January –

GettyImages-855728_2640652aWelcome to the January edition of Central Standard Time.

As a child of the Sixties, socio-political awareness was a part of the era’s cultural framework. The best motives of those times are experiencing a re-birth. Through the rigors of daily life, economic survival, the ladder of success, or the “old ennui” Sinatra sang of, we start the new year with an air of activism. It fills the heart. The new generation of advocacy is broad, crossing lines of gender, age, race, faith, income…we are all in this together and it’s time to speak up.

The limit of my “front-page politics” concerns an apolitical epiphany. For decades, my disappointment with our government’s cavalier handling of money always crossed party lines. “Vote the bastards out” has been my rally cry. In general, the whole situation would be better served by some common business sense and capitalist principles. I now feel this is in error, deeply so.

The responsibility of good governance is providing for the least of our countrymen, while cultivating the best we have to offer the world. Tomorrow will surely arrive, and the enemy of that progress is poverty and illiteracy. Those poisons are as diverse as the population. Of all the resolutions made in vain at this time of year, stepping away from the computer and contributing to the betterment of our world is the greatest calling to which we can aspire. Coming editions will shine a light on new avenues of attack. The mindset remains apolitical.

This month’s offering of articles is nothing short of spectacular.

Joan Tortorici Ruppert joins the crew with a conference reflecting on the loss of so many music giants in Broken Records.

Friday the 13th would not be complete without our resident sage, Brule Eagan, and the big question: Do You Feel Lucky?

Always insightful, John Zielinski writes an excellent political essay about the big post-partum, This is Not the Piece I Had Planned to Write. Good stuff.

We begin chapter 2 of Marc Piane‘s “Outside In.” Night Hike takes us to the perfect moon.

Roxane Assaf-Lynn graciously allows us to reprint her latest article as it appears in the Huffington Post. Expose’ or Hip-Hooray is an entertaining journey, from departure to arrival.

The Grand Pubah of the dugout, Tom DeMichael, talks Chicago baseball in But, What Have You Done For Us Lately?

Our favorite blues guy, Steve Buschbacher has some questions about song lyrics in the modern age with They Don’t Write ’em Like they Used To.

And finally from the Publisher’s Desk, a conversation about self-control.

I am so happy you are here. Let’s have a morning or two of respite from the daily grind. Did I say “grind?” That must mean coffee is involved.

December –

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Welcome to the December edition. The seasonal mix of emotions are a study in extremes as we settle in for a few days off.

The normal sense of renewal that accompanies the New Year is tempered by the inexorable march of time…which waits for no one. We are a year older and a year wiser, hopefully. At least for the next few days, I will attempt to avoid political confrontations (though I erred already this morning). There will be time enough for those discussions very soon. Let’s have our holiday and think of the family and friends we hold dear.

In the mean time, here are some articles for you to read in the quiet moments:

Our thoughts dwell on the life of Charley Krebs and his untimely passing. A helluva guy in every regard. A true Chicagoan and gifted artist. His work will continue to grace these pages as often as possible.

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Foreign correspondent (Texas), Brule Eagan, flashes back on Christmas In Niles, 1963. Times were more simple.

David Edward Sims brings his unique spin to some classics of the season.

From the Peoples Republic of Philadelphia, our good friend Steve Buschbacher wishes us a Happy Holidays! and much more.

Regular contributor, John Zielinski, takes a good, long look at the election and asks the salient question, “What Now?

Resident baseball guru, Tom DeMichael, has Nothing More To Say…sure, buddy. At least for now.

With great excitement, this edition of CST brings you Chapter One of Marc Piane‘s much anticipated existential prose, Outside In. It is a singular journey of Zen and atmosphere. Perfect reading for this time of year. In addition, Marc penned an essay that gives thought to how we assess information in “Consumer Beware.”

Have the best holiday ever, my friends. Embrace the peace of the season and hope for its endurance.

November –

GettyImages-855728_2640652aWhat a time to be alive! Let’s take a moment and contemplate the sweep of history unfolding before our eyes. The crystal ball of speculation grows murky as pundits, politicians, and the general electorate contemplate a future full of promise, or the need to stock food and water.

