Saturday, April 30, 2011

Is Ozzie a prototype 21st Century mgr?

We’re definitely in a new era. Technology is overtaking our society and turning it into something completely nonsensical. Even on the baseball diamond.

Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen didn’t run the team during Friday’s game against the Baltimore Orioles, nor will be on Saturday night.

THAT IS THE two-game suspension he received from Major League Baseball officials after being ejected from Wednesday night’s 3-1 loss to the New York Yankees. The umpire who kicked Ozzie out of the game says the manager used profanity while speaking to him.

It is typical that a manager who gets kicked out of a game gets some sort of penalty from league officials. But the reason this particular ejection is gaining national attention is because of what Ozzie did AFTER the ejection.

The “old school” manager would have tried hiding in the shadows of the tunnel connecting the dugout to the clubhouse, possibly feeding crude signals to whichever coach becomes acting manager in the real manager’s absence to try to impact the game’s direction.

The old school manager with a temper might go to the clubhouse and inflict some serious damage.

SO WHAT DID Ozzie do?

He went on-line. Specifically, he used his Twitter account to send out a couple of messages to the people who follow his “tweets” (which are mostly read by “twits,” but that is a subject for another day’s discussion).

In their official statement, Major League Baseball officials said they had a problem with Guillen sending out messages while the game was still in progress Wednesday night.

Perhaps they think he was sending out signals that could have influenced the outcome of the ballgame (which was a Mark Buehrle pitching performance wasted by weak hitting from the White Sox)?

I DON’T GET it. Particularly since after reading Guillen’s Twitter account to see what the offending “tweets” were, I’d have to say they were downright trivial. I’m actually more offended at how grammatically awful and poorly spelled they were.

His initial Twitter reaction to being ejected was to type out, “This one going to cost me a lot money this is patetic.” That’s literally what he wrote.

He followed up that message with a later statement saying, “Today a tough guy show up a yankee stadium.”

That is what Major League Baseball construes as a violation of “social media policy and other regulations regarding the use of electronic equipment during the course of a game.”

I CAN’T HELP but think of the baseball managers from when I was young construing such a response as timid, if not downright sissy-ish. I can’t envision the late Billy Martin typing a tweet on Twitter (or if he tried, it would be so foul and obscene that he’d likely be facing prosecution by some law enforcement type for disseminating profane language and thought). I wonder at times what our city’s sports scene would have become back in ’78 if Yankees owner George Steinbrenner had followed through on his mid-season whim and traded “manager” Martin to the White Sox (for Sox manager Bob Lemon, and how surreal both of those hard-drinkers would have found this latest controversy to be?

But back to the present.

Ozzie’s initial response was to use his Twitter account to acknowledge that he was going to be in trouble for getting ejected – on account of the fact that his fiery temperament is such that his every action gets exaggerated.

As for his use of the word “patetic” to describe his upcoming punishment, I’d say what is pathetic is that he couldn’t spell “pathetic,” particularly since the so-called big advantage of computer keyboards as opposed to typewriters is that it is easy to fix one’s typographical errors.

THERE IS NEVER a reason for a typo, except for one’s literary laziness.

It actually makes me respect Chicago Cubs manager Mike Quade just a bit more for telling the Chicago Tribune, “I will never get in trouble tweeting, twittering, tweetering, I can’t even say it, because I will never do it,” Quade said. “I don’t have the time, energy or know-how, and I’m real happy about that.”

Some people are going to argue that trying to ignore Twitter is wrong because too many people are on it and that it is somehow snobby (if not elitist) to refuse to communicate in 140-character bursts of thought.

After reading through Guillen’s tweet-ed thoughts from the past few days, I can’t say that I missed out on anything by not reading these in “real” time.

UNLESS YOU REALLY want to believe Guillen’s observation from Monday that, “New York no good restaurant open late.”

For all I know, that statement could wind up offending New Yorkers – who really like to think they’re the “city that never sleeps” and that you can find anything, at any hour.

It certainly is more intriguing than Guillen’s weblog, where his latest posting is of a picture of himself with mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel.

Which may well mean that Guillen is the prototypical baseball manager of the 21st Century, capable of using the latest technology to spew his thoughts. Just think of what Casey Stengel and his “Stengel-ese” would have been like if given to us in 140-character bursts of garble?


Friday, April 29, 2011

Secrecy in public life

Earlier this week, I covered a school board meeting for one of the suburban daily newspapers, and I encountered a woman who had never been to such a session before.

In fact, the woman had just moved to suburban Calumet City a few months earlier, after living her entire life in Chicago where she had come to accept the political culture of the city.

WHAT CAUGHT MY attention about her was her mystification about the fact that the local school board consisted of elected members, while the board of education for the Chicago Public Schools is a government body consisting of mayoral appointees.

