Posts Tagged ‘Peter Stern’

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty.
This year’s mayoral election must be one of Chicago’s strangest with but one more day left. What’s so strange? Well, we’re having our first run off in a long time, though most experts felt the incumbent would easily win in the first round. Obviously they were wrong.
Also strange is how very different the two run off candidates seem to be. The incumbent, Rahm Emanuel, is an extraordinarily experienced, nationally known, hard driving, brash, arrogant, steam roller type while his opponent, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, is a largely unknown, mid level Chicago machine foot soldier with no special achievements to his name, nor any shining personal skills that would explain his sudden leap to prominence.
Strange too is that “Chuy,” though new to center stage, immediately came out swinging. Unfailingly aggressive, he got lots of media coverage, and initially polls showed he wasn’t far behind Rahm. In the television debates, he easily scored points criticizing Rahm on a host of issues such as ignoring the neighborhoods, relying on speed cameras to generate revenue, and arranging pay for play schemes. Now, the strange thing is less “Chuy’s” aggressiveness, but rather Rahm’s muted, laid back, almost boy scout responses, a complete about face from past behavior. High hat’s out, demure is in.
Though surprisingly successful at first, “Chuy’s” campaign started to flounder a bit as editorials began criticizing his stand on the City’s financial crisis, criticism richly deserved. For “Chuy’s” position sounded and continues to sound bizarre, even ridiculous, as if it was the brainchild of a comedy team writing political satire for a Second City skit.
“Chuy” has said many times his policy is that he has no policy. Why not? Because he can’t offer one until he or an “Official Commission” can objectively examine the City’s “books,” implying Rahm’s budget ain’t legit. Then, several weeks ago, “Chuy” stated flat out at a BGA presentation that the “books are cooked.”
But “Chuy” offers not a shred of proof, nor does he retract his charge. Why then make the claim? All this seems strange, does it not?
Nonetheless, “Chuy” continues arguing that an “Independent Commission” must be created to assess the “books.” Yet he never discloses who he thinks should be on the Commission, what its charge should be, or how the Commission will be chosen. He also fails to explain how the Commission’s recommendations will be implemented. What if, for instance, “Chuy” disagrees with the Commission’s ideas? Chuy’s not talking.
Emanuel’s approach to the budget issue, though definitely a cut well above “Chuy’s”, also leaves much to be desired. Rather than discussing his budget proposal, he prefers listing his first term achievements and blaming Springfield for failing to give the City more money.
So the strangest thing about the election is why neither candidate will say much about the budget crisis, far and away the most important issue confronting the City. An obvious answer is that it’s unpleasant for no easy solutions present themselves.
Certainly this makes sense. However, I believe another factor helps explain the mystery namely, public union influence on City politics. “Chuy” complains about the evils of “pay to play” but neglects mentioning that public unions are the most important group engaging in pay to play schemes. The enormous pension liability the City faces is the number one reason the City’s broke, a liability incurred through elaborate pay to play schemes between our pols and the unions. Are the unions willing to renegotiate these agreements? To date they’ve said no.
Despite his oft expressed call for greater transparency, “Chuy'” never mentions his candidacy is closely linked to the unions though they contribute significant monies to his campaign and promise to supply a large army of voters. Might this be why “Chuy” doesn’t like to discuss cutting services or reducing pension benefits? Could his union ties help explain why his comments about the schools often sound like a CTU handout?
Rahm faces the opposite problem–many unions oppose his re election bid–but union influence also explains Rahm’s reluctance to discuss the budget crisis. Why? Because he fears stirring up the unions, especially the Teachers Union which he infuriated during his first years in office. Karen Lewis, the President of the Teachers Union, screamed bloody murder and vowed she’d teach that high stepping blow hard a lesson he’d never forget. And he hasn’t. Unbrashed, he now minds his manners, eats his oatmeal every morning, and makes very sure he says nothing that might upset the unions, that 5,000 pound guerilla in our living room we’re never allowed to mention.
Thus a major reason we’ve witnessed such a strange even bizarre election season is that the candidates refused to discuss the City’s budget debacle. Only feel good, gee whiz, nice guy issues are allowed. Why? Largely because of union pressures, with “Chuy” running as the union’s candidate, while Rahm campaigns terrified of mentioning service or pension cuts, lest the unions go after him like fleas on a dog. Surely Rahm is by far the better candidate and deserves to win–“Chuy’s” budget views are literally laughable– but the strange and frustrating nature of the election casts a pall over the City’s future.

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By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty.
Rahm’s bombs fail to hit their intended target–the four challengers running to unseat him and become the next mayor of Chicago. Instead they hit Rahm himself causing considerable damage to his carefully crafted image while significantly enhancing the fortunes of Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Rahm’s most formidable opponent.

