Thursday, June 14, 2018

A Child of the Cold War Views the Singapore Summit

A Typical 1950's Air Raid Drill

It happened a few times per school year. The siren sounded and we were told to crouch under our desks with one hand behind our head and the other hand in front of it. This action would protect us in the case of a nuclear attack. The literature always predicted the damage that would be done should Times Square be bombed. The radius would be huge and we in the New York suburbs would be affected. People built fallout shelters in their backyards. I had nightmares several times per month.

In 1960, I went with my mother to a demonstration at the Soviet Union’s embassy across from the United Nations to protest above ground nuclear testing. The ambassador invited us in and said, “Welcome to the territory of the Soviet Union.”

We were so imbued with Cold War rhetoric that I panicked for a moment hearing that and don’t remember a word of his speech after that.

The air raid drills continued throughout my high school years. The survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still alive to tell us how devastating a nuclear war could be. Nevertheless, compared to the threat now, this threat was mild. Leaders on both sides knew what the risks were and most of them had some degree of sanity. The weapons of mass destruction were weaklings compared to what is available now and nuclear proliferation hadn’t happened yet. Most of us knew that there could be no survivors of a nuclear war.

We had an air raid drill in my high school in which we had to go out in the hallway. I held up a homemade sign that said, “The only shelter is peace.” I was sent to the assistant principal’s office to be disciplined. Since this was my first offense of any kind, I was questioned about what I was doing and sent back to class. The nightmares continued. 

My parents were active in the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy - popularly known as SANE - and I enjoyed telling my friends that my parents were in Sane. We drank powdered milk for fear of the Strontium 90 that was present in milk from nuclear fallout of the tests. Nothing could be done to that powdered milk that could make it taste even remotely drinkable so drinking that stuff for three years until the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963 was signed was a trauma in itself.

The memories of living through the cold war are with me still. Hearing the threats of Kim Jong Un and the uncontrolled threats and irrational menacing of our current President bring it all back. Unfortunately, the threat now is worse. We have a President who listens to advice from no one seeming to make decisions based on his emotions and instincts of the moment. Kim Jong Un is a ruthless totalitarian dictator who seems just as irrational.

The news that our current President and Kim Jong Un would meet brought momentary relief. Now that news is emerging from this summit, I don’t think that feeling will last. Apparently, he has made concessions to North Korea without receiving any in return. Time will tell.  Although I disagree vehemently with virtually everything our President says and does, I wish him success in this endeavor. The alternative is unthinkable.   

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Must See Chicago, the City of the Bad Rap

Must See Chicago, a walking tour given by the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF), highlights some of the best Chicago architecture from its many architecture periods. I’m really glad that they’re giving this tour to highlight some of the best that Chicago has because this city deserves a much better reputation than it has.

When we lived in Israel in the 1970’s, my husband would tell people he was from Chicago and they’d invariably make a gun sign with their hands and say, “Al Capone, bang, bang.” I learned after a short time that that was the reaction people had to Chicago about 99% of the time. It got better for a few years when people associated Chicago with Michael Jordan and then President Obama. Unfortunately, that respite was short-lived.

In recent years, Chicago is again associated with gun violence and murders. When we travel outside the Unite States now, people ask us if we’re planning to move soon from our dangerous city. What most people don’t see is how many beautiful things there are in Chicago. I tell them that most tourist areas don’t see any of the violence and that tragically, the violence involves a small segment of the population. The economic and social inequities that give rise to this are the subject of many other posts and shouldn’t be minimized. Nevertheless, the beauty of the city shouldn’t be negated either.

The CAF does a great job of showing off some iconic Chicago buildings and giving people a great overview of downtown Chicago. We took the Must See Chicago tour on a beautiful sunny day and so it was especially enjoyable. And because the pictures speak for themselves, here are a few.

