Saturday, December 25, 2010

what a friend we have in cheeses

We lived in Wisconsin for nearly five years in the early 1980’s, and quickly found some great, and lasting, friendships. It was a great time for the Brewers, who came within one game of defeating the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1982 World Series. The mighty Green Bay Packers weren’t as fortunate, since the team only had one post season appearance the nine years that Bart Starr was the head coach.

It’s a well known fact that Wisconsin produces more cheese than any other state, and is second only to Californian in total dairy production.

In spite of the fact that there’s a shrine to the Virgin Mary at a place called Holy Hill there have been no known apparitions at the site, nor any events that would be considered out of the ordinary. The closest that Wisconsin has come to anything resembling holy is the well known phrase, “holy cow!”

Wisconsin’s status took on a whole new direction earlier this month, in a way that very few people would suspect.

Since WWII, there have been 29 sightings of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the United States. Until very recently, NONE of them have been validated by the Roman Catholic Church. I’ve been to Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois, and I strongly suspect that there’s a material spiritual force at work there. However, the Catholic Church still does not officially recognize the events that have occurred on the site, so I guess that my opinion doesn’t count.

The surprise entry into the “holiest of holy” sites is the Chapel of Good Hope, in Champion, Wisconsin, just a little north of Green Bay. It is one of only about a dozen sites worldwide that have been validated by Rome, and the first one in the United States.

Now that the chapel has been officially recognized, it’s entirely possible that there will be more pilgrimages to the town, but it’s doubtful that it will ever get anywhere close to Lourdes, France, which has had as many as 450,000 visitors on a single day.

By the way, if the title to this article sounds familiar, you may recognize the song posted below:

what a friend we have in Jesus

Merry Christmas, and a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The greatest Christmas gift ever

During the waning days of the Roman Empire, it was still a crime (punishable by death) to be a Christian. By the year 350 A.D., the Roman Empire was on a downward spiral, so Pope Julius I felt confident enough to officially designate December 25 as the date to celebrate the birth of Christ. By the year 380 A.D., Christianity was the official state religion of the Roman Empire.

The tradition of gift giving at Christmas originated with a Christian bishop, St. Nicholas of Turkey, in the 4th Century. By the 10th Century, the custom had spread around the world. Arguably, the tradition could be traced back even further than that, because Three Wise Men from the East brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to a small child who was born in Bethlehem.

It may surprise you to know that giving gifts in December actually goes back even BEFORE the Three Wise Men made their journey to Bethlehem.

Most of the customs now associated with Christmas were not originally Christmas customs but rather were pre-Christian and non-Christian customs taken up by the Christian church. Saturnalia, a Roman feast celebrated in mid-December, provided the model for many of the merry-making customs of Christmas. From this celebration, for example, were derived the elaborate feasting, the giving of gifts, and the burning of candles that we associate with the Christmas holidays.

In America, from time to time, controversy has arisen about the practice of putting Christmas trees, or manger scenes, on public property, due to the idea of separating church from state. In the spirit of compromise, Daley Plaza in Chicago has both a Christmas tree AND a menorah, conveniently overlooking the fact that many of the traditions that we associate with Christmas are actually derived from a pagan festival.

Like many people, I’ve long felt that the celebration of Christmas has become WAY too commercial. Black Friday sales the day after Thanksgiving have absolutely no appeal, and neither does anything in the Neiman-Marcus catalog.

I’ve lived long enough that I’ve already accumulated enough “stuff”, so I’ve asked my family to try a different approach this year. I’m fully capable of buying my own scotch and cigars, so I don’t want them to feel obligated to give me any presents. Instead, I’ve asked them to donate some money to a charity of their choice in my name, since that act is, in my opinion, more in the true spirit of Christmas.

The majority of the people that live in this world aren’t Christians. As a matter of fact, a majority of the people that live in this world don’t even belong to an organized religion. In spite of that fact, though, there actually was a time that even those engaged in warfare had a one day truce on December 25, and most of the world pauses to pay homage to a small child who was born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago.

In the Good Book, Matthew 1(23-25) reads "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus."

What could be a greater gift than that?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bingo !!

It was a good crowd for a chilly winter night in Minnesota.

The KC hall was packed with the Friday night regulars, but there were also a few first timers in the mix as well.. Some of the gray haired ladies in the room resembled Maxine (of Hallmark card fame) but the clouds of smoke surrounding them had disappeared a few years ago, a victim of political correctness.

Rick held sway at the front of the room, calmly calling off numbers as they popped out of the container, a position that he had volunteered to do for at least a decade. After about 10 minutes, Rick called out “B14”, and the room exploded in a frenzy of excitement. Kathy, one of the regulars in the third row, hollered “BINGO” at the top of her lungs, and the attendants quickly scurried to verify her win, and to dole out her cash.

At some point in our lives, we’ve all played bingo, either at a church or at a Knights of Columbus hall. Chances are pretty good, though, that you have no idea how bingo originated, or why the Catholic Church has a strong connection to it.

Bingo as we know it today actually started in Italy in 1530, when the country was reunited, and it’s actually a variation of the lottery games that are currently played in nearly every state in America. The game has been played almost continuously since that time, and it’s an important contributor to Italy’s economy. The best estimate is that it contributes the equivalent of $75,000,000 to the Italian economy every year.

The game migrated to America at the start of the Great Depression, and the person most responsible for its transplantation here was a toy salesman named Edwin S. Lowe. H e observed a crowd of people playing a game called “Beano” at a carnival in Jacksonville, Georgia, and was captivated by the intense interest in the game.

When he returned home to New York, he started playing the game with a group of friends at his apartment. On one especially exciting evening, one of his friends got so excited that that she stammered out “b-b-b-bingo” instead of “beano” - and the name stuck.

Not long after returning to New York, Mr. Lowe was approached by a priest from a parish in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, who saw the game as an opportunity to rescue his parish from its dire financial situation. The scheme worked, and shortly thereafter, bingo games also saved a Knights of Columbus hall in Utica, New York.

News about these early successes spread fast, and by 1934, there were an estimated 10,000 Bingo games played every week. In the early 1930’s, the largest Bingo game in history was played in New York’s Teaneck Armory. 60,000 people participated in the event, and 10,000 more were turned away at the door. In addition to the cash prizes, 10 automobiles were given away.

In the last decade, interest in Bingo has faded, in large part due to state sanctioned alternatives like lottery games, off track betting, and state casinos. In spite of declining revenue, though, it’s unlikely that Bingo games are going to disappear at any time in the near future. Decades before Facebook came into being, Friday night Bingo games were the original “social networking” outlet for a LOT of folks in America- - and they still are today.

If you haven’t played Bingo for a while, I’d recommend that you find a game in your area, pay your admission fee - and start “stamping”.

To quote Humphrey Bogart (of Casablanca fame) it could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

We’ve all gone to look for America

One of my favorite Simon and Garfunkel songs is one that you can listen to by clicking on the link below:

We've all gone to look for America

It took Simon and Garfunkel four days to hitchhike from Saginaw.

In recent years, it’s definitely a good place to be FROM, but not a good place to go to. Throughout most of the 20th century, the economy was dominated by manufacturing related to the automobile industry. As the domestic auto industry declined, the unemployment rate in Saginaw skyrocketed, and crime has been a major problem in the city in recent years.At 20.9 %, the unemployment rate is twice as high as the national average.

According to the FBI, Saginaw has been the most violent city in America since 2003.

Fortunately, the city’s fortunes will start to improve in the near future due to help from an unlikely source: the Chinese.

On November 29, General Motors announced the sale of Nexteer Automotive (a manufacturer of power steering components) to Pacific Century Motors, an affiliate of the Beijing municipal government. The $450 million purchase represents China’s biggest single investment in the global auto parts industry. It will also make Beijing into the largest private employer in the City of Saginaw.

At a celebratory luncheon earlier this week, chairs were lined with Chinese flags, and guests were served egg rolls.

Although $450 million is a lot of money, it pales in comparison to what the Chinese are doing in California.

