Monday, August 31, 2015

Too safe? How about too costly?

I’m not a regular reader of The Onion (that one-time paper-turned-website filled with attempts at parody), but I couldn’t help but stumble across one of their recent attempts at humor about our neighborhoods.
Humboldt Park on display in this 2008 film

For The Onion last week gave us an account of a woman who lives in the Humboldt Park neighborhood who thinks that the recent efforts toward gentrification have made the neighborhood too expensive for her to live in.

OR, AS THE parody attempts to portray it, the neighborhood is, “too safe for her family to afford.”

It seems that this account is mocking of those people who criticize gentrification. Because who in their right mind would up upset about the safety of a neighborhood? Or would deliberately search for a more violent place to live in order to save money?

Which may well make the people who came up with this particular account as much a part of the larger problem as anyone else. They’re definitely part of the solution!

Because the issue with gentrification that causes so many people to be resentful of the concept is that it comes across as officials willing to upgrade a neighborhood in search of a higher economic demographic – which often comes across as a more Anglo-oriented ethnic class of people.

AS THOUGH NO one wants to be bothered to make a neighborhood better for its current residents if those people happen to be a little too dark complexioned for the tastes of the kind of people who make their money from real estate development.

In the real Humboldt Park, that is the prevailing attitude that is going about.

Humboldt Park is a northwest side neighborhood that back in the mid-to-late 1960s became the center of a Puerto Rican community for Chicago. Many of them moved from places like Lincoln Park when that neighborhood began its upscale trend.

There are those current neighborhood residents who wonder if the fact that many upper-scale, somewhat monied, residents have moved in during recent years means that history is trying to repeat itself.

SO THE ONION finds humor in quoting a woman saying she now feels safe when she walks to the grocery store. Which is a bad, bad thing for her.
If gentrification were to take full effect, would this icon disappear?

I did find some absurdity in the name that the parody account gave to this mythical woman – it most definitely is not anything with origins in Puerto Rico or Latin America.

Because if anyone were really going to be complaining about the gentrification trend, it would be someone of those ethnic origins. Who may have to wonder where they’re now headed.

Perhaps Jefferson Park? Could it be that someday, the Puerto Ricans will be chased out of Humboldt Park and wind up living in those neighborhoods that ring around O’Hare International Airport?

WILL FUTURE GENERATIONS of Chicago residents complaining about airport noise and the idea of jet fuel dumped on their homes express themselves in Spanish-accented English?

Let’s not forget that this particular ethnic tension was partially behind the outcry earlier this year that chased the Riot Fest event from Humboldt Park!

Not that this tension is unique to Humboldt Park. The whole concept of gentrification bothers those who feel like they’re only permitted to live in neighborhoods that are decrepit – usually due to age and neglect and the idea that they’re not worth maintaining anymore because of the demographic of the current residents.

At least until someone figures out a way to get someone else to overpay for the concept of living in places that have always had a certain advantage throughout the years – proximity, aided by mass transportation, to downtown Chicago!


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Life’s losers didn’t win the Lottery after all? They have to wait for prizes

At a time when Illinois government is being run largely by court-order mandating that certain things be paid regardless of the lack of a balanced budget in place, it seems at least one entity is being left out in the cold because of the Illinois Constitution.

Illinois Lottery winners!

THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE reported Friday about how people who win the large prizes that are the whole purpose of the lottery games are merely being given written statements confirming that they are owed the money.

But not actually being given the money; until the day comes that Gov. Bruce Rauner and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, can learn to act like adults and put together the spending plan that will allow all of Illinois government to function normally.

Well, maybe not normally (because much of our state’s ‘normal’ is rather bizarre), but at least legally.

The Tribune, then WBBM-TV, found Illinois Lottery winners who are downright peeved at the fact that their ‘pot of gold’ at the end of the rainbow is on hold.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS picked up on those reports, and is now spreading the story across the nation – Illinois is the state that is killing people’s dreams while acting in a cold, callous manner.

The Tribune literally found one person who said that anybody who owed state government money wouldn’t be allowed to claim that their finances were too out-of-order as an excuse to get out of having to pay the money.

Which is true. Although not the best of points.

Because I’m going to have to concede that I’m not all too sympathetic to these people – who were winners of prizes of more than $25,000. It seems that anybody who won an amount less than that can still get their money.

