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« May 2021 | Main

June 16, 2021

When Rich Families Fundraise

In 2013, families at a Seattle high school raked in more than $100,000 for a raffle to win a Tesla Model S.

The year before, the parent teacher association at Garfield High cleared $40,000 in raffle tickets for a Nissan Leaf. Other schools in this tech-boom city rely on lavish galas to raise as much as $422,000 in a single night, and some spend almost as much as they haul in.

During the pandemic, parents at the John Stanford International School spent $249,999 - one dollar less than the school district allows before the board steps in to review such spending - on teaching assistants for a dual language program. This year, the Green Lake Parent Teacher Association paid about half that much to cover the cost of the elementary school's vocal teacher and a portion of a full-time counselor's salary, among other supports for students.

Meanwhile, on the city's South End, parents at Rising Star Elementary celebrate when they can cobble together even $300.

"That's in a good year," said Leticia Bazemore, former PTA vice president at Rising Star.

About 3 in 4 students at Rising Star come from low-income households. Parents often can't afford to pay membership dues for the PTA - let alone write hefty checks at its fundraisers. Instead it is often up to people like Bazemore, other PTA board members and school staff to donate their own money to cover membership fees, buy lunches during teacher appreciation week or help families afford tickets to attend special events.

"We were paying out of pocket for the smallest things - movie night, fifth-grade graduation," said Bazemore, a special ed paraprofessional. "Everyone wanted to do right by the kids. We can't always afford it."

The staggering disparity in how much parent groups can raise for their neighborhood schools exists throughout the country. And debates over how - and whether - to narrow those gaps have sparked headlines from coast to coast, from Malibu and Santa Monica in California to New York City. Some have called the whole issue a distraction from the real problem: A lack of sufficient state and federal funding.

A Racial Reckoning?

Rita Green, the Washington state education chair for the NAACP, volunteered on the parent-teacher group at Rainier Beach High from 2007 to 2016. The school's PTSA had zero assets or income as of 2018, according to a local public radio report.

"I know how hard we worked at Rainier Beach to get what little money we could, so if we had to give half of that to another school, I'd be upset too," Green said. "The real issue is Washington state just needs to fully fund education. If we had full funding, we wouldn't have to depend so much on PTAs to hire teachers or instructional assistants or provide the support services needed at school."

Morton-PTA-equity-3.pngMothers Gwyn Hainsworth, far left, Vernee Fletcher, Jamie Zimmerman, Katy Strange and Leticia Bazemore pose at Jefferson Park in Seattle during a June 2019 soccer scrimmage/Kam Yee

Still, since at least 2010, a small group of Seattle parents have tried to convince friends and neighbors to practice what many here preach about equity and voluntarily divert some of their wealth to high-poverty schools.

The idea has generated opposition, mostly behind closed doors, in this deeply progressive city. Despite this, a PTA equity plan slowly gained momentum - before grinding to a halt during the pandemic. Over the past year, however, COVID-19's outsized impact on marginalized communities and the national reckoning over racial justice may have spurred more white and affluent families to reconsider the consequences of only advocating for their own kids.

"This is kind of, like, almost now or never," said Vivian van Gelder, also a former PTA president in Seattle and co-founder of Families and Communities for Equity in Schools.

While the idea has hardly caught fire nationally, a handful of communities have already created mechanisms for redistributing parent donations between schools: Arlington, Virginia; Evanston, Illinois; Oakland, California; and Portland, Oregon are all examples. The push for equity among PTAs in those cities hit sometimes fierce resistance before advocates found ways to calm fears that wealthy parents might disinvest from - or leave - public schools. (Research suggests the practice has no significant impact on overall giving to schools.)

Despite the good intentions, the concept of funneling cash from the haves to the have-nots also raises concerns of paternalism and white saviorism. In Seattle, at least one group of parents has already worked through that issue. When the Green Lake PTA offered to help its counterpart at Rising Star three years ago, PTA vice president Bazemore and her board first set clear expectations: They wanted sweat equity, not just a hand-out.

"It was never about the money," she said. "We were focusing on new relationships to help these kids."

Morton-PTA-Equity-1.jpgParents from the Green Lake and Rising Star elementary schools in Seattle meet for a spaghetti dinner in late 2019/Dawn Larson

Parents from the two schools spent hours at spaghetti dinners and in mediation sessions making sure both sides understood the strengths of the other: Green Lake parents knew how to write a grant application; Rising Star parents knew a good accountant. Each PTA also had to play defense at home - against Rising Star staff making direct appeals for funding from Green Lake and against wealthy parents asking if their money was being spent appropriately at the other school.

Ultimately, the parents agreed that the Green Lake PTA would direct 3 percent of its fundraising - $5,000 during the 2020-21 school year - directly to the Rising Star PTA and would sponsor specific events for kids and teachers during the year. Parents from both schools believe they learned how to share power and advocate together for greater change within a system that often rewards a vocal minority of white voters.

"It feels really good to say, 'I believe in this and that,'" said Dawn Larson, a social justice and equity co-chair of the Green Lake PTA. "To actually do the things you have to do to support that, it takes risk and maybe failing and possibly looking foolish. We are a lip-service city and not everyone feels comfortable doing that."

Segregated PTAs

Parent-teacher associations date back to at least 1897, when nearly 2,000 women met in Washington, D.C. for the National Congress of Mothers - predecessor to the National PTA. A key priority at the meeting: Ensuring all children had access to a good education and skilled teachers. The focus inspired local parent-teacher groups - at the time, segregated by race - to drive many reforms in public schools, including the additions of kindergarten, playgrounds, school lunches and water fountains, according to Christine Woyshner, a professor at Temple University who has researched the history of volunteer groups in education.

"Widows and people with grown children would join," Woyshner said of the early PTAs. "This was a community cause and it was for everyone's kids and for the benefit of the entire community."

Over the decades, however, local PTAs shifted their attention and efforts away from advocacy work to fundraising for individual schools.

Leslie Boggs, president of the National PTA, blamed much of that evolution on the often-exhausting fights over K-12 funding within school districts and states.

"The only thing that could impact their own children immediately was if they [parents] did the fundraising on their own," Boggs said. "But the key education resources should come from the school district budgets. It shouldn't be linked to parents' fundraising at all."

Less than a quarter of public schools in the U.S. have parent groups formally associated with the National PTA, according to The Brookings Institution. When local PTAs reach out to the national group to ask about splitting fundraising more equitably, they are provided with information about how funds should be raised and spent or directed back to their state PTAs, said National PTA spokesperson Heidi May Wilson. Ultimately, Wilson and Boggs said, it is the position of the National PTA that all necessary equipment and staffing at public schools should be paid for with government funds. They encourage parent leaders in local PTAs to advocate for increased investments in public education.

Estimates of how much money PTAs generate each year range from about $425 million to $781 million, amounting to less than 1 percent of total school spending in the U.S., according to the Center for American Progress. (It's difficult to get an exact figure for PTA fundraising, as financial reporting rules offer little transparency. PTAs with less than $50,000 in revenue, for example, typically don't need to file federal nonprofit reports. Parents also can funnel donations through athletic booster clubs, school foundations and other nonprofit or private organizations.)

Though the overall amount raised is a drop in the national education budget, it's disproportionately distributed to schools in well-heeled neighborhoods. The nation's 50 richest PTAs raised and spent $43 million dollars for the nation's most affluent schools in fiscal year 2013-14, according to Meg Benner, a senior consultant at the Center for American Progress. In 2017, she co-authored a report that found some of the richest PTAs collected nearly $2,000 per student. In 2013-14, average per-pupil spending on public education in the U.S. was about $11,000 per student: Wealthy PTAs could boost per student spending at their kids' schools by about 20 percent.

"It's probably natural for parents to make sure their children have everything to maximize their education," Benner said. "Unfortunately, not all parents have the opportunity to do the same for their kids."

Portland's Problem

The 2017 report closely examined perhaps the longest-running experiment in redistributing parent donations - in Portland Public Schools.

Statewide cuts to K-12 funding in Oregon prompted some parents in 1994 to ask Portland's school board for permission to raise private dollars to pay for teaching and staff positions at their schools. The board agreed, but required a central equity fund to collect one-third of all funds over $10,000 raised at an individual campus. A school foundation that raised $40,000 would keep the initial $10,000 plus two thirds of the rest, for a total haul of $30,000. The remaining $10,000 would flow into a citywide foundation, which would share the funds with other schools based on student demographics, federal funding and other factors.

Last year, local school foundations in Portland raised $4 million, with $1.1 million set aside for the equity fund. In 2019, a new superintendent established a Fund for Portland Public Schools that coordinates fundraising, including parent donations, across the entire school district. Some have suggested to Jonathan García, the district's chief engagement officer, that the new arrangement might be good excuse to get rid of the local school foundations entirely, which would effectively stop parents from spending their money on staff salaries. (Austin has just banned parents from covering staff salaries.)

García isn't sure what message it would send to families to make rules about what they can contribute.

"How do we honor - not vilify - what parents are trying to do at their school level?" García said. "My mom would give tamales, not money . . . what does that say about commitment to campus?"

Additional support for citywide giving was provided by the 2017 study, which suggested that early fears that the central fund would diminish parent contributions were exaggerated. Benner and her co-authors compared three years of financial data for PTAs in Portland and Seattle - enrollment size, per pupil spending and socioeconomic data are similar between the two. And while data limitations restricted their study to about half of all PTAs in either district, the comparison found the equity policy in Portland "did not substantially reduce overall parent contributions."

Skip Card, a New York City parent who's written about the Portland model, rejected the idea on principle.

Card described the PTA at his daughter's elementary school - which during her first year there raised $800,000 - as "a parents association on steroids." Card, who grew up near Seattle and attended the University of Washington, didn't dispute that parent fundraising exacerbates inequities in schools.

"I don't think that's the intention," he said. "No one raises money for their parent association hoping to hold other people down. But the idea of taking private donations and diverting them to a place that the government thinks could be better served, people don't really realize just how revolutionary that is."

