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640 Food

It’s not just for breakfast anymore

(Well, actually, it is. For the time being, anyway.)

There I go again, saying I’d abandon the Dewey (R) System and then going ahead and using it anyway. Like I said, the number of hits on this blog is anemic; today, just by accident, I may have found at least one reason why, other than the blog’s having no coherent theme and the likelihood of its being off-putting in polite company. Reason number three: it seems that anyone using a PC without a high-powered microscope probably can’t see the little gewgaws on the right-hand side, the bits and bobs that are so very important to my work here. And, oh, yeah, reason no. 4: this blog is all about me, and as I’m learning more and more, it ain’t all about you.

Be that as it my, I’m asking you all for a favor. I would love to speak with anyone who has any knowledge whatsoever of the origins of the federal School Breakfast Program. By anyone, I mean anyone. Even if you happened to be watering the plants or washing the windows and overheard something when federal officials blew through your town back in the early 1960s and asked all the local city, town or school officials whether students were getting anything to eat for breakfast, please let me know.

I’m doing a research project (full disclosure: it’s with my dad, who used to work for the Agriculture Department) on the School Breakfast Program and a whole passel of other federal child nutrition programs. It’s not a big, dark, secret, Deep-Throat-meets-Michael-Moore type of thing. We’d just like to know how the program got started, who was there when they started it, what research they did, especially in the field, to support getting the federal government involved in school breakfast. I have a whole big  list of other questions I still haven’t finished writing yet. We’d like to know how many sites they visited and who they brought with them.  Respond to me here and I’ll figure out how to get in touch with you without getting all the spammers involved.

Thanks!

John Leonard

As if I didn’t already know it, the number of hits I’ve been getting show that things are basically pretty stagnant on this site, so this will probably be it for a while. I don’t have that much time for it right now anyway, and if I ever do have time for it again, I really need to think about what I’m going to do with it — goofy vs.  serious; organized vs.  random;  snarky vs.  restrained; keeping up with the Joneses vs. being myself; substantive vs. light and fluffy; special effects vs. plain old black and white  — plus the whole Dewey (R) thing is ridiculous. Every site I go to for reference has a different Dewey (R) number for a given topic. The whole system is getting too arcane to be useful.

I need to decide what the tone of this journal is going to be and make sure it’s consistent from one post to the next. I need to plan ahead; there’s a reason publishers have editorial calendars. I need to decide whether I’m going to do real journalism again, and, if so, what about?

Am I going to have live quotes? I think I ought to; I wish the Chicago Tribune felt the same way, especially when it comes to its front section.

The paper seems to have given up on the concept of going out and hoofing it to get the story. I can’t afford to do that myself, and if the Tribune can’t afford it either, then why don’t the editors just pack it in? If I had a paper and I stories that said things  like “according to a report on CNN,” or if ran quotes that are clearly just press releases, I’d give up the ghost. Their local section is good, and so are the sports and business sections. I don’t see why the editors can’t just run those.

I doubt I’ll be running anything more than once a month for a while. If I can’t come up with something thoughtful, focused, organized, timely and filled with content, I probably won’t bother anymore.

Our pastor said this past week, “It isn’t always about you.” Point taken.

Chinese New Year's on Argyle Street, 1/31/2009

Chinese New Year's on Argyle Street, 1/31/2009

770.2 Miscellaneous photography

After watching the Chinese New Year’s parade, we and a friend of ours got some pho down the street. I have seen many varieties of pho before that included tripe, but this place had them all beat: you could get pho with penis. Next time I’m there, I may ask every single person in the restaurant if they had pho with penis. Not such a big deal, I suppose; bull gonads are quite a delicacy in some parts of the American South.

813.54 American authors 1900-1945

Well, the old man’s moved back to Providence, so he seem to have calmed down somewhat. He’s talking about all his literary theories and whatnot. More later.

338.5 Microeconomics
669.143 Scrap metal

I’m still collecting aluminum cans, which are never in short supply on these streets, and taking them to a redemption center for cash. It’s really a firsthand way to see how the economy is tanking. The first time I went there, they gave me about 50 cents a pound. The next time, I got about 40 cents per pound. Today, I gave them 16 pounds and got $4 back.

So I probably made back what it cost cost me to drive down there. On the plus side, the place has, as I have said, some interesting things to look at. There is the aforementioned beer can pyramid. Today, they also had a knight’s helmet sitting there on a folding chair, and other interesting discarded metalworks.

The Kinzie Industrial Corridor is not far from there. Obviously, I’m not the first person to realize the area’s photographic potential, but I plan to put my own spin on it one of these days.

