Wednesday, May 4, 2016

How about a stalk of corn or a soybean as the new Fighting Illini mascot?

I’m writing this commentary on behalf of my late brother Christopher, who was a student down in Champaign, Ill., during the late 1980s and often had his own thoughts about the concept of Chief Illiniwek.

Could a new symbol be found in any of these historic university images?
For those not in the know, Illiniwek was the student (often a white kid) who dressed up as a native American in full Indian headdress who would do a half-time dance at the football and basketball games of the University of Illinois.

PROPONENTS OF THE Chief (and I actually once knew a guy who included being “the chief” as among his collegiate accomplishments) always claimed the costume he wore and the dance he did were authentic to the tribes of the Illiniwek Confederation – the people who were native to what is now Illinois before the French and English came.

They always claimed it to be a symbol of significance, and something much more dignified than Bucky Badger – the mascot of the arch-rival University of Wisconsin.

Of course, some people saw the notion of a white kid dancing about pretending to be an Indian chief as bordering on racism – almost as offensive as someone wearing blackface claiming to pay tribute to African-American people.

When the NCAA in 2005 threatened to penalize the university by taking away their ability to host post-season play (which would have been an economic loss), Illinois gave in and Illiniwek became history.

THERE ARE THOSE students with an ideological agenda who go out of their way to keep alive the image of Illiniwek (the kind of young, conservative-minded people that ideologue radio broadcaster Rush Limbaugh is depending upon to replenish his aging listeners). His very image has become a political statement.

For what it’s worth, my brother used to think Illiniwek was far from the “honored symbol” that his proponents claimed him to be. And yes, “honored symbol” is the phrase they insist MUST be used to refer to Illiniwek. My brother thought his fans were people in serious need of a date or two.

Although he also thought the people eager to oppose Illiniwek also had way too much free time on their hands. Either that, or they were using time that ought to e devoted to studying for their classes to fight a cause.

He’d wonder how they’d explain “C’s” and “D’s” on report cards that wound up in their tuition-paying parents’ hands. “I was fighting the Chief,” is perhaps what they’d say, while their parents groaned, looked skyward and questioned the point of that tuition check they had written out.

SO IT WILL be interesting to see what happens at the university, now that officials say they’re going to replace Illiniwek with the first official mascot ever of the University of Illinois.

No word on when they’ll have an image picked, or what it will be. Let’s only hope it doesn’t turn out to be something ridiculous like the tree that represents Stanford University.

Seriously, I could easily see the mascot being a giant corn stalk – for all the corn fields that comprise a significant segment of central Illinois farms. Either that, or soybeans. Who knows, maybe a giant soybean could be the Illinois mascot, with a giant container of soy milk as its companion?

This whole search for a mascot has the potential to be quite silly – particularly since Fighting Illini athletics have managed to make it through the past decade without Illiniwek or any official mascot to replace it.

IT’S NOT LIKE the presence of a costumed character will in any way enhance the quality of play on the field or court. It would take a program much more aggressive at recruiting athletes of quality from outside of rural Illinois in order to gain public attention – the reason many Chicagoans pay much more attention to their alma mater schools than the state university.

Lovie Smith as the Fighting Illini football coach is a more important move than a new mascot. Although if it turns out that Lovie brings winning ways to Champaign, then perhaps he will become the symbol of success the college is looking for.

Although I suspect many students feel there are more important things to worry about than this issue. And the ones who do find it a priority? I suspect they’re the ones having to explain the mediocre-to-low grades to their parents every semester.

Personally, I remember my own college days at Illinois Wesleyan University where we had Tommy Titan. He’s now an elaborately costumed character, although when I was a student, he was merely a chubby kid clad in a cheap gladiator-like costume. We IWU students didn’t feel any more or less enthusiasm as a result.

  -30-

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

EXTRA: Cruz is gone from GOP election – Ding dong, the Witch is dead!

I’ve gone out of my way in the past few months to openly ridicule the idea that anybody takes seriously the presidential aspirations of Donald Trump, which on Tuesday became a probability with his overwhelming victory in the Indiana primaries.
 
