Monday, June 30, 2014

Fanaticos de futbol? Or people cheering for anything on a television screen?

We’re in the midst of the World Cup, and the computer-related technical difficulties I have experienced during the past week have prevented me from sharing the interest and excitement I have felt during that time.

To the point where I have to admit to getting a kick out of the television spots for the Kia Sorrento automobile that have been airing recently – the ones in which a sexy, Brazilian-type woman comes sauntering into a bar where allegedly “all-American” guys are watching NASCAR racing on television.

AFTER CAPTURING THEIR attention to the point where they can do nothing but watch her, she goes over to their TV set and flips the channel from auto racing to soccer, while excoriating them to “Watch futebol!”

An offensive thought to some. But one that will wither away with the passage of time. Which is what I think truly offends those people who want to rant and rage about soccer not really being a sport worthy of our time.

Their time is over. The ‘beautiful game’ is here and has its place in the U.S. sporting scene. Even if people who have spent too much time watching auto racing have numbed their sensibilities to the point where they can’t recognize it.

In my case, I was one of those kids back in the 1970s who always enjoyed when gym class turned to playing soccer for a few weeks (it just seemed more interesting than the constant start/stop/start again of “phony football”), and I always found the international aspects of the game to be intriguing.

I MISS THE Chicago Sting of old to the point where I can never truly claim to be a fan of the Chicago Fire franchise of Major League Soccer – even though I have gone to the occasional match.

But nothing quite matches the spectacle of the World Cup every four years. One of my life’s regrets is that when the cup came to the United States in 1994 and had opening ceremonies at Soldier Field, I was living elsewhere – and had to watch the whole thing on television.

Just like I’m watching this year’s tourney on a combination of ABC, ESPN and Univision.

As I write this, it is half-time of Mexico versus the Netherlands. Nobody has scored yet, largely because the Netherlands goaltender has made several spectacular plays to prevent El Tri from getting on the board.

THE FAN IN me remembering the birthplace of my grandparents is appalled, but the sports fan in me wonders how good a baseball shortstop Dutch goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen would be – nothing got past him!

At least not until Giovani dos Santos managed to get a goal past him early in the second half of Sunday’s match.

I get my kick whenever the television broadcasts feel the need to show us the Zocalo in Mexico City – that downtown gathering spot similar in spirit to Daley Center and the Picasso – to show us Mexican fans cheering on the national team.

Because the scene looks all too similar to what we have seen in Grant Park in recent weeks where local fans are given the chance to be a spectacle in their cheering on of the U.S. national team. Although U.S. fans aren't quite at the point of being able to sing anything like "Cielito Lindo" in unison the way Mexican fans are capable of doing.

ALTHOUGH I DO believe that many of the young people gathering there would easily find some other place to be a spectacle if the World Cup weren’t taking place. About the time these people are grandparents is when the sport will be so deeply entrenched in our pop culture that people will look back at those Ford advertising spots and wonder how anyone could ever have thought auto racing was more intriguing than activity on the pitch.

That, and somebody is going to be able to look at those ads, see Adriana Lima, and realize just how “hot” grandma was, back in the day. Wow!


EDITOR'S NOTE: I'm still in denial about the last few minutes, and the stoppage time, of Sunday's Mexico versus Netherlands World Cup match. Excuse me while I go crawl into a hole and wimper. Although I promise not to be as insufferable as Chicago Cubs fans get when they whine about the 2003 playoffs, Moises Alou and THAT foul ball!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Life way too short for some people

My belated condolences to Illinois Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, who this week lost her daughter, Lisa – who suffered a massive pulmonary embolism.
RADOGNO: Our condolences

What makes her death particularly tragic was not because of who her mother was. Or even her boss – she worked on the D.C.-based staff of Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. It was her own age, or lack thereof.

SHE WAS ONLY 31. Lisa should have had a full life ahead of her.

Although the real question is to wonder what exactly constitutes a full life. It can be so short, or so long, or anywhere in the middle. And nobody knows exactly when their “end” will come. We truly have to appreciate every single minute.

Personally, I’m a little more sensitive to this issue these days on account of my brother, Chris. My younger brother has actually spent this week in an area hospital (we think he might wind up being released on Friday).

I had my own scare this week thinking there was a chance I could lose my little brother (he’s barely 44), even though every time I’ve seen and spoken with him this week, he’s claimed he felt fine – not at all out of the ordinary.

YET WHEN, BY pure chance, he had his blood pressure taken at a clinic on Monday (he was hoping to get some sort of medication for a sty that had developed on his eyelid), it registered way up around 240-something.

That’s hypertensive crisis territory. That’s where someone calls the ambulance and insists you go to the Emergency Room because they’re afraid you can’t drive yourself to the hospital.

He wound up spending a day in intensive care, and has since been put in a regular hospital room where he spends his days watching trashy television programs and reading the newspapers to keep up on happenings of the world.

While also complaining about how out-of-his-skull bored he has become, yet can’t go anywhere.

