Monday, May 22, 2017

Through a Seventh Freshman's Eyes

It's that time of year again. This year's high school senior crop (and assumed college freshmen) were born between Fall 1998 and Summer 1999, mere babes during Y2K hysteria and the other goings-on at the turn of the century. With each passing year, their perspective compared to previous generations looks a little more skewed, and things they take for granted might have been something we weren't aware about when we were their age.  Once again, with all due apologies to Beloit College, I present my annual homemade "Memory List":

If you're a graduating senior...

...impeaching the President of the United States has always been a possibility.
...the threat of a school shooting has always been very, very real.
...Slobodan Milosevic has never President of Serbia.
...Europe has always had (or attempted to have) a unifying currency.
...India and Pakistan have always had nuclear powers.
...baseball has always been tainted by steroids and PEDs.
...the Latino population in the U.S. has always increased by about one million people.
...the Dow Jones Industrial Average has almost always been above 10,000.
...there have always been anti-vaxxers.
...you vaguely remember your parents winning an eBay auction on a grape-colored iMac.
...Bluetooth, Blackberry, and instant/no-tray ice have always been a thing.
...Michael J. Fox has always been open and forthcoming about his battle with Parkinson's Disease.
...there have always been mediocre "Star Wars" prequels.
..."The Sopranos" and "Sex & The City" have always been part of the pop culture conversation, and there's always been more to HBO than just movies and sex documentaries.
...Regis Philbin was a game show host first, and a daytime talk show host second.
...Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel have always been on TV in some capacity.
...Mike Scioscia has always been manager of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California, United States, Earth.
...Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter have always played in the NBA.
...Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Marian Hossa have always played in the NHL.
...Michael Jordan never played for the Chicago Bulls, Wayne Gretzky has never laced a set of skates, and John Elway has always been a football executive.
...the Nashville Predators have always been in existence, and the Cleveland Browns have never taken a year off from football.
...Susan Lucci's name has always been preceded by the phrase "Emmy winner."
...Bill Murray has never hosted SNL.
...they have never stayed up to watch Tom Snyder.
...you think "Melrose Place" is a Chicago suburb. (You're thinking of Melrose Park.)
..."Spongebob Squarepants" and "Family Guy" have always been on TV.
...the original host of The Daily Show was Jon Stewart.
...Gene Siskel, Stanley Kubrick, Matthew Shepard, Joe DiMaggio, Dan Quisenberry, George Wallace, John Ehrlichman, Doak Walker, Gene Autry, Hal Newhouser, Weeb Eubank, Roddy McDowall, Alan J. Pakula, Flip Wilson, Esther Rolle, Norman Fell, Flo-Jo, the one guy from Milli Vanilli, Dusty Springfield, Dana Plato, Rick Rude, Owen Hart, Shel Silverstein, DeForest Kelly, and John F. Kennedy Jr. have always been dead.

In case you missed it, here's last year's list. Again, my apologies if I made you feel old.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Last Days (Which Probably Aren't the Last Days)

This might be my last blog post with Donald Trump as President of the United States. Chances are, its not. Regardless, the fallout from Trump's dismissal of FBI Director James Comey last week has been both dizzying and winsome. The revelation of Trump blurting out classified information to Russian officials, while not technically illegal, was certainly annoying to DC insiders but alienating to several key American allies. The narrative is less about cohesion with Russia the possibility of corruption and more about incompetence and ego. And yet, somehow Trump might still persevere.

Sadly, it doesn't surprise me that most Trump supporters aren't feeling too much buyer's remorse. The vicious cycle of conservative blogs, each regurgitating the same shallow bullet points while creating half-truths and exaggerations about their liberal opponents, are manna for angry fools. Let them blame the mainstream media for doing their job, or cast off late night comedians for their right to satirize and skew public figures. A former president attempted to censor the media via executive order, and it blew up in his face. (I'm aware that President Trump doesn't know his history, but the point stands.) The "bubble" or beehive mentality that might have cost Sec. Clinton the election works both ways. The sad thing, even if Trump goes his ardent supporters will not give it a rest, doubling down on the internet-born, nonsense conspiracy theories that attempted to hound --and still try to vex-- Presidents Clinton and Obama. Right-wing outsiders have cherry-picked Trump as their man, and they're backing him to the bitter end.

Regardless, the rural whites that saw Trump as a shining white knight 6 1/2 months ago must be seeing some sort of rust in the armor now. This was a man who both took advantage and navigated through a weak but excessively large crop of candidates for his party's nomination. He constructed his agenda in saying the things that other Republicans allegedly think but won't say out loud --more conspiracy theory-- and in the process dragged the GOP into the mud. Despite what some liberal bloggers have implied, the Republican Party is not built on racism and isolationism, but he dragged those two ugly ideas into the voting booths. His four months in office have matched his bluster, defined by a litany of executive orders in the early going, but only getting one bill (AHCA) passed through Congress. In blogs past, I letter-graded the Bush 43 and Obama administrations; in the very hypothetical situation that Trump leaves office before 2021 (or June), I don't know if I would give him a grade higher than D-.

Nearly four months in, the Trump administration's greatest achievement its the most scandal-plagued since Bill Clinton's, and at this rate it will eclipse Whitewater, Paula Jones, and whatever else our 42nd president deflected two decades ago. The people that feared and loathed "Crooked Hillary" are stuck with "Bungling Donald." It would make sense for President Trump to resign, but his pride and various past indicators suggest it won't happen. No elected Republican in either house will be breaking rank with Trump or their party anytime soon. The possibility of up to 11 1/2 years with a President Mike Pence (not a typo) may not seem palatable to many, but at least we can all concur that he would be a far more competent and even-keeled presence in the Oval Office. At the moment, for many Americans its just a pipe dream.

