If you didn’t see Last Week Tonight with John Oliver last night, the Main Story was on water and drought, mainly in the Southwest of the United States. It’s very interesting and well-done, has some great material – notably a clip of the Utah governor about how he plans to deal with the drought – along with lots of room for humor.
With all the serious talk now about Climate Change following the hurricane devastation in the Gulf Coast and the disaster flooding in the northeast -- not to mention the crushing wildfires across the West, it would be really appropriate if all the news networks had AL GORE on – and not just on once, but as a regular guest. But even just once would be a step in the right direction.
I mean, seriously, folks, He only won a Nobel Prize for his work on Climate Change. And made a documentary, An Inconvenient Truth about Climate Change that won the Academy Award for Best Documentary. And lectures on the subject. And written books on it. And, y'know, is also a former Vice President of the United States.
I admit to being biased about this. But it’s the reason I’m biased that supports fully why I’m right. But then, this is a no-brainer, anyway.
However, back in 2008, I was hired to be the writer on a proposed radio series that Al Gore would do about the environment. It would be 90-second features each day on a national radio syndicate put together by Westwood One (the organization that, among other things, distributes NFL football.)
I interviewed with him in a hotel room and was told bluntly by an aide that this would be 15 minutes. It ended up going so well, we spoke for 15 minutes. I gave him several articles I’d written for the Huffington Post, but the most nerve-wracking part was when I handed over the material, I saw that the piece on top was an article on why Al Gore should be president. That wasn’t the nerve-wracking part – it’s that when I so a piece like that, my style is to bring up the negatives first, knock them down and then make the case. And among the “negatives” were that Al Gore had the reputation of being wooden and boring, that he supposedly claimed to invent the Internet, and that he was a loser (despite winning the popular vote) and that his talk about Climate Change meant he was crazy. I’d meant to bury the article among the others, but there it was on top. And when he took the pile, he couldn’t help see it – and so, as I thought was likely, he decided to read it right there, in front of me. As I waited and sweated. As he got to the end of the first page, where I wrote about Bill O’Reilly calling him crazy, I held my breath – and then saw him laugh and under his breath quote the passage, “the craziest speech I’ve heard in my life” and then laugh again. I thought there was a good chance then that I was safe. And then, after reading the last paragraph where I wrapped the thesis up with why Al Gore would make a great president, he looked over and very quietly said, “Thank you.”
My favorite part of the experience was as we were preparing for the recording session to make the demos, I was sending him material of what I was working on. And one day, the phone rang, and I heard, “Hi, Bob, this is Al Gore.” I immediately replied in a sort of weary voice, “Do you know how many times a day someone says that to me??” Fortunately, he burst into a laugh. But what most impressed me was that he hadn’t had an assistant call and say, “Are you in for Al Gore? Please hold.” He just picked up the phone himself. What I also remember was having to restrain myself from laughing during the call because of the ludicrous reality of talking with Al Gore about this project we were working on, while eating a bowl of cereal for lunch.
Our small group flew from Los Angeles down to Nashville to meet, go over the project and then record the demos. We got together for lunch at the Gore home (which was delicious), but it’s the conversation in the backyard that was most memorable. That’s because of two things, keeping in mind that it took place during the primary season before the Democratic Convention when Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton were running against one another:
One was when someone asked if he had any interest in helping broker the convention, which was being proposed by some at the time. He had absolutely none, and had no interest in running again in case the party couldn’t decide on a candidate. So, from that point on when I’d hear expert TV analysts wondering if Al Gore might be a dark horse candidate, it felt really good knowing more than them and shouting at the TV, “No! He isn’t going to run! I know. He told me.”
The other was when an aide that there was an important call for him. He apologized to the group, took the phone and walked off – when we heard, “Hi, Barack.” They spoke for a long time – we even started lunch without him and could see him walking back-and-forth in his front yard. Eventually, he rejoined us, and nothing was said for about a half-minute until finally someone said, “Soooooo???!!!!!” He said it wasn’t a big deal, just some questions about campaigning, and he said that he made himself available to both sides, that he talked with Hilary as much as Barack. But the best part came many months later. That’s when one of the big papers broke a major scoop that the now-nominee Barack Obama had spoken with Al Gore before the convention. It was very nice to have had that scoop first, months before, when it happened.
The recording session went well. He’d previously told me a range of issues that interested him, I would then put together a list I’d researched, he approved the ones he liked, I’d research them further to fill in the details, we talked about them, then I wrote the scripts. At the recording session, he went over the script, making the changes he felt it needed and rephrasing the material to fit him. He recorded six of the scripts, though rejected one – not because he didn’t like it but he said he didn’t know that area well enough yet, and didn’t want to put his name to something he wasn’t fully informed on. I was sitting in the back, next to his communications director, a very nice lady named Kaylee Kreider – she could see I was still disappointed at having the script dropped, so she leaned over to him. “Don’t feel bad,” she said. “The last person we tried, he rejected al the scripts. He’s approved six of yours.”