NOW DON’T GET the impression that I’m comparing my brother’s situation to that of Lisa Radogno. She died suddenly, while it seems my brother’s potential for a life-threatening situation was caught right at the exact moment before it became a stroke or a heart attack or something that could have caused me a lot more grief.

In fact, when I happened to be visiting him at the hospital on Thursday, I was present when a nurse took his blood pressure yet again, and it came out at a level that almost constitutes normal and healthy by American Heart Association standards.
Not ready to lose my brother yet
I’m fortunate. I’m likely getting my brother back – and suspect I have to be on call Friday to pick him up from the hospital when he’s finally discharged.

But if I think about it too closely, it becomes a near-miss. My brother isn’t ready to depart this realm of existence at age 44. Actually, I don’t think anybody is.

THEN AGAIN, LIFE isn’t fair. I know people I went to high school with who died at ages 19 and 22 – the former when his car was struck by a drunken driver and he went flying through the windshield because of the impact, and the latter because police said he was impaired while driving from having smoked too much marijuana.

It makes me think how they had too much still to do in life, just as my brother is in need of many more years of life to ensure he accomplishes all he wants to do.

Just as we’re going to wonder how much more Lisa Radogno would have accomplished with the extra 40 to 50 years that statistics indicate she might have had a chance to experience.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Does anybody really believe that anyone can now get hired at City Hall?

I was amused to read an Associated Press account about the fact that a federal judge lifted a series of restrictions meant to ensure that government jobs weren’t given out purely as rewards for political work.

Who you know may not be enough to land a job at Chicago's City Hall anymore -- that was the story's lede. Do you really believe this to be true?

EXCUSE ME FOR being skeptical, but there’s always going to be a degree to which people hire those with whom they are most comfortable, and to whom each election cycle will mean the coming of new blood – largely because the old blood will have lost their political sponsors in the electoral posts.

Besides, we do have to admit that much of the old, incredibly blatant, ways of government hiring have gone by the wayside. A new generation that just isn’t inclined to be so obedient just to get a job has come in.

Personally, I view the lifting of Shakman Decree restrictions as being merely an acknowledgement of that fact. The blatant problems are over. But the more subtle ones are not, and likely never will be.

What we have to be less concerned with is less about who “sent” someone for a particular post, and more about whether government work (“the people’s business,” as some cynical pols refer to it), actually gets done.

BECAUSE MUCH OF the work done in these clerical jobs is stuff that could be done by many people – including the ones who got the jobs because they happened to know somebody.

There are times I wonder if the people who complain the loudest are the ones who are jealous that the only people they know capable of “getting them” a job are ones who work in a gas station, and not some sort of pseudo-cushy political posts.

If they had the right contacts, they’d suddenly be all for the old system.

And yes, I have to tell you that many of these jobs can be mind-numbing in their own right. If not for the perspective that you’re doing work for the public, nobody would want many of these clerical posts.

BECAUSE ANYBODY WITH any real intelligence who works within government either has some sort of serious dedication to the public good (more intense than you’d see in a police officer or social worker), or else they wind up leaving to make much more money in the private sector.

Now I suppose I should say that I once got a government job because of who I knew. It was back when I was in college and I needed a job for the summer. It turned out I knew someone who knew then-Rich Township Democratic Committeeman Lee Conlon.

It also turned out that Conlon and I had both attended the same university. So the next thing I knew, I was showing up at the office of then-Cook County Assessor Harold “Bus” Yourell, whose chief of staff had but one question for me.
Literally, it was “Who sent you?” That was my only qualification for a summer’s worth of work in the basement recording land transactions in giant ledger books (the county hadn’t yet fully computerized such information, so the books still had to be kept up to date).

I CAN’T SAY any of my colleagues were particularly qualified for the job. Then again, I don’t think anyone out there would have done any better than we did that summer.

Even if I was, theoretically, just a political hack who was eminently replaceable.

Do we really want a government operated by somebody, even if they have no real qualifications or skills, that anybody sent?


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Mighty Quinn ought to look to White, Lisa Madigan for lesson on how to win

Pat Quinn won his bid for election as governor in 2010 because Chicago voters cared enough to turn out in force and cast ballots for him.
QUINN: Generating apathy?
The fear was that some rural guy who was showing a completely downstate bias toward government would come in and muck things up. That caused Chicago voters to care enough to turn out on Election Day and vote for governor.

WHETHER THAT WILL be the case again come Nov. 4 is something we’ll have to see. Because I do believe that if Chicago voters take an interest in the gubernatorial campaign, then Quinn wins.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Bruce Rauner’s millions won’t even come close to displacing Pat from the Executive Mansion in Springfield (in which he rarely stays, preferring his own West Side-based house).

So when I’m looking at the latest polls coming from the We Ask America group, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m placing heavy emphasis on how Chicago-based voters feel about this campaign.

For the record, the latest such poll shows Quinn taking 64.64 percent of the vote, compared to 17.54 percent for Rauner. That’s a decent lead.

BUT IS IT enough to overcome the downstate Illinois lead of 59.24 percent to 27.34 percent that Rauner has over Quinn?

