Friday, November 22, 2013

50 years

The fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy only confirms what my creaky joints and aching muscles have been reminding me for a few years now: the undeniable fact that I'm getting old. When I was a child, I saw fifty as the magic divide between youth and old age. Passing that divide myself a few years ago didn't phase me much as fifty is the new forty, or thirty, or whatever age you choose. But actually remembering something that happened a half century ago is different. I'm reminded of the old folks I knew as a child who used to say all the time: "You know I remember, years ago..." Now I'm one of those people.

This anniversary is something of a personal milestone, as the events surrounding the death of the president mark the beginning of recorded time for me. My memory before that event is fragmentary, bits and pieces of vague remembrances: riding on my father's shoulders as we walked through Humboldt Park, watching Black Hawks' games on TV, taking the L to the Loop with my mother. I even remember brief glimpses of President Kennedy. To me as a small child, his strident oratory style put me off, I remember thinking he was yelling all the time. Yet those memories are vague and without context.

However I can tell you exactly where I was from 12:30pm CST November 22nd, 1963, until the following Monday afternoon. Perhaps the most vivid memory of that terrible Friday was being at home with my mother in the late afternoon, well after the tragic events in Dallas earlier that day. She was particularly somber, although I don't remember her crying, as she did after Robert Kennedy was shot five years later. Our apartment was completely dark save for the TV that was tuned to Channel 11, the local public broadcast station. Their programming, if you could call it that, consisted of nothing more than a static shot of a portrait of the slain president, while somber music played in the background. It gives me chills just thinking about it. To add pain to the misery of that day, I vividly remember accidentally banging my head against the side of our couch. The TV remained on rest of the weekend as every moment of the president's elaborate funeral was broadcast. Just about the only thing I missed was Lee Harvey Oswald being shot by Jack Ruby which was also shown on live TV. I may have taken a brief respite to play in the halls of our building when that happened, but I distinctly remember seeing the news report flash across the screen that he was dead.

This year, with the exception of thumbing through a commemorative issue of Life Magazine, which was essentially the same issue they ran shortly after the assassination with the exception of a picture of the president with Marilyn Monroe, I've managed to avoid coverage of the anniversary. I don't need to be reminded of it; the memory of the events that took place that late November long ago has been so strongly imprinted in my brain, that hardly a month or even a week have gone by when I haven't in one way or other thought of Kennedy and his tragic death. Not that I'm a Kennedy buff, far from it. I'd say hostage to the memory of the event is a more appropriate term. Nor do I obsess over who did it. I believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing the president. It's not that I think a conspiracy is inconceivable, I just have never seen any credible evidence that points to anyone other than or in addition to Oswald. The fact that there are so many wildly divergent conspiracy theories out there is evidence enough that there probably wasn't one.

I suspect that people so vigorously support the idea of a conspiracy because they simply refuse to believe that one man's actions could so throw the world off kilter. Everybody knows that four US presidents have been assassinated, but it's less known that in US history there have been dozens of attempts on the lives of presidents, most of them planned and carried out by a solitary individual. As I heard pointed out in a recent radio interview, we're fortunate that so many of those would be assassins were simply incompetent.

Here another matter comes to light: the success or failure of such a diabolical act, depends greatly on happenstance. Case in point: it had been raining for several hours in Dallas on that fateful day, the sun came out only moments before President Kennedy's plane landed at Love Field. Had it continued to rain, the limousine in which the president and Mrs. Kennedy, and Governor and Mrs. Connelly rode past the Texas School Depository Building, would have had a rain (and bullet)-proof* bubble top, and Kennedy would have lived to see another day. If there's anything more disconcerting than the idea of a lone individual changing history, it's the idea that the course of human events can be altered by dumb luck.

As a lot of people, I've been thinking lately about how things would have been different had Kennedy lived. Some people see his murder as a watershed moment in American history. It's easy to divide the sixties into two distinct periods, before and after Kennedy's death. If you don't look too closely, you can view the early sixties as an idealistic, optimistic time with prosperity at home and relative peace abroad. After Kennedy was killed, all hell seemed to break loose. The late sixties became one of the most tumultuous periods in American and world history. Yet how much of that turbulence was a result of the assassination?

The two issues that tore this country apart limb from limb in the 1960s were Civil Rights and the Vietnam War. Kennedy's theoretical impact had he lived, on the battle for Civil Rights in this country is easy to predict.

He would have had little or none.

