Thursday, September 29, 2011

Back Soon

After a brief hiatus, I'll be back this weekend.  Too much work, too many family obligations, but the schedule opens up in October.

See you then!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Baby Steps

Everyone who has been replacing your old incandescent lightbulbs with the expensive curlyque swiggly ones, pat yourself on the back.  The Associated Press is reporting (via the Indy Star) that energy use in American homes is declining, despite increased gadget usage.  Turns out, more efficient gadgets (and microwaves, refrigerators, ovens, and - yes - slowly illuminating light bulbs) reduce energy consumption at a faster rate than adding new gadgets increase energy consumption.

Woot!  Way to go, people!  Who knows, maybe we can get energy consumption down to a point that we could seriously consider taking coal plants offline, instead of retrofitting them for natural gas, or even building new coal plants all together.  A couple more windmills... some innovative solar applications... maybe we can swift the demand curve down to where alternative energy is the energy option.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sunday Morning Papers: 10 Years Ago

Sunday Morning Papers
September 11th Remembered

One of the greatest benefits about the internet is that nothing ever goes away.  In this case, I'm not talking about  Facebook pages of that ill-advised night with some guy on Spring Break, but rather that even the smallest event is captured, cataloged, and stored somewhere for retrieval.

In the days after September 11th, a small neighborhood newspaper in Chicago decided to poll the local politicians, and publish their reactions to the event.  Included in the Hyde Park Herald's September 19th list of "Our Politicians Weigh-in on the Attack" was that of their state senator, Barack Obama:

Even as I hope for some measure of peace and comfort to the bereaved families, I must also hope that we as a nation draw some measure of wisdom from this tragedy.  Certain immediate lessons are clear, and we must act upon those lessons decisively.  We need to step up security at our airports.  We must reexamine the effectiveness of our intelligence networks.  And we must be resolute in identifying the perpetrators of these heinous acts and dismantling their organizations of destruction. 
We must also engage, however, in the more difficult task of understanding the sources of such madness.  The essence of this tragedy, it seems to me, derives from a fundamental absence of empathy on the part of the attackers: an inability to imagine, or connect with, the humanity and suffering of others.  Such a failure of empathy, such numbness to the pain of a child or the desperation of a parent, is not innate; nor, history tells us, is it unique to a particular culture, religion, or ethnicity.  It may find expression in a particular brand of violence, and may be channeled by particular demagogues or fanatics.  Most often, though, it grows out of a climate of poverty and ignorance, helplessness and despair. 
We will have to make sure, despite our rage, that any U.S. military action takes into account the lives of innocent civilians abroad.  We will have to be unwavering in opposing bigotry or discrimination directed against neighbors and friends of Middle Eastern descent.  Finally, we will have to devote far more attention to the monumental task of raising the hopes and prospects of embittered children across the globe - children not just in the Middle East, but also in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and within our own shores.

George Bush wanted us to shop.  Right there is the difference between the Bush and Obama administrations.  Bush wanted to git the evildoers, and Obama's policy is nuanced, comforting, hopeful, and finishes with a call to action.  Who knew that this column of local reactions might give some insight into foreign policy 10 years later?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

My 9/11 Story

With tomorrow being the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, it's hard not to remember everything that happened that day.

I was boarding a suburban Metra Train en route to Chicago's Union Station when the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center.  Cell Phones were not yet ubiquitous, few people had iPods, and before Kindles, most people spent the morning commute reading the newspaper.  My view was that of opened Chicago Tribunes, with the exception of one person who looked frantic and disturbed.  Probably someone who had a business deal go wrong.  I put on the headphones to my Discman and slept or stared out the window.  Getting closer to the station, I noticed a few more people looking a little frantic.  Those with cell phones were on them - we were running late that morning, so probably just calls to the office.

When we got to Union Station, I remember thinking about checking the TV at the McDonald's to see if anything was up.  The ride into the city was at least that unsettling that while I don't totally remember the details about why I sensed something was wrong, I still remember thinking I needed to check the TV.  Air Force One.  I had heard that they were retiring one of the old planes - Good Morning America (which was always on in the morning - old school Chicagoans tend to be WGN or WLS people) must be doing a piece on that.  I remember the relief.