“You go to a Chicago school board meeting, and those people act in secret. You don’t have a clue what they did, or why?,” she told me.

My initial reaction was to chuckle, because I happen to know people who think that particular school board (for the local high schools) is overly secretive, or inept, or whatever other hostile terminology their minds can concoct.

But it also popped into my mind again when I read a report by WBEZ-FM radio, which did a story about just how secretive the political culture of the Chicago Public Schools truly is.

MY OWN FIRST-HAND experience in dealing with the Chicago Public Schools as a reporter-type person is about two decades old. I haven’t been to a school board meeting in Chicago in years.

But somehow, I doubt that much has changed. In fact, if the Public Radio report is at all accurate, nothing at all has changed.

Which is why I find it interesting that incoming school board President David Vitale (NOT the incoming superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard, who will wind up being the public “face” of the schools who will get the blame – or praise – for whatever happens with regards to public education in Chicago) is willing to admit there are potential problems with the degree to which the board is “open” about doing “the people’s business.”

“My own view is that we need to be totally transparent. My bias is that the public has a right to be engaged, and I expect to follow that bias,” Vitale told WBEZ.

PERSONALLY, MY RECOLLECTIONS of dealing with Chicago Public Schools officials is of having an administration and bureaucratic structure to support it that is so large it makes the getting of information about schools activity overly-complex.

Too many people don’t know what their colleagues are doing, and often only know such a small piece of information that they don’t fully appreciate how it fits into the “big” picture.

All that means is that I believe the problem in getting a clear understanding of what is happening is because of the “ignorance” of the public officials, not any “corrupt” or “lying” nature. And when I say “ignorance,” I don’t necessarily mean they’re stupid. Just uninformed.

It is why I often joke that the act of being a news reporter covering a story is similar to putting together a jigsaw puzzle – only someone snatched away the box cover so you don’t know exactly what it’s supposed to look like when you’re done and someone may have snatched a few pieces of the puzzle when you weren’t looking.

IF THEY’RE REALLY in a nasty mood, they may slip in a couple of pieces from a different puzzle, just to confuse you.

Not that I expect the whole world to cater to my work needs (the few people who are willing to make an effort are usually the ones who are just helpful to all people in general). But when some people want to rant about the general incompetence of newsgathering organizations, perhaps it ought to be kept in mind that this is one of the factors at stake that can result in news stories with gaping holes of information or trivial tidbits or pompous rhetoric emanating from the mouths of public officials who are trying to pass themselves off as informed public servants.

And this attitude is not restricted to the Chicago Public Schools, or that one suburban school district I covered earlier this week, or any one government panel. It happens all too often at all levels of government.

So I’m curious to see how literally Vitale’s words are taken to be transparent.

BECAUSE THERE’S ALWAYS the chance that “transparency” might not tell us anything significant about the way our public officials in the school system are handling things.

It might actually just inform us about how little they truly understand what they are doing with the dollars they derive from our local property taxes.

While that kind of information is helpful for us to know on a certain level (so that perhaps we might take seriously the idea of finding better-qualified people come the next election cycle, rather than just accepting the same old people in those posts), it doesn’t help improve the level of public service.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

“588-2300, Empire” outlives its creator

I can remember being back in college and taking foreign language courses where one professor believed it would help our command of the language to get into small groups, then write AND perform short skits en Español.
He's even a bobble-head

The group I was in came up with a cockamamie storyline that involved having someone make a telephone call. Just to be cute, we had him call 588-2300, while singing out the telephone number just as in the television commercial.

WHO’D HAVE EVER thought that the line, “Cinco. Ocho. Ocho. Dos-Trescientos” could be that funny? But I can still remember the outburst of laughter from the rest of the class when they heard those digits incorporated into a classroom sketch. About the only person who didn’t get the gag was the one girl who came from St. Louis.

But even she thought it was humorous once the concept of Empire Carpet and their iconic television spots were explained to her.

I couldn’t help but reminisce about that moment from some 27 years ago when I learned Wednesday of the death of Elmer Lynn Hauldren – whose name meant nothing to me and which I likely will forget within a day or two.

But his face will always stick in my Chicago-oriented mindset, for the fact that he created what arguably is one of the two most recognizable telephone numbers in the Chicago metropolitan area (the other being HUdson3-2700).

MAYBE IT’S JUST a sign that I watched too much television when I was younger (and now try to make up for it by ignoring much of the trite tripe that appears as broadcast programming these days).

In the same way that the name and childish face of Rodney Allen Rippy will always bring to mind the Jack ‘n’ the Box burger chain, even though those advertising spots haven’t aired in decades and we don’t have a Jack ‘n’ the Box franchise any closer to Chicago than the Mississippi River town of Alton, Hauldren’s face will stick in many Chicagoans’ minds.