DO WE REALLY want to take up the cause of those people who blow their bucks on large sums of lottery tickets, in hopes the prize will be worthwhile financially?

I want to scream at all of these people who are now complaining to “Get a Job!” and work for a living. Anybody who thinks that Lottery games is the key to their financial success deserves whatever abuse they wind up getting.

Besides, I happen to comprehend the reason why the Illinois Constitution requires that a budget be in place before funds can be spent. Do we really think it is appropriate that money can be spent, willy-nilly, without something in writing dictating how much can go toward any individual program.

My biggest fear these days is that when a budget for the Fiscal Year 2016 (which began July 1) does finally get done, so much money will already have been spent that everybody will not have enough to make it to June 30, 2016,

AFTER ALL, THIS was the year that there were either going to have to be billions in cuts or a significant increase in revenues for things to balance out.

The fact that somebody might have to wait on the prize they think they’re entitled to because they either scratched off the proper sequence of figures on a ticket (or got lucky enough to get the right numbers on a “quick pick”) doesn’t really bother me much.

It is one of the occupational hazards of doing business with state government – sometimes payments get delayed, although there is the guarantee that you will be paid in full eventually.

Unlike some private companies that can get out of paying their debts altogether.

MAYBE MY THOUGHTS are harshened because my father once owned his own construction company that got contracts for work on government-owned buildings.

Past political disputes and shortfalls by the state caused so many delays that it was a factor in him eventually having to shut down.

Excuse me for thinking that he, and others like him, are the real victims – not somebody who’s upset that their “Million Dollar Jackpot” hasn’t paid out yet.


Friday, August 28, 2015

We got the Obama presidential library, but will we get to design it as well?

The fight with New York and Honolulu is over – the main facility of the presidential library and museum that will honor the two terms of Barack Obama will be located in Chicago – and on the fringes of the Hyde Park neighborhood as well.

OBAMA: Now we fight over who does design
So now that Chicagoans can’t quarrel over whether or not we’re being deprived of the facility itself, it seems we will now fight over whether the Second City is being snubbed by having an out-of-town (or out-of-country) architect design the facility.

AT LEAST THAT’S the impression I got when officials with the Barack Obama Foundation made it known that they sent out invitations to select architects, asking them to take an interest in the project.

The Chicago Tribune reported that the foundation wants those companies to present their credentials and references by Sept. 16; if they want the project!

Although it also was made known that anybody is permitted to apply, and that the foundation doesn’t expect to see finished plans for a library at this point.

This is more about flushing out who is interested in being the architect who gets credit for designing the Washington Park-based facility that officials hope becomes a major tourist attraction for the South Side – and also one of those places that Chicago schoolchildren of the future will wind up taking many field trips to.

IN SHORT, IT would be a prominent place in Chicago. It would be the kind of facility that will draw public attention – and could also be the source of great derision if the ultimate design turns out to be something completely gaudy.

Then again, I’m sure the conservative ideologues are going to call it the ugliest building known to mankind regardless of what the final design is. Some people, particularly with regard to Obama, are going to complain regardless of what happens.

Which also applies to the idea of choosing an architect.

I’m wondering how much of an issue it will be if the Obama foundation even considers choosing a non-Chicago-based architect to design the building.

WILL WE DENOUNCE Obama as some sort of city traitor? Somebody who never was really one of us? Somebody who thinks he is too good to continue to live amongst us?

You just know that charge is forthcoming – particularly since a recent Washington Post story that told of how Obama and first lady Michelle are likely to wind up living in New York once the presidential term ends in 2017 and daughter Sasha graduates from high school a couple of years later.

Add in an out-of-town architect to a city whose residents like to brag about the quality of local pizza, Polish sausage and architecture (and don’t seem ashamed that the Cubs are so historically awful), and you know it will be a stink.

The Tribune pointed out that every single presidential library/museum to date has been designed by a U.S. architect (if not somebody local). So what if Obama picks a firm from out-of-country? I can already hear the shouting and screaming and yelling and whining!

BECAUSE FOR AS much as we Chicagoans like to go on and on about how we’re an “international” city with a place on the world scale, we’re also incredible of being ridiculously parochial.