I had been up late the previous night.  At 10pm, I was *so* close to finishing "Corelli's Mandolin", and I figured I'd just stay up to read a romantic novel set in Occupied Greece during WWII.  Instead, I was reading about atrocities at 2am.  When I did get to sleep, I had dreams that India and Pakistan had declared war, all men were drafted, and my father, a retired army officer, was trying to call the Pentagon to have my brother stationed at a "safe" location in Alaska, and I kept pleading to have my boyfriend stationed there because he spoke Russian.  (I know this makes no sense.  It was a dream.  Although my subconscious obviously favors my now husband over my brother.)  It's a moot point, because while my dad was calling his friend at the Pentagon, his phone calls were not going through.  I had one of those terrifying experiences where I wake up in a cold sweat... a swore to never stay up late to finish a book ever again.

I didn't notice anything strange as I walked across the Loop to my job.  All fears had been allayed by seeing that GMA was covering fluff, and I was running on 5 hours of unsettled sleep.  It wasn't until I boarded the elevator of my building that I knew what was going on.  "Did you hear about the World Trade Center in New York?" one lady asked her coworker.  "Yes, it's so sad," she responded. Nothing else.  They exited before I did.  I assumed it was another car bomb.  I figured I would hop onto CNN's website when I got to work.

No one was in the lobby.  I ran back to my desk, and the phones were ringing off the hook.  I can't remember the sequence of events - they may have all happened at the same time - but my mom had left 4 voicemails to call her, someone said they had the TV on in the conference room, and I managed to pull up  By the time I reached the conference room, it was seconds before the first tower collapsed.  I had not even come to terms that this wasn't the same magnitude as a car bomb, and I was watching the towers collapse.  I remember that Elizabeth, who sat in the next cube over, had announced she was pregnant the previous day, was now questioning what kind of world she was bringing a child into.  Then someone mentioned the attack on the Pentagon.  My dad.  My parents.  I had to call home.

I went back to my desk.  I called my mom.  I told her I was okay.  She told me there was a bomb at Union Station.  I just wanted to go home.  I was 22-years-old, and I wanted my Mom.  Or my Dad.  I just wanted not to be an adult, and have someone tell me it was all going to be okay, and envelope me with a hug that might make me believe it.  I told her I would just stay at the office - I would stay away from Union Station.  I was right by the Lake, and the Lake had been a refuge during previous crises.  It is the soul of Chicago.  I knew she had seen the first tower collapse and had thought of the streets and the crushing debris.  Now, I was thinking of it too.  I would go to the Lake.

I returned to the conference room.  I can't remember who was there, just Elizabeth and Jennifer, who were to the left and right of me.  There was a missing plane.  It was headed to Chicago.  The Sears Tower - and I was between the missing plane and its target.  There were 2 missing planes.  Then the North Tower collapsed.  I called my mom - I was going to get into the subway, head towards the suburbs underground, away from any falling debris should the target be in downtown Chicago.  I remember hearing the evacuation order for the building, but I was already on my way out the door.

I got underground on the Red Line, waiting on the platform for the train.  Someone, a guy no older than 25, approached me.  We were both moving around in a fog.  "I work in the Xerox Building.  They just evacuated.  Did they evacuate your building?"  "Yeah," I responded, "I'm over at Mid-Con Plaza.  We just got the word.  I promised my parents I'd head underground."  He laughed.  "Yeah.  Parents."  I remember a nervous sense of being safe.  That I was out of immediate danger, but not exactly sure what this meant.  Xerox Building guy understood.  He was the first person to ask where I had been when September 11th had occurred.  I longed for longer human interaction at that point, but I was completely incapable.  The train came.  We left downtown.  When we resurfaced for the Fullerton Stop, I turned around to see which building had been hit.  Nothing.  I soaked in the skyline, afraid I would never see it again.  As we passed Wrigley Field, the person in the next seat over had called New York on her phone, and discovered that her friend had been riding his bike to his office at the WTC when the first plane hit and was safe.  Within a month, I had a cell phone.