The Wrigley Building, completed in 1924

The Tribune Tower, completed in 1925

The Jay Pritzker Pavillion in Millenium Park
Chicago has been providing free concerts several times per week during the summer months for over 80 years. This is the newer band shell and the acoustics are fabulous.
Marina City, opened in 1968
This mixed use apartment building brought people from the suburbs back to the city where they could live near their work.

along the Chicago Riverwalk
the Chicago Art Institute

the Chicago Cultural Center, formerly the main library
This is a phenomenal building. It was opened in 1897, one of the first free open public libraries in the United States. The collection became too big and the main library was moved to the Harold Washington Library. This building besides having beautiful mosaic ceilings houses many free cultural events including art exhibits and weekly noontime concerts. Visit Chicago and you'll see many more beautiful things. You won't be sorry you came.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Imagining World Peace At the Skokie Festival of Cultures

America pulling out of the Paris Accord [on climate change]. America ending its participation with the Iran treaty on nuclear weapons. A threatened end to America’s social safety net. The news is so horrific these days that I feel exhausted from it and needed a break. Fortunately, I got it at the 28th Annual Skokie Festival of Cultures this past weekend.
Flags representing all the participating countries
Skokie, a Chicago suburb of about 70,000 people, is home to people from around the world. About 55% of its residents speak a native language other than English; over 70 languages are spoken here. Every year Skokie’s diversity is not just tolerated. Rather it’s embraced. This year 40 communities participated.

The Skokie Festival of Cultures takes place on the third weekend of May each year. We chose the better of the two days – at least it wasn’t raining – to attend. We visited the booths meeting people this year from Ireland, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Bangladesh, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Sweden, Guatemala, and Korea. People displayed their folk arts and artifacts and talked about their countries to whoever stopped by their booths. We had been blessed to travel to a few of those countries and told the people at each booth about our trips. They were interested in hearing our impressions and we had some nice conversations.
At the Bulgarian Booth
At the Uzbekistan Booth
At the Iraqi Booth
Then it was on to the pavilion to see the dancing and singing. This year we saw dancers from West Africa and Korea. Beautiful performances. Then it was on to an Indian Holi celebration. This festival of colors is observed each spring in India to celebrate a good harvest as well as the victory of good over evil. People throw colorful paints at each other in a festival of all different hues. I had seen this on television but never in person. As usual in Skokie, people from all different backgrounds wanted to participate. A line was formed to get one’s tee shirt to wear to protect one’s clothes. While not quite as colorful as it is in India, it was certainly joyous.
Korean Dancers
Holi Festival
And so now people have shared their songs and dances, their celebrations, and their foods. We are no longer strangers to one another and we can spend another year learning from each other about our respective cultures. If only the rest of the world would learn from Skokie’s experience, the world would be a lot more peaceful. In the meantime, we look forward to next year's Festival of Cultures and the around the world trip in one day that is always so much fun. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Not Too Late to Advocate for the ERA

“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.” For reasons beyond my understanding, the state of Illinois has never been able to ratify these 24 simple words. If Illinois does ratify the ERA, it will be 35 years late.

This Monday, saying “Better late than Never” and hoping that Illinois would finally get it right, I got on the El Monday, May 7th to attend the Hearing of the human rights committee of the Illinois House on SJRCA4.

The Illinois Senate had passed SJRCA4, the bill that would have Illinois ratify the federal ERA. An ERA for the state of Illinois has been part of the state constitution since 1970. The bill is now before the House. I needed to witness the state of Illinois making history at long last. After all, Abigail Adams had beseeched her husband John Adams to “remember the ladies” in a letter to him on March 31, 1776. They didn’t listen to her and women have been omitted from the Constitution ever since. It was about time.

What I witnessed, however, was probably not Illinois making history but rather reliving it. The room of viewers was packed predominantly with proponents of the ERA. Four panels of witnesses – twenty altogether – had the opportunity to tell the members of the House human rights committee what their opinions were regarding the ERA and about their life experiences that pointed to its necessity. Sixteen people testified in favor and four testified against it.