As 'the Hawk' would say, he's ovah!
Yet any disgust that I might feel at the thought that Trump will be the Republican candidate in the November general election truly is tempered by the reality of this day – Ted Cruz is gone.

CRUZ, THE SENATOR from Texas who got elected by ideologue Tea Party types and campaigned for president with the attitude that he was going to implement those social conservative ideals upon all of us regardless of whether we had any desire for them or not, is history.

His defeat in the Indiana primaries gives Trump so many more delegates at this late stage in the primary election cycle that it is next to impossible for Cruz to gain with the few primaries remaining.

So Cruz, the so-called Cuban Canadian who always tried to make it seem as though he was as true-blue Texan as any other white man in the southwest, stepped back.

He officially dropped out of the campaign. That leaves only John Kasich of Ohio, who is so far back that he can’t even dream of overcoming the real estate developer from New York who thinks the whole world needs buildings bearing his name.

I HAVE TO confess feeling joy at the idea of Cruz’s political failure. Back when there were 18 candidates seeking the Republican nomination for president, Cruz and his ideological temperament was the one that stood out in my mind – as in the absolute last one I would want to see gain the GOP nomination.

From my perspective, the fact that Cruz lasted so long and came so close, and wound up being perceived by the Republican establishment as the voice of reason compared to the ego-bloated nonsense of a Trump is truly the evidence of why I could never seriously consider myself as a Republican.

Not that I’m always “proud” to be a Democrat – the party has its share of knuckle-heads. But I feel like I’d have to seriously be brain-dead to have to choose from the Republican picks of 2016. I feel sorry for those who did do so.

It’s not so much the written list of stances that one could put together of where Cruz stands on certain issues. It’s more the attitude he gave off.

A CERTAIN SMUGNESS of how he was going to do what he wanted, didn’t care what others thought, and was prepared to ram his ideals down our throats. Kind of like some parent thoroughly smacking his or her kid about and telling them it was for their own good.

Of course, there’s also a part of my attitude toward Cruz that came from the fact I’m only a couple of years older than he is and that he and I were in college back about the same time (although I’m not claiming I ever met the future senator from the Lone Star State).

He reminds me of the kind of guy who used to annoy everybody else living on the floor of the college dormitory – the one who came home one day from a part-time job he had in town to find his bed, dresser and all personal belongings moved down the hall to the men’s room.

And whom the rest of us secretly laughed our behinds off at the sight of him having to move all his belongings back to his room all by himself.

NOW I DON’T know for sure if Cruz ever experienced anything like that in college. But he also reminds me of several people I knew back in college – the ones who viewed their education as the credential that would give them the right to think of themselves as better than everybody else.

I sense that Cruz on this Tuesday probably thinks his defeat was a great injustice that his “superior intellect” did not prevail. Then again, let’s remember “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” where Ricardo Montalban’s character had the superior intellect that failed to beat Captain Kirk and wound up being incinerated in an outer space explosion.

Perhaps if Cruz ever learns a little humility, he could have a political comeback.

That, and learns to take advantage of his father’s ethnic heritage (the Cubano side). Latinos were prepared to vote against him en masse come November because of the vibe he gives off of being anti- their interests – and probably would have claimed to be Canadian before he’d ever seek their voter support.

  -30-

No teacher’s strike in ‘16? I’d feel safer predicting an all-Chicago World Series

With all the back-and-forth that has occurred in recent months between the Chicago Public Schools and their teacher’s union, nobody really knows how the negotiations will turn out and whether we’ll get the sight of picket sign-bearing schoolteachers demanding more pay and benefits.

You just know that however the talks between schools and the teacher's union for a new contract wind up, we're going to find some reason to place blame on Rahm Emanuel.
The Chicago Sun-Times gave us the big headline “No Appetite For A Strike,” to support a story on Monday about Chicago Teachers Union officials saying the rank-and-file really don’t want to go out on strike. BUT they would if the administration does something to provoke them.