It's true that Kennedy famously stood up to Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett and Alabama Governor George Wallace in their attempts to prevent their states' universities from being integrated. He also gave an impassioned speech on the issue of Civil Rights to the nation on June 11, 1963 where he told the country:
We are confronted primarily with a moral issue, It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution...
We preach freedom around the world, but are we to say to the world, and . . .to each other that this is the land of the free except for the Negroes ...?"
Strong stuff indeed but Kennedy, who was preoccupied with his foreign agenda at the expense of any domestic policy, was forced into action by the brutal events that were taking place all over the country, especially in the South. In regards to the race issue in America, Kennedy given the chance would have preferred to have taken a back seat and let time heal the wounds of racial discrimination in this country.

In his well publicized letter from a Birmingham jail, written in April of 1963, Martin Luther King wrote:
For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."
In his letter, Dr. King was responding to the concerns of local clergy that the campaign he led of protest and peaceful, sometimes not peaceful resistance in that most racially divided of cities, was doing more harm than good to the cause. But King's words were also seen as a thinly veiled condemnation of the Kennedy administration's taking its sweet time in the matter of equal rights for all.

The tipping point for the president could very well have been a photograph. It was taken during a protest in Birmingham of a high school student, Walter Gadsden, being grabbed by a policeman by his sweater while a police German shepherd goes for the boy's midsection. The photograph by AP photographer Bill Hudson, made the front cover of newspapers all over the world and would become one of the chilling, iconic images of the struggle for Civil Rights in the United States. Kennedy, ever conscious of this country's image around the world, worried that the photograph would undermine the credibility of this country, and the work he was trying to accomplish overseas. Shortly thereafter, Kennedy gave his aforementioned speech to the nation, where he echoed many of the points that King made in his letter.

But even though he jumped into the fray, Kennedy preferred to sit on the sidelines. As his daughter Caroline admitted this past August during the fiftieth anniversary of the momentous March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs, her father watched the unfolding events on TV a few blocks away at the White House.

Kennedy during his campaign for the presidency in 1960 promised meaningful Civil Rights legislation, but never delivered it during his nearly three years in office. His successor, Lyndon B. Johnson on the other hand, put Civil Rights at the top of his agenda and managed to pass his own Civil Rights Bill one year after taking office. Being from Texas, a state not known for its racial tolerance, Johnson exhibited a great deal of courage in his actions. Yet it's one thing to change the law and another to change the hearts and minds of people. The new federal laws which made the disenfranchisement of voters and local Jim Crow segregation laws illegal, went largely ignored. It took the great struggle of the sixties and beyond to begin to turn things around. If Johnson, the architect of the Great Society, fully committed to the cause of Civl Rights, ultimately had little effect on the racial climate of the United States, it's unlikely that his predecessor  JFK who was lukewarm about those issues would have had more success.

Vietnam is a little more complicated. A good case can be made for Kennedy not following the same course in Southeast Asia as his successor. In his book If Kennedy Lived: The First and Second Terms of President John F. Kennedy: An Alternate History, ” Jeff Greenfield notes that while very hawkish toward communism early in his presidency, Kennedy's views were tempered by his role in the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the flirtation with nuclear war that crisis provoked. He allegedly confided little interest in Vietnam with his close advisors and stern criticism for France's occupation of that country. Others point out that Kennedy had no qualms about rejecting the ideas of the more hawkish members of his cabinet, the same men who advised President Johnson to escalate the war. It is speculated that Johnson may have been intimidated by his brain trust, most of them Ivy League educated. Kennedy, himself a Harvard man, had no such misplaced awe. The theory goes that had he lived, Kennedy, tired of confronting the Communists and risking nuclear war, would have rejected the advice from his Cabinet to escalate the war. Johnson of course took the advice and the War in Vietnam would dominate all aspects if American life for the next ten years.

An interesting theory, however I'm not sure I buy it. Kennedy's rhetoric up until his death continued to  be staunchly anti-communist. While he may not have been particularly interested in Vietnam, I find it highly unlikely that he would have just thrown up his hands and given up the country as yet another "domino" to fall under the influence of communism. He may have had reasonable trepidations about directly confronting the Soviet Union and the inherent risks that would entail. The Cuban Missile Crisis was solved when Kennedy, much to the disapproval of his Cabinet, made a secret, tit-for-tat deal with Soviet Premier Khrushchev, agreeing to remove US missiles from Turkey in exchange for a Soviet agreement halting the installation of their missiles ninety miles from Florida.