In June of 2010, the Chinese government signed a contract with the State of California to build high speed rail lines in the state. The Chinese bullet trains are capable of speeds up to 215 miles per hour, and are touted as being environmentally friendly. Most of the funding for the $43 billion project will come from China. After its completion, the line will run from San Francisco all the way to Aneheim, which should be good news for Mickey Mouse. Since Anaheim is located in Orange Country, the best name that I can think of for the new railroad is “The Orange Blossom Special”

By the way, the Chinese will also become a big help to us in getting out of Afghanistan due to the fact that Chinese companies are currently mining for rare minerals in that country. Even though the current government in Afghanistan continues to struggle with problems of corruption, it doesn’t take much of a genius to figure out that the current troubles in the country will diminish if public and private companies have a vested financial interest in making sure that the violence goes away.

From 1970 to today,Spanish has been the most popular foreign language studied in American schools. However, the languages that have grown the fastest since 1970 are Chinese and Arabic. Due to the fact that the Chinese government is paying the salaries of the Chinese nationals who are teaching Mandarin and Chinese culture in our schools, it’s likely that the study of Mandarin will continue to grow dramatically.

The thought of the Chinese people running our country is not going to set well with a lot of folks in this country. To put our current situation in perspective, if Hop Sing bought the ranch, Ben, Adam, Hoss and Little Joe would be working for HIM, and that would DEFINITELY be a culture shock for the rest of us.

As they continue their search, Simon and Garfunkel will eventually find America, and it’s going to be stronger and better than ever, However, it’s going to SOUND a lot different than it used to, so I’d recommend improving your Mandarin skills as rapidly as you can.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving with the enemy

There’s a perception among some people in American society that Muslims are the enemy, and the story in the November 28 edition of the Chicago Tribune about Mohamed Osman Mohamud’s attempt to blow up a crowd of people in Oregon will only add more fuel to the fire.

The truth is that the Islamic religion is the most popular single denomination in the world, and the overwhelming majority of its followers are non-violent people.

On the night before Thanksgiving, I attended the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service at the Unitarian Church on Ridge Avenue. The featured speaker was Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid. In addition to being a leader in the Chicago Muslim community, he is also the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, an organization that was founded in 1893. The parliament was the first attempt to create a global dialogue of faiths, and it turned out to be one of the most popular exhibits at the Columbian Exposition.

Part of his message was that you can’t bomb your way to peace, a lesson that we should have learned from “Operation Rolling Thunder” in Vietnam, but he closed with a variation of the well known phrase “E pluribus Unum”, which means “out of many, One”.

After his address, the gathering received blessings from representatives from seven different religious backgrounds. Father Bill Tkachuk (of St. Nicholas Catholic Church) delivered part of his blessing in Spanish, and Rabbi Andrea London’s blessing was delivered partially in Hebrew. The blessing that REALLY sent shivers down my spine, though, was the blessing that was sung in Arabic by Tahera Ahmad, the associate chaplain at Northwestern University, since it was absolutely gorgeous.

The Baha’i Temple in Wilmette pays homage to the nine major religions of the world on the nine-sided columns that surround the building, which is precisely what the Parliament of World’s Religions attempts to do. The Baha’i chorus, along with the Unitarian chorus, provided music for the event, and Reverend Barbara Pescan, the leader of the Unitarian Church, provided the closing prayer.

I’m the only Christian that I know who has actually read the Koran, and I found it surprisingly familiar. Like the Jewish and Christian faiths, Islam is considered an “Abrahamic religion”, which means that the majority of the people in the word have a lot more common than they previously might have suspected.

Next Thanksgiving, I’d recommend attending the next Interfaith Thanksgiving Service.

You’ll be glad that you went.


Tom Brennan

Friday, November 19, 2010

Play it again, Sam

One of the best lines in the 1942 movie, Casablanca, is this one:

In the very near future, Evanston will have its very own gin joint. In view of the town’s attitude towards alcoholic beverages in the past, that’s a pretty amazing accomplishment.

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union was formed in Cleveland in 1874. Five years later, an Evanston resident, Francis Willard (who was the first Dean of Women at Northwestern University) became President, and served in that position for 19 years.

Her position as head of the WCTU fit very well with the city’s character, which had outlawed the purchase of alcohol within its borders ever since its founding in 1863. It wasn’t until 1972 that the City Council allowed the sale of liquor in the city’s hotels and restaurants, and Northwestern University finally approved the serving of liquor on campus in 1975, ending a ban on alcohol sales that had remained in place since 1855. The first liquor store in Evanston didn’t open its doors until 1984.

I was recently introduced to Paul Hletko by Brooke Saucier (of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce) at an after hours event at Buffalo Wild Wings (on Maple Street). Paul told me that he planned to open up a store on Chicago Avenue in the near future that would sell both gin and rye whiskey (the original ingredient in the Manhattan cocktail beverage that Winston Churchill's mother commissioned in 1874) which had been produced on site.

In a nod to a time when speakeasies were common in America, the new location is a nondescript building at the end of an alley. Unless you were really looking for it, you’d never suspect that it was there. At this point in time, the site has been secured, but it will take another few months to tie up the loose ends and the balance of the funding. Opening day should be some time in the first quarter of 2011.

Opening a distillery is not for the faint of heart, whether it’s a moonshine distillery in the heart of Kentucky, or a fully legal one in a college town in Illinois.

Paul has been certified as an approved distiller by the American Distilling Institute, but his training is only a small part of the whole puzzle. In order to ensure that the proper taxes are collected, the Federal Government has a rigorous screening process that can consume an enormous amount of time. In the last 2 years or so, he has spent an estimated 150 hours on the application process. Once he is fully eligible at the Federal level, the next step is to apply for state certification.

Both gin and rye whiskey have a long history.

Gin has been consumed since at least the 11th century, when Italian monks added juniper berries to a low grade of alcohol for medicinal purposes. Gin in its current form was first created by a Dutch physician named Franciscus Sylvius in the 17th century.

The origin of rye whiskey is a little murkier, but it IS known that George Washington made it at his home in Mr. Vernon.

At this point in time, there are no local producers of gin, and very few of rye whiskey. For that reason, Paul feels that his new venture should be a good business opportunity. Once he opens his doors, and as time goes by, it should become a popular place

In addition to retail sales of the product produced on site, there will be tasting events a few times each week. Once that happens, I’d recommend that you stop by for a few samples. It could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship

Sunday, October 31, 2010

the day the Quakers died

On October 27, 1659, William Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson became the first victims of religious oppression in what is now the United States of America. Both of them were Quakers, and they had moved here from England in 1656 to escape religious persecution in that country. Unfortunately for them, The Massachusetts General Court had passed a law banning Quakers from the colony under penalty of death in 1658, and they were executed.

In view of the fact that one of the core beliefs of the Quakers is the “Friends Peace Testimony” , which utterly denys all outward wars, they really weren’t much of a threat to the colonists, but ignorance of the beliefs of other religions was as prevalent then as it is now.

Although five of our 44 Presidents had no religious affiliation at all (including Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln) , our country has had two Presidents who were Quakers, Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon. As a result, Nixon was likely more conflicted about the Vietnam War than most of us realized.

The dominant religion in the American Colonies was the Anglican religion (the Church of England) and people could be (and were) put to death for “crimes” like disagreeing with their pastor.

Between February of 1692 and May of 1693, the Salem witch trials were held in Massachusetts. More than 150 people were arrested, and ultimately 19 people were put to death for their “crimes”. The Salem witch trial episode is one the most famous cases of mass hysteria in America, and has been used in political rhetoric and popular literature as a vivid cautionary tale about the dangers of isolationism, religious extremism, false accusations, lapses in due process, and governmental intrusion on individual liberties.

When our Founding Fathers crafted our Constitution, they wisely inserted religious freedom into the very first amendment, and many of the ideas in the Bill of Rights are drawn from the lessons learned during the time of the Salem trials.

As logical as religious freedom seems to us, there are LOTS of places in the world where it’s not allowed, even in places where it is codified into law. The most prominent example of this inequity is in present day Iran. Even though Chapter III of the Constitution that was signed into law in October of 1979 grants religious freedom, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly, those rights aren’t always accorded.

