Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Tag: Chicago

Grant Park Election Day

On this “day-after-the-election” I wanted to share with you, my reader, some of my thoughts and feellings about the historic journey we have all witnessed, and explain my fascination with the cause.

I began covering the candidates who appeared at the Iowa caucuses the year that (Dr.) Howard Dean ran for president. My long-dormant political passion was stoked by drifting across the steet from teaching classes at the Kahl Building in downtown Davenport, Iowa, and wandering into the downtown Dean headquarters. We were urged to stay and share our thoughts and feelings about the state of America. I became hugely disillusioned in the wake of the 2000 election that saw “hanging chads” in Florida and the Supreme Court select George W. Bush as our 43rd president. I found it incomprehensible that one man’s brother (then-Governor Jeb Bush of Florida) could hand the most important office in our land to someone totally unprepared. The process was broken. I, along with many others, felt betrayed. I have felt that only once before…when a 1st Ward Alderman race I had labored long and hard in turned out to be “rigged,” was proven to have had officials at the top playing fast-and-loose with the absentee ballots, but nothing…not one word…was written in the local newspaper, despite the presence of a reporter from same (Jenny Lee of the Moline, Illinois, Daily Dispatch). it is one thing for candidates to cheat and get caught. That happens every day. My point: where is the retribution? Where is the “gotcha'” moment that restores the true, natural order of the universe? It seemed that the sense of decency and honesty in the election process that i had watched my father helped preserve in his races for Democratic County Treasurer of Buchanan County (IA) had evaporated, and in its place was corruption at the very heart of the political process…even in small-town America. If counties like Rock Island County, Illinois, were proven to be as dirty as Cook County in Chicago, what was the world coming to? And if proving it, in court, didn’t bring at least a slap on the hand to the perpetrators, could our national election process be far behind in granting complete impunity to those who would steal our democracy from us?

I live in a divided household, an Arnold Schwarzenegger/Maria Shriver split, with no one but me weighing in as a Democrat or…at times…an Independent. When one family member admits to glee at the time that JFK was shot, the feeling of complete alienation from what is right and what is good becomes pervasive. I have never wished death on a candidate, no matter how corrupt or evil I might perceive them to be. I have the same horror of that kind of thinking as I do for not trying (at least) to see the other person’s point of view.

Many times, my life partner would tell me that, in expressing my support for a candidate that (apparently) did not provide congruency with his own choices, I was or had been “obnoxious.” This meant that I had spoken my mind about the lack of preparedness or the general quality of a Repubican, usually, and I had found them wanting. at the same time, I hosted coffees for a Republican neighbor (Ray LaHood, last out of Peoria) and contributed to more than one Republican candidate (Andrea Zinga, Dave Machacek) so, was I really the blind straight-party voting ticket person that my spouse accused me of being during various discussions that generated far more heat than light? No. I was someone who would weigh the candidates and try my best to select that individual who could best lead our country in troubled times.

No times are more troubled than now. The economy is spiraling downward. We are fighting on two fronts. Our esteem abroad seemed irreparably shattered by a pre-emptive war that should never have been started, begun by a man who wanted to show dear old dad that he could do it better. History will judge if junior did a better job  or a worse job than his father, but, as for me, in my semi-retirement, determined to write as I had always planned to do, I became political.

Oh, we still observed the political sticker moratorium, after the years of a Republican bumper sticker being applied over a Democratic bumper sticker ad nauseum, but I was not content to sit idly by and watch my country go down the tubes in the wake of George W. Bush. I became convinced that a president who was determined to ‘win at any costs” and a running mate with little or no foreign policy experience and some very esoteric views about the rest of the world and science and religion spelled certain doom for what remained of this once-great nation.

And I also decided that the best way for me to contribute to the victory of one (of many excellent Democratic candidates (Obama, Clinton, Richardson, Edwards, et. al.) as opposed to the reactionary forces of the Republicans arrayed against them was to throw off the cloak of meek-and-mild indifference and DO SOMETHING. Anything. Even if it was the wrong something, it would be better than a Bush clone in the White House. After all, what more could the man ruin.

