Wednesday, August 31, 2011

EXTRA: No more “tab” for Trib

The idea of the tabloid format for the Chicago Tribune (rather than its long-standing broadsheet format) will soon be no more.

It just looks better

And a part of me is very pleased to learn that. Because I’m not one of those people who gets a newspaper home-delivered. I pick my copies up out of a newsbox or a newsstand (or the occasional convenience store).

WHICH MEANS I have been subjected to the Tribune’s tabloid edition ever since is became reality just over two years ago. It has gotten to the point where I don’t really read a hard copy of the Tribune unless I happen to be at a public library that subscribes – or if through some distribution error my local store got broadsheet copies of the newspaper rather than tabloid ones.

Now I don’t oppose the tabloid format (those smaller pages) for newspapers. It can be a convenient format, and the smaller pages can allow for some interesting graphics elements that make for better-looking pages that give big stories a real punch!

But reading the Tribune in tabloid always made it seem like a lesser paper to the Chicago Sun-Times, which has been a tabloid for all but its first year of existence in the mid-1940s (when the Chicago Sun and the Daily Times merged into the Chicago Sun & Times – before dropping the ampersand for a hyphen).

The Sun-Times is comfortable with the format and knows how to use it to best advantage. The Tribune never got a clue.

LOOKING AT A tabloid edition of the Tribune always made me feel like I was looking at a 14-year-old girl who has tarted herself up with too much makeup and an extremely short skirt out of the belief that it makes her look older and more appealing.

Chicago's real tabloid
It was really just ridiculous, and I doubt that it caused the newspaper reader equivalent of a horny 18-year-old boy (who that girl was trying to attract) to take the paper seriously.

So it was with joy that I read about how the tabloid edition will disappear after Friday. Next week, I should be able to get ahold of a broadsheet copy of the paper with ease.

Which means the Tribune circulation will increase by at least one copy per day – mine!

AND IF YOU absolutely need to see Tribune-inspired copy in a tabloid format, then read Red Eye!

Or at least look at the pictures.


Baseball fantasizing already up and running because of ugliness on the field

There’s just over one more month to go for the regular season of Major League Baseball this year, yet already we’re seeing the off-season speculation.
GUILLEN: Returning to Miami?

Perhaps it’s just because we realize how off-the-wall it would be to expect the Chicago White Sox to actually overcome their obstacles and qualify for a playoff slot. It’s too painful to think about.

SO WE’RE DOWN to trying to figure out who will be running Chicago’s two ballclubs come 2012. It seems at times like everybody wants to fire the field managers.

I would be surprised if Mike Quade, the guy who was supposed to be the logical, professional choice over Ryne Sandberg last year, returns for another season. As unfair as it truly is, he will get the blame for this year’s miserable Cubs ballclub – even though I’d argue they performed at about the level anybody should seriously have expected from them.

It is the White Sox where one will stir up a harsher argument. Should Ozzie Guillen – whose outspoken, colorful image has become that of the White Sox in recent years – be fired?!?

Personally, I don’t think so. But I also realize that sometimes in professional sports, moves are sometimes made just for the sake of making a move.

THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES has gone quite a ways in recent days in terms of stirring up this speculation. Last week, they gave us the computer-altered photographs depicting Guillen in a Chicago Cubs uniform – and writing about how it might be possible he’d wind up there.

It would be a move in baseball history equivalent of when Leo Durocher left the Brooklyn Dodgers to manage the New York Giants – and ultimately won a National League pennant and World Series title there in 1954.

More recently, the Sun-Times on Tuesday gave us an “EXCLUSIVE!!!!!” telling us of “major-league” sources that say Guillen and general manager Ken Williams get along so poorly these days that there’s simply no way the two can work together any longer.

Of course, that could mean Williams is the one who gets bounced (as punishment for subjecting us to Adam Dunn and his .163 batting average, combined with 156 strikeouts). But when a general manager leaves, the replacement usually gets to pick his (or maybe her) own field manager.

SO IT COULD wind up being both departing the South Side.

Now for every person who thinks that Guillen is leaving the White Sox for the Cubs, there are five or six who think he’s going to the Florida Marlins – a ballclub that in the past has expressed some interest in Ozzie.

There’s also the fact that Guillen (who says he wants a long-term guarantee before Opening Day, or else he quits) once worked for the team as a coach, and that he still owns a home in Miami in addition to his Chicago residences.