In reality, Hauldren was an advertising executive and copywriter who came up with the idea for the Empire television spots that featured him playing the role of a uniformed carpet and flooring salesman, and who came up with the idea for the telephone number being sung as a jingle in hopes that it might stick in the minds of would-be carpet buyers.

It did.

IN A SENSE, Hauldren is an extremely successful advertising copywriter, because he came up with something that we still remember, even if it is just seven digits being sung in a certain way that now definitely will outlive him (even though the more recent versions of their television spots tell us the number is 1-800-588-2300, on account of all the area codes we now have in the Chicago area – rather than the good ol’ fashioned “312”).

I’d say it is highly unlikely I will ever write anything that will be as long-lasting in the Chicago mentality as Hauldren’s advertising jingle.

In fact, if I had to pick a “most memorable” Chicago ad moment, I’d pick Empire’s telephone number, even though I’m sure the people at Bouchelle Inc. (they clean carpets) might think their telephone number jingle stands out more.

Or those people over at Victory Auto Wreckers, who don’t have a sing-songy telephone number in their ads. But who can forget the sight of that guy getting all frustrated when the door to his junk-heap of a car falls off the vehicle right into his hand?

THEN, THERE’S THE automobile dealership, “Where You Always Save More Money.” Where else would that be but the old Celozzi-Ettleson Chevrolet dealership in suburban Elmhurst – with the two auto dealers who looked in their ads like they’d break your legs if you dared to try to walk off of their car lot without purchasing an automobile.

But still, the gold standard of our local advertising has to be Empire Carpets. So in that sense, Hauldren’s death will be mourned in our pop culture circles. And at age 89, he certainly lived a long life.

In fact, I can’t help but think that real tragedy of Hauldren’s death is that it came before that of Timmy, the Newsboy.

You all remember him from the Long Chevrolet television spots. That Elmhurst-based auto dealer used to feature the screaming newsboy who was ever so annoying that most of us still remember the particular spot when he got popped in the face with a cream pie.

HOW TIMMY CAN live on while the creator of Empire’s jingle leaves us now may be one of the true unspoken injustices of life.

If there’s any justice, it will be that in a hereafter, Timmy will perpetually get whacked with that pie, and the people from Empire will be called upon to fix any of the mess that was made on the floor as a result.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

EXTRA: Pfleger in limbo?

I’m sure there are those Catholics who are about to take offense, but it seems that the church’s Chicago Archdiocese just went ahead and put Rev. Michael Pfleger in limbo.

In purely theological terms, limbo is that place where souls that are not completely clean of sin go to wait until the day they can be admitted to Heaven. It’s not Hell, but they’re in between – with an uncertain status.

I CAN’T HELP but think that is what the church is doing to Pfleger by telling him on Wednesday that he’s still the pastor of St. Sabina Church, BUT he is suspended and cannot perform any of his duties in running the Gresham neighborhood church.

The church, in the form of Cardinal Francis George, sent Pfleger a letter telling him of his new, uncertain status,  while also telling him that his status is purely his own fault. To make sure that no one tried spinning the issue differently, they also posted a copy of it on the Archdiocese’s own website.

It seems that the Catholic Church is upset that the speculation about Pfleger’s future with the church has gone public. So they’re looking for a way to punish him, perhaps even hoping that he decides on his own to quit.

“This conflict is not between you and me; it’s between you and the Church that ordained you as a priest, between you and the faith that introduced you to Christ and gives you the right to preach and pastor in his name,” George wrote. “If you now formally leave the Catholic Church and her priesthood, it’s your choice and no one else’s.

“YOU ARE NOT a victim of anyone or anything other than your own statements,” George wrote.

Definitely not the words of someone who is looking for a way to keep Pfleger happily ensconced somewhere within the Archdiocese.

So now, we have to wait to see what Pfleger’s next move will be. Will he try to fight to keep the post that he has held for three decades and doesn’t seem to want to give up (and which the parish doesn’t seem to want him to give up)?

Or will he decide that it’s time to do something else with his life, and that perhaps the Catholic Church has become too restrictive to let him minister to the urban communities that he seems most interested in.

PERSONALLY, THERE WAS one part of George’s letter that most caught my attention – the notion that the church is upset about the talk that Pfleger is being “removed” from St. Sabina instead of being “reassigned.”

The difference, according to George, that being “removed” implies sexual or financial malfeasance by the priest, while being “reassigned” is a part of a typical priest’s working life.

Yet no one should think that Pfleger is a typical priest – in large part because of his willingness to take the church into African-American communities and make it relevant even though he’s a white guy.
Both photographs provided by St. Sabina parish

I can’t help but think that the people who are most disgusted with Pfleger are the ones who wish that he would conduct himself in such a manner that his parish would have withered away decades ago because the neighborhood residents would have found it to be irrelevant to their daily lives.

