Friday, September 30, 2016

Photographs of the Month

September 4- Skycube, 2015, by David Wallace Haskins,
Elmhurst Art Museum

September 4- Skycube, 2015, by David Wallace Haskins, 
Elmhurst Art Museum, Elmhurst, Illinois

September 4 - The Praying Mantis that ate Elmhurst

September 4 - McCormick House, Elmhurt Art Museum

September 6 - Bill Foster, Art Institute of Chicago

September 7 - CTA Purple Line
September 17 - Evanston, Illinois

September 19 - State Street

September 19- Belmont Avenue, CTA Red Line

September 30- CTA Red Line

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Homer in the Gloamin

The Chicago Cubs are possibly on the verge of making history. They've already won 100 games this season which in itself is a milestone, and as the best team in baseball at the moment, are poised to be a force to be reckoned with in the upcoming playoffs. Most anybody who cares about such things knows the Cubs last won the World Series in 1908 and haven't appeared in the Fall Classic since 1945. But most forget that the Cubs were one of the best teams in the major leagues in the first half of the twentieth century, making it to the Big Dance ten times and winning it twice. The team they put on the field in the first decade of the twentieth century is considered by many to have been one of the best baseball teams ever assembled and the 1906 team won more games in one season, 116, than any other team until the Seattle Mariners did it in 2001, having eight more chances to do it.

It must be pointed out that the 1906 Cubs lost the World Series to the White Sox (sorry Cubs fans, I just had to get that dig in), and the 2001 Mariners  didn't even make it to the World Series, losing the American League Championship Series to the Yankees. Such is baseball.

My point is this, the Cubs have a long, storied history, it's just that not too many people are around to remember it. One of the greatest moments in Chicago baseball history took place 78 years ago today.

In the middle of the 1938 season, Charlie “Jolly Cholly” Grim was fired as the Cub's manager and replaced by their long time catcher Gabby Hartnett.

The Cubs were in fourth place, seven games behind the Pirates at the beginning of September. Under their new manager, the team went 17-3 that month when the Pirates came to town for the final series of the year, ahead by only one and one half games.

Hartnett had several sore arms to contend with on his pitching staff. Perhaps the sorest arm of them all was Dizzy Dean's, who's owner had been struggling with pain all season. Still Hartnett had little choice but to put Dean in to pitch the first game of the series. Diz did OK, pitching eight scoreless innings, but lost his stuff in the ninth. In came reliever Bill Lee who Harnett would later recall: “cut loose with as wild a pitch as I ever saw”, allowing the potential tying run to advance to third. But Lee got out of the jam striking out the last batter, getting the save for Dizzy Dean and the Cubs; the final score: 2-1.

September 28, Wrigley Field- The following day, Clay Bryant started for the Cubs, Bob Klinger for the Bucs. In a seesaw battle, Pittsburgh scored two runs in the eighth to take a 5-3 lead, but the Cubs came back with two of their own in the bottom of the frame leaving the game tied going into the ninth.

By that time it was almost 6PM and twilight had set in on the north side of Chicago. The umpires came close to calling the game on account of darkness. They were anxious to get the game in however as they would otherwise have start from scratch the following day as part of a double header as league rules required back in those days.

The Pirates did not score in their half of the ninth. In the bottom of the inning, The Cubs' Phil Cavarretta hit a deep drive to center field that was hauled in by Lloyd Waner. Then Carl Reynolds grounded out. Next up was manager/catcher Hartnett. By this time it was dangerously dark and the game certainly would be called if Harnett didn't get aboard. Now pitching for the Bucs was their stud reliever, Mace Brown. Brown threw Harnett a couple of curves. The Cubs' manager wiffed on the first and managed to foul off the second, just barely. As Brown described it years later:

When he was swinging at one of (the pitches), he just looked like a schoolboy, and I said to myself, I'll just throw him a better one and strike him out.

Unfortunately for Brown, the thrid pitch was not a better one. Here's how Harnett described it:

I swung with everything I had, and then I got that feeling... you get when the blood rushes out of your head and you get dizzy.