The kind of people who think that everybody wants to live in Florida because of its weather are convinced Ozzie would jump at the chance to manage a team in his other hometown.

AS THOUGH IT would work out any better than when Lou Piniella several years ago took the manager’s job in his home town of Tampa. The Tampa Bay Rays were dismal under his reign – so much so that he jumped for the chance to get himself involved in the nonsense otherwise known as Chicago Cubbiness.

Ozzie to Miami makes even less sense, and would likely turn out just as badly since Miami likely isn’t going to be a competitive ballclub for some time.

Of course, there’s another element to all this off-season shifting that amuses me. It seems that everybody believes that people want to ditch the St. Louis Cardinals.

Their big star for the past decade has been first baseman Albert Pujols – who supposedly now wants to be paid as though he is the BIG STAR of the game (perhaps he is).

CUBS FANS WHO are delusional to think that their favorite ballclub is some elite franchise that everybody aspires to be a part of are convinced that Pujols will want to come to Chicago. But the part that amuses me is the speculation that the Cardinals’ manager is also leaving, on account that his contract is up after this year.

That has some believing that a large part of the reason why the White Sox would jettison Guillen is because they want Tony LaRussa back. LaRussa won World Series titles with the Cardinals and the Oakland Athletics, and also was the guy at the head of the White Sox when they won their first-ever division title in 1983.

Is LaRussa, who likely will wind up in the Baseball Hall of Fame as a manager, delusional enough to want to come back to Chicago so he can try to win a pennant and World Series here – thereby giving him a perfect streak with all the teams he has run?

Could it be that Jerry Reinsdorf (who reportedly still likes LaRussa and has his personal regrets that Tony ever got away) would rehire him, thinking he can rewrite that portion of team history in which Ken Harrelson was the general manager – rather than the announcer that some baseball fans just love to hate?

GUILLEN ON THE North Side? LaRussa to the South?

Or is it all just a lot of speculation and fantasy, more absurd than the thought that the White Sox could actually overcome the 5-game lead with one month to go that the Detroit Tigers held over them as of Tuesday?

As the Hawk himself would say, "Mercy!"


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Is the Playboy Club’s place in Chicago a couple of lines in the history books?

It seems that Hugh Hefner is making a serious bet that the proposed television show “The Playboy Club” will be a success.

The program to air this autumn on NBC is set at the Playboy Club of old on Walton Street back in the early 1960s when the concept of waitresses showing ample cleavage (with uniforms designed in a way to push-up and accentuate their assets even further) was something new.

IF THE PROGRAM becomes a success (it is supposed to be about the culture clashes that were beginning to take place in those early years of the decade), I could well see some people wanting to check out “the real thing.”

They’re going to want to go to the Playboy Club to see if it is truly as lush, luxurious, elegant and sophisticated as Hefner always claimed it was – or if it is really nothing more than tacky kitsch.

The reality, of course, is that the Playboy Club is nothing. The club in Chicago closed down in 1986 (which also was the year that I first could have legally entered the club – I never went), along with all the other large-city clubs. It took a few foreign sites to keep the brand name going, but even those have all been gone since 1991.

So there’s nowhere to go.

UNTIL EARLY NEXT year, perhaps.

For it seems that Playboy Enterprises Inc. is working out a deal by which a private company would operate a nightclub that would be allowed to use the name “Playboy Club.” It won’t be run by anyone connected with Playboy, but they’ll get a share of the proceeds in exchange for use of the brand name.

Crain’s Chicago Business reported Monday that Boston-based Tremont Realty Capital LLC is the company that would operate the club, and that they are considering a one-time mansion on Dearborn Avenue just south of Division Street.

Can a modern-day namesake match the original Playboy Club image?

So the new Playboy Club would be a part of the Gold Coast neighborhood. It would be just a couple of blocks from the original club on Walton, and just about five blocks from the old State Parkway mansion where Hefner himself presided during his Chicago years.

CLOSE YOUR EYES, envision a few decades past, and you could almost envision Hefner walking these very same streets – on those occasions when he wasn’t holed up in his office, engaged in an all-night binge putting together the magazine, followed by a mid-day romp with a bunny or two.

The key word in this paragraph being “almost.”

Because somehow, I can’t help but think that the idea of a sexy, but sophisticated nightclub is passé – if not a complete contradiction of terms.

Not that sex won’t sell. But I’m wondering how many people of today will walk into a Playboy Club and will think the waitresses are wearing bathing suits with funny ears? Compare it to a “Hooter’s Girl” and that’s probably what many people are going to think.