Through the coming weeks take a break and listen to your favorite music, draw a picture, sing a song, dance, sip your best wine, and read for escape and stimulation. Central Standard Time can help with reading part. Here is our new edition and it’s all about you, the reader.

David Edward Sims graces this publication for the first time. I can only hope it is the beginning of many more articles from this exceptionally talented man. David’s beat is the creative muse in all its forms and we are treated to an introspection of the spectacular Carmen McRea and the Triumph of the Lyric. Hear his interview program every Sunday morning at DePaul Radio – radio.depaul.edu

The round-table of political opinion may end up as kindling from the heat generated by our crew. Consider these offerings:

Marc Piane delivers a pair of essays. Marc continues his “Outside In” series with a new chapter, “Time.” Never at a loss for an eye-catching title, Marc embraces the philosophy of politics in “An Attempt at Cutting Through the Bullshit”…and cut he does.

John Zielinski clears away the campaign sensationalism by examining our constitution in “Decide!” Informed observation is John’s realm and it’s never stated better than in his article.

My friend Greg King returns to the pen with his essay “Rigged!” The title goes beyond the media blather and observes some of our election history.

Steve Buschbacher gives us a definitive down-ballot look at the congressional elections and the mandate for change in “Taking Back the Senate.” Steve’s detailed research and comprehensive presentation is second to none. A must-read.

The Zenpundit, author Mark Safranski, takes us to the cradle of self-government for an illuminating look at the writings of Greek historian, Polybius, and the contrast to today’s political atmosphere. Grab a seat for “This Election and the Nature of Republics”.

Regular contributor Brule Eagan can paint a word-picture like few others. Take a stroll through South Texas during the election season with “Una Palanca.”

Had enough? I hope not.

As Game #5 of the World Series goes to the Cubs, resident baseball guru Tom DeMichael celebrates the victory and looks to an exciting week ahead in “And They’re Heading For Home!

What would this publication be without Charley Krebs and his razor-sharp illustrations? Check his page for new drawings.

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And finally, visit the Publisher’s Desk for some obtuse thoughts on Optimism and Psychohistory.

Pull up a chair and pour a cup of your favorite coffee…join us for some good conversation.

September –

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Welcome to the September pages. This month we offer a diverse set of reading material from a lively and talkative group of very clever people. We mark the Equinox with balance and prudence…nah, let’s party!

Marc Piane continues his trek through the forest of self-awareness in a new chapter of “Outside In.” Grab your backpack, turn off your mind, relax and float downstream.

We are treated to more of Steve Buschbacher and his discovery of Philadelphia. Every evidence proves the truism “you can’t take Chicago out of the boy”…or something like that. His question is “Are You Comfortable?”

The Zenpundit, Mark Safranski, offers a wonderful review of  Bob Woodward’s new book “The Last of the President’s Men.” For those of us that lived this crisis in leadership, it’s easy to see the reflection of those times in our daily life. A must-read. More coming from Mark later this month.

The “Sports Oracle”, Tom DeMichael, runs down the state of baseball in Chicago as we head into the post-season. What a year it is turning out to be. Will the Bride’s Maid finally catch the bouquet? Tom gives up the details in “Here They Come, Rounding Third Base…

Charley Krebs graces several pages this month. Look for his current work on the “Publisher’s Desk” and his own page.

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I had the extreme pleasure of visiting with Brule Eagan recently. We are truly fortunate to have his intellect in our midst. That said, his essay speaks to “Writer’s Block.” Don’t ask, just read.

In an adjustment of format, a new page is added in place of my normal blog. The “Publisher’s Desk leaves our front page free to summarize and tag the content for each writer, each month. Navigation will be a breeze and indexing will allow a larger readership. This month is an indulgence in casual conversation: Genius and the Jester, and Great Expectations.

Drop us a line on the CONTACT page and help us improve your reading experience.

Hot

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A mid-summer heatwave in my Chicago neighborhood is a unique event. It’s the hot of concrete and brick radiating thermal energy in every direction…outside, inside, through walls, drifting past my door en route the second floor; a building-sized convection oven is the only legitimate description. It’s the heat of Milwaukee Avenue’s six lanes of baked pavement, compounded by a thousand internal combustion engines. Yes, it is warm.