Thus the obvious question is–why did he get beat so badly? Though the election proved more complicated than the media Duncan And Emmanuel Promote Education Dept's Summer Reading Initiativesuggested, a Garcia inspired consensus explanation quickly emerged. It claimed that Rahm was a narcissistic, ego manical, cold, abrasive, power crazed, ambition besotted hard head who loves doing favors for big shots and ignores the little guy–a high flyer who hob nobs in D.C., raises millions in L.A., touts Down Town, and thumbs his nose at the neighborhoods, oh, and doesn’t care for unions. Biggest piece of proof: he mindlessly closed 50 schools on the South Side! Yes, 50 schools! On the South Side!

But a translation is necessary. South Side isn’t simply a geographic designation to be contrasted with its geographical antipode– North Side. No! South Side means African American Chicago. It means black and thus not white. Or, since we’re talking politics, not geography, let’s get serious: shutting 50 schools on the South Side means racism. Period.
So Rahm is not simply an ego maniac, he’s a racist ego maniac. Well not exactly a racist because in fact he comes from an very liberal family (in the 60s, his mom participated in the big civil rights protests going to the South to work for voting rights legislation) and Rahm has always called himself a liberal. And as everyone knows, Rahm was President Obama’s first chief of staff, even getting the President to campaign for him during the last week of the election. Still while he’s not George Wallace, he did close those schools while never closing a single white school, and politically speaking, that equals racism.

Since we mentioned schools, let’s also note that at the beginning of his term, he came down a bit hard on teachers–but again, a translation is necessary for teachers don’t mean teachers, exactly; it means the Chicago Teachers Union. 476915_630x354Moreover, in this case, it means Ms. Karen Lewis, who is one very sharp, very clever, very funny, very media savvy person and the Head of the Teachers Union. In provoking Karen Lewis, Rahm met his match. Looking back in retrospect, from that point on, Rahm’s fortunes tumbled. Like a Russell Terrier, Lewis wouldn’t let go and Rahm knew not how to deal with her.

Now the media had an even better story to tell: Rahm was a hard headed, big shot elitist who ignored the neighborhoods, had racist policies, wasn’t exactly cordial to the unions, and regularly got bested by Ms. Lewis. To further improve this neighborhood, little guy theme, slighting the Hispanic community was added to the cauldron of complaints–and we’re off to the races, which helps explain why “Chuy” decides to put his hat in the ring.

So that’s the consensus view of why Rahm bombed. While this account obviously makes sense, I don’t buy it for the rather naive and obtuse reason that I tend to be color blind and feel that issues are more important than race and ethnicity though surely there’s some relation between one’s race and one’s views on issues. But it’s not one to one. Thus explaining Rahm’s bomb using the little guy big shot theme doesn’t completely work.

My take is different; it focuses on issues and, indeed, focuses on one issue alone. The issue which I believe explains why Rahm bombed is the fact that Chicago is in dire financial straits and will likely go bankrupt if it fails to put together a serious–meaning painful– plan to address this reality. For instance, the Public School System is 1 billion in debt. And folks is screaming at Rahm for closing 50 run down half empty schools. Yet rather than strongly defending his actions, Rahm starts stuttering and flies to L.A. or NYC for a campaign fund raiser whose loot will be used to pay for a 2015 30 second ad criticizing “Chuy” for favoring a tax increase in 1986. Looney Tunes, methinks.

The real point is that Rahm claimed to be the tough guy capable of making the tough calls but the record shows he dodges them never coming clean on how desperate is the City’s plight along nor does he offer a plausible proposal to address it. Instead, he tells stories how he fixed some CTA track lines (good for you, Rahm) and got the schools to lengthen the school day (again good for you)–both, certainly, worthwhile achievements. But compared to the financial crisis he never mentions, these successes pale in significance. Rahm proceeds as if it’s business as usual. But it’s not. So I think the real reason Rahm bombed is that lots of folks believe Rahm simply fiddles while Chicago burns.

By Ellen Mannos, Career Management Faculty/Curriculum Chair. 

Dear Students,

In ancient Greek times, learning existed in the streets  of Piraeus where you would have found Socrates roaming around encouraging youthful inquiring minds to think, question and argue. A more modern day version of this collective gathering would have existed,  for example, during the 60’s and 70’s where a cluster of  students could be found sitting on a floor outside an overcrowded classroom, or standing in the back of that  classroom at Loyola University. There, students would have been listening to a certain Professor Szemler, sans PowerPoint, notes or book, preaching of Ancient and Medieval  History and his own personal flee from Hungary in the 1950’s; executed in mesmerizing, operatic, and lyrical non-stop fashion fully armed with historical knowledge;  in live performance never to be duplicated through podcast. He may have opened with something like, ”ladies and gentlemen, what is the etymological meaning of the word Pleistocene”, after which you knew you were on a wild adventure. Intense discussion  would have taken place afterwards across the street at Connelly’s Bar over freshly brewed beer accompanied by cage-free organic hard-boiled eggs.

