Monday, December 31, 2007

California, Here We Come

Because the Chicago Bears followed up their Super Bowl appearance with a losing record in 2007, the only excitement left for Chicago-area football fans is watching the Fighting Illini on Tuesday make their first Rose Bowl appearance in 24 years.

It won’t just be the University of Illinois alumni rooting for the Illini when they take on the University of Southern California, as much of Chicago views the Champaign, Ill.-based school as our area’s home team for big time college football.

So the people who are complaining these days that Illinois does not deserve to play in Pasadena, Calif., and has no business being on the same playing field as the mighty Trojans of USC had better realize they are taking on the muscle of the Second City when they make their sports slurs.

Typical of these slurs is a recent column published in the Torrance, Calif.-based Daily Breeze newspaper, which calls Tuesday’s game, “the matchup of no one’s dreams, unless you hail from Peoria. Unless Champaign isn’t something you imbibe on New Year’s Eve, but live in year-round.”

The writer hates the idea that Rose Bowl officials maintained “tattered threads of tradition” by having a top team from the Big 10 play a top team from the Pac 10 for their game that is a part of their Tournament of Roses parade and festivities, and admits to preferring the thought of West Virginia, Kansas State or Hawaii as an opponent for USC.

For USC fans, Illinois football, “barely register(s) on the sexy program meter.”

Now I realize when it comes to Big 10 football, it is Michigan and Ohio State that are the dominant teams with perennial bowl game ambitions. Illinois fans haven’t seen their team play in Pasadena since 1984 and haven’t actually won a Rose Bowl game since 1964 – beating Washington 17-7.

I’ll also concede the two schools’ history of football match-ups works against Illinois – the Illini are 2-10.

But we’re talking about a football program that produced one of the greatest names ever in college football (Red Grange), has 16 members in the College Football Hall of Fame and 5 alums in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It also includes among its ranks Dick Butkus, the Roseland neighborhood native who went on to play for the Chicago Bears and whose name is still associated by football fans with animal-like ferocity.

In fact, Butkus lives in Southern California these days. Perhaps we should send him walking around his home neighborhood to give a beating to any USC fans who get too condescending toward his alma mater.

There’s also the fact that Illinois is more than just a Champaign-based school.

Chicago colleges such as Loyola, DePaul and the University of Illinois at Chicago don’t have football programs. The University of Chicago dropped out of the Big 10 decades ago and now plays NCAA Division 3 football, while Northwestern University often plays as though it belongs in Division 3.

So those of us Chicagoans who want the pomp and ceremony of college football fulfill our fix by following the Illini, with the exception of the most die-hard fans of Notre Dame. But I suspect the Fighting Irish were so pathetic this season that even their fans will be willing to jump on the Illini bandwagon for a day.

An Illinois/USC matchup gives us media markets number three going against number two. This has the potential to be a classic Chicago-area/Los Angeles-area brawl.

Perhaps a Southern California-type is too effete to appreciate a game with brawl potential. But it is exactly the type of game that can be appreciated in Chicago. Does anyone really believe that fans of West Virginia or Kansas State could provide the same emotion?

As far as Hawaii football is concerned, their fans were hoping that an undefeated season would be rewarded by an appearance in the national championship game in New Orleans. A Rose Bowl appearance would have been seen as a letdown by their fans.

So while I’m not an Illinois alumnus, I must admit to now hoping for an Illinois victory just because I’m sure it would completely demoralize the Southern California types who are whining so much about having to cap their season by playing “lowly” Illinois in the same way some remain miffed that the Angels lost the 2005 American League pennant to the White Sox.

I will confess, however, to finding one aspect of USC football superior to Illinois, or just about any other sports program – college or professional. The Song Girls, USC’s famed cheering squad, is the most lovely of college cheer teams in existence – and far more elegant than the borderline sleazy behavior that passes for cheerleading these days at NBA and NFL games.


EDITOR’S NOTE: The California columnist who managed to irritate me so much can be found here:

Something much more pleasing lurks here:

Sunday, December 30, 2007

EXTRA! EXTRA! Obama a Democrat

(NOT IN) DES MOINES, Iowa – Illinois’ “favorite son” presidential hopeful Barack Obama may be concerned about the concept of lobbyists running the government agencies they used to try to influence, but he’s not about to put an outright ban on the practice.

