eight years, attendance at Wrigley Field dropped below three million, but just barely. In fact Wrigley Field attendance in 2012 was still 300,000 better than the league average. The following year, 2013, the Cubs won five more games, but dropped to last place. Attendance dropped too, by about 200,000, but still higher than league average. The 2014 Cubs won seven more games and attendance picked up slightly as well.

Then came the magical 2015 season where everything fell into place. By December, 2014, Cubs fans in the know suspected something was up as for the first time since the new sheriff came to town, the team dug deep into their pockets and went after an upper echelon, free agent pitcher, Jon Lester. They also hired Joe Maddon, the brilliant if slightly idiosyncratic manager who became available in the off season.

Lester lost his opening day start against the Cardinals. A loss on April 10th to the Colorado Rockies put the team at 1-2 and you could already hear grumbles from the sports pundits and grumpy fans saying maybe this Epstein experiment was all smoke and mirrors. But that would be the last time all season when the Cubs record had more losses than wins, in fact they haven't been below .500 since. 

One downer that season was a July 25th no hitter pitched against them in Wrigley field by Cole Hamels of the Phillies. Pitching for the Cubs that day was Jake Arrieta. Arrieta, acquired through trade from Baltimore in 2013, wouldn't lose another game until October, tossing a no hitter of his own in Los Angeles on August 31st. Of the twelve games in the regular season he started after July 25th, nine ended up as shutouts. He finished the year with a phenomenal 1.77 ERA, in those twelve games alone, his ERA was an unspeakable 0.41. His performance was good enough to earn him a Cy Young award, all the more impressive given some very stiff competition.

Another pleasant surprise last year was the performance of the new crop of rookie players brought up from Theo Epsstein's farm system, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, and Kyle Schwarber. All but Soler, who most likely will end up as trade bait in this off-season, promise to comprise the heart and soul of the Cubs for the forseeable future.

Not much was expected from last year's Cubs but they finished with a 97-65 record. Normally a record like that would earn a team a division championship but in the tremendously competitive NL Central, it was only good enough for a third place finish and a wild card ticket into the playoffs. The Cubs and Arrieta shut out the Pirates in a one game playoff, then the Cubs beat their bitter rivals the Cardinals in a best of five divisonal series, sending them to their first NL championship series since 2003, against the much despised (in this town) New York Mets. The hugely anticipated series was a letdown as the Mets pitching staff, running on all eight cylinders, shut down the young Cubs batters and swept the series.

But something was curiously missing after that series. Hardly anyone talked about curses or goats or bad luck after the Cubs got swept by the Mets. Folks around town finally understood this wasn't a team built to win one championship, but many. For the first time perhaps ever on the north side of Chicago, the words "wait 'till next year" were not spoken in bitter irony.

And for the first time in 108 years, that much anticipated next year finally came.

I'm not sure if anyone fully expected the outpouring of emotion than accompanied the last out of the last game of this year's World Series. Grown men openly wept in front of TV cameras. Tears of joy flowed in my house as well. My Cub fan son fell in love with baseball nine years ago at Wrigley Field, where as fate would have it, during another rain delayed game, the Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians in extra innings. This past Wednesday night as Michael Martinez of the Indians grounded out to Kris Bryant of the Cubs for the last out of the magical 2016 season, my son, crying like a baby hugged me like he hadn't since he pitched his little league team to a championship three years ago.

Perhaps the most moving image of this week was that of the names of Cub fans who lived their whole lives without seeing their team win a championship, written onto the exterior walls of Wrigley Field by their loved ones. Throughout this entire run of the playoffs and World Series, the names of deceased members of the Cubs family have been invoked. At the top of the list were Ernie Banks and Ron Santo, two Hall of Fame players who never got a chance to play in a World Series. In addition to being great players, both men were instrumental in preaching the gospel of the Cubs wherever they went, long after their playing days were over. Also on the list was the broadcaster Harry Caray who presided over the mike during the era when the Cubs transformed themselves from a sleepy team with a loyal local following, to a nationally beloved institution, thanks to the media juggernaut of the WGN cable television network.