IS THE PLAYBOY of old still sexy enough? Or perhaps the real question is, Do things have to become raunchy these days before they are considered titillating?

I couldn’t help but notice the observation of Wirtz Beverage Group Chairman Rocky Wirtz, whose father rented to Hefner the site of the original Playboy Club. He thinks the whole Playboy image is irrelevant to people under 30.

While at 58, he still recalls what Playboy once was, he told Crains, “You don’t want to open a place that would attract my age group.”

I could see a club that people visit once, just to see if it really is an over-luxurious orgy. When they figure out it isn’t, they’ll quit coming back. Which means I could see the new Playboy Club being gone within a year.

AND THAT’S ONLY if the television show becomes a hit. If it winds up flopping to the point where it doesn’t even last five episodes, I could see where the brand name becomes a serious drag on the club.

They won’t be able to ditch the name quickly enough.

Will a new Playboy Club be the butt of as many wisecracks as New Comiskey Park was? Photograph provided by State of Illinois.

For the old-timers, there will be nothing more enjoyable for them to do than to compare this new club to the original Playboy Club, and list all the ways in which the 21st Century version pales in comparison to the original.

It won’t matter how nice a place the club might be or what luxuries it will offer. The modern reality will fall short of the sepia-covered memories of the “real” Playboy Club.

IT’S NOT LIKE we in Chicago aren’t familiar with this phenomenon. Take the Chicago White Sox, who began playing in a new stadium with modern amenities some 20 years ago, and even put the same name – Comiskey Park – on the building as the old stadium carried.

Even though the old building had its flaws, the old-timers will still insist that the new building falls far short.

Which makes me wonder if “Playboy Club” will become to sex what the White Sox became to stadiums – something that can never live up to the original.

Perhaps it is best to leave the Playboy Club imagery in its place in Chicago history books.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Marilyn gets tagged. Is Picasso next?

At this rate, Marilyn Monroe is going to be one heavily tattoo-ed ‘ho’ by the time her Chicago stint is complete next summer.

By that, I’m being facetious, since Marilyn’s earthly remains remain untouched – to the best of my knowledge.

WHAT I’M REFERRING to is the 26-foot-tall statue of Marilyn recreating her iconic moment (subway breeze blowing her dress above her waist from "The Seven-Year Itch") that stands in Pioneer Court just off Michigan Avenue.

The statue clearly lets us see what color undies Marilyn was wearing and provides the juvenile pig of the male species something to gawk at as we cross the Chicago River.

And now, at least for the time being, we can see the so-called tattoo on her right calf near her ankle. It’s actually nothing more than graffiti, where someone felt compelled to tell us that Pi$tola and Ariel love each other, along with a whole lot of other scrawls that don’t mean a thing to anyone of any sense.

No word yet on how the artist who designed the statue, or the realty group that controls Pioneer Court, will react to this situation. I’d like to think it’s just a matter of someone digging out the flesh-colored (at least flesh-colored if you’re white and blonde) paint and going over the graffiti.

OR ELSE IT becomes the open invitation to everybody to start scrawling over the one-time Norma Jean DiMaggio’s form in every conceivable way. Marilyn the sexpot will become the tattoo-ed lady from the freak show.

Just how long would it be before someone tried to climb the statue in the middle of the night, and try to leave his (or her) mark in the statue’s ample cleavage?

Actually, this is one moment when I wish Joe DiMaggio were still alive. For the one-time New York Yankees star was so jealous of his wife of nine months’ memory that I can’t help but think he’d already be plotting some sort of revenge.

A Louisville Slugger seems to me to be the perfect rebuttal to whomever the nitwit was who decided that graffiti was needed here.

ACTUALLY, IT REMINDS me of an incident about two decades ago when an activist group came up with some posters to put up on Chicago Transit Authority elevated train platforms.

Those posters tried to express tolerance for all, and depicted multiple images of people kissing. Some of those couples were inter-racial, while others were homosexual.

The activists held a big press conference one day to announce their message. The next morning, every single poster had been defiled with black paint. Some put obscene words or phrases on the posters, while others blacked out the couples.

By afternoon, every single poster had been taken down by CTA officials on the grounds that they weren’t going to leave graffiti in place. Because the activist group had a limited budget, there were no replacement posters to put back up.

THE ONE MONTH-LONG statement turned into a single day.