IN SHORT, IF there is a strike, it will be the administration’s fault, according to the union. Which issued a statement Monday saying the schools DO have enough money to provide a respectable contract, but would "rather take their fiscal woes out on the hides of educators and other school employees." Since the school administration is hand-picked by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, it ultimately becomes the mayor's fault.

Blame Rahm! Everything’s his fault.

Now I’m not about to predict how all of this will turn out, although it seems based on the most recent reporting that there isn’t any sort of enthusiasm for a teacher’s strike to begin later this month – one that theoretically would wipe out the rest of the school year.

Although school officials insist they’ve done enough of the current academic year that nobody in the way of students or parents would lose out. Only the teachers themselves would lose pay and benefits for that time, and any time lost off the summer break.

WHICH MEANS IF there is a strike, it is still most likely to be one that crops up come September. One that is meant to throw the 2016-17 academic year all out of whack – unless those darned administrators come to their senses and give the teachers what they want.

Which really isn’t much. Basically, they’re asking to keep as much of what they already have and not have significant cuts made at their expense in the name of balancing out the Chicago Public Schools’ finances!

Now I know the schools’ administration says that can’t be done. There are going to have to be reductions, and they’re trying to avoid having to whack the faculty staffing level to the point where there’d be a significant teacher shortage in the future.

What we had was that proposal made earlier this year by the schools, the one that officials said was the best offer they could make, but that the union rejected without even sending it to their membership for a vote.

ONLY TO HAVE an outside arbitrator rule recently that the schools’ offer may well be the best that can be done?

So there we are. Who’s going to be willing to give? Is it possible for anybody to give? Who’s going to be willing to look weak and ineffectual? And above all, would parents wind up becoming so frustrated at having to make arrangements for their kids’ day care in the event of a strike that they wind up blaming everybody in sight?

Blame the teachers! Blame the schools and their administrators! Blame societal conditions! And above all else, blame Rahm Emanuel!!!!!!!!!!!

So will there be a teacher’s strike; either later this month or some time in September? I don’t know. Anybody who claims they do know is lying to you.

I REALLY WOULD feel safer placing a bet that the World Series this year will be the long-awaited Chicago White Sox vs. Chicago Cubs match-up.

Both ball clubs began the second month of the 2016 season in first place in their respective divisions. Although anybody with sense about baseball knows Memorial Day is the point at which you first seriously study the standings to determine who started off good.

By that point, the teams could be struggling to play .500 ball.

And that bet of a Chicago defeating Chicago in the World Series for the first time in 110 years since the Sox took down the Cubs in 1906 would look as premature as the one saying the sides will agree on a teacher's contract without the need to walk the picket lines.

  -30-

Monday, May 2, 2016

How times have changed; my mother would have smacked me upside the head if I asked for a “gap” year before college

I don’t know what I would have done if anybody had presented me with the idea of a “gap” year back in the early 1980s when I was going through the process of considering college.

Malia Obama and her father, the president, board Air Force One earlier this year for a trip together. In just over a year, she'll be off on her own -- bound for Cambridge, Mass.,and the Ivy League life. Photograph provided by the White House.
Probably would have wound up trying to get some sort of job to bring in some money. But then again, wasn’t the point of continuing one’s studies beyond the level of a high school diploma that we got to divert the need to work for a living for a few years?

ALL OF THIS has been banging about my brain since the moment Sunday morning when I looked at my cellphone and saw I had received an e-mail from the Chicago Sun-Times telling me of BREAKING NEWS.

As in Malia Obama, the 17-year-old daughter of President Barack Obama, deciding she was going to continue her education at Harvard University – the place where her parents attended law school. It really doesn't take much to qualify as "news" on the Sunday broadcasts or the Monday ayem newspapers. Remember how much of former politico Pat Quinn's Sunday stunts got good "play?"

Malia, with any luck, will get to hang around Harvard Yard a few years, gain some academic and personal experiences, then make her efforts to amount to something in life beyond being Obama’s eldest daughter.

But it wasn’t until I saw follow-up reports in the websites of the Chicago Tribune (she was the lede story), the New York Times (she took a back seat to her father’s Correspondent’s dinner appearance the night before) and the Washington Post that the gap year angle jumped out.