Card used the example of alumni donations to colleges to make his point. "I don't donate to UW and expect the state of Washington to say, 'Well, Seattle Central College needs much more money, so we're just going to take it.'"

Back in Seattle, advocates for a PTA equity plan have encountered similar arguments.

Van Gelder, a former PTA president at Montlake Elementary who advocates for equity in Seattle schools, pitched the idea to other parents at her kid's school. Only 6 percent of students come from low-income households at Montlake. The reaction was intense, van Gelder remembered. A meeting to discuss the proposal lasted nearly three hours. Many parents supported the idea, but some balked at the thought of moving money they donated specifically for their children to another school. Others suggested high-poverty campuses already get much more federal funding, through Title I, to support high-needs students.

Van Gelder has little patience for the Title I argument because she thinks the kids getting that funding need it just to start in a more equitable place.

"It's like having an elevator in a school," she said. "The extra money that goes into maintaining the elevator is so kids using a wheelchair can at least get to the classroom." Classroom access should be considered the bare minimum, she said. In contrast, "PTA funding provides more materials, better programming. It's an enhanced education experience, not just basic access."

Equity In Evanston?

More than 2,000 miles away, in Evanston, Illinois, a diverse group of parents spent years working through such debates.

Volunteers from each campus in the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 started meeting in 2016 to study the pros and cons of various redistribution models. They eventually settled on asking PTAs to pool their resources, donating up to 12 percent of their total income to a central fund that will distribute money to schools with a higher proportion of students living in poverty. And last December, every PTA in the K-8 school district voted to voluntarily join a three-year pilot that starts this summer.

"There was definitely a moment in the pandemic where we could have given up. But no, this is the exact time to put everything we've practiced into action," said Suni Kartha, co-facilitator of the PTA Equity Project.

Kartha, also a member of the school board, considered pushing for a formal policy. But she worried about inspiring widespread opposition, noting that after the Santa Monica-Malibu school district started redistributing donations equally between all schools in 2011, Malibu, the more affluent city, tried for years to split its schools from the district.

The grassroots approach appears to be growing in other communities: An equity fund in Oakland, California, operates entirely on voluntary donations from participating PTAs. So, too, does a countywide council in Arlington, Virginia, where schools must apply for grants from a central fund.

In Alameda, neighbor to Oakland, Brian Dodson, the district teacher of the year in 2020, said he and his colleagues felt the need to take some action following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year.

"There's this national crisis that's out of our control," he said, but added he feels "stubbornly optimistic that people want to make a positive change right now."

Dodson and other teachers will make a formal pitch to the individual PTAs at their respective schools throughout May, hoping to convince them to sign up to develop an equity plan among Alameda schools.

Last summer, the Seattle Council PTSA - an umbrella group of parent teacher associations - decided to move forward on a 2019 resolution and form a committee to explore advocating for more equitable funding, but a call for volunteers to work on the committee remained unfilled.

"Everything's at a standstill for a lot of reasons," said Edna Iglesias, a mother of three and an elementary school teacher who chairs a separate committee on the council. "You've got the people who like to talk about equity and then backpedal a little bit, and then you have others impacted so severely (by COVID-19) there's no extra time or extra effort to work on those things."

The Seattle School Board, meanwhile, will get a chance to weigh in soon. Board President Chandra Hampson plans to revisit the $250,000 cap on parent donations later this year - "Something will get done before I leave office," she said - but she also expects the past year to complicate any public debate over a potential PTA equity plan.

"Are we going to be the board who tells families they can't buy counselors for their school right after a pandemic?" Hampson said.

A New Normal?

Meanwhile, a coalition of 12 schools in Seattle's South End - many of which see little PTA spending in normal years - tried a pilot redistribution plan among themselves in May. Families and volunteers raised money through a virtual walkathon, then will dole it out to each participating school. As of early June, the "Moveathon" had raised $152,000 - well above its goal of $120,000.

"There's not a lot of resources here," said Sarah Igawa, president of the parent association at Maple Elementary, one of the schools in the new coalition. "But if we want everyone to do this, let's start with ourselves and prove it's possible."

It remains unclear to committed advocates of a citywide PTA equity plan here whether a renewed push after the pandemic will create actual change, or wither amid the rush for a return to normal.

Kaleb Germinaro, a doctoral student at UW, started working behind the scenes in Seattle in 2019, connecting parents and organizations interested in the idea of redistributing PTA revenues That work mostly stopped as he focused on the basic needs of families during Covid and the recession; he wondered whether the shared devastation would create a moment to reimagine a new normal.

"This is the first time that white people ever felt oppressed, obviously not to the degree of folks of color by any means," Germinaro said. "But a lot of people lost jobs, a lot of people died. A lot of other people have been dealing with that for centuries. So, what comes next?"

This post was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter.

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Comments welcome.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 9:01 AM | Permalink

They Changed The Name

Village Leadership Academy (VLA), Chicago's very own premier K-8 independent social justice school, is excited to announce the BET television debut of Change the Name, a short documentary highlighting their students' work to change the name of Stephen Douglas Park in Chicago's North Lawndale community to Anna and Frederick Douglass Park.

The "Change the Name" campaign, which began more than four years ago as one project of the VLA social justice GrassRoots Campaign curriculum, garnered much attention as VLA students refused to back down from the Chicago Park District's silent dismissal of their proposals to change the name of the park, which celebrated a slave-owning family in a historically Black neighborhood.

GrassRoots Campaigns (GRC), which are a central component of curriculum at VLA, are immersive civic engagement projects that promote critical problem-solving skills whereby students and teachers work collaboratively to create and develop an action plan that provides solutions to an identified societal issue directly impacting their community. VLA students acquire deep, interdisciplinary learning and essential leadership development skills as they work to enact direct, prolonged change within their communities.

The award-winning documentarian, Cai Thomas, became connected with VLA through their interest in social justice, youth activism, and education. Thomas is a NeXt Doc and Sisters in Cinema Fellow interested in telling verité stories about Black youth and elders at the intersection of location, self-determination, and identity.

changethename.jpgStudents leading the Change the Name campaign/Tribeca Film Festival

Change the Name will be aired on BET as part of the Queen Collective Shorts collection in this year's Tribeca Film Festival as a part of their Juneteenth programming. Those interested in viewing the documentary can tune into BET at 8 p.m. CST on Saturday, June 19, or purchase for viewing through the Tribeca Film Festival website June 18 - 23.

Village Leadership Academy, founded in 2007, is an independent kindergarten through eighth-grade social justice elementary school located in the South Loop. Those interested in supporting their work, learning more about the school, enrollment, or the GrassRoots Campaigns curriculum, can visit VLAcademy.org.

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Comments welcome.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 12:29 AM | Permalink

June 15, 2021

Judge Certifies Class Action Lawsuit Against IDOC

The United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois certified all 28,000+ state prisoners to be part of a class Monday in a class action lawsuit challenging IDOC's excessive use of solitary confinement.

Plaintiffs, represented by the Uptown People's Law Center and pro bono attorneys with Winston and Strawn, allege that conditions in solitary are horrific; that IDOC permits the use of solitary confinement for minor infractions; and that IDOC uses lengthy, disproportionate stays, all of which constitute "cruel and unusual punishment" in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Plaintiffs also allege that prisoners are given no meaningful opportunity to present a defense, and sometimes are not even told why they are being sent to solitary, thereby violating the 14th Amendment by not complying with the minimum requirements of due process.

In Monday's opinion, the court not only held that plaintiffs had sufficient evidence to support their allegations, but also held that the six named plaintiffs could litigate the claims on behalf of all Illinois prisoners, since every prisoner is subject to being sent to solitary at any time, often for very minor violations. Plaintiffs do not seek damages; rather, they seek a court order to fix the system.

"Illinois' prison system locks up too many people, for too long, in horrific conditions," says Alan Mills, a UPLC attorney. "And as solitary confinement is prison within prison, it, too, is overused. The U.N. states that over 15 days of solitary is torture, yet sometimes people in Illinois spend decades there. And everyone who spends more than a couple of weeks ends up traumatized. We welcome the chance to finally expose these horrors in federal court."

Magistrate Judge Beatty stated in the ruling that prisoners "routinely are not offered the full amount of yard time required by IDOC policy. Even when they are, they often refuse to go because the yards are unstimulating, unsanitary, and/or unsafe. Cells are extremely small but nevertheless frequently occupied by two [prisoners]. Guards regularly use force against prisoners, chemical spray on prisoners, and use racial epithets and slurs when speaking.

"While variations undoubtedly exist between facilities as to other conditions, such as cleanliness, cell fixtures, and rodent and insect control, these dissimilarities do not bear on or somehow negate the broader, baseline conditions the facilities all have in common."

Beatty concluded that he found the conditions described by plaintiffs and their experts "disturbing, and quite frankly distressing."

The UPCL is a nonprofit legal services organization specializing in prisoners' rights, Social Security disability, and tenants' rights and eviction defense. The UPLC currently has six active class action lawsuits regarding jail and prison conditions.

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Previously:

* May 2017: Federal Court Certifies Lawsuit Charging Unconstitutional Illinois Prison Healthcare.

* May 2018: Mentally Ill Prisoners Win Injunction; Judge Declares IDOC's Failure To Provide Mental Health Care An "Emergency Situation."

* October 2018: Judge: "Deliberate Indifference" Of IDOC Mental Health Care Requires Federal Oversight.

* December 2018: Federal Judge To IDOC: Get Your Unconstitutional Shit Together.

* January 2019: Overhauling Illinois' Unconstitutional Prisons.

* March 2021: Illinois Prisoners' Health Care Still Unconstitutional.

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Comments welcome.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 1:01 PM | Permalink

June 14, 2021

Next Team Up

This "next man up" might not be so much hooey after all. At least not yet.

But what's Tony La Russa, Rick Hahn, and the minions in the dugout supposed to say about the staggering injuries that this year's edition of the White Sox have endured? We heard the mantra once again last Wednesday when second baseman Nick Madrigal suffered a proximal tear of his right hamstring trying to beat out a slow grounder to third base. The Sox wound up losing the game 6-2 to Toronto, the team's only loss of the week. Madrigal had been on a roll recently, raising his batting average to .305 while 16 of his 61 hits have gone for extra bases. In the previous nine games, Nick was slashing a rousing .353/.389/.948 with a home run and six RBIs. Clearly his loss would hurt.

