Judith's Java
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Apr 17, 2014 -- 10:12pm

Last Sunday my husband and I enjoyed brunch at Wishbone, one of our favorite Chicago restaurants. Brunch was delicious, but something happened afterwards that reminded us that the 21st Century is no place for sissies.

A car with flashers blinking blocked our parked car. We thought once they saw us getting into our car they'd back up. But they didn’t, and there was no way to get around them. So my husband tapped his horn.

That infuriated the other driver. He leaned out and shouted, “What the f-ck is your hurry? Can’t you see I’m waiting for him (the car in front of us) to leave?” It hadn’t occurred to him that backing up his car was not only the courteous thing to do, it would give him a choice of 2 parking spaces.

We didn’t stay around to answer him. So the incident was merely unpleasant, rather than the spark that lit World War III; another yucky reminder of the lack of courtesy in our society.

We've become so stressed and so pressed for time that we come out swinging rather than talking. Few people say please or thank you anymore. Fewer people smile, and fewer people still say hello or good morning. Too many interactions result in conflict.

Some conflicts must be faced and fought. But asking someone to move or thanking someone for opening a door shouldn’t be the cause for a battle-royal.

Lack of courtesy puts each of us out of sorts. Every day becomes a series of minor skirmishes. All the gruffness makes everyone feel weighed down or downright depressed.

And discourtesy often is the fuse that ignites dynamite. What if my husband had shouted back? What if both of them got out of the car and one of them had a knife or concealed gun? What if bystanders got involved? What if ethnic slurs followed?

…And then there was one. Like guns, discourtesy can kill.

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Apr 11, 2014 -- 2:35am

On June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan implored U.S.S.R.’s Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.” President Reagan referred to the Berlin Wall which bisected Berlin, and kept East Berliners from escaping to the west. That wall symbolized raw power and made a mockery of human rights.

In 1989 that wall was torn down by jubilant East and West Berliners. Only a remnant of it remains a tourist attraction at the Newseum in Washington D.C.

On April 7th. Reverend Dr. Michael L. Pfleger, Senior Pastor of the Faith Community of St. Sabina, Chicago, also said “tear down this wall.”[1] But Father Pfleger wasn’t referring to a physical border. Rather, he lamented the “disconnect” plaguing our communities.

What caused this “disconnect?” Fr. Pfleger noted that our education system is “broke.” Rich suburban schools flourish; poor city schools languish. Too often, poorer students graduate barely able to read, unable to compete with their richer suburban cousins—not to mention the better educated Chinese and Indians.

Unregistered guns kill children, and adults don’t take responsibility for their guns, according to Fr. Pfleger. The NRA lobby prevents sane legislation. The image of baby Jonylah Watkins flashed through my mind. We need Marshal Dillon now.

Father Pfleger also noted that we’re so busy with our I-Phones and I-Pads that we’ve forgotten how to talk to each other. He added that we call 311 rather than personally check in with our neighbors.

But Fr. Pfleger concluded that we can bridge this disconnect by building bridges with those things we all have in common: Love, respect, beauty, art and fairness.

It’s time to build bridges before it’s too late. Fr. Pfleger’s quote of Dr. Martin Luther King applies: “We must live life brothers or die like fools.”

[1] Father Pfleger spoke at Ezra Habonim Niles Township Jewish Congregation, Skokie.

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Apr 03, 2014 -- 11:13pm

It’s the type of week all bloggers dread. Nothing’s occurred that’s blog worthy. No local scandals requiring “black and white and read all over” treatment; Mayor Emanuel’s pension plans haven’t developed enough for comment; and the Chicago Board of Education and Chicago Teacher’s Union are just starting to square off. So my java and I decided to blog about a small matter: a seed that, with a little bit of good luck, will blossom into a very wonderful and great tree.

The seed was planted during lunch at the Blind Faith café, a delightful vegetarian restaurant in Evanston. A rabbi, an African-American executive, an African-American editor, and yours truly (sorry, no punch line to follow) discussed ways relations between the African-American and Jewish communities could be improved.

After introductions and a fast recap of how to order at a veggie restaurant (three of the four were meat eaters), the food arrived. The rabbi blessed the food in Hebrew and English, and the discussion began.

At first there was some reticence. No one wanted to say anything that would offend the other. But while discussing both minorities’ histories, each person at the table discovered that both groups shared a common struggle.

Then suggestions came fast and furious. Differences morphed into minor details as future plans were made…and everyone parted as friends.

We don’t live in the best of times: Our middle class is squeezed beyond belief; our poor are becoming totally destitute; our “peerless” leaders are working overtime to stick it to the 99%; and our Supreme Court just made it possible to sell elections to the highest bidder. Way to go you less than honorable “Your Honors.”

But in the corners communities are reaching out to each other, eager to work together to catch the vanishing American Dream. Another step in that process was taken in a sunny corner booth at the Blind Faith café. I sure hope that seed will flourish to become a mighty tree of freedom and love.

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Mar 27, 2014 -- 9:51pm

It’s spring; too early for fans to be thinking about football. Not so for the football players at Northwestern University. They received permission to unionize from Peter Sung Ohr, Chicago Regional Director of National Labor Relations Board. The Northwestern players, part of the Chicago Athletes Players Association (CAPA) were supported in their quest by the United Steelworkers Union.[1]

Ohr ruled that the players on scholarships were employees of the university, entitling them to representation in matters regarding their health care benefits and scholarships.

