Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Margaret Mary Durkin von Ebers. January 21, 1924 – November 30, 2010

My mother’s family hailed from the Land of Heart’s Desire, County Sligo in Connacht, on the northwest coast of Ireland. “Sligo” comes from the Irish Sligeach, which means Place of the Shells. The great Irish poet William Butler Yeats, who is buried in Drumcliffe, once said, “The place that has really influenced my life most is Sligo.”

I’ll write more later, but right now I just need to hear a little more Pogues:

Where’re we go we celebrate

The land that made us refugees

From fear of priests with empty plates

From guilt and weeping effigies …

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pardon the Interruption; or, Coming Up Threes

I haven’t been able to blog the past few days because I’ve been spending time with My Sainted Irish Mother, who, as fate would have it, is nearing the end of days. It’s a terribly sad time and I’ll write more about it at length in the fairly near future; but for now, apologies for the likely intermittent blogging over the next week to ten days.

In the meantime, a video tribute to Herself – the Pogues, “If I Should Fall From Grace With God,” from the album of the same name. I love this song, but I can tell you without reservation that My Sainted Irish Mother hasn’t and will never fall from grace with God. As an aside, I should also point out that the Moms is anything but an Irish nationalist; she’s more inclined, in fact, to concur with Oscar Wilde’s quip: “If one could only teach the English how to talk, and the Irish how to listen, society [there] would be quite civilized.” Nonetheless, these lyrics are apt to get one’s Irish adrenalin pumping, if one is Irish and has adrenalin:

This land was always ours

Was the proud land of our fathers

It belongs to us and them

Not to any of the others …


In any event, I’ll be back as I can; and when I have the time I’ll regale you with some stories of Herself’s rather remarkable existence. Until then, there’s extra credit for anyone who can tell me, without resorting to the Google, what the Anglicized phrase “pogue mahone” (póg mo thóin in Irish) means.

© 2010 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Friday: “The Holidays” Commence

A little rock ’n roll to ease your shopping woes. Ryan Adams, “New York, New York.”

Okay, it’s not a holiday song, but he mentions Christmas toward the end.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful For …

These knuckleheads:

The whole fam-damn-ily, as my Sainted Irish Mother would say, circa 1969. In order, by age: Helen, Mary, Caroline, Paul, Mark, John (1955 – 1991), Margaret, Tom (1958 – 2009), Anne, Joan, and me. Also: Paul J. (1921 – 1994) and Margaret M. von Ebers, who literally changed the world. And Heidi, our family dog, who was scared of her own shadow but could eat an entire roast beef if it was left unattended.

And I’m especially thankful for these three:

From left, Mark (12), Paul (14) and Claire (9). They’re not knuckleheads; or, if they are, I’m not going to say that on the internets tubes. They’re the only ones keeping us sane anymore.

And most of all, for Jennifer:

Be well. Eat as much as you want. Tip a few back. You’re allowed to every once in awhile.

Happy Thanksgiving!

© 2010 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How About A Sense of Proportion?

We’ve heard a lot about false equivalence these days, from Jon Stewart’s dubious claims that MSNBC personalities like Keith Olbermann are the equivalent on the left to Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh on the right, to equally dubious claims by some of my fellow liberals that Pres. Obama’s no better than George W. Bush because he’s repeated a handful of mistakes that Forty-Three made. In either case the argument is weak at best and intellectually dishonest at worst. Olbermann’s occasional rhetorical excesses hardly compare to Glenn Beck’s George-Soros-induced paranoia; and you can hardly say the guy who outlawed torture is “no better than” the guy who authorized torture, merely because the former hasn’t yet closed Guantánamo Bay. Which is not to say either Mr. Olbermann or Mr. Obama is or should be above criticism, but even they deserve to be treated fairly.

So, anyway, speaking of proportionality, last night Greg Mitchell of The Nation tweeted a link to an article by Robert Wright in The New York Times called “Worse Than Vietnam,” in which the author makes this observation:

Is Afghanistan, as some people say, America’s second Vietnam? Actually, a point-by-point comparison of the two wars suggests that it’s worse than that.

