Thursday, March 31, 2011

It’s here!

Grass clippings from the Dresden nuclear power plant showed traces of a radiation associated with the nuclear power plants in Japan damaged by earthquake and tsunami. Aerial image provided by U.S. Geographic Society.

I must confess to being surprised at the reports about radiation from Japan being found in the outer fringes of the Chicago-area, along with Springfield.

Of course, those levels are so minute that no one thinks we’re suddenly at risk of being infected by radiation from the nuclear power plants that were damaged from the earthquake that caused a tsunami that caused the devastation across the island nation of Japan.

THOSE OF US who have been paying attention hear the daily reports of the recovery efforts. My daily check of The Weather Channel literally gives me an update of how the wind is blowing the radiation around, at times sending it out to sea where we are given the impression that such flow takes it away from people.

What it really does is sends it across the Pacific Ocean, where it eventually reaches the west coast, then works its way across the continental United States. It may be a big planet in one sense, but it truly is ONE planet.

We’re all interconnected, no matter how much we want to think there are barriers keeping us apart.

The fact that traces of radioiodine 131 – an isotope typically found in the nuclear plants in Japan – are being found in several states should not be surprising if we think about it logically.

WHICH MEANS I must confess that my initial surprise makes no sense. I should have known better.

For the record, the Daily Herald newspaper of suburban Arlington Heights reported that traces of the isotope were found last month during testing of grass clippings at the Dresden power plant near Morris and of the air at the Argonne National Laboratory near Darien, in addition to another sample that turned up in the air around the Illinois Emergency Management Agency radiochemistry laboratory on the far south side of Springfield – which happens to be the most remote part of town and the one farthest from the Illinois Statehouse.

So no, we can’t blame Japanese radiation for causing political stupidity – such as voting to repeal the indoor smoking ban at riverboat casinos – amongst our state legislators. That lack of common sense the General Assembly shows at times is purely their own idiocy traits at work.

We also shouldn’t think ourselves so far inland from the Pacific Ocean that we couldn’t be reached, considering that traces have also turned up in places in Alabama and South Carolina --- where the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean are the significant bodies of water with proximity.

WHAT THE DISTANCE has done is allow for the radiation to decay to the point where we shouldn’t worry about our food or water being tainted. The Daily Herald found one Argonne engineer who said the level of radiation we’re exposed to is less than we get hit with when x-rays are done.

I’m also pleased to learn that we have such regulatory requirements that testing for these samples is a routine procedure. So if a problem arises, someone is going to learn about it pretty quick.

Although in this case, the Illinois EMA (headed by Illinois State Police director-reject Jonathan Monken) said the state government is increasing its monitoring program ever since the earthquake/tsunami combo caused the nuclear power problems that threaten to extend the length of time it takes that nation to recover from the natural disaster.

Perhaps our handling of the situation is proper. It definitely is encouraging. Albeit the levels found in Illinois in recent days are 200,000 times lower than the limits that would be considered a potential problem. So Monken hasn’t exactly been confronted with a catastrophe.


It won’t be our ignorance of a situation that causes us problems in the future. It would be the lack of action to the information that is available that causes an emergency situation to develop in the future.

Perhaps now, we also realize the situation in Japan isn’t just a Japanese problem, but one we too should be keeping an eye upon, particularly every time we mow our lawns and wonder if our mulch that we’re disposing of has any levels of radioactivity.

Or even worse, if all that green grass we watch on Friday as professional baseball clubs begin the 2011 season is somehow tainted.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Chicago gets Rosie O’Donnell. Why not Madonna or Geena Davis instead?

I’m not about to write an “I Hate Rosie O’Donnell” tirade. For one thing, I don’t care enough about her to say I “hate” her.
A Rosie "moment" I enjoy

For another, I do have to admit enjoying her performance in the film “A League of Their Own” as a ballplayer in the old All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (although even the firm about the league is now some two decades old).

BUT ROSIE IS on our pop culture radar because of the announcement that O’Donnell is about to become a Chicagoan of sorts.

With Oprah Winfrey giving up her long-time daytime talk show that was produced at a studio on the Near West Side so that she can focus attention on developing her own cable television channel, the word is out that Rosie O’Donnell is going to shift her own daytime talk show to being based out of Chicago.

Out of Oprah’s very own studio.

It’s like Rosie wants us to think she is the successor to Oprah – even though Winfrey isn’t going anywhere, and for that matter, O’Donnell’s new talk show will air on the OWN – that’s the channel to be known formally as the Oprah Winfrey Network.

SO I GUESS Oprah is now Rosie’s boss. She works for the “Big Oh” whom we in Chicago have regarded as our city’s very own celebrity – particularly since Michael Jordan actually quit playing basketball for the Chicago Bulls and focused his attention on being management for the Charlotte Hornets (of whom he’s part owner).