The most prominent victim of the violation of the freedom of assembly protection was Neda Agha-Soltan, whose death on June 20, 2009, has been described as “the most widely viewed death in human history”.

A much greater violation of the Constitution is the one related to freedom of religion. 89% of the population are members of the Shi’a branch of the Islam religion, 9% belong to the Sunni branch of Islam, and the remaining 2% is divided among Baha’is, Mandeans, Hindus, Yezidis, Yarzanis, Zoroaststrians, Jews, and Christians. The latter three are officially recognized and protected, and have seats in Parliament.

The largest group in the 2% minority are the Baha’is, whose religion is not recognized. Although followers of the Baha’i religion have been discriminated against ever since the religion was founded in 1863 in Iran, persecution of Baha’is has increased since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, with more executions , denial of civil rights and liberties, and denial of access of higher education and employment.

Correction of the injustice against the Baha’is in Iran will not be an easy task, but it CAN be achieved, ultimately, through a “green revolution". Since neither Israel or the United States has diplomatic relations with Iran, a concerted effort on the part of the United Nations will be needed.

The economy of Iran is the 16th largest in the world, and the service sector was the largest contributor to the GDP, just like it is in America. However, 45 % of the government’s income comes from oil and natural gas reserves. Iran ranks second in the world in natural gas reserves, and third in the world in oil reserves. If the governments in the United Nations could somehow act in concert for the next decade or so about how to deal with Iran, the plight of the Baha’is in Iran could be remedied with a very simple solution:

For every year that Baha’s continue to be persecuted in Iran, the world powers would consume a minimum of 10% less of Iranian natural gas and oil than they did in the previous year.

When the leaders of Iran finally start to feel some REAL PAIN in their pocketbook,you might actually get to see REAL religious freedom in the land that is home to one of the oldest civilizations in the world, and the 7,000,000 adherents of the faith around the world will finally be able to breathe a sigh of relief.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Le statut de la Liberté

Les Français ont longtemps été considérée comme une société affectif et sentimental, ce qui explique pourquoi l'image ci-dessous, prise peu après la chute de Paris, semblait capter l'ambiance de la nation à un moment très sombre de son histoire.

En raison du fait que le French revolution s'est produite à seulement 13 ans après la fondation de l'Amérique, les pays ont depuis longtemps une attention particulière pour l'autre, en particulier dans les 18e et 19e siècles

L'origine du projet Statue de la Liberté a été créditée à un professeur de droit et homme politique français nommé Edoward René de Laboulaye, qui était un ardent soutien de l'Union dans la guerre de Sécession. Lors d'un dîner dans sa maison près de Versailles, à la mi-1865, il a déclaré que toute monument érigé aux États-Unis pour commémorer son indépendance doit être un effort commun d'Amérique et la France.

Son commentaire a inspiré un jeune sculpteur nommé Frédéric Bartholdi, qui était aussi au dîner. Bien que Bartholdi n'a pris aucune mesure immédiate de ce qui allait devenir la Statue de la Liberté, il s'approcha peu de temps après Ismail Paska, le Khédive d'Egypte, avec un projet de construction d'un phare gigantesque, sous la forme d'une femme égyptienne, à l'entrée nord de le canal de Suez. Bien que la statue n'a jamais été construit, Bartholdi, l'inspiration du participant pour le projet a été l' Colossus of Rhodes, une statue antique qui se trouvait autrefois à l' entrée d'un port, mais a été détruit par un tremblement de terre en 226 avant JC

En 1870, Bartholdi avait terminé le premier modèle de la statue conçue pour le sol américain. En 1871, il s'embarque à New York pour discuter de l'idée d'une statue avec les Américains influents. ‚ÄôComme il passait devant Bedloe, AOS l'île, à l'entrée de port de New York, il a été frappé par le fait que tous les navires en direction de New York a dû naviguer directement passé il.
Il a plus tard découvert que l'île était la propriété du gouvernement des États-Unis, et ne faisait pas partie d'un État particulier. Quand il a rencontré le président Ulysses S. Grant, il a assuré qu'il ne serait pas difficile d'obtenir le site dans le but d'ériger une statue.

En 1875, il était évident qu'il y avait un soutien pour le projet des deux côtés de l'Atlantique, et en Septembre de 1875, M. Laboulaye a annoncé le projet, et la création de l'Union franco-américaine que son bras de collecte de fonds. Le français a accepté de payer pour la stature, et les Américains ont accepté de payer pour le piédestal.

Collecte de fonds pour le projet s'est avéré être difficile pour le côté américain, mais d'ici l'été 1885, 102 000 $ (l'équivalent de 2,3 millions de dollars d'aujourd'hui) avait été soulevée pour le piédestal. 80% des dons avaient été pour un dollar ou moins.

Du côté français, Bartholdi a commencé la construction de la statue en 1876, mais il était pas, AOT qu'en 1885 que la statue a été achevée. À cet égard, il a été démonté et mis dans des caisses en bois pour qu'il puisse être expédiés en Amérique.

En avril 1886, le travail sur le piédestal a finalement été achevé, et l'érection de la statue, qui avait été expédié de France, a été commencé, et, au début Octobre, le travail était terminé. Le 28 Octobre 1886, la cérémonie a de dévouement a eu lieu, habité par le président américain Grover Cleveland. Après la statue avait été rénové et a rouvert 100 ans plus tard, port de New York a célébré en grande pompe:

En l'an 2035, l', Äúminorities, l'UA en Amérique seront plus nombreux que les gens qui se considèrent comme des être, la majorité Authe, de l'UA. Cela peut provoquer la consternation dans certains milieux, mais elle, AOS tout simplement un autre rappel que l'Amérique a toujours été une terre d'immigration (à partir de 1620), et la plaque sur la statue de la Liberté renforce ce fait.

Pas comme l'airain de la renommée géant grec,
Avec la conquête de membres à cheval de la terre à la terre;
Ici, dans notre mer à la chaux, portes coucher de soleil est maintenue
Une femme avec une torche puissante, dont la flamme
Est-ce que la foudre en prison, et son nom
Mère des Exilés. De son phare d'occasion
Brille dans le monde entier la bienvenue; son commandement doux yeux
Le port de l'air comblé ce cadre des villes jumelées.
«Gardez, anciennes terres, votre pompe étages! cris qu'elle
Avec lèvres muettes. "Donnez-moi vos fatigués, vos pauvres,
Votre masses entassées qui aspirent à respirer librement,
Le rebut de vos rivages surpeuplés.
Envoyer ces, les sans-abri, tempête-tost pour moi,
Je lève ma lampe à côté de la porte d'or! "

Emma Lazarus, 1883

Comme nous le temps de réfléchir à l'occasion du 124e de la dédicace de l' Statue of Liberty, il, AOS convient également que nous prenons quelques instants pour remercier à nouveau les Français pour leur générosité, et le meilleur manière que je peux penser à faire est de coller le lien ci-dessous dans votre navigateur, et de regarder une courte vidéo de Casablanca, une photo 1942 qui a remporté trois Oscars, dont meilleur film:

we’ll show those Germans

If your French is a little rusty, the clip provides an English translation for you:

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The thin red line

I’ve lived in Evanston for more than 5 years. During that time, I’ve met a lot of interesting and colorful characters.

When the White Hen Pantry used to be located on Main Street, just east of Chicago Avenue, I frequently ran into a gregarious African-American gentlemen who was selling copies of “StreetWise“ from his chair right outside the front door.

A few years ago, the building that housed the White Hen Pantry was torn down to make room for a new commercial/residential development that never materialized due to the current state of the housing market, but the StreetWise vendor still mans his post, day in and day out.

He works from noon until 4 on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and noon until 7 on Thursday. He spends most of his day on Sunday in church, and he takes computer classes on Monday and Tuesday at the Jane Addams School.

From time to time, I would buy a paper from him, and his greeting was invariably the same, “how are you today, young man?”, even though I’m a few years older than he is.