The numbers that really get to me are the undecideds. In Chicago, it’s 17.82 percent, while in the suburban part of Cook County, it’s 19.56 percent. Those are significantly high.

It’s the reason why political people look wary. It may be another four-plus months until Election Day, but those figures are kind of high.
WHITE: Giving lessons to Quinn?
Now if it turns out that all of those undecideds decide to vote for Pat Quinn, then he prevails. 80-percent plus support in Chicago and its inner suburbs is a strong enough margin of support that it would take a near miracle (one that not even Pat Brady could pull off) for Rauner to overcome.

ANYTHING LESS THAN all, and then Quinn might fall short statewide. Considering that the Rauner campaign strategy appears to be to create a sense of apathy amongst the kinds of voters who would prefer Quinn to him, there’s always a good chance that those undecideds will ultimately decide that they have better things to do Nov. 4 than wait in line at a polling place.

Now if you think I’m kidding about this regional factor, take into account the next two ranking Democratic nominees for statewide office – Secretary of State Jesse White and Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
MADIGAN: Another Quinn role model?
In Chicago, White has the kind of lead Quinn wishes he could have – 76.36 percent support to only 12.21 percent for Republican nominee Mike Webster.

Madigan does just as well in Chicago – 74.72 percent compared to 10.56 percent for Republican challenger Paul Schimpf.

OF COURSE, IT helps those two Dems that they have relatively-nothing opponents to run against on Election Day. Webster is a school board president in the outer Chicago suburbs, while Schimpf likes to campaign on the fact that he once served in the Marine Corps.

It’s not like Rauner has any more real experience in the ways and means of electoral politics. Then again, his fortune and a willingness to spend it to try to buy a certain neutral, non-specific image of himself while also demonizing his opposition (“Pat Quinn is Evil!”) can go a long way.

But will it be enough?

The reality of Chicago is that while we are a very politically-minded city, we are also very parochial. Governor is always the one post among the so-called majors that we are apathetic about.

MANY OF THOSE people who are ready to get worked up over an election are already focusing their attention on whether it is possible to dump Rahm Emanuel in the 2015 campaign cycle.
RAUNER: Gov. Apathy?
Which makes me wonder if they’re viewing this year’s election cycle is merely a prelude. Or perhaps a test run.

Try out some tactics against Rauner to see if they work. If so, they may wind up being used again against Emanuel come February.

And the Quinn campaign becomes the political equivalent of a guinea pig!


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

No more cop quotas for tickets?

We’ve all made jokes at one point or another about having received a ticket for an offense so petty or miniscule that the only reason the police officer really bothered to write it up was because his municipality wanted the money – and not because we did anything wrong.

As in the accumulation of $100 and $200 fines from individuals that can accumulate to build up a significant part of some smaller communities’ budgets.

THE DREADED COP quotas for tickets. As in officers having to show they wrote up a certain number of citations, or else risk some form of professional discipline. Quite possibly even losing their job.

Well, it would seem that policy is withering away. Just this past weekend, Gov. Pat Quinn gave his approval to a measure that prohibits police departments in Illinois from having policies requiring their officers to issue so many citations.

Not that I believe the policy will completely wither away. I merely suspect it will evolve into some other form. There are still going to be police officers writing out tickets while those of us who receive them wind up gnashing our teeth in anger!

Under the new law, which received very little opposition from members of the General Assembly, police departments can no longer require a specific number of tickets to be written in any given time period. Also, officers cannot have the number of tickets they issue used as any kind of criteria as to how good a job they are doing.

QUINN, IN SIGNING the bill into law, said he thinks it means tickets will be issued because people actually committed some sort of offense worthy of punishment. Police will be using their judgment in issuing citations – rather than trying to ensure they meet their goal for the month.

Somehow, I suspect that those officers who already were writing out significant numbers of citations will continue to do so. It is their judgment, and they may well continue to see many things being done that violate local municipal codes.

So those of you with a lead foot ought not think you can get away with driving around as though the whole rest of the world is supposed to defer to you. You’re still going to run into the cop who’s willing to ticket you.

The rest of us will be safer as a result, because you’re the type of motorist that the rest of us wind up shaking our fists at while spewing a string of obscenities because of your thoughtlessness.

ALTHOUGH THE PART of this that catches my curiosity is the fact that many police departments already were getting away from using numbers of tickets issued as some sort of professional criteria.

I know of police departments that require their officers to interact with people in the community – and go so far as to require their officers to record each and every incident.

Whether it’s just answering questions from the public, checking into a situation that looked like it could become heated or actually finding something that is severe enough to warrant a citation or an arrest, they all account for something equal.

That might actually be a better approach, because it puts into the head of the police officer that he (or she) is supposed to be there to serve the public – rather than there to be the constant eye watching over the public.

BUT I’M SURE that even with this approach, there will be people complaining that the police are only around when you don’t need them.

Because the one thing I have always noted about law enforcement is that not only do they do a difficult job (people tend to die when they screw up), it is one that doesn’t get them much public respect.