Today, you can now “toadie” on up to suite 624, circle on to your left and head east slowly toward the desks of Professors 25197_1299799297567_2935835_n (1)Michael Stelzer Jocks and Peter Stern for yet another kind of adventure.  Just follow the smells of the ”specials of the day” coming from either Stelzer-Jocks’ organic cumin infused home grown barley-quinoa dish, or Stern’s leftover bone-in boutique cut veal chop with wild dandelion greens! (and the Michelin award goes to….)

Ah, but listen carefully – so put down your smart phones, please! You’ll hear them discuss the WW2 Battles of Kursk, Normandy or Stalingrad, or observe them watching some old photofootage of Russian Cossack’s,  accompanied by a background of a Fredrick Chopin piano concerto which captures  the then reality of historical pain & suffering.

Periodically, of course,  Professors Stern and Stelzer Jocks would get up from their seats, stretch a bit and  head  due west to Professor Paul Gaszak’s desk for an impromptu discussion on sports where you might hear something as exhausting as listening to Wagner’s “Das Rheingold” , only  the topic would be  – “Das Deflatable  Football”.

So, whoever said a liberal arts education is dead has not meandered up to Suite 624. But, ya gotta’ put your smart phones down, dear students………or you’ll miss the performances. Oh, and bring your lunch. There’s  plenty of soft seating, tables, kossaksand ottomans; and you just might learn something about the “Ottoman Empire”, listen to a little Chopin in the background, watch the Cossacks on video crossing over to Istanbul, hear the discussions, friendly disagreements; and yes, even professors inquire about things they don’t’ know.  After all, is not learning that which you do not know or question?

So put down your smart phones – please!  Oh, and forget the elevator and take the stairs! If you question what all this has to do with your degrees in computer networking, sports fitness, medical assisting, pharm tech, etc., then you’d better run up those stairs. Come on, be a Spartan!

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty. 

In high school, my indefatigable math teacher, Mr. Sycz, informed me and the rest of his unsuspecting students that the majority of adult life is spent at work. As such, he wisely advised us to choose our careers carefully. What he failed to mention was that all those hours at work will be spent with other people. Regrettably, there is no way to select our coworkers; the only recourse is to cross your fingers. How fortunate, then, that I love both what I do and the people with whom I work.

I’ve always liked working cooperatively with others, a natural result of growing up with six siblings. At every job I’ve had in my 25 years of RMUILsealwork (Cowgill Printing, McDonald’s, Dimitri’s Restaurant, Mr. Todd’s Cleaners, Royalview Manor, First Community Village, The Courtyard, Country Counter, Dick’s Last Resort, Cleveland State University, Kent State University, Cuyahoga Community College, Grafton Street Pub, Lakeland Community College, Academy at the Lakes, Hillsborough Community College, Harold Washington College, Columbia College, and RMU), I’ve met and worked with fantastic people who’ve helped make any work less tiresome. The same is true here at good ol’ RMU, where I have worked since arriving in Chicago in 2007.

My RMU colleagues are tremendous people, and we know each other incredibly well. Since my coworkers are diligent and dedicated teachers, I am already predisposed to like them and admire their efforts. They are all CLAwonderfully smart, too, of course, each in his or her unique way. Everyone I work with will stop to help a fellow teacher or student. Everyone will devote his or her expertise to our shared purpose: the endlessly worthwhile endeavor of education.

Most importantly, my co-workers at RMU, specifically the CLA members (many of them Turtle writers, too) are generous and thoughtful. What follows is just a small sampling of the everyday—but in no way ordinary—kindnesses my colleagues show to one another.

Paula provides lunch when Fridays involve the dreaded all-day meetings.

If there are cookies next to the coffee pot, they are probably courtesy of Turtle father Michael.

Jenny supplies us all with fresh vegetables from her considerable garden.

Pyle created the “cabinet of wonders,” a repository of free books, Cd’s, and DVD’s to share.

I’d be surprised to find a more sympathetic listener than Ellen.

Cynthia keeps the refrigerator stocked with fancy flavored creams to augment the free coffee.

Pat McNicholas brings homemade fudge every finals week.

Paul jots down the best zingers on his whiteboard to highlight the general goofiness in the CLA suite.

If Peter does anything, you can bet it will be done with “alacrity and aplomb.”

Like any good family, we endure each other’s idiosyncrasies, often turning flaws into perfections of a different kind. Mick tells the same Irish jokes every St. Patrick’s Day, year after year: how excruciatingly wonderful.

When my colleagues aren’t busy conducting research, planning curriculum, teaching classes, grading papers, or attending meetings, we can be found in the CLA office giggling like teenagers. We pretend that we are in a workplace sitcom called “RMU Kiddin’ Me.” We’re all certain the show would be hilarious, of course, which illustrates my good fortune in both terms of my job and my coworkers.

There is nothing quite as delightful as laughing at work, something I enjoy every single day. The funniest line or exchange will be added to Paul’szipper white board. If a joke is too inappropriate, it is designated as “Invisible Whiteboard” material and will remain a joke amongst ourselves.

Today

Paul, “I’ll send you the ZIP file.”

Me, “I can never remember how to unzip things.”