Which means that Marilyn’s tattoos have already lasted longer. They were done sometime late Friday or early Saturday, and reported to police Saturday afternoon.

They remained in place on Sunday while officials tried to figure out what to do.

You can’t very well follow the lead of the CTA and demand that Marilyn’s statue be taken away (although there are those of us who would like it if that silly statue were to disappear before its scheduled termination date in the summer of 2012).

WHICH MEANS WE’RE going to have to bring out the flesh-colored paint.

Now I should make one point clear. I don’t believe that who-ever put their mark of graffiti on Marilyn Monroe was trying to make some sort of ideological statement like the unknown person (or people) who vandalized posters about tolerance two decades ago.

That person, I’m sure, thinks they “won” because their ignorance prevailed – the posters disappeared 29 days earlier than they were supposed to.

As for the person who did this particular bit of graffiti on Marilyn, I doubt there’s any ideological statement being made. They most likely were just bored. Either that, or they had the IQ of a cantaloupe and thought that marking up this statue was necessary.

AS THOUGH A gauche piece of art needed to be made any more tacky!

Yes, I’ll confess. I don’t think much of graffiti, and I have a hard time tolerating those people who think that some sort of statement is being made, particularly since it always winds up being someone else’s property that gets used for the alleged statement.

The day these graffiti taggers decide to mark up their own property, or buy the space on a signboard for their scrawls, is the day I will take them more seriously. Although I suppose we should be surprised that we don’t get more of these scrawls out-and-about.

A part of me is always surprised that the Picasso statue at Daley Plaza doesn’t get hit by such vandals. Although maybe now that Marilyn has been hit, perhaps Pablo’s work is next.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Let the elections begin, no matter what the GOP partisans have to say about it

Let’s be honest. Democratic political partisans got a break Friday from a federal judge, when she ruled that Congressional candidates can start in a couple of weeks with collecting the signatures of support they need to gather in order to run for office.

The reason that this “issue” is an issue is because of the fact that there is a lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court. Filed by Republican partisans, that lawsuit claims the congressional boundaries that will be used for elections in the 2010s are flawed and should be thrown out.

BY GOP LOGIC, how can candidates gather signatures of support if they don’t know exactly what their congressional districts will be? Who is representing whom?

Of course, that line of logic only works if you are determined to buy into the idea that the boundaries drawn for Congress and the state Legislature by the Democrat-dominated state government are flawed and will cease to exist.

Because Democratic officials will argue that we have all known exactly what the boundaries will be ever since late May when the General Assembly approved them – with Gov. Pat Quinn giving his approval to those boundaries back in June.

I don’t blame Republican partisans for a lawsuit. I’m realistic enough that Democratic officials, if the process had gone against them this time around, also would be trying to use the courts to undo what was done.

BUT IT’S STARTING to look like Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Ill., is the most logical Republican on the issue of reapportionment. The congressman who lives near Urbana is the one Republican official who didn’t join in this lawsuit, and has said he thinks his colleagues would be best off if they just moved on, accepted the political boundaries and tried to concoct partisan strategies that best boosted the party’s chances of winning elections.

After all, there are no guarantees of Democratic victories in the upcoming decade. Take the 1990s when Republicans gained control of the process and drew maps to benefit themselves.

Michael Madigan remained House speaker for eight of the 10 years of that decade – with 1995-96 being the lone era of Republican control that is now viewed as such an aberration that it almost seems like the concept of “Illinois House Speaker Lee Daniels, R-Elmhurst” never happened.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow reinforces that idea by saying that candidates should go ahead and get their signatures of support now. Her ruling says that even if the boundaries change and somebody winds up signing a nominating petition for someone who doesn’t wind up representing their district, the signature will still be valid.

PURE POLITICAL CHAOS? Having to figure out who might have been valid, had it not been for a last minute change?

Or does it merely accept as reality the fact that the Republican lawsuit challenging the political boundaries is destined to fail, and that the boundaries we have now ARE the boundaries that will exist until 2022?

What it really represents is the fact that Republican partisans suffered a serious blow when their party nominated for Illinois governor last year a man who had so little appeal to the part of the state where two-thirds of its residents actually live.

Because if a Republican had managed to win the 2010 election cycle for governor, the reality of reapportionment this year would have been that a Democrat-controlled Legislature would have passed maps for Congress and the General Assembly that a “Gov. Kirk Dillard” would then have vetoed.