I would argue that all three legendary figures played a tremendous role in the phenomenal popularity of the Cubs, which made it possible for the Ricketts family and Theo Epstein to tear down the team and rebuild it from ground up, and ultimately pave the way for a very bright future.

But there is one name of the past which is hardly ever brought up in connection with the Cubs' success, in fact in more cases than not, it is the opposite. I've told you about him before, Phillip Knight Wrigley. Some would say that Wrigley, who owned the team from 1932 until his death in 1977, ran the team into the ground. PK Wrigley inherited the team from his father, the chewing gum magnate, William Wrigley. Despite the century plus drought of championships, the Cubs were one of the best teams in the major leagues in the twenties and thirties. World War II obviously changed the landscape of baseball and while the Cubs did manage to send one more team of mostly 4F players to the World Series in 1945, since that time they languished save for a few seasons as, in the words of the late Steve Goodman, "the doormat of the National League."

Was PK Wrigley responsible for those many years of wandering through the baseball desert?

In one word, yes.

Bill Veeck, who has appeared in this space many times, worked for PK Wrigley in the thirties. According to Veeck in his autobiography Veeck as in Wreck, the younger Wrigley was not, as many suggest, disinterested in the Cubs. According to Veeck, Wrigley was a brilliant tinkerer/inventor. a fiercely private man who prided himself on doing things his own way. As the guy at the helm of two big businesses, the gum company and the Cubs, the bottom line was very important to him. Even in the best of times in the thirties, the Cubs only made it to the World Series once every three years (like clockwork). Wrigley knew that he couldn't produce a winning team every year, as that was out of his control. But he could ensure that the fans who came to his ballpark would be comfortable and have a good time. So he put the lion's share of his efforts into making Wrigley Field as beautiful and as comfortable for the fans as possible. It was Wrigley who entrusted Veeck to build the iconic outfield bleachers complete with ivy and hand-operated scoreboard that we know and love today. Wrigley also banned advertisements inside his ballpark. In that vein, Wrigley was fastidious at keeping the park that bore his name welcoming to the fans in the stands, despite the quality of the team on the field.

As for the team, Wrigley was not as some people assume, unwilling to spend money on good players, rather he was seriously out of step with the rest of baseball in terms of the way teams were built. According to Veeck, Phil Wrigley was dead set in his opposition to the "farm system" where minor league teams are owned and at the mercy of their big league masters. Veeck, who shared that opinion by the way, said Wrigley believed minor league teams should be independent, free to run their teams as they saw fit, able to sell their players to the highest bidder, and should not have to serve as serfs beholden to parent teams who could bring players up and send them back down at will. One could argue that this egalitarian approach is admirable, but in the end it proved untenable as far as competing with the rest of the league, whose teams all to some extent, developed players on their own through their minor league affiliates.

One aspect where Wrigley was way ahead of the curve was his belief in broadcasting his team's games. Where most of his fellow owners saw broadcasting on radio and later TV as giving away their product, Wrigley understood the tremendous potential of the two media. When I was a kid, of the two Chicago teams, only the Cubs broadcast all of their games, home and away. As we saw a moment ago, that commitment to broadcasting their games, and their affiliation with the local station that went national, WGN, contributed greatly to the nationwide popularity of the team.

Then there were the lights. Early on in the thirties, Wrigley tinkered with retractable light standards that would disappear out of sight when the lights weren't needed. That experiment failed and Wrigley became disinterested in the idea when he realized he wouldn't be the first owner to install lights in his ballpark. Another attempt to install lights came in 1941. At the end of that season, Wrigley approved the design and ordered all the equipment. But in December of that year, the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor and Wrigley decided to contribute the hardware to the war effort.

The truth is that Wrigley thought lights were ugly and detracted from the beauty of his ballpark. As everyone knows, the Cubs were the last team in the major leagues to play all their games exclusively during the day. It is not unreasonable to assume that put the team at a disadvantage because they had to adjust to playing night games on the road and day games at home.