Of course, one can claim Oprah hasn’t really lived among us in years, and that the Chicagoans who feel a need to suck up to her image are a tad pathetic themselves. I only wonder if we’re going to start getting a cult of personality that’s going to expect O’Donnell to become some sort of honorary Chicagoan – even though she’s really from the borough of Queens in New York City.

Will we have Rosie sightings at restaurants around town? Will we be on the lookout for traces of her adopted children? Will there be speculation among Chicago’s gay community that Rosie takes on a new partner from among the city’s ranks?

Will we get Rosie leading a march on Springfield to urge the Illinois Legislature to undo the state laws that make marriage between same-gender couples an illegal act? We may have “civil unions” now in Illinois, but there are those who see that as insufficient. Or would she be willing to voice the opposition to the all-too-close Indiana Legislature, which on Tuesday went so far as to vote to amend its own state constitution to make it known that "civil unions" are un-constitutional!

THAT’S JUST THE semi-positive stuff. How  about when someone tries to make an issue of O’Donnell’s weight (personally, my own gut is blubbery enough that I’d feel hypocritical saying someone else is too heavy)? Or someone tries to trash her obnoxious whine of a voice?

I’m sure there are so many more points people will find to nit-pick Rosie O’Donnell with.

Because while Oprah was able to put up something of a sophisticated veneer, O’Donnell is going to give Chicago a loud, obnoxious broad – one who might very well better fit in with her birthplace in Noo Yawk.

Then again, I’m sure Rosie’s fans like her outspoken ways and find that to be her most appealing feature. In short, Chicago will get a taste of all that Hollywood-celebrity type trash talk. We’re going to see our home city turn up on segments of “Entertainment Tonight” or CNN’s “Access Hollywood” program.


That’s not exactly where I want my home city to turn up. Although I’m sure those people who are disgusted with the constant antics of Rod Blagojevich giving our city’s image a black eye might consider Rosie to be effective comic relief.

Something from the Second City other than a corrupt politico or an over-rated Chicago Cub ballplayer.

Now why would I start out this particular commentary by bringing up a film from 1992? Part of it is because it turned up on one of the lesser cable television channels just the other night. I managed to watch most of it, so O’Donnell’s performance (her first in a film) as a third-baseman for the old Rockford Peaches is fresh in my mind.

IT REMINDED ME that O’Donnell is capable of being more than a trivial talk show host who used to go over the top with her infatuation for actor Tom Cruise (unless you actually think her performance as Betty Rubble in “The Flintstones” film based on the 1960s cartoons was actually worth watching).

But thinking of that film, along with the announcement that Rosie is doing Chicago, makes me wonder what if one of the other stars were to take on a project in our city. Geena Davis on our streets would give Chicago a touch of glamour we just usually don’t get, while Tom Hanks would probably create some interesting moments for our citizenry.

Or what if Madonna in all her gaudy glory were to give up her aspirations to be British and decide to “do” Chicago? Somehow, I have a feeling THAT would create stories that would immediately become legendary moments in Chicago history – far more interesting than anything Rosie is likely to be seen doing during her time here.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

EXTRA: Illinois takes its one step back following Death Penalty abolition

For those people who want to think Illinois is some sort of progressive paradise (or hellhole, if you’re an ideological nitwit), Tuesday was the day we took our one step back.

By that, I mean our state made some serious steps toward advancing into the 21st Century by doing away with its flawed capital crimes statute (which required us to accept that it was flawed beyond repair) and accepting the reality of civil unions.

YET THE IDEOLOGUES got something they wanted – a lessening of the smoking ban in public places that made Illinois a Midwestern U.S. leader just a couple of years ago.

It was the fact that Illinois approved such a rigid ban that surrounding states were being forced to accept the fact that their ways were a bit backward. Even Indiana is beginning to realize it is just a matter of time before they will have to impose restrictions on use of tobacco products – in order to protect the public health of Hoosiers at-large.

Until Tuesday, that is.

For the Illinois House of Representatives, by a slim margin, voted to ease the restrictions on smoking in public by allowing people at the riverboat casinos that really aren’t boats to light up a cigarette and rot out their bodies while they play the games of chance that cause them to drain their wallets of cash, ATM card credits and anything else they have of value.

WHICH STINKS FOR people whose lot in life requires them to be exposed to such places. I could care less if would-be gamblers want to impose melanoma on themselves. It is the people who must work in such facilities (in a lot of these towns with gambling boats, there aren’t a lot of other employment options) who get exposed to second-hand smoke who deserve our protections.

But worse than that is the fact that I’m sure those Hoosier nitwits who think they’re somehow standing up for “the American Way of life” by letting people light up while playing a slot machine or a hand of blackjack are going to take the Illinois House action and claim it is a jolt of energy for their idiotic ideological position.

The Illinois House giving these political partisans a sympathetic vote is almost as morally bankrupt as extending a gambler’s credit while he’s down so that he can lose some more money – and really wind up leaving the casino boat with his pockets drained.

