books


Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! It’s been several months since I last posted here at The Bread Line, but this morning I felt the urge to write here again.

While this blog has been dormant (other than the ever-changing Twitter feed on the right side of the website), my other blog, The Midwest League Traveler, has been going strong. That where I chronicled my summer journey to the 16 Midwest League (Class A minor-league baseball) ballparks and continue to write about baseball-related topics. I’m in the process of writing a book about the ballparks and my experiences visiting them. My plan is to publish the book by the start of the next baseball season, and most nights I’m staying up late to work on it. If you haven’t done so already, I hope you will check out my work at The Midwest League Traveler and if you use Twitter, follow me at @MWLtraveler in addition to @thebreadline.

That brings me to what I’m thankful for this year. In addition to the usual stuff — you know what kind of stuff I mean — I am thankful for the opportunity to be pursuing my dream of writing a book and, in doing so, being able to combine my loves of baseball, road trips and writing. I’m thankful for all the support I’ve gotten from family, friends and even some strangers (people I hear from through the blog or Twitter, or whom I met at ballparks this year), but I’m especially thankful for the unwavering support of my wife, without whom my book project wouldn’t be happening.

Thanks for checking in at The Bread Line. While I rarely post here anymore because of my commitment to finishing my book and pushing it through my other blog and social media, I am glad you stopped here and read this.

Now it’s time to enjoy a turkey day cup of coffee. Have a happy and safe holiday, everyone.

As I noted in a post yesterday, today is the 5th anniversary of when then-Gov. Mitt Romney signed a universal healthcare bill into law for Massachusetts. But that’s not the only — or even the most important — anniversary of significance to be marked today.

Of course, the most significant is the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. I began to commemorate the day this morning by dusting off my Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusion II CD and playing it, beginning with the first track, “Civil War.” Then my wife and I hiked at Starved Rock State Park, where there weren’t many people today, giving us the opportunity to truly appreciate the solitude of nature and, at one point, reflect on how far we’ve come as a society since the Civil War — and even since the 100th anniversary 50 years ago.

You don’t need me to explain all that, but I do wish to take this time to mention a few Civil War-related books I’ve read or that are on my to-read list: Jay Winik’s “April 1865: The Month That Saved America” (about the final days of the Civil War and its immediate aftermath); James L. Swanson’s “Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer” and “Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln’s Corpse”; David O. Stewart’s “Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy”; Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”; and George B. Kirsch’s “Baseball in Blue and Gray: The National Pastime During the Civil War.”

If anyone has suggestions to add to my reading list, I’d love to hear them. Also, if you have any Civil War sites you recommend I visit between northern Illinois and Atlanta, Ga., during a road trip planned for later this year, I’d love to hear those, too.

* * *

Today is also the 50th anniversary of the first manned space flight (by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin) and the 30th anniversary of the American space shuttle program’s first flight. NASA celebrated by not giving one of the retiring space shuttles to Chicago’s Adler Planetarium — but at least the planetarium will get the flight simulator used by astronauts during their space training.

The four space shuttles were assigned to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum near Washington, D.C.; the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex near Orlando, Fla.; the California Science Center in Los Angeles; and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York.

I’ll also be visiting the Kennedy Space Center during my aforementioned road trip planned for later this year. Suggested stops in the TOM (Tampa-Orlando-Miami) triangle are welcome, too. (Baseball games and Everglades National Park are already on the agenda.)

* * *

Finally, today is the 1-year anniversary of when the Chicago Cubs front office started its official Twitter feed, @CubsInsider. This isn’t very notable, except to illustrate a point.

Lately I’ve noticed a few people in my Twitter timeline mention that they’ve been on Twitter for a year now. I’m glad they’ve been on Twitter that long, but I’m not sure why they think the anniversary is a big deal. I’ve used Twitter since early 2009 — proudly ahead of the curve with this form of social media — but I don’t know what day I tweeted for the first time. Nevertheless, if you’re on Twitter and don’t already follow me, I hope you will change that! I’m @thebreadline.