Many years ago I abandoned air conditioning. I cope with a mechanism involving darkness and hibernation. Simply close the blinds and draw the curtains in my tall Victorian windows in order to eliminate radiant heat. Each of my small rooms has a ceiling fan to roil the muggy air, yet there remains confusion about the optimum configuration of spin. Does drawing cool air from the floor make more sense than driving down the heat layer at the ceiling? Every once in a while I change the direction and it doesn’t seem to matter. Just keep the air moving. “Daylight is a bitch”- Count Dracula.

My morning shower is an experiment in entropy. The illusion of rinsing sweat from my body and enjoying a moment of cool arid pleasure is lost with the realization there is never truly a moment without a drip of moisture creeping down my face, in or out of the spray. The water offers only momentary temperature relief and the bath towel may as well be a plastic bag. We earthlings exist in an “ocean of air”: this is proof. I move from one state of super-saturation to the next. Sweat, water, sweat…it’s all the same mass of wet air with only an occasional change in density.

Dinner is a surreal event. My bachelor regimen stores personal-size portions of food in individual freezer bags ready for quick thaw and prep. Currently, chicken is in abundance. A plan forms for two frozen chicken breasts and a jar of Trader Joe’s Garlic Sauce in the slow-cooker. Almost zero effort and a small heat footprint is perfect for this situation. Upon removing food from the freezer, there is spontaneous temptation. I hold the frozen bags against my cheeks and then massage my temples. I find a smooth spot and gently hold the icy filets against my eyes. With chin to chest, I rub the upper Trapezius muscles of my neck, left and right, up and down, and an involuntary groan escapes my lips.

My prep area looks through an open window and there was my neighbor, having a smoke on her porch, staring. “Hi, Delores.” She extinguished the cigarette and retreated indoors without a word. Carry on.

The key is to limit exertion of any kind. I sit still and catch up on a mountain of neglected reading, make a to-do list (with no hope of completion), and drink cold lemon-water. A check of the weather forecast predicts coming relief, a summer storm, brief and spectacular, within the hour. Let’s hope the neighborhood fares well in the shower, we can both use another thorough rinse. Soon, as predicted, the ambient light dims and the clouds lower in the sky. A stillness falls and in the quiet I can hear the grind of a dozen window air conditioners mixed with the infernal screeching of the cicadas. “Stillness” in the city is a relative concept.

Suddenly, a breeze. The cool gust feels like a kiss on the back of my neck. A shiver runs through my body, travels down the spine to exit the ventilation ports on my Keds. I close my eyes an assume the posture of da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, arms spread wide, and allow the new air to circulate my being. At that moment there is a rumble of thunder. Controlling the elements like this will take practice.

  • Joe Tortorici

Coffee Notes:

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Sports – The Chicago Bulls waited far too long to rid themselves of Derrick “Albatross” Rose. As a result, they squandered the prime of Joachim Noah. I have been a fan of Noah since his NCAA dominance. He came to the Bulls under-weight and a bit scrawny. In the space of two years, he became an intimidating muscular force under the basket. We’ll miss him. Good riddance to Rose. His “thrash-to-the-basket” style never lived up to the hype. The Bulls’ front office will now get their just deserts.

RNC – Let’s count the number of times we hear the name “Ronald Reagan” during the course of the upcoming Republican convention. His term marked the first time I heard the phrase “trickle-down.” A fine example of the Reaganomics came in the form of taxing the service industry. Tips and gratuities were the backbone of working as a bartender or waitperson. Hourly rates were minimal in consideration of making decent cash during peak shifts. Ronny (and Nancy) decided this was a “hidden economy” and should be held accountable to the fed’. It would be interesting to find out how much revenue this actually generated. My guess is the amount can’t compete with corporate tax breaks.

