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Month: November 2021

Musings from the coffee shop

Image: PV Bella

“You do not understand. This is a clean and pleasant cafe. It is well lighted. The light is very good and also, now, there are shadows of the leaves.” (A Clean Well-lighted Place/Ernest Hemingway/Scribner’s Magazine)

I need places to go outside my home. They need to be pleasant. Weather permitting, I am out and about enjoying the open spaces in my neighborhood, the two large parks, and the quaint Giddings Plaza. Sometimes I write in these places, sipping carryout coffee. Now that the weather is getting cold, it is time to move indoors, but I still need to leave my home. My solution is coffee shops or the public library.

There are two independent coffee shops in my neighborhood. One is around the corner from my home, where I am writing this. The other is about four blocks away. Both serve great coffee and pastries, plus they have WiFi. I usually stop in, get my order, and work the daily crossword puzzles, read, write, or edit photographs.

Both places are community gathering spots. Groups of people will get a table and while away the morning or afternoon having gabfests. Sometimes I run into friends or neighbors. There is a chain outfit in the neighborhood, Spewsucks, or something like that. I try to avoid it like the plague.

The library is a short walk from my home. It has excellent WiFi and comfortable chairs. I sit in the Chicago history section to pull a book and read a few chapters or do some research.

I live in an area that, until Covid-19 struck, had a vibrant small business community. Some businesses survived, and others are now vacant storefronts. I try to patronize the businesses in the neighborhood. My barber is a short walk away along with the German/East European deli, small unique gift shops, stores selling imported goods, an independent bookstore, a liquor store, novelty stores, bars, and several different kinds of restaurants.

I rarely venture to the large chain grocer unless I need staples or other items I cannot get from the smaller businesses. I may pay more in the small businesses, but I get value for the money I spend. During this stubborn pandemic, it was easier and safer to patronize small businesses. The chain stores were overcrowded with people who refused to follow safety precautions.

When you go in and out of the local small businesses, the staff gets to know you and are friendlier. They can answer questions or have no problems ordering something special. Unlike the chain stores, they are nice and willing to help.

When I need staples or other necessities, I will travel to one of the chains or the big box club store.

I am lucky to live where I do. Just about everything I need is within walking distance. I also found some specialty stores a little further afield where I can get or order unique items.

The other great thing about my neighborhood is it is not a destination area. People do not flock here for the nightlife, dining, or shopping at higher-end stores. There are no hordes of people or vehicular traffic converging here. Just about everyone is local or from the surrounding neighborhoods. It is more like a small town than an urban neighborhood.

People work, tool around the internet, read, or have quiet conversations as I sit in the coffee shop. Soft jazz filters from the sound system. It is a peaceful place. They will be closing soon. I will run an errand or two before my short walk home.

It is nice to know I can leave the confines of my home and find pleasant places to hang out, work, read, or socialize, then walk a short way back home.

The clowns of COPA

In the realm of, are you f**king kidding? Only in Chicago can a deceased police officer receive a three-day suspension for alleged misconduct.

Officer Ella French was shot and killed during a traffic stop in August of this year. COPA, the agency that investigates misconduct accusations, handed down a three-day suspension to officer French for an incident that happened two years ago, when she was still on probation. It was a minor infraction.

Did no one at COPA realize how ludicrous this is? How do you discipline a dead person? Worse, how does this look to the rank-and-file police officers, whose morale is already in the toilet? How does this look to her mother? Why should police officers and the public trust COPA to provide rational outcomes with this irrational, ridiculous decision? COPA lost all its credibility with this idiocy.

COPA opened the door for all accused officers to question their credibility and qualifications about conducting investigations and recommending outcomes.

COPA could have and should have closed their investigation with no recommended outcome since YOU CANNOT DISCIPLINE A DEAD PERSON. What kind of clowns work there? Worse, who is in charge of approving the clowns’ investigations and outcomes?

Someone needs to send the whole COPA staff for basic sensitivity training to learn about decency, earned respect, and empathy, as they proved they have none. There should be howls of anger over this. So far, only the cops are angry. We do not need angry police officers patrolling our streets.

