Crystal Ball

The somewhat older crowd at
our neighborhood coffee shop…
uses Harold Schlegel’s crystal ball to look at the past. The younger afternoon crew is more interested in seeing the future.

The accuracy for the two modes are an amazing 97.052% and 98.308% respectively.

There are risks involved of course. No one is quite the same after even a brief encounter — $179.95/minute — with the past or the future. It seems our neural synapses aren’t so different from those of our Neolithic ancestors after all.

Harold will explain the dangers of his app before you ever touch his silicate sphere, and his legal team will insist that you sign a waiver. Don’t be deterred.

The one thing my colleague’s groundbreaking process fails to do, at least as of this writing, is to make sense the present and the colorless, odorless truths floating over our heads.


Serema and Soheil

The long forced march is behind them.

The couple seated at the table are about to harvest what they have sown. They’re giddy with achievement and release.

They’ve done it. They’ve nailed it. Totally aced it. They have tee-shirts as evidence of every function they’ve endured as students.

For one of them the immediate future involves tenure track at one of the Ivies; for the other an individually tailored portfolio of responsibilities within an international consulting firm —all of this due to years of work. And now even the gods of relocation have smiled on them — neither will need to sacrifice a career for the other.!

They’ll move to the East Coast within months. As they sit here today, they’re comparing the advantages of towns that triangulate their workplaces.

The young couple has been a part of our community for six years and has discovered that something as incidental as a coffee joint can shape the quality of life in a way few people would imagine.

There’s a reason their names and faces aren’t revealed in this post. Halfway around the world there are families and clans and religions that keep their distance from one another. A ethnic Kurd and an ethnic Armenian, a Muslim and a Christian, are not meant to be together.

Here at our coffee shop, at the most visible table in the center of the room, the man and the women don’t need to hide their troth.

They’ll tell you as a matter of fact that their decision of where to live next, together as a family, revolves at least in part around finding a coffee shop like this one.


Carla’s painting of George Gerber

The man in the painting was not ‘merely dead’… but as the coroner in The Wizard of Oz once described it, he was ‘really most sincerely dead.’

However being deceased didn’t suit George Gerber. And it didn’t last long.

By all accounts George was a sociable man, a vibrant man, something of a character. He had moved from New York City at some point and wore a Yankee’s hat to prove it. He loved baseball and its traditions. “Now it’s just ‘money ball,’” he complained.

The man who lived alone in a balconied condo building within easy distance of the coffee shop had spent his working years at the Internal Revenue Service. We can assume that Agent Gerber was very good at what he did.

George kept up with the papers each day and happened to have a face the Chicago readers of Nelson Algren or Studs Terkel would find comforting. No one recalls any mention of a wife or children.

The portrait that Carla Hayden painted is sizable. She plied acrylic washes until she found the whimsy and panache of the man she enjoyed. When the piece was unveiled its subject was delighted, predicting that it would end up at the Art Institute.

After George left this earth the owners of the Brothers K, Brian and John Kim, afforded the work a position of honor near the double-urn brewing machine where, as you can see, George remains very much alive.

First-shift baristas report the hint of a frown on that painted face during pre-dawn hours. But it disappears as soon as the Brazilian, Papua New Guinean or Guatemalan coffee is brewed and George breathes in the caffeine he needs to face the day.

Here’s Carla’s artistic statement… Read more…



A quick exchange of pleasantries, then Natasha… gets to work at a table or in the window of our coffee shop, often for hours at a time.

Natasha Naumenko will tell you the drought was intermittent and not severe enough by itself to cause the Soviet Famine.

There was more at play, she will tell you.

It is Natasha’s conviction that the victims were institutionally starved of incentive and initiative as well as food.

She writes, “…I show that in the short run collectivization of agriculture in the Soviet Union contributed to the 1932-1933 famine that killed seven to ten million people.”

The Soviet state owned the fields and the crops. In many ways it owned the peasants who worked them. (Orwell’s “Animal Farm” was inspired by these deprivations.) Read more…


Chris Green’s Erasure Poem

Construction of American Pipelines
Erasure poem by Chris Green

* * *

The United States, hereby retrofit.
With regard to all iron or steel borders, submit.