His name if John, and he’s been selling StreetWise in Evanston for 8 years. Although he once lived in Evanston, for about five years, he currently resides in Rogers Park.

His amiable face is trimmed with a carefully groomed white beard. Due to his stocky build, and his friendly disposition, it’s not hard to imagine him serving as a Santa at a suburban shopping mall somewhere.

Although he has lived in the Chicago area for more than 40 years, his melodic voice still contains a bit of his native Alabama. He was born in Huntsville, which meant that he grew up in a place that was the epicenter of the space race in the 1960’s.

He first came to the Chicago area in 1967 as a result of the Job Corps, and for a time, he attended culinary school. Like many young folks, he never achieved his dream of becoming a famous chef, and he worked a variety of jobs over the years.

The last time that he held a “traditional” job was 10 years ago, when he worked for a moving company. In his spare time, he also worked evenings at The Good News church, feeding the hungry and the homeless.

Throughout his life, John has been plagued with poor health.

During the height of the Vietnam War, he was declared unfit for the draft, which may have been a blessing for his parents. He had a heart attack in 2004, and a stroke on January 2 of 2010.

Even though more than 60% of Evanston residents have a college degree or advanced degree, and 92% ot its resident would be considered “white collar” workers, the unemployment and foreclosures that have decimated other parts of our country have also taken their toll in Evanston.

The truth is that there’s a very thin line between the life that John lives, and our own, and it’s ironic that his station is directly across the street from a Starbucks Coffee House.

Michael Gates Gill was a high flying six figure income advertising executive - until he was abruptly fired. He ultimately wound up working as a barrista at a local Starbucks for $10 an hour, an experience that he claims saved his life. If you’d like to read more about him, take a look at his book, which is titled “How Starbucks saved my life”.

The next time you stop in at the Starbucks on Main Street for your $4 cup of grande latte, save a couple of bucks for John across the street.

Your contribution will do more good than you can possibly imagine.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Baseball, hotdogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet

In September of 2010, the top selling car or truck models sold in America were as follows:

1 - Ford F series
2 - Chevy Silverado
3 - Toyota Camry
4 - Honda Accord
5- Toyota Corolla
6 - Hyundai Sonata
7 - Nissan Altima
8 - Honda Civic
9 - Honda CR-V
10 - Ram series

As you skim through the list, you’ll notice that only 3 of the top 10 have “American” names. However, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll discover that the location of manufacture for the list is definitely domestic. Only one vehicle, the Toyota Corolla, is not made in America.

1 - Ford F series - made in Dearborn, Michigan and Kansas City, Missouri - but also made in Valencia, Venezuela and Cuautitlan, Mexico
2 - Chevy Silverado - made in Flint and Pontiac, Michigan and Fort Wayne,Indiana, but it is also built in Ontario, Venezuela, and Mexico
3- Toyota Camry - made in Georgetown, Kentucky, as well as Japan
4- Honda Accord - produced in Marysville, Ohio, as well as Japan, New Zealand, England, China, and Thailand
5- Toyota Corolla - produced in Fremont, California until March of 2010, but no more U.S production. The vehicle is now produced in Brazil, Canada, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, South Africa, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, and Venezuela
6- Hyundai Sonata- made in Montgomery, Alabama, but also in Korea, India, China, Turkey and Egypt
7 - Nissan Altima - made in Smyrna, Tennessee , as well as Japan
8 - Honda Civic - made in Greensburg, Indiana, as well as Ontario
9 - Honda CR-V - made in East Liberty, Ohio, as well as Japan, U.K., China, and Mexico
10 - Dodge Ram series - made in Warren, Michigan, as well as Mexico

Due to some great advertisements over the years, the car that many people would consider to be the “most American” is Chevrolet, but the make only has one vehicle in the top 10, and it’s a truck.

The Chevrolet name has been with us since November of 1911. From 1949 to 1978, the full size Chevrolet Bel Air/Impala/Caprice was the number one selling car in America in all but three years, but the last time that a Chevrolet was the number one seller was 1986, when the mid-size Celebrity took home the honors.

In 1963, one out of ever ten cars sold in America was a Chevrolet, but that is no longer the case.In 2009, the Chevrolet brand was a solid 200,000 units behind number one Toyota, but the gap would be even larger if you considered passenger cars only, and not trucks. That's likely one of the main reasons that Chevrolet replaced its ad agency of 91 years in May of 2010.

Chevrolet has 20 different models that are either in production, or have recently stopped production. The list of models, as well as where they are produced, is as follows:

Aveo - made in Korea
Camaro - made in Canada
Caprice - made in Australia
Corvette - made in Kentucky
Cruze - Ohio
Impala - Canada
Malibu - Kansas City and Michigan
Volt - Detroit, Michigan
Cobalt (recently dropped) - was made in Ohio

Avalanche - Mexico
Colorado - Louisiana and Thailand
Silverado - Canada and the United States

Express - Wentzville, Missouri
Uplander - Georgetown, Kentucky

Equinox - Ontario, Canada
HHR- Mexico
Suburban - Janesville, Wisconsin and Mexico
Tahoe - dropped - was produced in Janesville, Wisconsin
Traverse - Spring Hill, Tennessee and Lansing, Michigan
Trailblazer - made in Ohio, Oklahoma, Russia, and Venezuela

If you “count ‘em up”, you’ll find that only 10 of the vehicles sold by Chevrolet are made in the United States, and there’s not a lot of “Detroit iron” on the list. The only vehicle that Chevrolet makes in Detroit is the Volt.

If you on occasion get nostalgic about “the good old days”, buy or rent a Chevrolet and take a long trip across the country.

After all, America is asking you to call.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A century of progress

Since this story is the 100th post to the blog I started in March of 2009, it’s appropriate that we all travel backward in time by 100 years in order to draw a few conclusions.

The “story behind the story” this time around is the mass e-mail that mostof us received recently decrying the “de-industrialization of America”. Although the source of the article wasn’t listed in the note that I got, a little research turned up the fact that it was generated by a publication called The Business Insider, which was launched in July of 2007.

Since it’s always important to consider the source of anything that you read or hear, especially if it’s negative information, you should be aware of the fact that Business Insider was started by a man named Henry Blodget. Although he was once considered one of the chief internet/e-commerce analysts on Wall Street, he was ultimately charged with civil securities fraud by the United States SEC in 2003. He was forced to pay a total of $4,000,000 in penalties, and was immediately barred from the securities industry.

Before I dig into the accuracy of the “19 facts about the de-industrialization of America”, let’s take a look at where America was in 1910, exactly 100 years ago.

In 1910, farming was still a very big part of the U.S. economy. The number of farms in this country had increased from 2,000,000 in 1860 to 6.4 million in 1910. During this same 50 year period, the rate of industrialization increased dramatically, but it’s interesting to note that the number 1 industry in America in 1910 was slaughtering and meatpacking, and it was 50% larger than the number 2 industry, iron and steel production. If you’ve ever read “The Jungle”, by Sinclair Lewis, you know that work conditions, and food quality, were abysmally poor at that time in history. The outrage generated by Lewis’ book resulted in the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.

Over time, manufacturing increasingly displaced agriculture as an important component of American GDP. In 1910, 41% of the American work force was employed in agriculture. As a percentage of GDP, agriculture’s contribution was 7.7% Today, 1.9% of the American work force is engaged in agriculture, and its contribution to the GDP is less than 1%.

1910 was also a time that the giants of the industrial age were in their infancy.

The Ford Motor Company was started a mere 7 years earlier, in 1903. General Motors Corporation, which became the world’s largest employer by the mid-1950’s, was started in 1908. U.S. Steel, which was the first $1 billion corporation in the world, was started in 1901. Early in the company’s history, it was not only the world’s largest steel producer - it was the largest corporation in the entire world.

Like agricultural, manufacturing’s share of the GDP has also declined, and it reached a low of 12% of the GDP in 2005, down significantly from its peak of 28.3% in 1953. As of today, the service industry accounts for over 80% of the U.S. economy.Included in the "service industry" category is a thing called broadband.Listed below is a direct quote from a page on the website for an organization called NextGenWeb:

who's wired now?

