Saturday, May 6, 2017

Graceland Cemetery: Women of Influence

The day was clear-skied and lovely, with just a little chill in the air. I decided I haven't been taking advantage of my Chicago Architecture Foundation membership, so jumped on the Red Line up to Addison, then got connected to their tour of the Graceland Cemetery.

I'm afraid I've already forgotten our marvelous docent's name. The last name might have been Hoag. (I may have conflated this with a name I saw on a tombstone: Uriah Hair. I thought, hmm, take away the first U and you have a palindrome, and what are the odds of that?) She was, like all the docents, knowledgeable and deeply enthusiastic. She's been a docent for 10 years, and has a little badge that said she had won Outstanding Volunteer, and it doesn't surprise me.

We walked through not only a cemetery, but an arboretum, where once, our docent told us, people left the bustle of the city to take their families up to what was then a rural spot. It was a spring day, with everything coming awake. She said the most of the tours of the CAF focus on men, and to most of the talks in cemeteries. But hers focused on "women of influence," and there were some amazing stories about some amazing women. Among them were:

  • Mary Wilmarth (1837-1919), a social and civic reformer who introduced Chicago to Jane Adams and became a patron of Hull House. [This is all from the sheet our docent provided at the end. The oral version was much livelier!]
  • Juliette Kinzie (1806-1870), an early settler who wrote the first history of Chicago's years.
  • Marion Mahony Griffin (1871-1961), the first licensed architect in illinois, and who worked with Frank Lloyd Write before starting her own practice.
  • Edith Farnsworth (1903-1977), an early advocate of modern architecture, commissioned Mies van der Rohe to build a home for her in Plano, Illinois.
  • Frances Glessner (1848-1932) helped established the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and became its leading patron.
  • Mary Richardson Jones (her tombstone reads Grandma Jonsie), a Free black woman who helped slaves escape through the Underground Railroad.
  • Kate Warn (1830?-1868), the first U.S. women detective, who worked for Pinkerton, and helped break up a plot to assassinate president-elect Lincoln before his inauguration.
  • Nettie Fowler McCormick (1835-1923), a formidable businesswoman who guided her late husband's Cyrus McCormick Reaper Works to become International Harvester.
  • Katherine Dexter McCormick (1875-1967), a pioneer in the fight for women's rights, and funded research resulting in the development and approval of the first birth control pill.
And that's not all. But I won't give it all away. Anyone interested in this fascinating tour of some altogether remarkable women - who often had huge influence on the city - should sign up. This would be an ideal trip for book clubs, history buffs, women's clubs, and men's clubs.

Meanwhile, here are a few more pictures.
Pinkerton had a whole bunch of graves for his agents, including Kate Warn, whom he said was one of the 5 best agents he's ever known.

This one, apparently, was the tombstone of an extraterrestrial.

Fantastic statue.

Love the two together.

Pizza diaries: Coalfire

After my Chicago Architecture Tour of Women of Influence (a Graceland Cemetery Walking tour,) I searched out Coalfire, a craft pizza place at 3707 N Southport Ave, Chicago, IL 60613, not far from Wrigley Field.

The verdict? Pretty darn good. The crust was thin, but had a pleasant chewiness. The sausage was sweet and minced. The white mounds you see were whipped ricotta. What else? Red peppers, garlic. And a nut brown ale, which went very well with it.

The only pizza sizes were 14", so I brought half of it home. I'd go there again.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The First Amendment and Religious Liberty

Yesterday, Trump was rumored to be considering signing a "religious liberty" executive order enabling sweeping exemptions on basic civil liberties. Today, it appears that he's just trying to overturn the Johnson Amendment. 501 (c) (3) organizations, as well as churches and universities, don't have to pay taxes; in exchange, they're not allowed to promote or oppose a particular political candidate. Trump seems to feel that restricting churches from endorsing candidates is a matter of both free speech and religious liberty. The Founders would have disagreed.

What's the problem with having specific candidate endorsements from churches?
  • Churches don't pay taxes, and don't do any financial accounting. What's to stop unscrupulous PACs from laundering money through churches to fund particular candidates? If churches can support candidates, then they should have to report their income. Otherwise, your church is for sale - and you'll never know who bought it.
  • Our Constitution states quite clearly that there is to be no religious test for public office (Article VI, Section 3). How long would that last if churches can advance their own candidates?
Thomas Jefferson (the first founder to use the phrase "the separation of church and state") wrote: "The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man."
That's why the Puritans left England, remember?

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A handbook to the resistance

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by [Snyder, Timothy]At last weekend's indie book crawl I picked up On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder. Snyder, the Levin Professor of History at Yale University, is also the author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, and Black Earth: the Holocaust as History and Warning.