Looking back, I remember the lack of communication, the lack of details, not knowing what was going on or what to do.  I wanted to grab a hold of everyone I loved and not let them out of my sight.  I remember thinking that I wanted to do something, but not knowing what that was.  I just wanted someone to tell me what to do to make everything okay.  No one offered anything.  We were told to go shopping. and it felt like betrayal.  Did they not see what I had seen?  Felt the panic that I had felt?  Do you really think that I'd want a new handbag and a Chevy right now?  If I had been told to enlist in the Army, I would have.  If I was asked to donate a year of my life to the Marshall Planning of Afghanistan, I would have.  Shopping?  Go on Vacation?  It was a punch to the gut from which I still haven't recovered.  I am transported to that same sense of outrage I felt 10 years ago.  I remember my father turning ashen white and falling into a chair when he discovered that someone he knew decades before in Chicago had died on September 11th when Robin Williams read his story on the Tribute to Heroes benefit telecast.  How cheaply do you value human life when you ask people to shop?  I was not directly affected by the events, but I am still scarred with a deep emotional wound when I think about what that day felt like to me, and how lost and abandoned I felt by the official government reaction.  Instead, it was family and friends that I turned to, and I had a stronger appreciation for them for everything they did in those final months of 2001.

Friday, September 9, 2011

50 DTSBYD: #1 Hoop Dreams

Part of my 50 Documentaries to See Before You Die Challenge.

Hoop Dreams is one of those fabulous movies that seems comfortable and familiar to someone who grew up in Chicago, but not really Chicago, but one of those featureless Chicago suburbs whose identity is so entangled with the regional identity that they seem interchangeable.  If you are from the Chicago suburbs and move elsewhere, you understand that no one really cares which burg is yours, but just wants to figure out if you have a true "Superfans" accent (mine comes out when discussing sports or food).  

The spotlight is on two young men who grew up about 25 miles from where I did.  The background is the background of my life: the Sears Tower, El tracks, the United Center, Michael Jordan on TV.  Their lives are nothing like mine.  Where El trains were used for recreation to get to Cubs games and joy rides around the loop, William and Arthur were doing the reverse commute at age 14.  Cabrini-Green was where children killed other children on the TV.  For them, it was home.

St. Joseph High School could have been mine, but all-men and parochial.  Marshall High School was a world away... but my school may have played them from time to time, our team patting themselves on the back for winning against a city school, then returning to the tutelage of full-time coaches who consulted with the Bulls Staff, and had money to design some snazzy uniforms due to an agreement with Nike.  When Arthur Agee's Marshall team plays Peoria Manual, I'm thinking about Wayne McClain, and trying to remember who was on his roster that year.  I KNOW these teams.  I know these neighborhoods.  I know this city.

To me, the gulf between my world and theirs, was not insurmountable in terms of geography, economics, or race.  Classes in the United States are pretty fluid.  The scene that crystallized exactly the difference between the posh, comfy suburban upbringing and that of a poor boy in the inner city of Chicago was the scene of Arthur Agee's family walking around the University of Illinois campus.  (In this YouTube video, it starts at 8:20)  Silently, in awe, they walk along the west side of my Alma Mater's quad: 

Arthur's Dad: Be a good place for a man to come.
Arthur's Mom:  Like a whole different world
Arthur's Brother: It's beyond different.
(Me: I cry.  For the first time in all of this, I get it.)

Their Chicago is nothing like my "Chicagoland".  From as long as I can remember, my parents (both Illinois grads as well), would bring me down to Champaign, walk around the Quad, buy the next larger size Illini t-shirts from Te-Shurt on Wright Street for all three kids, then have lunch at the McDonald's on Green Street that they razed along with the Co-Ed Theater to make some high-rise apartment block.  Sometimes my grandmother and sister would join us (both graduates of Illinois State - my Great-Aunt with a Masters), and talk about how when my grandfather had attended school at Illinois, he knew the first Chief Illiniwek and saw Red Grange run for 6 touchdowns against Michigan in 1924.  That I would go to Illinois myself was never in doubt.  It was the best state school available, I was smart, and every thing was settled at age 4 that I would be part of a third generation to bleed Orange and Blue.

The Agee family is not worried about college.  Heck, Arthur doesn't even have to go.  They aren't necessarily on board when he decides to pursue both college and basketball by moving to Missouri.  They are worried about things that were taken for granted by my family: day-to-day survival - food, shelter, gang violence, drug dealers, drug addicts, domestic violence.  Any one of these things would rip a hole in suburban life.  In the Chicago of Hoop Dreams, there seemed little escape.