The arguments were the same as they had been in the 1970’s. Rep. Lou Lang, chief sponsor of the bill, started off presenting cogent arguments. The state and federal government needed to ratify the ERA to protect women’s rights. At present, the only right for women delineated in the Constitution is the right to vote. Laws passed which give equal rights to both sexes can be repealed at any time. The opposition gave the same old arguments: that the ERA would lead to more abortions, unisex bathrooms, and a groundswell of boys demanding to play on girls’ high school LaCrosse teams. The ERA states nothing about any of those issues.

After each panel, the House members were able to ask the panelists questions. One house member Mary Flowers asked the same questions to each panel member after a tirade about how the ERA would not specifically protect women of color. Each panel member explained how it would protect all American women but wouldn’t explicitly protect women of color from racist discrimination. The bill is about sex, not race. The vociferousness with which Ms. Flowers presented her arguments suggested to me that some behind the scenes horse trading to which the public was not privy was most likely going on. The failure of the Illinois House to make some bargain was what doomed the ERA to failure in Illinois in the 1970’s.

 I hope that I wasn’t seeing Illinois history repeat itself. At this writing, a hearing in Springfield in the Illinois House is in process. There’s still time to call your representatives and tell them to vote YES. All of us American women – white, black, Asian, Latina, native American, pink, green, or whatever – deserve better. It’s about time.  

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Standing Against Racism in Trump's America

Every spring since 2007, the YWCA has organized a national stand against racism. During the stand - usually from 2:00 to 2:25PM, people in towns throughout the United States stand in unison declaring their opposition to racism.

This year in our increasingly polarized society, I felt that I had to stand with the YWCA and all groups that were saying that bigotry is wrong. I was proud to stand at my synagogue Beth Emet in Evanston to do this.

While it should be self-evident that racism is wrong, apparently it isn’t. Expressions of racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslimism, and attacks on the LGBT community have risen sharply since the presidential election in 2016, spurred in large part by T’s racist rhetoric. In the days immediately following the election, 867 incidents of harassment and intimidation of African-Americans, Jews, Muslims, and people in the LGBT community were reported. The Southern Poverty Law Center ( reports an increase in hate groups. They have identified 954 hate groups operating in the United States. The FBI reports anti-Semitic incidents up 55% in 2017, anti-Muslim incidents up 25%, and increased incidents against the LGBT community.

After the disturbances in Charlottesville, I watched in horror as the President of the United States gave a press conference attesting vehemently that many of the people joining the march of neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan were “fine people.” Since then he has reiterated many racist statements thus emboldening racists to act on their feelings. After Charlottesville, for example, the Holocaust Memorial in Boston was vandalized for the second time that summer. Although the perpetrator was arrested and charged with a hate crime, the fact is that it was done.

I am not accusing our current president of creating racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and homophobia. Evidently people always had those feeling but they lay under the surface. In the past, however, people knew that acting on those feelings was unacceptable in the United States. Since 2016, they have been given permission to express those feelings. For myself, any feelings I had of being secure and safe in America have been erased.

It is because of this that it is more important than ever that we stand against racism. We have to stand and say that racism is not acceptable. After the stand, we standers from Beth Emet joined a discussion at the Unitarian Church with members of their congregation as well as people from St. Marks Episcopalian Church. We reaffirmed our opposition to racism and discussed efforts being made in our community to combat it.

Some say that there will always be people with racist feelings and I agree that there will be. I can’t control what is going on in the hearts and minds of other people. I can, however, work with other people to create a situation in which people are not allowed to act on those feelings. That’s the direction the United States had been headed toward during the past few decades since the Civil Rights Movement. We have to work together to get our country to return to that direction. I hope that it’s not too late.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Home from Prison - A Bleak Picture at the Victory Gardens Theater

There’s something about traveling that every trip has in common. At some point, you have to come home. What happens when you have nothing positive to come home to? What if there is no one to welcome you back? How do you get back in the swing of things?

Living in the Chicago area this is not a problem for us. One great thing about coming back is being able to enjoy Chicago’s phenomenal theater scene. With more than 100 theaters of every variety, we get to pick and choose from a great wealth of plays. This week we saw Lettie at the Victory Gardens Theater. It will be playing through May 6th. If you live in the Chicago area, I strongly recommend that you see it.

