Friday, November 30, 2012

Quinn the most unpopular governor? Let’s not give him that much credit

It always amuses me whenever I see a poll saying that Gov. Pat Quinn’s approval ratings are dismal.
QUINN: Apathy, not disapproval

I don’t doubt that they are. But I also can’t help but snicker at such polls, including one published this week by Public Policy Polling that says Quinn is the “most unpopular governor” in the nation.

FOR IT JUST seems that some people don’t really get the political dynamic involved in Illinois, particularly with that of Quinn. We don’t hate the man. We really could care less about him personally, except for the conservative ideologue types who are still bitter that their preferences are so far out of the Illinois mainstream.

The fact is that there are four officials who are at the top of the political pyramid in this state – the mayor of Chicago, the two U.S. senators from Illinois and our state’s governor.

Yet when  it comes to the politically aware amongst Chicagoans, it is always clear that the governor is easily Number Four among them in priority. He’s the one we care the least about – and that is true regardless of which person actually holds the position.

So for me to think that there’s anything about Pat Quinn that makes him so despised? I really have to ask, “What makes you think he’s so special?”

FOR THE RECORD, the new poll I referred to says that Quinn only has the approval of 25 percent of Illinois residents who were surveyed – with another 64 percent of people saying they “disapprove.” The remainder, I presume, are too preoccupied with other things to care. Although you could argue that  even most of the “64 percent” are apathetic when it comes to state government.

Or maybe they think we’re asking about the appellate court judge Pat Quinn – whom I remember from his days a couple of decades ago when he was one of the top assistant state’s attorneys at the courthouse in suburban Markham.

The same poll also compares Quinn to various prospective political candidates (both of the “D” and “R” persuasion), and finds Quinn lacking.

Although I couldn’t help but notice that the number of “undecideds” is high for all the questions that pitted Quinn up against a GOPer. All of which means that the 2014 election cycle could well turn out like the 2010 version.

A CHICAGO-AREA MAJORITY of voters wound up casting ballots for the Democratic candidate in Quinn, rather than the Republican William Brady whose conservative rhetoric on so many issues wound up offending them.

Perhaps if he had piped down just a bit, we’d have “Gov. Brady” these days and Quinn would be off in political retirement.

Quinn won then because the opposition got people to actually pay attention to the race and decide it was important to them to defeat the Republican opposition who was trying to demonize the city’s image. It could easily happen again.

If anything, Quinn’s vulnerability is in the primary election – and only if someone decides they’re willing to risk a bloody partisan political fight amongst Democrats. Which is a long-shot, no matter what ego-stroking rhetoric they spew right about now (although a part of me has always wondered what Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is waiting for – she’s not a “kid pol” any longer).

ALTHOUGH THERE COULD be problems there. Most of the people who most vehemently whine and cry about Quinn are those who want something of a rural bent to our political scene (they see 96 counties versus six, rather than two-thirds of Illinois’ population living in the six urban counties).

Those people aren’t going to get all excited about the idea of the son and brother of a “Mayor Daley” deciding to run for Illinois governor – even though certain Chicago-based political geeks used to fantasize about what it would be like if we could have a Mayor Daley (as in Richard M.), a Gov. Daley (as in William) and a Cook County Board president (as in John) all at the same time.

That’s too much Daley for anyone to comprehend – and it’s not going to happen.

But so much of these polls are so early and there are so many factors that will kick in that ultimately will get the bulk of those Democratic partisans to cast their votes in their reliable manner.


It’s probably people who aren’t really concerned about Quinn one way or the other – combined with Republican partisans whose real objection is that the whole wide world doesn’t cast ballots in a knee-jerk partisan manner favorable to their political party.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

EXTRA: From da mayor’s mouth

“Never expect a politician not to be shameless. Okay?”


EMANUEL: Mayor Double Negative?
Those were the words of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, as spoken to the student body at Mount Carmel High School – which on Saturday beat a large suburban school (Glenbard North) for the Class 8A state championship in football.

Emanuel showed up Thursday at the high school, escorted by the Caravan football team, and school officials noted the day was also the mayor’s 53rd birthday.

HENCE, HIZZONER GOT a Caravan football champs t-shirt as a gift (they were also sold on campus to anyone willing to fork over some cash) and had the student body sing “Happy Birthday to him.

Which caused Emanuel to express his line after he mugged for the newspaper and television cameras while wearing the t-shirt over his white dress shirt and blue-ish tie.