I’m filing this report from my hidden lair along the border between the dangerous Northern Province and the rest of Illinois …

For the sake of those who didn’t see “The Daily Show” Monday evening, I must mention that during a segment wherein correspondent John Oliver searches for the “Wisconsin 14,” Oliver travels through the “Northern Province” of Illinois (which, judging by the “Daily Show” map, appears to be everywhere in the state north of Interstate 80) and calls it a “savage, frozen territory.”

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, whom Oliver referred to as a “notorious former warlord,” made a surprise appearance, providing the segment with its (bleeping) golden moment. In a nutshell, Oliver asks Blagojevich if he knows where the Wisconsin 14 are, Blagojevich says he doesn’t, and Blagojevich issues a statement of support for the Wisconsin 14.

“These lawmakers standing up for working people, and the fundamental rights of working people to bargain collectively with their employers — that is (bleeping) golden,” Blagojevich says.

Also, Oliver asks Blagojevich if the convicted ex-governor is allowed to “just walk around here.”

The segment can be found here on NBC Chicago’s website.

In other, more serious Blagojevich news today, the former governor withdrew his request to travel to England to speak to the Oxford Union, a student society at Oxford University. Blagojevich likely would have had to pay for his international airfare out of his own pocket, which would have created a new problem for him since he is using public funds to pay for his defense.

Whether Judge James Zagel would’ve granted permission is unknown, though he did reject a similar request in 2009 when Blagojevich wanted to appear on the TV reality show “I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!” (Instead, his wife, Patti Blagojevich, appeared on the show. I blogged here at The Bread Line about Patti’s jungle adventures on the show, and you can find those posts here.)

I also learned today that Chicago Tribune reporters John Chase and Jeff Coen are working on a book about Blagojevich. Coen’s last book, “Family Secrets: The Case That Crippled the Chicago Mob,” was widely praised. I already knew that Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jimmy Breslin also is working on a Blagojevich book, with Blagojevich’s blessing — which means Breslin’s book will be the BS version of the Blagojevich story.

Unfortunately, Blagojevich’s publicist Glenn Selig previously said the former governor also would like to write another book. Please, no.

If you are someone who cares about such things, you probably already know that Donald Rumsfeld’s new memoir, “Known and Unknown,” has created some controversy thanks to the former defense secretary’s expectedly self-serving justification of the Iraq war. The Washington Post‘s Bob Woodward, who wrote several behind-the-scenes books about the Bush administration, took particular exception to Rumsfeld’s version of events and wrote about the subject here.

In addition to the financial cost and the loss of lives, our country’s reputation was tarnished on the world stage thanks to Rumsfeld and company’s unnecessary war. Consider that context as you read the following quote from NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel in a report on the protests in Libya.

“People here have been told by Gadhafi that the United States wants to invade and make Libya into another Iraq. They seem to believe it,” Engel said while in Tripoli, the capital of Libya.

I wish President Obama’s detractors would keep that in mind when they criticize him for allegedly “apologizing for America.” That’s not exactly what Obama has done; he essentially has said that the reckless line of thinking that led to the Iraq war was not the way America normally conducts itself on the world stage. Perhaps Obama’s critics will accept this fact someday, though I am not hopeful on that front; regardless, Rumsfeld and the rest of the Bush administration who led our country into the Iraq war need to accept that they were wrong to do so.

As we mark the 40th anniversary of Earth Day today, it is worth noting that the conservationist movement really began a century ago under the leadership of President Theodore Roosevelt.

It is somewhat ironic that Roosevelt was a Republican – the political party that usually isn’t associated with today’s conservation movement – though he did later break away from the GOP to form the more progressive (and short-lived) Bull Moose Party.    

I’ve been reading about Roosevelt lately in Aida Donald’s book, “Lion in the White House,” sort of as a prep course for tackling a much-larger tome, Douglas Brinkley’s 940-page “The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America.” I already knew about T.R.’s love of nature and push for land conservation, but the more I learn about our country’s 26th president – and not just regarding his push for conservation – the more I am impressed by the man who once expressed his fondness for the West African proverb “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” (Incidentally, that proverb seems to reflect the Obama Doctrine for the world stage. But I digress …)

During his presidency, Roosevelt protected approximately 230,000,000 acres of public land in the form of five national parks, 18 national monuments, 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reservations and four national game preserves. As someone who enjoys hiking in such places and tries to visit at least one new natural wonder each year, I’m thankful to Roosevelt for what he started.