Music – It is encouraging to feel the rise of original music throughout the city. Pay attention to these names: Dave Gordon, William Kurk, Jennifer Hall, Stephen Lynerd, Luciano Antonio, Andy Baker, Bobby Irving, Makaya McCraven, and Chris Greene. There remains a void in the area of new music for jazz vocalists. We all appreciate the classics, but there must be room for not only interpretation, but innovation. The city needs a new confluence of instruments and voice. Speaking of classics, let’s talk rock. Cover bands make money therefore bookings are robust. However, club owners owe a debt of conscience to booking original rock bands. Without moving forward, the real progress of the music industry will stagnate and eventually the audience for geezer-rock will go away. What then?

Speaking of Coffee – A wonderful book, rich in history and anecdote is “Coffee – The Epic of a Commodity” by H. E. Jacob (1998 edition). Minutia fit for conversation at the neighborhood coffee stop. It has been my experience that your local “mom-and-pop” roaster is a gold mine of discovery. Future chapters of Central Standard Time will devote much love to the subject. The “wine of Arabia” is the fuel of creativity. Pity those that don’t indulge.

 

“Someone died.”

A demonstrator protesting the shooting death of Alton Sterling is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

As a child in the Fifties, I recall news of lynching in far-away places like Mississippi and Alabama. When I asked my father what this meant, his response was simply “Someone died.” The war gave Dad an egalitarian view of humanity. Everyone’s blood is red. One of the drawbacks of growing to adulthood is a sudden awareness of life’s inequities. The racial divide becomes crystal clear and awareness is no longer an abstract intellectual concept. We now have the video to back it up. Graphic, gut-churning, images that put a cold, wet hand around your throat. Sobs and screams, imploring, and finally, the voices of shocked disbelief. Candles, flowers, balloons, teddy bears…

When I saw the images of a prone Rodney King being pummeled by batons in 1991, my first reaction was that no living thing should be beaten in such a way. It was a frenzy of policemen taking baseball swings at a prone black man who was not resisting. The four white LAPD officers who perpetrated the beating were acquitted and what followed was the infamous L.A. Riot, followed by the equally infamous orchestrated retreat by law enforcement. I was working in Hollywood at the time and gazed in wonder at the armored van barricading the entrance of the police station, while everything south of Melrose Avenue burned.

The video still haunts me. I could watch it only once. I was able to watch Laquan McDonald being used for target practice no more than once. Or an unarmed Walter Scott being shot in the back as he fled from a traffic stop. Then Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Michael Brown. A single viewing is all a sane person needs to understand that something is terribly wrong. Every visual evidence is the state of policing in America carries an imperative for victimizing people of color.

I say this with the stipulation that the number of rogue cops is actually a small percentage of the total profession. Yet those few troubled figures dictate a powerful and palpable fear throughout the community and are a disaster to civilian trust. It’s an overt, repeating pattern. Police departments across the country bear closer scrutiny as a haven for a variety of nihilistic personalities.

And now, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The nightly news puts death on an endless loop while warning us about graphic and disturbing content. It is an advertisement for the institutional murder of black men. As for the tragedy in Dallas, how can anyone be surprised? The only shock is that it didn’t take place in Chicago. There is ample reason it could have.

Chicago, October 2014 – An drug-intoxicated LaQuan McDonald was shot sixteen times by Officer Jason VanDyke. Twelve of those rounds fired after he had fallen. It was more than a year before the dash-cam video was released showing evidence contradictory to the police account. Further discovery revealed Mayor Rahm Emanuel was up to his eye sockets in a cover-up and five million-dollar pay-off to the McDonald family. Jason VanDyke was indicted for murder and faces a sentence of 20 years to life imprisonment. The case marks the first time a Chicago police officer has been charged with first-degree murder for an on-duty fatality in nearly 35 years. At least 20 citizen complaints had been filed against Officer Van Dyke since 2001, but none resulted in disciplinary action.

Chicago, December 2015 – Quintonio LeGrier was shot six times by police in a fusillade of bullets that also left a neighbor, Bettie Jones, fatally wounded. While LeGrier’s father claimed he was being threatened by his son, 911 calls reveal that it was actually the son who called police first. An official Medical Examiner’s report suggests the shots were fired in the hallway. The physical evidence suggests the shots were fired from the curb. Officer Robert Rialmo is now suing the LeGrier estate for ten million dollars citing “extreme emotional trauma” for having to take the life of their son.