I’m sure the grammarians are going to get all worked up over the fact that Emanuel used a double-negative – which often is awkward and has the negatives cancelling each other out.

Which means in this case that we should always expect politicians to behave in “shameless” ways. That might well be the most honest thing those young people ever hear from a government official in their lifetimes!


Reynolds and Sosa; not-so-proud 1990s memories seek redemption

Mel Reynolds and Sammy Sosa. They’re a pair of gentlemen, so to speak, who came from impoverished circumstances to rise to high levels in life during the 1990s – only to crash and burn from the public scene.
REYNOLDS: Wants a comeback?

But on Wednesday, both men showed signs indicating that they may be delusional enough to believe they can experience a comeback.

REYNOLDS IS THE one-time member of Congress from the Far South Side and surrounding suburbs (yes, the infamous Illinois Second Congressional District) who said he is a candidate for the special election to replace Jesse Jackson, Jr. – who, of course, is the guy who replaced Reynolds in a special election back in 1995.

It seems that Mel Reynolds has dreams of snatching back what he regards as rightfully his and probably has thought for the past 17 years was stolen from him by J.J., Junior!

Those of us with any kind of political memory, of course, know why Reynolds left the political scene. He’s the guy who gave meaning to the phrases “peach panties” and “Did I win the Lotto?”

Quit your snickering. Wipe that smirk off your face! And get your mind out of the gutter that Reynolds dragged us all into when he became one of the few political people whose criminal offense was prosecuted by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office – rather than the U.S. Attorney (although they eventually got their piece of Mel as well).

FOR IT SEEMED that Mel Reynolds cheated on his wife, Marisol (who herself came from impoverished circumstances and wound up returning there once Reynolds went to prison) with a girl who, at the time their affair began, was underage.

She actually did a couple of weeks in the county jail because she initially didn’t want to testify against Reynolds. But she eventually broke, and Reynolds became the congressman with a sex offense (although it seems kind of hypocritical since so many other people in Congress have been known to mess around with girls younger than themselves).

So Mel went to prison, eventually got transferred to a federal correctional center when prosecutors at that level got him convicted on more conventional criminal charges for a political person, and he has maintained a very low profile since being released (on a pardon, from then-President Bill Clinton).
SOSA: Wants glory!

Quite a demise for a man who rose from poverty to being a Rhoads Scholar. Which is why he probably dreams of re-election. Perhaps he thinks he can erase his taint by regaining office.

ALTHOUGH WHEN IT comes to tainted public people, Reynolds probably has to take a back seat to Sammy Sosa (and to Frank Thomas, who will make his first Hall of Fame ballot appearance next year). All because of the way many people in our society place such a significance on professional athletics.

Because in the years after Reynolds, Sammy was that real-life version of actor Garrett Morris’ Chico Escuela character.

He clowned it up for the Chicago Cubs while hitting all those home runs (he’s the only professional baseball player with three seasons of 60-or-more home runs) that made him a superstar.

Of course, now many believe he was among the primary users of various steroids meant to artificially bulk himself up.

WEDNESDAY WAS THE day that the ballots for the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., were issued that contained Sosa’s name for the first time. People will have to decide if Sosa’s numerical figures for home runs and other baseball stats are legitimate enough to warrant inclusion.

Sosa himself has said he thinks he’s legit. Although many baseball fans now sound like Chicago White Sox fans did back in 1998 – claiming that Sammy was a clown and unworthy of the attention he was getting.

We’ll get to see for ourselves in coming weeks as sportswriters cast their ballots for the Hall of Fame. Will Sosa get his redemption? Somehow, I suspect he’ll get lost in the overflow of other ballplayers whom do not have any taint of suspicion against them.

Just as Reynolds may wind up getting lost in the mess of candidates who seem determined to treat a seat in Congress as a once-in-a-lifetime perk that is theirs for the snatching.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Emanuel making a flip; he wants to be on proper side of immigration brawl

Immigration reform is going to be an ugly fight when it finally comes up in Congress.
EMANUEL: A change of heart

There are going to be some political people whose preferences are to back the ideologues who want to view the issue as one where the only changes needed are more deportations. They’re not going to give in on their views – no matter what evidence is brought to the contrary.

TAKE INTO ACCOUNT the fact that the Illinois Legislature is likely in the near future to consider measures that would revamp state policies concerning non-citizens being able to get valid driver’s licenses.

The ideologues already are spewing their venom – and trying to bash the few GOP political people who have come out in favor of the idea.

But the fact is that these ideologues were always a tiny minority of our society – but a tiny group that too many people were willing to give undeserved credibility to.