"Broadband is the essential foundation of our nation’s modern information economy. Assuming a constructive policy environment, broadband will be a primary driver of U.S. economic recovery, job creation and competitiveness over the next decade and beyond. The broadband/IT sectors created nearly half of all new American jobs in 2008. And, the converging broadband sectors of telecom, media and IT lead U.S. GDP growth, adding nearly $900 billion annually and expanding at a rate that is two to five times faster than the overall U.S. economy. IT-related sectors will remain the fastest-growing areas of our economy over the next 10 years".

If you’re concerned about the loss of America’s manufacturing might, you SHOULD consider a few examples of why de-industrialization may actually be a very good thing:

1 - In 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio caught fire, in large part due to the industrial sludge that been dumped into it over the years. The 1969 fire was the 13th time that the river had caught fire since the first fire in 1868. Although the fire didn’t cause as much damage as the 1952 fire, which caused 1.5 million dollars of damage, it was the most significant fire, because it made the cover of Time Magazine, and was the main catalyst of the Clean Water Act of 1972.

2- Between 1942 and 1953, Hooker Chemical ( now known as Occidental Chemical) dumped 22,000 tons of chemical waste into the Love Canal in New York State. After shutting down operations in 1953, Hooker Chemical sold the land to the Niagara Falls School District for $1. In 1955, the 99th Street Elementary School was opened to students, and subsequent development would see hundreds of families taking up residence in the area. Unusually heavy rains in 1975 and 1976 brought to light the fact that ground in the area was highly contaminated. By 1978, the school had been closed down, and most of the residents in the area had been evacuated.

3 - In 1972, Outboard Marine Corporation started manufacturing operations in Waukegan, Illinois. By 1975, PCB’s were discovered in Waukegan Harbor, and not long after that, Waukegan Harbor became known as a Superfund site. Although OMC has contributed $25,000,000 to the remediation effort, it’s still not safe to eat the fish in the harbor more than 30 years later.

4 - Although you can still get your kicks on Route 66, you need to be aware of the fact that Route 66 State Park in Missouri is the former site of a town called Times Beach. The town was founded in 1925 as a summer resort. In the 1970’s, the town contracted with a waste hauler to spray waste oil on the dirt roads in town to keep down the dust. When it was later discovered that the waste oil contained dioxins, things got to be a little sticky. The EPA first visited the town in 1982. Within a year, the EPA announced the town’s buyout for $32,000,000. By 1985, all but two of the town’s 2000 residents had been evacuated to safer ground.

5- In 1908, Standard Oil opened a refinery in Wood River, Illinois, a town that is located about 15 miles north east of St. Louis. In the 1920’s, Wood River was one of the fastest growing communities in the country, and 90% of the workers in town were employed by Standard Oil. After Standard Oil closed down its operations in 1981, strange things started to happen in town.

The residue from the refineries had gone into the groundwater, which caused oil and gas to seep into the basements of houses that had been built in the town. On occasion, the “junk” from the refining process caught fire when pilot lights on water heaters clicked to the “on” setting - and things got to be interesting.

6- In 1935, Dupont adopted the advertising phrase “Better Things for Better Living .. Through Chemistry”. Some 20 years later, a young woman named Rachel Carson started to notice that chemicals weren’t always a good thing. Her book, Silent Spring, was arguably the catalyst for the environmental movement.

7- In 2003, our country invaded Iraq because our intelligence forces told us that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Although we weren’t able to find any once we got there, some of our stateside researchers dug a little deeper, and found the EXACT LOCATION of all of the sites that had weapons of mass destruction. The map below shows you where they are. As you might suspect, they’ve all left a nasty environmental legacy:

Manufacturing will always be a part of the American economy, but it will be dramatically different from “what used to be”. Buick Motor Company sold 450,000 cars in China in 2009, far more than the 102,000 cars that the company sold in the United States. Although 100,000 cars may still sound like a lot, it‘s far fewer than the 737,879 cars that Buick sold in America in 1955. Since it’s always smart to give your target audience what they want, the new Buick Lacrosse was actually designed in Shanghai, not in Detroit.

If you’re a big believer in “buying American”, you’ll be happy to know that the second generation Lacrosse will be made in Kansas, unlike the first generation LaCrosse, which was made in Ontario. Both generations were also made in China, and the second generation is also going to be produced in Russia

Buick also recently introduced the latest version of the Buick Regal. It’s an amazing vehicle, but it will be produced in Germany, until production shifts to North America - specifically Ontario.

The best defense against any crisis is always positive action.

The solution to today’s problems is still the same as it was at the time of the Century of Progress Exposition that was held in Chicago in 1933 and 1934.

The Century of Progress Exposition was conceived in an atmosphere of economic, political, and social crisis, shaped by the economic recession that followed America's victory in World War I, the ensuing Red Scare, Chicago's 1919 Race Riots, and Chicago's notorious gangster violence. These threats to social order led Chicago's political and cultural authorities to organize the 1921 Pageant of Progress along the Municipal Pier (Navy Pier). The festival's success in attracting over a million visitors during its two-week run inspired a diverse group of Chicago's business and civic authorities to propose another world's fair that would build confidence in the fundamental soundness of the American economy and political system. A decade later, the fair they initiated assumed national importance during the Great Depression, the nation's worst crisis since the Civil War.

In the last two years, we’ve all witnessed massive government programs that were created to once again build confidence in the American economic system, and nothing establishes the link to the past more strongly than the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge that was recently completed downstream from the Hoover Dam, the most massive of the government projects of the Depression era.

I’ve never been a believer in the doomsday message that our country is going to hell in a hand basket, so I really don’t care that the Ford Plant in St. Paul will stop producing stopped producing pickup trucks in 2011. Virtually all of the proposals for the redevelopment for the site involve cutting edge environmentally-sound products ranging from massive windmills to electric cars and trains, and all of them will lessen our dependence on foreign oil, something that the continued production of Ford pickups does not do.

Although the conversion of the old Ford plant is a step in the right direction, it pales in comparison to what General Motors is doing with some of its old plans. GM recently agreed to contribute $773 million to clean up 89 locations in 14 states so that they can be used for new purposes.

what is a brownfield?

I’m also not concerned that a lot of manufacturing jobs have moved to China. I lived in southern China for a year, and can personally attest to the fact that the air quality there today is a lot like it was in Pittsburgh in the early 1950’s. To my knowledge, none of the rivers in China have caught fire lately, but you wouldn’t want to swim in them either. China has 1.3 billion people, but only 10% of the sewage that goes into the river is treated.


That’s something that we can all cheer for.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

50 cents and a bag of oranges

On November 7, the church that I belong to will be hosting an ofrenda event. If you’re not familiar with that term, an ofrenda is a tradition of Mexico where the souls of those who have departed from this earth can be honored. On that day, people of the congregation will bring mementos of a person they wish to honor, and place them on the display table. After the service, there will be an opportunity for some of the members of the congregation to offer a brief oral remembrance of those being honored.

This year, in addition to the usual pictures, medals, and scrapbooks, there will be a rather unusual addition to the traditional offerings: a bag of oranges and two quarters.

The oranges and the quarters will be there in honor of my late father-in-law, Dick Lennartson, in remembrance of a Christmas that he endured many years ago.

When Dick was 12 years old, he contracted rheumatic fever. By that point in his life, his mother had divorced his father, and had remarried. Since she now had a new baby daughter to care for, she did not feel that she was able to provide for her son Dick, so she sent him off to a foster family on the other side of town.

During one of the Christmases that he was at the foster family, probably in 1938 or 1939, Dick took a street car across town to spend time with his mother and brothers, Gordy and Ray. Times were tough for Dick’s mother, and she really couldn’t afford to spend money on anything that wasn’t essential for survival. At a time when a lot of kids were getting Lincoln Logs or new puppies for Christmas, Dick got a bag of oranges, and 50 cents.

He also had to take the street car back “home” to the foster family.

As he would freely admit, he had an unhappy childhood, but he still turned out to be a good, decent man.