It was this decision, made during a previous election run, that led me to ‘blog” for Iowa (www.blogforiowa), which, no doubt, earned me a place on George W. Bush’s enemies list. I took popular song lyrics and turned them into political gems aimed at exposing the Man Who Would be King. With humor, I aimed barbs at “the Decider,” covering Abu Ghraib and all things horrible like it. My journey had begun, and it would not end until November 4, 2008, in Grant Park in Chicago (see video above).

Through the bitter cold of Iowa’s winter, I tracked caucus candidates like Joe Biden and Christopher Dodd and Hillary Clinton and John Edwards and Barack obama to school gymnasiums and people’s living rooms. I listened to their message(s) of change and hope. I contributed cash, but, more importantly, I contributed time and effort, attempting to let others know what I was able to observe, up-close-and-personal. Yes, some of my early heroes turned out to have feet of clay (Edwards, anyone?), but the eventual winner of this marathon race seems like the right man for the job at the right time in history.

The palpable enthusiasm at last night’s part gathering was like a city celebrating a World Series or a Super Bowl victory. Just a few moments ago, sitting in my 7th floor condo on Indiana Avenue near Hutchinson Field, a red balloon, no doubt left over from last night’s celebration, drifted past my balcony door. Today, though I am tired, I feel that, somehow, we, as a nation are back on the right track. It is a given that other nation’s will see Barack Obama as a worthy representative of this nation’s highest ideals. After years of a stumbling, incoherent leader who not only could not speak well, but could not lead well, we will have a well-qualified, well-educated, hard-working man who seems to genuinely love his family and his country in ways that do not visit death and destruction on the rest of the world.

I pray for Barack Obama on this day-after-the-election. I revel in the knowledge that I was “there,” inside, at the Pepsi Center in Denvr, at the Excel Center in St. Paul, at the Target Center for the Ron Paul Rally in Minneapolis, at the Iowa caucuses, at the Belmont Town Hall Meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, and, last night, in Grant Park where Barack Obama started this nation on a brand new journey that I hope will restore this country’s honor and reputation, both abroad and at home.

Chicago Cubs Fans Attend Post-Season Rally on September 30th

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"We're on a Mission from God"Governor Rod Blagojevich

The Chicago Cubs had a Post-Season Rally in downtown Chicago, right next to the Picasso sculpture in Daley Plaza on Tuesday, September 30, 2008. Master of Ceremonies Jim Belushi, a Chicago native, exclaimed “I love this city!” and introduced the famous ballplayers and dignitaries present, including Governor Rod Blagojevich, who was drowned out at one point by fans chanting and singing “Go! Cubs! Go!”

In all fairness, the Governor had droned on for a rather long time, noting that Teddy Roosevelt was President the last time the Cubs made the World Series, 100 years ago, etc., etc., etc.

There was a large plasma video screen to the left of the stage and a highlight reel of phenomenal Cubs plays during the year was shown at one point. We all sang along with Harry Caray (long deceased) who led the traditional 7th inning stretch song of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Later, we sang to the new “Go! Cubs! Go!” song while blue and red paper bits drifted down on top of us from a confetti canon (visible in the picture of the Governor.) All onlookers chanted that Ron Santo belonged in the Hall of Fame.

Jim Belushi, brother of John and a Chicago native, praised WGN and Fox, which carried his television program. An elderly woman in a wheelchair struggled to her feet to sing along with the crowd and told me that she had “been a fan since I was 13.” Bill Hajdys and his daughter Coryan showed up in goofy sunglasses carrying a large sign that read, on one said, “Jesus Was A Cubs Fan” and, on the other, “We’re On A Mission from God,” a reference to a line in the Jim Belushi/Dan Ackroyd film “The Blues Brothers,” which was shot in Chicago.