THAT WILLINGNESS TO adapt is something I have always respected about Pfleger – even if I’ll be the first to admit his rhetoric at times can get ridiculously over the top.

Which is why I fear that the people who will most enjoy the “hard line” being taken by George against Pfleger in his letter on Wednesday are going to be individuals whose own motivations are less than noble, if not downright despicable.


Now, we wait!

The process by which the Illinois General Assembly will create new boundaries for legislative and congressional districts is moving along at its own pace – even though those of us who are interested to see how our political representation will be altered don’t have a clue yet what is being done.

That is the nature of the reapportionment process, regardless of who is in charge. Anybody who thinks the Democratic leadership of the Illinois Legislature is being more secretive than the Republicans would have been, if they were in a position of authority, is being ridiculous. States where Republican officials prevail are being just as territorial about their own political boundaries.

THAT IS WHY I thought it was absurd for the Republican members of the Illinois House of Representatives’ redistricting committee (which gets its own website to provide us with gobbledygook – but no data – about the process’ progress) to use a series of hearings to rant about being excluded from the process.

Those hearings are nearly complete, and I only made it out to one of them (held at South Suburban College in South Holland). Although from the various reports I have read, it seems that the one hearing I saw was representative of the process, including the fact that it was loaded up with local legislators to create the impression that local officials actually have a clue as to what is happening – rather than being told what will happen by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, and his staff.

Local political people testified about how they didn’t want their respective hometowns split up among various legislative districts, while people from the parts of rural Illinois who live near the Chicago area complained about having suburban-based legislators whose districts extended well into their home areas.

In short, they want political representation from people who will put their hometowns first.

I WILL GIVE one official some credit for being honest. State Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Willow Springs, came right out and told those people that such considerations are not always possible to honor and that, invariably, some communities will have to be split up among several districts. The unspoken  part is because of the need to take into account factors such as equal population and ethnic/racial factors that must be achieved under federal law whenever political boundaries are re-done.

So there are going to be some far-sprawling political districts concocted in 2011, regardless of how much it offends some of the local residents.

According to the Herald-News newspaper of Joliet, speculation at the hearing held in Joliet included talk that Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr.’s South Side and suburban congressional district will extend into Will County so as to take the site of the proposed airport near Peotone. Jackson’s political pet project would fall more thoroughly under his control.

Not that such speculation is official. In fact, nothing is official. Because the behavior of the redistricting committee has been overly condescending.

THEY SAT. THEY nodded their heads in a semi-approving manner while people talked. There were instructions given about how people can try drawing up their own maps as suggestions, and can file them with the redistricting committee where they will be “looked at” by officials.

No guarantee that they will be seriously considered. But people were given a chance in recent weeks to rant and rage.

Just like this week during what is likely the final redistricting committee hearing. That is when Latino activists, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, presented their own map, saying they think the Latino population of Illinois (just over 2 million, and now officially larger than Illinois’ African-American population) is worthy of 28 legislative districts.

But they will compromise and “settle” for 20. Which, in and of itself, would be an increase from the 12 districts that currently exist in the Illinois Legislature (out of 177 combined Illinois House and state Senate members).

ONCE AGAIN, NO guarantee that political people will listen. I can already hear the rhetoric from officials when we do finally see a map (in the few hours just before the Legislature approves it) about how they had to “balance out” various interests that wanted “something” out of the redistricting process.

They’re not even giving straight answers about when this process will be complete. Redistricting committee Chair Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, said she can’t put a timeline on the process.

Not that the legislative staff that supports the committee is of any help.

Ask them when things will happen, and they will recite from memory the official calendar of dates related to redistricting – the one that says the Legislature has until June 30 to approve a map on its own, then will create a bipartisan redistricting commission during the summer – with a lottery by the Illinois secretary of state to be held in September if that commission can’t reach a deal.

THAT IS THE official process, none of which matters this time around because of the fact that Democratic leadership controls the whole thing and is prepared to ramrod its version of political boundaries well before then.

State Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, told reporter-types in Joliet that he has no reason to think the process won’t be done by the time the Legislature completes its session this spring in late May.

Which is an incredibly obvious statement to make, but a true one. Which may make Lang the only person throughout the redistricting process who gave us even the slightest bit of information about how this map is being drawn up.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tuesday just a Tuesday for sports scene

I’m sure someone is going to try to claim that Tuesday is a day of great history for the Chicago sports scene. Those are probably the same people who perennially think the Chicago Cubs are pennant contenders.

There are two games tonight of significance, and it is possible that our city’s sports fans will have two teams that can say they won playoff series and are a step closer to winning their respective leagues’ championships.

IT’S GOING TO be over, one way or another, for the Chicago Blackhawks, who managed to win their last three games after first losing three games. One more win, and the Blackhawks will advance to the next level of the National Hockey League playoffs.