Paul, “Then how do you get dressed in the morning?”

Insert the cutesy sitcom title here.

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty.

If I’m right, you’re getting set to watch the second episode of Downton Abbey having put all the dinner dishes in the dishwasher, brushed your teeth, made a good strong cup or pot of tea or coffee, and are about to consume half a dozen donuts, or a huge slice of banana bread, or 3 humungous scoops of double rich, double good, chocolate chip ice cream with a bit of chocolate sauce on top.

Now I must admit, in all candor, that I can also imagine I’m dead wrong and you’re not about to consume a huge chunk of banana Imagebread–not at all. Instead it ‘s a medium sIzed piece of pumpkin bread with a maple walnut topping. Or perhaps I’m wrong because you have no plan to eat the pumpkin bread or the banana bread. And then again maybe I’m off base since you’re not now, nor have you ever intended to watch Downton Abbey. For you, it hath no relish of salvation.

Well, thankfully, this is a free country and you don’t have to watch the show if you don’t want to. However, let me also make use of this freedom and sing some praises for this mega popular BBC series for it’s got an awful lot going for it.

Let’s start with pageantry. The show sports loads of pageantry, but this is pageantry you can enjoy snuggling up to munching a Baby Ruth, or some pretzels, or that banana bread I mentioned earlier. This isn’t the kind where you have to sit in a cold, concrete block, stiff benched cathedral listening to soggy bromides mixed with especially pompous platitudes where you end your several hour stay furious and exhausted.

Au contraire. Watching the pageantry at Downton, you find yourself at the end of the show wanting more of the stuff. Pageantry at Downton is like a pageant–I mean it’s like fun. It’s a holiday, an Olympic event; it’s a kind of rock concert you want to dress up for. Or watching puts you in a festive big hotel wedding mood with mounds of shrimp and oodles of oysters there for the taking. And all the chocolate you can get your hands on. I mean some folks are even wearing tuxedos and shiny dresses and five inch high heels.

But here’s the thing. If you don’t like pageantry that’s perfectly OK. You can still be entertained for Downton provides you a wonderful opportunity to enjoy despising the mindless excesses of early 20th century English aristocrats who never have had to squeeze into a packed redline rush hour train car during a January snow storm or 100 degree Chicago heat wave in July. By all means, let your flood of opprobrium for these folks flow.

On the other hand, you may prefer warmly sharing in the more modest sorts of joys and concerns which are offered the downstairs staff. For they too have their loves, and dreams, and anxieties and interesting conundrums they work hard to favorably resolve. The show doesn’t present the downstairs staff as flat, boring, card board creatures who we, the audience, don’t worry about or identify with.

ImageFor the point is that both the upstairs and downstairs folks are shown sympathetically which is to say they’re both shown in an attractive light. Whether their portrayal is historically accurate I must report, with some consternation, I’m unable to say since I have no first hand knowledge or experience of people who lived these kind of lives, nor do I have much book learning under my belt to help me decide. But what I can report with some confidence is that at by the time an episode has ended I feel as if the better angels of our nature have had many opportunities to come forth.

Downton Abbey is in its fourth season and enjoys a huge viewership. According to several surveys, it’s easily the most popular TV show in England. And it’s amassed a large American audience as well. The most frequent explanation for its popularity is that both here and in England people harbor secretly and not so secretly a huge wish to live the lavish life style enjoyed by the aristocrats of old. I mean waking up surrounded by tons of Spode or Haviland cups and saucers and plates amid a sea of sterling silver trays, and tea sets, and immense serving spoons, and napkin rings, and silverware. And gorgeous sloping lawns, and fancy cars, and a downstairs staff to minister to one’s every whim.

However, my explanation for the show’s success points in the opposite direction. I believe Downton’s popularity rests on the way the show shows not how the downstairs staff takes care of the upstairs aristocrats but on how both stairs take care of each other. Care and concern and love and affection doesn’t travel in one direction only.

What we learn from watching Downton Abbey is that our probable preconceptions about aristocratic life were wrong. Contrary to the idea that the old world was composed to two groups of people who were very very different, Downton portrays a universe where upstairs and downstairs people share a common humanity and common concerns. Right is right and wrong is wrong and sometimes it’s hard to know exactly which is which. Moreover, both upstairs and downstairs folks are basically pretty nice, but some aren’t and the ones who aren’t sure end up creating an awful lot of trouble for everyone, upstairs and downstairs alike.

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty

Don’t! Don’t rush into writing out your New Year’s Resolutions just yet–and it’s already January the 10th. That’s right: don’t rush into this annual very momentous occasion. For writing resolutions ain’t that easy. Not if you really take doing resolutions seriously. And if you don’t, why do it at all, I ask myself, in woe and wonder, and with charity and good wishes for all and sundry, both for you and your loved ones, and maybe, just maybe, for your putative enemies as well.