But not so fast. The team hasn't been beaten since Nick went down. Danny Mendick and Leury García will be the replacements for the foreseeable future, and beginning with Thursday's 5-2 victory over the Blue Jays prior to the weekend's three-game sweep of the Tigers in Detroit, that duo has combined for five hits, four walks, three RBIs, a two-base hit, and an on-base percentage of .529. Mendick also made a superb play on Friday, cradling a hard ground ball behind second base for the final out in the bottom of the tenth inning, preserving a 5-4 Sox win.

Consider that the Sox now possess a 41-24 record and a 5½-game division lead over Cleveland. All without Eloy Jiménez who very well might have been into double digits in home runs at this point. Since centerfielder Luis Robert went to the sidelines on May 2 with a torn hip flexor, the team is 26-12. Michael Kopech tweaked a hammie on May 26, yet the fellas are 13-4 awaiting his return to the pitching staff.

The wins have piled up right along with the injuries.

At the present time, Billy Hamilton, Jace Fry and Jimmy Cordero have joined the aforementioned quartet on the sidelines. Fan favorite Hamilton won't be back before June 25 while he nurses a sore oblique; reliever Fry could return this week, while Cordero has had surgery and is done for the season.

The most recent "next man" is outfielder Brian Goodwin, a 2011 first-round draft pick of the Nationals, who has bounced around since then. His best season was 2019 with the Angels when he hit .262 with 17 homers. The Pirates released Goodwin in early May, and Hahn signed him the next day, stationing him at Triple-A Charlotte.

Goodwin took Madrigal's spot on the active roster, and La Russa put him in the lineup on Saturday. "Next Man" Goodwin doubled in a run in his first at-bat and then smacked a three-run homer next time up. Recording the games on one's DVR is recommended these days in order to verify what's happening. Otherwise you can be excused for not believing the reports.

While some big names have been idled, as far as numbers are concerned, the White Sox have gotten off rather easily in terms of injuries so far this season. A perusal of the Injured Lists (IL) of the 40-man rosters of all 30 clubs discloses that 247 players were on the sidelines as of last Saturday. Remember, folks, this is not the NFL where violence is required. Shorn tendons and broken bones are expected at Soldier Field and other venues. Rosters are decimated by mid-season. The subject here focuses on the serene activity of baseball, a non-contact endeavor played on the green pastures of America.

The Oakland A's have just four players on their IL, the fewest of any team. Perhaps not surprisingly, the A's are atop the AL West.

However, that theory is quickly disproven because the Giants' IL contains 13 players, and they, too, are leading their division.

Tampa Bay will invade The Grate the next three days, sporting the American League's best record of 42-24. The Rays have nine players on the IL, of which eight are pitchers. The antidote is that the Rays stockpile pitchers like we accumulated hand sanitizer these past months. They trade Blake Snell to San Diego - where he hasn't been very good - because they know Tyler Glasnow is ready to be an ace. He'll face Lance Lynn in the match-up this evening at The Grate.

Ten teams have at least 10 players of their 40-man roster on the IL. Torn rotator cuffs, pulled hamstrings and obliques, tightness of lower backs and calves are as common as doubles, triples, and homers. The game's best player, Mike Trout, has a strained calf which reports say will sideline him for six to eight weeks. Taking a page from the White Sox, the Angels were four games under .500 when Trout was injured. Since then they've gone 15-10.

Some of us older folks recall the attention that consecutive game streaks attracted. The number 2,130 was synonymous with Lou Gehrig until Cal Ripken played in 2,632 games without a break. Locally the Cubs' Billy Williams played in 1,117 consecutive games between 1963-70, the sixth longest streak in history. Ernie Banks ranks 15th with 717 between 1956-61, and Sox second baseman Nellie Fox never missed one game between 1951 and 1962, which is 11th on the all-time list, a total of 798 games.

Not being a physical therapist, I have to assume these guys had anatomies that included hamstrings and obliques. They all played hard. They stretched singles into doubles. They went into the hole to nab hard hit shots and ran into the gaps to catch flyballs. Why didn't they get hurt as often as today's players?

Of the top 20 consecutive game streaks, only Miguel Tejada's 1,152 - No. 5 all-time - occurred this century from, 2000 to 2007. Kansas City's Whit Merrifeld presently has the longest streak, but it is only 275 games. Because of injuries and scheduled days off, consecutive game streaks have gone the way of complete games and guys who can steal 100 bases.

So why are hordes of players hurting themselves? Players today usually train year-round. Stretching is an integral part of pre-game preparation. Weight training and work in the gym are staples of the game. Nutrition is part of the training regimen.

At this time, no one has the answers for keeping players off the IL. A guy like Luis Robert is a physical specimen: long, slender, muscular, possessor of great reflexes and speed. Maybe his body, as sculpted as it is, simply isn't strong enough to endure what his brain tells it to do.

But Madrigal? He's just a little guy, not noted for strength or exceptional speed. His injury sounds devastating. Apparently the hamstring is composed of four muscles all connected to the bone where the top of his leg meets his buttocks. Simply running to first base, the tendons connecting those muscles gave way. Surgery to re-attach the hamstring may be indicated. If so, he's done until 2022.

Years ago baseball players were instructed not to lift weights. The thinking was that building muscle mass meant less flexibility. Muscle-bound guys couldn't swing or throw freely. Players like Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, while strong, were long and lanky. They never pumped iron. And they rarely got hurt.

Babe Ruth was notorious for his sloppy habits. He was a glutton and a drinker, and he had a paunch. Like other players, he would report to spring training overweight and out of shape. And he arguably was the greatest ever while rarely missing a game because of injury.

The rash of injuries will be a hot topic this off-season. Keeping your best players on the field will dictate how a ballclub will finish. That is, unless the next man up turns out to be as good or better than the guy who hobbles off the field.

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Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 7:27 AM | Permalink

June 11, 2021

The Beachwood Radio Sports Hour #360: Cubs Screwing Front Office - And Themselves

Anti-vax clubhouse eminently despicable. Including: Anthony Rizzo No Longer Likable; Where These Cubs Came From; Next Manager Up, Please; Thibs Tout; Coby White Has A Shoulder; Justin Trubisky; Sky Trade; and The World Of Soccer.

Beachwood Radio Network · The Beachwood Radio Sports Hour #360: Cubs Screwing Front Office - And Themselves

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SHOW NOTES

* 360.

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1:38: Anthony Rizzo No Longer Likable.

* Literally endangering the lives of his teammates and their families.

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14:14: Cubs Screwing Front Office.

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31:23: Where These Cubs Came From.

* Kohl Stewart, Patrick Wisdom, Andrew Chafin, Tommy Nance, Rafael Ortega, Sergio Alcantara, Keegan Thompson, Dan Winkler, P.J. Higgins, Ryan Tepera, Matt Duffy.

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36:13: Next Manager Up, Please.

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49:10: The Right Week To Stop Sniffing Glue.

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Joe Niekro's emery boar (I said Phil).

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Yadier Molina's chest protector.

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54:00: Thibs Tout.

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59:01: Coby White Has A Shoulder.

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59:44: Justin Trubisky.

* Rick Morrissey is right but missing something awfully big right in front of his face.

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1:06:35: Sky Trade.

* Nemchock, Swish Appeal: Breaking Down The Chicago Sky's Trade For Dana Evans.

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1:08:18: The World Of Soccer.

* Red Stars, Fire & the Euro.

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1:09:59: TrackNotes!

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STOPPAGE: 11:54

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For archives and other Beachwood shows, see The Beachwood Radio Network.

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Comments welcome.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 12:33 PM | Permalink

June 10, 2021

Kapow! Zap! Splat! How Comics Make Sound On The Page

Typically, comics are considered a silent medium. But while they don't come with an aural soundtrack, comics have a unique grammar for sound.

From Wolverine's SNIKT! when unsheathing his claws, to Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 in The Death of Stalin (later made into a film) the use of "textual audio" invites comics readers to hear with their eyes.

Fundamental elements such as symbols, font styles and onomatopoeia (where words imitate sounds) mean reading comics is a cross-sensory experience. New and old examples show the endless potential of the artform.

Holy Onomatopoeia, Batman!

Onomatopoeia isn't unique to comics but comic artists have certainly perfected this figurative form of language. POW! BAM! BANG! appear on the page when Batman and Robin land a punch. BLAM! is the sound made by the Penguin's umbrella when it shoots from a distance.

The list of sounds represented by onomatopoeia is limitless in terms of creative potential. There are words that mimic sounds directly, such as SPLOSH! (the sound made by an object falling into water) and made-up sounds like that of Wolverine's adamantium claws (as we will see further below).

The language of comics offers creative freedom to expand the aural lexicon. One online database lists over 2,500 comic book sounds with links to comics images in which they've been used.

Screen Shot 2021-06-10 at 7.00.35 PM.pngStan Lee's Gunsmoke Western #68 (1955), with lettering and penciling by Dick Ayers/The Comic Book Sound Effect Database

This can also present special challenges for translators. Sounds represented in comics can range from speech sounds (subject to language rules including those governing how syllables can be formed) to human-made non-verbal sounds like sneezes, to sounds made by objects and environments.

Visual context is important too. We only recognize the warning of Wolverine's violent retribution in SNIKT! when the word is drawn and displayed next to the hairy mutant.

Screen Shot 2021-06-10 at 7.02.26 PM.pngWolverine extends his claws/Author

Likewise, the word THWIP! by itself may not mean much. But when positioned in context it can imbue a comic page with excitement and adventure.

Imagine a young man dressed in a tight red-and-blue bodysuit diving at high speed from the top of the Empire State building. Suddenly, just before hitting the ground, THWIP! he shoots spider webs from his wrists, using them to swing from building to building. Both readers and the crowd of enthusiastic fans on the page react: "Here comes Spidey!"