WHICH MEANS WE’D likely be preparing for the idea of a stalled bipartisan commission that would have to have the never-popular lottery pick chosen to break the deadlock.

A random pick from a hat or a glass bowl or some other object with an Abraham Lincoln connection would have decided this issue – and caused the loser to move forward with their own token lawsuit challenging the issue.

If you get the impression that I’m disgusted with the legal brawls taking place, you’d be correct.

Anybody with sense knew going into the process that an entirely Democrat-led state government would create boundaries that would reflect the spread of Chicago’s influence throughout the state – instead of trying to pen it in to as small a geographic site as possible.

THE ILLINOIS CONSTITUTION creates a process to be followed. And whether one likes the outcome or not, that process was followed to the letter.

Which is why unless a federal judicial panel with loyalties to a former Republican president decides to make this a partisan matter, we’re all going to have to accept our boundaries and move on.

Because the people who are using assorted Internet sites to post anonymous comments that denounce Lefkow as a Democratic lackey (meaning they want their lackeys to control the process) are coming across as nothing more than those few, whiny L.A. Angels (and Cubs) baseball fans who insist that White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski "cheated" when he took first base after striking out in that American League playoff game from '05.


EDITOR'S NOTE: For those people who persist in thinking this ruling is flawed, I'd argue that they ought to look at the Sangamon County judge's ruling Friday that backed up the non-payment of regional school superintendents. That ruling seemed more determined to ignore the issue and avoid taking a stance on the officials who haven't been paid since June, but are  now expected to take on even more duties.

Friday, August 26, 2011

When is a recording an intrusion?

I’m not sure what to think of all these devices people carry that are more than capable of recording those innocent and trivial moments that, if excepted in a certain way, can come across as incriminating – or embarrassing.

I was pleased to learn that a jury in Cook County on Wednesday rejected the idea that a woman who recorded the activity of police officers trying to intimidate her was the one who actually committed a crime – one that could have gotten her up to a 15-year prison sentence.

BUT THERE’S ALSO this commercial that is popping up on television a lot these days – for the HTC Status phone. That’s the device that comes with special buttons and functions that make it easy for people to take pictures with their mobile phone, then instantly post them to their Facebook accounts more easily than they already can do with their current portable phones.

In my mind, I have dubbed this device the “phone for idiots” and would definitely not want to buy one – because the commercial shows a couple of snickering morons who seem to have nothing better to do than to take pictures of their so-called friend while he sleeps; then post them onto Facebook for public consumption so they can embarrass him.

Somewhere along the line, we’re going to have to figure out some sort of legal standard for what is appropriate behavior for those people who feel compelled to whip out their phone and make recordings of what everybody around them is doing.

What’s the matter? Aren’t these people the least bit interesting, in and of themselves?


But then we run into the other extreme, which is what came up in that case against Tiawanda Moore. She’s the Indiana resident who thought that a Chicago police officer treated her in a way that constituted sexual harassment.

She did what any person is supposed to do if they believe that a police officer in Chicago has misbehaved professionally – she took it to Internal Affairs, the division that investigates such complaints and decides if the bad conduct rises to the level of criminal charges, or just professional punishment.

Of course, Internal Affairs has developed a reputation (not always justified) for being more interested in covering up complaints, rather than finding police wrong-doing. In Moore’s case, she believes the two officers were more interested in intimidating her into dropping her complaint.

THAT IS WHEN she grabbed her BlackBerry, pushed the buttons that allow for audio recording, and managed to capture a few minutes of their questioning of her for posterity.

That is what got her in legal trouble, since Illinois law not only makes it wrong for people to record the words of others without their knowledge, it makes it a  criminal act to record the police.

Law enforcement officials say their concern is that people will record the police either on audio or in moving pictures, then will selectively edit the audio and/or video in ways that would support whatever complaints they would want to file against the Police Department.

Which probably does fit into the mentality of those people who believe that the real “crime” when it comes to Rodney King being beaten by the Los Angeles police back in the early 1990s was that someone who lived nearby pulled out his video camera and recorded the beating without the police knowledge.

GROUPS SUCH AS the American Civil Liberties Union say they think the law is meant to cover up anyone who might catch the police behaving improperly, and they have a lawsuit pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago to challenge it.

Meanwhile, an attorney for another defendant facing charges similar to Moore told the Chicago Tribune that laws restricting personal video or audio recordings are “antiquated” in an age when so many people carry miniature devices that are capable of making such recordings.

Which is a statement that I have some personal qualms about.