The Sermon on the Mount Carl Bloch, 1890I mention enemies because with the new year beginning, shouldn’t we, even if only for a second or two, consider once again the wisdom of the famous admonitions contained in that most magnificent recording of resolutions, the Sermon on the Mount? Sure we should. So there we read about your enemies that if they take a whack at your left cheek, turn and offer them the one of your right; and if they take your shirt, offer them your down vest, heavy wool socks, and fleece lined overcoat. That’s right. I didn’t make this up. I couldn’t. Surely you’ll agree these would be challenging New Year’s Resolutions we all should make. Yet most likely most won’t and, in all candor, you can probably include me in this reprobate group.

So you can see already, can you not, that making resolutions isn’t for sissies, or to be taken lightly, as though you’re looking through a sparkling clean glass recently taken fresh from the dishwasher. No. Resolutions create an enormous conundrum, a mind numbing riddle, lodged inside an outsized enigma, forcing us to consider anew some of the most brain boggling metaphysical mysteries known to the human heart. For instance, consider this my very dear New Year’s Tingling Turtle: do or don’t you have free will? No, not free love; free will?

Well, what’s your answer? Shouldn’t you have already –meaning many years ago–wrestled with this all important question and have at your finger tips or, if you prefer, at the very outer most tip of your tongue, some reasonably coherent answer to this age old puzzle? Of course you should. OK, then, what is it, exactly? Assuming you do remember your conclusion, now forced to think about it again, how confident are you that it’s coherent and compelling? You see the point here is that if you’re not sure you have free will, then most likely–no, for sure, you’re wasting your time even thinking about making New Year’s Resolutions.

Indeed the very idea of a resolution really makes no sense since the absence of free will leaves your actions determined, meaning you, as you, never can resolve anything. Your actions have already been plotted out for you, without you ever having been consulted, and without you ever knowing the plotting had already taken place.

free will

Now I hope you can see more clearly why I said you shouldn’t rush into making New Year’s Resolutions. You absolutely need to consider this free will issue more carefully before sitting down and scribbling four or five or ten or whatever number of New Year’s Resolutions you were figuring you’d like to make so you can be like everyone else.

And here’s another little mystery you might want to spend a few minutes reflecting on. What if–that is, just suppose for a moment–you’re thinking one of your resolutions involves helping a spouse, or significant other, or potential spouse, or possible significant other with a challenging task–say, like losing weight. Sounds great, does it not? What could be more loving, more helpful than lending a hand to a person you feel so much love for achieve the arduous and very laudable task of losing 15 pounds of ugly, cholesterol saturated fat? Answer: absolutely nothing. I mean it’s a life prolonging goal. Less fat, less weight, equals longer life. Q.E.D.

Well, my dear, high minded, utterly altruistic, Turtlelet, what if your spouse, or significant other, or your favorite offspring, or friend, or sibling, or parent, or even grandparent can’t make a resolution to lose weight because they no more have free will than do you? In other words, they can’t resolve to lose weight just as you can’t. And any effort indeed every effort on your part to assist them in losing pounds will only create loads—I mean—loads and loads of bad blood. So don’t make your New Year’s Resolution to try and help anyone lose weight, for you’ll only make that person hugely dislike you for your host of altruistic efforts. If you want to keep your loved ones close, don’t volunteer to help them lose weight. Please, trust me on this one.

Where does this leave me? I’m sorry to say—in the soup. I’ve got some hum dinger resolutions I’ve been hoping to share with you, but so far, I’m hesitant. One side of me tells me to make the resolutions, and the other—the thoughtful philosophic side—strongly argues I should take my time, as should you, big hearted, well meaning, hugely dedicated newly resolved 2014 Reader of our wonderfully friendly and provocative Turtle for Flaneurs.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Anyone who knows Peter Stern, knows that he has a way with words.  As you can tell from many of his Turtle posts, and as many of his coworkers would readily admit, Peter can be quite loquacious.  But, that does not mean Peter is not wisely pithy when it suits him.  So, for your reading enjoyment, I give you some of the best Peter Stern-isms of the last year, as witnessed by myself and my fellow Turtle-ite Paul Gaszak.

Peter is the master of analogy:

 On the idea of Wrigley Field adding a jumbotron: “It’s like someone whipping out their genitals in Holy Name Cathedral.”

Peter does not view the world in simple dualistic catagories:

RMU Student: I’m a failure.

Dr. Stern: That’s not true. You’re just not a success.

Peter displaying his Socratic wisdom:

Gerry Dedera: Peter, you couldn’t be more wrong.

Peter Stern: I couldn’t be more wrong? Just wait a minute.

Peter contemplating his own photographic image:

I don’t believe that’s me at all; I think it looks much more like Marcel Proust after letting his hair grow out a bit and turn gray.

Peter using humor to illustrate society’s prejudices:

Carol Bivin: Why is it that a woman has never been elected President?
Peter: Well, let me tell ya, sweetie pie….

Peter as instructor:

Paul Gaszak: I told your students to move to the back row, because you educate with such force that there is a blast radius.
Peter: The force was so great that it actually pushed them out the door.