Obama (who like many other fresh college graduates adopted Chicago as his hometown when he finished his education) used a Sunday morning “Meet the Press” appearance to try to make himself appear as though he has a solid background on foreign policy matters, particularly with regard to the Middle East in light of the recent assassination of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

But what caught my attention was when Obama talked of his desire to “break the link” by which lobbyists (they prefer the term “governmental affairs consultants”) for partisan causes get jobs running the federal agencies they once tried to influence, or where government officials leave the federal payroll to take on lobbyist duties for groups that want to influence the agencies the officials once ran.

It’s a legitimate concern. But Obama is not calling for an outright ban on lobbyists-turning-government officials, or vice versa. He thinks the passage of time eases the problem.

“People who may have lobbied 10 years ago, 15 years ago, they may be able to render excellent service to the American people,” Obama said. “We want people of integrity to run our government.”

By my math, that means somebody who was involved heavily in government concerns back in the 1990s can now have a position of responsibility in an Obama administration. That would also mean that anyone who has been involved with the issues in recent years can forget about being a part of Team Obama.

Back in the 1990s, Democrats were prominent players. The recent years have seen Republicans running things.

So Republicans, particularly those who are supportive of the ideals represented by President Bush, can forget about keeping their jobs in Washington, if Obama wins, because they’re likely to be replaced by a batch of Democrat supporters who have been out of power for eight years and want to get back in control.

How does that differ from what any Democrat would do if their party’s presidential candidate wins the November 2008 general election? Hillary Clinton or John Edwards could have given a similar answer.

Perhaps that’s why the polls show those three candidates running so close. An NBC-McClatchy Newspapers poll published Sunday showed the Democratic front-runners in a virtual three-way tie among Iowa voters.

Personally, I’m thankful to have just over one more month before having to cast a ballot in the Illinois primary. I’m still trying to find major differences between the Dems who dream of being president. Having to choose based solely on one candidate being a woman, one being a black man and another being a white man is just insipid.

As for those who might ask, “Why not vote for a Republican?,” all I have to say in response is, “I’m from Chicago.”

Republicans don’t exist here, except in the 41st Ward. Even then, I’ve always thought that the only reason those people vote differently there is because of their location adjacent to O’Hare International Airport.

All that overhead noise from jets flying in and out has addled their brains.


EDITOR’S NOTE: For those of you who now would like to watch Obama’s “Meet the Press” appearance (or are bizarre enough not to have gotten your fill of it this morning), here’s a link.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ban the Ashtray Ads

I don’t smoke. I never have. It’s just one habit that always struck me as too filthy and smelly to bother with.

So a part of me is eagerly awaiting Tuesday, when a new Illinois law takes effect that, for all practical purposes, bans smoking of tobacco products in public places.

But in recent weeks, there has been a television commercial airing on stations in the Chicago area. I would guess it is airing across the state, as well. It is an American Cancer Society public awareness spot that tries to illustrate how much happier life will be without cigarette stench in public.

A sudden swift kick, however, is the gut feeling I get every time I see the television spot. If I feel that reaction, I can easily imagine the smoking dimwits of the world seeing this ad and becoming even more enraged and determined to try to do something.

The television spot tries to depict a world without smoking where ashtrays are now obsolete.

A narrator talks about how people all across Illinois were forced to brainstorm for creative uses for their now useless ashtrays. We get to see the sight of people growing plants in them and kids using them as pucks to play hockey.

The most disturbing image, in my mind, is the sight of a woman hanging a Christmas holiday wreath on her home’s front door, with about a half-dozen ashtrays woven into the wreath. The woman turns to the camera and flashes us a big smile, as though all is right with the world.


To me, using such an image trivializes the seriousness of the issue. The last thing any real person would ever do with an ashtray is turn it into holiday cheer. The image is just too absurd for the spot to be taken seriously.

I also fear the fact that it will stir up the anger of smokers, who already are trying to turn this issue into a case of their civil rights being violated.

Think I’m exaggerating? I recently stumbled across a new weblog written by a St. Louis man who believes Illinois’ new law will inspire Missouri officials to follow suit. Noting that Illinois sits right across the Mississippi River from the Arch and downtown St. Louis, he equates his ability to smoke a cigar in a restaurant with “freedom and property rights.”

I doubt he’s alone.