It’s not quite as dramatic for the Chicago Bulls. But if they win Tuesday night, they too will be able to make the same claim – advancing to the next level of the National Basketball Association playoffs.

Two winning teams – which will go a long way to make up for the fact that the Chicago White Sox the past two weeks have had such a flop that they went from second place to last within their division.

Of course, if both the Blackhawks and Bulls manage to lose in the second round of their respective playoffs, then what happens Tuesday isn’t going to amount to much.

INSOFAR AS HOCKEY is concerned, the sports pundits already are pronouncing the Vancouver Canucks deceased. After all, any team that gets to within one win of taking that round of the playoffs, then gives up that entire advantage probably deserves to lose.

Yet my thoughts on this is the evidence that I came of age in the 1970s, when ALL of the Chicago sports teams were trash and a barely winning season (such as the White Sox of 1972 or 1977) was considered something of great historic significance.

To me, it would be totally in character of a Chicago sports team to make a comeback from the edge of defeat to tie up the series, only THEN to blow Game Seven and lose the playoff series.

So I’m not counting out the Canucks (a phrase that in certain contexts can be almost as absurd and offensive as the Atlanta Crackers baseball team of the old Southern Asssociation). Although it would be interesting to see a Blackhawks team achieve that accomplishment that rarely happens in any sport (winning a best-of-seven game series after losing the first three games).

I’M ALSO WARY of the Bulls, who will be occupying the United Center on Tuesday (the Blackhawks are playing their Tuesday game in Vancouver, B.C.) for their game.

The Bulls are taking on our Midwestern neighbors, the Indiana Pacers, in their first playoff round, and they managed to win the first three games – only to lose Game 4, thereby keeping alive the hopes of Hoosiers who’d like to think their team isn’t dead.

The scary thing, to me at least, is that maybe it isn’t.

Because I can’t help but see Tuesday as a must-win for the Bulls as well. Admittedly, the Bulls could come back and win Game 6 and take the series, even if they lose Tuesday night.

YET I CAN’T help but think that if the Pacers manage to win Tuesday, they gain a momentum and could very well be inspired enough to make that same comeback that Blackhawks fans are hoping their team makes against Vancouver.

THAT would be totally in character of a Chicago sports team – taking their team to the brink of victory, only to see it ultimately wind up in defeat.

The mental and emotional health status of many a Chicagoan will only be satisfied if there is a Blackhawks victory combined with a Bulls victory – and both teams advance to the second rounds of their respective playoffs.

Of course, that Blackhawks victory would shatter the emotional status of a 4-year-old girl. Violet is a Canucks hockey fan who has put her desire for a Blackhawks defeat to song. Then again, those of us whose lives go up and down with the fate of Chicago sports teams had our emotional status shattered long ago.

SO WE’LL EAGERLY welcome her to the club.

So what should we think? As much as some people are thinking it a big deal to have both of these “big” games on the same day (and at nearly the same time), I can’t help but think that the fact that the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup championships won’t be played for another couple of months makes this a whole lot of nuthin’ that will be forgotten about two weeks from now.

Which is why I’ll be watching yet a different game – the one involving the White Sox making their only trip (most likely) this season to the building posing as Yankee Stadium. Seeing if the Yankees will continue to keep the White Sox down, or if the Sox will finally snap out of their funk and quit playing like the dreadful ballclub that has gone 2-10 in recent days (after starting the season at 7-4).


Monday, April 25, 2011

How much access is too much access?

Actually, I have no problem believing it can happen.

The “it” in this case is police officers using their computers that give them access to reports of many criminal cases getting bored enough to look up the reports about a pending case involving a pair of patrol officers who allegedly had sex with an intoxicated woman while they were on duty.

IT SEEMS THAT the reports of that case have been accessed on internal computers by more than 1,000 officers – far more than are actually involved with the case in any way.

That is what has the Internal Affairs division of Chicago police trying to figure out every single person who used their computer to read the report – and why they felt compelled to do so.

They also want to know if any detailed information from those reports wound up getting disseminated to sources that the police would have preferred not to see such reports.

There’s no word at this point how many police could be disciplined, or what such discipline would be. In fact, the Fraternal Order of Police lodge that represents Chicago Police is defending the cops by saying there’s nothing wrong with using one’s work computer to look up work-related records.

WHAT I FIND “believable” about this incident is the idea of a bored police officer passing the time away by looking up stray information – just for mental kicks.

Just think of how many times you have sat in front of a computer screen and wasted away time looking up stray bits of information or trivia that you really didn’t need to know in order to get on with your life. For all I know, that is what you are doing right now while stumbling onto this weblog.

Maybe you typed in a search for “police” or “investigation.” Or maybe your mind delved into the gutter and you worked the word “sex” into your phrasing for a search engine.