We’re bound to think that nobody outside of the neighborhoods is worthy of involvement in this project. Some may even argue this ought to be exclusively a South Side project that MUST have a minority-owned architectural firm in charge.
We may even wind up bragging someday about how many Chicago-made bricks and beams of steel are used in the final structure, and how many Chicagoans were involved in its construction. All of which is intriguing because the building has the potential to be one of the few presidential library facilities that people actually visit.

Sorry ideologues, but the Obama presidency is more notable historically (and politically) than any of the clowns you’d prefer to praise.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Occupational hazards of a reporter-type? Or how big a twit can Trump be?

What should we think about the trio of news people who on Wednesday were all over the news reports because of incidents that prevented them from being able to report the news?

RAMOS: Will this become ongoing feud?
There is one difference, Jorge Ramos, the lead anchor of the Univision network’s national newscast, is still alive and kicking – compared to a reporter and camera operator for a Virginia television station who were shot and killed while doing a live report Wednesday morning.

WHAT WOULD HAVE been a forgettable live interview about tourism on WDBJ-TV turned into news when someone pulled out a pistol and fired shots at the reporter and camera operator.

Early reports indicate the gunman – whose face the camera operator may actually managed to catch on camera in his final moments of life – was a former employee of the Roanoke, Va.-based television station. This incident could be some sort of bitter grudge connected to that station.

So personally, I’m not feeling any increased fears that I’m going to be picked off by a sniper while interviewing someone in and around Gary, Ind. (a ‘day job’ of sorts for the local daily newspaper I have to earn money).

Unless I feel the need to have a chat with my editor to see if he has any enemies I should watch out for.

I PROBABLY SHOULDN’T joke about this incident, which if anything is merely evidence of the randomness of life. And the fact that not everything that happens makes any sense. Some of it is downright stupid.

But it means that reporter Alison Parker (she’d been at the television station for about a year and was just starting in the news business) won’t have the bright future she may, or may not, have been destined for.

Parker and Ward (below) have become ...
And as for camera operator Adam Ward, he won’t be leaving the television station in the near future to follow his fiancée to a better job at a station in Charlotte, N.C. (which is what CNN reported Wednesday morning).

The pair will be tied into the local memory of stupid happenings – at least until the next idiotic moment occurs.

YET FOR AS freely as I toss about the words “stupid” and “idiotic” in connection with this incident, I actually don’t think this moment is the dumbest thing that happened during the 24-hour period of Tuesday night into Wednesday.

... an unwitting pair
Instead, you'd have to check out the behavior of presidential buffoon Donald Trump – who at a press conference made a point of confronting, then having ejected, Ramos. Who was trying to bolster his credentials as a legitimate news person by actually going out and reporting on the presidential campaign!
Trump on Wednesday was claiming that Ramos was “ranting and raving like a mad man.” He also pointed out that Ramos eventually was readmitted to the press conference, and got a couple of questions answered (albeit with lame, pointless answers by Trump).

Yet I can’t help but be influenced by the images I saw on television not of a “mad man” reporter, but of a candidate behaving like a pompous buffoon. I wonder if his presidential fantasies include being able to have White House press corps reporter-types ejected at his will. Or maybe he's going to single out the Univision network (owned by the same people who operate NBC) throughout his campaign.

THAT WOULD MAKE Trump more of an un-American tyrant than the conservative ideologues ever accused Barack Obama of being. Unless you think much of the fact that Trump says he won’t eat Oreo cookies any longer because the company moved to Mexico! Which would have been the Trump “story of the day” had he not singled out Ramos for abuse.

TRUMP: How unpresidential!
I’m actually more offended by this story (Trump’s behavior, not the cookies) than I am of the two news people being killed by gunfire while trying to do their jobs. Because that has the potential to turn out to be such an isolated incident unlikely to occur with any regularity. Nobody’s siding with the gunman.

While I’m sure there are going to be some people (mostly those of a xenophobic bent) who are going to try to claim some sort of ‘heroic’ status for Trump because he stood up to the evil (as they perceive it) influence of Univision.

Which strikes me as a gross overstatement for a network of television stations that my grandmother used to watch for some of the cheesiest, and steamiest, soap operas anyone could ever envision.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

EXTRA: Cop quips – view really puts them in their own little world at times

I can claim a “credential” that a lot of city residents like to cite as evidence of their authenticity as native Chicagoans – I had two uncles (one retired, the other deceased) who were officers within the Chicago Police Department.