A group calling itself Illinois Smokers’ Rights has arisen, claiming the new law violates the provisions of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that allow people the freedom to peaceably assemble in groups of their choosing.

What bothers me about this silly, trivial public awareness television spot is that it will stir up these people a lot more than necessary. I’m waiting for the first protest march by smokers seeking their “constitutional right” to ruin my meal with their tobacco stench.

They would have the support of corporate America. Many professional organizations representing the service industry, such as restaurants, lobbied hard against the new law, claiming they would lose too many customers who want to smoke.

The riverboat casino industry has been among those to complain about the new law, saying their business will suffer because they just can’t imagine a world where people lose their money without the stink of burnt tobacco lingering in the air.

For what it’s worth, Illinois Smokers’ Rights is part of a larger coalition of groups in 12 states that are trying to persuade corporate entities to cut off charitable contributions to the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association -- all because those groups support the idea of statewide smoking bans.

Personally, I see smoking in public as the legal equivalent of that old saying, “Your right to swing your arms about freely ends at the tip of my nose.” I think my right to inhale as few noxious fumes in public as possible outweighs whatever pleasure you might derive from tobacco.

I don’t like this ad because it feels like needless piling on. We won this fight. The smoking bans enacted by Chicago and assorted suburbs in recent years gain added strength because their standard is now the law of the land, not just their isolated communities.

I almost fear that smoking in restaurants is going to become a conservative cause similar to Chief Illiniwek, the “honored symbol” (he’s really a mascot) of the University of Illinois at Urbana.

There were many years worth of verbal brawls between American Indian activists and the old-line alums who were willing to defend their right to have a white kid dress up as an Indian chief and do a dance that bore as much resemblance to native tradition as a document that has been photocopied six or seven times, losing something each generation.

I believe that if the student body at Illinois had decided the issue without the outside influences, the Chief would have been seen as a silly anachronism and would have died off years ago with little note from the public.

Now if only the idea of lighting up a cigar in a restaurant could do the same.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s a link to the weblog called “Keep St. Louis Free.” I think he’s wrong, but you can decide for yourself.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Execute the Death Penalty

For all practical purposes, Illinois no longer has a death penalty.

The 11 inmates currently sentenced to die for their crimes all are in early stages of their legally mandated rounds of appeals, and it will be years before any Illinois governor will be put in a position of having to decide whether last-minute clemency is warranted.

In fact, the closed-maximum security prison at Tamms has a modern execution chamber that has only been used once in the nearly 10 years that the “supermax” prison in far Southern Illinois has been open.

But after watching New Jersey state officials this month take steps to abolish their capital crimes statutes outright, one has to wonder when Illinois will follow suit and make the ban official. Illinois’ stalemate on the death penalty issue is particularly sad when one considers that the state was once at the forefront of the abolition movement.

When then-Gov. George Ryan ended his political career early in 2003 by commuting the sentences of nearly 160 Illinois death row inmates to life in prison without parole, it seemed like just a matter of time before the capital crimes statute would disappear. But Ryan's successor, incumbent Gov. Rod Blagojevich, while leaving in place a moratorium that prevents the Illinois Supreme Court from actually scheduling executions to take place, has not wanted to touch the issue any further.

Republican candidates in the 2002 and 2006 gubernatorial campaigns tried to make an issue by saying they would eliminate the Ryan-imposed moratorium and re-instate death by lethal injection as a penalty for particularly heinous crimes.

But there doesn’t seem to be much of a taste for it in Illinois, which actually reflects the mood across the United States. The New York Times reported earlier this week that few states outside of Texas were doing any executions at all.

In the Midwestern Great Lakes states, only Ohio and Indiana have had executions – two apiece – during 2007. Forty of the 50 states have done no executions this year, even though 38 states had capital crimes statutes on their books until last week when New Jersey dropped the punishment and commuted the sentences of its eight death row inmates to life prison terms.

So what’s stopping Illinois from following suit?

There’s the fact that most people consider the issue to be a moot point here because none of the people sentenced to death since 2003 are anywhere near ready to actually being scheduled for a death date in the lethal injection chamber.

It’s seen by many politicians as an issue best ignored until the future, largely because the segment of the population that favors capital punishment does so with a vengeance.