Mounted policeman Sergeant Kevin Gyrian was there, sitting atop Baldy, his horse, ready to restore order if necessary as part of the Strategic Deployment Unit. Zira Singer’s grandson held a sign next to Kevin and Baldy wishing Grandma Zira a speedy recovery in Lutheran General, where she underwent spinal surgery and then contracted an infection in the hospital.

Nearby a silent man held a sign that read “Obama, Spare My Child.” When asked what the story was, he remained silent. One man in the crowd wore a shirt that read “Quad City Mallards.” At the nearby Corner Bakery a man who appeared to be Amish sat by himself following the rally, quietly eating peanuts from a bag of nuts he had brought and drinking some bottled water.

The weather was gorgeous, and all of the windows in the Civic Center were filled with onlookers, looking down at the Picasso statue, which was decked out in a Cubs hat for the day.

Chicago Storm on August 4th Was Electrifying!

Lightning Over ChicagoAn update to the storm I suffered through in a basement in Bridgeport, a southwest suburb of Chicago (home of the White Sox and Mayor Daley’s birthplace) on Monday, August 4th (article posted on www.associatedcontent.com).

It was some storm! I was impressed with the lightning. I learned that, over four hours, about a half-year’s worth of lightning bolts bombarded Chicago. It was truly a historic thunderstorm, with 90,000 thunderbolts hitting northern Illinois (according to the Lightning Detection Network).

At the storm’s peak, it was detonating 800 bolts per minute. In six months’ worth of time, we usually don’t have that much lightning.

WGN meteorologist Tom Skilling (brother of the OTHER Skilling of Enron fame) said on Tuesday, August 5th, “There was no precedent for this. In every way imaginable, that storm last night was in its own league.”

The amazing thing: nobody was struck by lightning and no fatalities were reported due to the massive and truly awesome display of electrical tension, which began when positively charged ice crystals at the top and negatively charged water droplets at the bottom created a volatile mix. As the warm, moist air floated to the clouds, the powder keg exploded. Most lightning is negatively charged, but there are indications that ,during parts of the Monday storm, there was more than two and one-half times the usual percentage of positively charged lightning bolts which are more powerful.

Skilling said, “Not only were the total numbers just off the charts, but there was a disproportionate number of strokes that were positively charged. That was an especially dangerous lightning display.”

Nearly 10,000 lightning strikes were recorded in the 10 miles around Chicago’s loop, one of the highest totals ever seen for an area of that size. While there were at least 7 fires caused by the lightning hitting homes that burned down (Woodridge, Lisle, Aurora, Schaumburg, Frankfort, Barrington and Lemont) the wind did more damage. Some good quotes were obtained from employees of the Signature Room on the 96th floor of the Hancock Building. Apparently, the patrons thought it was all great good fun and filmed the bar glasses as they moved back and forth.

Manager James Kuehner said, “You could tell when the building was getting hit, because everything was bright light and thunder at the same time.”

Yikes! We almost walked over to Chinatown, but the tornado sirens did not enhance the experience, for me, so, instead, we sat on the floor of an interior hallway, away from the windows, cranking the weather radio I had just bought at the Natural Disasters exhibit at the Field Museum. (We learned that cranking it did not work that well, but putting batteries in it did.)

Bennigan’s in Chicago Bites the Bullet

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I walked down to the Bennigan’s opposite the Art Institute in Chicago on Tuesday, July 29th,  planning on having a nice lunch inside this always-busy restaurant, which, I have learned, was, in fact, the busiest restaurant in the entire chain.

Imagine my surprise when, taped to the window (see picture) was a sign that told me it was closed. I haven’t been that surprised since…well, since I drove to Cheddar’s in Davenport, Iowa—another very busy and popular restaurant—and had exactly the same experience.