Now, we’re starting to acknowledge that fact and are seeing that those loud-mouthed individuals should not be dictating policy to the rest of us – particularly since many of their preferred “policies” would actually wind up holding us back as a society.

SO LET ME state up front that I’m pleased to learn that Rahm Emanuel, of all people, is among the people who has “seen the light,” so to speak. Maybe not as dramatically as actor John Belushi’s “Jake Blues” character in “The Blues Brothers,” but it’s still something!

The Chicago Sun-Times reported about the swearing-in ceremony held Tuesday in the council chambers of City Hall, in which a whole lot of newly-minted U.S. citizens got to hear Emanuel offer his praise for Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., who used to go about bashing Emanuel for not doing enough to support immigration reform measures.
GUTIERREZ: Can he score the 'touchdown'

“The rest of America has caught up with Luis Gutierrez,” said Emanuel, who when he was chief of staff to President Barack Obama was the one who kept the issue on the political backburner – figuring that bringing up immigration would tick off so many people that they’d dump all over anything else Obama tried to pass.

Such as health care reform!

OF COURSE, THE reality of the situation is that Obama’s opponents were determined to oppose anything he tried to do – so that stalling immigration reform really did nothing more than make some Latinos question whether or not Obama was sincere with his supportive rhetoric.

Seeing that Emanuel is now willing to say the issue is “on the 10-yard line” and could be close to being approved could well mean his political mean-streak could now be turned on those  ideologues who are determined to go down with the ship, so to speak, on this issue.

Perhaps the Emanuel change in attitude is due to his return to Chicago – following his couple of years of living in Washington.

The thing about Chicago’s character is that it has such an ethnic character, and the ethnicity isn’t limited to a few. Just about every ethnic group can be found in some numbers in this city.

JUST ABOUT EVERY Chicagoan is aware of what they are and where on Planet Earth their families came from – unlike some municipalities where everybody seems to have morphed into some sort of generic white person.

In such a place, immigration reform is going to be taken seriously because there will be the significant numbers of individuals who will be directly impacted.

Which makes me think we are a step closer to reform – provided we keep in mind that those ideologues who will “never” give in will turn up the volume with each and every action.

And we should realize that “loud” does not automatically mean “legitimate.”


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Bring out the video cameras!

I’m wondering how many people are going to feel a smart-aleck attitude and start whipping out their cell phones or whatever other portable device they happen to carry when they find themselves in the presence of a police officer.

Although I’m also wondering how many cops are going to start pulling out similar recording devices to take pictures of people whom they think are paying a little too close attention to them.

THERE HAVE BEEN several stories in recent years concerning the laws that make it a felony criminal offense to take pictures of police while they’re on duty.

Ever since Rodney King got beaten by police in Los Angeles, there have been those who view the “problem” as the fact that anyone would think it appropriate to photograph or videorecord police officers while they work.

Because invariably one can easily capture “evidence” indicating they were less than professional in the performance of their duties.

But the American Civil Liberties Union, which occasionally does its own random recording of police just to remind them that somebody’s watching, has filed lawsuits that culminated in a Monday ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States.

THE NATION’S HIGH court upheld a federal appeals court that ruled the laws against taping were improper. That lower court said it impinged on a person’s right to freedom of expression by saying that police were off-limits.

Of course, what really outraged people was the fact that the lawmakers who put a restriction on photographing police officers made it one of the more severe categories of felonies – one that can carry a prison term of up to 15 years.

In short, one had the potential (until Monday) to spend a significant portion of their lives in incarceration if a police officer got it in his (or her) head that he/she was being watched too closely.

It doesn’t surprise me to learn that police officers feel that way about themselves.

I’M JUST PLEASED to learn that the Supreme Court issued a ruling that tried to bring some semblance of sense to our law.

Because the honest truth is that there are so many cameras being erected by so many interests in so many public places that it probably is unrealistic for us to think that somebody isn’t watching us somewhere.

Even the police often have those cameras erected on poles around the city and even in many suburbs. I recently heard of a case where an alderman seriously believes a newly-erected police video camera was positioned to look into his campaign office's windows. Why should police get to watch us closer than we can watch them?

After all, the police are supposed to work for us and protect us? The people who would support such laws are the ones using questionable judgment – which the Supreme Court knocked down.

COULD IT BE that the police were more interested in controlling the images of themselves in action? Because with all the cameras, it is impossible to avoid capturing them in some form.