Gabby Hartnett crosses home plate followed by appreciative fans 
in Wrigley Field after hitting the most famous
home run in Chicago baseball history,
Scott Podsednik's 2005 heroics notwithstanding.
He didn't mention how he managed to see the ball let alone make contact, but make contact he did and the ball ended up in the left center bleachers. It was so dark at the time, the only players on the field who realized what had happened at that instant were Mace Brown and Gabby Harnett.

Soon everyone in the park realized what happened and half of them it seemed accompanied Harnett as he circled the bases.

That home run which has gone down in history as “The Homer in the Gloamin'” vaulted the Cubs over the Pirates by one half a game. They would win 10-1 the next day, taking the series and the pennant away from the Pirates.

The Cubs would go on to be swept by the Yankees in the World Series, but the 1938 season would forever be remembered for that pennant race and Hartnett's home run, perhaps the single greatest moment in Chicago baseball history.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Summer, where have you gone?

Photographers are more attuned to the changing seasons than average folks. Those of us who depend on where the sun is in the sky are particularly aware of two particular times of the year when everything changes. The change that takes place on the two solstices, winter and summer are subtle, barely perceptible for a least a few weeks when it becomes apparent that the daylight is either waxing or waning. It is the two equinoxes, spring and fall, as the sun crosses the equator, when the real change happens. In spring, anything that faces north will see it's first rays of sunshine for six months. Conversely in autumn, those northern exposures say goodbye to the sun for a long winter's nap,  It's especially apparent in a city like Chicago where streets run parallel to the lines of latitude and longitude. Here buildings on these perpendicular streets have a facade facing due north. If you want to photograph a north facade illuminated by sunlight, you have to shoot it roughly between March 22 and September 22nd, interestingly enough, my mother and wife's respective birthdays.

It's those streets running due east and due west that witness sunrise and sunset directly at their vanishing points. Case in point:

This picture was made yesterday, approximately 14 hours before the sun crossed the equator this morning, marking the inexorable march toward winter in the northern hemisphere, and summer in the southern hemisphere.

These milestones of every year, like birthdays, anniversaries, and the New Year, signify the inexorable march of time, or rather, in the words of the poet Henry Austin Dobson:

Time goes, you say? Ah no!
Alas, Time stays, we go.

Alas such is life. 
If only we wouldn't go so fast.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Some memories and a prayer for peace

This summer, my son and I visited the National September 11 Memorial, the magnificent tribute to the victims of the terror attacks built on the site of Ground Zero, where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center once stood in lower Manhattan. In case you missed it, here is my post about that visit.

Exactly ten years ago, New York Times Op Ed columnist Frank Rich wrote an article describing what in his opinion was America "letting go" of the events of September 11, 2001. To illustrate his point, he used a photograph made by Magnum photographer Thomas Hoepker of five young adults sitting on the banks of the East River, engaged in what appeared to be casual conversation while behind them, smoke billowed from the site where the World Trade Center stood just hours before. Rich's point was that not only had the country moved on from the tragedy after five years, but the folks in the photograph had already moved on that very day. Here's his assessment of the American character based upon that one photograph:
Traumatic as the attack on America was, 9/11 would recede quickly for many. This is a country that likes to move on, and fast. The young people in Mr. Hoepker’s photo aren’t necessarily callous. They’re just American.
Rich turned out to be dead wrong about the picture. Ten years after his article, one would be hard pressed to support his assumption that this country as a whole has gotten over 9/11. Yes there are exceptions, you can read about some of them in my post written five years ago on the tenth anniversary

Hard to believe, but today is the fifteenth anniversary of that terrible day. We continue to remember the victims, the places where they perished, Shanksville, PA.Washington D.C. and New York City, their loved ones, and the people who suffered and died in the wars that followed. In doing so we pray for peace in the world, an end to suffering and violence, and a time of understanding between nations and peoples. We most certainly will not see this come to pass in our lifetime, most likely not in our children's lifetimes, and possibly not ever, but it is our duty as citizens of the world to try.

How can we not?

In memory of that day, please indulge my quoting words that come from faith, but words I believe speak to all men and women of good will, regardless of their creed or lack of one, words that define what it means to be a human being.

The prayer of St. Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.