For starters, though Vietnam was hugely destructive in human terms, strategically it was just a medium-sized blunder. It was a waste of resources, yes, but the war didn’t make America more vulnerable to enemy attack.

The Afghanistan war does. Just as Al Qaeda planned, it empowers the narrative of terrorist recruiters — that America is at war with Islam. The would-be Times Square bomber said he was working to avenge the killing of Muslims in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And Major Nidal Hasan, who at Fort Hood perpetrated the biggest post-9/11 terrorist attack on American soil, was enraged by the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Now, Mr. Wright makes some excellent points about the war in Afghanistan, and I agree that the policy itself has failed. But there are two huge problems with his central thesis – that Afghanistan is “worse than Vietnam” – and those problems highlight the fact that we on the left seem to have lost our sense proportionality lately.

First of all, you can’t talk about Afghanistan or Vietnam (or any war, frankly) without asking whether the war was justified in the first instance. In other words, you can’t divorce war from the central question of whether a moral and legal justification existed for the use of military force. If the decision to go to war is the heaviest and most consequential decision a nation ever makes – and it’s hard to argue otherwise – then threshold question you have to answer in every case is: Was it justified?

At least in Afghanistan, we had a clear legal justification to go to war. The al Qaeda network that attacked the United States on September 11, 2001 was headquartered in Afghanistan, ran its operations out of that country, planned the 9/11 attacks there, and had a symbiotic relationship with the brutal Taliban regime then in power in Kabul. The Taliban sheltered al Qaeda and worked hand-in-glove with it, and it was entirely appropriate to hold the Taliban government responsible for the acts of its surrogate, al Qaeda. Which is not to say we should have gone to war in Afghanistan, only that legal justification for war existed. Personally, I never felt the Afghan war was a good idea as a matter of policy, and I said so at the time; but that’s a separate matter.

In Vietnam, on the other hand, the supposed justification for war was far from clear. Without belaboring the point, the Gulf of Tonkin incidents in late July and early August 1964 have always been suspect, and if the root underlying cause of the conflict was U.S. opposition to the elections called for in the Geneva Accords that ended the French Indochina War, you simply cannot compare Afghanistan and Vietnam in terms of the underlying justification for each. So, again, if Vietnam was an unjustified war from the get-go and Afghanistan was, legally at least, justified, it strains credibility to say Afghanistan is worse than Vietnam without at least acknowledging that enormously consequential moral difference.

But there’s another huge problem with Mr. Wright’s Afghanistan-is-worse-than-Vietnam hypothesis, and it’s underscored by this disturbingly flippant comment: “For starters, though Vietnam was hugely destructive in human terms, strategically it was just a medium-sized blunder.” Wait. What? You’re really going to gloss over the fact that “Vietnam was hugely destructive in human terms”?! Let’s be clear: The Vietnam War cost some 5 million lives, including roughly 1 million military casualties and about 4 million civilian deaths. The United States alone lost roughly 58,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines in Vietnam. That’s not something you can ignore when you’re talking about Vietnam in any context.

Sadly, there is no way to know exactly how many civilians have been killed in Afghanistan, but we do know there have been about 2,229 coalition deaths there. According to The Guardian, there have been nearly 7,000 civilian deaths in Afghanistan since 2006; and, of course, the total number of fatalities among civilians has to be many times higher than that, given that the war began in October 2001. While any deaths or injuries – whether military or civilian – are unacceptable in the pursuit of a failed policy, how do you say a war resulting in the deaths of, perhaps, tens of thousands is worse than a war that resulted in the deaths of nearly five million, particularly where at least some justification existed for the former but not the latter?

I guess the answer to that question is this: If you want to draw attention to yourself and make sensationalized claims that do not advance the substance of your argument, you can say Afghanistan is “worse than Vietnam.” But if you want to engage in an intelligent discussion about the serious problems with our Afghan strategy, about a war that may have been justified at one time but was nevertheless poorly executed and needs to be ended as expeditiously as possible, perhaps you might want to have a little more respect for the millions of people who died in Vietnam and a little more respect for the intelligence of your readers.