I’d hate to think that the idea of respecting someone’s privacy is “antiquated.” Then again, I’d hate to think that the police-desired standard is truly acceptable.

WHICH IS WHY I was pleased to learn that it took a jury just about one hour to make their ruling in favor of Moore, with one juror telling the Chicago Tribune that they listened to the audio and actually agreed with Moore’s perception that the Internal Affairs investigators were “intimidating and insensitive” and that charges against Moore were, “a waste of time.”

Of course, I’m sure those people who support such a law think that the jury overstepped their boundaries in making  such a judgment call – and should have accepted the existence of a four-minute audio snippet of police officers without their knowledge as being improper, in-and-of itself.

But the fact that some people would try to defend this law with a “Letter of the Law” defense instead of claiming that the merits of the law are proper ought to be evidence enough that we in Illinois have a flawed law in need of revamping.

Because somehow, we in Illinois need to find that middle ground between thinking that some people being recorded is a felony offense and thinking that everybody being recorded (with silly pictures all over Facebook) is somehow proper.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

A trend? Or just a quirk?

Let me state up front that I have never attended Goshen College, nor do I know anyone who ever had a connection to the school in Goshen , Ind. And my exposure to the Mennonite Church (with which the college is affiliated) has been minimal.

So I don’t have a personal reason to want to praise that rural Indiana school that is going to find itself gaining national attention in coming days, and may well find itself becoming a target for the conservative ideologues who are determined to stage a cultural war to impose their sense of morals upon us all.

WHICH IN THIS case may be appropriate, since the issue we’re going to be fighting a “war” over is a “war” anthem.

Specifically, the Star-Spangled Banner, our nation’s anthem since 1931, which is based off an 1814 poem that tells the tale of how Fort McHenry near Baltimore sustained an attack from the British Navy and didn’t surrender – with the flag still flying high in the morning when the battle was complete.

Which may be an ideal worthy of mentioning – we don’t surrender.

But let’s be honest. It is an awkward song to sing, with a first verse of lyrics that way too many people manage to butcher and three more verses of lyrics that most people don’t even pretend to care about.

THERE HAS TO be a better song by which we can celebrate our sentiments about our nation than this one.

What is going to get ideologues worked up is the fact that Goshen College, following three years of debate, made the call to do away with the anthem being played prior to the ballgames played by the school’s athletic teams.

The Goshen Maple Leafs will no longer stand attention prior to a sporting event while a recording of the "Star-Spangled Banner" plays. Not that they’re going music-less.

Instead, the Associated Press reported Wednesday that the school will use "America the Beautiful" as a patriotic song to inspire us behind our country, before watching the Leafs take on their competition of other schools in the Indiana-based Mid-Central College Conference.

I CAN ALREADY hear the rants and rages from the ideologues about how this school is being disrespectful to the "Star-Spangled Banner." In fact, some of the student-athletes have already said they’re not thrilled about the change.

But no matter how much those individuals want to believe their thought represents the entirety of ideas on this issue, they don’t. There are those of us who realize that life will go on without the "Star-Spangled Banner," and who have become offended at the way the song routinely gets mangled prior to sporting events.

If not playing it prior to a ballgame means I no longer have to hear some third-rate singer try to pretend she is the Second Coming of Mahalia Jackson, I think we’d all be better off if sports teams followed the lead of Goshen College.

In the case of Goshen, they say their primary objection to the anthem is its war-like imagery (the Mennonites are pacifists). Hence, "America the Beautiful" is a more pleasing image – considering that it honors the physical beauty of our nation.

NONE OF THAT “rocket’s red glare, bombs bursting in air” stuff that dominates the U.S. national anthem. Although it’s not like the U.S. is the only nation on Earth that has a martial overtone to its anthem.

Just look to the south to Mexico, where “Mexicanos, al Grito de Guerra” tells of the roar of the cannons and how Mexicans will rise to fight off any, “enemy outlander (who) should dare to profane your ground with his sole.”

Get into the more obscure verses of Mexico’s national anthem, and you learn that those same enemy outlanders will have their blood spilled all over the land and will be devastated for trying to invade the Mexican homeland.

By comparison, Francis Scott Key composed a virtual love poem.

BUT MY REAL objection to the "Star-Spangled Banner" as an anthem that must be played prior to ballgames is really in the fact that so few people really know the song. They butcher it so badly that I can’t help but feel those moments when sports fans try to sing along are the most dreadful of any event.