Next Week: my annual high school graduate "memory list."

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Random Notes, May 2017

April showers bring... May showers, I guess.

+ While some people have a right to be concerned about what AHCA entails, a fair number of people are also overreacting. It may have eked itself out of the House of Representatives, but the U.S. Senate is not nearly as favorable to President Trump, nor contains a clear Republican majority. That whole blasted mess could be totally rewritten. I guess House Republicans had a right to celebrate, if only because they had failed so many times before, but that adrenaline shot of victory will likely be short-lived.

+ Speaking of Republicans, it would be lovely if one of them broke rank and admonished the Trump administration for the firing of FBI director James Comey (not to mention the White House's pitiful reaction to the sacking). Its not going to happen soon, but someone is bound to break through. Though we still don't know in what way, shape of form the Russian government communicated with the Trump presidential campaign last year, Comey's dismissal still feels rather fishy. The last time a president fired a prosecutor who was investigating the administration was Archibald Cox in 1973... and we all know how that went.

+ Family Update: after nearly a month, my mother finally transitioned from the intensive care unit of Rush Medical Center and into a rehab facility. The insurance covers up to 20 days, and as of this writing she's making some progress but battling uphill against muscle atrophy. I'll keep you all posted.

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Friday, April 28, 2017

Boom Boom Ticker

When it comes to health issues, my mother has never taken the simple route. When Rush Medical Center in downtown Chicago called my sister and I to inform us that my mother was ready to check out, we were a little confused. Her condition was stable, but we concurred that she needed a few more days to convalesce and be observed. It was a Saturday afternoon, so traffic from the west suburbs wasn't horrible; my mother was relatively quiet for most of the ride. When we came home, however she immediately complained of abdominal pain and dizziness. When Carafate and a glass of 2% milk didn't do the trick, my sister called 911. She was rushed to the local hospital, and within hours landed right back in the Rush ICU.

As I write this my mother has been in the hospital for 22 days, including her 2 1/2 "layover" at home. She ended up having another heart surgery two days after she was readmitted, and a minor procedure to adjust the brain stent two days after that. After that last procedure, she made it adamantly clear that she wanted no more surgery, even though she wasn't out of the woods just yet. Her doctors believe that one of her aorta stents is leaking and needs an adjustment, and everyone (including myself) believes one more procedure would be necessary. My mother, stubborn to a fault, is reluctant to weigh the option.

So what happens now? On Saturday morning, my sister and I will meet with my mother's team to discuss how to move forward. If my mother continues to refuse, she has about a year to reconsider; otherwise, the aorta leak could potentially kill her. Please stay tuned, and keep my family in your thoughts.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Not as Late, But Still Lamented


Today, David Letterman turned 70. (I know, I know, *only* 70.) This milestone would probably not elicit much merit if not for two things: an extensive, newly released biography written by NYT comedy critic Jason Zinoman, as well as Dave's typically self-deprecating induction of Pearl Jam into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame. The former has been years in the making, the latter happened on 48 hours' notice after Neil Young backed out. Both have vaulted the erstwhile late night funnyman back into the spotlight, albeit with some reluctance.
The first time I was ever allowed to stay up to watch a late night talk show was Dave's first CBS show in August 1993. I had just turned nine, and I only knew of Johnny Carson et al. by reputation at the time. Even at the formative age, I found his sardonic wit and no-guff approach refreshing. My father, however insisted on watching Jay Leno most nights; I had my first taste of Leno's Tonight Show a night or two later, and was thoroughly underwhelmed. Once I had my own TV, I didn't hit the hay until after I watched Dave.
If you want a better understanding of how Dave was the late night sui generis, I highly recommend visiting Don Giller's YouTube page. Where Carson and his predecessors hosted a talk show that happened to air after the late news, Letterman reinvented the whole sub-genre of late night comedy. These clips, mostly from the "Late Night" years (1982-1993) are not just of historical value but are still fairly entertaining.
Also, if you want to read my tribute to Dave from three years ago, you can click here.
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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Double Whammy

Two weeks ago, my grandmother died at age 93. I've discussed her in passing, probably because the grandma I knew growing up wasn't the same woman she had been since 2000 or 2001. She battled depression for a fair amount of her adult life, and that segued into dementia in her later years; I watched firsthand her gradual decline from forgetfulness to erratic behavior to childlike daffiness to ambivalent confusion. It would be harsh to say that the time and effort it took to care for her was a burden; in a lot of ways, it was a tag-team obstacle course with a sometimes cooperative opponent. My mother was convinced that in spite of her mental condition Grandma would live to be 100; even before she started having colon and respiratory issues in mid-February, I was skeptical.

On that note, earlier this week my mother had brain surgery. Two days later, the previous procedure apparently ruptured her aortic aneurysm, which forced a second surgery. The procedures were performed at Rush Medical Center downtown; both the neurosurgeon and cardiologist were experts in their particular fields, performing meticulous acts of surgical derring-do that would have been unheard of 25 years ago. Other preexisting medical conditions have turned a two-night visit into a one-week-plus stint in the ICU, but she should be moving into a regular room sooner than later. I'll keep you all posted.

With my grandmother no longer distracting us, and my mother temporarily out of the picture, my sister finally started cleaning out my father's belongings. I frequently referred to him, both alive and dead, as a pack rat. Upon spending an hour in our basement rummaging through his old vacation tote bag and some plastic tubs, it was evident that he was a borderline hoarder. The bright green tote bag revealed years of old ketchup packets, soap bars, and fast food napkins; a fair percentage of the contents included faded receipts from long-ago restaurant visits and more than a few airline tags and tickets. Thank goodness nothing had leaked, since I assumed my mother might want to reuse this cherished luggage.

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