© 2010 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Sad But Uplifting Story

I learned via Twitter – specifically, via my friend John V. Moore of the Windy City Watch Blog – that Dr. Margaret Burroughs, founder of Chicago’s DuSable Museum of African-American History, died over the weekend at the age of 95. Dr. Burroughs was a remarkable woman, and the DuSable Museum is a remarkable place. From the Chicago Defender:

The St. Rose, Louisiana native came to Chicago with her parents when she was 5 years old. She studied teaching and art at Chicago State University and the Art Institute of Illinois. She also attended Columbia University in New York and the Institute of Painting and Sculpture in Mexico City in Mexico. Years later, Lewis University in Illinois gave her an honorary doctorate.

Burroughs became a leading force in the Black arts community and founded the Lake Meadows Art Fair and the South Side Community Art Center. She made sure her work, but most importantly, those of other Black artists were featured.

“The white community had an art fair in Hyde Park on 57th Street so we decided to have one for ourselves,” said Burroughs, referring to her and her students.

While art was her passion, so was preserving Black heritage.

Burroughs and her high school students were talking one day about how there were Jewish and Polish museums in Chicago, yet, “the major white museums” didn’t include anything about African-Americans.

“We decided that we should start our own. I remembered something that Booker T. Washington told our people. He said to put down your buckets where you are. We were sitting in my living room and we put down our buckets. We started the museum,” said the self-professed student-teacher of the arts.

Inside her home in the 3800 block of South Michigan Avenue, the country’s first museum of Black history was founded in 1961.

I remember going to the DuSable Museum in the fifth grade, in, I think, the spring of 1973, not long after the Museum had moved out of Dr. Burroughs’ home and into the building it currently occupies in the Washington Park neighborhood of Chicago. My fifth grade teacher was the first African American teacher we’d had at Ralph Waldo Emerson Elementary School in Oak Park, and she’d begun teaching a nascent course in African American history as part of our general social studies curriculum. Hence, the field trip to DuSable.

Anyway, what I remember most about that field trip was this: After we’d gone through most if not all of the indoor exhibits, they took us outside (and this is why I’m pretty sure it was in the spring of that year) for a demonstration by a genuine Black cowboy, a man who had to be at least 80 to 90 years old, who’d been the real deal in his youth – a horse-riding, cattle roping cowboy out west in the early part of the 20th Century. And you’ll pardon me for saying this, but: Jesus, the guy was cool. He was dressed all in black – black leather vest, black pants, black chaps – and he performed these incredible tricks with a lasso and a long black whip. I can still hear that whip crack! on the sidewalk, just like that. I’d never seen anything like it before and I’ve never seen anything like it since. This guy was living history.

But, so, anyway, here’s the thing I never thought about until I heard that Dr. Burroughs had passed away. In 1972, about a year before my fifth grade class took that trip to DuSable, my dad drafted and submitted to the local school board the first diversity policy our schools ever adopted. In fact, the diversity policy adopted by the Oak Park public schools in 1972 was one of the first of it’s kind anywhere in the United States. More on that another time, perhaps, but here’s the thing: It’s quite possible – not necessarily the case, but quite possible – that the diversity policy my dad drafted for our local schools led to the hiring of my fifth grade teacher, the first African American teacher most of us ever had; and her hiring led to our trip to the DuSable Museum in the spring of 1973, to see, among other things, that incredible Black cowboy, and that’s a memory that stays with me to this day and remains one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.

So there you go. You just never know how your life is going to overlap with the lives of other people, even people from disparate backgrounds and across large spans of time.

Dr. Burroughs, you will be missed. For my part, I just have to say thank you for one of the best memories a fifth grader could ever have.

© 2010 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Podcast News: Perhaps I Should Have Mentioned …

That my good friend, Tim Corrimal (@timcorrimal on Twitter), asked me to co-host his weekly podcast, The Tim Corrimal Show, on which I’ve appeared several times since September. We record the shows most weekends and it’s usually posted on Tim’s site by late Sunday. Here’s a link to the latest show, Episode 146, which we recorded yesterday afternoon. This week’s podcast features one of my favorite Tweeters (Twitterers?), @FunkedInDaHead, also known as Shane of the Shane-O Blog, along with Ana Beatriz Cholo (@anaperiodista on Twitter) and Kenny Pick (@kenpickles on Twitter) of Turn Up the Night With Kenny Pick.