MALIA WILL HOLD off of attending actual classes until the autumn of 2017. She won’t be a graduate until the early 2020s. She’ll use the year off to partake in some sort of travel or work or personal project that will enhance her as a human being.

Even more so than the Ivy League degree will do.

White House officials would not say exactly what Malia would do with that year off. Which makes me wonder how long until the joke machines will go into overtime.

As it is already, the idea of someone taking time off between high school and college for reasons other than having to help financially to support their families usually gets played up as a kid being some sort of lazy goof.

THEY’RE EITHER JUST being lazy and doing nothing, or else they come from some sort of wealth that enables them to travel somewhere to engage in a drunken, ribald sojourn through Europe or some other semi-exotic place.

Of course, some people want to believe that’s about all a college education amounts to these days – usually the kind of people who didn’t go straight from high school to higher education because they didn’t have the qualifications to do so themselves.

Now I’m not trying to mock Malia. I’ve never met her or sister Sasha, but I hope she is able to figure out something worthwhile to do so she doesn’t waste a year of her life.

I know in my case, going straight into academia was probably the most significant thing I could have done with the 1983-84 academic year. I suspect I would have wound up stuck working in some sort of retail job. That is, after recovering from the smack upside my head that my mother -- who pumped the idea of attending college into my head constantly -- would have given me.

PERHAPS AT THE Carson, Pirie, Scott store at the River Oaks shopping mall in suburban Calumet City, Ill. (where I lived at the time, and I wound up a few years later working at a Carson’s store at the now-defunct Lincoln Mall in suburban Matteson for a few months because my first news-related job paid miniscule-ly).

Not exactly an experience that taught me much, other than how enjoyable it was (and remains) to be able to write for a living about the people and places around me.

Here’s hoping Malia can figure out a more worthy experience for the upcoming year, or else that shouting noise we hear emanating from the White House in coming months may well be the presidential parents yelling at their eldest daughter to get off her lazy duff and do something with her life.

One final thought: I never expected Malia to be among the crew of students at a place like Chicago State University, but why didn’t any Chicago schools make it into her mix of considerations. It may have been good enough to employ Barack Obama at one point, but the University of Chicago (and Chicago in general) definitely feels like a place in the family’s past.

  -30-

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Hoosier-land a haven for people who want the triviality of electoral politics

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence came out publicly recently as one of those cantankerous Republicans who can’t the thought of Donald Trump as their party’s presidential nominee.
PENCE: Backing Cruz

“I will be voting for Ted Cruz,” the governor said to reporter-types of his intentions in the Indiana primary elections coming up Tuesday.

TYPICALLY, GETTING A governor, no matter how ridiculous or absurd or disliked he may be, would be a significant plus for a campaign.

Yet Trump, the New York real estate developer with a taste for the garish, managed to one-up him; digging one-time Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight out of retirement to publicly endorse him.

It’s a sad commentary on our society that Bobby’s babbling about electoral politics probably was taken more seriously than anything Pence said.

Either that, or else the senator from Texas who some like to deride as a closet Canadian is just that pathetic a candidate that he’s likely to lose the Indiana primary.

THE ONLY REAL question is whether Hoosier voters will let him be competitive with Trump on Tuesday, or will Cruz get his clock cleaned – so to speak.

Of course, there also are those who were more impressed with the fact that former President William J. Clinton bothered to show up in the heart of downtown Gary on Saturday to express his own political love for his wife, the apparent Democratic presidential nominee Hillary R. Clinton. Of course, after all the aggravation he has caused his wife throughout their lives, he owes her a few hours of time spent in Gary.

Did the one-time Gary State Bank building located a block from City Hall, across the street from the dilapidated convention center and just down the street from the main entrance to the U.S. Steel plant look impressive enough with its recent restorations to make it worthy as the scenery for a presidential campaign visit.
Back in the news, for a day

Or did people wind up getting bogged down in the urban decay of the surrounding blocks?