* * *

This ‘erasure poem’ is derived from the Presidential Memorandum regarding Construction of the American Pipelines.

It was written by Chris Green, a well-respected poet who frequents our local coffee shop. Poets like Chris are to coffee shops what humus is to homegrown cabbage and tomatoes.

For those who don’t know, that would be most of us, an erasure poem is constructed by snatching key words from a document, arranging them, and erasing the others. The result may intensify the intent of the original, or challenge it.

Read the memorandum here: Read more…


The Wang Creed

He knew that he and the world he lived in would not long survive.At the height of the Second World War when civil strife was continuing to tear through China, Bogun Wang’s [Wang Bogun] health was failing.

The educator and revolutionary feared for his family.

As the head of a clan whose prominence traced back nine generations, Bogun rewrote the centuries-old Wang family creed to guide his heirs through catastrophic times. My good friend Ed is his son.

Above all else the Wang Creed called for filial piety. Respect for elders and ancestors was the primary virtue stressed by Confucius, the revered philosopher who has shaped Chinese life since 500 BC.

Bogun warned that his society was turning from agriculture to commerce and that education would be the key to stability. He preached that those who inherit wealth cannot afford to be idle. The privileges and resources of the clan were dwindling, they would need to be shared and used wisely.

When the Communists gained power, Bogun’s widow Zhining and her children took asylum in the U.S., leaving Bogun’s world behind.

Ed has not updated the formal code of conduct as his father did.

What he has done, at the urging of his children, is to write a book that recounts his family’s role in revolutionary China. Like Bogun’s efforts, Ed’s book is a personal gift from a father to his family. A show of filial piety in reverse.

‘Patriot and Warriors’* will be archived and crawled far beyond the world of people named Wang — historians are a hungry bunch.

*Patriot and Warriors is now available at Amazon


Text Of The Wang Family Creed

When I was a child, my father had taught me that we should unite our family with filial piety and friendship… Read more…


Go Back To Where You Came From

women-in-head-scarf-bros-k-2-600pxWhat he wanted to know, but was too polite to ask, is if he and his wife are in danger.(Names and faces are not included in the post for a reason. Read on.)
الأسماء والصورة غير متاحة لعدة أسباب

The man on the ‘L’ didn’t know she is in the U.S. legally. He saw a young woman alone, wearing a headscarf, and that was enough for him.

“Go back to where you came from.” he yelled.
لم يكن يعرف الشاب الأمريكي أن (ل) تقيم في أمريكا بشكل قانوني، لهذا عندما شاهد شابة وحيدة ترتدي غطاء الرأس، تقدم لها وكان كافياً أن يقول لها بكل جرأة لها: “ارجعي من حيث أتيت”

“I’m not in your home,” the graduate student replied. The encounter took place last week, the day after the presidential election.
ردت عليه طالب الدراسات العليا، بكل بساطة: ” أنا لست في بيتك”، حدث هذا الأسبوع الماضي بعد يوم واحد فقط من انتخابات الرئاسة الأمريكية

The woman’s husband asked an American he had met if they could talk. He had spent a year entirely dedicated to studying English and he was in the habit of listening carefully.
زوج هذه الشابة سأل أمريكي في لقاء عابر، إذا كان من الممكن أن نتحدث، هذا الشاب تعلم اللغة الإنجليزية خلال السنوات الماضية بشكل مكثف.

He asked if the American was worried about what was reported to be happening across the country. What he wanted to know, but was too polite to ask, is if he and his wife are in danger. Have they become targets?
كان سؤاله، إذا ما كانت أمريكا قلقة بشأن ما ذكرته أن يحدث في جميع أنحاء البلاد؟ كل ما ما كان يريد أن يعرفه، هل هو وزوجته في خطر، ومن المحتمل أن يصبحوا هدف؟ كان مؤدبا في طرح هذا السؤال.

He is here studying sociology with an emphasis on culture and religion, which includes the kind of fanaticism all too familiar in his part of the world.
هذا الزوج هو هنا لدراسة علم الاجتماع، مع اهتمام بعلم الاجتماع الثقافي والديني والفاشية التي هي سائدة في بعض مناطق العالم.