Another common practice among MLB clubs that Wrigley refused to partake in was buying up the property surrounding his ballpark and covert it to parking lots. To this day, Wrigley Field remains in the middle of a residential neighborhood and consequently a nightmare for anyone trying to get there by car.

So five factors, the attention to Wrigley Field over the needs of the team, the lack of advertising and parking to bring in extra revenue, the refusal to accept the "farm system", and the lack of lights in the ballpark, contributed in no small way to the Cubs' inability to produce a championship team since World War II. There are probably many more.

OK now consider this, what if the Cubs had been owned by a more conventional owner, say someone like Walter O'Malley who owned the Dodgers? From 1945 until 1957, Dodgers attendance at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn never dipped below one million, although it did decline through the fifties, as it did in all major league ballparks. In that same period, the Cubs' attendance which peaked at 1.3 million in 1946, declined rapidly during the fifties, dropping to 670,000 in 1957. Wrigley Field would not see one million fans pass through its turnstiles again until 1968.

O'Malley, who saw his aging ballpark with hardly any parking in a declining neighborhood as a detriment to business, made overtures to the City of New York to help him build a state of the art facility that included a retractable dome, near Downtown Brooklyn.

That deal never went through (a story for another day), so after three years of negotiations and 73 years in Brooklyn, the Dodgers packed their bags and moved to the west coast. O'Malley convinced Horace Stoneham, the owner of the New York Giants, to join him. With the departure of two of the three New York City teams, only one city would remain (for a while anyway) with two MLB teams, Chicago.

Phil Wrigley was in the same situation in Chicago that O'Malley was in Brooklyn, in fact, it was probably much worse. His ballpark was nearing the end of its life expectancy in a decaying neighborhood (hard to believe that today but it's true), with extremely limited parking. Unlike the Dodgers who were experiencing their greatest success on the field, including a World Series victory in 1955, the 1950s was far and away the worst decade ever for the Cubs. But Wrigley, who had other ties to this city stuck with it. Here's an excerpt from Veeck as in Wreck on Wrigley Field:
We sold "Beautiful Wrigley Field." ... The announcers were instructed to use the phrase "Beautiful Wrigley Field" as often as possible. We sold it so well that when I came back to Chicago in 1959 as president of the White Sox, across town, I found "Beautiful Wrigley Field" my single greatest obstacle. Because "Beautiful Wrigley Field" tacitly implied "that run-down crummy joint on the South Side."
The truth is that Wrigley Field was no more beautiful than Ebbets Field, Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, or for that matter, Comiskey Park on the south side of Chicago, it was just sold as that. According to Veeck:
By 1959, (Phil) Wrigley was no longer keeping the park freshly painted. The neighborhood had deteriorated badly. None of that mattered. People came into Wrigley Field knowing they were comfortable. Just as people who had not been to Comiskey Park in years knew it was a crumbling ruin. 
But that crumbling ruin on the south side was still drawing nearly twice the number of people as Beautiful Wrigley Field in the fifties. Had the Cubs been owned by a more conventional owner, it's very likely that owner would have looked at the numbers and decided, as they did in St. Louis, Boston, Philadelphia and New York, that Chicago could no longer support more than one baseball team, and it was time to find greener pastures. If that had happened, Chicago could very well have become a one baseball team town as well, and the team that remained here most likely would have been the White Sox.

On the other hand, had the Cubs survived the tumultuous fifties and stayed in Chicago, a different owner would very likely have done way with their classic ballpark,  just as every other National League team did in the sixties. That almost happened here in Chicago, as a plan was introduced to build a multi-purpose stadium that would serve both the Cubs and the White Sox as well as the NFL Chicago Bears. The stadium was to have been built on the lakefront to replace Soldier Field and had the full support of Mayor Richard J. Daley and PK Wrigley. It was Art Allyn, the owner of the White Sox who put the kibosh on the plan, objecting to the fact that his team would lose a significant amount of revenue in concessions, parking and rent if it were to move into a publicly owned venue. Phil Wrigley could have stamped his feet and demanded the deal go through or he'd pack his bags, but he didn't.