I still remember the sight of hundreds of protesters outside the Stateville Correctional Center near Joliet, Ill., who were on hand to cheer for the death of serial killer John Gacy. They went so far as to heckle and harass the clergy and other religious activists who tried to have a candlelight vigil and pray for Gacy’s soul. Any attempt to ban the death penalty will stir up a vocal minority, one that political people would prefer to let sleep until absolutely necessary.

That’s part of what made it shocking that the State Journal-Register, the daily newspaper in Springfield, Ill., came out this week in favor of an outright ban on the death penalty.

“Imposition of the death penalty is notoriously capricious, with racial, social and economic factors often becoming contributing factors in whether a jury decides a defendant should be put to death or spend life in prison,” the newspaper wrote.

“Fundamentally, our opposition is rooted in the issue of justice versus revenge. As a society, we can define justice through the laws we make and administer it through our courts,” wrote the capital city’s newspaper. “We can’t define revenge, nor can we as a society administer it, but often that is what we seek in applying the death penalty.”

Not that I expect the editorial to have much sway. In fact, some political people will go out of their way to back the death penalty just BECAUSE the Journal-Register called for its abolition.

But the death penalty is one issue where the Roman Catholic Church gets it right. The church used to accept the idea of executions out of the belief that some criminals were so dangerous that only their elimination would protect the public.

Executions were never supposed to be about vengeance, and the Catholic church sees modern prisons such as the Tamms “supermax” as being secure enough to protect the public from dangerous inmates.

The death penalty may once have had a place in our society. But today, executions are as obsolete as buggy whips, blacksmiths, a Model T Ford and the video game Pong. It’s time for the death penalty to die in Illinois.


The following link is to the State Journal-Register editorial calling on Illinois government to abolish the death penalty.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Chicago the image of U.S. ideal

One of the aspects of Chicago’s character that I enjoy the most is the fact that the city is such an ethnic mishmash.

The African American population is larger than any other group in Chicago and the number of Mexicans is growing to the point where roughly one of every six Chicagoans is of Mexican descent. For all Latino ethnicities, the total is roughly one of four Chicagoans, and officials estimate they will account for about one-third of the city by 2020.

But ethnicity is not something limited to non-white people in Chicago. The Irish remain a visible presence in the city and there are more Poles here than anywhere outside of Warsaw. In fact, just about every ethnicity imaginable has some sort of neighborhood or enclave somewhere in Chicago.

The latter is what gives Chicagoans a unique perspective with regards to the debate going on in this country on the issue of immigration. In Chicago, even the white people have a sense of who they are and what they descended from.

That’s not the case elsewhere.

When I lived in rural Illinois (college, then later a reporting job covering news at the Statehouse in Springfield, Ill.), the white people surrounding me were just white. Most were not really clear as to what they were descended from, and some acted as though it was downright un-American to even be curious about an ethnic past.

I still remember one person I encountered in Springfield when she and her husband moved to the Chicago area due to him getting a better-paying, more stable job. She was dreading the move out of some fear that she would be the lone person on her block who could speak English.

Of course, the home they bought was in a lily-white suburb to the northwest of Chicago. Her fears were irrational, but there was nothing I could say to make her realize that.

I think of these differences whenever I hear the latest tidbits about immigration and the desire by some to tighten the laws concerning people entering this country. Some go so far as to want to erect a wall along the southwestern border between the United States and Mexico.

Appealing to those people and their votes is the motivation behind the Republican presidential candidates in trying to see who can make the most xenophobic comments on immigration policy.

But in places like Chicago, where Democratic politicians prevail, such talk does not play very well. I’d like to think that in Chicago and other urban places, people are forced into contact with one another. While we don’t always “play nice” with each other, differing ethnicities are forced to see each other as people.

In more isolated areas of the country, the homogeneity of the population causes people to fear anyone who is not as homogeneously non-ethnic white as they are.

As one may gather from reading this, I was disappointed to see Congress do nothing in recent years with regard to reforming the immigration laws. What people are going to have to accept is that the United States is basically an ethnic and racial mutt, and that is good.

It means that this country is basically receiving the best bits of everyone on the planet and becomes stronger as a result.

Now for those people who invariably are going to say they are only against illegal immigration, I have to say, “That’s a lie.” When one gets these people to elaborate on their beliefs, it ultimately turns out that they have strict ideas about who should and should not be allowed to have legal status in the United States.