Bennigan’s filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on Tuesday (apparently) and closed all 150 of its corporate-owned stores, including the Jewel in its Crown, the Bennigan’s in Chicago at 225 N, Michigan Avenue. The stark sign said it all: “Closed for business as of Tuesday, July 29.”  Apparently even the employees were surprised, because one of them, Caleb Kosek, age 24, had just shown up for his first day of work, only to learn that the Metromedia Restaurant Group, which owned 150 of the cafes (another 140 are franchisee-owned) was now defunct.

Metromedia is owned by a billionaire named John Kluge, but he wasn’t responding to requests for comments on Tuesday. There were lots of Bennigan’s in the Chicago area, but only one (in Elgin) and three in northwest Indiana are owned by franchisees. It is also true that the area around the Art Institute is not exactly lousy with restaurants, so this location was primo.

Other restaurant chains in the “medium” price range are suffering as well, most notably Cheddar’s, mentioned above, Steak & Ale and Village Inn. In the chilly economic climate we are experiencing, people are either eating at fast food chains like McDonald’s or they are eating at home. Ruby Tuesday and Applebee’s stock (I own one share) were trading at their lowest ever, as a result of the glut of restaurants like these and T.G.I.F. abroad in the land at a time when jobs are in short supply, the minimum wage has been raised and food prices are soaring faster than the ice cap is melting.

But watching Bennigan’s on Michigan Avenue and a chain in business since 1976 go belly-up is still painful for those of us with a yen for a MonteCristo sandwich.

Bill Maher Appears at Chicago Theater on July 25, 2008

Bill MaherBill Maher, the acerbic comic whose “Politically Incorrect” television show launched a thousand controversies, played the Chicago Theater for one night only on Friday, July 25th and delighted a sold-out crowd.

Where to begin with an analysis of Maher’s ability to offend with his cynicism? He aimed many barbs at politicians, of course…even Illinois’ own Barack Obama, although, this night, he did end his stand-up routine with the comment, “Thanks for the candidate.”

Poor John McCain received the butt of the ribbing, with age-related comments that I won’t repeat, as they were pretty much what was to be expected. What was not expected was Maher’s criticism of some of Obama’s votes, and his follow-up comment, “I don’t make this stuff up, Folks. I just report it.”

In the middle of the show, Archer Midland-Daniels was mentioned, and a loud shout of support rose from a crowd member, whom Maher then crucified, expressing a great deal of dislike for the giant corporation. He also came down hard on corn. Yes, corn. He doesn’t like corn, apparently, whether it is as an alternative fuel or a foodstuff. He just does not like corn. What can I say? Take it up with Maher.

About the time that he was ragging on corn and farmers (whom he criticized as the biggest welfare queens) and all corn-related topics, someone heckled him from the midwestern crowd filling all the seats this night. Maher looked calmly into the crowd, found the heckler and said, “Now, that really didn’t add anything to the show, did it?” very calmly, as though this happens to him all the time. Cool.

I used to go to a chat room online called “Hollywood Café” and some of Maher’s writers were not glowing in their praise of him. However, his riff on religion and marriage, both topics he has addressed on his show (to say he is “a confirmed bachelor” is putting it mildly) were familiar and funny.

We were 3 rows from the top of this many-tiered palace of entertainment. I had just made a trip to the restrooms located in the bowels of the theater, which were another 3 to 5 flights of stairs. By the time I had climbed from the basement to 3 rows from the top, I needed oxygen. I don’t think I was alone. I could almost touch the Indian mural on the ceiling and the chandelier near it. Maher looked like a speck onstage, wearing what appeared to be a tan tee shirt with some sort of logo that I would have needed binoculars to make out.

His voice, however, rang out loud and clear, as did his lampooning of everything from gas prices to the demise of George W. Bush (let’s understate his comments and say that he is not a big Bush supporter), to why his married friends’ wives don’t like him hanging around, reminding their husbands of what they are missing.

It was vintage Maher on his one stop in the Windy City, and, Democrat or Republican, Christian, Jew or Muslim, there was enough material in his act to offend everyone at least once, and all of it was funny.

