What’s in a Naming Right?

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Chicagoans have been up in arms about the announcement that the 86-year-old Museum of Science and Industry will henceforth be called the Kenneth C. Griffin Museum of Science and Industry. Billionaire Ken Griffin secured that feather for his already plumage-filled cap by donating $125 million to the institution.

I have to admit that my first reaction was to be appalled and to comment, “What an egomaniac!” about Griffin. The founder of hedge fund Citadel already has his name on numerous professorships and other endowments that he has made to various institutions across Chicagoland. Does he really need to see his name plastered on one of Chicago’s venerable cultural landmarks?

But who am I kidding? Naming rights often, if not always, go to their most generous donors.

People get upset about name changes such as the Sears Tower to the Willis Tower or the John Hancock Center to simply 875 North Michigan Avenue. But Sears and John Hancock were both corporate sponsors themselves. Once ownership of the building changed, so did the name. Even our beloved Wrigley Field was named for the chewing gum magnate.

I think it’s just a sense of comfort and nostalgia that makes people unhappy with the name change of a famous landmark. Here in Chicago, I thought there would be riots when Macy’s bought Marshall Field’s and had the audacity to change its branding. But in time people get used to the changes. As Chicago Tribune columnist Christoper Borelli pointed out in a recent op ed piece, our grandchildren will probably think nothing of the new name for the Museum of Science and Industry. (“It could be worse — The Yeezy-Kardashian Museum of Science and Industry,” Chicago Tribune, Oct. 4, 2019) They’ll most likely start calling it “the Griffin” or even “the Griff,” Borelli suggests.

So I won’t begrudge Ken Griffin his monument to himself. I just hope some rich donor doesn’t help remodel a famous church and rename it the Donald J. Trump Holy Name Cathedral!

 

 

 

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Generation Gap

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WoodstockThe other day my teenage daughter sat at the kitchen table and started reading off a list of 100 famous movie lines: everything from “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” to “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” A few were vaguely familiar to her. But for the most part, she had no idea where most of the lines came from or what they meant.

“How is ‘Rosebud’ such a famous line?” she demanded. She also wanted to know why Humphrey Bogart was the speaker of so many famous movie quips. As she went down the list, occasionally she asked me to replicate the intonation of the line as it was spoken in the movie. But it’s hard to convey, say, the hair-raising quality of the little girl in Poltergeist when she turns away from the television and says, “They’re h-e-e-e-re.”

My husband and I realized right then that we had failed to indoctrinate our children in the all-important canon of memorable films. Indeed, in so many areas – music, theater, television, history – there’s a generation gap between our own experiences and knowledge and that of our kids.

Much was made of the so-called generation gap during the 1960s. After the hardships and deprivations of two major world wars, members of the “Greatest Generation” were cautious, conventional, and level-headed. They enjoyed the economic well-being of the Fifties and saw it as a result of hard work and sacrifice. Self-expression was not valued as much as order and peace.

The Baby Boomers, children and grandchildren of the Greatest Generation, were born into relative peace and prosperity. As they grew up, they chafed at the older generation’s insistence on conformity and favored freedom and experimentation. Hence, the social unrest, drug use, and wildness of the hippie generation.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, the famed three-day music festival in the farmland of upstate New York. There have been all kinds of retrospectives on Woodstock and what it represented to the people who were there. Interestingly, my daughter has been captivated by Woodstock and has spent hours with my husband watching a PBS documentary on the subject. She even had a conversation with a family friend who was at Woodstock, and I’m sure in her mind she was comparing his experience with her own immersion in Lollapalooza a couple of weeks ago.

The friend explained that he and many of his friends had planned to meet at the festival, but that, in the days before cell phones, there was really no way to connect with them once he’d arrived at Woodstock. There were hundreds of thousands of people amassed on the Yasgurs’ farm. Security consisted of volunteers with no weapons at all simply trying to convince the crowds to be cool. When food ran out, people from nearby farms contributed produce, and festival-goers themselves prepared and served the masses.

Although it’s definitely not my cup of tea to attend a huge music festival, there was something magical about the way Woodstock unfolded. Many of the greatest musicians of all time performed there. The PBS documentary showed footage of Jimi Hendrix rocking “The Star-Spangled Banner” on his guitar. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young performed live for only their second time on the Woodstock stage. It was music history in the making.

It’s hard to describe to young people what it was like growing up in a different era. Mine was one less saturated with media and technology. My kids can scarcely believe that my husband and I would be out and about on our bikes all day long without any contact with our parents. Now if they don’t pick up their cell phone on the second ring, I immediately go to DEFCON 1!