Which is why I wept for Sheila Agee.  Here is a woman supporting her family on $1000 per month.  She is putting herself through a nursing aide program, and sobbed when she discovered she graduated first in her class.  Meanwhile, she is separating from her drug-addicted husband, trying to raise teenagers, and dealing with crippling poverty.  But she gets her education.  I don't think I ever appreciated my academic accomplishments the way she did when she graduated from her vocational program.  With fewer barriers, this was a woman who could change the world.  With the world against her, she was a hurricane - a definite force to reckon with.  Walking around the Illinois campus, I knew she could feel the weight of opportunity in sending a child away from the violence and daily struggles to learn - just learn.  The only thing I wished to see would be the look on her face when her son graduated from Arkansas State 3 years after filming concluded.   I hope she was able to have her opportunity.  And if not her, I hope that Arthur's brother could have seen college as an opportunity for himself in this moment.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Cold Front

We definitely had a change in the weather yesterday.  It was 100 degrees on Friday, 70 today.  Time to greet September properly with my favorite of things: Warm Fuzzy Sweaters.

In my opinion, there is nothing better than a Warm Fuzzy Sweater when the temperature starts heading south.  Warm Fuzzy Sweater is versatile, looks good with jeans, and in some cases may even be appropriate for work.  Three cheers for Warm Fuzzy Sweater!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day

In honor of Labor Day, I'm not writing a blog post.  I baked today, and that's enough labor for Labor Day.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sunday Morning Papers: Bob is the Man

Sunday Morning Papers Talk Shows

A couple observations after watching Face the Nation:

1) When it comes to tax policy, Michele Bachmann can actually make some good points.  Of course, it comes from a place that will completely destroy the American way of life, letting the rich off the hook as the poor slip further and further behind, but hey - I've read many stories about the Haymarket Riots, so it may be interesting to see some actual class warfare erupting in the streets.

2) Bob Schieffer is the man when it comes to interviews.  Few people have the balls to call people out when they contradict themselves in interviews, and the kindly grandfather next door is the guy who puts the smack down.

3). Jon Huntsman must be wondering how the hell he's losing to this bunch of idiots he's running against.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Windmills. Driving.

I found myself driving through a windmill farm with The Byrds' "Turn!  Turn!  Turn!" playing on the radio.  It was magical.  I highly recommend it.

Friday, September 2, 2011

50 DTSBYD: #47 One Day in September

One Day in September chronicles the events of assault on the Israeli Olympic Team during the 1972 Munich Olympics.  Inadvertently, it highlights how much more aware we are of violence 40 years later.  Throughout the entire documentary, I found myself yelling at the Munich Police.  "Don't go in there!  The terrorists can see you!" or "What do you mean you don't know how many terrorists there are?  Peter Jennings just mentioned it on air!"  The Munich Games were the first designed to be televised live.  The Munich Police Department was not designed for instantaneous communications.  Therefore, ABC had better communications than German law enforcement.

While I find that unbelievable now, really, how do you know these things?  When do you assume that terrorists are going to hold that many people hostage?  Europe in the 1960s and 1970s was not really a quaint and peaceful place.  This was the heyday of the IRA, the Baader-Meinhof Gang (another excellent movie on that one), and ETA claimed its first assassination in 1968.  However, these were targeted attacks, quick assassinations or bombs exploded and the terrorists long gone.  There had to be a first siege.  A first event where the police knew about the event while it was ongoing.  Munich was it.

It is difficult to think back to a time when there were no SWAT teams, no Jack Bauer-esque commandos ready to respond at a moment's notice.  Sadly, we are living in an age where there is a need.  It's hard to believe that there wasn't a standardized HazMat response until a fireball engulfed and leveled Crescent City, Illinois.  Now, there are signs on the sides of every truck and train, and you hardly notice them.  Some knowledge is gained the hard way.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

High Speed Rail?

I have to make a quick trip from Small Midwestern City to Large Midwestern City. 6 hours in the car. I really wish Amtrak would be an option, even if it were the same amount of time, at least I could nap during the trip and not die.