Peter as critic of our society’s obsession with physical beauty:

Paul Gaszak (A runner extraordinaire): Did you make a big deal of Cynthia’s birthday yet?

Peter: We are going to celebrate later when you’re out narcissistically jogging or whatever it is your selfishly do.

Peter being Peter:

Paul Gaszak: I thought we’d be the birthday strippers (for Cynthia’s party). You want to be the policeman or the fireman?

Peter: I can do both.

Happy Holidays, from the Turtle!

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty.

That’s right. Yes, you’ve read correctly, Turtle Doves–shop ’til you drop. Of course you didn’t hear it here first. True. But that’s not surprising for we–or at least some of the we–at The Flaneur’s Turtle don’t think of ourselves as cutting edge, think tank types. We know we’re not housed in one of the latest plush, rolling lawn cloistered meccas dedicated to the fine art of coming up with totally new ideas that will transform our world and our lives and our children’s lives for evermore.

Instead, we’re located at the corner of State and Congress in the deep centered vortex of a hum drum intersection surfeited with big city rush hour traffic jams where life couldn’t be more pedestrian and less creative. Indeed I dare say some at the Turtle eschew the cutting edge with almost the same focused energy ski bum addicts search out the perfect slope to best show off their dazzling pyrotechnics.

ImageThe small plaque by the front entrance of our 100 year old building tells our story. What it says is that our 12 story structure found itself on the cutting edge a century ago when it was the tallest building in the city of broad shouldered hog butchers known as Chicago. But that 12 story structure is no longer Chicago’s tallest building; Chicago’s tallest building today is called the Willis Tower and it’s a 102 stories in the air, or 90 stories taller than our old fashioned work life domicile.

So although we’re not at the forefront creating revolutionary new ideas, we Turtle Correspondents still feel we live worthwhile lives, and regularly have interesting thoughts to share with you, our readers, even when our thoughts aren’t brand new. After all, old ideas often contain nuggets of pure gold which time has tarnished and tawdry abuse rendered ridiculous. Brushed off, these old ideas can prove amazingly useful.

Now, with the above prolegomena safely behind us, let us turn our attention to the well known adage about buying which, in my view, is anchored in the very deepest layers of cultural wisdom. Yes, I really do believe the much maligned statement– shop ’til you drop–does contain good advice reasonable people would do well to follow, especially during the holiday season.

For what this well known statement is really telling us is simply this: to fulfill ourselves, we human beings should celebrate love and life. So if you’re genuinely committed to celebrating love and life, then my Dear Hard Carapaced Turtle Readers, my advice is to go out and shop, shop, shop.

Liven up your life by buying a new toaster oven, or pair of shoes, or box of chocolates, or stationary set, or magazine, or calendar, or Imagebook. Buy yourself a pint of your favorite ice cream or, better still, buy a quart. Just buy something and start the ball rolling. And with the holidays upon us, don’t simply shop for yourself, think of buying things for other people. Think about these other people–your spouse or significant other, or friend, or colleague, or sibling, or aunt and uncle and imagine a present they would like to receive; then go out and buy it. The more you buy the better you’ll feel, this I guarantee you or your money back.

Please remember shopping doesn’t require you to spend huge amounts of money. The magic phrase doesn’t demand you buy a diamond ring for your wife, or a pair of Bears season tickets for you and your offspring, or pluck down a bundle for a brand new husky, heavy weight, muscle bulging Dodge Durango. Au contraire. Small or if you prefer modest gifts fully satisfy the spirit of the slogan.

If you’re female rather than male, you needn’t feel compelled to buy a gazillion dollar fur coat, or a pair of $800, six inch Jimmy Choo satin red spiked heels. Going to Target or Walgreens to buy a couple pair of flip flops will work just fine. Shopping ’til you drop doesn’t mean you need to amass an Oprah sized net worth to enjoy the blessings buying confers. Don’t ask me how I know all this, just trust me that I do. Better still, buy those flip flops and see if they don’t make you feel bedda.

Actually one of the joys our slogan reminds us of is that you don’t have to be rich to get a kick out of shopping. You can be living from paycheck to paycheck and still enjoy the pleasure that buying affords those with tons of dough in the bank. And if you sit down and think about it, you’ll realize that most of the high toned folk who rail against the sleaziness of buying are people who are fairly well off and already have enjoyed buying lots of things they like. Indeed I can’t remember a single time I’ve run across poor people who preach heartfelt sermons about the immorality of buying “stuff,” especially at Christmas.

And don’t take this shop ’til you drop idea too literally. It doesn’t mean you must shop ’til you’re starving, worn out, and completely exhausted. Interpret it instead as a simple, well meaning, suggestion for you to avoid acting miserly, and/or resentful, particularly of those people who are out at the mall spurred by the holiday spirit. Let no one suggest for even a nanosecond that they see a resemblance between you and Mr. Dickens’ gorgon like ogre, Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge.

