Judith's Java
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Sep 18, 2014 -- 10:10pm

Say Chicago and images of cigar-smoking politicians and gangsters with tommy guns come to mind. It didn’t matter where I was. Mention Chicago and someone would ask how the gangsters were doing. Poet Carl Sandberg put a lyrical gloss on it. Chicago was the “city of the broad shoulders,” and “hog butcher to the world.”

These images persisted. But times have changed. The stockyards are no more; U.S.Steel’s South Works is now a park surrounded by housing. West Madison Street has morphed into a fashionable neighborhood.  Grimy, decaying factories have been rehabbed into luxury condominiums.

Most astounding is the growth of Chicago’s and Cook County’s cultural scene. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is among the world’s great orchestras. It’s opening its 123th season with a stellar performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Chicago’s Lyric Opera which began as a “good” company, (but not as good as New York’s Metropolitan Opera), now takes a back seat to no one. Their 60th season opens with a new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

Chicago’s Art Institute hosts art exhibitions from around the world as well as its own collection of everything from ancient and medieval art to modern masterpieces. The Planetarium brings the heavens to generations of school children, but also has hands on exhibits for the pre-school crowd. Beluga whales happily swim at Chicago’s aquarium. It’s still exciting to go through the World War II Nazi U505 submarine at the Museum of Science and Industry or the jewel collection at the Field Museum.

Lincoln Park and Brookfield zoos sport animals from around the world, as well as great petting zoos. Many a child has learned up close and personal by visiting our zoos.

Lake Michigan shimmers. Beautiful parks stretch along the lakefront from Wisconsin to Indiana. Drinking water from Lake Michigan is better than most bottled varieties. There’s no more beautiful sight in the world than approaching Chicago at night from the air.

How true: Each time I roam Chicago is calling me home.

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Sep 04, 2014 -- 10:25pm

‘Twas a quiet evening in Javaland. My husband and I were enjoying dinner while watching The Jazz Singer (1927 version) when our phone intruded. A representative from our local party was dialing for volunteers. I said I don’t phone bank. No one likes to be called during dinner by someone reading off a script. He went to “plan B—canvassing.” I answered that I oversaw wards for their party during past elections. End of conversation.

But, this young man kept referring to the election as ‘his’, or ‘his party’s’ election, condescendingly. I’ve been voting in “his” elections for 48 years. Alas, elections have merely become party elections. They’re just allowing us to participate.

Today, mostly party advocates, candidate’s friends and special interests vote. With each candidate spewing venom, most citizens’ tune out and stay home. So this minority elects candidates who make decisions which affect us all. When voters take a pass, Democracy takes a knock-out punch.

It takes big money to run for office. Prospective candidates must either have party backing, can self-finance or represent a special interest group which bankrolls them. That cuts out some of the best and brightest…and what’s left may not be appealing—yet another reason why voters sit out elections.

But we can still outvote the party hacks, millionaires who are ‘Honorable’ wannabees, and the one-issue wonders. On November 4th voters will elect federal and state officials. Consider these issues; then vote.

On the federal level, will your choice work to end Congress’ stagnation? How will your choice vote on entitlements, immigration reform and education? Forget sexual exploits. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin out-slept them all.

On the state level, how will your choices work to trim the pension fund deficits, shore up Illinois’ share in education funding, and create more jobs while designing an equitable state taxing structure?

Democracy needs us on Election Day. The hacks and the interests will be there; outvote them…and let’s end phone banking.

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Aug 28, 2014 -- 9:02pm

Each of us thrilled over the Jackie Robinson West’s Little League Baseball team’s victory, making them the United States champions. Chicago paused Wednesday to honor our champs with a ticker-tape parade, which they richly deserved. Now that the cheering has slowed, let’s look at what this team really accomplished—so far more than out-slugging their Las Vegas opponents.

They brought us together. This team is largely African-American, and located in south-side Morgan Park. But these young men played for all of Chicago, for all of Cook County, and when they won, we all cheered. For an instant we lived without bigotry; they lifted the hate monkey from our backs…and it felt great. Thank you, Jackie Robinson West for giving us a glimpse of a better world.

These champs showed us the meaning and importance of true sportsmanship. Kudos to Coach Darold Butler for making sportsmanship as important as learning how to hit the opponents’ slider.

Here’s why. In 1983, the Sox got into the playoffs by “winning ugly.” It didn’t matter who got hurt or how it happened, just as long as the team won. Yes, they won, but the joy of a good clean victory was lost in the process. Our new champions gave that good feeling back to us.

In the final game, Nevada threatened when one of their team hit a home run. He got hand slaps aplenty as he rounded the bases. But between third and home, this kid got special hand slap from one of our players. That’s sportsmanship, and that young man made us proud. With sportsmanship came cooperation. We saw that in the next inning when our champs clinched the title with a big league double play. Now that’s cooperation; Cubs, Sox take notice.

Jackie Robinson West’s team showed us baseball’s true importance. They displayed the strength of character that will help them when they enter ‘real-world.’ Baseball’s a great teacher, and it’s fun.

Congratulations Champs. You taught us more than you’ll ever know.