On the other hand, direct confrontation with the Soviet Union is a much different matter than sending troops to quelch an insurgency in a nation few Americans heard of let lone feared at the time. The armed forces of North Vietnam would certainly be no match for the weight of the US Military, or so it seemed. Historians certainly will be debating this issue from now until kingdom come, but my feeling is that Kennedy would likely have escalated the war just as Johnson did.

If my suspicion is correct and Kennedy would have escalated the war, then the impact of his death, beyond the personal, human tragedy, would have been negligible. If he had not escalated the war, I believe that the Civil Rights struggle would have completely dominated American life and politics, and much of the dissent of the sixties would have taken place regardless, although focused in a different direction. The times, as Bob Dylan sang, they were a changin', (in a song he wrote before Kennedy's death), and there would have been little or nothing that Kennedy, with all his charisma, could have done to stop it. Had he lived into the late sixties, as president and as a very privileged white male, he would have become the very personification of "The Man", that is, the ultimate establishment-authority figure, which for many in the so called Baby boomer generation, was the symbol of everything that was wrong with society.

I suspect the biggest historical impact that Kennedy's death had was on his own image. To this day we associate the Kennedy years with "Camelot", that brief shining moment (inspired by a Broadway musical), where the young and handsome president with a noble vision spelled out during his inaugural address, led this nation justly with his beautiful wife and family by his side, charming their subjects all the while. The whole Camelot connection was invented by none other than Jacqueline Kennedy as she gave an interview just after the assassination, to the author Theodore H. White which would appear in Life Magazine. That is how she desperately wanted her husband remembered, and it worked.

Since his death, historians have not been particularly kind to President Kennedy as many of his personal shortcomings have come to light in our own day of full disclosure. Had he lived, his indiscretions would have probably been revealed during his lifetime, perhaps even during his presidency. We now know that Kennedy was also a very sick man physically, suffering from numerous ailments that were kept from the public. How all that would have played out is anybody's guess.

Had John F. Kennedy lived and won a second term in office, like most second terms he would have faced adversities that he could barely imagine in his first term.  American cities would have still burned as a result of riots fed by anger and frustration over the lack of respect and dignity afforded to people of a different color. Struggles all over the world would have taken place with or without a President Kennedy. Who knows what conflicts we may have hypothetically engaged ourselves into had we not put so much effort into the struggle for Vietnam?

I suspect that today as the country observes the fiftieth anniversary of the death of President Kennedy, we'll be hearing a lot more about Camelot than about the trials and tribulations of a complicated man. That's entirely appropriate in my opinion. We need to have our heroes, even if they're flawed ones.

As the newspaper reporter of old once said: "When facts get in the way of a legend, print the legend."

*As my friend Michael pointed out in his brilliant comment below, the acrylic bubble top that would have been placed on top of the limousine in Dallas, was not bullet proof. Consequently it may or may not have spared Kennedy had it been employed, it just would have made for a harder shot. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Recently lost Chicago

Belmont Avenue and Concordia Lutheran Church, 2000
The terrible storm system that destroyed much of the town of Washington, Illinois last Sunday also hit Chicago. With the exception of 50,000 inconvenienced Bears fans at Soldier Field, the rest of us breathed a collective sigh of relief that our city was spared. Then came the news Monday morning that a stretch of Belmont Avenue between California and Western was closed because a church steeple was in danger of toppling. My heart sank as I immediately knew the church and its steeple, one of the loveliest in the city, that until this week graced the Concordia Evangelical Lutheran Church in the community of Avondale. The distinctive 1893 steeple's sheer height and ultra thin profile was a distinctive landmark in the neighborhood and for miles along Belmont Avenue. I've known it practically all my life as the church was smack dab between our house in Humboldt Park and the home of my surrogate grandfather. In recent years I'd find myself driving by the building every once in a while, greatly admiring the simple, beautiful steeple, by itself taller than the handsome neo-Gothic building that supported it, which stood in stark contrast with its surroundings, mostly undistinguished two story industrial buildings, contemporary housing developments and vacant lots. Long time residents of Chicago will probably remember this church as it sits just across the river from the site of the old Riverview amusement park.

After Sunday's storm, several supports were damaged or destroyed and the steeple perilously swayed with the breeze. City inspectors deemed the steeple too dangerous to save. It was removed on Tuesday.

Beyond the sad loss for the city, the community, and the congregation that worships in the building, that congregation of only about thirty or forty people has been strapped with the bill to remove the steeple, somewhere in the neighborhood of $100,000. It's unlikely that the small congregation will be able to pick up the tab, which may threaten their very survival as well as the survival of what's left of the building. 