I couldn’t help but notice state Rep. Dan Burke, D-Chicago (and brother to 14th Ward Alderman Ed Burke) who said during debate on this issue that “70 percent” of people who visit casinos smoke. Maybe if casinos weren’t such grungy (and gaudy) places, we’d have more non-smokers wanting to visit such places.

SO I AM skeptical of the gambling boat industry claims that Illinois’ riverboat casinos have lost some $800 million since Illinois banned smoking in public places. Could it be with the economic climate that has left many people unemployed that people just don’t have as much money to lose – out of some foolish belief that it is fun to piss away cash at games of chance while garish lights flash and there’s a fancy buffet available that will give you a bargain-priced meal if you have enough credits (ie., if you have lost enough and the casino owner wants to keep you on the premises so that you’ll lose even more money).

As you have likely (I would hope) figured out by now, I’m not a casino person (although my step-mother is, and she seems to have luck at winning). The ambiance is usually lost upon me. The idea of it reeking of stale cigarette smoke makes the place even less appealing.

I’m still trying to figure out the “logic” of an event I wrote about for an area newspaper last year that rewarded junior high school-age youth who participated in a program meant to get them interested in school and their studies with a fancy dinner at the casino boat in East Chicago, Ind.

Which is why I wouldn’t be the least bit upset if the Illinois Senate decides it doesn’t want to go along with this idea (which is possible, because Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago), isn’t exactly a tobacco-sympathetic person either.

EVEN GOV. PAT Quinn tossed out a little verbal snippet indicating he doesn’t think much of what the Illinois House did, although it remains to be seen if he becomes intimidated enough to give the ideologues this particular issue as  compensation for some of the significant measures he has signed into law in recent months.

That would be the real embarrassment for Illinois government.


Only one more week ‘til Election Day -- how many people really know, or care?

I don’t doubt that there are isolated spots throughout the Chicago metropolitan area where people can be found who are anxiously awaiting next Tuesday’s arrival. For it will be Election Day, and we’re going to learn once and for all who will be doing “the people’s business”: for the next four years at all sorts of local levels of government.

How many people think Election Day ended last month? Graphic provided by 

Yet the big drawback to the solid electoral victory of Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel back in February, along with all the other citywide officers, is that way too many people think Election Day is over.

THE VOTER TURNOUT for that election wasn’t even 50 percent (more than half of registered voters stood home, despite a competitive mayoral race). I’m wondering how pathetic it will be on April 5, when we get the run-off elections in 14 of the 50 wards, along with the actual municipal elections in the 128 villages, towns and cities that comprise suburban Cook County.

A part of me has this hunch that 20 percent voter turnout is a realistic guess as to how few people will bother to cast ballots.

The problem is that for the general public who don’t follow every nuance of a campaign (the ones who follow the Archie Bunker theory of politics and don’t “waste” their vote on anything other than president), there just isn’t a perception that the elections are ongoing.

It really does seem like it should have ended when Rahm Emanuel took his 55 percent of the vote.

WITH SO MANY wards not having any aldermanic posts, there are large swaths of the city (including all the neighborhoods where I have relatives living and voting), Tuesday is going to be just an ordinary day for many Chicagoans.

It will be worse in the suburban areas. While there will be elections in many towns, so many of those municipalities just don’t have any individuals who are interested in holding elective office – except for the incumbent members who tend to view the post as their birthright.

The Cook County clerk’s office this week pointed out that of the 716 positions up for election in the inner suburbs (local village boards, school boards and park districts), only 287 have anything resembling a competitive race.

Most are merely one person running for office unchallenged (which almost feels like the elections the old Soviet Union used to have, in which people were given the “freedom” to express their pleasure with the current regime). In the case of 55 positions, there is no one running for office.

IN SHORT, IT’S not an environment that is going to get people all enthused about wanting to get to the polls on Tuesday – or rush out to their local Early Voting Centers, which close down on Thursday.

We’re going to see many government officials who manage to win re-election and claim they have a “mandate,” all because they were able to persuade a couple hundred individuals to take the time to cast votes for them.

That’s how little it literally takes to win a government position these days. Considering that it is these local officials who make many of the decisions that directly impact our lives, it always strikes me as sad that so few people care.

It also is what makes the few competitive campaigns intriguing – although it does become pathetic when some races get their interest because of trivial factors – such as the 20th Ward where Alderman Willie Cochran once again takes on rap music performer Che “Rhymefest” Smith – only this time without four other candidates to take attention away from them.

A RAPPER, OR an ex-cop? It’s Chicago’s chance for a “Jesse Ventura-like” election. I’m wondering how few people will pay attention to any position papers or stances either of those candidates have taken, and will merely vote on the image they’d like to see for that South Side ward?

Then, there is the case of south suburban Chicago Heights, where two candidates are slugging it out for mayor, the positions of clerk and treasurer are now elected instead of mayorally-appointed, and the city was just split up into seven wards (as opposed to six).