Chicago, June 2016 – A video surfaces of suspect Shaquile O’Neal (no, not that one) being head-kicked unconscious while on the ground, handcuffed. The Fraternal Order of Police (CPD’s union) said it disagrees with the decision to strip police powers from the offender before IPRA (Independent Police Review Authority) has completed its investigation into the incident.

“It’s just another disappointing display of, what we consider to be a consistent, anti-police (attitude). The police are just wondering what it takes to get considered as a viable part of society.” – Fraternal Order of Police

Perhaps we should wait for a determination as to whether the cop’s shoe was hard-sole leather or rubber-soled sneaker. Police unions are some of the most robust labor advocacies in the country. In numbers, there is strength…and political clout. An illuminating article by Flint Taylor delves into the dark world of police unions.

…”they mirror and reinforce the most racist, brutal and reactionary elements within the departments they claim to represent and actively encourage the code of silence within those departments.”

http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/17520/police_unions_racist

These cases are just some representative highlights. Cash settlements for the remediation of complaints with the CPD total over half a billion dollars. That figure easily represents the salvation of our bankrupt and troubled school system.

The police are rarely prosecuted successfully. There is no courtroom miracle or lawsuit solution, no matter how clever the litigator, that is going to discipline the police. Nor are military accoutrements the base cause of trouble. They just look thuggish and reveal a fearful over-reaction by the police, an after-effect. The real action takes place on the streets with the most common enforcement actions, the point where things go all wrong. Moreover, how does a policeman NOT understand that someone is going to document his actions, even after he sabotages the dash-cam and body-cam? A more frightening scenario is that the policeman DOES know he is being monitored, and doesn’t care.

The real tragedy of the Dallas shootings is the progressive improvements made department-wide by police Chief David Brown. In 2012, the department committed itself to transparency. It developed a policy that emphasized de-escalation. Police officers in Dallas are subject to lethal force training every two months instead of every two years. Chief Brown released an enormous amount of police data publishing statistics including 12 years’ worth of data on police shootings on an official online repository. The number of body cameras used by officers increased. Poor performing police officers were fired.

In Chicago we are saddled with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose machinations regarding revenue are the stuff of legend (and fodder for a future article). Former Superintendent Garry McCarthy gave a glimmer of hope for elevating the department’s operations. Instead, he was scapegoated for the results of a disastrous economic policy that victimized and impoverished entire sections of the city.

The first step in changing the actions of our police is to get rid of the fantasy, once and for all, that the law is on our side. The law is firmly on the side of police, even those who open fire on unarmed civilians.

The use of deadly force is governed by the Tennessee v. Garner ruling in 1985 in which the U.S. Supreme Court said that “deadly force…may not be used unless necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious bodily harm to the officer or others.” The court later expanded its definition to include an “objective reasonableness” standard. Use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer at the scene and its calculus must embody the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation. Simply stated, the policeman on the scene gets to make a judgement call regarding deadly force.

Next, break the intransigent stranglehold of the police union, the Fraternal Order of Police.

When policemen understand the consequences of their actions and have clear limits defined by state law, when indictments and sentences are handed down to rogue cops based upon those well-defined limits, when there is a provincial political motivation, this will change. Ultimately, the institutes of law enforcement will conform to the parameters they are given for, at least, their personal interests. As a community, we hope for more, but that would be an effective start.

“This is potentially a state authorized killing. It gives law enforcement officers the authority and mandates them to kill when in defense of themselves or others.” – District Attorney Hillar Moore (regarding Alton Sterling)

Finally, policing is the province of state governments. Being proactive, we can make a difference. The viable remedies are as fundamental as a gubernatorial election, a mayoral election, the appointment of a police and fire commission, a board of review, your state senators, representatives, judges and magistrates. We are too frequently caught in the maelstrom of presidential politics and take a laissez faire attitude about election issues in our immediate surroundings. Attend your local city council meeting, ask questions and demand answers. Be informed and vote.

Across the country, 116 black people were killed by law enforcement officers in the first six months of 2016. How do we ignore the ProPublica investigation that found that young black men are shot dead by police at 21 times the rate of young white men?

We sit atop a powder-keg and the sparks move closer.

  • Joe Tortorici