I wonder at times if people really have any clue what it is they are supposed to be singing, and if they’re all so incredibly tone-deaf that they don’t realize how badly they’re singing it?

Besides, it’s not like the anthem has been around forever. There are generations of people who lived their full lives in this country of ours who would have thought our current obsession with singing the anthem prior to drinking a beer (or three) while the New York Yankees beat up on the Boston Red Sox is bizarre.

Our nation went for just over 150 of its 235 years of existence without the "Star-Spangled Banner" as its anthem, and the idea of a ballgame requiring the anthem is a product of World War II that probably should have withered away with the WACs.

FOR LET’S NOT forget that our nation’s “anthem” used to be a song called “Hail, Columbia,” which now is regarded as the theme music for the entrance of the Vice President.

Perhaps Goshen is giving us a nudge in the direction where someday, the "Star-Spangled Banner" becomes the theme for the Secretary of Defense – while the rest of us celebrate the “spacious skies” and “amber waves of grain.”

Except maybe for the atheists, who will be offended that the song says “God shed His grace” on “America! America!” Or maybe the American Indian tribes who will resent the reference to “pilgrim feet” whose “stern impassion’d stress, A thoroughfare for freedom beat, Across the wilderness.”

But those are commentaries for another day.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

RTA lawsuit being turned into battle of ‘Chicago versus small towns’

I’m not sure what to think of the merits of the Regional Transportation Authority’s lawsuit filed against two municipalities on the fringe of the Chicago area.

But the response from those towns (Channahon in Grundy County and Kankakee to the far south) is all too predictable. They want to view this as an incident of Mighty Chicago trying to pick on them.

WHICH IS RIDICULOUS when one realizes that Chicago city government technically has nothing to do with this particular lawsuit – unless you want to adopt the “conspiracy theory” mode that says Chicago is at the heart of everything that is wrong!

So my gut reaction is to think that there might be merit to the lawsuit filed by the RTA – which technically is an entity of Illinois state government. Perhaps the local politicos should be ranting toward Springfield instead of Chicago, although the city did file its own followup lawsuit in support of the RTA late in the day on Tuesday.

The primary lawsuit that got filed says that local governments in Kankakee and Channahon – in their attempts to create tax-incentive programs meant to bring (and keep) businesses within their boundaries – are causing less sales tax revenues to be produced.

Considering that the RTA relies on a share of sales tax revenues to help produce the money that it then assigns to its service boards (the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace) to maintain all those commuter trains and buses, anything that hurts their bottom line has a backlash to be felt across a large area.

THE LAWSUIT FILED in Cook County Circuit Court claims the RTA is losing about $20 million per year, just because those two municipalities are willing to see less taxes charged in order to keep businesses.

There also is the fact that those outer counties have lower tax rates than Cook County, which has led some businesses to relocate their offices to those outer suburbs to get out of having to pay (or charge) the higher tax rate of the city proper.

Which also translates into less money that ultimately flows to the RTA. Although I'm sure they're going to argue (perhaps legitimately) that they have a right to charge less in tax rates (usually because they're offering significantly less in services than large cities do).

Now considering that just about all local governments rely on tax incentives to attract business (playing off of that corporate attitude that seems to believe businesses should not have to pay any taxes), I find it a little greedy for one government to complain that another government’s incentives are hurting them.

BUT THEN AGAIN, there is a certain competitive nature that occurs between municipalities. They’re all trying to attract business, and any one town’s gain goes to the disadvantage of all the communities surrounding them.

So what should we think?

I just have a hard time taking seriously the statement issued by Channahon’s village administrator (the full-time professional who runs the town, with guidance from the part-time mayor and trustees), which tries to make this a ‘Chicago versus us’ type-of-issue.

They claim they were not notified of anything by Chicago or Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Which is true, since it isn’t their lawsuit.

I ALSO GOT my chuckle from the reference to the fact that Channahon’s budget is less than half of 1 percent that of Chicago city government.

If Channahon officials have any legitimate point in their response, it is the fact that the Illinois Department of Revenue ultimately distributes money raised from sales taxes. Perhaps the RTA’s “beef” is really with their fellow state agency?

Which is why those officials are correct when they say they’re following the letter of the law and complying with the state tax code. Then again, the state is merely following the guidelines set by the individual communities when it concerns who gets tax breaks and who does not.