We discussed, among other things, the latest dustup over TSA airport screening procedures, the presidential aspirations of a certain half-term ex-governor of the nation’s 49th state, and the prospects for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in the lame duck session of Congress. Tim does a great job moderating the discussion (not to mention adding to it), selecting appropriate audio clips, and editing and compiling the show; so stop by and give it a listen when you have the chance.

And thanks, once again, to Tim for the honor of co-hosting the show. Great work, my friend.

© 2010 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Little Rock ’n Roll For Your Sunday Morning …

So, my Fighting Illini beat Northwestern 48-27 yesterday at Wrigley Field in Chicago, in a game that featured amateurish rules (all offensive plays had to be run in one direction – west – to avoid the brick wall at the back of the east end zone) and an insane performance by Illini running back Mikel Leshoure (330 yards on 33 carries – what?!); and now Illinois is “bowl-eligible” at 6-5 with one game left. I’ll set aside my feelings about 6-6 teams going to bowl games (hint – they shouldn’t be allowed to) so I can enjoy a relatively good sports weekend here in Chicago. With the Bears’ 16-0 victory over Miami on Thursday, the Blackhawks snapping out of the doldrums to beat Calgary 7-1 last night, and the Bulls’ 88-83 win over Dallas, there’s not too much to complain about. Add to that the fact that my Illini laid to rest the odd notion that Northwestern is (ahem) “Chicago’s Big 10 team” and all is well in the City of Big Shoulders.

So, take it away Bruce:

Now a life of leisure and a pirate’s treasure

Dont make much for tragedy

But its a sad man my friend who’s livin’ in his own skin

And cant stand the company

Every fools got a reason to feel sorry for himself

And turn his heart to stone

Tonight this fools halfway to heaven and just a mile outta hell

And I feel like Im comin’ home

These are better days baby

Theres better days shining through

These are better days

Better days with a girl like you

Now if only the Bears could beat Philadelphia next week …

© 2010 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Fun With Politics: 1980s Edition

So, last night on Twitter somebody asked who played King Tut on the old Batman television show, which prompted this memory from 1987: The first time I saw a photograph Judge Robert Bork during the confirmation hearings on his failed nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, my immediate impression was: So that’s what happened to Victor Buono!

It’s uncanny.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Part of a Disturbing Trend?

Here’s an odd story out of the southwest suburbs of Chicago:

The Village of Oak Lawn has launched an internal investigation of an off-duty police officer accused of attacking a grandmother over a disputed bill at a Hooters restaurant and the police response when he called for backup on his radio.

The probe comes after a civil suit was filed Wednesday and after the coming forth of several witnesses who tell NBC Chicago that it appears other responding officers protected their brother in blue.

A little background: The confrontation began when Livier Torres attempted to dispute her bill at the Oak Lawn, Illinois Hooters restaurant. Joseph Schmidt, an off duty Oak Lawn police officer working as a security guard at the restaurant, stepped in and the situation rapidly escalated. From the security camera video posted above, it appears that Schmidt overreacted to something the woman said, and he roughed her up pretty badly. Schmidt claims Torres spit on him, but that’s not altogether clear from the video and eye witnesses claim that never happened.

Furthermore, NBC’s Chicago affiliate is reporting that when Oak Lawn police officers were called to the scene, they refused to take statements from witnesses in the restaurant. Instead, they arrested Torres for battery. A Cook County judge convicted Torres and sentenced her to 200 days – nearly seven months – in jail, even though the security video shows no evidence that she actually attacked Schmidt and witnesses testified that she did not spit on him.

Now you would think that Torres’ conviction would effectively vindicate Schmidt – after all, he claims he used force only because she attacked him – but Oak Lawn is sufficiently concerned about its officer’s actions that it’s conducting its own investigation of the matter.