The Way They Say It

Comic creators also use font style and size and different speech bubble shapes and effects to shout, whisper or scream language.

Bold, italics, punctuation, faded or irregular letters are used to emphasize different features of the written words: fear, courage, loudness or quietness.

In My Friend Dahmer, created by a school friend of the infamous serial killer, the protagonist is seen carrying a dead cat on his way home by a group of kids. Comics creator John "Derf" Backderf applies bigger-bold words in one of the kids' speech balloon to emphasize the shouting and surprise of onlookers.

Screen Shot 2021-06-10 at 7.03.57 PM.pngMy Friend Dahmer (2012) by Derf Backderf/Author

Music To My Eyes

The 1973 manga Barefoot Gen, written by Keiji Nakazawa, explores his firsthand experience of the bombing of Hiroshima and its aftermath.

Gen, the main character, sings through several pages of the story. The author uses a musical note symbol () to indicate where speech bubbles are sung. By the final pages of the fourth volume, Gen sings to celebrate that his hair is beginning to grow again after being affected by radiation poisoning.

When preceded by the easily recognizable musical symbol, it's virtually impossible to read the dialogue without "hearing" a melody:

"Red roof on a green hilltop . . .

A bell tower shaped like a pixie hat . . .

The bell rings, ding-dong-ding . . .

The baby goats sing along, baa-baa-baa . . . "

Expanding on this concept, How to Talk to Girls at Parties by Neil Gaiman contains musical panels where the combination of drawings, words and signs present a soundtrack.

Screen Shot 2021-06-10 at 7.05.13 PM.pngThe How to Talk to Girls at Parties party scene (created by Neil Gaiman, Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá) gives us a sense of how the scene sounds to the characters in it/Author

In film terminology, this is diegetic sound - noises or tunes from within the storyworld - as opposed to a narrative voiceover or a musical soundtrack the characters can't hear within the story.

In Gaiman's comic a combination of illustrations, musical notes and words (including the onomatopoeic TUM for a bass drum beat) convey the sense that music fills every room of the house where a party is taking place.

In the political satire comic that inspired a movie, The Death of Stalin> creator Fabien Nury and illustrator Thierry Robin show lines from Mozart's orchestral score for his Piano Concerto No. 23 at the bottom of two pages. This adds drama to a climactic scene where a Russian leader suffers a stroke.

Screen Shot 2021-06-10 at 7.07.08 PM.pngThe musical score can add pace and drama to an already dramatic scene/Author

Next time you read a comic book, make sure you listen carefully. KABOOM

Victor Araneda Jure is a teaching associate and filmmaker at Monash University. This post is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

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Comments welcome.


Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 3:45 PM | Permalink

Riding Illinois' Storm Out

"With Illinois on track to further loosen COVID-19 restrictions . . . and moving toward a full reopening [Friday], Gov. JB Pritzker [last month] announced a new tourism campaign seeking to lure visitors back to the Land of Lincoln this summer," CBS2 Chicago (and others) have reported.

"The $6 million 'Time For Me To Drive' ad campaign, featuring the hit song 'Time For Me To Fly' by Champaign rock band REO Speedwagon, invites people to visit downtown Chicago, dozens of state parks and historic sites, winery tours in southern Illinois, and more."

Yeah, we've got some better ideas for how the state could have rejiggered some REO songs.

"Back on the Road Again" would have been an obvious choice, even if that song is about leaving a mama behind.

They could have Rode The Storm Out, like these Illinois icons are doing.

After all, Ed Burke can tune a piano but did he land the tuna fish?

Then again, why not "Roll With The Changes" - as soon as you are able, I am willing, to map the districts the way that we are able.

Maybe Danny Solis is gonna Keep On Wirin' You - he played dead, but he never bled, instead he laid still in the grass all coiled up and listenin'.

Of course, instead of driving or flying, Illinoisans could "Take It On The Run." It's a fucking Golden Country; you strut around and you flirt with disaster. Yup, that's us.

We could go on, but you get the point. This is Illinois, where You Get What You Pay-To-Play For. Or something like that.

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Comments welcome.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 9:02 AM | Permalink

Why Do White Republicans Oppose Black Lives Matter? Look At What They're Watching

To mark the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's murder at the hands of police officer Derek Chauvin, the New York Times put together a special opinion section reflecting on what has changed and where the country is now on race and police violence. One piece described and analyzed the rise and fall of support for the Black Lives Matter movement: "Did George Floyd's death catalyze support for Black Lives Matter? If so, for how long and for whom?"

Looking at data from online polling firm Civiqs, the authors concluded that "Republicans and white people have actually become less supportive of Black Lives Matter than they were before the death of George Floyd." Indeed, after a gradual increase in support for BLM among both whites and Republicans following the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, and then a more marked rise that began around the release of the video of the vigilante murder of Ahmaud Arbery in May 2020, support plummeted from early June through late September.

The authors, professors Jennifer Chudy and Hakeem Jefferson, attributed the rise to the "viscerally upsetting and morally unambiguous" videos released around that time, including the video of Floyd's murder, and the subsequent fall to "politicization of the issue by elites."

In the days and weeks following Floyd's death, Republican politicians quickly turned attention away from the actions of a murderous police officer to those individuals protesting the injustice. As just one salient example, three days after Floyd's death, as protesters took to the streets in Minneapolis, Mr. Trump declared, in memorable rhyme, "When the looting starts, the shooting starts."

That's true as far as it goes, but it leaves out a critical piece of the story. While Trump's tweet made headlines, it didn't name BLM; the former president actually called out BLM very infrequently. Given his average of more than 30 tweets per day in 2020, his 25 "BLM" or "Black Lives Matter" mentions across the entire year were a drop in the bucket. In contrast, he tweeted or retweeted about Antifa 55 times.

The right's most influential media outlet, however, was more than happy to make those links explicit for its predominantly white, Republican audience.

For the first five months of the year - when Republican opposition to BLM continued its slow creep downward from a high of 83% in 2017 toward 60% - Fox News mentioned Black Lives Matter in 14 shows. For the next five months, the network mentioned the movement in 543 shows.

Fox-BLM-Popularity.png

Primetime ratings leader Tucker Carlson led the charge, with such racist and false depictions of BLM protesters that at least nine advertisers withdrew their ads from his show. To give just a few examples (see Media Matters for a lengthier list), Carlson agreed with a guest that BLM "has been a violent movement from its inception" (6/5/20), claimed that one of its stated positions was "the destruction of the nuclear family - your family" (6/15/20), suggested that BLM "is a totalitarian political movement and someone needs to save the country from it" (6/22/20), and argued (6/15/20):

Black Lives Matter believes in force. They flood the streets with angry young people who break things, and they hurt anyone who gets in the way. When they want something, they take it. Make them mad and they will set your business on fire.

But of course, the attacks on BLM were not limited to Carlson; they went wall-to-wall at Fox. On just one episode (6/8/20), host Laura Ingraham brought on three different guests to attack BLM, asking one why the movement seeks "a complete subjugation of others." (The guest, in turn, warned of BLM's "Black supremacy" and "Marxist agenda.") To another guest, Ingraham caricatured the BLM philosophy: "If you have to burn down the neighborhoods and tear down the Lincoln Memorial, because he wasn't woke enough, then you're going to have to do it." Guest Lara Logan of Fox Nation argued: "These people don't care about justice for anyone. What they're actually trying to do is provoke violence, provoke more incidents where more innocent people will die."

(In another piece from the Times' Op-Ed package, the paper devoted some 4,500 words to a transcript of an un-factchecked focus group with "14 Trump Voters on the Legacy of George Floyd;" in it, the influence of right-wing media distortions was apparent. When asked what comes to mind when they hear "Black Lives Matter," the answers were invariably negative, including "Marxist hate group," "misguided," "corrupt" and "a bunch of losers." When told that the BLM protests last summer were "overwhelmingly peaceful," a participant retorted: "I just want to say, is this a joke? I mean, are you serious? Really? They were peaceful protests? You've got to be kidding." The Times might have saved a great deal of ink and just posted a link to an episode of Tucker Carlson's show.)

While centrist media didn't vilify BLM in the same way, they did disproportionately emphasize disruptive protesters, particularly early on.

Protests, in fact, were overwhelmingly peaceful - one major study found that 96% involved no property damage or police injuries - with episodes of violence typically initiated by police rather than protesters.

Yet outlets ran with headlines like "George Floyd Death Protesters Spread Violence, Destruction Across US Cities" (on a USA Today video, 5/30/20) or Reuters' "Racially Charged Violence Rages For Third Night in Minneapolis."

USA-Today-BLM-Violence.png

Such coverage didn't seem to erode Democrats' support for BLM, which rose sharply after Floyd's murder and has since stayed high. But it did nothing to correct the right-wing purveyors of outright bigotry and falsehood, whose role in turning white Republicans strongly against the Black Lives Matter movement should not be overlooked.

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Comments welcome.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 12:58 AM | Permalink

June 9, 2021

Illinois Caverns Reopening After 10 Closed Years

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) announced Wednesday that the Illinois Caverns, a staple attraction in Southern Illinois, will re-open to the public on Wednesday, June 16, after being closed for more than 10 years.

"As the life-saving power of vaccination allows more and more Illinoisans to get back out there and explore this summer, I'm delighted to announce that travelers will be able to add the Illinois Caverns to their road trip itineraries for the first time in over a decade," said Governor JB Pritzker. "Starting June 16, visitors can explore these natural wonders feeling secure in IDNR's ongoing management of the native ecosystem, which allows Illinoisans to explore nature while also letting nature thrive.

"The Illinois Caverns are the perfect addition to any Metro East or Southern Illinois road trip - and visitors from across the Midwest can visit enjoyillinois.com to plan their safe summer adventures."

Illinois Caverns, along with all IDNR-managed caves in Illinois, were closed in 2010 as a precaution again the spread of White-nose Syndrome (WNS), a fatal disease which affects certain types of cave-dwelling bats.

"The caverns - one of the state's scenic wonders - attracted visitors from across the state, which is why the decision was made to close them,"said Joe Kath, Endangered Species Program manager, IDNR."Our biologists felt that proactively closing Illinois Caverns, and other state-managed caves across the state,was the best option to protect the state's bat population from WNS."