It means there is new territory for people wishing to hold office. The feisty level is complicated by the fact that the two mayoral hopefuls, alderman Joe Faso and certified public accountant David Gonzalez, are running for a post that is open because the current mayor is only mayor because the old mayor died – and that official was only mayor because the last elected mayor of Chicago Heights (Anthony DeLuca) decided that political life would be more interesting in the Illinois House of Representatives.

My point being that is the kind of chaos it is taking to create an intriguing election cycle this time around. For most of the 5 million-plus people of Cook County (plus the other 3 million-plus who live in the surrounding counties that make up the Chicago metro area), there’s nothing nowhere near as dramatic to pick from.

BUT THAT DOESN’T mean people won’t emerge victorious from those elections, and gain the authority to make decisions involving public monies on behalf of the people.

Which means that a year from now, when you get your assorted tax bills and fees and complain out loud,
“Who voted for these knuckleheads?,” the honest answer in many cases will be “You did!” when you didn’t bother to cast a ballot.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Police don’t know better than rest of us what the Latino population is racially

I got my giggle this weekend from reading the Chicago Tribune’s attempt to ‘blow the lid” off the latest “scam” confronting our society – police in far northwest suburban McHenry County are singling out Latinos for traffic stops, then doctoring the statistics so as to cover up their harassing activity.

For all I know, the police up there may have some officers with ethnic hang-ups that make them think the growing Latino population there deserves extra scrutiny.

YET WHAT I find humorous about this “scandal” is the fact that it comes through loud and clear that the cops up near the Illinois/Wisconsin border don’t have a clue what to think of the growing Latino numbers. I’d argue a lot of the behavior here is their confusion and ignorance – nothing more.

Not that ignorance justifies anything. Just as the old cliché “Ignorance of the Law is no Defense” is true, the reverse also should apply. Police who don’t know what they’re doing don’t get an excuse to abuse one’s rights.

For those of you who couldn’t be bothered to read the Tribune on Sunday, their report indicated a large number of tickets and arrests for minor offenses whom, when the reports were written up, the would-be perpetrators were identified racially as “white.”

So the statistics that ultimately came out of McHenry County would indicate a lot of white people being targeted. And how could that amount to racial profiling?

THE NEWSPAPER WENT so far as to quote officials who said they were told specifically to do such acts so as to protect the sheriff’s department from undue scrutiny, while also pointing out that state laws requiring collection of racial data don’t give police a clue about what constitutes each race – leaving it to the cops to figure it out for themselves.

To me, what this means is that there are law enforcement officials who are a few decades behind the times. Because there was a time when the idea of Latinos (then, they might have been referred to as Hispanics) being thought of as white (or maybe a different type of white) would have been totally in compliance with common thought.

I remember my own reporter days with the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago, where back in the late 1980s there was a year-long stretch when I focused almost exclusively on crime and law enforcement activity.

It was among the routine details to get from a police report as to the race of the would-be perpetrator. “White” or “black.” Occasionally “Asian.”

BUT THE MOST common variant from those themes was when Latinos came to the attention of the Chicago Police Department. I lost track of the number of “male, white Hispanics” whom I wrote stories about.

I more readily remember the cases when someone was identified as a “male, black Hispanic” because they were so rare. Unless a Spanish-speaking defendant was so incredibly dark-skinned that it would have been a joke to think of them as “white,” the perception was that Latinos were “white.”

Which was a common perception of the past. I recall when Ken Burns did his documentary series about World War II and got hit with criticism that he deliberately downplayed the contributions of Latinos living in this country back then – even in the segments that focused on Southern California (where Burns found the story of people of Japanese ethnicity being interned in camps to be more interesting).

His defense was that the military records of the era lumped who we think of as Latinos as merely “white,” treating them like other ethnicities (such as Italian or Greek) that weren’t, strictly speaking, Anglo-Saxon in origin.

TO ME, IT seems that we have some cops living in the past, still using an old thought process. A part of me wonders if “Negro” is still a term that gets tossed about by some of these law enforcement types.

So I’m not so willing to see this as a cover-up, as much as an expose – of the police officer ignorance, which in many ways reflects the cluelessness of the rest of our society.

Not that Latinos ourselves make this issue any more easy to comprehend. Because a lot of us don’t agree on where we stand racially – other than to admit that “Latino” is really a collection of ethnicities.

The reality is that Latinos can be of any race, and those of us who are honest about our racial backgrounds will admit that there’s probably a mixture in our family trees.

ONE OF THE statistics that I’m most interested in seeing from the 2010 Census is the one related to the racial self-identification of the Latino population – which at just over 50 million people accounts for one-sixth of the United States as a whole.

I want to see how much of a change there is – if any – from the 2000 Census population count. A decade ago, 48 percent of Latinos themselves identified as “white,” while 42 percent chose “other” and found some way to complain that “Latino” (or “Hispanic”) wasn’t considered a race, in and of itself.