During his first stay in the U.S. he had been hosted by an African-American woman whom he refers to as his “American grandmother.” She assured him he is welcome here. For his wife’s safety he hopes that is still true.
في أول أيامه عند قدومه إلى أمريكا، كان يقيم في بيت سيدة أمريكية- إفريقية، يشببها أنها جدته في أمريكا. كانت هذه السيدة تؤكد على الترحيب به هنا في هذه البلاد هو وزوجته.

The friendship between the Middle Eastern couple and the American started like many do at our local coffee shop, by sharing an electrical outlet. They quickly discovered their views on life aren’t so very different and that their various mobile devices run on the same AC current.
بدأت الصداقة بين الزوجين القادمين من الشرق الأوسط والرجل الأمريكي في مقهى المحلي للقهوة، كما نفعل هنا دائما، وذلك بمشاركة فيش الكهرباء. مع الوقت إكتشفو وجهات نظرهم المتشابهه حول بعض القضايا، كما أن الأجهزة الكهربائية المختلفة تعمل على نفس التيار. fingerprint4-only-final-40px


Neal and the Climate

Neal-Blair-mustache-only-crop-600pxIf you anguish
over what claims you can believe
and whom you should trust in the debate over climate change, pull up a stool and join the club.

There’s a scientist named Neal who often escapes from his lab to work in the windows of our humble coffee house. He deals with the biogeochemical transformations of organic carbon in surficial environments.

Neal’s good at explaining things.

He’ll walk you through the molecular makeup of the atmosphere and explain how solar energy penetrates our environment, raising temperatures.

You’ll learn that the thermal energy radiated back into space has a longer wavelength than energy coming in, and that it is trapped by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Earth heats up, ice shelves collapse, ocean currents get confused, etc. etc. Mostly it’s not good.

If you happen to be skeptical about climate risks (perfectly understandable what with certain preachers and talk radio and everything), Neal will challenge you to recognize one simple fact. And that is this:

Climate change projections are subject to exhaustive peer review.

Peer review pits independent research teams against one another. They like nothing more than to debunk each other’s theories. They replicate experiments and triangulate computer modeling. It’s a barb-wired-enclosed process that attracts the best minds in the field. Reputations and front teeth hang in the balance.

Neal Blair is a professor in the departments of Earth and Planetary Sciences, and Civil and Environmental Engineering at Northwestern University. His work is cited internationally. He earned his Ph.D. at Stanford.

Neal’s among the 90 percent* or so of environmental and earth scientists who interpret the body of peer-reviewed data as proof that human activity is raising CO2 concentrations to dangerous levels.

Maybe some morning one of the scientists who dismiss climate change as a hoax — one of those in the small minority — will join us for a cup of coffee. We’d like nothing more than to put our phones on vibrate and listen to the peer-reviewed data on the other side of the debate. fingerprint4-only-final-40px

* this percentage is often quoted as a higher number


Chess Match, Richard Lang

Richard-Lang-Bros-K-600pxIt was early in the ‘80s.

The manufacturer of an electronic chess game claimed that it could defeat Anatoly Karpov, the reigning chess champion of the world.

It was nothing more than a glorified single-purpose toy. This was years before IBM’s Deep Blue posed a serious challenge to human chess players.

A law firm was called in to counter the product’s claims. Attorneys looking for a chess master narrowed their search to a club in a storefront in a near suburb. There they found Richard Lang, a university professor who had long been ranked in tournament play.

The lawyers invited Richard to lunch at the prestigious Chicago Athletic Club where he was required to put on a borrowed blazer and a tie. He ordered the chicken-salad sandwich and they talked. The suits quickly realized they had found their knight errant.

The man and the machine squared off in what turned out to be an unfair match. Richard didn’t break a sweat. The device never recovered from the first game. Its marketing team immediately dropped its bogus performance claims.

My friend doesn’t remember an opening gambit or anything special about his strategy. But there’s one lesson he did draw from being the champion of the human race: No chicken salad sandwich is worth $25.fingerprint4-only-final-40px