There was only one bad memory from the trip. At the time we were in Nashville, there was a big country music convention or event of some sort. (I’d taken an afternoon off to walk around the city and went to Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ol’ Opry.) That night, our group went to a big bar where it turned out Trisha Yearwood was brought in to perform. After a while, the others decided to leave and go somewhere else for dinner – though I wanted to stay. My point was that I wondered if it was possible that her new husband Garth Brooks might join Yearwood later. But I was overruled on such a thin theory, and we left. The next morning, I found out that, yes, Garth Brooks did show up later. I still sigh about it periodically…
In the end, it was a great experience, but came to nothing. They actually got 200 radio stations to sign up and raised what struck me as a lot of money. But at that point, most anything would strike me as a lot of money. And as much as it was, it wasn’t enough for what Westwood One and Al Gore needed for the time and expenses it would take to pull off such a project in an ongoing basis. So…This Nearly Was Mine, as the song goes. But it was a wonderful project to do. even if didn’t come to fruition. And Al Gore was a good enough guy – behind the scenes, away from cameras – and warm and funny, to make me admire him even more than I had when I wrote the article on why he should be president.
Though the radio series never made it on the air, I do have the 5-minute promotional track that was put together, which includes three of the scripts I wrote that Al recorded. I didn’t write the promo, but my material starts around the one-minute mark.
Which bring us back to the original point – that every television network should have Al Gore on as a Nobel Prize-winning expert guest on Climate Change. That his film won an Oscar and he’s a former Vice-President of the United States – who ran for president and actually got the most votes, but it took a strange “one-time only” Supreme Court decision that offered no precedent to keep him from taking office – is just a bonus.
We're going to keep this on brief. But there's something that I wish was getting a great deal more mention in all the coverage of the horrific devastation from Hurricane Ida. In fact, I've only heard it said once -- from Al Roker of all people, on MSNBC -- though I'm sore it's been mentioned elsewhere. And it's that raging power and destruction of the storm is a manifestation of Climate Change. And it will only get worse until society begins to deal with it better.
Roker, of all people, was very blunt and specific about it. "This is all caused as a result of Climate Change." And went into detail why, looking at winds speeds from last year's hurricane and conditions that caused those this year. And noting how hurricanes are powered by energy, and the change in especially hot temperatures and colder than usual temperatures (which are accelerated by Climate Change) are the fuel of energy.
So, even if some reports do mention Climate Change as being behind Hurricane Ida and these range of disasters we've been seeing -- like the droughts and wildfires in the West -- and crippling floods in Europe -- that isn't enough. It's not an "Oh, by the way..." side story. It is the story. Every one of the reports we see about the entire electrical grid being out in New Orleans and that it may be weeks or months until it's repaired -- that's a story about Climate Change. And it should be reported that way.
Maybe then, at some point, the far right will get it. And not dismiss "Global Warming" as a joke from Al Gore.
I've periodically written about the ocean sailing jaunts that I've taken with my cousin Jim Kaplan, who has a small motor boat/ sailboat, the Flying Fish III. Jim has worked in the marine industry for several decades, probably at least 30 years, dealing with the general public, but also the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard. He's a very bright guy and knows the subject well, especially having grown up in the Indiana Dunes on Lake Michigan in northern Indiana.
(This photo above is from a previous sail, one that turned out to be a bit misguided since a mini-squall decided to blow in.)
We took another of our cruises yesterday, and the subject of the tragic disaster in Florida came up. It was initially addressed because of my concern of where his mother and her husband lived. (Side note: his mother Elaine just celebrated her 100th birthday this past Monday. That that wasn't a unique occurrence in the household, though -- her husband Mark turned 100 last November. They have a lot of candles in the cupboards.)
Happily, they don't live on the east coast of Florida. But that moved the discussion to the collapse of the apartment complex and what could have caused it.
While this isn't the specific area of Jim's expertise, it's related to his field and his study and concerns over the years, and he had some initial thoughts of possibilities. To be very clear, what I'll describe below is NOT Jim's words, but my paraphrasing of them. Anything I get wrong is entirely my error and not his. He knows what he's talking about -- I don't.
Jim said that he could think of three possibilities, though added that there could certainly be other causes, noting that these are just his ramblings of what could conceivably have caused the disaster
The first was manmade, that there had been some issue with the construction of the complex which had been overlooked in cursory building inspections over the years, since such things aren't generally what are looked for. (Rather, he said, inspectors tend to focus on whatever caused the most recent disaster.) And so, finally, after years, the problem manifested itself.
The other two possibilities are related. (They also have more scientific reasoning behind them and are the ones which I'm more likely not to explain exactly right.)