This is a first in the history of the civilian alphabet agencies investigating police officers over the decades. Ella French died in the line of duty. Yet, she is being punished, besmirched, and publicly humiliated due to the tone-deaf administrators at COPA.

COPA owes Ella French’s mother an apology. They owe the rank-and-file police officers an apology. Seeing as they are not a class act, I would not hold my breath waiting for one.

I was a police officer for almost thirty years. I saw a lot of ridiculous disciplinary things during my career. I never dreamed I would witness something this insensitive, outlandish, cold-hearted, and crude. This is beyond the pale. Some heads should roll. I won’t hold my breath about that either. COPA leadership should be embarrassed. This is just another level of incompetence in a city of incompetents.

Never forget our veterans

Image: PV Bella

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie,

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields. (John McCrae)

In 1918, World War I ended on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.” The guns were silenced.

Armistice Day was set aside to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice during that conflict. In 1954, November 11th was renamed Veterans Day to commemorate the veterans of all wars.

Thursday, we commemorate our veterans. The men and women who served sacrificed bled and died for our country. They upheld the concept of duty, honor, and country. Many, too many, lay forgotten in the silent gardens of stone. Cold, moldering, unforgiving stone. 

They marched off to fight wars the politicians waged. They went where they were told to go. They arrived when they were supposed to arrive. They did what they were supposed to do when they got there. They came home. Some healthy and alive. Some maimed and scarred, physically and mentally. Some in flag-draped coffins. Many lay in the places they fell. Some are still missing.

They were sons and daughters, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, fathers, mothers, friends, workmates, and neighbors. Aside from the wars, many served in the far-flung corners of the world, away from their families.

My dad, most of my uncles, and the men in our circle were WWII veterans. They did not talk about the war except for the places, some considered exotic, they served. They were proud of their service.

When the bugle calls for Boots and Saddles, military people do not ask why. They do not care about politics. They go. That is their duty. That is the oath they swore.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Lvk1rIGQRY

We owe a debt of gratitude to all who served our country. Those known and unknown. Those living and dead. We owe our veterans a debt that can never be repaid. We have an obligation to our veterans to ensure they get all the benefits and services they earned. If there was ever a cause for activism, it should be on behalf of our veterans.

They served our country.

They served with honor.

Let us never forget.

Let us be eternally grateful.

Some Random Mind Drippings

Image: PV Bella

“I love people. I love individuals. I hate groups of people. They come together for a common purpose, and pretty soon, they have little hats, tee shirts, armbands, and fight songs, and a list of people they are going to visit at 3 AM.” (George Carlin)

America loves a fight. To fight, you need an enemy. Americans love to have enemies. In our current time, we are all the enemy, fighting against and hating each other. The volume of anger is at a fever pitch. The COVID-19 pandemic brought out the worst in rage and hatred on all sides over the severity of the disease, masks, vaccines, mandates, treatments, and God knows what else.

We are supposed to be people who think. We are turning into herds of sheeple, or worse, lemmings heading blindly off a cliff. Ignorance is the fuel of hatred. There is no lack of ignorance in our public discourse. There is a lack of learned understanding. We are running down one-way and dead-end streets. Nothing good is going to come of this. We are not becoming a better society. The anger and hatred accomplish nothing.

The Kyle Rittenhouse trial is getting a lot of media traction. The trial was called “polarizing” by one media outlet. News commenters with no knowledge of how trials work, Wisconsin laws and criminal procedure, or what the word justice means in a criminal trial pretend to inform the public. They bring out the usual suspects, their experts with no expertise. They are trying the case in the press, not the courtroom.

Rittenhouse is on trial. He is guaranteed a fair trial under Wisconsin law and criminal procedures. The prosecution must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Rittenhouse’s attorneys must refute the prosecution beyond a reasonable doubt. The judge is the referee. The jury will decide. It is that simple. Once a verdict is rendered, we do not have to like it. We must accept it. That is how the justice system is supposed to work. All the rest is bothersome noise.

I live in Chicago. Political pundits are fretting about the Virginia governor’s race and what it portends for the mid-term elections. Even the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board weighed in on Virginia, yet they will not weigh in on severe problems in Chicago. Why? Not one neighborhood is safe in this city. People are being shot, wounded, killed, robbed, and carjacked every day in every neighborhood. No one cares. Yet, people and pundits fret or are angry over Virginia? What does Virginia have to do with our city? Not one damn thing.