Yet I’m not about to claim to have any unique comprehension of what goes through the minds of those people who take the oath to “serve and protect” the people of their community, yet often have the knack of being out-of-touch with certain segments of society.

I DON’T DOUBT they’re in touch with the way certain people feel; and that those people LIKE the idea that the police are on their side protecting them from everybody else.

But it’s not exactly a universal concept that everybody feels safe when they see the flashing lights of a “Mars bar” atop a squad car.

So it shouldn’t be a shock that a pair of stories turned up Wednesday involving the Chicago police that would make it seem that certain officers do their jobs to reinforce their own racial hang-ups.

If anything, these stories become so prevalent that we almost become immune to them – as though we’re not sure we should have ever thought the police were protecting “us” on a daily basis.

THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE reported that the police department’s Internal Affairs began an investigation into an officer who got caught on video making a disparaging remark about Michael Brown – remember him?

Supposedly, the officer made a traffic stop and wound up arguing with a man, who said he didn’t trust the police. That man then mentioned by name the individual who was killed by police last year in Ferguson, Mo.

To which the officer supposedly said, “he got what he had coming” and that Brown’s death was “deserved.”

Whether expressing that opinion violates the professional standards we expect of a law enforcement officer is what the department’s investigators will have to determine.

ALTHOUGH I ALREADY can envision the people who will come to the officer’s defense – he merely said something, He didn’t act in a harmful way.

For all I know, many of these people probably agree with a thought that people in confrontations with police are worthy of force – because they wouldn’t be in a confrontation if they weren’t doing something wrong!

We’ll have to see how harsh, if at all, the Chicago police wind up handling this incident. Let’s not forget that the officer who killed Brown was ultimately found by St. Louis-area prosecutors to have done nothing that would warrant criminal charges. This is much less.

This incident isn’t alone in the news on Wednesday. For the Chicago Sun-Times reported its own story about a police officer potentially being too open in expressing his thoughts.

IN THAT CASE, the officer supposedly threatened a colleague and made racial remarks. But as the newspaper reported, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office dropped the charges that officer faced.

It seems that a third officer to who the officer actually expressed the threats has died. There goes the witness whose credibility would have been put on the stand in any trial that might have someday taken place.

So now, there’s a police officer who has been cleared – although it seems he was on disability leave back in 2011 when the original “threat” was made.

Although the idea that an officer is off-the-hook for “racially derogatory” comments is bound to offend many of the same people who think that the other officer should be punished severely for opening up his mouth about Brown.


A constitutional debate? Or a business out-of-touch w/ its community?

The arrival of a new Mariano’s supermarket within a neighborhood or community these days is usually an occasion for local celebration.

Wasn't posted on Mariano's Opening Day in Northbrook
The chain of markets that offer a somewhat upscale shopping experience for food (they stock some items that the local Jewel finds to be a tad esoteric) is usually seen as a reason to celebrate.

YET UP IN suburban Northbrook, people were picketing because the new Mariano’s had management that wouldn’t take up their pet cause – concealed carry of firearms on one’s person.

Activists said they would be at the store when it opened for business Tuesday morning because they want the store to post those stickers that depict a red slash though a silhouette of a pistol.

Making it clear that people who feel the need to carry a firearm are not welcome in the store. As in they ought to leave the gun inside their cars while they shop inside for groceries.

Now insofar as the law in Illinois is concerned, people can get permits that allow them to carry a pistol in a shoulder holster or a purse (open-carry is a separate issue). Which means a shopper with a permit could have his pistol on his person while picking out a piece of trout or grabbing a gallon of milk.

STATE LAW DOES permit businesses that don’t wish to have firearms on their premises to post the stickers on their doors that the activists desire. In short, they want their new Mariano’s to make a political statement!

One that the Mariano’s management indicates they’re not willing to make.

WBBM-AM radio reported that Mariano’s parent company justified its actions by saying it is in compliance with Illinois law. They say their Chicago-based locations do post such stickers, because city ordinances require them in the stores that also sell alcoholic beverages.

It's not exactly Georgia
Short of a state law that would require the stickers in all their stores in Illinois, they’re not about to go any farther than they have to.

WHICH MAKES SOME sense. Mariano’s is in the business of selling groceries and some prepared-food items. It isn’t a social organization out to make statements on anything.

So the idea that it doesn’t want to tick off anyone by bringing up what it wants to regard as an irrelevant issue is to be expected.