One is that over the years, the water level rose -- perhaps related to Climate Change, and the melting of the ice caps). This would had more salt water to the area and more water pressure, which in turn could increase the erosion of land, which exposes the metal support structure, and corrosion of that metal by the salt water.
The other is that as more people have moved to the southern Florida area, more fresh water has been needed, and so it's been piped into the area for nearby sources. (I think he said the Everglades, but I won't swear to that.) And since nature abhors a vacuum, the ocean's water will move to fill that void, thereby lowering the water level. This can expose the land more, leading to its erosion, and again making the metal structure more vulnerable to corrosion by the salt water.
The only thing he said he is sure of is that corrosion of steel reinforcement ( known as rebar) in concrete can destroy the integrity of a structure.
I'll repeat the disclaimer. This is me remembering his more-detailed explanation and interpreting it the best I can.
The larger point that Jim made (the accuracy of my recollection aside) was that of these three possibilities, the "best" would be the first, since it's manmade. As terrible as such a reason would be, the cause would be limited to work done by that individual construction. The other two explanations are more problematic because they relate to environmental damage done to the land of the entire coastal area.
Again, there could be other reasons for what caused the apartment complex to collapse, and he notes that these "ramblings" are only what may have occurred -- or not. And that the study to follow will find out for certain. But as a starting point, these were three initial possibilities for finding what might have caused such a disaster to ensure it doesn't happen again.
Yesterday, I was exchanging emails with a friend in Texas that had to do with the blistering weather there. I went to a weather website to track down some information, and once there I saw a headline to story about a tornado that just hit a Chicago suburb. I knew that growing up in Glencoe, north of Chicago and on Lake Michigan, we'd occasionally have tornado watches -- though rarely reaching the level of a tornado warning -- but the tornados (and most "warnings") were usually in the more outlying and western inland areas.
I immediately clicked on the article and saw that the subheading said that the area hit was southwest of Chicago. That gave me some relief, because I was mainly checking for Glencoe (where I'm from) and other norther suburbs where most of my relatives in the area live.
But then I realized that I have a cousin who lives southwest of Chicago in Naperville, so I wanted to check about that, though happily "southwest of Chicago" is a very huge area. And reading deeper in the article, it turned out that the down hit by the tornado was...Naperville!
This is where my cousin Diana lives. I've mentioned her several times for her artwork (including the memorial fiberglass horses she was commissioned to design by the City of Chicago) and the articles that periodically have been written about her.
When I phoned her, there was no answer, so I admit to a little bit of concern -- but she called back about half an hour later. Her family was fine, and fortunately they have a basement and huddled there, While it was certainly concerning as the tornado sirens were going off at 11 PM, with torrents of rain and gale-force winds, happily there was almost no damage to the house, limited mostly a little bit of the grounds.
However, when she went out for a walk the next day to assess the area, she came across where the tornado hit. Close enough, obviously, for her to walk to. (She quipped that before going out, she made sure to first put on her ruby red slippers. And no, just to be clear for anyone wondering, and not knowing her sense of humor, she didn't actually do that.) Not only was the damage terrible, it was only about a mile from their home. As awful as the damage was, though, happily no one died, and the one person who was listed as critical and be taken off that list.
Here are some of the photos she took of the area a mile from her.
And as Diana noted in her email -- there used to be a house here. What's odd is that the homes next door on either side were relatively spared, not in the absolute direct path.
We're going with "beatific" today, in part to continue our weaning process from politics every single day and in part because I don't want my head to explode.
I've periodically mentioned the Chicago Botanic Garden, but that name doesn't do it justice. This isn't your standard botanic garden, or even anything close. It's not even your nicer-than-usual botanic garden, or even anything close. I generally describe it as the Disneyland of Botanic Gardens -- and I don't think that's especially hyperbolic as a joke, but pretty accurate. Albeit with a completely natural grandeur and spectacle.
After all, the grounds are divided into different "lands," each creating their own inclusive worlds when you enter, including the Rose Garden, English Walled Garden, Japanese Garden, Waterfall Garden, Island Garden, the Prairie Garden, a Fruit and Vegetable Garden, and the Aquatic Garden (which, for all its simplicity, is probably one of my two favorites, along with the Waterfall Garden, because it wends its way in a zigzag path over a pond filled with fish,) And a wonderful Greenhouse center divided into two areas, among them a Cactus Garden. And more, as well. And a Ddisability Garden, too.
Moreover, there are tram tours, a miniature train exhibit, and the ethereal Winter Lightscape that will remind many of the Main Street Electrical Parade, albeit on a more peaceful level. Along with a restaurant, major educational center and more. Lots more.
As well as restaurant, major educational center, cooking demonstration area and more. Yes, even for all that, lots more. Though all on a peaceful, relaxing, engergizing level.