I know that any help to the struggling faith community, be it in the form of prayer, or cash contribution would be greatly appreciated. Here is a link to their Facebook page which has information on how to send contributions. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A thug's game played by thugs

There's been a lot of talk lately about football supplanting baseball as "our national pastime." It should come as no surprise that football consistently outdraws baseball in terms of TV ratings. Had this past World Series gone to a game seven, that game would have taken place directly opposite a regular season NFL game, nationally broadcast under the brand of "Thursday Night Football." That particular game featured a non-divisional contest between two teams from smaller markets, one good team, the Cincinnati Bengals, and one so so team, the Miami Dolphins. It would have been interesting to see how the television ratings of the two respective sporting events would have compared: a relatively insignificant game, (except where the NFL is concerned, since if you believe all their hype, every game is of the utmost importance), against what would have been the championship game between two evenly matched baseball teams both with glorious histories, capping off what turned out to be a tremendously exciting post-season. Back in the day, a seventh game of the World Series would have drawn as much attention in the United States as a presidential election, the last episode of Breaking Bad, and the Super Bowl all put together.

Not anymore.

Since TNF is shown only on cable and not available to everyone with a TV, it's unlikely that more people would have watched the Dolphins upset the Bengals that night. Still the ratings for this year's World Series were the fourth lowest in history. That despite a fantastic series featuring the emotional draw of the Boston Red Sox, a team that finished dead last in their division last year, and the city they represent, still reeling from the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombings last April.

Well it turns out the Miami-Cincinnati game was more important than anyone would realize at the time.  That week, Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin turned up AWOL at a couple of team practices and missed the Thursday night game. He cited "personal reasons" but it would come out that his line-mate, Ritchie Ingonito, a player not particularly known for his tact and good manners, had said some rather unpleasant things to Martin over the season.

OK that's a bit of an understatement. Acting on his coaches' insistence to "toughen up" the rookie Martin, Incognito among other things took it upon himself to send Martin texts and voicemails of the most vile nature, including physical threats to Martin and his family, as well as racial epithets, (Incognito is white, Martin is black). Transcripts of those messages went public (I won't bother to quote any of them but trust me, they're bad). The story went viral and set off a firestorm of diatribes, blasting one if not both of the players. Many of the Dolphin players, a team that like the rest of the NFL is predominantly African American, came to Incognito's defense, saying that kind of talk is perfectly normal locker room jive, and that Martin as a professional football player, rather than complaining to the authorities, should have stood up for himself like a man, presumably with a fist to Incognito's face. On the other side there were calls for Incognito's immediate dismissal for his racist remarks and for workplace harassment. Incognito has in fact, been suspended from the team.

The debate made for great theater, especially all the disingenuous NFL "insiders" who sounding a lot like Captain Renault, the Claude Rains character from Casa Blanca, said they were shocked, SHOCKED, that such words could come out of the mouth of a football player.

Quite frankly I'm not sure which side I'm on. Clearly Incognito is an unabashed, unapologetic, (pardon the expression) asshole, who had long before the Martin incident, created a legacy of sociopathic behavior. Martin on the other hand by his actions has shown, unlike scores of other players who have taken the same kind of verbal abuse throughout the years, that he cannot stand up to the kind of punishment expected of a professional football player, and probably does not belong in the NFL.

In other words, he's a perfectly normal human being. There in a nutshell is the basis for my thesis on why we Americans so love to watch football.

Unlike baseball players who traditionally came from all sectors of society, rich, poor and everything in between, football began in the nineteenth century purely as a collegiate sport, designed to "make men" out of individuals who were not likely to ever be subjected to the demands of hard, physical labor. The comparison is similar to that of rugby in England which was also played by college men, and their game of football (what we call soccer), which was the game of the masses. That distinction is still made to this day: "rugby is a thug's game played by gentlemen, while soccer is a gentleman's game played by thugs," (or something of that nature).

Today, although virtually every NFL player still comes from the college ranks, big time universities recruit their players from all sectors of society based exclusively upon athletic ability, for the sole purpose of playing football (and other lucrative sports) for the school. If star players (i.e.: the ones with a chance of making it into the pros) manage to get a college education in the process, it's purely by accident. Beyond those differences, football is still considered the manliest of games. To strident fans, American football embodies all the virtues of the ideal American male: strength, fearlessness, obedience, love of God and country, and a ferocious, competitive spirit. To its most bellicose fans, football is compared to war, its players to soldiers.