If you did that, I would guess that you are very disappointed right now, because this particular commentary is not going to give you titillating details about anything.

THE PROBLEM IS that police officers using the department’s computers have access to more detailed information than we’re going to be able to get on our own personal computers. There’s always the risk of some crucial detail somehow getting out – even inadvertently.

FOP officials may think it wrong to restrict what one is able to access on a department computer. But perhaps we have bigger problems to consider.

This is a particular situation to consider when it comes to police because law enforcement is so much more computerized these days. Just about every squad car these days has a lap top computer installed with proper hookups so that officers can get tons of personal information that could be of use to them while also being able to take a lot of physical abuse (as I once heard a computer salesman tell a suburban police department, his system was designed to operate even while riding over railroad tracks and pothole-filled roads AND with multiple cups of coffee being spilled onto the keyboard).

In this case, it seems we have some bored police officers who wanted to know “the skinny” on the case that cropped up in the news about a month ago – where a 22-year-old woman says she was stopped by two Town Hall District (near Wrigley Field) officers riding around in a marked SUV (making it clear that it was a Chicago Police Department vehicle), was forced to play “strip” poker in her home, and also coerced into having sex with the police both in the vehicle and in her residence.

CRIMINAL CHARGES HAVE not been filed against the officers, but both have been suspended while that incident is being investigated.

Now, Internal Affairs has to do another investigation on top of that – one to determine if this is just a case of cops who wanted to read a titillating detail or two, perhaps about an officer they knew or maybe just because there was nothing else to do at that moment.

Or do we have a more serious abuse of authority here? Is the “misuse of department equipment” so bad that discipline is going to have to be handed down?

Not that such discipline is going to be that severe. News accounts of the Internal Affairs memo sent out last week to everybody in the police department indicates that officers could receive a written reprimand that would stay in their records for one year. After which, it would be removed and forgotten.

WHICH MEANS THAT police officers might well have to learn the lesson that many of us have learned the hard way about using computers – don’t go looking up anything that you wouldn’t want someone else to know you’re seeing.

Because, inevitably, they WILL find out. They always do.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Shakespeare from people who say “pop?”

I’m not sure what to think of the idea that Saturday is “Talk Like Shakespeare Day” across Illinois, including Chicago.
QUINN: Can he speak Bard?

Sure enough, Gov. Pat Quinn made the proclamation saying that people should make efforts to speak in Olde English if at all possible, as a way of paying tribute to the playwright who – if not for mankind’s ultimate mortality – would now be 447 years old.

STATE OFFICIALS CITE the fact that there are at least 1,700 words in modern-English vocabulary that owe their origins to Shakespeare’s plays.

They also cited the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, which said people could use “thee” and “thou” instead of “you” when they speak. Insult phrases such as “jackanape” and “doghearted dewberry” also were suggested for those moments when one needed to tell someone off.

Although considering that many people, including some Cook County government employees, had Friday off because they used Good Friday as an excuse to not go to school or work, and some others chose to make Earth Day events part of their Friday routine, I’d like to think that there just wasn’t as much need for insults. A three-day weekend should put us all in a cheery mood.

Besides, this is Chicago, where there are many people who’d like to think we have our own unique language – much of which is meant to counter the mentality behind much proper English.

NOT THAT I’M saying Chicagoans are functionally illiterate. It just seems like a “Talk Like Shakespeare Day” would be anti-Chicago at its very character.

Take an all-too-common quickie lunch of a sandwich and a soda pop – which in Chicago-speak can easily be a “sammich” and a “pop.” Before you think I’m mocking anyone, consider that I believe the only people who are worthy of derision on this point are those who self-righteously insist on saying merely “soda.”

Or the use of the word “prairie,” which in much of the world can bring to mind an image of an open field with natural grasses growing two or three feet high. A thing of natural beauty. Something untouched and unspoiled.

But in Chicago-speak, a vacant lot in between existing homes or other structures whose grasses are overgrown weeds. Something that is definitely spoiled and in need of new construction – except for the fact that the lot may well be too small to accommodate a traditional structure, making the land virtually worthless.

UNLESS SOMEONE CAN manage to buy up a few more surrounding lots and then tear down everything to create some super-huge structure (which likely will then be considered to be an architectural eyesore that people will wish could be torn down).

Definitely not something lasting like the literature of Shakespeare. Not even anything beautiful in its graphic bluntness such as the literature of Nelson Algren (whose own fiction about the Chicago of old is more honest than most reporting that occurs on any given day).

Insofar as what constitutes Chicago-speak, one can find many websites around the Internet that will give you would-be glossaries that define various terms – most of which are merely phonetic pronunciations of the way in which the English language is mispronounced by past generations of city residents who were still learning the language.

Such as one website that tried passing off “Grachki” and “Frunchroom” off as legitimate Chicago-speak words for “garage key” and “front room” respectively.