Death by TASER (or) “Don’t TASE Me, Bro’!”

                   

     A Chicago man identified by police as 24-year-old Roberto Gonzalez was taken to Mt. Sinai Hospital on March 20th, following arrest by Chicago police, who subdued the victim using both a chemical spray and a TASER gun. Gonzalez— (whose family says he was 37)—died about 8:15 p.m. on Thursday, March 20t, following the altercation with Chicago police.

    Gonzalez was standing outside the Loma Linda Bar at 2658 S. Trumbull Avenue with his cousin, Cesar Garza, 28, who confirmed to police that the pair had been drinking and that Roberto “might have” taken drugs.

    Gonzalez, it should be noted, has a rap sheet going back ten years which includes at least a dozen arrests for battery, armed Robert, possession of drugs, reckless conduct and violating a protective order.

   Two plainclothes police officers who had been circling the block outside the Loma Linda approached the two cousins and told them to move on.  Garza left, but Gonzalez did not.  Garza was picked up a few blocks away by police officers after he left the scene as requested.  It was from the back of the police vehicle that Garza watched as police struck Gonzalez for ten minutes, used a chemical spray on him, and tasered him twice. 

    Said Garza, the dead man’s cousin, “They shouldn’t have done this. He (Gonzalez) was on the floor, wiggling away from police. How could he fight back?”

     Another witness, who declined to be identified, said police asked Gonzalez to take his right hand out of his pocket, after which officers attempted to arrest him.  The unidentified witness saw police strike Gonzalez and, as Gonzalez resisted arrest, the witness heard officers say, “Stop, or we’ll tase you.”

    The rallying cry, “Don’t tase me Bro!” became famous worldwide after a University of Florida student in Gainesville, Florida, tried to ask then-Presidential nominee John Kerry a series of questions, culminating in one that dealt with his membership in the Skull and Bones Society, of which George W. Bush was also reputedly a member.

    In an incident at the Toronto Airport in October of 2007, a Polish immigrant on his first trip outside his native country, arriving in Canada to visit his mother—a man who spoke no English and had just arrived at the terminal, waited for hours to be met by his elderly mother. He became more and more agitated as the hours passed.  His mother could not enter the secure arrival area where the man waited, and the man could not communicate with airport personnel, nor they with him, due to the language barrier. Nor could the man contact his mother. The man’s subsequent fatal tasering by officers called to the scene was caught in its entirety on a horrifying cell-phone video taken by another passenger.

     Glen Lebyba, a Glendale, Colorado resident having a mental breakdown was killed by three tasers administered after his family called police for help. His sister Shelly said, “Glen was in a medical emergency, down on the ground, no threat.”

     An Indiana resident, James Borden, was tasered six times by police, leading to his death.  His brother, Steve, said, “They juiced him to death.”

   Another incident of a mental patient being tasered to death occurred on Long Island, New York. The victim was David Glowczenski. His sister, Jean Griffin, said, “We called them (police) for safety because he was so disoriented…and an hour later, he was dead.”

     In yet another sad story that occurred on August 4th in Lafayette, Colorado, Jack Wilson’s son, Ryan, was TASERed when the 22-year-old entered a marijuana field and did not stop when police commanded him to do so. When he ran, Officer John Harris pursued the young man for half a mile and shot him once with an X-26 TASER.  Ryan fell to the ground, convulsed, and died. No alcohol or drugs were found in his system. But Ryan Wilson did have a previously-undetected heart abnormality (narrow artery).

     The TASER was used against political protesters demonstrating against Florida Governor Jeb Bush at a Rick Santorum fundraiser in Pittsburgh on October 9th, 1974. We can assume it will be used again, this summer, during the Republican and Democratic National Conventions.