I was just waiting for the moment when some tourist decided to take a picture of their relatives/friends on State Street with the Chicago Theater marquee in the background – along with an unintended image of some police officer being forced to use restraint on someone.

Just think of the black eye it would have given our city for that person to be prosecuted – particularly if that video had somehow shown the officer to be using legally-questionable tactics in the performance of his/her duties.

Which means what the Supreme Court of the United States actually accomplished by their action on Monday was to ensure that a law that was completely impractical to enforce is now off our statutes! We’re all spared some headaches.


Monday, November 26, 2012

From one gridiron extreme to the other

It amuses me the degree to which some people get all worked up into a frazzle whenever the subject of Notre Dame football is discussed.

How long has it been since "Touchdown Jesus" didn't feel like weeping instead?

While I’ll be the first to admit that some Notre Dame fans can be insufferable (I find the film “Rudy” to be unwatchable), the level to which some people go to express their outright hatred of the Fighting Irish is just downright stupid.

IT IS WITH that latter group in mind that I must confess to being pleased to learn that Notre Dame managed to defeat the University of Southern California Saturday night – and that it would take some serious mathematical juggling worthy of a corrupt Election Day vote counter to deny Notre Dame a spot in the Bowl Championship Series top game.

As for those people who’d really rather think that a legitimate championship should consist of two Southern schools (specifically from the Southeast Conference), to them I can only get in the holiday season and say, “Bah Humbug!”

I don’t know if I really consider the Chicago metro area to stretch as far east as South Bend, Ind. (the way some area sports fans do). But it will be intriguing to have something resembling a local angle come the early January date when Notre Dame takes on the best of Dixieland in an attempt to say which was the best college football team for 2012.

If it winds up being seen as a loogie spit in the face of certain pundits, I’ll root for a Fighting Irish victory on that date.

AND BY PUNDITS, I’m thinking of one New York-based clown I saw talking last week on television about what he regarded as stupid expansion by the Big Ten.

The conference that once was all about our Midwest and the Great Lakes states is now in the New York media market in the form of Rutgers University (it’s “New York” in the same sense that Notre Dame is  “Chicago”).

This pundit (whom I’m going to allow to be nameless largely because I didn’t bother to catch his name, and he was so uninteresting that I figure he’s not worth too much of my time) claimed that New Yorkers are “so sophisticated” that they will only pay attention to the “best game,” and there’s no way the Big Ten will ever produce such a game.

You can argue all you want about the quality of play of Big Ten football these days. All I can say is that perhaps he paid too much attention to the University of Illinois – which on Saturday finished of this dismal season without winning a single in-conference game and having an overall record that makes the Chicago Cubs look successful.

THAT WAS QUITE a walloping the Fighting Illini got from “Chicago’s Big Ten Team.” Although I think the fact that Illini fans would have considered a victory over Northwestern University to be a season salvation is kind of sad.

Is there really any difference between 1-7 and 0-8?

Besides, I can’t quite help but think the slogan is a bunch of bunk. My own observation is that many Northwestern students come to Evanston from out-of-town (out-of-state or out-of-country, more likely) and leave here once they graduate.

Attending a suburban-based university is their “Chicago” experience in life – similar to how I did a semester at American University in Washington and say I once lived, however briefly, in the nation’s capital.

I SENSE MORE Chicago spirit for Illinois, where I have known many area residents who made their “downstate” sojourn for a few years before returning home to have their adult lives.

But even then, the most intense fans of Fighting Illini football are the ones who live in those downstate Illinois communities where it is easier to drive to Champaign to see a game rather than make the trips north or south to see the Bears or Rams, respectively.
Admit it. You looked too!

Which is why I sense that for the bulk of Chicago sports fans, there was probably more interest in Notre Dame’s Saturday victory than in anything that happened at building once known as Dyche Stadium.

And as for me? My attention was more focused on the sidelines for whatever glimpses I could gain from the famed USC Song Girls.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Will we get Rep. Donne Trotter, D-Ill.?

Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., D-Ill., is gone, and that has many political observers trying to figure out which of the current government officials are opportunistic enough to try to boost themselves “up and out” to Capitol Hill.
TROTTER: New congressman?

A lot of South Side aldermen and south suburban legislators are giving such a move some thought, along with some political comeback dreamers such as former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger or one-time Rep. Mel Reynolds.

ALTHOUGH ONE OF the names getting serious consideration is that of a state legislator who has been a part of the political scene for a quarter of a century – although I’m not sure how many people outside of a few South Side neighborhoods are familiar with the name “Donne E. Trotter.”