When he was 16, he lied about his age, and joined the Navy in order to fight in WWII. For many years after he got out, he vowed that he would cross to the other side of the street if he saw his mother coming towards him. However, as they got older, they both mellowed, and they had a cordial relationship when she passed away at the age of 90.

Like a lot of members of the group of people that Tom Brokaw called “the greatest generation”, Dick was pretty quiet about the things that he suffered through, and he never really developed the ability to have long, heartfelt discussions with his three daughters.

All that he knew how to do was to work hard, and to try to teach by example, and he did the best that he could to do just that.

Fortunately for Dick, he met the right woman when he got out of the service, and their marriage on October 2, 1948 ultimately produced three daughters, one of whom I married nearly 40 years ago.

From time to time, all of us struggle with our everyday problems. However, if you ever feel overwhelmed by your problems, think for amount about Dick Lennartson, and the things that he endured, and you’ll feel very fortunate.

Friday, September 24, 2010

C'mon baby light my fire

When you were in college, you may have discovered that a meal of burritos and beans, when combined with a few beers, a couple of drinking buddies, and a lighter, could lead to some spectacular visual effects.

Even if your college days were a little more reserved, you’ll be happy to know that your knowledge of the combustible qualities of methane gas can have some practical applications, even in Evanston.

An enterprising young man named Matthew Mazzotta recently set up a “Park Spark” poop converter in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The "Park Spark” poop converter is actually two steel 500 gallon tanks painted bright yellow and connected by black piping to an old style gas lantern at Pacific Street Park.

After the dogs do their business, signs on the tanks instruct owners to use biodegradable bags supplied on site to pick up the poop and deposit it into the left tank. People then turn a wheel to stir its insides, which contain waste and water. Microbes in the waste give off methane, an odorless gas that is fed through the tanks to the lamp and burned off. The park is small but has proven busy enough to ensure a steady supply of fuel.

I frequently walk through the park along the lake that ends on Dempster Avenue. At the northern end of that park is a sign that reads “ Eliminate Dogs (no apostrophe) Litter. Although the sign could be interpreted a couple of different ways, I believe the intent is to eliminate, um, dog poop.

Since Evanston is an environmentally friendly city, it may make sense to recreate Matthew Mazzotta’s “Park Spark” along the shores of Lake Michigan.

Gas street lights were first introduced to the United States in 1816, and were first used in Baltimore. After Thomas Edison pioneered the use of electricity for lighting, electric street lights gradually replaced most (but not all) of the gas street lights used in America. Gas street lights are still used in many neighborhoods in Cincinnati, Ohio, several towns in New Jersey, and Riverside, Illinois.

In 2007, there were 75,000,000 dogs registered in America. Since the population of the United States is currently slightly more than 300,000,000, there is one dog for every 4 people in the country. Exact numbers on the number of dogs in Evanston are difficult to obtain, but with a population of 70,000, it would be safe to assume that there are roughly 17,000 dogs that live in Evanston, who could provide more than enough “fuel” to power a string of gas lantern in the parks lining Lake Michigan.

Like all flammable gases, methane needs to be handled carefully.

On October 12, 2009,a shepherd in Jordan watched his entire flock of sheep catch fire and explode. Eventually, the cause of the catastrophe turned out to be a nearby waste treatment plant that had saturated the soil with methane gas and other organic materials. When nearby residents set fire to some dried grass in the area, things got ugly.

When your sheep start exploding during your first few hours on the job, you know that the rest of the day isn’t going to be pretty.

Dog powered street lights in Evanston.

Now, wouldn’t that be a gas?

Friday, September 17, 2010

tell it to the priest

Mexican Independence Day is celebrated on September 16, and the actions that started it all happened 200 years ago this week.

Unlike virtually every other nation on earth, the country now known as Mexico started due to the efforts of a Roman Catholic priest.

Miguel Hidalgo Y Costilla is hardly the kind of man that many today would consider to be a role model. He gambled, fornicated, had children out of wedlock, and didn’t believe in Hell. He also encouraged his parishioners to grow vines and olives, actions that were considered illegal by the Spanish rulers of Mexico.

Around 6:00 am September 16, 1810, Hidalgo ordered the bells of his church to be rung and gathered his congregation. Flanked by his fellow conspirators Ignacio Allende and Mariano Abasolo, he addressed the people in front of his church, encouraging them to revolt. Due to the fact that his church was located in the small town of Dolores (near Guanajuato), the gathering became known as Grito de Dolores (“cry of Dolores”), and the battle cry for the Mexican war of independence.

In July of 1811, Father Hidalgo and Ignacio Allende were captured by the Spanish army. His body was mutilated, and his head (and Allende’s) were put on display in Guanajuato in order to discourage other Mexican rebels. However, the passing of Father Hidalgo didn’t end the quest for independence.

Under different leadership, the struggle continued for nearly 11 more years. Finally, on August 24 of 1821, the Spanish crown signed the Treaty of Cordoba, which recognized Mexican independence under the terms of the Plan of Iguala, and ended 300 years of Spanish rule.

With the signing of the treaty, Mexico gained control of large parts of what is now the Southwestern United States, which had first been occupied by the Spanish is 1542. From 1821 until 1848, the map of Mexico looked like the picture shown below:

The irony of this picture is that in the areas of the United States where illegal immigration is considered to be a major problem, Spanish has been spoken considerably longer than English, and the areas in question were actually part of Mexico for nearly 30 years. If Arizona governor Jan Brewer could speak Spanish, she’d probably be saying, “tienes que estar bromeando”.

America’s war for independence came about due to the actions of some fed-up farmers at the battle at Old North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts on April 19, 1775. In 1837, Ralph Waldo Emerson memorialized the event in his poem “Concord Hymn”, which contained the following stanza:

"By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled;
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard 'round the world."

Father Hidalgo’s plea to his parishioners may not have been the shot that was heard around the world, but his story is proof that even one individual can help to defeat one of the most powerful nations on earth, a thought that’s both comforting and frightening at the same time.

If that idea makes you uncomfortable, go tell it to a priest.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

from Evanston to Africa

I’m just an old guy (63) with an old bicycle (1978 Peugeot), but I just completed my sixth consecutive North Shore Century. If you’re not familiar with the event, it’s a round trip bicycle ride from Evanston to Kenosha, and it’s sponsored by the Evanston Bike Club.

This year was the 26th consecutive event, and it featured rides of 25,50,62,70 and 100 miles. Being a glutton for punishment, I’ve always signed up for, and completed, the 100 mile event.

I’ve long been a bicycle enthusiast, so stories and events involving bicycles always catch my attention. Yesterday’s edition of The New York Times contained a story by Nicholas Kristof titled “A Boy and a Bicycle(s)”. It’s a heart warming story, and it has a Chicago connection.

World Bicycle Relief was started in Chicago in 2005 by Frederick K.W. Day, a senior executive for SRAM Corporation, the largest bicycle parts company in the United States. Almost immediately, Trek Bicycles also became a sponsor.

The mission of World Bicycle Relief is simple - by providing free bicycles to impoverished people around the world, primarily in Africa, the lives of thousands of people around the world become much easier and safer. By providing hope to impoverished Africans, we also help make OUR lives safer as well, since the insurgent trouble spots around the world often sprout in areas that don’t have anything to lose.

The per capita income of Evanston as of 2008 was $44,699, which is wealthy relative to Illinois and the rest of the country, That figure pales considerably, though, when Evanston is compared to the towns to the immediate north. Kenilworth is the Godzilla of the bunch, weighing in at over $100,000 per capita, and it’s the 4th richest city in America.

We’ve all anguished over the potential closing of the branch libraries and Evanston, like most towns, has had to work very hard to eliminate its budget deficit.

If we set aside our local troubles aside for a minute, though, I’d encourage you to imagine how YOU can personally make the world a much better place for a very modest contribution. If you’re interested, take a look at the World Bicycle Relief website (

You don’t have to as rich as Bono or Oprah to make a significant difference in Africa, but your efforts WILL still be appreciated.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

the mosque at Ground Zero

One of the casualties at the former World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 was the Muslim prayer room on the 17th floor of the South Tower. No one knows how long it was there, but it existed long before a bomb was detonated below the North Tower on
February 26, 1993
. Most significantly, it continued to operate, without controversy, until it was destroyed on 9/11/2001.