It amazes me the numbers who think that Mexican people should fall into the latter category, especially in parts of the country such as California and Texas that were once states in the Republic of Mexico, now known officially as the United Mexican States.

Even if somehow, a Jim Crow-like mentality managed to prevail and government officials did enact a batch of laws that allowed for mass deportations back to Mexico, there would still be a strong Spanish-speaking presence in this country on account of the fact that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens by birth and because of all the Cubans who were allowed easy access to the United States as our way of “flipping the bird” at Fidel Castro.

The numbers of people already here are just too massive for any racist crackpots with ridiculous rhetoric to overcome. In the end, the crackpots will lose.

People in isolated areas may look around them and see a white mass and assume they are an overwhelming majority. But places like Chicago, which contain a bit of everyone, bear more resemblance to the real world than places like Pekin, Ill., ever will.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

(Mark) Prior Restraint

Here’s wishing the best to Mark Prior, hoping that he manages to resurrect his career as a professional baseball player and pitch something close to the Hall of Fame-type career that his fans originally dreamed was possible.

And no, I’m not just saying that to aggravate Chicago Cubs fans, who had hoped Prior would be the pitching ace who would lead their pathetic ball club to many championships and World Series titles in coming years.

Instead, Prior became the talented ballplayer who suffered injury after injury, which is why the Cubs let him go at season’s end and why he was available to sign a contract at a (relatively speaking) bargain basement rate.

The San Diego Padres (who happen to be Prior’s hometown team, he’s a Southern California native) signed him to a contract that will pay him $1 million, and up to $4.5 million if he is physically fit all season and achieves certain statistical goals.

Considering that Prior is still recovering from surgery to the shoulder on his pitching arm, it is unlikely Prior will reach those goals. But he could still have a hand in strengthening the Padres’ pitching at season's end as they contend for a National League championship in 2008.

You have to admit, it would be so Chicago Cub-ish if Prior were to finally get his act together and help a ball club win something after years of getting Cubs fans all worked up about a whole lot of nothing while the best pitcher in Chicago baseball -- ol' number 56 -- toiled away on the South Side.


The Death of Chicago Journalism?

The Chicago Tribune next week is going to start hitting up us Chicago news junkies for an extra quarter if we choose to pick up our paper at a newsstand, while in coming weeks the Chicago Sun-Times is going to take an even larger cut out of its already-scrawny editorial staff.

On the city’s South Side and suburbs, the onetime Southtown Economist turned Daily Southtown gained yet another new name, the SouthtownStar, as it merged with the Star Newspapers founded in Chicago Heights, out of their owners’ hopes that putting together one slightly larger newspaper would be cheaper than maintaining two separate papers – each with histories ranging slightly over a century in their respective communities.

Up north, the Arlington Heights-based Daily Herald recently announced that pay cuts that were supposed to be temporary are actually going to be permanent. This happened following a round of layoffs that hit their newsroom.

And in the inner city, the Chicago Defender has been down for so long it can’t sink any lower. The last I heard, the newspaper was literally down to one lone reporter. The last I read, the paper’s pages were filled with syndicated junk.

All these tidbits are being used by those doom seekers who want to believe newspapers and everything they represent are dead. These people – many of whom have problems with the idea of a newsgathering organization that won’t represent their ideological beliefs to the exclusion of all others – want to think that websites and weblogs such as this can replace the daily paper and all it stands for.

Perhaps I wore newsprint-tinted glasses for too long to be objective, but I don’t buy it. I have never seen the website or weblog that can seriously offer a comprehensive understanding of the world, unless it was a website affiliated with a newspaper. Those sites can feed off the content generated to fill the pages of a newspaper, thereby giving them a significant advantage over myself.

Even though my ego is as bloated as anybody else’s in believing that my analysis and commentary on Chicago news is interesting and significant, I must admit this site is a pale imitation of the report that can be put together by a decent newspaper.

Even with the Google News feed offered off to the side of this weblog, there’s no way this site could ever cover as many stories as a serious-minded newspaper.

Of course, the key to understanding the problems of the newspaper industry is to take that last phrase into account. Many newspapers are far from “serious minded.” Many are more than willing to load their pages with trivial junk (did Britney forget to wear panties again today?) or politically partisan babble (think New York Post or Washington Times) in hopes of forcing a certain agenda (usually conservative) on the public.