While WNS cannot be transmitted to humans or other animals, it is fatal to hibernating bats. Named for the white fungus that infects skin of the muzzle, ears, and wings of hibernating bats, the fungus thrives in cold and humid conditions characteristic of caves and mines used by bats.

Scientists believe that WNS is transmitted primarily from bat to bat, but there is a possibility that it may also be transmitted by humans inadvertently carrying the fungus from cave to cave on their clothing and gear, necessitating the closure of the state's caves.

"Compared to many other caves and mines in Illinois testing positive for WNS, the prevalence of this disease in bats hibernating within Illinois Caverns has been relatively low," Kath said."A small number of animals exhibiting the white fungal growth on their muzzles was first documented at Illinois Caverns in 2013. Since then, instances of WNS at Illinois Caverns continue to be very localized. Further, the bat population was never significant in this cave and seems to be the same despite WNS being witnessed in a small number of animals."

While the site was closed, staff were able to complete necessary repairs and maintenance to buildings and the site in general.

"We certainly didn't like to see the site closed, but the closure did allow us to complete some necessary work to ensure the safety and enjoyment of our visitors once we reopen," said Von Bandy, director, Office of Land Management, IDNR. "We are always looking for ways to engage with the state's diverse population and Illinois Caverns is like no other IDNR site. There are so many excellent opportunities for everyone from school-aged children to adults looking for something other than one of our existing outdoor program offerings."

Beginning June 16, Illinois Caverns will be open seasonally from April through October. Weekly,the site will be open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Ahead of the public opening, media are invited to attend a media preview day Tuesday, June 15 at 1 p.m. at Illinois Caverns, 4369 G Road, Waterloo, 62298. IDNR representatives will be on hand to answer questions about the site and future accommodations.

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See also:

Q&A With Joe Kath: White-Nose Syndrome In Illinois Bats

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Comments welcome.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 12:01 PM | Permalink

'The Most Important League In The City'

The Chicago Challenger League started the 2021 season last week with a game against the Thundercats.

"We [were] thrilled to be able to launch our 2021 season by playing against another Little League team," said coach Tom Mayer. "This shows what makes Challenger baseball so special: building community, providing opportunities, and having fun through baseball."

The Challenger Division is a division of Little League for boys and girls with disabilities, ages 4-18 (or up to age 22 if still enrolled in high school) to enjoy the game of baseball.

In a Challenger game, each player bats and plays the field each inning. No score is kept during Challenger games, but rather the focus is on player interaction and skill development - both physical and interpersonal. That said, kids still get competitive with players competing against their best selves.

Games are played Sunday morning at Horner Park at 10 a.m.

"This is the most important league in the city," said Carlton Jones, the district administrator for Illinois District 12. "All children deserve to experience the most beautiful sport in the world, the only sport played on a diamond."

The Thundercats are a softball team that plays as part of the Horner Park Northwest Little League. They came out to play the Challenger League and will serve as buddies for the Challenger players.

"Buddies are an important part of the Challenger experience. We assign a buddy to each Challenger player, and they work together to field and run bases," said Coach Mayer. "The Thundercats have been a successful softball team for years, and we are thrilled to have these talented young women come out and play with us."

Both the Thundercats and Challenger League are non-profit organizations that focus on individual and team growth, development, positive coaching, good sportsmanship and most of all having fun! For more information on the game, please contact Coach Mayer at coach@chichallengers.org or 630-632-6128.

Families can still register for the 2021 season at the Challenger website: chichallengers.org. Registration will remain open throughout the season, which ends August 8th, as we want as many kids to come out and play as possible. While there is a fee to join the league, we regularly fundraise so that no family will be turned away.

The Challenger League supports families in Chicago north of I-290. For families of disabled children south of I-290, there is the Jackie Robinson League.

If anyone has questions or would like to volunteer, they can reach Tom Mayer at 630-632-6128 or coach@chichallengers.org.

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Comments welcome.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 12:25 AM | Permalink

June 7, 2021

Hero For A Day

Driving down North Avenue on Sunday for the first time in months, I had to double check to make sure that I wasn't on Division or Ohio. New high rises stood in places where taverns and eateries used to dwell. Crossing Elston was a new experience since the fruits and vegetables of Stanley's had turned into a pile of bricks and rubble. Remember that place kitty korner? The one with the surrey out front? Long gone. Thankfully Art's Drive-In remained to slap me back to reality.

And talk about rapid change! On Saturday, Tony La Russa was getting roasted once again for having Danny Mendick bunt in the bottom of the sixth at The Grate. Having just scored two runs to trail 4-3, runners stood at first and second with no outs. Poor Danny bunted into a force at third base, the beginning of the end of the rally as neither team scored again the remainder of the afternoon.

"I think that's the play," said the White Sox skipper later. "I felt really good about bunting them over."

And the Twitter world lit up.

However, after blanking the Tigers 3-0 on Sunday to win the series three games to one, the Sox once again hold a four-game lead in the Central Division of the American League. Not only that, but the victory was La Russa's 2,764th as a big league manager, nudging him past John J. McGraw into second place all-time.

"Won for the Ages" blared the Sun-Times. "For the Books" the Tribune chimed in. The Grate's scoreboard lit up with a tribute to La Russa's feat. The social media fusillade even abated compared to 24 hours earlier.

What didn't change was La Russa's post-game appearance, featuring his deliberate, monotone summary of his feelings, which included, "The most important part of the season so far is the way the players have included me as part of the family."

Huh?

I thought it was the other way around. Wasn't this supposed to be La Russa's show, one in which the players needed to adapt to Tony's old-school world? You know, like don't swing at 3-0 pitches with your team ahead by 11 runs. Change can be so confusing.

This is La Russa's 34th season as the boss in a major league dugout. No matter when he finally retires, and possibly for as long as the game is played, La Russa will be runner-up to Connie Mack's 3,731 for number of victories. After La Russa, the winningest active manager is Houston's 71-year-old Dusty Baker with 1,925, good for 12th on the all-time list. Cleveland's Terry Francona, who is just 62 but has had health issues, is 18th at 1,733.

Did anyone mention that La Russa's 2,388 losses also are second only to Mack's 3,948? This is what longevity can do. Mack had a distinct advantage in this regard since he also owned the club he managed, the Philadelphia Athletics, from 1901 to 1950. He obviously had a high regard for his managerial prowess.

La Russa's respectable .536 winning percentage ranks only 66th all-time despite the fact that his teams have won six pennants and three World Series'. The Yankees' Joe McCarthy (1931-46) is the leader in that department with a mark of .615. McCarthy's New York clubs won the World Series seven times, but his 1929 Cub team also won a pennant before bowing to Mack's Athletics in the Series.

Dave Roberts of the Dodgers is tops among active managers with a .611 winning percentage.

Now that La Russa has passed his milestone, the next time he orders a sacrifice bunt, things once again will return to normal. However, the peaks and valleys of La Russa's return to the South Side are not the only occurrences worth noting.

Now that COVID restrictions are steadily being loosened, fans are returning to the ballpark, but the vibe seems to have changed. A winning ballclub with huge expectations tends to do that. Once again it is hip to be a Sox fan. Along about the sixth or seventh inning of each game, the Wave is created in the left centerfield stands with the entire place usually joining in. We saw this in the past but not nearly as frequently.

During Friday night's seventh inning, when Detroit scored six times to erase a five-run deficit, the Grate was filled with undulating noise as Codi Heuer and Evan Marshall futilely tried to silence the Tigers. The events on the field had nothing to do with what was happening in the seats.

Personally I have little patience for the Wave because my amusement comes from watching the action on the field. I am more amused when the Sox win, but the focus is on the players. Nevertheless, the Wave has been around for approximately 50 years, having originated on the West Coast and at college football stadiums, which says a lot about my aversion to the practice. Using the Wave and South Side in the same sentence seems incongruous to me, but, hey, people want to have fun. Why stop them?

Throwing the opponents' home run balls back on the field is a different story. Again, it's the folks in left centerfield who insist on this distasteful behavior.

There are those of us who have been going to ballgames for 50 or 60 years and never have retrieved a souvenir baseball. You frequently see septuagenarians carrying their baseball gloves through the gates in hopes of catching any kind of ball, be it home run or foul. When the other guys hit a homer, you tip your cap, as they say. Anyone who homers in a major league game deserves respect since few of us can even fathom the idea of homering in a 16-inch contest at the corner park. Throw the ball back? Gimme a break.

Sox management has many foibles, but they're right on top of this one. When Detroit's Eric Haase homered off Lucas Giolito in the fourth inning on Saturday, the jerk who threw the ball back onto the field was escorted from the park by security to chants of "Let him stay" by a good portion of the fans nearby.

I'm not exactly sure how these folks wound up at the Grate, but sitting in the upper deck a couple of weeks ago during the Cardinal series provided a bit of insight. Aside from gingerly navigating what I regard as the treacherous terrain of the stadium's upstairs layout, we were surrounded by young fans primarily in their 20s who were not shy about inhaling $11 beers one after another. They were having a grand time, but their chatter also disclosed a working knowledge of the game, the players, and the situations on the field.

They also educated me about Cup Snakes, a heretofore unknown exercise to this longtime fan. Stacking beer cups into a long, well, snake apparently is the idea, and along about the seventh inning empty beer cups were as common as La Russa critics. Starting at the first few rows closest to the field, the snake inched its way up the bleachers. It was a team effort. Some fans supported the burgeoning stack while others scavenged for additional cups. The longer the snake, the louder the cheers.

"Look, it's just like Wrigley," exclaimed the young female fan sitting behind us. Ahhh, things were beginning to make sense.

Reasonable, thoughtful change is a wonderful development. Football and hockey games used to end in ties. Nothing was decided. The four-on-four overtime arrangement in the NHL is among sports' most exciting changes. The shootout is titillating, though critics may think it's a cheap way to decide a winner. Nevertheless, the losing team still earns a point in the standings.