I think you’ll find and be surprised finding that buying is one of the human conditions most liberating experiences. Buying frees you up. When you’re buying, you don’t have to agree to the disagreeable, or obey people who think that they’re your master. Assuming your shopper’s mindset, you become as free as a bird, with the sky your only limit. Shopping is an equal opportunity endeavor.

Sure it can be abused and done to excess. But the same can be said of eating, sleeping, working, studying, exercising, and even praying. To put shopping in a clearer perspective, remember that animals don’t shop; they simply hunt and gather. Why don’t they shop? Because they don’t produce–they can reproduce, but they can’t produce a new way to wash clothes, or do yoga, or watch a movie, or listen to birds chirping. Neither can they brain storm, go to the library or laboratory or think tank to discover new ways to live their lives. So they don’t shop.

Only humans shop. To better appreciate this extraordinary fact, let’s do a final thought experiment: think what life would be like if we couldn’t shop. How awful our lives then would be! It would be as if we were suddenly behind bars, condemned to live our life in a jail cell. In prison, the terrible thing is that nothing’s really new; inmates are condemned to a world where everything’s basically the same.

Thus don’t rail against shopping and shoppers even as you review in your journal shopping’s obvious shortcomings. Also, don’t stay up nights worrying inordinately about the horrors of living in a consumer’s society. Instead, remind yourself that shopping’s one of mankind’s deepest and most attractive hobbies which has its roots in the innermost Heideggerian core of our primordial existence. As we need to eat, sleep, breathe, reproduce, and laugh, and cry, so we human beings need to shop, and shop and shop–both for ourselves, and for others. So count your blessings. Rejoice and be grateful that you can shop even when your dog, or cat, or hamster can’t.

 

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty. 

My life in sports! Where to begin? “Begin at the beginning,” you marvelously faithful Turtles intone to yourselves in unison, despite all manner of post and even pre modern distractions. OK, sure. But not so fast. Don’t you see: there’s a rub here. For where exactly is the beginning? Who can say with absolute 100 % Cartesian certainty where the beginning is? And who would be willing to settle for less than 100% certainty ?

Where’s the beginning? That’s the question. Out of the great flow of life that constitutes my early existence on this great green globe I’d have to arbitrarily pluck out a moment and magically announce with hale and brimstone, sound and fury, joy and sorrow: here’s the beginning, ladies and gentlemen. Let’s start.

You see a question like where did my life in sports begin isn’tlike well, gosh I’ve got to turn the light off before I can fall asleep, or turn on the ignition so the car will run, or get a glass of water before I can drink it. No, the question concerning the beginning of my sports life is far more difficult to answer requiring probably hundreds and hundreds of hours to examine a million trillion neurological events which preceded a decision I must have made to involve myself in sports–or more likely a single sport, back in time’s unfathomable mists. And these thoughts about neurology, and my sports beginnings aren’t some arcane, mad, hare brained assertion of a confused person gone off the deep end of an extraordinarily deep cliff–say like those steep ten story stone cliffsyou see in pictures of the southern portion of the Arizona Grand Canyon.

Au contraire. This my dearest of Turtles is cutting edge, cusp of the wave, up to the minute PhD science. Hard. Straight. True. And your expectations–well, in fact, they’re examples ofsubjective, naive, vague, helter skelter, fantasy, goo goo type thinking. Pure infantile wish fulfillment with no more reality than a unicorn or a wish to pick up the phone and say a few words to Ulysses S. Grant, or Charles Dickens, or Marcel Proust.

Where was I? Oh yes: so I assume you’ll agree with me that deciding where exactly my life in sports began is a very real challenge for me and for you, too, who have far less data than do I.Moreover, in all candoor, I must confess that my difficulty in identifying the beginning of my sports life is truly formidable because in fact I have absolutely no memory at all of a first momentplaying sports or even of my first exposure watching sports being played either live or on the tube. Nothing vivid leaps into consciousness of my sitting on a couch, maybe chatting with Dad, and seeing the outlines of Wrigley Field with the Cubs battling the Reds, or the Giants, or the Cardinals, etc. Zilch. Zip. Zero.

I think I do have a vague memory–and I might well be making this up–of playing soccer in a school play ground when I was about 6 or Image7 years old. But it’s all very vague. What I remember more vividly is joining the South Chicago YMCA and deciding soon thereafter I should learn how to swim. By the way, that Y still stands on the same corner in did years ago in my youth, well before cell phones, smart phones, and computers could take pictures so they could instantly be yours without having to go to Walgreens or send them to the folks at Kodak.

Fairly quickly I did learn to swim and even joined the swimming team, but never became much of a swimmer. Water would get in my eyes, ears, nose, and throat, an experience I never could convince myself was of little consequence and that I should simply choose to ignore. Eventually–meaning I was about 10 or 11, I think–I tried out for little league and made the team, deciding I should become a catcher since not many kids wanted to play that position. For a while that worked out but, like with swimming, I became increasingly disenchanted with the unpleasantries that went along with playing catcher and decided playing little league ballwasn’t for me.