Kankakee officials may have a more telling point. Mayor Nina Epstein told the Associated Press that the businesses her community is able to attract ultimately benefit the entire state of Illinois because those companies – most with single locations – would be located in other states if not for their preference for Kankakee.

WHICH COMES ACROSS as a little more mature than claiming “Mighty Chicago” is picking on us – like we’re hearing from Channahon officials.

Taking the broad approach that benefits us all, rather than focusing on the minutia of municipal matters, is most likely the way to win in the end.

Particularly since this lawsuit is starting out in Chicago-favorable territory of Cook County court – but is destined to wind up in the appeals courts, if not the Supreme Court of Illinois oh so many years from now.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A DAY IN THE LIFE (of Chicago): No Olympic fever here anytime soon

It’s not like there was going to be a serious effort to get the Olympics to come to Chicago in 2020 – not after the fiasco that resulted from the 2016 version of the summer Olympiad.
No encore for 2020

But now it is official. The U.S. Olympic Committee has no intent of supporting any bid for the games to be held nine years from now. Which means this city gets a few years to heal the bruises to its ego that it got rejected in favor of Rio de Janiero for the games to be held in five years.

IT SEEMS THAT groups in Dallas, Las Vegas, Minneapolis and Tulsa all had expressed some interest in hosting the 2020 version of the Olympics, and U.S. officials also contacted Chicago and New York along with Los Angeles (which actually has hosted the games twice before) to see if they were interested.

The end result is that the nation’s Olympic Committee decided that no one wanted the games badly enough, or was capable of putting together a credible bid, for it to be worth U.S. effort to try to get the games. Maybe next year (which by Olympic standards is 2024).

It just seems like not all that long ago that our city was convinced WE were going to host an Olympiad – with ceremonial events held in a stadium to be constructed near Washington Park and actual athletics to be held at sites all across the Chicago area (and even spreading a bit into the Midwest).

I can still hear the echoes in my mind of those activists who were convinced that this was economic disaster in the making – perhaps because they realized that the people who most wanted this were the contractors who would have build the facilities to be used by athletes.

SOMEBODY WOULD HAVE gotten rich, and it wasn’t about to be the city – which now admits to economic problems severe enough that officials are desperately counting on a casino to bail it out. Maybe because selling off the rights to the parking meters didn’t do Chicago much financial good.

Nonetheless, an Olympiad is the kind of major event that I could see being hosted in Chicago sometime. So I’m not ruling out the idea that city officials will try again at some point.

Perhaps it will be like the Democratic National Convention, which then-Mayor Richard J. Daley said in 1972 would NEVER AGAIN be held in Chicago. His son, Richard M., wound up welcoming da Dems back in ’96. Perhaps the next Daley family member to become mayor will put together a “winning” Olympic bid.

What other moments of interest were taking place Monday on the shores of Lake Michigan?

SINATRA SINGING ABOUT THE GROUPON BUILDING DOESN’T HAVE THE SAME RING TO IT:  Perhaps it is a good thing that Groupon Inc. officials are NOT going to move into the Wrigley Building.

The company’s co-founders are in discussions about buying the property. But the Chicago Tribune and Wall Street Journal report that it wouldn’t be an outright takeover.

The Wrigley Building is going to be the Wrigley Building for some time – even though Wrigley officials admit they plan to move out completely by next year for a campus they have constructed on the fringes of the Lincoln Park neighborhood.

The idea of a company like Groupon, devoted to helping people find the best discounts on all kinds of products taking over one of the most stately and ornate structures on the Magnificent Mile seems like quite a stretch.

MICHAEL JORDAN RETURNS (Sort of):  This is the sad state of the Chicago sports scene these days – Michael Jordan hasn’t played for a hometown team in more than a decade, yet he still is able to attract significant attention to opening a restaurant here.

That is why we’re getting the Michael Jordan’s Steak House Chicago, opening Tuesday at the InterContinental Chicago Hotel on Michigan Avenue. So once again, we can dine (if we wish) in the image of the man who led the Chicago Bulls to those six championships in eight seasons during the 1990s.

Of course, that is if going to the onesixtyblue restaurant in which Jordan is part-owner wasn’t sufficient. Some people will do anything to feed of off sports “glory,” no matter how exorbitant the prices or average the food quality.

But it has to be a certain kind of glory. Since I can’t envision anyone getting too excited about eating at a theme restaurant bearing the image of Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane or White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko – both of whom have been part of championship teams in Chicago much more recent than “Air” Jordan and those Bulls.