In perhaps the most brilliant comparison ever of the two games, the late comedian George Carlin had this to say about baseball and football:
...the objectives of the two games are completely different: 
In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy's defensive line.
In baseball the object is to go home. And to be safe. - I hope I'll be safe at home!
Unlike most other sports played in this country, full contact football exists purely as a spectator sport. Most Americans have themselves played some form of baseball, either the game itself, its close relative softball, or even kickball, the playground game which has had a recent resurgance among adults looking to re-capture their childhood. In parks and playgrounds all over the country you see pickup basketball, soccer and even lacrosse games played by men, women, and children of all shapes and sizes. And on frozen ponds in the north and up in Canada, all you need to play hockey is a pair of skates, a stick, puck, and a couple pairs of shoes for goals. Other than levels of skill, strategy, and intensity, all those games are essentially the same games the pros play.

Gridiron football is different. The majority of football fans, myself included, have never played the game. OK we may have played football-lite in the form of touch or the slightly more intense flag football. Even if some tackling is thrown in for good measure let's face it, with full contact football's complex set of rules, strict division of labor, highly developed play strategies, and especially its speed and sheer brutality, the games that resemble it have as much in common with the real deal as a foot race has in common with NASCAR.

American football is compelling drama, especially as seen on TV with its incessant analysis and commentary designed to milk every last drop of significance out of the game. Like all legitimate athletic competitions, the outcome is not pre-determined, yet in football there is a sense of urgency that doesn't exist in any other sport. In football, with every play comes the real possibility of nirvana or disaster, depending which side you're on. Think of Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers recently being forced out of a game (and possibly the season) because of an injury on the opening drive of a Monday Night Football game after being cleanly sacked by Chicago's Shea McClellin. In that one play, Green Bay's agony was Chicago's ecstasy. Injuries are part of every sport of course but in other games they are the exception, in football, they're the rule. Given its short season, every football game is a "must win" situation. In America, watching the game has become a Sunday (or Monday or Thursday) ritual, and much like going to church, it is played out as a clash between good and evil, the believers vs. the infidels. In fact it's not uncommon to hear people profess their full belief in one team or other. I once read a newspaper article on game day up in Wisconsin featuring two Catholic priests who quite seriously debated whether or not God is a Packer fan.

For their part, fans live vicariously through the exploits of their larger than life (both literally and figuratively) cartoon-like heroes, as they wail upon the villains on the other side. All the frustrations of the previous week can be alleviated during those three and a half hours on a Sunday afternoon, if all goes well that is. And if it doesn't, you can always blame The Man, dressed in a white cap and a shirt with black and white stripes.

One can learn a lot about football culture just by watching the commercials during a typical game. Never do you see regular people in commercials actually playing the game; most depict the fan, glued to a TV or tail-gating outside the stadium. Yet these fans are not merely passive spectators, no they're usually involved in some kind of ritual designed to help their team win. Another way fans become "active" participants in the game is through the wildly popular game of fantasy football, where "leagues" composed of a group of people compete against each other by selecting NFL players for their individual "team." Each team's performance is based upon that week's cumulative performance of its "drafted" players, all tallied up on the computer.

Of course, like the computer game, football fandom is all fantasy. Since your average fan could never in his wildest dreams suit up in pads and a helmet and get out there and play with the big boys, these rituals enable us to become part of the game, without having to do any of the hard stuff. That's where Jonathan Martin comes in. Normal people would never put up with the kind of crap that was thrown at him. Of course normal people don't make a living expected to protect a quarterback by blocking 300 pound defensive linemen coming full speed ahead at them, prepared to knock their head off given half the chance.

If normal people played professional football, other normal people would not watch it. My guess is that between the two players, Jonathan Martin and Ritchie Incognito, both at the present time inactive, it will be Incognito who returns to the game. He will go through the obligatory sensitivity training and after a few sniffly TV interviews (maybe even with Barbara Walters if we're lucky), he will apologize for his misdeeds, will be publicly deemed acceptable to return to the game, be welcomed with open arms by his teammates, and hailed as a conquering albeit flawed hero. Football fans have forgiven much worse behavior.

As for Martin his talent notwithstanding, he'll probably have a hard time finding another job on an NFL squad, should he chose to do so. He's an outcast now, known by the insiders as someone who's soft, someone who can't take the heat.  That's the kiss of death in the antediluvian culture of the NFL. All those blabbering NFL insiders on TV may publicly praise him for coming forward and exposing the evils of bullying and harassment in their sport but in the end, you can bet your bottom dollar they'd never pick him to play for their team.