     The TASER was invented in 1974 by a man named Jack Cover, who called it the TASER, meaning “Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle,” after a hero of 20th century adventure novels. Since its inception, it has undergone modifications and morphed from Air Taser, Inc. in 1993 to Taser International, Inc. in 1998.  The M-26 re-design was part of something known as “Project Stealth,” which intended to give law enforcement a weapon to use against those resisting arrest that did not cause deadly force.

   But does a TASER represent deadly force?

   In the instances cited above, including nearly 200 in 5 years, the answer is yes. Today (2006) “more than 9,500 law enforcement agencies in 43 countries use the TASER. IN 8 years, 184,000 were sold to law enforcement personnel and another 115,000 were sold to citizens in the 43 states where owning a TASER gun is legal. They cost $300 to $400 and are even available in the color pink! (“Death by Taser: The Killer Alternative to Guns” by Silja J.A. Talvi, on “In These Times,” Nov. 18, 2006.)

     A TASER is propelled towards the subject using compressed nitrogen, which launches 2 penetrating probes or bars. The barbs are listed (by various sources) as being released from 15 to 35 feet away at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour. Amnesty International cited 150 deaths by June of 2001, and that number has risen dramatically. In fact, the increase in deaths from TASERing was so dramatic in Detroit that the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality worked to see that taser guns were banned in that city. Said Ron Scott of that organization, “There needs to be more study done on the effects of TASERS.” (Jim Lynch, “The Detroit News,” Feb. 18, 2005).

     The T-wires that connect with the person’s body, frequently piercing clothing and skin, cause rapid muscle contractions. The impulses, which deliver 50,000 volts per application and can “re-stun” repeatedly thereafter, have insulated wires connected to the gun. Repeated shocks are often given in quick succession. One individual, described on October 12, 2004 on the blog “The Early Show” was stunned 9 times and died. “He committed no crime; he didn’t do anything wrong,” said the blog.

     Dr. Roland Kohr, an Indiana physician, says that being TASERed may potentially kill an individual under stress or one who has drugs in his system.  “The application of the TASER was the trigger factor for the stressful event that caused the elevation of blood pressure, the elevation rate, which stressed an already damaged heart to the point that it went into cardiac arrest,” he said in court testimony. In the case of Jack Wilson’s son, Ryan, an autopsy showed a narrowed artery to the heart, although Ryan was in good health and was neither drunk nor on drugs at the time of his death. Since he had just been chased for over a mile by the police, he certainly would have been “stressed.”

    Another method of TASERing an individual is dubbed “dry stunning.” It is administered directly on the subject’s skin, giving a cattle-prod-like effect. Those who have been TASERed describe the effect as debilitating, with full body seizures, mental disorientation, and loss of control of bodily functions. The University of California student TASERed in the library there (video available at http://www.altenet.org/rights/44455/) seems to have been in extreme pain and crying out for help.

    Chicago victims are not confined to Roberto Gonzalez on March 20, 2008. A 54-year-old man and a teen-ager were among other TASER victims in Chicago on February 11, 2005, and there are others.

     It would seem that “TASERing” people is something that can, for some subjects, be as dangerous to the victim as shooting them with a gun would have been.  In the March 20th event in Chicago, Ilana Rozenzweig, chief of the agency that reviews police conduct (Internal Affairs), promises a complete investigation, including autopsy results, evidence gathered at the scene, and witness statements.

    None of these investigations will bring back any of these victims, the innocent or the guilty. Their numbers are rising.

     Further study of TASERs as a police tool, as urged by Lucas County Sheriff (Toledo, Ohio) James Telb is indicated before more victims, some of them innocent of any wrongdoing, die as a result of the overzealous use of what is supposed to be a non-fatal law enforcement tool. Most video of the student and political protesters would suggest that, had they been allowed to do so, the students would have departed the premises without further incident. The Florida and California students being TASERed at least survived, although their ordeal is difficult to watch on video.

    The 40-year-old Polish man had done nothing to bring his TASERing on himself, but he is just as dead as Roberto Gonzalez of Chicago.

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