Get used to it! He could soon be the newest member of the Illinois congressional delegation. Because I get the sense he’s going to be seen as the “safe” choice by Democratic Party officials who will be determined to keep the Second Congressional district seat in their column.

Not that it’s in any serious danger of shifting. More than half of the people who live in the district are either on the city’s Far South Side or its surrounding suburbs in Cook County that have developed majority African-American populations.

The district may go as far south as the Kankakee/Iroquois county line – but the southern end of the district is so sparsely populated that it won’t matter how much those residents will desperately want “anybody but” a city-based Democrat representing them in Washington.

THOSE WERE THE people who gave Republican Brian Woodworth 61 percent of their support on Election Day, only to have Jackson win 63 percent of the vote overall.

Officially, Gov. Pat Quinn is to make some sort of announcement on Monday as to when a special election would be held sometime during the next four months (although some officials are trying to figure if it could be scheduled on the same date – April 9 – as the 2013 municipal elections).

Democratic Party committeemen already have started discussing the process for a special election, and they seem more concerned with the idea of getting party people to unite behind a single candidate from among all the officials who are throwing their names into the fight.

A lot of them are seeing Trotter as the one name who could possibly unite Democrats (at least those Dems from more urban areas) and help avoid a bloodbath by which a dozen Dems knock each other down and allow a no-name to actually get the Congressional seat.

ALTHOUGH I’D ARGUE that if the people of the district had wanted a “no-name,” they would have picked one of the other names on the ballot back on Nov. 6.

For the record, Trotter was born in Cairo, Ill., but has lived the bulk of his life in Chicago and is both Chicago State and Loyola University-educated. He’s been in the General Assembly since 1988 and has held his Illinois Senate seat since 1993.

Although when his legislative district was redrawn to stretch south to Will County communities such as Crete and Peotone), he actually took the time to visit the communities and make himself familiar with their interests.

That kind of attitude is what has party officials thinking he’s the kind of guy who could appeal to all in that physically-huge congressional district filled with people whose worlds almost never interact.

PERSONALLY, I’D HAVE to admit that the idea of Trotter in Congress amuses me because I remember my first dealings with him back when I was with the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago.

I used to be a full-time crime reporter, and that included becoming very familiar with officials at all the area hospitals. Including Trotter, who back then was an administrator at the formerly-named Cook County Hospital.

The idea that I used to deal with a future Congressman to get medical condition updates of the latest gunshot victim sort of amuses me.

Although I have recollections of one argument with Trotter where he was being particularly close-mouthed about a specific patient. In retrospect it likely was Chicago Police officials trying to control the flow of information so much that they weren’t being fully forthcoming with the hospital.
SIMON: The old bow tie

NOT THAT I expect Trotter to remember that specific moment – it bewilders me that I remember it so clearly, other than that my brain tends to be cluttered with trivia.

Although it does have me wondering one point. One of Trotter’s trademarks is his dapper appearance, particularly the bow ties he insists on wearing.

We haven’t had a politico who relied so heavily on the bow tie since the departure of Paul Simon from the U.S. Senate. I’d say we’re due!


EDITOR’S NOTE: For those of you wishing to reminisce about Jesse Jackson, Jr., while others will wonder what will become of the proposed new airport project that Jackson often seemed to be the only champion of.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Holed up like a hermit? Or using what little common sense I still possess?

The scene along Chicago's State Street, or any other shopping scene, bore no resemblance Friday to this 1935 Christmas holiday parade. Photograph provided by Chuckman's photos

I was not amongst the many people whom retailers would have you believe were so eager to start their Christmas holiday shopping that they felt the need to take their turkey-bloated carcasses out to whatever shopping mall or big box store is near their homes to begin expressing their love by blowing away their money.

Nor will I be amongst those who will feel the need to make the special trip to State Street (which is a “Great Street” every day except on Friday), or to any other retailer.

I’M SURE SOMEONE is going to think I’m expressing an “un-American” spirit by refusing to do my part to bolster the economy at this “Black Friday” time of the year.

Actually, I’m just doing my part for common sense by refusing to indulge in this shopping mania. I’m going to wind up spending my share of money in coming weeks. I don’t feel the need to be a lemming and throw my wallet over the financial cliff.

Not quite yet, anyway!

Call it my own personal tradition. Friday is the one day that I try to go out of my way to avoid shopping.