Same with football. The overtimes at both the college and pro level have created rousing finishes, so that today we wonder why those contests ever ended in a draw.

Organ music was the staple at baseball parks everywhere for decades, and most big league stadiums have retained a certain amount of the old-time music. But rock and hip-hop are the soup de jour nowadays. Remember when former Sox third baseman Todd Frazier used Frank Sinatra's "Fly Me to the Moon" for his walk-up song? Today's players probably have an equal chance of recognizing journeyman catcher Matt Sinatro as Ol' Blue Eyes.

What we can assume is that change will continue to happen. Putting a runner on second base to start an extra inning - I have come to accept this rule, and it's even begun to grow on me - is just the beginning. Let's just hope that future changes won't disguise the game that we love. And puhleeze, if you, or anyone you know, have ever thrown a home run ball back onto the field, promise that it will never happen again.

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Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 10:46 AM | Permalink

June 4, 2021

TrackNotes: Savor The Baffertless Belmont

One week does not a trend make, but if this goes longer, I could get real used to it.

That would be big race days without Bob "Silver-Maned" Baffert boppin' all over my viewing screen.

But we'll get to him later - there's much to do on that front - and talk about a potentially wonderful day of racing.

Our focus shifts east to beautiful Belmont Park, Elmont, NY, for the 153rd Belmont Stakes. There's no Triple Crown on the line, just as well, but this race and a menu of other stakes will do quite nicely.

This is Belmont's big day. Besides fields being on the short side, we'll find out how our old friends are doing. The Belmont, at 12 furlongs, is an anomaly, but maybe it will help us sort out these blasted three-year-olds. None of these ran in both the Derby and the Preakness. The majority were in Kentucky and skipped the Preakness.

Keep in mind throughout the card that top jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. was unseated Thursday and banged up on the fall. X-rays were negative and he's expected to be out for a number of weeks. He'll probably be replaced on his mounts Saturday by a variety of jockeys.

In post order:

1. Bourbonic (jockey Kendrick Carmouche, trainer Todd Pletcher, morning line 15-1)

His claim to fame is a win in the Wood Memorial, with a tepid, and top, 89 Beyer Speed Figure. He was 13th in the Derby. At his best, he's a deep closer, but he'll probably be back too far to do it here. Todd, he's a miler.

2. Essential Quality (Luis Saez, Brad Cox, 2-1 ML favorite)

He won five straight, including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, before a tough-trip fourth in the Derby. His class willed out as he was only a length back, enough to like him here, at the wire. His sire, Tapit has produced three (Tonalist, Creator, Tapwrit) Belmont winners. With challengers, he'll need to put in a professional performance and Saez must measure him all the way and time his move perfectly. I'm not wild about 2-1, which portends chalk at Big Sandy.

3. Rombauer (John Velazquez, Michael McCarthy, 3-1)

Your Preakness winner, the little colt reminds me of Birdstone, probably in appearance only, who thwarted Smarty Jones in the 2004 Belmont. Flavien Prat rides Hot Rod Charlie, but in Johnny V., nobody knows Belmont better. He had a 14-point Beyer improvement in the Preakness, so that's either coming into his own, or a total giraffe figure. This is even headier company, so he'll need a lot of help up front. I had him at Pimlico at 12-1, won't get that here, but will include.

4. Hot Rod Charlie (Flavien Prat, Doug O'Neill, 7-2)

Son of 2013 Preakness winner Oxbow, Prat aggressively got him up to third in the Derby. He won the Louisiana Derby against a quality field and was nipped by Essential Quality in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Close third in the Robert Lewis and a close win in a $55,000 maiden race last fall. That's my point. He'll need to step up from his 100 Derby Beyer, and in general. A tough task in a 12-furlong race for a horse who loves to be up front. Damsire Indian Charlie is likely a distance red flag. They say he's loaded for bear in workouts. He needs to stay on the improve. I can't say I see him winning.

5. France Go de Ina (Ricardo Santana Jr. Hideyki Mori, 30-1)

Everything says no, but he seems to have heart, if not enough talent. He kept up for awhile there in the Preakness (only a 77 Beyer!) before fading to seventh. His only angle is to love the really long distance. I'll fly on him. Call me irresponsible.

6. Known Agenda (TBD, Todd Pletcher, 6-1)

If his price stays there or higher, this could be a gift. He looked strong by three in his Florida Derby win, but drew the dreaded one post at Churchill Downs. While he ran relatively well in Kentucky, he's going to need to step up pretty bigger than his 94 Beyer at Gulfstream. With the undeserved hype he got for the Derby, his 10-1 there was a little light. With sire Curlin (Smart Strike) on his side, he figures to contend. I think.

7. Rock Your World (Joel Rosario, John Sadler, 9-2)

Put a line through his Derby. He got a terrible trip. He beat Medina Spirit by nearly five in the Santa Anita Derby, which may shed light on Baffert's meds organization. If you look at the Derby as a workout and learning experience, he'll be ready. Include.

8. Overtook (Manny Franco, Todd Pletcher, 20-1)

Another Curlin (Smart Strike), he has the distance cred. But he's only won once in five races, an $80k maiden special weight, and had only an 84 Beyer in his last, third in the Grade III Peter Pan here. He's going to need every inch of 12 furlongs, with others hitting the exit ramps. He'll get blinkers on for the first time, and Pletcher is 18 percent on that angle. Not bad. flyer.

Savor The Whole Day

We were given some bad news the past couple days as Swiss Skydiver and Valiance both spiked fevers and will not go in the 53rd The Ogden Phipps Stakes. (Grade I, 1-1/16 miles, Four-and up, dirt, $500,000). 'Skydiver has been really up and down in the past year with the arrow pointing up for the Phipps. Valiance hasn't run since November's Breeders' Cup Distaff.

But there should be a showdown between Letruska, a thrilling, driving winner by a nose over superwoman Monomoy Girl in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn in April; and Shedaresthedevil, your 2020 Kentucky Oaks winner, Azeri winner at Oaklawn in March and best in the LaTroienne on this year's Oaks undercard. Your other shot might be Bonny South, winner of the Grade III Doubledogdare in April at Keeneland. This is a step up in class.

Knicks Go, morning line 6-5, is the buzz horse in the 127th Metropolitan Handicap (Grade I, 1 mile, dirt, $1,000,000), better known as The Met Mile. But he'll have to prove it, at a prohibitive price. He's flush with four triple-digit Beyer Speed figures and wins, including the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile and the Pegasus World Cup Invitational. But he ran into a brick wall in the Saudi Cup in February, finishing fourth. I can't find an angle, although the mile seems up his alley. He's never run at Belmont.

He'll have a lot to deal with in Mischevious Alex, Dr. Post, and Silver State. I love this race. It's not a sprint, but these guys can't afford to dilly-dally.

Domestic Spending, Gufo and Colonel Liam all figure to duke it out in The Manhattan (Grade I, 1-1/4 miles turf, $750,000). They all come in relatively hot. I'll take a flyer on Channel Cat, who cuts back in distance.

Baffert's Dominos?

The Bob Baffert saga continues. The second, split sample from Kentucky Derby first-place finisher Medina Spirit also tested positive for betamethasone, a steroid.

On Wednesday, Churchill Downs banned Baffert from running any horses from his barn, even under another trainer's name, at any Churchill track until after the 2023 spring meet is over.

Churchill cited Baffert's "increasingly extraordinary explanations" for his slew of drug violations, including the hay salesman did it, the groom did it, my assistant did it, the vet did it.

The New York Racing Association had also banned Baffert indefinitely from its tracks Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga. NBC reported Friday that Monmouth will allow Baffert to run there. I wonder why the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission did not itself ban Baffert from all Kentucky tracks.

Until a few things happen, I believe this is garbage starting to rot.

Churchill has said it will take away the Derby from Medina Spirit and Baffert. I assume that will happen, but I'm not sure if some sort of appeals process has to run its course first.

Then, either the Stronach tracks or, better yet, the California Horse Racing Board needs to suspend Baffert.

Keeneland needs to suspend him and, because the Breeders' Cup is actually headquartered in Lexington, they need to keep Baffert out of the Breeders' Cup.

A more difficult task will be to get owners to keep horses away from him. As Jerry Bailey said on NBC Friday, turning into 2022, if an owner knows his horse can't run in that Derby, why give his horse to Baffert?

If you subscribe to the theory that no one, in sentencing, should be made an example of simply because of who he is, no.

In this case, Baffert should be taken out of racing because he is Baffert. Not only one of the winningest trainers by many measures, but now one of the most corrupt.

Just look at the Derby. I had Mandaloun. Baffert ruined the pari-mutuel payouts on a goddamned fix. Messing with the betting is the mortal sin in racing. His is in no effing way too big to fail; he saw to that himself.

It sickens me, but I don't believe he will pay nearly the price he should for his arrogant, blatant cheating. This is America, where everything is OK, if even only one deranged person says it is so.

I say, bust him down to sitting in a McLaughlin, Nevada casino selling tout sheets. I won't miss him.

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Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 6:17 PM | Permalink

The Beachwood Radio Sports Hour #359: Measuring Stick Month

June will tell the tale. Including: Unlike Cheers, Not Everybody Knows These Cubs' Names; White Sox Still Overcoming Manager; They Call Him Mr. Thibs; Putin's Plan Is Working; Blackhawks Lose Lottery; Sky Nothing Without Parker; Red Stars, Fire Should Move; and Is David Montgomery Really Faster?

Beachwood Radio Network · The Beachwood Radio Sports Hour #359: Measuring Stick Month

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SHOW NOTES

* 359.

:59: Best Chicago Baseball Month Ever?

* Blah, blah, blah.

3:26: Unlike Cheers, Not Everybody Knows These Cubs' Names.

* Coffman: Who (Literally) Are These Guys?

* Rhodes: Who the fuck is Tommy Nance?

* Part of a lineup last week:

Screen Shot 2021-06-04 at 1.39.15 PM.png

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26:18: White Sox Still Overcoming Manager.

* Billy Ham, Eloy Musk.

36:40: They Call Him Mr. Thibs.

* An epiphany.