You could make the argument that if even Latinos don’t fully agree on race, how can we expect some flatfoot cop to know better?

And that characterization of police officers is just as ridiculous as the thought by some law enforcement types that a growing Latino population is a problem they must address – instead of just the continuing evolution of our nation.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Would we benefit from smaller council?

I’m sure the goo-goos are going to be grossly offended by what I’m about to say.

But I’ve never seen any good-government type who gets irrational enough to want to burn me in effigy or commit some other gregarious act. So I feel safe in writing these words.

ANYBODY WHO SERIOUSLY believes that cutting the size of the City Council in Chicago would accomplish any good is being delusional. You probably thought Howard Dean actually had a chance to be U.S. president when he ran some six years ago.

Cutting the city council from its current 50 members (one representing each of the 50 wards) is one of those ideas that comes up periodically. Some people want to believe that having fewer aldermen means less in salary and governmental expense to pay them, along with fewer people seeking to do things with government.

Which could result in government winding up being less expensive.

Some people will even cite the fact that certain other cities in the same size range of Chicago (Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Houston) somehow manage to operate with fewer aldermen – somewhere in the area of 15 council members.

THEREFORE, WE SHOULD do away with many of the alder-creatures who currently populate City Hall and act as though they are deities when they walk the streets of their home neighborhoods.

I’m sorry. I just don’t buy it.

I’m certainly not swayed by the Chicago Sun-Times report that implies Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel is giving the idea serious consideration. Depending on who one wants to believe, Emanuel wants to cut the City Council to 25 members,

He’d make half of the current aldermen unemployed politically. They’d have to rely upon their law or real estate practices (we just don’t get aldermen who are funeral parlor directors or tavern owners any more) to earn a living.

OF COURSE, THE Sun-Times reports that certain anonymous aldermen are their sources, as Emanuel supposedly asked them about cutting the council during a private session. Emanuel’s aides won’t confirm that he actually is paying any attention to this issue.

Which could mean that the council reaction was so vociferous against the idea that he now doesn’t want to claim it. Why get the council ticked off at him, before he even takes the oath of office as mayor?

So I’d like to think this particular idea isn’t going anywhere. Particularly since the Sun-Times report that put this issue in the public eye once again acknowledges that the cost of maintaining the aldermen and their council committees that do the people’s business is just under $25 million.

At a time when the city government faces serious financial problems, that total is nothing. It is insignificant. Cutting the council is not going to be a means by which government spending is brought under control.

WHICH MEANS THE reason that people would want to cut the council is nothing more than partisan politics. Can’t beat a certain council member who gets on your nerves? Then bomb his ward out of existence!

I don’t like that, because there are times I wonder if the city could use MORE aldermen (although I’m not sure I want the city to return to the days of the early 20th Century when 100 people had the authority to call themselves members of the Chicago City Council).

Chicago by its very character is a city of neighborhoods, and the way we’d get legitimate representation when the City Council convenes is if each neighborhood had its own alderman.

Of course, we’d have to figure out what constitutes a neighborhood, and which ones are worthy of their own representation. Because there are 70-plus neighborhoods that officially exist. When one takes the sub-communities that many regard as neighborhoods in their own right, one could easily get 120 or so aldermen – which would be too much.

YET IF WE seriously talked about cutting wards, we’d get cases when aldermen would be representing seven or eight neighborhoods each, which means many people would get short-changed.

I don’t care how much an alderman worked the streets of his expanded ward. There would be no way he’d adequately comprehend the issues of interest to his constituents and sympathize with their sentiments.

If anything, it would make the remaining aldermen in an existing council all the more powerful as individuals – when if anything we ought to be making them weaker, so that they gain their strength by working together.

There is one other reason I am hesitant to think that cutting the City Council is a good idea. It is because the city government ultimately would have no say in the way a smaller council would be structured.

I SUPPOSE THERE’S the chance that the people might actually get their act together and put a binding referendum on the ballot that could sustain court challenges. But that would be very difficult.

Which ultimately means that it would be up to the Illinois General Assembly (which has the authority to structure local governments) to decide what to do, and how to do it. Does anyone seriously believe the state Legislature would act in ways whose sole purpose would be to weaken the city government influence when dealing with the state?

In short, pushing forward with a desire to cut the City Council in half ultimately would mean doing business with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, and his political allies.

Why do I suspect that using the Velvet Hammer of old to cut the council would end up with our local government reduced to rubble, and many of us wishing for the old days when we had 50 aldermen?


Friday, March 25, 2011

O’Hare still a focal point for nation, and the lessons we learn as a society

O'Hare International Airport has experienced physical changes since this 1960's postcard image. Yet it remains a place with an impact on the soul of the nation -- even when things occur at other airports.

It always seems to be about Chicago whenever airports get involved, even if it happens in some other city.