Which brings me to the real issue. Torres’ case is only one of a series of controversial cases over the past few years involving police officers accused of mistreating civilians in the Chicago area – and more or less getting away with it. Last year, Chicago Police Officer Anthony Abbate received only two years’ probation for what appeared to be a horrific assault on Karolina Obrycka. That incident was captured on video, too (see previous link), and the comparatively light sentence Abbate received caused outrage here. Likewise, in April 2010 a Cook County criminal judge dropped DUI charges against another Chicago Police Officer, John Ardelean, even though he caused an accident that killed two people, and even though the prosecution advised the court that it had video tape (again!) showing Ardelean drinking at a bar shortly before the accident.

Of course, each of these cases has to be evaluated on its own merits, but taken together they raise a serious question about justice in Cook County. Are our criminal judges applying a separate set of rules to cases where police officers are alleged to have committed crimes? Given the fact that Torres got nearly seven months in jail for allegedly spitting on an officer (although the video tape doesn’t seem to show that) and Officer Abbate got two years probation for severely beating Karolina Obrycka (which the video tape confirms), it’s a fair question that demands an answer.

Speaking of Music …

In honor of my latest Twitter follower, the great Dwight Yoakam doing the Clash. Tell me that’s not the coolest thing you’ve ever heard.

And I’m not kidding. He is following me on Twitter. My late brother Tom would be impressed.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Look Who Won a National Book Award …

Why it’s ’70s punk icon Patti Smith, for Just Kids, her book about her lengthy friendship with controversial artist Robert Mapplethorpe. Nicely done. Here’s Smith’s January 2010 interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” discussing the book and the early days of her music career.

It’s been a good week for women musicians-turned-writers. Publishers Weekly just named Composed, by Rosanne Cash (who, if you don’t know, is one of the best Twitter folks around – witty, engaging and thoughtful), one of the ten best non-fiction books of 2010. Again, nicely done!

(And with the holidays coming up, I’m sure my friends at (Jackson Street) Books on 7th could hook you up with copies of either. Remember to support your independent booksellers!)

Welcome to the Corner Tavern

When I was a kid, the town I grew up in – Oak Park, Illinois, which sits on the western border of Chicago between Austin Boulevard and Harlem Avenue – was dry. As in, no booze, no bars, no liquor stores. I once read that people used to say Oak Park was the place where the taverns ended and the churches began, which always seemed a bit preachy to me (because it is); but maybe it’s better than Ernest Hemingway’s reputed sobriquet for our mutual hometown: “A place of broad lawns and narrow minds.”

Well, Oak Park is hardly a place of narrow minds these days, nor is it dry anymore, but growing up in that stodgy atmosphere bars took on a kind of mythic significance. This is all the more true because Chicago was, at the time, a city where barroom raconteurs like Mike Royko and Studs Terkel still held sway – guys who worked for newspapers and wrote books, but who seemed to be just as likely to be found working an assembly line or bending an elbow at the corner bar, kibitzing and philosophizing and solving the problems of the world between innings of a Cubs game playing on a grainy television with the sound down. Of course, when you finally get to the age where you frequent taverns yourself, they’re nowhere near as romantic or interesting as you’d imagined them to be in your youth.

But work with me here: The Corner Tavern. Has a nice ring, doesn’t it?

So this’ll be my place to kibitz and bend an occasional elbow, and maybe between innings or a during Blackhawks intermission we’ll see if we can’t figure out how to right a few wrongs or solve a few problems. Or maybe we’ll just, as Dylan Thomas once said, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Only we’ll try to do it with a little less rage and a little more humor.

Speaking of which, I suppose I should say something about the content you can expect to find here. This is mostly a political blog, with occasional doses of sports and music thrown in for good measure, and I am opinionated – but, I like to think, reasonable. I’m a liberal; I make no apologies for that. I’m a Cubs fan, not a Sox fan, for which, again, no apologies will be offered and none should be expected. And one more thing: I don’t like Led Zeppelin. Period. Beyond that, I’m more than happy to engage anybody on any topic; just don’t expect me to change my mind about those three things.

I won’t be here every day, what with my paying gig as a lawyer and all, but I’ll try to stop by as frequently as possible. Leave comments as you wish, but don’t engage in personal attacks, name-calling or bigotry. This ain’t a democracy and I ain’t an elected official. So be nice.

Anyways, as we say in Chicago, I hope to see you over by here from time to time. Stop in, have a couple, and enjoy your stay.