43:44: Putin's Plan Is Working.

* Like bin Laden, knew how weak we were.

48:11: Blackhawks Lose Lottery.

* Will pick 11th.

50:17: Sky Nothing Without Parker.

* James Wade losing it.

52:20: Red Stars, Fire Should Move.

* Red Stars to Soldier Field, Fire to Arlington Heights.

54:11: Is David Montgomery Really Faster?

* Correlation with improved offensive line is likely causation.

* P.S.:

"Brady admitted that, as many suspected, he didn't know it was fourth down in Tampa Bay's 20-19 loss to the Chicago Bears. At the end of the Week 5 game, Brady failed to connect on a pass to tight end Cameron Brate but was motioning as if there was another down. There wasn't. The game was over. He told reporters after the game he was simply more focused on yardage."

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STOPPAGE: 6:18

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For archives and other Beachwood shows, see The Beachwood Radio Network.

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Comments welcome.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 1:31 PM | Permalink

June 1, 2021

Little Village Car Wash Workers Win 9-Year Fight

Workers' rights group Arise Chicago supported workers through a nearly decade-long campaign to recover more than a quarter-million dollars from their former car wash employer, Octavio Rodriguez, involving several government agencies and a federal court.

Background:

In 2011, Arise Chicago, with the help of the U.S. Labor Department, supported workers at Little Village Carwash to collect wages owed to them.

In 2012, Arise supported workers to try to recover wages again, through a complaint with the Illinois Department of Labor. The employer did not pay despite the resolution in favor of the workers.

In 2014, the Illinois Attorney General sued the employer, Octavio Rodriguez, who declared bankruptcy to avoid paying his workers their owed wages.

In 2017, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court brought charges of fraud against the employer and took over his properties.

After Octavio Rodriguez hired a private investigator to harass the workers to try to "settle" their complaints in exchange for $2,000 each, the bankruptcy court ruled in favor of the workers.

It has taken nine years for the workers to collect their wages.

Cases like this, which began years before Arise Chicago won the creation of a Chicago Office of Labor Standards to uphold city worker protections, have motivated the City of Chicago to strengthen its enforcing power and labor ordinances.

Last week, new legislation was introduced in the city council regarding wage theft protection, an enhanced leave policy, support for domestic workers, a review of chain businesses (for when companies falsely report they have fewer workers than they actually do to pay less than minimum wage), conducting a tipped wage study, better informing future worker policies, promoting workplace safety and outreach and education programs.

Such actions and programs are needed to ensure no other workers in Chicago have to wait nearly a decade simply to be paid their regular, legally owed wages.

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Previously in wage theft:

* Wage Theft: Unregulated Work In Chicago.

* Wage Theft In America.

* Report From The Wage Theft Front: Little Village Car Wash.

* ProPublica 'Temp Land' Investigation Nails Little Village Check Cashing Store.

* McDonald's Faces Global Crackdown In Brazil; Chicago Worker Testifies.

* CyberMonday, Amazon & You.

* Rose's Story: How Welfare's Work Requirements Can Deepen And Prolong Poverty.

* Politico: 'Shady Bosses' Stealing $15 Billion In Wages From Low-Income Workers.

* McDonald's Breaks Promise To Raise Wages.

* Report Reveals Rampant Wage Theft Among Top U.S. Corporations.

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Comments welcome.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 9:18 PM | Permalink

Siteless

One of my friends gave me a copy of the book Siteless: 1001 Building Forms, by François Blanciak, as a gift a few years ago, and I use it often for reference images and inspiration for my drawings. Although I'm not an architect and this is an architecture-inspired book, the forms in it are great for drawing inspiration, creature parts, or just fun eye candy.

Screen Shot 2021-06-01 at 3.56.15 PM.png(ENLARGE)

Siteless, published in 2008, includes 1001 different building forms - "structural parasites, chain link towers, ball-bearing floors, corrugated corners, exponential balconies, radial facades, crawling frames, forensic housing" and more. The forms are all drawn freehand and laid out 12 per page, in no particular order. Besides the title of each form, the book contains few words, which I'm glad for because it allows me to get lost within the shapes as a reader. The end of the book demonstrates what it's like for these shapes to be constructed in real life, at an architectural site in Tokyo.

The book is a great resource for artists and designers who draw things like architecture, interiors, products, and so on, and therefore a great reference book to have on hand, but it's also great for general inspiration as well. Art students, architects, interior designers, furniture designers, product designers, and graphic designers, take note: This is a great book to have on hand and I would highly recommend it.

Screen Shot 2021-06-01 at 4.03.16 PM.png(ENLARGE)

"Its author," MIT Press says, "a young French architect practicing in Tokyo, admits he 'didn't do this out of reverence toward architecture, but rather out of a profound boredom with the discipline, as a sort of compulsive reaction.' What would happen if architects liberated their minds from the constraints of site, program, and budget? he asks. The result is a book that is saturated with forms, and as free of words as any architecture book the MIT Press has ever published."

Says Metropolis:

"Imagine Learning from Las Vegas as illustrated by Chris Ware, and you'll get a sense of François Blanciak's marvelously inventive . . . book."

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Comments welcome.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 3:53 PM | Permalink

Who (Literally) Are These Guys?

So, not only do the Cubs have heretofore unreported-upon young arm talent in their organization, but they might just have something approaching unlimited pitching depth there? And this happened how?

The first-place North Siders (30-23 heading into Tuesday) put a fearsome 12th player from their early-season roster on the injured list Monday, announcing that starting pitcher Trevor Williams had undergone an appendectomy. But that just meant yet another promising prospect would make the trip to The Show.

This time it was Kohl Stewart, who hustled back to the big leagues (he was there with the Twins a few times late last decade) in time to toss five innings of one-run (unearned) ball and spark the Cubs to a delightful (five homers) 7-2 home victory over the powerhouse Padres. I will never get used to writing those last two words, but the 34-and-21 team from San Diego has absolutely deserved it so far this season.

Stewart has been in professional baseball for a long time (he was drafted fourth overall in 2013, a few picks after Kris Bryant) after signing his first contract right out of high school. But he is all of 26-years-old at this point, so he still qualifies as a prospect in my book. He doesn't have the nasty velocity that so many young hurlers seem to possess these days, but his primary breaking ball featured consistent, late sink on Monday as he posted ground-ball out after ground-ball out.

Speaking of nasty velocity, recent call-up Tommy Nance ended up finishing the game with a one-two-three ninth. Nance took the long road to the majors, toiling in minor-league obscurity for a decade. But (as was pointed out by Jim Deshaies on the broadcast) he definitely doesn't fit the mold of most of the pitchers like that, guys who have hung on with guile and clever breaking stuff. Nance entered the ninth firing 96-mile-per-hour tailing fastballs that were flat-out filthy.

In between, reliever Keegan Thompson tossed a couple critical bridge innings. Yet another relatively recent call-up, Thompson did give up his first run of the season on MVP-candidate Fernando Tatis Jr.'s solo home run, but on a day when batted balls were carrying a long way Thompson avoided the pre-homerun walks that often make the difference.

At the plate, Javy (it is time to just refer to El Mago by one name) launched a glorious, 455-foot, two-run home run to center field to start the scoring and Kris Bryant enjoyed a particularly lucky day. He watched centerfielder Jurickson Profar play what should have been the first-ever, MVP-worthy utility player's line-drive single into a triple early on. And then he benefited from much kinder-than-usual, early-season atmospheric conditions (light wind mostly blowing out) to notch a two-run home run later on. Recent call-up third baseman Patrick Wisdom had two solo home runs and Javy added another solo shot later on.

Going into this season the vast majority of professional prognosticators believed the Cubs' pitching staff - especially their bullpen - would prove wanting. And based on prospect rankings it sure didn't seem as though there would be much help in the minors.

It didn't help of course that the Cubs all but gave away ace Yu Darvish (and switch-hitting Victor Caratini - perhaps the best back-up catcher in the majors) in a monstrously bad trade in the offseason that only made even a little bit of sense when viewed as a desperate move to reduce payroll. I realize the Rickettses lost plenty of money during the pandemic but they have more than enough in reserve. Oh, and if things get really bad they could always sell at least part of the team, valued most recently by Forbes at about $3.5 BILLION.

The Darvish trade lives in infamy. Nothing that happens this season will change that. Oh, and Darvish has continued to pitch like an ace for the Padres. He struggled his last outing but his ERA is still 2.16.

Overall, there is obviously still a long way to go this season. But the team that leads the Cardinals by a half-game going into Tuesday obviously has much to celebrate after its best May of baseball since 1977.

Monday's game was also a great start to a tough stretch of schedule. The Cubs play the Padres on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, then head to San Francisco (the Giants are a surprising 34-20) for four and finally to San Diego for three more.

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Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 10:57 AM | Permalink

The Guitar Industry's Hidden Environmental Problem

Musicians are often concerned about environmental problems, but entangled in them through the materials used in their instruments. The guitar industry, which uses rare woods from old-growth trees, has been a canary in the coal mine - struggling with scandals over illegal logging, resource scarcity and new environmental regulations related to trade in endangered species of trees.

We spent six years on the road tracing guitar-making across five continents, looking at the timber used - known in the industry as tonewoods for their acoustic qualities - and the industry's environmental dilemmas. Our goal was to start with the finished guitar and trace it to its origin places, people and plants.

We first visited guitar factories in Australia, the United States, Japan and China. There we observed materials and manufacturing techniques. From factories, we visited the sawmills that supply them. And then we journeyed further, to forests, witnessing the trees from which guitars are made.

guitarwoodbook.jpg

Our task proved more complicated than imagined. At Martin Guitars alone, based in the U.S., wood comes from countries on six continents and 30 different vendors.

And the timber supply chains on which the guitar industry relies have been secretive. Many sources of wood are from places with historical legacies of environmental conflict, colonial violence and dispossession: spruces from the Pacific Northwest; rosewoods from Brazil, Madagascar and India; mahogany from Fiji and Central America.