Chicago has always been a focal point for the nation’s aviation system, regardless of the mode of transportation. To this day, there are many of those hundreds of thousands of flights each year at O’Hare International Airport that involve people headed from one place to another – who make their connection here.

SO SHOULD IT be any shock that when controversial incidents occur involving airplanes, somehow Chicago will be involved.

One such incident took place at Reagan Airport near Washington, D.C. (I’ll bet the ideologues are wishing today that it were still known as National Airport), where it seems that an air traffic controller fell asleep on the job.

At least two flights headed for Reagan Airport wound up having to land without the assistance of someone in the control tower.

On the one hand, it means those were incredibly skilled pilots who managed to bring down their airplanes without causing commotion, a collision with another flight, or some other form of catastrophe.

BUT IT ALSO means that the people whose job it is to keep the various incoming flights under control were literally “asleep” at the wheel. And yes, one of those flights was one that originated from Chicago and was carrying 63 passengers to the nation’s capital.

I’m sure those people are now feeling a bit queasy to learn the lone control tower staffer wasn’t alert at the moment they were trying to land, and wound up having to contact Federal Aviation Administration officials at a facility about 40 miles from the airport, in order to receive any assistance whatsoever in trying to land.

That facility usually exists to keep small aircraft from getting anywhere near close to Reagan Airport, so as to make it easier for the control tower to guide aircraft in and out of the major airport for our nation’s capital.

For the record, the FAA is acting very offended by all this behavior. At least one person has been suspended, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has ordered at least two people to work at all times in the Reagan Airport control tower – including the overnight shfit.

NOW I’M NOT one who flies very often. Not that I have a fear of flying (I actually see it as being safer than riding in a car, since it is a lot easier for some seriously incompetent people to get driver’s licenses than to get a pilot’s license).

But I have to admit this moment makes me wary of the whole process. It’s like driving an automobile and not being sure if the traffic signals are going to be working properly. All it would have taken was one seriously incompetent pilot and this whole situation would have become a mess.

It would have been one that would have entangled our own city’s flights. Because just as much as the Internet makes us all one big world and shows how arbitrary our local boundaries are, aviation has just as much of an effect.

Another aviation story cropped up into the news on Thursday, and it too had a Chicago angle – even though the dateline for this particular incident was “DETROIT –.”

A MAN WITH sympathies to al-Qaida had a desire to make his political/religious/social statement by causing an explosion on board an airplane – specifically a commercial flight.

Yes, he considered pulling his devastating and deadly action on a flight out of Chicago – perhaps envisioning us getting all emotional over the sight of an airplane exploding in the skies just moments after leaving O’Hare. It sounds too similar to the explosion some 25 years ago of the Challenger space shuttle – the one that caused schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe’s name to be placed on school buildings across the country as a tribute in the years since.

But this particular activist/radical/terrorist (personally, a prefer the word “nutcase”) ran into a very real practicality in trying to pull off this scam. Flights involving Chicago were just too expensive.

He couldn’t’ afford the tickets that would have gained him access to the aircraft. So, he shifted his attention to Detroit, according to the Associated Press newswire service.

NOT THAT THE people of Michigan should be expecting to see this happen any time soon. The plot got thwarted. The individuals involved are now trying to figure out how to cope with federal criminal charges, while also achieving their ultimate goal of spiritual perfection over a nation of “infidels.”

And we are left trying to figure out where the next batch of nutcases who use religion as a disguise for the reactionary thought against western world society will try to strike next.

So perhaps we in Chicago should not relax too much. Maybe the next batch of people seeking to make a statement with violence will have a little bit more money to afford an airline ticket originating at O’Hare International or Midway airports.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Will Peavy top Dean in ranks of Chicago baseball? Is he payback for Trout?

I’m starting to wonder if Jake Peavy is destined to be the best ballplayer to never accomplish a thing with a Chicago baseball club.

Peavy is the National League’s former Cy Young Award winner (as in the best pitcher in that league in 2007) who hasn’t shown a sign of greatness since joining the Chicago White Sox mid-way through the 2009 season.

I’LL CONCEDE THINGS started out promisingly. He won the three games he started when he first came to the team in 2009. But since then, the Jake Peavy story is one of injuries keeping him from pitching on a regular basis.

During his time with the White Sox, he has 10 wins, 6 losses, an earned run average of 4.11, with 40 walks and 111 strikeouts. Which would be acceptable if it came in a single season and Peavy were nothing more than the number four pitcher in the White Sox’ starting rotation.

But this is the man who supposedly was going to supplant Mark Buehrle as the White Sox’ top pitcher. The man who was going to be the dominant ace from Chicago. The one who would ensure that the White Sox would get another American League championship (if not a World Series title) in our current lifetime.

Now, we’re getting reports that Peavy may have become so anxious to return (and start earning the $16 million he is to be paid for the 2011 season) that he may have hurt his arm a little further, making it likely he will miss even more of this season. He definitely won’t be on hand when the White Sox start their season April 1 in Cleveland against the Indians.