The North Tower also had a prayer gathering place for Muslims. Staff members of the Windows on the World restaurant used a stairwell between the 106th and 107th floor for their prayer services.

The second of the five Muslim pillars of faith requires prayer five times a day: dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, evening, and night. For most Americans, prayer throughout the course of the day is, at best, an afterthought, but it is usually not done at all except for the sporadic Bible study classes that are occasionally held at workplaces during the lunch hour. For devout Muslims (who are followers of the world’s most popular religion) prayer is an essential part of their day.

At some point in time, the majority of the religions of the world have been subjected to some type of discrimination.

When my Irish ancestors went through Ellis Island in the latter part of the 19th Century, they frequently encountered signs at potential places of employment that read:

Since 90% of Ireland was, and is, Roman Catholic, the signs actually were saying “Catholics need not apply”

Discrimination against Catholics continued well into the 20th Century. I am old enough to remember that some of my fellow Americans did not vote for John F. Kennedy in 1960 simply because he was a Catholic.

“The troubles” in Ireland lasted hundreds of years, but were finally brought to a conclusion on April 10, 1998, in large part due to the efforts of former president William Clinton. With the signing of the Good Friday agreement in Ireland, most of us would have concluded that discrimination against Catholics had finally come to an end.

Unfortunately, that’s still not the case. Here’s a couple of quick examples:

1) In January of 2010, elections were held for board members of the European Commission. One candidate in particular, Viviane Reding, faced opposition STRICTLY because she was Catholic. Although she WAS elected to office on February 6, her story exemplifies the fact that discrimination against Catholics still exists in Europe.

2) 90% of Mexico is Roman Catholic. If you’re a Catholic living in North America, and you’ve gotten all worked up about the problem of illegal immigrants, I’d recommend that you dust off your Bible, and read Matthew 5: 43-48. Since Jesus had told us that we should love our enemies, what would He tell us about how we should treat those whose share a common religious background ?

When One World Trade Center becomes operational in April of 2013, it will likely include a memorial to the 2752 people in the buildings who were killed on 9/11. Included in that total are the 23 Muslims who died on the same day.

Muslims have been part of the work force of the World Trade Center since its inception, and will continue to be when the new building begins operation in three years. Although the daily work force will come and go, the names of 23 Muslims permanently etched into the foundation will serve as a stark reminder that the victims of religious intolerance come from all walks of life, even those who are seemingly “on the same side”.

Since construction of a mosque at Ground Zero would inflame passions on both sides to the point that compromise would be impossible, it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll ever see a mosque at that location. However, building a Muslim center two blocks away, in the heart of Manhattan, would be the strongest possible argument against the false argument that America was at war with Islam.

Salaam aleikum

Sunday, September 5, 2010

screw it !

About the time that I graduated from college, Ripple and other fortified wines became very popular because (1) they were cheap and (2) they had a high alcohol content. Apart from the fact that they weren’t very good wines, the other common thread in this style of wine was that they were sealed with screw on caps.

Screw on wine caps were developed in the late 1960’s, and were first used commercially in 1972 by the Swiss winery Hammel. They were developed as a solution to “cork taint”, which had become an increasingly large problem for some Swiss wine producers, and is still a problem today. In a 2005 test of 2800 bottles of wine in Napa, California, 7% were found to be tainted.

Cork was first used as a wine stopper by the Egyptians thousands of years ago, but it wasn’t until the 1600’s that its use as a wine stopper became widespread. A French monk named Dom Perignon was most responsible for the surge in popularity. He is also the first person to replace the wooden stoppers used in sparkling wine with cork.

Cork stoppers first arrived in 1700 in Portugal. Although the world’s first wine stopper factory opened in Spain in 1750, Portugal remains the world’s leading producer of cork.

I joined the wine club at Winestyles of Evanston in the spring of this year. When I got my first two bottles of the “wine of the month” home, I discovered that BOTH of them were sealed with screw on caps. Since my previous exposure to screw on caps on wine bottles was from my exposure to Ripple 40 years ago, I was initially disappointed. However, Maggie and Dean were able to enlighten and educate me on the use of “Stelvin enclosures”, and I am now definitely a fan.

On Friday, September 10, Winestyles is hosting a tasting of wines that are exclusively sealed by screw on caps. I’m planning to attend, and I predict that it should be a well attended event.

If you’ve watched the recent video called “wine not”, you’ll realize the Winestyles does a very good job of minimizing the “mystique” of my favorite juice. Apart from the fact that the consumption of wine has some definite health benefits, it can also improve your “social networking” skills.

Don’t let a lack of knowledge about wine prevent you from attending the tasting next Friday evening. As the saying goes, “ screw it .. It’s only wine”.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Bible tells me so

At various points in my life, I’ve been invited to Bible study classes.

It’s entirely possible that I have actually attended some of them, but it would be impossible for me to verify where or when that I did. My favorite local church has “beer and Bible nights” at various times of the year, which I would definitely consider attending. In the absence of beer or other alcoholic beverages, however, I’d be much less inclined to contribute what my interpretation of the Holy Book might be to a group of fellow Christians.

As I rode north to Kenosha on my bicycle last week, the thought occurred to me that it would be interesting to conduct a “Bible quiz” for some of my friends and family members. I’ve listed the questions below, and have provided the answers at the end of the article. This IS an open book test, so you ARE permitted to use whatever version of the Bible you would like to check your answers. In order to keep it simple, I have limited the number of questions to the 10 that I thought were particularly relevant.

Here they are:

1 - What does the Bible say about sausage pizza?

A. it will multiply if put into baskets
B. it should only be eaten on unleavened bread
C. it should never be eaten with anchovies
D. it is forbidden

2 - What does the Bible say about punishing children?

A. always be nice to them
B. hit them with a rod
C. take away their allowance
D. stone them to death

3 - What does the Bible say about fish?

A. never cook it in the microwave
B. OK to eat if it has fins and scales
C. you can eat any kind of fish that you want
D . check for mercury levels before eating

4- Alcoholic beverages are:

A. recommended
B. not recommended
C. permissible for Irishmen
D. a and b above

5 - The first person to translate the Bible into English:

A - was elevated to sainthood
B - belonged to the English House of Commons
C - was an English teacher at Oxford
D - was strangled and burnt at the stake

6. Homosexuality is:

A. an abomination
B. a sin
C. God’s punishment to evil parents
D. permitted

7. Slavery is:

A. permitted
B. forbidden
C. OK for me, but not my neighbor
D. a and b above

8. Circumcision

A. is recommended
B. is condemned
C. hurts like crazy
D. takes away a boy’s manhood

9. Adultery

A. is forbidden
B. is allowed
C. is permissible if you are more than 18 years old
D. is permitted on Sadie Hawkins Day

10. Marriage of a sister is :

A. condemned
B. allowed
C. permitted if you live in Kentucky or Arkansas
D. a and b

Many of the references mentioned above comes from the website listed below. Although Islam is the most popular religion in the world, closely followed by Roman Catholicism, “ none of the above” is actually the most popular “religion” in the world, which is why I quoted from a website whose purpose is to convert folks to atheism.

I swear to God that I’m an atheist


1 - d - see Leviticus 11:7-8

2 - a, b, and d {Colossians: 3:21, Proverbs 23:13-14,
Deuteronomy 21:18-21)

3 - b and c - see Leviticus 11:9, and c - Genesis 9:3

4 - d - see Proverbs 31:6,7, 1 Timothy 5:23, Psalm 104:15, Proverbs 20:1, Proverbs 23:31,32

5 - d - see link below:

who was William Tyndale?