But it also makes a certain amount of sense that a business doesn’t want to needlessly tick off its customer base. Which in the case of this new supermarket is the north suburban area in and around Northbrook.

It’s not exactly a rural community filled with people who think they’re about to take their shotgun out and kill their dinner tonight. If anything, it is a community inclined to be sympathetic to rules and restrictions intended to reduce the potential for crime.

THOSE WOULD INCLUDE restricting the access to weapons by people who aren’t the police. It’s not one of those communities filled with people who think they’re going to be called upon to shoot someone else to defend themselves against a would-be mugger.

Let’s not forget that Northbrook is just a couple of towns from Morton Grove – which was once the first community in the nation to ban the sale and ownership of firearms.

It makes me wonder if Mariano’s management is that out-of-touch with who their customers are. It’s not like this is a store in Kennesaw or Nelson in Georgia – the communities that require their adult residents to own firearms.

Of course, if Mariano’s were to now decide to add the desired stickers, they’ll wind up attracting the attention of the National Rifle Association and every other gun group.

THEY MAY EVEN wind up like those Starbuck’s franchises in certain states where gun owners make a point of bringing their weapons into the stores and making sure everybody knows they’re armed while they buy a cup of overpriced coffee.

Which puts Mariano’s in a very awkward position – one they may not be able to escape from. Unless people decide that the novelty of the exotic food items they can get from a Mariano’s makes them overcome any concern they have about firearms.

If people get hungry enough, that may become a very real possibility.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

‘Keep your eye on the ball’ some good advice for fans as well as ballplayers

Listening to Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon talk this weekend about how fans attending ballgames ought to pay more attention to the field reminded me of a pair of game-goers I met over a decade ago.

Too many fans act as though they're bobble-heads
That particular couple was sitting right in front of me at U.S. Cellular Field for a game against the Boston Red Sox. He was a Massachusetts native who married a South Side girl, and they now lived here.

FOR THIS PARTICULAR game, they brought their newborn son – who was clad in a Red Sox cap and White Sox-logoed pajamas. It was the first game they ever brought him to, and they were overly obsessed with taking all kinds of pictures of their son at the ballpark.

Which is cute. It is understandable.

But it also struck me then as being reckless, because we all were sitting just a few rows up from the field down the third base line. It was prime territory for someone who would want to catch foul balls hit into the stand during the game.

It was a likely place for some right-handed pull hitter to crack a line drive that would go screaming into the stands. One that would wind up sending a person to the hospital if they weren’t ready for it and capable of either catching the ball cleanly, or ducking to get out of the way!

FORTUNATELY, NO LINE drives came too close. One ball did land about 10 seats away. But I didn’t get the up-close view of an infant being bashed by a baseball.

Sunday wasn’t so lucky.

During the Cubs’ game against the Atlanta Braves, a woman sitting near the camera well on the first base side got hit by a line drive into the stands. Badly enough that she had to be taken to an area hospital.

Which led to Maddon’s comments about how fans, particularly those in the prime seats near the infield, ought to pay attention to what happens on the playing field. That would at least give them a chance at avoiding harm if a line drive were cracked toward their heads.
Are those fans in stands? Or targets for line drives?
IT’S THE LITTLE lie that too many people attending ballgames want to believe – softly lobbed drives into the stands. Instead of something smacked hard that WILL inflict pain and cause bone-crushing damage (particularly to the skull) if there is physical impact.

I remember the closest I ever came to having a ball hit to me it came so fast that my reflexes were too slow to react. A good thing for me that the ball wound up going about eight feet to my left – and somebody else wound up getting their hand smashed!

The problem is too many people act like clowns and don’t pay attention.

If anything, all those video boards that exist in 21st Century stadiums wind up serving as a distraction. They motivate people to think they ought to be watching somewhere other than the infield.

WHICH IS SOMETHING I really don’t understand.

For the price of tickets these days (the last ballgame I went to about a month ago, the seats in the outfield were $40 apiece), you’d think people would want to actually watch the game – instead of whatever silly sponsor-driven stunt is being promoted that day.

If anything, it was the fact that my brother actually managed to catch himself a baseball at the game a month ago – the first ever in his life – that ought to be evidence that paying attention has its merits.

Either that, or we’re going to literally have to fence off the entire playing field to protect fans from their own refusal to watch out for themselves.