DID THE SAN Diego Padres know what they were doing when they signed him to a big-money contract, then trade him away to Chicago?

I’m not implying some sort of conspiracy (leave that to Toronto Blue Jays fans still bitter over acquiring pitcher Mike Sirotka from the White Sox right as his arm went bad). I’m just wondering if Peavy is destined to be another hard-luck story that is so typical to Chicago baseball.

I’d say Peavy ranks up there with Dizzy Dean in the annals of Chicago baseball.

Dean is the Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher whom everybody remembers for his goofy temperament and his star years with the St. Louis Cardinals (including that peak year of 1934 when he won 30 games and he had a 2.66 earned run average.

BUT DEAN ALSO did four seasons with the Chicago Cubs, and nobody remembers his stint on the North Side – unless they’re looking for more examples of ineptitude by Cubs management throughout the years in acquiring athletic talent. Dean made the Hall of Fame DESPITE being a Chicago Cub.

Dean from 1938-41 won 16 games, while losing 8 with a 3.35 earned run average. That’s over four seasons. Which means if Peavy manages to win six more games during the next two seasons that he is under contract to the White Sox, he will match Dizzy both in victories AND in untapped promise.

There’s even the similarity in that Peavy and Dean were undone by injuries. In Dean’s case, it was sudden. The All-Star Game played in 1937, when Dean got hit on the foot by a line drive. His toe was broken, and he tried to come back before the foot was completely healed.

Which meant he had to alter his pitching motion to avoid putting full weight on that foot, Which cost him all of the movement on the ball that made him so special. That is when the Cardinals chose to let him go, and new Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley insisted on giving him what was big money for the era.

BIG BUCKS SPENT in Chicago to reward him for past athletic success. It applies to Peavy just as much as it did to Dean during the waning years of the Great Depression.

Which makes them the exact opposite of somebody like Steve Trout, the one-time White Sox and Cubs pitcher back in the late 1970s and into the 1980s who was a competent pitcher in Chicago – and was one of the regular starting pitchers for the Cubs the year they won their first division title ever in 1984 (13 wins, 7 losses, a 3.41 earned run average (80 wins, 78 losses with nearly 600 strikeouts during his 10 years in Chicago baseball).

In 1987, he was traded to the New York Yankees, who were counting on Trout to bolster their pitching rotation (the team’s weakness during the 1980s) and were willing to give him the big money contract that would have been his reward for a decade of work.

But four losses, no wins and a 6.60 earned run average in a half-season caused the Yankees to trade him away to the Seattle Mariners, while also paying that team $1 million to take him off their hands. It’s no wonder Trout these days is back in the south suburbs (he played his high school ball for Thornwood High School in South Holland – the same school that produced former Chicago Bulls player Eddy Curry – before signing with the White Sox) having to work for a living like the rest of us.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

DUI – it seems anyone is capable of it, but do they show any remorse for it?

A pair of stories will pop up in the local news report this week involving driving under the influence of alcohol. Both involve public officials from south suburban towns who managed to get caught driving their cars after having imbibed alcohol.

One of those officials, Roel “Roy” Valle, who happens to be the elected village clerk of Lynwood, is suffering the ultimate ordeal. He has a court date scheduled for Wednesday for the criminal charges he faces – for which, if found guilty, he could go to prison. Considering that he’s 64 years old, any prison term regardless of length is going to dominate the rest of his life.

THE OTHER OFFICIAL is Harvey Police Chief Denard Eaves, who supposedly was seen driving his car after having spent some time last April at a bowling alley in nearby Dolton drinking beer. He doesn’t face charges for the actual driving while intoxicated. But he is the subject of a lawsuit that contends he used his police position to try to threaten and intimidate the people who tried reporting him for drunken driving.

I know many people are more offended by the predicament of Valle, who last month was arrested by Illinois State Police when he drove the wrong way on Illinois Route 394, hitting another car head-on and causing a chain reaction that hit a third vehicle that was nearby at the moment of impact.

A woman was killed in that auto accident, in which police say alcohol was involved. That woman had a husband and young children, who will now have to grow up without their mother. The fact that the woman’s family has filed a lawsuit seeking millions of dollars in compensation isn’t going to make up for that fact.

There also is the fact that Illinois State Police took more than a week before making it known that charges of aggravated driving under the influence involving death and reckless homicide were filed against Valle – who had been a Lynwood elected public official (first a village trustee, then its clerk) for more than 20 years.

THE FACT THAT he also suffered some injuries in the auto accident have caused some of his court appearances to be delayed. Some people are going to want to believe that he’s getting some sort of special consideration because he’s a public official.

Yet this is a case that will move forward in due time. His court appearance in Markham on Wednesday is meant to be a preliminary hearing, although there is a chance Valle will learn that he has been indicted by a grand jury – superseding any criminal charges already filed.

My point being he is in the Cook County criminal justice system. Unless we learn some previously unknown fact that completely reverses our perception of this case, he will pay for what has happened.