I think it’s great that my 18-year-old daughter has become interested in the past, especially the recent past as experienced by her own parents. After all, we are not only creatures of the present but of the accumulated past, the men and women and events that came before us. And learning about that past is one way to bridge the inevitable gap that each generation experiences with the one before.

America’s Forgotten War

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The front page of this morning’s Chicago Tribune reported the death of U.S. Army paratrooper Michael Isaiah Nance of Chicago. He was killed in combat in Afghanistan, a country whose war the United States has been active in for the past 18 years. (“‘The worst day in our family’s history’,” Chicago Tribune, August 1, 2019)

Americans have all but forgotten that our soldiers are fighting and dying in this protracted war on the other side of the world. A recent deployment of National Guardsmen to Afghanistan has reminded us. So, too, have the deaths of our young soldiers. More than 2,000 service members have died in Afghanistan since 2001. It’s time to rethink our involvement there.

When President George W. Bush ordered troops into Afghanistan on the heels of the 9/11 attacks, there was near unanimous support for military action against the heinous group of al Qaeda members hiding out in the mountains there. Justice for the lives of those lost in the cowardly attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania demanded it. And while al Qaeda still poses a terrorist threat, it has greatly diminished over the past couple of decades. Many of the masterminds of the 9/11 attack, including Osama bin Laden himself, have been captured or killed.

Afghanistan, unfortunately, is still a dangerous and unstable place. But history should teach us that it is also an unconquerable place. Just ask the former Soviet Union, whose bloody war there in the 1980s cost them 15,000 lives and caused massive displacement of the Afghani people. Ironically, the Muslim insurgents who bedeviled the USSR for nine years were supported militarily by the United States. Now we are engaged in a war against Muslim insurgents ourselves.

No matter the direction of U.S. policy, however, let us never forget the human cost of sending our loved ones into harm’s way. Twenty-four-year-old Isaiah Nance had wanted to join the Army for years before his mother finally relented and let him sign up. He was deployed to Afghanistan only a couple of weeks before being shot to death, possibly by an Afghan soldier. (Tribune, Aug. 1, 2019) Also killed was a 20-year-old Ohio soldier named Brandon Jay Kreischer. As Nance’s uncle put it, “It was the worst day in our family’s history.”

May their sacrifice be remembered and appreciated, and may their loved ones take comfort in the knowledge that they died for something they believed in.

 

 

Man on the Moon and Other Milestones

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In a person’s life, there are many memorable events: births, deaths, marriages, rites of passage, and historical events. One such event from my childhood was the sight of Neil Armstrong stepping out of a space module and landing on the moon with the famous words, “One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”

It was July 20, 1969. My family was visiting my father’s brother and his brood of nine kids. We were clustered around a small television set in the living room, and although the summer day beckoned, we were riveted to our seats. Space travel was a feature of my early years. Ever since the USSR had beaten the US into space with Sputnik, we were in a Cold War competition to travel farther and dare more than our Communist foes.

Seeing footage of the moon landing, the flag planting, the gravity-defying leaps of the astronauts, the deep craters that from Earth looked like holes in Swiss cheese: it was awe-inspiring.

Other things about that summer of ’69 stand out for me. The Chicago Cubs were in a rare race for the National League pennant. In those days, you could go to the airport and watch planes land and take off just for fun – no boarding pass required. My dad used to take us on occasional Sunday afternoons to greet our heroic Cubs on their return from an away series. We got to see the greats up close: Ron Santo, Fergie Jenkins, Billy Williams, and, of course, Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks. On these trips my dad, still dressed in his Sunday suit and tie, was sometimes mistaken for a Cubs manager and once even asked for an autograph.

That magical season ended in a defeat at the hands of the New York Mets, a team I detest to this day for “stealing” the pennant from my beloved Cubbies. Still, I cherished the baseball cards I’d collected and reiterated in my head the lifelong Cubs mantra, “Wait ’til next year!”

We all have unique milestones in our lives such as those I recall from 1969. There was the Blizzard of ’67, for instance, when record snowfall paralyzed the city of Chicago. There were the riots in ’68 that occurred at the Democratic National Convention being held in Chicago. Later in my life I witnessed a rare sighting of Halley’s Comet, saw the Berlin Wall get torn down, and lived through the Y2K scare of the new millennium. Most of us alive today got to see the first black president of the United States, Barack Obama. And, of course, my consolation prize for the disaster of the 2016 election was the Cubs’ winning the World Series – after a 108 year drought!