ImageOh!–and I also quit because for some reason I was lousy at the plate. Great arm but just couldn’t hit a baseball. Later I played 16 inch softball, especially during the summers at an overnight camp in Wisconsin, and discovered I couldn’t hit that huge thing either. I mean I could hit it, but very far it seldom traveled. Is I said, I did have a good arm, and did a creditable job playing third base and right field, yet my baseball career never took hold.

But at that same camp, Camp Interlocken, the great piece of sporting news for me consisted in discovering tennis and, truly with not the smallest, tiniest ounce of exaggeration, I must report it was love at first sight and, moreover, that love remains undiminished up to this very day. Exactly why this love should form and take flight I can’t explain. I’m simply glad that it did. I played fairly good tennis, but never got really good at it partly because of a few athletic deficiencies I was born with, and partly because I didn’t take the next step which was to involve myself in a reasonably serious program of tennis instruction. Tennis is a tough sport and to get to a really solid level of play taking lots of lessons is essential.

So, dear Turtles, I’ve provided here a very brief account of my life in sports–and actually I just realized I failed to tell you about my days and nights playing basketball, a topic I’ll have to take up on another occasion. Instead of talking about basketball, I’ll conclude on an entirely different note and state very simply that my life in sports didn’t end when, save for tennis, I stopped playing sports. For what I discovered about sports is that the main reason to take up sports isn’t to play it, but to talk about it. Like the famous tree in the forest which makes no sound when it falls if no one is there to notice it, so the existence of sports depends entirely on having anaudience which chooses to watch whatever game is being played and, when the game is over, get to the really serious business of discussing it endlessly, whether on line, or in a sports bar, or in your TV room, or your kitchen, or car, or at work by the proverbial water cooler.

Indeed I’m certain–absolutely certain with 100% Cartesian certitude—that without an audience to watch and discuss our sporting life, sports would lose its sponsors, and see itself slowly stop attracting people to play its games, and little by little atrophy, and finally die. For as Aristotle told us 2,500 years ago by the wine dark sea, we human beings are endowed with reason and like nothing better talking and discussing and debating and learningabout all the things they do as well as the workings of the wider world of which they’re a part.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

For the holiday season, we at the Flaneur’s Turtle have increased our efforts to promote the site:

Michael Stelzer Jocks has infiltrated the Salvation Army. With each donation, he sings, “All I Want for Christmas is Youuuuuu….to ‘LIKE’ and ‘SHARE’ the Turtle.”

MSJ Salvation Army

Dr. Peter Stern has been dressing like Baby New Year, wearing a sash with the Turtle’s web address.

New-Year-Baby Peter

Tricia Lunt is making the rounds at Chicago bars singing a sultry “Santa Baby” alternative: “Turtle baby, slip some insight under my tree….”

Trish Christmas

I am working as Santa at Macy’s and giving the children boxes full of Turtle posts.

…that are also wrapped in Turtle posts.

…with a card that says “Don’t be naughty – read the Turtle.”

…“PS: I was totally kissing your mommy underneath the mistletoe last night.”

Paul Santa

We plug the Turtle via social media, in classrooms, and on the side of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Tower in Chicago, but it’s not done out of vanity. (Ok, it is for me. Like Lady Gaga, I live for the applause.) The Flaneur’s Turtle and all other print and digital publications must self-promote. A publication has no value if it has no audience.

It’s like that old saying: If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to see it, it won’t get on Instagram.

On social media, where I shamelessly plug myself, I saw a quote from a 1992 Paris Review interview with poet Yehuda Amichai: “When you’re a poet you have to forget you’re a poet—a real poet doesn’t draw attention to the fact he’s a poet. The reason a poet is a poet is to write poems, not to advertise himself as a poet.”

One aspect of the quote is agreeable: all artists should create their art because they love to create it – not because they hope to label themselves as poets, musicians, painters, actors.

However, artists should not forget they are artists, and they damn sure need to advertise themselves.

We live in a world of endless distractions that….

Hold on. Blake Shelton is dressed like an elf on Kelly Clarkson’s NBC Christmas Special. Hilarious. And she’s such a cutie pie.

Blake and Kelly

Ok. Like I was saying, we live in a world of distractions. We have to fight for people’s attention in the classroom, at the dinner table, on social media. It’s even more pressing for artists and little ole publications like the Flaneur’s Turtle, who need to figure out how to be ever-present and influential without being annoying and intrusive.

Growing up, I wanted to be a writer. Part of the appeal was my misconception that it was a perfect fit for a shy, antisocial kid like me. I could hide away and write in a log cabin in some anonymous woodland area, speaking only to myself and the forest creatures until I went insane like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

I eventually learned that art has a business side full of professional connections and branding and marketing. It is a separate art form unto itself, and it can be exhausting. But it’s all necessary.

So, thanks to everyone who reads the Turtle and joins us in conversing about our topics, both online and in person.

Now go give the gift of the Turtle to your loved ones this holiday season. I’m sure they’ll love it way more than jewelry or a new smartphone.