IS IT REALLY right to think that a city whose residents used to repeatedly elected a mayor who openly referred to “O’Hara Field” (for O’Hare International Airport) are going to get all worked up over the thought of saying “thee” and “thou” for a day?

It almost makes me think that Quinn, who likes to go on and on about how he lives on the West Side of Chicago, is forgetting his roots. Perhaps it is because his long-time residence in the Austin neighborhood is dangerously close to suburban Oak Park.

This sounds like the kind of thing that residents of that town would enjoy doing – in addition to pretending that Ernest Hemingway was in any way respected as an author when he lived in that Illinois town.

So excuse me for not trying to write a mock commentary in anything approximating Olde English or the writing style of William Shakespeare. Unless I could have a few hours alone with the youthful Gwyneth Paltrow who appeared many years ago in “Shakespeare in Love,” it wouldn’t be worth it.

FOR I COME from Chicago, the land where pizza is made in a deep pan and stuffed with all kinds of fattening foodstuffs and where our sports teams tend to get more attention than any author ever would.

On those occasions when we get off our duffs, step away from the television and go to see a game, we go to “Soldiers Field” or “Cominskey Park.” Going to a “Globe Theater” sounds like a place that gets raided by the cops when officials want to appear as though they’re cracking down on vice.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Politics about working together, not barking out orders to minions of Illinois

There’s a reason why I have never liked the idea of business executives thinking they could just step into electoral office – the fact that they usually openly admit a desire to run government like they do their business.

Put a cork in it

It doesn’t work that way. Nor should it.

ANYBODY WHO SERIOUSLY thinks it would be good for Donald Trump to become president and start barking out “You’re Fired!” to various officials the way he does to nobodies who appeared with him on television is even more ridiculous than Trump himself for giving aid and comfort to those individuals who want to perpetuate the myth that Barack Obama isn’t a natural-born U.S. citizen.

It is good to see that even among the Republican partisans to whom Trump is appealing (only 7 percent, with 32 percent of GOPers thinking him completely unfit) in his desires to run for U.S. president in 2012, the billionaire real estate developer with a hobby for acquiring younger, and younger still, trophy wives has high negative perception ratings (one-third of GOP types think Trump is unfit to be president).

The last thing our society needs is a would-be dictator who thinks he can give commands to people to impose his particular narrow vision upon the world. Such a thought is so offensive that the most accurate phrase I can think of to describe such an official is “un-American.”

That same sentiment I feel toward Trump is the same that I felt some two decades ago when Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot went through his presidential delusions (some 19 percent of the populace thought he was fit, but not enough in any one state for him to get a single Electoral College vote).

AND IN SOME ways, it also is how I feel about state Sen. James Meeks, D-Chicago, who for awhile flirted with the idea of serving as mayor of Chicago – only to find out that his religious background that had always been his biggest plus in his narrow segment of society (African-American Chicago, South Side) was a drawback.
MEEKS: On his way out?

Now Meeks isn’t a business official. If anything, he may be worse, a clergyman. The reverend who operates one of the largest churches in Chicago came into public life amidst a congregation of individuals inclined to let him lead them.

The rest of us won’t.

That is what I really think is behind his talk to WLS-AM radio on Thursday, when he said he’s seriously considering giving up his political post and focusing his attention on his church.

THAT WOULD BE the smartest thing he has ever done in public life.

Meeks tried running for mayor, and also has hinted he would like to be Illinois governor. But in the end, the only office he ever held was that of a state senator from the far Southeast Side of Chicago, and some of its surrounding suburbs.

Even there, Meeks expresses frustration because one of the big goals he always wanted to achieve is something that will likely always run into staunch opposition – school vouchers.

Meeks sees the issue as one of getting some government funds to enable the lower-income people who comprise the bulk of his congregation to be able to consider sending their children to private schools – rather than being stuck in the under-funded and over-whelmed public schools that service their neighborhoods.

I DON’T BLAME Meeks for being willing to try something radical to benefit the people of his inner-city legislative district. I would think less of him if he merely wanted to maintain the status quo and ignore the issue.

But the reality of most voucher programs I have heard of being considered by Illinois officials is that they would only provide a small payment. The bulk of private school tuition would still have to be paid for by families.

And considering the thousands of dollars that a private school can cost, it is likely that the least fortunate whom Meeks claims to benefit would still be unable to attend such schools. Vouchers would wind up benefitting those more wealthy people by giving them a little bit of aid just because they’d rather ignore the public school system.

Our educators and officials ought to be worrying about improving the system, not undermining it. That attitude has been shared by a majority of government officials who have thwarted voucher talk.

WHICH IS WHY Meeks is frustrated. He couldn’t wear his collar and intimidate people into thinking they had to listen to him on this issue, or any other.