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Aug 21, 2014 -- 7:10am

It’s sickening. Item: Police officer, Darren Wilson murdered unarmed Michael Brown, 18 apparently for jaywalking. Is jaywalking now a capital offense? Item: 16% of Cook County’s resident shop at the Chicago Food Depository--watch out Whole Foods and Jewel.  Item: Pity Cook County’s working poor. They can’t afford supermarkets, but aren’t poor enough to shop at the depository. They’re subsisting on salt, sugar, grease and caffeine, caffeine being the healthiest item. That’s more calories; less nutrition. But look at the bright side. It boosts the economy. The need for plus size clothing is busting out all over; so are diabetes and heart disease.

Some sugar-coat this as “the new normal.” Unemployment has declined, but wages have stagnated.  Few of us are “better off” now than we were ten years ago. Many middle-class Cook County residents now go “thrifting” at Salvation Army Thrift stores.  No wonder we’re stressed out and angry.

That anger boiled over in Ferguson, MO after August 11th when Officer Wilson killed Michael Brown. Ferguson’s largely African American community exploded at Ferguson’s largely white Police Department—with reason. Brown’s hands were raised in surrender mode when he faced Wilson, who then shot him 6 times.

Ferguson’s residents and sympathizers have been demonstrating ever since. The police, saying there are agent-provocateurs among the protestors countered with tear gas, rubber bullets, press restrictions and arrests. One arrested “provocateur” was a 90-year-old female Holocaust survivor. Déjà vu? Congratulations officers, you’ve violated the rights to free speech, free press, free assembly and redress of grievances—80% of the First Amendment. Where did you get your badges, the Heinrich Himmler Academy?

Ferguson is in our homes, hearts and minds day and night. It’s sparked sympathy demonstrations in Daley Plaza; has awakened old grievances against Chicago’s police. Remember when the Grant Park police rioted in 1968? Reverend Jesse Jackson is in to Ferguson to show solidarity.  Revolution’s fires simmer; we’re all Ferguson residents now.

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Aug 13, 2014 -- 9:38pm

Everyone loved Chicago born and bred Robin Williams. We loved him for his smile and wacky sense of humor.  We live in a troubled world, but Williams made us forget it for a little while.  He gained fame as Mork, the loveable alien and recently as the advertising executive on TV’s The Crazy Ones. Often room would be left in scripts for Williams’ brilliant ad libs.

Alas, life wasn’t so funny for this funny man, and apparently that’s why on August 11th Robin Williams hanged himself. Fans have been asking ‘why?’ Williams is reported to have suffered from depression and substance abuse—syndromes that often occur in creative people, but don’t necessarily result in suicide.

What drove Williams to the ultimate extreme? Did his depression and addiction stem from an unhappy childhood?  Raised in Chicago, Lake Forest and Lake Bluff, Williams remembered his childhood fondly. He called Chicago a first-class city, and remembered life in Lake Bluff as family friendly. No demons here.

Another Chicago actor and comedian, Bill Murray, shed light on what may have made Williams suicidal. Their careers are eerily parallel. Murray lived and worked around Chicago and made his mark as a comic. Murray also adlibs.  Rumors of Murray’s death circulated on the Internet. Fortunately, these were a hoax.

But Murray, perceptively, noted the dangers of fame. “There's definitely a lot of trash that comes with the prize of being famous,” he said. “It's a nice gift, but there's a lot of wrapping and paper and junk to cut through.” It’s also lonely at the top, Murray pointed out.  “That is a great taboo, isn't it? No one really wants to admit they are lonely…But I have felt lonely many times in my life.”[1]

Robin Williams couldn’t handle the “trash” that came with fame, or the loneliness of genius. Rest in Peace, Robin.

[1] Bill Murray, as quoted in IMDB, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000195/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm

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Aug 07, 2014 -- 10:39pm

Reagan scholar, Craig Shirley has sued author, Rick Perlstein, The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan[1] for plagiarism, asserting Perlstein repeatedly quoted Shirley without “proper” attribution. Shirley’s attorney, Chris Ashby cited 19 instances of so-called failure to cite, and demanded $25 million in damages, a public apology, revisions in the digital copies, and the burning of all extant paper copies[2].

On August 6th, on Chicago Tonight Perlstein retorted, noting that he cited Shirley 152 times. Perlstein further pointed out that he praised Shirley’s work on Reagan.

Why the furor?  President Reagan may be St. Ronnie because we want remember the Reagan era as a golden age. If President Reagan is less than saintly, the golden age becomes “fools’ gold”. That may explain why Reagan was the “Teflon” President. Nothing, not even trading hostages for arms tarnished his image.

Where’s the plagiarism? Perlstein neither “stole” Shirley’s thesis nor failed to cite him. As for Ashby’s demand that all copies of Perlstein’s book be burnt, Counselor, this is America—not the 3rd Reich. Perlstein shows what really occurred, debunking the golden age myth in the process…and this lawsuit proves yet another adage--the truth hurts.

This episode brought back memories. A renowned historian had come to the Newberry Library when I was finishing my dissertation. I introduced myself; he asked about my dissertation. I told him and he was all ears. A few weeks later a friend showed me a new essay by this man which parroted what I had said-- but without my name. He commented, “Your pocket has been picked.” I was robbed. Luckily, I hadn’t told this plagiarist enough to scuttle my dissertation. But that day I learned how badly real plagiarism hurts.


[1] Rick Perlstein, The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, (New York: Simon & Schuster), 2014.

[2] Karoli (sic), Conservatives to Rick Perlstein: Leave St. Ronnie Alone! Crooksandliars.com/2014/08conservatives-rick-perlstein-leave-st, August 5, 2014.

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