364 Crime

I cannot imagine the agony singer, actress and Chicago native Jennifer Hudson is going through right now. I have not spent much time on the South Side, but even here in relatively staid West Town in hear about break-ins, shootings and stabbings all the time. As I crawled around the western edge of the city yesterday morning, I noticed three or four police cars parked diagonally at several street corners, at least half a dozen more tearing down the street, and two helicopters dangling from invisible strings in the sky. It reminded me of the year I lived in Washington’s Columbia Heights neighborhood in the late 1980s, when the local crack dealer lived downstairs, searchlights from helicopters illuminated University Place, Malcolm X Park and 13th Street, and DEA agents in heavy boots and cargo pants tromped across our ceiling. That impressive show of force, an early version of shock and awe, didn’t stop one young man from shooting another young man on our front lawn.

My boss says it’s time the people who run this city recognize that we’re at war and behave accordingly. He says he had a gun leveled at his face once while delivering pizza, and narrowly avoided becoming a statistic because he refused to put up with gang violence in his neighborhood.

I do not for one second assume that Obama’s victory next week is a sure thing, but if he should overcome the massive Republican dirty-tricks network, I hope he will make some attempt to reinvigorate the Great Society programs of Lyndon Johnson. And this time, in addition to putting the economy of scale that only governments can create behind such worthy causes as nutrition, education and job training, I humbly ask that he consider adding a fourth leg to this table, one that will make it stable: security. Give the people of the South Side, or Anacostia, or Watts, or north Minneapolis, or Detroit, the opportunity to implement the same kind of safety measures we lucky few here in the gentrifying neighborhoods north of the Loop enjoy: sturdy front and back gates that lock, home security systems, multiple door locks and whatever else can prevent people from living in constant fear. It’s not poverty that causes violence, it’s the people who prey on the poor. And if this is a war, as my boss insists it is, then bring in some armed protection while you’re at it.

Just my $.02.

098 Prohibited books

E proibido proibir
– Caetano Veloso

If books are outlawed, only outlaws will have books.
– John Leonard

Wifey and I went to the Banned Books Readout downtown yesterday. We caught Lauren Myracle, who was pretty good. She said it affected her pretty deeply when she heard that someone, somewhere decided that her books (for teens and tweens) weren’t fit for public consumption. A couple other folks got up to say similar things, including Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmick.

But, to me, the real surprise of the afternoon was Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, one of those authors without whom there almost would be no children’s or young adult departments in any public libraries, anywhere. And there she was, this nice, older woman laying out in words I wish I had written down the dangers of banning books. First off, it’s a terrible thing to do to a kid to him or her not to read a book. She said she once got what was clearly a form letter from some elementary school students, each of whom had copied the letter in their own handwriting, and each of whom had misspelled the word “vulgar” as “vulger,” in reference to her works. But a couple of the students had snuck in their own words before the envelopes were sealed: “We really like your books,” or something to that effect.

Sarah Palin’s been getting a lot of attention about whether she had any books banned as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. As far as I can tell, she didn’t. But the thing that’s moving from factoid to fact status is that she did ask the town librarian how she would respond if Palin asked her to remove some books from the stacks. This is only speculation, but that sounds to me like the kind of “shot across the bow” question that was meant to send a chill down the spine of anyone who even thought about getting in Palin’s way.

I intend to get in her way. If I don’t, I have a pretty good idea what the future will look like for those of us who believe in open access to information: There was a guy at the readout who had tricked out his bike to have a little library on the front, a “book bike,” if you will. Maybe that’s what he called it. I don’t know; I was feeling too shy to talk to him. It was a totally cool idea, and a great way to get books out into the community.

Another way I have seen to get books into peoples’ hands is to use one of those newspaper boxes. Someone has done just that with a newspaper box outside Reckless Records on Chicago Avenue. It’s called the Community Book Exchange or something like that.

Again, a great idea and a great adjunct to a genuine public library. But not a replacement for same, and neither is the book bike. If book readers have to go underground and start doing the whole samizdat routine, stealing around in the night, passing hastily made copies of contraband books to anonymous associates in alleys, it’d be kinda cool at first. Then we’d realize how much it would suck. We’d be embarrassed to have to admit that we lived in a society that didn’t support the free exchange of information, a society that thinks books are more dangerous than guns. Imagine that, a country without libraries, or one with libraries that are so heavily censored that no one takes them seriously.

It could happen. We already have towns without libraries. Fortunately, Chicago isn’t one of them. I found out last Monday that the city government has approved construction of a new branch for the Chicago Public Library in the Goldblatt Building, also on Chicago Ave. I found that out when I went to talk to my alderman, Manny Flores. Heard it from his administrative assistant. Back to you, Jim.

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