Newspapers as a whole have one significant advantage over us, and most of them are doing nothing to exploit it. On a daily basis, they have content far superior to what we can crank out. They also have archives going back many decades, if not a couple of centuries. That information has significant value for people doing serious research and for those who just want to be better informed about the world they live in.

Newspapers also have an advantage when it comes to presenting a serious, lengthy piece of reporting or analysis in that a paper can lay it out on the page in one piece, supplementing it with quality photography and charts.

By comparison, scrolling through endless numbers of screens on a website, or having to follow a story link by link, can be a pain in the derriere, and also can deprive a big story of its emotional impact.

Yet most newspaper business people seem to have no clue as to how to exploit these major advantages they have amongst their competitors in the news business. It’s also why I have a hard time feeling much in the way of sympathy for the newspaper industry – even though it is one that I will continue to support with my hard-earned change at the newsstand.

If newspapers really do die off someday (estimated by University of North Carolina journalism professor Philip Meyer to take place in April 2040), it won’t be a murder, with the Internet as a culprit.

The thousands of self-inflicted cuts to the body of journalism will more accurately be ruled a suicide.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Feliz Navidad

No, I didn’t mean to put Jose Feliciano’s tacky holiday ditty into your head. I just wanted to wish those of you who are of a Christian faith a happy holiday today.

I’m giving the news a rest for the day, which isn’t something I could do when I worked as a hard-news reporter. There won’t be any serious posts today, unless Richard Daley were to suddenly suffer a stroke on the steps of church following Midnight Mass.

Actually, I might even let that tragic occurance go by until Wednesday.

So if you happen to be reading this on Tuesday, all I have to say is you need to Get a Life! Log off your computer, get up out of your chair and spend some time with your loved ones, or find something to do in the real world.

And for those of you to whom Christmas is NOT some solemn holiday, I don’t mean to give offense. So I’m going to follow the lead of Krusty the Klown, who during his non-denominational mid-December holiday special wished everybody a “Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Krazy Kwanzaa, Tip Top Tet and a Solemn and Dignified Ramadan.”


P.S.: If you really feel some need to hear a holiday carol sung “en Espanol,” you haven’t lived until you’ve heard the late Celia Cruz sing “Jingle Bells.”

Monday, December 24, 2007

A defense (of sorts) for Rod Blagojevich

Illinois’ governor is too parochial.

He never leaves his hometown.

He makes no effort to build working relationships with his political colleagues. By snubbing them, he’s only ensuring himself a more difficult time politically when trying to pass his public policy dreams into law.

That’s what snide political observers used to say back in the 1990s about then-Gov. Jim Edgar when he used to do his one-day-a-week routine in Chicago, then spend as much time as possible in his office at the Statehouse in Springfield.

But Edgar managed to do his job with his routine, and that's why I find it a tad ridiculous to hear similar charges made now against current Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Political observers used to say Edgar spent way too much time at the Statehouse, favoring Springfield at the expense of the rest of Illinois -- particularly Chicago.

Now, people say Blagojevich spends too much time in Chicago, refusing to have much (if any) direct contact with government officials who work at the Statehouse or in the capitol complex.

They used to say Edgar’s difficulties in getting his goals passed into law (remember education funding reform’s failure?) were due to his refusal to ply support from Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and the city’s business community.

Political people now speculate part of the reason there is a severe stalemate in state funding for mass transit is because Blagojevich won’t put in the time to build ties between himself and the two legislative leaders – House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President Emil Jones – who ostensibly are his allies.

Of course, I can remember Edgar being dumped on just as bad many times by his alleged political allies – then Senate President James “Pate” Philip and House Speaker Lee Daniels.

Blagojevich admits he doesn’t spend much time in the offices maintained for him by the state at the Statehouse, the Thompson Center in Chicago AND at the Executive Mansion in Springfield.

Citing family concerns and the needs of his two young daughters, Blagojevich actually works from home or from an office in his home neighborhood on Chicago’s Northwest Side, saying that modern communications technology allows him to be in contact with state officials from just about anywhere.

He’s got a point.

Illinoisans are going to have to adapt to the notion that a governor should not be sitting around a fixed office in Springfield, which has been Illinois’ capital city since the days of Abraham Lincoln solely because of its location at nearly the physical center of the state.