MY AVERSION TO having to go out and join the crowds of people who think it is their “duty” to spend money and bolster the financial status of their local retailers is so much that this is the one day of the year that (if everything goes alright) the only money I’m likely to spend is a couple of bucks for newspapers (or maybe close to $5 if I decide to not be so cheap and pick up a copy of the New York Times -- which gives me less of a headache reading it on paper, as opposed to off a digital screen.

Part of it is that I’m not that fond of crowds of unruly people. It’s the same reason I don’t think much of the Taste of Chicago or parades (you’ve seen one, you really have seen them all) in general.

But there is something about the spirit of the day on this Day after Thanksgiving that troubles me.

I don’t like the idea that some people feel like it is a requirement to shop. They really could avoid much of the hassle of dealing with crowds by simply pacing themselves a bit better during upcoming days (or weeks),.

I DON’T WANT to feel like I’m following the rat pack (unless it’s in the spirit of Sinatra, Martin or Sammy Davis, Jr.). Then again, I’m also the type who thinks that Opening Day for the baseball season is overrated.

It’s cold, miserable and the second game of the season is just as good an introduction to a ballclub for the season as the first – except you lose all the people who could care less about baseball and are there because they want to partake in a spectacle.

Friday’s holiday shopping is way too much of a spectacle for me to take seriously.

Besides, I have never believed that the alleged “sales prices” being offered for those who bothered to show up during limited hours Thursday night or Friday morning are all that special.

THE AMOUNT OF money being saved just isn’t significant enough for me to have to put up with the pushy people who are prepared to turn fellow shoppers into road kill if they dare get in the path of that special something of a present for their alleged loved one.

In fact, the only times I have been out in this pack have been the years in which my duties as a reporter-type person provided me assignments requiring me to go out and interview shoppers.

A part of me always wanted to verbally assault these people for being nit-wits. I always felt my resulting stories were more mocking in tone than anything else. So excuse me for being thankful that no editor this year has decided they’d like me to find out what the “hot” gift item is this holiday season.

I don’t know, and I don’t care. Those people I choose to get gifts for will get items I think they will find interesting. Because personally, I don’t despise them enough to just grab some item off a shelf on Friday just because it’s “on sale!”


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Be thankful we don’t need highway memorial for ourselves – not yet anyway

Those roadside memorials erected by families who don’t want their lost loved ones to be forgotten always manage to capture my attention.

Not so much because they remind me of the fact that someone was killed (usually in an auto accident) at whatever particular spot is marked. But because of the amount of effort it takes to maintain such a spot.

BECAUSE IF ONE just erects a cross and a couple of pictures, the whole thing quickly collapses into junk. That causes local officials to dismiss the whole spectacle as a road hazard, and they come along and turn the whole thing into trash!

That is an idea that bothers the people who erect those memorials – who’d like to think their efforts are permanent.

Which is why my attention was captured by a Chicago Tribune story published Wednesday about Cook County government’s efforts to help these people.

For it seems that the county Highway Department will erect permanent markers that include a name and date of the person being paid tribute to, along with a message telling people “Please Don’t Drink and Drive.”

I’M SURE SOME people are going to think these blue signs with white lettering are rather generic and impersonal. We won’t get the collections of photographs of the deceased that some of these home-made memorials consist of. We won’t get the personal messages from loved ones left at the scene.

Yet there is the touch of permanence (or at least as permanent as any road sign can ever be) from these new county-installed memorial signs. The fact that they won’t deteriorate into a pile of junk does help enhance the overall appearance (even though they eventually will turn to rust, due to exposure to the Midwestern weather elements).

Unless one is willing to keep paying the county a fee – in which case, the sign will be replaced every couple of years.

That is, assuming the accident victim you want tribute paid to was killed along a county-maintained road. Although it seems the Illinois Department of Transportation has a similar program that was the inspiration for the county effort.

IT WILL BE interesting to see how many people actually take advantage of this new program. A part of me wonders if we’ll get some people who will persist in trying to put up their own home-made memorials rather than pay county government a fee.

Even if that fee is miniscule enough that no one’s going to be able to balance the county budget on the money raised from such memorial signs.

Will we get some people taking on a hard-line attitude? And will we now have government officials figuring that these officially-recognized tributes reduce the home-made tributes to the level of litter – so we’re going to start seeing them torn down at a moment’s notice?

Although I have to admit I don’t think it will make much difference as far as I’m concerned.

BECAUSE THE SENTIMENT I experience whenever I see one of these home-made memorials is to be reminded that life can end at a moment’s notice. There usually isn’t much in the way of warning.