Roosevelt wasn’t the first president to establish a national park – that honor belongs to Ulysses S. Grant, who made Yellowstone the first one in 1872 – but he was the one who arguably did more for conservation than any other president before or since. Arguing that conservation of natural resources is “vital for the future of the nation,” Roosevelt helped ignite the then-relatively new idea of preserving land into a full-fledged movement.

“We of an older generation can get along with what we have, though with growing hardship,” Roosevelt said in an address to schoolchildren in April 1907. “But in your full manhood and womanhood you will want what nature once so bountifully supplied and man so thoughtlessly destroyed. And because of that want you will reproach us, not for what we have used, but for what we have wasted.”

Think about how different certain things would be if not for the efforts of conservationists. Remember when there were plans to build a development on Plum Island early last decade? I still shudder when I think about how close we came to the Starved Rock experience being forever altered in a bad way.

Now think about how development could have changed other natural wonders of greater scale. Roosevelt did.

“You cannot improve on it,” he once said of the Grand Canyon. “The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”

That goes for natural wonders both great and small. It is to Roosevelt’s credit that this message is among his lasting legacies – and not only on Earth Day.

This column also appears in today’s edition of Ottawa Delivered.

Apparently this is old news, but I just learned today that Richard Wolffe is leaving Public Strategies to write another book about Barack Obama — specifically, a book about the Obama White House. I enjoyed reading his first Obama book, Renegade: The Making of a President, so I’m looking forward to reading Wolffe’s next, as-yet-untitled book about the president.

I write a political column for Ottawa Delivered, a hyperlocal Web site and weekly newspaper that covers Ottawa, Ill. The following column, which was published Thursday, is about Sen. Edward “Ted” Kennedy, who died Aug. 25. It was the most-read article on the OD Web site Friday.

* * *

The death of Sen. Edward Kennedy last week prompted me to do a Google search for any connection the so-called “lion of the U.S. Senate” might have had to Ottawa.

Turns out the book “Death at Chappaquiddick” was published here by Green Hill Publishing (now Jameson Books) in 1976. Written by Richard and Thomas Tedrow, the book focuses on one of the lowest points in Kennedy’s life – when, after leaving a party, he drove his car off a bridge, resulting in the drowning death of 28-year-old campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne.

The Chappaquiddick incident is the most notorious of Kennedy’s long and storied public life. As it turned out, Chappaquiddick was the boiling point, the moment in Kennedy’s life when all the tragedy he endured leading up to then finally came to a head. 

Thinking about that, it occurred to me that no matter which side of the political aisle you’re on, Kennedy is worth admiring for his tenacity in the face of adversity.

Lesser men might have quit public life in the face of a brother’s assassination. Two of Kennedy’s brothers were assassinated, yet he carried on as the public face of a very visible political family, shouldering his pain the way he knew best – by using the legislative process to help the less fortunate.

In addition to Chappaquiddick and the assassinations, Kennedy had other experiences that might have set back others. His oldest brother died in World War II. His sister Kathleen died in a plane crash. He survived a plane crash in 1964. His son Edward Kennedy Jr. lost a leg to bone cancer at age 12. Another son spent time in drug rehabilitation for cocaine addiction. The list goes on. And so did Kennedy, never shirking from what he saw as his duty to his country.

Whether or not you agreed with Kennedy’s politics, there should be consensus that the longtime Massachusetts senator was a good example to us all.

Whenever he faced setbacks – even the most heart-wrenching ones – he always pulled himself together and did what he thought was right. And he continued to live life to its fullest, even when faced with his final setback, brain cancer.

We should all strive to do the same.

* * *

For those of you who use Twitter, you can follow me there, too! My personal account is @thebreadline and my work account is @OD_Politics.

Next Page »