Which is a lot more than we can say about Eaves of Harvey.

HE WAS DETAINED by police in Dolton following the incident on April 23, 2010, but no charges were ever filed.

It seems that it was one of Eaves’ own police officers who turned him in – calling 911 to report that he say his off-duty police chief driving erratically after having been at the bar.

That officer has since filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, claiming that Dolton police threatened him with arrest, and that Eaves himself has threatened the officer. His lawsuit claims he once received an anonymous note telling him, “Police Don’t Snitch on Police, You Dead Bitch.”

The officer himself has spent the past year on a medical leave of absence from his police post, and I would be surprised if he ever returns to that job.

I DON’T KNOW what Eaves’ blood-alcohol level was at the time of the incident. But the story described in this lawsuit (which seeks at least $75,000 in damages for the officer who needs to find a new line of work) is one of police officials covering up for each other, and demonizing the lone officer who tries to be honest about a moment of wrong-doing.

Among those named in the lawsuit are the then-chiefs of both the Dolton and Harvey police departments (Dolton’s chief has since moved on to a new position), the internal affairs commander of Harvey police who is supposed to be keeping his department’s officers honest, and the former inspector general of Dolton village government – none other than Robert Shaw; the one-time Chicago alderman whose brother, William, later became the south suburb’s village president. It sounds like a closed club – one that is meant to bolster each other and knock down anyone who might dare to look too closely at their flaws.

Which is why I cannot get totally outraged at the situation that occurred out of Lynwood. By the time this criminal case is closed, Valle likely will express some serious remorse for his actions, and probably will accept whatever punishment the court deems him worthy of.

I can’t say I see the same thing ever happening in the other case, where those police officers probably think they’re the victims, being picked upon by nosy people.


DuPage vote on mosque just the first step, but it also is a necessary one

DuPage County officials took actions Tuesday that will displease the conservative ideologues of our society, whom I would guess are now looking for other ways to throw up roadblocks to a group that wants to build a mosque in the outer suburbs.

Following months of debate and stalling maneuvers inherent to the political process, the DuPage County Board of Commissioners voted in favor of a request by the Muslim Educational Cultural Center of America to allow them to proceed with plans to build a mosque in an unincorporated area near suburban Willowbrook.

THE COUNTY BOARD also took another vote to reject the desires of the ideologues to keep the issue before a county zoning board for further study – where it could have been bottled up in perpetuity.

Now I am not overly religious. But I can respect the idea that someone should be allowed to worship as they see fit. I also accept the idea that the ethnic composition of this country is changing, and that the Chicago area has always been a mishmash of groups that might not be found so prominently elsewhere.

Which makes me think that the types of churches that will be built in the area is going to change. If that means some communities that might in the past have considered Islam and the presence of a mosque to be totally alien are going to have to change their way of thinking, then so be it.

That is why I am glad to see the county board, by a 13-5 vote, didn’t play along with the people who in recent months have been complaining they don’t want a mosque near their community because they don’t want people who are Muslim coming nearby.

IT WOULD HAVE been giving in to elements of our society that just can’t handle the direction our society is headed, and whose opposition IS the problem – rather than anything resembling a solution.

But I couldn’t help but notice in Chicago Tribune reports about the vote that the governmental process is not complete.

The group that currently operates out of a commercial office space near a K-mart store (how does a ‘blue light special’ mesh with Islam?) now has to apply for a building permit.

Which means the ideologues can now say they’re not voting against a mosque, per se. They may just start using overly strict interpretations of building codes to claim that whatever plan for a mosque is put forth somehow does not comply.

I’M NOT CLAIMING that the group (which cutely calls itself by its acronym, MECCA) ought to receive automatic approval for its building plans. I’m just hoping that Tuesday’s vote puts aside the opposition to the idea of a mosque in general.

But I’m also realistic enough to know that it might not. Ideologues tend to be hard-headed and willing to fight for a cause, no matter how obsolete, long past the point when sensible people move on with life.

I’m wondering how many people will manage to take offense at the group that praised Allah and said they “trust what he does” as their reaction to the DuPage County Board’s granting of approval to the general idea of a mosque.

Then again, there once was a time when it was the Catholic Church that was considered somehow exotic and “un-American” and unworthy of being a part of the overall community. The rhetoric we now hear about Muslims sounds so much like the trash-talk of the past against Catholics that the similarities are eerie.

NOW, CATHOLICS ARE so mainstream to this country that even some branches of the Ku Klux Klan will accept them as members – provided that they’re white and have the appropriate sentiment against African-American people.

This is one of those battleground “issues” that is going to look absolutely ridiculous some five decades or so from now. People are going to look back and wonder how anyone could have been paranoid enough to think that a mosque, in and of itself, would be a problem.

It is a good thing that the DuPage County Board didn’t wind up taking a vote on Tuesday that would have made it look ridiculous in future years.