Friday, September 9, 2016

Guilty as charged

In a Washington Post article titled It's time to stop talking about racism with white people, the author Zack Linly makes the point that most whites either cannot or refuse to comprehend the injustices facing black people in this country, especially in light of the recent focus on African American people being killed by the police. He cites many examples of white people being "dismissive" of the problem and as the title to the piece indicates, he's willing to throw in the towel as far as trying to convince them otherwise.

Here's a list of things white people say that proves, according to the author. they just don't get it:
  • “There must be more to the story.”
  • “If you people would just do what you’re told.”
  • “Cops have a hard job.”
  • “White people get shot too.”
  • “He was just another thug. Good riddance!”
  • “Why do you people make everything about race?”
  • “What about black on black crime?”
  • All lives matter.”
Turns out I'm one of those white people he's talking about. I've expressed at least four out of those eight sentiments right here in this space. And while in the context of this issue I understand the sentiment behind Black Lives Matter movement, I also believe deep in my heart that all lives (including blue ones) matter, although I don't state that publicly. Oops guess I just did, sorry, that makes five. 

So far this year, six people have been shot and killed by the police in the City of Chicago and eleven have been shot and wounded, which is roughly on the same pace as last year. I don't have the data on the race of the victims, the cops in those shootings, or the circumstances behind those deaths and injuries. I can only assume some may have been the result of power obsessed, racist cops abusing their authority. Others may have been tragic cases of mistaken motives or identity of the victims. And still others may have been the result of a police officer confronting an armed person both willing and able to take the life of that officer, and perhaps others. Most of the circumstances probably fall somewhere in between, as no two police shootings are the same.

Six instances of police killing civilians are indeed six too many but yes, there is more to the story.

On the flip side, there have been 500 homicides in Chicago so far this year, surpassing the total number of murders from last year, and it's barely September. The vast majority, 78.2 percent of those murdered in Chicago this year were black people. We can't know exactly because most of those crimes will never be solved, but I think it's fairly safe to assume that the racial breakdown of people doing the killing is a comparable number. Using those statistics and assumptions, if you were a black person in Chicago this year, you were at least sixty five times more likely to be murdered by another black person than by a police officer. As I've said before, separating the violence in the African American community from the police killings is disingenuous.

The author of the Post article claims that white people
aren’t paying attention to these stories (of the police shootings) out of fear for their lives and the lives of their children and spouses; they are only tuned in out of black and brown contempt.
Obviously I can't speak for all white people. The author is absolutely correct in assuming that as a white man, I cannot possibly know what it's like to be black in this country. I don't know what it's like to be constantly harassed by cops, or judged harshly by people unlike me simply because of the color of my skin.

It's also true that I cannot imagine having been brought up without two loving parents who taught me to respect others as well as myself, parents who praised me when I did right and let me know in no uncertain terms when I didn't. I don't know what it's like to have to find a parental figure somewhere out on the streets, someone who doesn't have my best interests at heart, someone who wouldn't give his or her life for me if he or she had to, in other words, a parental figure who doesn't give a shit about me.

That's exactly the plight of far too many children living in our cities today. No child should have to live under those circumstances, not is there a good reason for it to be so, but that's the reality for tens of thousands of children in our city alone. Combine those kids growing into teenagers who don't give a shit about themselves or anybody else, poverty, segregation, and the criminally outrageous availability of guns in this country, and we get the situation we find ourselves in today.

By the way Mr. Linly, I live in a neighborhood where it's not unusual to hear gunshots from our home, and in a city where life is often considered cheap. So please don't tell me that I'm "not invested", "don't have skin in the game" or that I don't live in constant fear for the safety of my wife and children. I've invested plenty in this city that I love dearly, both the black and white of it, with literally my blood, sweat and tears.

The same is true for all the hard working people of Chicago of every race, creed and walk of life.

Incidentally, the Washington Post article came to my attention as it was posted by a white Facebook friend who lives in San Francisco. It was followed in my FB feed by a picture of a young black girl holding up a sign that read, "Stop the violence, let me grow up" posted by a black friend who lives on the south side of Chicago.

That little girl's chances of growing up, something all of us should be concerned about. are not going to improve by well intentioned people sitting out the national anthem, or chanting inflammatory slogans. Unfortunately we live in a society where ideology, slogans and symbols are more important than critical thinking and self-reflection.

Until that changes, I'm afraid we can only expect more of the same.