The 50th anniversary of the moon landing has created a renewed interest in space travel. There is even an entire line of gear with the old NASA logo to purchase. Still, there’s nothing like being able to say, “I was there.” I hope the newest generations of Americans get to witness some spectacular and inspiring events in their lifetimes.

FOMO Foments Prejudice

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Social Media GraphicsMy kids use a lot of texting abbreviations that it has taken me a while to figure out. One of them is FOMO: fear of missing out. In the social life of young people, fear of missing out is what keeps them tied to their smartphones, scrolling through Instagram to see what their peers are doing at any given moment.

But FOMO is also a dangerous human tendency. In times of economic insecurity, people worry that they won’t get their share of resources. Often they project their lack on others they perceive as taking what is rightfully theirs.

Donald Trump has exploited this insecurity by pitting Americans against Hispanic immigrants coming across the border “to get our jobs.” He has increasingly favored protectionist trade policies because he perceives other countries – particularly Mexico, Canada, and China – as having taken unfair advantage of America. And these policies have effects. Yesterday the Dow plummeted in the face of China’s retaliatory trade tariffs.

Throughout the history of the United States, particular racial, ethnic, or religious groups were used as scapegoats for citizens’ insecurities and fears about not having enough. Many of us have ancestors of Italian, Irish, German, or Polish descent who recounted stories of discrimination and hatred when they began arriving on the shores of America. Japanese and Chinese immigrants faced even worse persecution, as did blacks whose ancestors were slaves and those who immigrated more recently from the African continent and the Caribbean.

Sadly, the human condition has not changed much over the centuries. Nowadays, people of Middle Eastern descent, especially Muslims, are targets of hatred and fear for many Americans. Jews are still being targeted for hate crimes and stereotyped as money hungry connivers who are trying to take over all aspects of American commerce. Even “model minorities” from East Asia, such as Koreans, Chinese, and Indians, are being met more and more with resistance on the part of Americans who feel they are making too many inroads into our prosperous society.

A case in point is the story of a bus company in Champaign, Illinois, called Suburban Express. Suburban Express conveyed students to and from the University of Illinois campus for years. However, in recent years, the company came under fire for discriminatory advertising and business practices. For instance, the company sent out an email ad that promised, “Passengers like you. You won’t feel like you’re in China when you’re on our buses.” Furthermore, according to the Champaign News Gazette,

Suburban Express allegedly denied credit cards from ZIP codes with high Jewish populations, instructed employees to avoid handing out coupons to certain students who appeared not to speak English well and recorded a YouTube video in a UI dorm while complaining about the lack of English speakers and mocking Asian accents by saying “No Engrish.” (“Suburban Express Shuts Down,” News Gazette, May 7, 2019)

Suburban Express ceased operations after it was sued by the Illinois Attorney General, and a consent decree cost the company $100,000. The unrepentant owner declared he was shutting down because running the business wasn’t fun any more. I guess it’s no fun if you can’t publicly mock minorities.

As the mother of a Chinese American daughter, this attitude sickens me. Even before the blatantly racist actions of the bus company came to light, I would sometimes hear complaints from friends and acquaintances about the large numbers of Chinese nationals attending the University of Illinois. They seemed to feel that the Chinese students were making it harder for their own children to gain access to the state’s premier public university.

I don’t think it’s racist to argue about how many out of state students should be allowed to attend a university partly subsidized by the taxpayers of that state. In fact, about a decade ago, Illinois residents decried a dramatic increase in out of state acceptances, and the university backed down, keeping the numbers of Illinois residents attending U of I at a large majority.

However, I can’t help feeling that this animosity toward Asian-born students in particular is tinged with racism. I doubt there would be much hue and cry if German or Swedish nationals started descending on the Illinois university system in large numbers. Because Asians are so readily identifiable and less likely to speak mellifluous English, they are unfairly singled out for scorn and discrimination.

Our society is stronger when we welcome and accept people of all different persuasions. Instead of looking for scapegoats for our societal ills, we should be addressing issues such as underemployment and unequal education head on. Let’s not use our FOMO as an excuse to deny the humanity and dignity of others.

Notre Dame, Notre Coeur, Notre Ame

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556629-istock-852755038_primaryThe sight of the venerable Parisian cathedral Notre Dame on fire filled onlookers around the world with horror and sorrow. Unlike most of the disasters that make news worldwide, this one thankfully involved no loss of life. And yet the dismay so many of us felt on Monday as centuries-old treasures of art, architecture, and religion threatened to go up in flames was only too real.