Lettie, the title character, has just been released from prison after having been incarcerated for seven years. Sent to a halfway house to live, she starts a welding training program. Uninterested in becoming a welder but going along with the program as well as she can, all she wants is to see her children again. Her sister, who has been taking care of them in Lettie’s absence, has other plans and thus, the drama begins. As the story unfolds, we learn that Lettie has little to return to with few prospects on the horizon. Will she succumb to past influences or stay straight? With community support for ex-prisoners weak at best, staying straight is even more difficult than you’d think. I don’t want to give away the ending in case anyone has the opportunity to see Lettie. It is a very powerful, poignant drama.

Boo Killebrew, the playwright, did an excellent job of depicting the problems that returning prisoners have re-integrating into the outside world especially if their lives prior to imprisonment had no healthy connections or relationships with which to reconnect. The play was skillfully directed by Chay Yew and the acting was excellent. Prior to staging the play, Ms. Killebrew and the cast visited Grace House, a halfway house similar to the one depicted in Lettie, where they visited with women who had pasts similar to Lettie’s. The afternoon they spent there gave them extra insight to skillfully present this play.

With America having five per cent of the world’s population and twenty-five per cent of the world’s prison population, Lettie addresses an important issue. What kind of treatment are we giving to people who are released from prison? How can they avoid returning to prison when it is so difficult finding employment for those with prison records? Where do they live if they have no family to take them in? Most people don’t realize that people with prison records are ineligible for government subsidized housing. Some private agencies are addressing these issues but so much more needs to be done. Go see Lettie at the Victory Garden Theater. It will give you a lot to think about.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Still Desperately Seeking Manatees

Although I’ve been visiting South Florida nearly all my life, one animal I’ve yet to see there in the wild is the manatee. I’ve see signs along the Intercoastal waters warning boaters to reduce their speed in order to protect them. We’ve visited The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge near the Space Center and the Turkey Creek Sanctuary in Palm Bay where they’ve often been sighted, but to no avail.

I’ve often wondered what makes these sea creatures even more elusive than mermaids. They are generally slow-moving, gentle creatures most closely related to the elephant and often called sea cows. They seek warm – no colder than 68 degrees Fahrenheit - brackish water and feed on water plants.

Thus, when we arrived in Tampa, Florida, I was delighted to find out that they have a Manatee Viewing Center run by TECO, Tampa Electric Company. The heat generated by the electric plant heats the water around it to temperatures comfortable for manatees. 
Since these animals tend to migrate to warmer waters, they often congregate near the power plant when the rest of the water around Tampa Bay is too cold for them.

Eager to finally see manatees in a somewhat natural habitat, we headed to the Manatee Viewing Center which was established thirty years ago. They have built several boardwalks and trails out to the viewing areas as well as a nature center and they have videos about these gentle creatures. It is quite an impressive site.

With camera ready, we walked all the trails. I saw a ripple in the water. Could it have been the tail of a manatee? Alas, that was all I was able to see so we’ll never know. Apparently, with the warm winter that Tampa had been having, the manatees had no need to swim all the way to the power plant. As their brochure states, the best time to see them is when the temperature in Tampa Bay is about 68 degrees Fahrenheit. When we were there, the temperature in and around Tampa Bay was about 85.

Nevertheless, the Viewing Area was worth seeing. We were impressed to see the efforts made by TECO to utilize solar power to generate electricity as well as their efforts to protect manatees in Florida. We were able to see various birds and schools of fish near the power plant as well.

When we went to the Turkey Creek Sanctuary and to Merritt Island, Florida had been having a cool winter and the manatees hadn’t come back there yet. In Tampa, we were there when the waters were too hot. Hopefully, someday we’ll return to one of those sites when the water is just right. In the meantime, our next stop is the Cincinnati Zoo. They have manatees there and you’re guaranteed to see them all the time.