I noticed the book because as an artifact it's a delight. Roughly the size of two packs of playing cards set side by side, it has 126 pages, a Prologue, and 20 chapters, most ranging from 1 to 5 pages. The plain cover has that letter press feel. The typography is gorgeous.

The premise of the book is that history can inform our lives. Snyder's deep knowledge of three periods - the rise of the USSR, the rise of Hitler, and the rise of Putin - provides a playbook for tyranny. It's clear that Snyder believes that our current president - whom he never names - is a sort of pre-tyrannical figure. What should we do about it?

These are the 20 lessons:
  1. Do not obey in advance.
  2. Defend institutions.
  3. Beware the one-party state.
  4. Take responsibility for the face of the world.
  5. Remember professional ethics.
  6. Be wary of paramilitaries.
  7. Be reflective if you must be armed.
  8. Stand out.
  9. Be kind to our language.
  10. Believe in truth.
  11. Investigate.
  12. Make eye contact and small talk.
  13. Practice corporeal politics.
  14. Establish a private life.
  15. Contribute to good causes.
  16. Learn from peers in other countries.
  17. Listen for dangerous words.
  18. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives.
  19. Be a patriot.
  20. Be as courageous as you can.
The book is a quick read. But it's compelling and persuasive. As a librarian, I find at least four of the lessons eerily on point for me, namely: defend institutions. We have got to stop worshiping disruption for disruption's sake, and start building institutions that serve people well. Remember professional ethics is the core of my job these days (director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom). Believe in truth and Investigate both speak to the trustworthiness of librarians as honest information providers.

At any rate, this is a modern classic for anyone interested in actually doing something. On Tyranny is available from, and, of course, your better indie bookstores.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Make Twitter more meaningful

I was just reading on Facebook that my son, Max, completed a graphic installation of his thesis at the Redline Art Gallery in Denver. He's wrapping up his degree in Digital Design at the University of Colorado Denver. In brief, he designed an app (not coded, but built the interface design for) that .... well, let me use his words.

The gamification systems in popular social media platforms have become the reason users are addicted to using those platforms. The entire structure encourages getting more likes, comments, and views which in turn lowers the quality of content to get more digital currencies. This creates echo chambers, and generally unsatisfying social media experiences.
How can we utilize extrinsic rewards to instigate an internal motivation in users to engage in discussions with people outside of their social media circles?
TO SET A HIGHER STANDARD FOR ONLINE DISCUSSION by providing a platform that makes it easy and enjoyable for people to engage in civil discussion with strangers by creating a system that doesn’t allow for abusive language or other typical pitfalls of online discussion. 
My research discovered that gamification in its truest sense can be a powerful force, but the way that it has been used is extremely damaging. The fact that current platforms for online discussion don’t impose any restrictions on the kinds of discussions that people can have has also led to the firestorm of nonsense that currently exists online.
Go Max! This may not  be the single most pressing problem of our time. But it's one of them.

Evaluating the director

Back in 2008 I presented with my good friend and fellow library director Eloise May, as well as one of her board members (Howard Rotham) and one of mine (Mark Weston) at a Public Library Association conference.

Our session was about how to evaluate a library director. (For evaluating the library board, see here.) It was based, like all good sessions, on all the things we had done wrong. We eventually figured things out, and wanted to save other people the bother of making all of our mistakes.

I had this posted on my old website as a file, and recently had a request for it. So here's my attempt to embed this from a Google Slides. Let's give it a shot. (If some of the slides are too small, click the icon to go full screen.)

Ethical Humanist Society

Yesterday morning I gave a talk about fake news for the Ethical Humanist Society. They reminded me of Unitarians - a smart bunch of folks who happen to have (due to a generous donor) their own secular church building. 

The Ethical Humanists have an interesting history. Based in Skokie, they were founded in 1882, and are a chapter of the American Humanist Association. Next week they have a highly interesting program: "Amy Ellison and Monica Long Ross of 137 Films will tell us about the making of their film company’s most recent project, currently in post-production, called “We Believe in Dinosaurs.” Shot over the course of three years, the film follows the designers and builders of the $100 million, 510-foot Noah’s Ark 'Museum' in rural Kentucky whose express purpose is debunking evolution. From blue prints to opening day, the film tells the story of the unsettling, yet uniquely American, conflict between science and religion." I just might try to get back out there.

Incidentally, here are the slides from my talk. Note in particular, the excellent poster from the International Federation of Library Associations.

Pizza Diaries (a series)

Yesterday, after giving a morning talk, I stopped by the Happy Camper Pizzaria for a small italian sausage, green pepper and black olive pizza. Pretty darn good. Good crust - flavor and a little chewiness, sauce that's more than tomato and sugar. A good 'un. - Welcome

In November of 2018, I left my position at ALA in Chicago to return to my Colorado-based writing, speaking, and consulting career. So I'...