All that said, I have a fond connection to the place for personal reasons. Though it's called the Chicago Botanic Garden and run by the Chicago Horticultural Society, it's actually located in the northern suburb of Glencoe, where I grew up. In fact, walking distance from our house -- a long walk, probably three miles to the main entrance, though a short walk, probably half that, to its rear. And only about a mile from the Ravinia Music Festival, which I've mentioned here often, and worked at for a couple of summers, the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
The particular fondness, though, extends beyond just its location and overlaps with its construction. The gardens officially opened in 1972 in an area of the Chicago Forest Preserves, bordered by Green Bay Road and Skokie Boulevard, with the entrance on Lake-Cook Road, dividing the two counties.. However, it took a full seven years to develop once groundbreaking started. But even longer since signs first went up announcing it in 1962, informing passers-by of the "Future location of the Chicago Botanic Garden."
And it was that sign along Green Bay Road that we'd pass all the time in the family car that became a hilarious running joke with me and my older brother when I was just a wee kidling and him only a few years older. When you're a little kid, the structure of time is a flexible thing. So, "The future home" of something means it should be opening soon, and yet six months later the sign is still there. And then a year later. And two years -- and they haven't even broken ground yet. Then three-four-five years. The future home! And we'd pass by that sign, not every year, but several times a week, a hundred times a year. After year, after year, after year. And after five years, there was still no end in site.
My brother and I thought it was the funniest thing. We figured that they weren't probably going to build anything, but that they'd only paid for the sign. I grew up with that sign. Six years, seven years, eight. Still "The future home of the Chicago Botanic Garden." I was finally driving and could pass by it on my own after a while. So funny, seeing that sign. Nine years -- nothing. No Chicago Botanic Garden. Then a full decade!! Ten years of that sign: The Future Home of the Chicago Botanic Garden.
And then finally -- it actually opened.
And it was...spectacular. And it was well-worth the wait. (Now, it was worth the wait. Ten to 15 years after it opened, it was worth the wait. When you're still a youth, having waited more than half your life for the "future home" to open, I can't say I felt it was worth the wait immediately. But even at that, even at that young age, even for all those years -- a decade waiting -- I understood why the wait was so long.
And it really is worth it.
I'm a member of the Garden, even though I no longer live there and live 2,000 miles away. But I go visit it every time I'm in town. And it's glorious wandering through the various lands and hiking in the forest and just sitting and letting it all soak in.
The only "problem" is that it's incredibly difficult explaining to people why it's so special. Photos I've taken and ones they have on their website don't even start to show its scope. Let alone give a sense of the sweetness and fragrance of the air.
I did track down a few videos that at least given a small idea of what the Chicago Botanic Garden is like. And this one, taken and edited by a visitor is particularly good.
(As the whimsy of luck would have it, the freeze-frame image of the video below is one of my two faves, the Aquatic Garden. As I said, it's very simple compared to the rest of the grounds, but -- what can I say? I love walking the crooked wooden path over the water and looking for the fish. Besides which, it's a bit hidden off in a corner, so it's less crowded. It comes on the video at the 3:25 mark for 20 seconds. As for my other fave, the Waterfall Garden, it's be pretty clear when that shows up. Though the don't get the full vista view.
And this is the Winter Lightscape. It's pretty remarkable. (To be clear, as the fellow who made the video says Lightscape did indeed begin in 2019. However, they've had a winter light event for years, just not as substantial.)
Unfortunately, I've never seen the Winter Lightscape in person. By the time they started doing it, I think I had left Chicago. And though I always came back every winter -- yes, I took a vacation in Chicago in the winter. Every year... -- I would avoid the busy holiday season and come after the first of year, and then after the Consumer Electronics Show which I covered. So, by the time I'd get there, Lightscape would be over. But at some point, I'll get there.
(My aunt and cousin did go for their first time this past winter, which it was opened during the pandemic with limited tickets available and scheduled with social distancing. They were both awed by it, and sent me their own videos and photos, which was the first time I'd had a chance to see in detail what it was.)
Hey, just look at this single freeze-frame image alone. I'm telling you -- it is spectacular. When you enter and see more in the video, you'll know.
Finally, I'm going to end with one more video as a bonus. This is an "official" one made by the Chicago Botanic Garden itself. It's very good, though I think that homemade one gives an even better sense of the full grounds. But -- what this does that the other doesn't, and which adds a great deal, is aerial footage of the place, so you get a far richer perspective of it all. And shows it across the four seasons.
So...this is why I love the Chicago Botanic Garden. And why I say it's not even close to just a normal botanic garden, but a world of its own. And why calling it the Disneyland of Botanic Gardens is not an exaggeration. But may not do it justice either.
Not bad for "The future home..."
And yes, it was worth the wait. Funny as it was.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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