PERHAPS WE SHOULD note who’s missing from this list of trivial appearances meant to tout presidential candidates. We didn’t get any prominent Bernie Sanders visits in recent days.

Does Sanders deep down sense that it’s over (even though he publicly insists he’s staying in the primary race to the very end – just as Clinton herself did back in 2008 even though it was clear she would lose to eventual President Barack Obama)?
CLINTON: Touting his wife in Gary

Or could it be that the idea of spending too much time in Indiana was too appalling for even “the Bern” to do this past weekend? A place where he’d already scaled back his campaign spending – despite the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that
showed Clinton with a 4 percent lead (and a 4 percent margin of error).

A statistical tie! If Sanders winds up losing Indiana on Tuesday by a mere point, he may wind up giving himself the ultimate kick in the behind for his lack of activity!

  -30-

EDITOR’S NOTE: We in Illinois had our own presidential ballot chance back on March 15, and many of us were more obsessed with picking a new state’s attorney or senator to worry that we backed Clinton and Trump as the major political party nominees for the November general election. Which means we probably have little reason to mock Indiana if they wind up doing the same come Tuesday.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Illinois is normal to the United States, and not just because of Normal, Ill.

Some people want to quantify everything with numbers, and that has led the FiveThirtyEight.com website to do some mathematics comparing the populations of various groupings to see how they compare to the United States as a whole.
Illinois a little of everything, just like U.S.

How representative are they of the nation? Do they truly deserve to be thought of as being just like us?

FOR WHAT IT’S worth, the Chicago metropolitan area (which by their definition stretches north to Kenosha, Wis., and east to Gary, Ind.) is the seventh most like the U.S. city in the nation.

Also, Illinois is the state most like the United States as a whole. We’re what this country is all about.

Personally, I don’t find this unusual one bit.

For the fact is that Illinois is a place consisting of so many different types of people that it is a wonder we can seriously think of ourselves as a single state. And Chicago truly is the kind of place that has a little bit of everybody.

THE FACT IS there is no “typical” American, and our populations reveal that all too well.

Considering there are times when I think northern Illinois communities would be more comfortable as a part of Wisconsin, while central Illinois municipalities might well think of either Indiana or Iowa as a better fit.

Unless they happen to live near East St. Louis, in which case they align with Missouri.

And when it comes to the 30 or so southernmost counties of the state, Little Egypt probably really does think more highly of Kentucky and wonder how their home state isn’t a part of Dixie.

OF COURSE, those in metro Chicago often joke about how we’d be a better state if we didn’t have to carry all those other rubes who probably wish they were a part of some other state.

From Chicago to Cairo, ...
 We don’t have a common identity in Illinois like they do in, say, Texas.

Just like we don’t have a common identity for our nation. We are a collection of regions, each with their own character. We manage to come together to amass a single nation – but that doesn’t mean any single region is willing to subvert itself to the character of the whole.

So Illinois’ split really does make us a microcosm of the nation as a whole. We have a little bit of everybody that makes up the nation.

HECK, THE NEW York Times came up with a study of how the 50 states should be done away with and replaced by seven regions – which would unite those of similar character.

As it is, Illinois would be split in that study into three regions – Great Lakes, Great Plains and the Southeast Manufacturing Belt.

Our Chicago would be in a “state” with Detroit, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Kansas City and Minneapolis.

Which I’m sure some would say have more in common than being in a state with Rockford, the Quad Cities and Marion.

NOW I’M NOT calling for any split like this. Personally, I always found the distinct regions that felt like separate places in and of themselves as being what made Illinois a unique place.

I enjoy sharing a boundary with a place like Champaign or Bloomington (where I went to college), or even the afore-mentioned town of Normal (which is a nice place to visit, but with 85.1 percent white people living there is not the norm for the United States).
 
... we have quite the variety in Illinois
Besides, I found it interesting to see that while Illinois was the state most like the nation as a whole, Indiana was a place third-most like what the U.S. was like back in the 1950s.

We in Illinois have progressed while our Hoosier neighbors haven’t. Which may be why no amount of political rhetoric about the superiority of Indiana will ever be believable.

  -30-