I could die while writing this commentary. Or I could last for another 40 or so years. I should try my hardest to make the most of my life while I still have it.

And the fact that I still “have it” is what I am thankful for on this Thanksgiving holiday. That, and the fact that nobody in my surviving family has had to think about trying to erect such a memorial in my name.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Is the Twinkie the new New Coke?

This whole affair of the possible shut-down of Hostess products (“No More Twinkies!?!!”) is starting to take on the stink of New Coke.
Twinkies in space, according to this '70's era TV spot

Those of us who were around in the mid-1980s recall how the Coca-Cola Co. said it was changing its formula for the carbonated soft drink – only to revert back to the old formula after the public outcry was so intense.

WE NOW GET it under the brand name of “Classic Coke,” which makes me wonder if it was just a marketing spiel meant to make us appreciate more fully a product many of us were taking for granted and assumed would always be with us.

Which is how I think of all those snack cakes manufactured by Hostess – including the Ho Ho, the Ding Ding, the Suzy Q and the one that’s getting all the attention these days.

The Twinkie!

Hostess Bakeries has had its share of financial problems in recent years, and has tried to put the burden of balancing the company back to financial solvency on the backs of its workers and the labor union that represents them.

OFFICIALLY, THE REASON that company officials said Friday they’re shutting down is because not enough of the company’s employees were willing to cross the picket-line in the nine-day old strike that the union members were engaged in.

Company officials want their employees to take significant pay cuts; so significant that some employees say they’d be better off collecting unemployment benefits instead.

They’re trying to get the people of America to think in terms of those evil labor unions (whom they want to believe are closet Communists,  probably being led by their imperialist leader, Barack Obama) being responsible for them to not be able to get a Twinkie in the future.

Which is behind the fact that stores across the country have been seeing a rush on Twinkies and other Hostess products. People are trying to stock up on the snack cakes so as to postpone that moment when they eat their “final” Twinkie ever!

THAT KIND OF sentiment strikes me as someone who takes their snack cakes far too seriously. Then again, I recall people signing petitions and getting all worked up over the idea that somebody had tampered with their Coca Cola.

Of course, nothing is really a done deal.

There already has been speculation about all the other companies that might pay Hostess Bakeries some money for the rights to use product names such as “Twinkie” or “Ding Dong” on their own products.

There’s also the fact that a judge issued an order recently that is the reason why bakery and union officials spent Tuesday in mediation – hoping that the two sides can come to an agreement that will enable the bakeries to remain open and the Twinkies to keep coming off the assembly line.

BUT THEY COULD not. No one was willing to make anything resembling concessions. Which is why attorneys are preparing for a liquidation hearing scheduled for Wednesday.

That is, if the two sides remain stubborn (and it truly is the hard-line attitude of the company that is trying to place all blame on the union that is causing this situation). Who knows? Perhaps some sense can prevail? How ridiculous will all those people who stockpiled snack cakes during the weekend feel if it turns out that Hostess will continue to make Twinkies?

Is the Penguin behind this latest fiendish Twinkie plot?

For their sake, I hope they have ample freezer space to store all those boxes they bought. Because those things do go stale after a few days if they’re left out in the open – no matter what tales you’ve been told about Twinkies being edibly invincible.

And not even the six-year-old in me would want to eat a stale Twinkie.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Oh, be quiet!

It’s pleasing to see that Gov. Pat Quinn is so concerned about the pension funding problems our state government faces, because all too often it seems like our government officials would prefer to ignore the problem for as long as they possibly can.
A new low for state government?

Which is what they basically have been doing for decades.

YET THEN WE get our illustrious governor  acting like a dink, and it almost makes me wish he’d just pipe down on the issue.

For I doubt that anybody is going to be swayed by his, or his office’s, latest actions.

Who else thinks that Squeezy the cartoon python is going to sway anybody to get off their duff and act responsibly? About the only reaction I can envision most of our political people having is adding Squeezy to the list of reasons in their head as to why they think the Mighty Quinn is absurd.

That, and his comments about the new film about Abraham Lincoln, which Quinn has already seen (I haven’t yet).

FOR WHEN QUINN was asked by the Associated Press about his thoughts of the film, he managed to come up with a comparison between the political fight to abolish slavery in this country and to get political people to act on pension reform.

As though Honest Abe was going to be Quinn’s role model for getting the Legislature to act on pension funding shortfalls.

It didn’t come across quite as overbearing and pompous as those people who compare the modern-day Republican Party to the Nazis. But its absurdity level wasn’t that far off.