If you went grocery shopping lately, you noticed the steep price hikes on many food items. I went shopping the other day at a chain supermarket. I was stunned at the price of meat, fish, and poultry. It was almost as high and sometimes higher as the quality deli butcher section in my neighborhood. The same was true at one of the big box club stores. It looks like the upcoming holiday feasting will either be deep pockets or meager this year.

There is a lot to b angry about this year. When things bug me, I try to find humor or insult humor in them. I reserve my mental energy for the issues that impact me. There is more to be grateful for too. As Thanksgiving approaches, let’s think with the attitude of gratitude. It sounds trite, but there is something to be grateful for every day, no matter how bad things are or appear to be.

Last but not least, with the upcoming Christmas shopping season, please try to shop local for gifts. The small local businesses suffered during the pandemic. Shop at the museum stores too. They have unique items not found in other stores. The money helps fund the institutions. Or you can purchase memberships for people as gifts.

Blacklisting is not the answer

Image: PV Bella

I am a fierce supporter and defender of the First Amendment. There are a lot of things I disagree with or find offensive. However, I will defend people’s right to say, write, or express themselves. I reserve my right to call them out and criticize. I would never advocate they should be canceled, de-platform, or censored.

Comedian, Dave Chappelle is still under attack for his Netflix show, “The Closer.” I watched the show twice. The live audience loved it. I did not find Chappelle as funny as he used to be. I can understand why some would find his material offensive. I do not know why there are calls to cancel and de-platform him. Criticize him, yes. Demand his program be canceled and he be silenced is not just wrong, it goes against all we believe in as Americans.

Comedy is not supposed to be a warm fuzzy safe space protecting tender sensitivities. Good comedy is edgy and pushes limits and boundaries to make a point or get people to think about issues while being entertained. The great comedians like Don Rickles, Richard Pryor, Joan Rivers, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, and others would not last in today’s environment.

Comedy is an art. Art is supposed to be controversial. Controversy can be uncomfortable for some people, but how do we have those critical conversations about issues if we are not exposed to them or made uncomfortable or angry by them?

In the past, there were calls to ban pornographic magazines. At the same time, we celebrated classic artists who painted and sculpted nudes. The only difference was the magazines had photographs. Controversial movies were subjected to the Hays Code until audiences and movie producers decided to rebel. Books, both fiction and non-fiction, were always controversial and there were attempts to ban them. There are still calls to ban certain books. Rock and Roll, Hip Hop, and Rap were demonized and people tried to ban the music.

This current cancel culture is not only censorship. It is blacklisting. The Puritans are doing what the government is not allowed to do, sanction and ruin people. There is nothing wrong with criticism. All art is subject to criticism, even harsh criticism. Critics do not censor or blacklist. The furthest they go is to recommend people not waste their time or money on an exhibit, book, performance, or movie.

People fought hard during the 20th Century to express themselves, especially over what was considered taboo issues. We got to a point where very few things were taboo. Now, we are regressing. People want to ban what they believe is personally offensive. They chose to be offended and are responsible for that choice, not the artists. 

People across the political spectrum are trying to censor speech, ban books, or blacklist others because they find something offensive or unacceptable. People and businesses are being targeted, demonized, and blacklisted for political or charitable contributions they make. 

The real problem with cancel culture and blacklisting are if people think they have the right to blacklist, the reverse is true. They must accept being blacklisted by others. It is a dangerous two-way street no one should want to go down.

There is nothing wrong with criticism, even harsh or angry criticism. Calling for someone to be de-platformed, canceled, or blacklisted is wrong and deplorable. We all can find things offensive or inappropriate. It is easy to be offended these days. Banning or banishing creatives over their expression is not the answer. 

No one should live in fear of being blacklisted for expressing themselves. Expression and good to harsh criticism, make us have important conversations about issues. Blacklisting, censorship, de-platforming, or canceling are not who we are as a people. 

The public square is not a sanitary place to live. It was never meant to be.