I wouldn't worry about Jonathan Martin however. Given his pedigree, both parents well respected Harvard graduates, one a lawyer, the other a professor, my guess is that he got himself a reasonable education while he attended Stanford. In the end he'll probably get an advanced degree and go on to do great things with his life.

On the other hand, after his playing days are over, who knows what's in store for a goon like Incognito. He's probably not coaching material and with his reputation, he's unlikely to end up in the broadcast booth. He'd probably make a heck of a professional wrestler.

So is football our new national pastime? Well I'd have to say no, simply because in the words of Sports Illustrated columnist Frank Deford:
Nobody would dare call football a pantywaist thing like 'pastime.'
Obsession, maybe new religion perhaps would be more fitting terms; certainly gridiron football is without a doubt, America's game.

In the sixties, the columnist, Mary McGrory wrote this:
Baseball is what we used to be. Football is what we have become.
So true. But like Jonathan Martin's future, I don't worry much about baseball either. Despite the declining TV ratings, attendance at MLB games is soaring, baseball's becoming more and more an international game, and little league programs as far as I can tell are still thriving all over the country, insuring the future of the game.

By contrast, with all the attention lately given to the lasting effects of concussions and other serious injuries common in football, fewer and fewer parents are signing their kids up for the game.

In the end, baseball is still the people's game while football for all its popularity, is for the most part nothing more than reality TV.

Thank goodness it's only 128 days until opening day.

In the meantime, go Bears.

They may be thugs, but gosh darn it, they're our thugs.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Tallest building west of the Hudson?

Once again, Chicago's status as the home of the tallest building somewhere in the world is diminishing as the new 1 World Trade Center in New York has been topped off and will very likely be determined to be taller than our Willis/Sears Tower. I say likely determined because no one agrees exactly what constitutes the top of a building. Antennas for example don't count, since they're not considered an integral part of the design of a structure. Spires however, which are essentially ornamental in function, may or may not actually be measured as part of the height of a building.

This has become an issue since the new WTC has a spire which supporters of the building say should be counted as part of its height. With the spire the building measures 1,776 feet. Where have I heard that number before? As you can imagine, Chicago boosters say no, a building should be measured by its highest inhabitable floor. Since the WTC's spire leapfrogs it above the Chicago building, there has been quite a to do about methods of measurement. However we lost that battle to the twin Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur years ago.

Willis/Sears, once unquestionably the tallest building in the world, has slipped into the double digits depending upon whose list you subscribe to. Until the New York tower was topped off, Willis/Sears could still be claimed as the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. It was especially satisfying to denizens of the Windy City to know that while New York may get all the attention, by golly we still had a taller building.

I've previously written about the famous Chicago tower, expressing little enthusiasm for the building itself, and my lack of interest in the subject of ranking heights of buildings. And I was prepared to write another post expressing more of the same. But after giving it considerable thought, at least ten minutes worth, I've come to the conclusion that Sears Tower (as I will refer to it now and for evermore), deserves to be considered the taller building.

It turns out that the spire atop of the WTC itself is nothing more than a sheathing for an antenna, albeit a rather attractive one. What's more, the building's developers have decided for practical reasons against attaching the structure that was originally designed to cover the antenna, so now we're left with a 1,368 foot building topped with a 408 foot antenna. Sears Tower, without its two antennas, measures 1,450 feet.

This week in Chicago of all places, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat will meet to settle the score. There will be sentiment for 1WTC for obvious emotional and symbolic reasons. Meanwhile there will be many Chicagoans who will be awaiting the decision with baited breath. As one of our mottos is: "the city of big distinctions" it will be important to know just how to refer to Sears Tower; will it continue to be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere or merely the tallest building west of the Hudson?

Of course my life and probably yours won't be much effected by the ruling. Still, looking at pictures of the new Manhattan tower, it seems pretty ridiculous to consider the thing stuck on top of it to be anything other than an antenna. Measuring to the top of that antenna would be like measuring the height of a woman from the floor to the tip of her beehive hairdo.

There now I've done it, now I'll never look at 1 World Trade Center again without thinking of Marge Simpson. And maybe you will too.

You're welcome.

POST SCRIPT: Today, Tuesday November 12, 2013, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat has indeed declared 1 World Trade Center to be officially 1776 feet tall, making it the tallest building in the western hemisphere. Curses, foiled again.