It’s times like this that we should all wish that Quinn could have an official minder of sorts; someone to give him a tap on the shoulder to let him know when he’s about to say or do something ridiculous that will undermine his efforts to accomplish something of significance.

PERSONALLY, I FIND Quinn’s Lincoln comments more absurd (“You will appreciate the battle to get pension reform if you see the movie and see how hard it was to abolish slavery and get that amendment for the people,” according to the Associated Press) because they came directly from his own mouth.

I think the We Are One coalition is taking it way too seriously when they say they are “shocked and disturbed” by Quinn’s comments. Most people are just snickering – they’re probably more disturbed by the potential loss of Twinkies!

Of course, you could make an argument that some serious tax dollars were spent to create Squeezy the Pension Python and the video that Quinn seriously thinks is going to persuade people to pressure their elected officials to act in a way favorable to the governor’s desires. Squeezy may well be more ridiculous than Toby the Tire who promoted school bus safety!

We should probably be more worked up over this creation than we are at Quinn’s film commentary (nobody ever said he was the next Roger Ebert).

IF THERE IS one serious problem with Quinn’s attempt to jolt a debate on pension funding reform in the week leading up to the return of the General Assembly to Springfield for the fall veto session, it is that the governor is still being vague about what will have to be done to actually resolve the issue.

Quinn has said he’s setting a deadline of early January – he wants the current Legislature to approve something, rather than push the problem off to the newly-elected Legislature.

Yet without putting his neck on the line with a specific solution, he makes it too easy for legislators to ignore him the way they do all too often.

The end result of all this new pension rhetoric with cartoons is that Quinn may well have taken a serious problem and turned it into a laughing matter!


Monday, November 19, 2012

EXTRA: Guillen turns to ace Buehrle?

Wouldn’t it be freaky if Ozzie Guillen wound up getting the managerial post of the Toronto Blue Jays for the 2013 season?

For he’d literally be able to have as his top pitcher the same man he has relied upon for the past 12 seasons. The multi-player trade that sent much of the high-priced talent from the Miami Marlins to Toronto was given final approval by Major League Baseball authorities on Monday.

THAT BRINGS FORMER Chicago White Sox ace pitcher Mark Buehrle back to the American League. The Missouri boy who has made it known he wouldn’t mind it if he were to be able to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals during a professional baseball career instead will get to be a Blue Jay.

Of course, the Marlins began their schizophrenic off-season mode last month when they fired manager Guillen – trying to place the blame on Ozzie for the fact that Miami grossly underperformed during 2012.

Some people who have always had their hang-ups about Ozzie might have been willing to believe that. Except that the Marlins management’s behavior since then has shown it is them, and not Guillen, who are the problem with baseball being a success in South Florida.

There are those who believe the only reason Buehrle left the White Sox following 12 seasons of being their most-reliable pitcher was the idea that he liked pitching for Guillen.

WOULD ANOTHER REUNITING with Guillen be enough to make him happy in Toronto? Much of the reporting about this potential deal and its impact on Buerhle has focused on the fact that he owns pit bulls and would have personal objections to the laws in Ontario that severely restrict ownership of that particular breed of dog.

Or is the Midwest boy at heart going to literally find himself in an alien land – one where he will have to face the tough teams of the American League eastern division multiple times per year, instead of the one game or two a season that he got while pitching for the White Sox of the league’s central division!

Now keep in mind that I’m not in possession of any knowledge that the Blue Jays (who lost their manager to the Boston Red Sox at season’s end) are considering Guillen for the managerial post.

He may well be the last person they’d want to consider for the job! Which could be a mistake. Guillen could be that jolt that could bolster a ballclub that hasn’t won a league championship since 1993 (when they beat out then-shortstop Ozzie Guillen and the White Sox in the AL playoffs).

INSTEAD, THE REPORTS I have seen indicate that one of the alleged front-runners for the Blue Jays managerial post is Jim Riggleman – who back in the late 1990s had a stint managing the Chicago Cubs and later managed the Washington Nationals before they became good.

Who knows? Maybe he learned something in recent seasons (he managed a Cincinnati Reds minor league affiliate last year).

Either that, or they figure he’s already worn a light-blue uniform and might feel comfortable in Toronto.

Somehow, he just doesn’t seem to be the kind of leadership that could help Toronto overcome the New York Yankees, the improving Baltimore Orioles or Tampa Bay Rays – or even the Red Sox (who can’t possibly play as poorly in ’13 as they did last year).