Across the Seine, the crowd broke into spontaneous prayer and hymns as they watched smoke billow up from the spire of the medieval cathedral. To imagine a Paris without the iconic edifice complete with gargoyles and flying buttresses was, well, unthinkable. Notre Dame is one of the most visited landmarks in the world. Hundreds of people have been posting photos and memories of their own visits to Notre Dame since its very existence became imperiled Monday. The wealth of art and the breathtaking feat of engineering that has held up the 12th Century structure for so long are irresistible for art lovers, historians, and even casual tourists.

But Notre Dame is first and foremost a monument to the Catholic faith and the devotion of its followers who risked life and limb to build such a beautiful and imposing structure.  Catholics hold a special place in our hearts for Mary, “Our Lady.” No doubt many Catholics fervently begged Our Lady to intercede with Christ to save her namesake church.

I have nothing but admiration for the tireless efforts of firefighters to contain the blaze and limit the damage to Notre Dame. Much in the same way as the builders of Notre Dame in the Middle Ages, these courageous Parisians risked their lives to save a building. Luckily only one firefighter was injured while working to put out the flames. Still, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of divine intervention in saving the venerable cathedral.

The fire at Notre Dame has brought public awareness to three other fires that occurred in the past two weeks at historically black churches in Louisiana. The fires were no accidents, however. They were incidents of arson, and a white man has been charged with hate crimes in connection with the destruction of the three historic places of worship. A Go Fund Me campaign has since raised $1 million for reconstruction.

All of this has occurred in the midst of the Lenten season and Holy Week, the preparatory 6 days before Easter, the Christian celebration of resurrection and new life. In the past few weeks the flames of hatred and destruction have raged. On Saturday night, the flame of the Easter Candle will be lit at churches all around the world to symbolize the return of the Light of the World, Jesus Christ.

The response to the fires in Louisiana and Paris, whether religious or secular, has shown that the human spirit will always rise up to champion goodness, beauty, and hope. A fitting message for the Easter season and the arrival (finally!) of spring.

 

The Partisan Divide

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At another time in history, I think it’s safe to say most Americans would have reacted with horror to a black celebrity reporting that he had been the victim of a hate crime, one in which he was beaten, taunted, and had a noose put around his neck. I think it’s also safe to say most Americans would then have been outraged to discover that the celebrity had faked the incident to help his stature in Hollywood. At another time in history, all Americans would have been horrified to discover that a member of the U.S. Coast Guard had been planning to massacre scores of civilians.

In both of these recent instances, partisanship took the place of common sense and a common humanity. On the one hand, liberals were all too ready to pounce upon the strange tale told by Jussie Smollett, a cast member on the TV series Empire. Incensed by a rise in hate crimes that is only too real, they assumed that this was another case of Trump supporters run amok. In the case of Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Paul Hasson, President Trump and his fellow conservatives have been strangely loath to condemn this instance of domestic terrorism. Why? The supposed targets of Hasson’s rage were Democrats and members of the media.

It has come to a pretty pass when everything that happens in our country falls on one side or other of the giant partisan divide that makes Trump’s proposed “big, beautiful wall” on the Texas/Mexico border look like a puny Lego structure. Mind you, this partisanship has been around for a long time. Republicans resisted when the Nixon Administration was investigated and ultimately disgraced by the Watergate scandal. Similarly, Democrats bristled at the charges against Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

But our knee jerk reactions just seem to be worse these days. Maybe it’s the influence of social media and the widespread dissemination of stories online that is responsible for cycles of outrage and partisanship. It takes just a few clicks on a keyboard for any average Joe to become an instant pundit on Facebook or Twitter. Twitter in particular is like a loose handgun sitting around waiting for someone with a hair trigger temper to pick it up and start shooting.

What is it going to take to bring our country together? I pray that it won’t be something devastating like the 9/11 attacks. In the wake of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil in our history, we were mostly just Americans, not Democrats or Republicans. Sure, there were disagreements about the incursion into Iraq that grew out of that terrorist attack. But overall, Americans of both parties came together to protect our country against further attacks.

The actions of Jussie Smollett and Lt. Hasson are alleged. Both have been charged with crimes, but in our justice system they are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law. That does not stop anyone from speculating, pontificating, or generally being a know-it-all about their motives, character, and guilt.

It would behoove all of us to get off our high horses and take the time to listen, learn and try to appreciate the nuances of an issue, to pause and get all the facts before jumping to conclusions. Yes, it’s important to speak out against injustice. But we need to view ourselves as human beings first, Americans second, and partisans dead last. Otherwise our fractured country will continue to break apart in a massive case of partisan continental drift.