We learnt about the guitar's environmental footprint, while appreciating the skills and experiences of behind-the-scenes people, and the capacities of the forests and trees to adapt. And we saw how Australian guitar-makers, such as Maton and Cole Clark, are leading the way in embracing sustainable options, salvaging recycled wood, and sourcing native species from timber suppliers in Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland.

How Are Guitars Made?

Around 2.6 million guitars are produced annually, constituting a $1 billion industry.

Unlike the timber used in construction or mass produced furniture - plantation species selected for fast growth and quick returns on investment - guitars use rare woods from old-growth trees. This is because the slices of wood used on guitars are quartersawn: cut perpendicular to the tree's growth rings to ensure stability and sound wave projection. The slices have to be wide enough to become the front face, backs or sides of the instrument, hence large diameter logs are needed.

Screen Shot 2021-06-01 at 2.23.36 PM.pngAt the C.F Martin & Co. factory in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, internal braces are shaved underneath the soundboard. Such braces provide the instrument with structural reinforcement, but also influence tone/Authors

From carefully cut timber, guitar parts are then carved (whether by hand or machine), sanded and assembled. The soundboard (the top) is most critical. The guitar is musical because the strings are pulled extremely tight.

With their solid bodies, electric guitars can withstand tension better than acoustics. On acoustic guitars, the soundboard must be strong, but also light, and reverberate responsively, its stiffness harnessed for tonal qualities.

Until recently, a narrow range of timber species were considered suitable for guitars. Through centuries of European craft tradition, luthiers established spruces (Picea) worked best as acoustic and classical guitar soundboards.

They had the strength to be cut thinly and yet not collapse under extreme string tension, with straight and parallel grains that, in the words of guitar-makers William Cumpiano and Jonathan Natelson, "impart a natural symmetry to the instrument, both visually and acoustically."

For necks, guitar-makers use mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) or maple (Acer species); for fretboards and bridges, ebony (Diospyros species) or rosewoods (Dalbergia species); and for acoustic guitar backs and sides, rosewoods and mahogany.

Since the inter-war Hawaiian music craze, koa (Acacia koa) has featured on acoustics, electrics and ukuleles.

Screen Shot 2021-06-01 at 2.20.29 PM.pngOn the slopes of Maui's Haleakalā volcano, land managers are replanting koa trees/Authors

Some of the woods used are plentiful and well managed. Leo Fender's Telecaster captures the electric guitar's rock 'n' roll sensibility: an unpretentious "slab" of swamp ash (Fraxinus species) and a one-piece, maple neck, bolted together in utilitarian simplicity. When we visited the Fender factory in California in 2018, Mike Born, head of wood technology explained:

We were fortunate that the old Fender designs used very easy-to-get American woods. Leo Fender was a very economical kind of guy looking to make inexpensive instruments, and developed them around woods that weren't used for other things. Swamp ash is a good example: it was a throwaway product from furniture wood.

Other woods used in guitar making have more fraught histories and sustainability problems. Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis), used on guitar soundboards, comes from trees at least 400 years old, but these are increasingly scarce. Ebony is threatened in its African habitat, with tightening restrictions on its use.

Habitat destruction for agriculture and urbanization led to Brazilian rosewood - once considered the "gold standard" for guitars - being effectively banned from use since 1992. Guitar companies replaced it with similar species from other places, but they too were over-harvested.

Scandals have engulfed the industry since the Gibson Guitar factories in Nashville and Memphis were raided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife marshals (in 2009 and again in 2011) over allegations of illegally sourcing and improperly verifying Madagascan ebony and rosewood.

Alternative Sounds?

Attachments to "traditional" instrument woods have prevented heritage brands from switching to more sustainable options. As guitar historian Dick Boak explained, convincing guitarists to switch to instruments made from sustainable materials is difficult: "musicians, who represent some of the most savvy, ecologically minded people around, are resistant to anything about changing the tone of their guitars."

Screen Shot 2021-06-01 at 2.22.01 PM.png Many acoustic guitar players insist on "traditional" timbers such as rosewood/Authors

But attitudes are shifting. Musicians are increasingly concerned about the provenance and environmental impact of their instruments, encouraging guitar brands to improve transparency and rethink their ecological entanglements.

One necessity will be to embrace a more diverse range of alternative timbers. These will include more plentiful plantation species, salvaged trees and urban forestry.

On this, Australian brands Maton and Cole Clark are among those leading the way. Decades ago, Maton pioneered the use of Australian native species. In recent times, it and Cole Clark have worked with specialist guitar timber suppliers Kirby Fine Timbers in Queensland, Otways Tonewoods in Victoria, and Tasmanian Tonewoods to established bunya pine (Araucaria Bidwillii) as a credible, quality alternative for soundboards, Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) for backs and sides, and Queensland maple (Flindersia brayleyana) for necks.

Meanwhile, guitar-makers have salvaged timbers from urban trees. In 2018, Cole Clark's head of wood technology, Karl Krauss, heard of a municipal council near Melbourne removing sycamore-maple trees (Acer pseudoplatanus) seen as a fire hazard. He recalled their historical use in Renaissance instruments and claimed them for a limited run of guitars.

Other salvaged urban timbers have included California redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) planted in Victorian parks in the 1850s by then-colonial government botanist Baron Ferdinand von Mueller and southern silky oak (Grevillea robusta). Such urban recovery sources now constitute 30% of timbers on Cole Clark guitars.

Screen Shot 2021-06-01 at 2.11.35 PM.pngAt Cole Clark's Melbourne factory, CEO Miles Jackson explains the unlikely story behind salvaging California Redwood from Victoria for use in guitar-making/Paul Jones, UOW Media

Around the world, relationships between sawmills and forest resource managers are also shifting. Indigenous communities are asserting custodianship of trees. Commercial relationships are being forged between these communities, specialist companies supplying guitar tonewoods and guitar firms. There is considerable potential for working with Indigenous and ecological values rather than in spite of them.

Growing Future Guitar Forests

Taking matters into their own hands, guitar timber people are also planting trees for future sustainable instrument-making on their properties, and in partnership on cattle ranches and Indigenous-owned and managed lands. These efforts are guided by an ethic of care for trees, forests, communities and guitars.

The goal is to ensure wood for future guitar-making well beyond individual lifetimes. As Born emphasized at Fender's factory: "We don't have a lot of choice in what was planted generations ago, but we certainly do for the future."

On Maui's volcanic slopes, land managers are working with the U.S. firm Taylor Guitars and Pacific Rim Tonewoods (a U.S. specialist wood supplier) to regrow koa forests.

In Washington state, Pacific Rim Tonewoods claims it is growing "the world's first tonewood forest," cultivating fiddleback maple in a 100-acre plot near its sawmill. Taylor also supports ebony replanting in Cameroon, in partnership with Spanish tonewood supplier, Madinter.

Screen Shot 2021-06-01 at 2.14.07 PM.pngAt Pacific Rim Tonewoods north of Seattle, a Sitka spruce log is prepared for splitting and quartersawing (cut radially) into thin, soundboard pieces/Authors

In the Sunshine Coast hinterland, specialist tonewood supplier David Kirby cultivates Queensland maple and bunya pine, as well as blue quandong (Elaeocarpus angustifolius) used by Maton in Melbourne for electric guitar models. He also manages century-old "legacy stands" on private land in the region.

Although these plantings are not large by forestry's standards, once a certain density and diversity is achieved, they "take care of themselves," in Kirby's words, providing enough wood for small harvests annually without degrading ecological values. Still, access to suitable land for growing trees and skilled labor to care for them will determine future success.

Screen Shot 2021-06-01 at 2.18.32 PM.pngBlue Quandong trees growing on old cattle ranches are being used by Maton/Paul Jones, UOW Media

Earlier in their careers, the guitar timber people we interviewed did not intend to become forest stewards - although all profess a life-long love for plants. They have assumed stewardship roles after personal experiences of industrial forestry's inability to sustainably manage forests to supply high quality timbers from centuries-old trees.

The guitar industry has breached the factory gates, extending its activities and influence upstream, into forests. As Steve McMinn from Pacific Rim Tonewoods put it, "[T]he world's primary forests are nearly mined out. If you want wood for a specific purpose, you need to grow it."

Sustainable Guitars In A Changing Climate

The most significant uncertainty facing the sustainability of guitar timbers is climate change. Global warming has already altered the geographic distribution of trees, insects and pathogens, posing severe threats to forests.

As we were on the road, insect pathogens surviving unprecedented warmer winters in the Rockies attacked and killed millions of Engelmann spruce trees (Picea engelmannii). The emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) has killed millions of American ash - of Fender Telecaster fame. Environmental scientist Jared Beeton is now working with guitar companies to experiment with using the affected spruce for guitar-making.

Screen Shot 2021-06-01 at 2.16.45 PM.pngInsect pathogens have attacked and killed millions of Engelmann spruce trees/Authors

In Queensland, David Kirby admits his planted trees may not survive: "It could be a massive screw-up of everything I've done in my life. But at the end of the day, what if I don't do it? If everybody planted trees for future generations, of course, that would help stop climate change. I can't be the one to say I'm not going to plant trees because they might not survive."

Cities may prove vital future habitats for guitar trees too. Fender's Mike Born outlined a new initiative between Fender, the U.S. Forest Service and the Baseball Hall of Fame to encourage tree replanting schemes in inner cities. Like Telecasters, baseball bats are made from American ash.

As the emerald ash borer annihilates trees across the continent, the two niche industries share the same problem of securing future resource supply. The idea is to replant a variety of urban street trees to disperse the genetic and geographic base of vulnerable species.

"We have a chance now," Born said, "to replant old street trees." Instead of gearing management of forest resources towards short-term profit, "we could think a century down the road. Are there trees that at the end of their life cycles can have a future life? What should we be planting for the future? It's a worldwide discussion we need to have."

Chris Gibson is a professor of human Geography at the University of Wollongong. Andrew Warren teaches economic geography, also at Wollongong. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

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Comments welcome.


Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 12:47 AM | Permalink

MUSIC - Riding Illinois' Storm Out.
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SPORTS - Next Team Up.

BOOKS - How Comics Make Sounds.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Illinois Caverns Reopening After 10 Years.


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