So perhaps it is for the best if Meeks returns his full attention to the Salem Baptist Church of Chicago. He may well still have a presence in politics, as being the man that government officials turn to in order to get the Election Day support of his flock.

His sermons may become even more feisty as he tells first-hand stories of the vapidity of politics and elected officials. But Meeks as a legislator has been unable to push much of anything through the General Assembly into law, and now he wants out.

Which is the same fate I could easily see happening to Trump should he run for president. He’d tell Congress “You’re Fired!,” only to have them respond with, “Drop Dead!”


Thursday, April 21, 2011

What does neighborhood resurgence mean? Or, remembering grandpa at work

Wisconsin Steel, in its "glory" days
Mayor Richard M. Daley was on his Neighborhood Appreciation Tour Wednesday and ventured to the far Southeast Side 10th Ward – where he chose to show up at a construction site once occupied by the Wisconsin Steel mill.

That’s the one that shuttered suddenly in 1980, leaving thousands of neighborhood folk out of work and jolting the South Deering neighborhood and its surrounding communities into a decline from which it has a long way to rebound even now, some three decades later.

I TOOK MY personal interest in this on account of the fact that my maternal grandfather, Michael Vargas, worked his entire adult life at that steel mill – raising a family of eight kids (my mother was number four) on that salary.

Which is why when I covered Daley’s appearance for one of the area newspapers at the former mill (the land of which is now being converted into a liquid asphalt storage facility), I couldn’t help but wonder as I got out of my car and walked on the muddy grounds where the mayor’s people erected a podium and a tent (it was windy) if I was literally following in the footsteps of my grandfather.

Daley, in showing up at the construction site for this facility, was trying to take credit for the project – for which the city provided $45 million through a bond sale.

Perhaps he should get some. Because my lingering memory of the South Deering neighborhood will always be that of the sight of the rusty, decaying former steel mill now sitting vacant and depressing – dragging down its surrounding neighborhoods.

WHEN COMBINED WITH the fact that Wisconsin Steel was not the only area factory to close when economic conditions changed in recent decades, it really did create a depressing atmosphere in which to live – which was a large part of why my own family felt the need to “go suburban” when my brother and I were young children.
My grandfather

A part of me stood out there in the middle of what was once a steel mill (I’m not sure of what was once where, so I don’t know for sure what part of the immense plant he would have worked in) and I couldn’t help but think of my grandfather – who also was one of my three grandparents who were born in Mexico, then came to this country as a young man.

When he came, it was with the understanding that his labor was needed at a steel mill in Chicago. Which is how he got the job, and why his route to U.S. citizenship was cleared.

I couldn’t help but wonder what he would have thought of the site on Wednesday of all the old steel mill torn down and the environmental waste being cleared away, all so that a new plant that from a distance looks like a few oil refineries could be built.

HE’D PROBABLY LIKE the idea of people being able to work again. Although I’m not sure he’d think much of anyone trying to sentimentalize what he once did – it was work, and he did it for the money to support himself and a family.

Now in one sense, my grandfather was fortunate. Wisconsin Steel was the plant that literally closed down overnight – leaving its people out-of-work and (in many cases) unemployable. People who were capable of doing so moved away. Those who were left were there because they were stuck.

By the time that happened in 1980, my grandfather had already been dead for two years. Neither he nor my grandmother had to endure the economic hardships of other 10th Ward residents whose lives were tied up in working in those steel mills. But I have no doubt that many of the people who did suffer knew my grandfather, and probably well.

I also don’t think he would have clung to the neighborhood all that tightly. As it was, he lived the final years of his life in a house in suburban Lansing, where he enjoyed being able to get away from the urban grime.

I CAN’T HELP but wonder if he would view the fact that his last house now has a Mexican ethnic grocery located about one block away as some sort of evidence that the grime he was trying to flee was somehow following him.

Which probably means that Daley was correct on Wednesday when he said that people should focus on the future and how to improve the neighborhood, which he says will happen by creating jobs in the area that can pay something resembling a livable salary.

“The future is always brighter than the past,” Daley said, while also giving us a perfect line that could be typed up and stuffed into fortune cookies of the future.

If my grandfather were here today, I doubt he’d be looking to move back to the old neighborhood. He’d also be looking to the future, and how our family needs to continue to strive forward in society – rather than being willing to settle for what we already have.

ALTHOUGH I DO have to admit one thing about modern-day South Deering – there’s a tiny restaurant at 108th Street across from the old mill site that makes the best tamales I know of, and is the place where my brother and I go to buy a few dozen from time to time when we get the taste for them.

Because we haven’t really had a good home-made tamale since our grandfather’s death when I was 13.

But more importantly, if it hadn’t been for my grandfather’s work during his life (more stressful work than anything I have ever had to do), we likely wouldn’t be where we are now.