It is feasible in the 21st Century to oversee Illinois government from Chicago, the metropolis that drives the state’s economy and is the reason that Illinois stands far above its counterpart Midwestern states on the shores of the Great Lakes.

Some even argue the capital city of Illinois should be Chicago, since it would put state government operations in the same area as two-thirds of the state’s population. Fortunately for Chicagoans, serious talk of shifting the capital to the Second City went up in flames along with the city in the Fire of 1871, since the thought of a second set of political geeks hanging around Chicago in competition with the City Council is more political punishment than any one city deserves.

Chicago-centric talk upsets political people who come from outside of Chicagoland. They see it as a Blagojevich snub of rural Illinois, although their parochialism reeks more than anything of partisan politics.

Rural Illinois is the land of the Republican Party, with some local organizations dating back literally to the days of Lincoln. Democrats are largely irrelevant in local politics and locals have a hard time comprehending how Illinois can be so solidly in the Democrat column for federal elections. Blagojevich’s election in 2002 broke a 26-year string of Illinois governors from the GOP, and that is what really bothers the critics.

Think I’m exaggerating?

Former Gov. Jim Thompson lived in a Chicago home for the last 12 of his 14-year stint as governor, and spent much of his time working out of his Thompson Center office (although the building back then was known as the State of Illinois Center). Thompson didn’t get anywhere near the grief that Blagojevich does.

But Thompson had the “R” after his name and was the former federal prosecutor who sent governor Otto Kerner (a Democrat) off to prison. Many rural political observers semi-seriously refer to Blagojevich as “Public Official A” and speculate that an ongoing government corruption investigation being conducted by the U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago will result in the governor’s indictment.

There are legitimate reasons to question the gubernatorial service of Blagojevich, a journeyman state legislator and backbench member of Congress who reached Illinois government’s top position primarily because of the connections he acquired by marrying into a Chicago political family.

But getting all bent out of shape because of where he lives and goes to work is not one of them. It just makes one look like a rube.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Where's James Stewart?

Every time I see a television newscast hype its latest lack of knowledge in the disappearance of Stacy Peterson, I think to myself “Where’s James Stewart?”

More specifically, I wonder about the type of news reporter that Stewart played in one of my favorite Chicago-based films, “Call Northside 777.” In that 1948 film, Stewart played a Chicago Times reporter who managed to dig into an 11-year-old police shooting and figure out that the man rotting in Stateville penitentiary likely didn’t commit the crime.

Stewart’s role was based on the real-life work of John McPhaul and Jim McGuire, who managed to dig into an old police slaying and get Joe Majczek sprung from Stateville after only serving one-ninth of a 99-year prison term.

Now I realize the story told in cinema does not match up perfectly with what happened in real life. That same era also included newsmen who were more than willing to ignore the truth if the facts conflicted with the partisan goals of their publishers, who were willing to settle for smaller profits if it meant they could use their newspapers to bully their enemies and kiss up to their friends.

But the problem I have seen with all the television trash masquerading as news coverage of the Peterson case is that it doesn’t seem to care about trying to figure out what happened to Stacy. It seems more interested in covering itself as it creates a circus atmosphere around her suburban cop husband.

I can’t help but think that putting one good old-school Chicago newsman (or woman, in case anyone thinks I’m being sexist) on this story would have resulted in some serious digging into the facts, resulting in us knowing by now just where Stacy’s body was dumped.

Or better yet, we would have opened the papers one day to find out that Stacy really did skip out on that husband of hers. Someone would have had an EXCLUSIVE interview with “Stacy In Hiding!,” telling how she just couldn’t take one more day with that “old viejo” Drew.

Instead, we get cranks like CNN’s Nancy Grace, who openly berates people she is interviewing if they try to talk rationally about the case, rather than play along with her silly stereotypes of what she thinks the story should be.

Personally, I’m not sure what to think of Stacy’s current whereabouts, although mentally I’m braced for the worst.

It’s just that I still remember the 1988 case of Scott Swanson and Carolyn MacLean, two students at a suburban Chicago college who eloped to Michigan then went to Southern California and tried to live an idelic life in seclusion -- only to resurface when their money ran out.

Chicago police quickly figured out the part about the couple eloping, and were convinced they had somehow met some misfortune during their “honeymoon.” When the couple was found near San Diego, it turned out that many of the “facts” given by police and reported in the Chicago news media (myself included, I worked back then for the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago) were wrong.