Don’t think these players will be marching in the Labor Day parade any time soon. Northwestern plans to appeal Ohr’s ruling, and the NCAA stated its disappointment, asserting that many players go out for the football team strictly for the love of the game. Both pointed out that football is an extra-curricular activity; it’s “curriculum enhancing.”

Maybe that was true years ago, but it’s not the case now. Northwestern’s squad scrimmages six hours a day to prepare for the Saturday game. After six hours of running, passing, tackling, and strategy sessions, how eager are NU’s players/scholars to study conversational Sumerian? Are they awake enough to take notes on Confucianism?

Furthermore, Ohr cited the psychological burden of playing on an athletic scholarship. Their coach is the team’s absolute monarch. Even when players routinely hold that line or score that touchdown, the threat of losing scholarships looms large. Northwestern exacts a high price for higher education.

The nasty truth is simple. Northwestern’s players generate millions for the university. They’re the ones who risk life and limb on the field, and most won’t be drafted in the NFL or AFL. One bad tackle can injure them for life. Some never graduate. No wonder CAPA’s seeking representation and negotiating rights.

Northwestern University enforced quotas based on race and religion until the 1970s when the press exposed them. They also profiled students into majors (e.g. Jewish students into Accounting). Permission to unionize proves the adage, “What goes around comes around.”

Go, players go! Go union!  

[1] Factual material taken from Kevin Trahan, Northwestern football players win first round in bid to unionize, USA Today Sports, 4:57 p.m. EDT March 26, 2014, http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaaf/2014/03/26/college-football-nlrb-ruling-capa-northwestern-labor-union/6918719/.  All editorial comments are mine.


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Mar 20, 2014 -- 10:40pm

The people spoke; Illinois voters have selected their candidates for the November 4th election. Come next January November’s winners will morph into “honorable” leaders. No more glossy mailings with smiling candidates; no more appeals for funds clogging our emails; no invitations to sugary ‘meet and greets’--at least until July. So why am I feeling so angry?

Elections should be contested, giving voters clear choices. Not this election. Only the Republicans had a contested election for Governor. But money talked, and despite State Senator Kirk Dillard’s valiant campaign, he couldn’t overcome “Businessman” Bruce Rauner’s bloated campaign war-chest. Most races for statewide offices either weren’t contested or the incumbent had token opposition. Why vote?

Elections campaigns should be fought over sharply-honed issues. These were conspicuously absent on March 18th. Cutting waste and taxes, giving lip support to education, term limits and candidates posing with “Grandma”, doggies and babies are trite. Mud slinging—and there was plenty--is no substitute for honest debate.

Where’s the promise to restructure lottery revenue so it truly adds to the education budget? Where’s the plan to sustain small business and start-ups with state funds? Where’s the promise to build up communities through community gardens? No issues; no reason to vote.

Even the Judicial races suffered from an overdose of stupidity. Running on parents’ achievements,  or being high school class president gives no indication of how candidates will function on the bench. Smiling glossies only reveal who has the best dental work. Political endorsements have no business in judicial races. These only intimidate the voters. Politics should have no influence upon the judiciary races.

All of this explains why less than 1,000,000 voters picked the leaders for Illinois. Party regulars, cause advocates and friends of the candidates voted, selecting the candidates for the rest of us. Hope those of you who stayed home liked our Soviet-Style election.

Take away from Primary 2014: Demand a voice and vote. Don’t stand for pap. Let’s take back democracy. Otherwise like the unused muscle Democracy will atrophy.

Time to speak truth to power.

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Mar 13, 2014 -- 11:19pm

Last Saturday night my husband and I hosted a coffee for Brian Alexander, Democratic candidate for circuit court Judge in the 9th sub-circuit, Preston vacancy, and punch number 180. Alexander spent most of the evening answering questions about his background, including his 37 years of varied legal experience. What a wonderful exercise in Democracy! Alexander impressed my guests who left eager to vote for him.

Then I started thinking. Judges hold almost absolute power over the people standing before them. We elect judges. How can we vote intelligently? Did we host a coffee or the Mad Hatter’s tea party?

Political parties endorse judicial candidates.  When judicial candidates screen, they tout their party loyalty, precinct work, contributions and ethnic/religious background. Since when are these necessary judicial qualifications? Is there one form of justice for Republicans; another for Democrats? What about the Socialists and Anarchists? What’s said at an El Qaeda judicial candidate endorsement session?

Bar associations’ rate judicial candidates. There’s a bar association for every background and gender, most likely even for ex-cons and war criminals. Some associations claim they award only “Unqualified,” “Qualified” or “Recommended” ratings. But a few “Highly Qualified or Recommended” ratings sneak into their mix. These appear to be reserved for candidates who are active in said bar associations. Oops.

Judges must rule according to the law, not personal beliefs and biases. That’s why the Canons of Ethics ban campaigning on the candidates’ personal ideals. That makes judicial races highly personal; at best campaigns for judicial Prom King and Queens; at worst, mudslinging tournaments. No wonder so many voters punch for candidates of the same gender, with the prettiest name, or candidates that mirror the voter’s ethnic/religious background. I look closely at the Chicago Council of Lawyers’ ratings; they’re unbiased.

Judicial candidates should be vetted by a non-partisan panel of distinguished legal jurists. Only qualified candidates should be allowed on the ballot. Brian Alexander would pass with flying colors. That’s why I endorse him. Punch 180.

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