6 - d- see John 13:34,35. It’s inconvenient to Christian ideology that as many as 10% of the people living in America would be considered to be “gay”. Those who argue that same sex unions would destroy the sanctity of marriage ignore that fact that roughly 20% of all marriages in America have at least one partner who has “strayed” from their marital fidelity obligations during their marriage. In my lifetime, I have attended a LOT of weddings, but only ONE same sex “union”. The most love-filled of all of them, however, was the ceremony that joined together two people of the same gender

7 - d - See Genesis 9:25, Leviticus 24:45,46, Joel 3:8, Isaiah 58:6, Exodus 22:21, Exodus 21:16, Matthew 23:10

8 - a and b - see Genesis 17:10 and Galatians 5:2

9 - Answer: a and b - see Exodus 20:14, Hebrews 13:4. Numbers 31:18, Hosea 1:2, Hosea 2:1-3

10 - d - see Deuteronomy 27:22, Leviticus 20:17, Genesis 20:11,12,


2 or less: you’ve been watching too many TV evangelists
3-5: you need to do more independent thinking
6-8: you’ve strayed a bit from the Baltimore catechism
9-10: how soon can you start teaching Bible study classes?

The Bible is not actually a “book” as we define that term. It is essentially a compilation of writings that were produced over a period of roughly 1500 years. The original versions were written in Hebrew, Egyptian, and Aramaic (the language of Jesus Christ). In all, there are 66 books in the Bible (39 in the Old Testament, and 27 in the New Testament), and the EXACT CENTER of the Bible is Psalm 118. Psalm 118.8 has particular relevance:

"It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in people".

That's why it's especially important not to take people like Jimmy Swaggart, Fred Phelps, Terry Jones, or Harold Camping very seriously.

Several versions of the Bible are currently in circulation, but virtually all current editions of the Bible have been through a number of revisions over the years.

The Bible that I have on my bookshelf is the King James version, my wife used the New Living Translation version. and our "family Bible" is The New American Bible for Catholics. Technically speaking, though, NONE of the versions that we own are complete versions of the Bible because they do not contain the Gnostic Gospels If you're not familiar with the Gnostic Gospels, they are a collection of 52 texts that were written from the 2nd to the 4th century A.D..If you've seen the 2003 movie, The DaVinci Code, or the 1999 movie, Stigmata, you've had at least a brief exposure to them.

The purpose of this story isn’t to criticize those who are avid readers of the Bible, nor is it meant to chastise folks who could care less what the Good Book says. It’s simply an exercise that will allow you to take a broader view of what your religious beliefs are, as well as what they should be.

Lost in the shuffle of all of the religious discussions that seem to be an unending dialogue throughout the world is that the vast majority of the people in the world share a common ancestor - Abraham. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are all called “Abrahamic religions” because of their common link. Although I haven’t read the Torah yet, I HAVE read the Koran, and currently have two copies on my bookshelf. I also wrote a “book report” of more than 4000 words about the Koran shortly after I finished reading it.

The Koran is 361 pages in length, roughly the size of the New Testament. Although there are a number of stories in the Koran that were originally written for the Bible, the strongest connection is the story of Joseph, which is found in Genesis 39-50, and retold in its entirely in Sura (chapter) 12 of the Koran.

Would I encourage people to read the Bible for guidance on how to lead their lives?


Do I believe that “the Word of God” should be taken literally?

Absolutely not.

If I had to pick ONE verse in the Bible that I’d recommend as good advice for anyone, I’d recommend Proverbs 17:22:

“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones”.

Translated into modern English, the Good Book is telling us to set aside our differences, and to always look on the bright side of things.

That makes sense to me, because the Bible tells me so.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Before there was television

Until I was 7 or 8 years old, our family (like most families) did not own a television set. I believe that we got our first black and white set about the time that Disneyland opened in California, and it wasn’t until I got to college that we finally got a color television.

Prior to the advent of our first television, the “family entertainment center” was a late 1940’s upright Philco radio that looked a lot like the one pictured below:

I remember that we had to let the tubes warm up before the radio worked, but I haven’t the faintest idea what we listened to as a family, other than a vague recollection of “The Lone Ranger Series”.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the first president to use the radio as a highly effective motivational tool. The very first “fireside chat” was on March 12, 1933, and its topic was the banking crisis (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?)

Over the course of 11 years, he completed 30 fireside chats. One of the last ones he did was on January 11, 1944, and it also contained a lot of familiar themes.

In January of 1944, the United States was deeply involved in working with our allies to end WWII as soon as humanly possible. At the time of the address, Roosevelt drew from his recent meetings in Cairo, Moscow, and Tehran to discuss our war strategy in more detail. He warned about the dangers of private profiteering at public expense , which politicians in Illinois are slowly coming to grips with today, nearly 70 years later.

President Jimmy Carter gave exactly one fireside chat (in 1977), which earned him the title of “Jimmy Cardigan” due to his wardrobe choice for the evening.

Although it was warmly received at the time, the speech lacked the sheer drama conveyed by Roosevelt, who successfully led the country through internal and external crises most men, and many of our presidents, would have been overwhelmed by.

In our society today, many homes have multiple television sets, and it’s very common for people to have internet access from their mobile phones, while they tune out the sound of the outside world with their I-pods.

As a result, it would be virtually impossible today to recreate the powerful messages conveyed by President Roosevelt, who (sight unseen) unified and reassured a nation that was sorely in need of his leadership.

For that, we are all a lot poorer.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

when I'm 64

In less than a week, I will become 63 years old, perilously close to the age the Beatles referred to in their “When I’m 64” song that was included on the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band” album.

Paul McCartney wrote the song LONG before it was recorded by the Beatles - in 1956. The Beatles played the song occasionally during their Cavern days, and it was finally recorded in December of 1966.

On my “milestone” birthdays, I’ve usually celebrated by partying with family and friends (I got a very useful beer refrigerator when I turned 60, and Sharon hired a belly dancer for me when I turned 40) but the years in between have provided an opportunity for some quiet reflection.

Throughout my life, I’ve created a number of “five year plans”. Some of them worked out better than others. Although I was never able to bring any of them to full fruition, I usually managed to accomplish some of the things “on my list” before I created yet another 5 year plan.

There was a time in the mid 1990’s, when I worked at CIGNA, that I was on track to have $1,000,000 in the bank, and a house that was fully paid for, by the time that I turned 65. Life, however, had other plans for me, and there are a LOT of baby boomers who have had experiences similar to mine.

In 1998, Spencer Johnson published a book called “Who moved my cheese?”

That was about the time that a lot us “boomers” first realized that we were going to be facing far different retirement years than we had envisioned, and that the only way to survive was to become adaptable. In my case, I eventually concluded that it made more sense to sell my house and my car and move to China to teach English than to continue what I was doing. Although a lot of folks may conclude that my decision to move was carrying adaptability to an extreme, the truth is that it was a wonderful experience, and I don’t regret for a minute making the decision to take a journey halfway around the world where I didn’t even speak the native language.

A lot of folks in my “peer group” (including me) have started to draw our Social Security income as soon as we could in order to pay our ongoing expenses. The days of 25 (or more) years of service with one company, the gold watch, and the ironclad retirement plan are, sad to say, pretty much history.

However, there IS a little hope for some of us, if we take the time to read a book written by Teresa Ghilarducci, titled “When I’m Sixty Four: the Plot against Pensions and the Plan to Save Them”.

On my way to Kenosha the other day on my bicycle, I met a man coming from the other direction on HIS bicycle. He told me that he was 74 years old, but he looked pretty spry for his age. He wasn’t planning to ride as far as I was, or as fast, but he’s still doing better than a lot of people his age, some of whom couldn’t even walk around the block.

There WAS a time that I thought that 64 was REALLY old, and being 74 would definitely be ancient history. However, not long ago, Hugh Hefner said that 80 is the new 40, and there MAY be a grain of truth to what he said.

“Hef” became 84 years old on April 9 of this year. Like most people, I feel it’s a little odd that a guy that age would still have girlfriends in their 20’s, but he seems to be living proof that you are only as old as you feel.

To borrow some phrases from the Beatles, I’m not sure if anyone will still need me, or feed me, when I turn 64, and I’m absolutely certain I won’t have any grandchildren on my knees, but I AM certain of one thing:

It will be the start of a brand new adventure.