Chicago police didn’t really know what happened to the Swansons (the last I heard, they were still married), and I suspect suburban police in Bolingbrook, Ill., are equally clueless about Stacy’s fate.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Wrigley may be Wrigley no more

In a very real sense, the first sports stadium to take on a corporate name was Wrigley Field – home of the long-losing Chicago Cubs of the National League.

Their building at Clark and Addison streets (which dates back to 1914) went by the name Weeghman Park for a few years, then Cubs Park, until the mid-1920s when chewing gum magnate William Wrigley bought majority control of the team and put his own name on the building.
But unlike baseball buildings such as Philadelphia’s Shibe Park and Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field that were named to massage the team owner’s egos, Wrigley openly admitted at the time that he was making the name change to promote his business interest – the Chicago-based manufacturer of such gums as Juicy Fruit and Spearmint.

The Wrigley name has remained on the building even though it has been nearly three full decades since the Wrigley family has had anything to do with the Cubs, in a sense making the place a free advertisement for chewing gum at the expense of the Cubs.

That’s why it’s a tossup as to whether it is obnoxious or pathetic that Cubs fans are whining these days about the possible renaming of Wrigley Field.

Crain’s Chicago Business is the latest media outlet to report on a possible corporate name for Wrigley, quoting Cubs fans on Friday as calling their building a “Mecca of baseball” (Yankee Stadium is the building that really deserves that overbearing title) whose “mystique” would “be hurt” by any name change.

Of course, such attitudes are typical of Chicago Cubs fans, who seem to think they are something special just because they root for a ball club that hasn’t won anything resembling a championship in 62 years and this coming season will “celebrate” a complete century without having won a World Series title.

It is ridiculous to think that Cubs owners would want to be exempt from the current trend of taking on some onerous-sounding corporate name in exchange for millions of dollars in cash that can help pad the team’s financial bottom line.

Even though some Cubs fans are claiming they will resist any new name, a younger generation will accept it and the older fans will come to be seen as ridiculous, trivial cranks in the same way that the people who are still complaining about the department store name change from “Marshall Fields’” to “Macy’s” are now being seen by many as people in serious need of a life.

Besides, whether it’s McDonald’s Field, ComEd Stadium, or whatever new name goes on the building, it shouldn’t detract from the activity on the playing field.

Scott Podsednik’s game-winning home run in the 2005 World Series wasn’t any less pleasurable to watch just because it sailed over the right field fence in a building known as U.S. Cellular Field, was it?


Here’s a commentary from the past that some people might find relevant:

Thursday, December 20, 2007

An introduction

Chicago is a wonderful city -- the greatest on the planet, if I may say so myself.

And I say that knowing full well its history of crime, corruption, petty partisan and racial politics and the stench that once emanated from the livestock being slaughtered in the Back of the Yards neighborhood but which now comes from the professional sports teams that dare to represent the image of the Second City.

Can anyone believe just how bad the White Sox and the Bears have become?

But I digress.

This is a new weblog, one that intends to try to become the Argus -- so to speak -- of the city of Chicago (unofficial motto: ubi est mea) and its surrounding area. Like the giant of Greek mythology who had 100 eyes, this site will attempt to see everything and try to put the newsworthy and interesting events taking place in Chicago into some sort of context for public understanding.

On occasion, there will even be events from the bigger picture (ie: outside of Cook County, Ill.) that will be worthy of comment, or perhaps trivial moments that are worthy of some introspection. Take it for what it's worth.

For those who wonder just what makes me qualified to make such analysis, I was a news reporter and columnist in Chicago, it suburbs and at the Statehouse in Springfield, Ill. for two decades. I think I have seen and heard enough to have some understanding about the people, places and politics that make up the Chicago area. Considering the budget cuts that make news coverage skimpier and more trivial than ever, I'd like to think this weblog can help serve a niche in the Chicago news market.

So keep checking this site out. I hope to be a semi-regular poster of news and analysis about the Second City (which is really third now and may very well drop to fourth sometime in my lifetime).

Chicago is the place where I was born and raised, and to which I keep returning even though I have moved away on a couple of occasions. If I can actually help some people better understand what is happening on the shores of Lake Michigan between Evanston and East Chicago, Ind., then perhaps I have actually served a useful purpose.