As it worked out, the era of the multi-purpose, cookie cutter, astro-turf clad stadium passed Chicago by. Call it divine providence or just dumb luck, but we're the better for it as those stadiums proved to be not suitable for baseball or football, and they have all disappeared from the scene.

Wrigley Field remains.

Perhaps it was another bit of dumb luck that PK Wrigley refused to put lights in his ballpark. When he died, baseball was still played only in the sunshine at Wrigley Field. It would remain that way for another 11 years, until it became clear that Major League Baseball and the television networks that pay their bills, simply would not allow that situation to continue. After many years of legal wrangling, in 1988 they finally put up lights in Wrigley Field. The event gained worldwide attention. From that point on, the Cubs, their beautiful, old neighborhood ballpark, their reputation as "lovable losers", and their nationwide audience via WGN, have given them an audience and following unthinkable just a decade earlier.

And none of that would have been possible without the intransigence, the occasional brilliance, and some downright counterintuitive decisions of PK Wrigley.

Cubs fans like to claim their team is special. They are right. When they won game seven of the World Series last Wednesday, the whole world was watching, most of them cheering them on. Their future is bright, thanks to the Rickets Family and Theo Epstein.

#34 Jon Lester and some of his teammates aboard a bus during the parade and rally celebrating the Cubs World Series victory, Friday, November 4, 2016. 
Had someone else owned the Cubs between 1945 (when they won their last pennant) and 1977 when PK Wrigley died, the Cubs may have won a few championships. Heck they could even be as popular and successful today as the Philadelphia Phillies, the Pittsburgh Pirates, or the Cincinnati Reds, all of whom won multiple championships since World War II, but none lately. Of course somewhere along the line they might have become the Minnesota, the Kansas City or the San Diego Cubs.

So if you're a Cubs fan, the next time you're thanking your lucky stars for the likes of messers Maddon, Rizzo, Fowler, Arrieta, Lester, Bryant, Baez, Zobrist, Epstein, Santo, Banks, Caray, and the rest, please raise a glass to PK Wrigley.

Because without him, the Chicago Cubs might today be no different from ahem... the Chicago White Sox.

No Joy in Mudville...

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville -
Well you know the rest.

Here in Chicago, my home town, about 84 percent of the people who cast a vote in yesterday's election voted for Hillary Clinton. I think it's fair to say that's a higher percentage than people in this city who rooted for the Cubs to win the World Series last week.

So you can imagine this morning there was a pall cast over the city. Heads were hanging low and there was not a little funkiness in the spirit of most of the people I encountered this morning.

"How could this happen?" is their mantra, and I must say mine as well.

Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine Donald Trump being nominated, let alone elected President of the United States. I've gone  on and on and on and and on and on about my observations of him so I'll spare you them now.

Suffice it to say, there is a disconnect in this country so profound that I can't imagine any healing, anytime soon. It's not as if we live in different countries, it's more like we live on different planets. I've tried my darnedest to understand why anyone would vote for a narcissistic misogynistic egomaniac with no experience in public service and a very checkered past, putting it mildly. One response I got was that his opponent was worse. And what made her worse I asked.

The response was a recitation of conspiracy theories presented by right wing talk show hosts that ranged from giving away government secrets to murder. No rational discourse could make these people see that most of the stuff they were saying was pure nonsense. The other answer I got is that we need a change. Well God help us, we sure got that.

It just occurred to me that the baseball analogy at the top is not entirely inappropriate. This election for some, was like rooting for one team over another, only the stakes were much, much higher. Arguing the merits of one candidate over another ended up making about as much sense as a drunken die hard fan of one team arguing the merits of his team with a drunken die hard fan of the other team. They're not called fan(antics) for nothing.

If Trump sticks to many of his campaign promises, it's going to be a serious test of our democratic republic and our constitutional democracy. However the time of talking is behind us and the time for governing is about to begin. This country has survived many serious tests and I have faith, God willing, that it will survive this one.

At least the sun did come up this morning, and there is serious work ahead for all of us.

Somewhere indeed all over this land, a band is playing and hearts are light.
But not here in Chicago.

It's amazing what difference a week can make.