The Barbershop has re-located

The proprietor has moved the shop to ChicagoNow, a Chicago Tribune site that showcases some of the best bloggers in the Chicago area. You can logo on to the Barbershop home page here. The ChicagoNow home page is here.

You'll still be able to post comments with the same ease as in this location. The proprietor also will keep this web site alive if you wish to review old posts.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Remembering a Special Group: Draftees

By Dennis Byrne

This Memorial Day, I want to remember a special group of men who died for our country: draftees.

Time is running out, as the last men drafted in 1973 begin to fade from life and memory. And because several American generations have grown into manhood without knowing conscription, as the draft was otherwise called. They don't have a clue in these times of heightened self-interest, self-awareness, self-absorption and self-everything what is like to be told to march to your death.

This may come as a shock to some who believe that women, and men, have an absolute right to "control their bodies." The men who were drafted can testify that there is no such thing.


Board game: Don't ask, don't tell.Cook County voters should demand answers about John Stroger, or vote for GOP in the fall

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Only in Chicago would a candidate for public office demand proof that his opponent is alive.

Usually, that's a question reserved for certain mysterious voters.

But here comes the Republican candidate for Cook County Board president, Tony Peraica, demanding a "verifiable, objective message" that his Democratic opponent, the incumbent President John Stroger, is "alive and well enough to function."

Stroger has been hidden away--that's the only honest way to describe it--since a week before the March primary when he suffered a serious stroke. No one outside his immediate family, Rasputin or other select insiders knows whether he can run the nation's second-largest county. And in his absence, the county, whose $3 billion budget is bigger than that of many states, is being run by a shadow government.

If Cook County voters don't rebel against this sharp stick in their eye, then there's no hope, and they'll get what they deserve: continued bloated payrolls, incompetence, wasted taxes and who knows what else goes on behind the Kremlin-like walls of the County Building.

I can't say what would constitute a verifiable, objective message: maybe a tape of Stroger speaking from some secret place. Or a picture of him holding a newspaper's dated front page.

It is bad form to be talking this way about a man who may be teetering somewhere between a tragic situation and robust health. But that's exactly the point. The fact is that Stroger is missing, and all we have is the word of his son, Todd (who coincidentally wants his father's job), that John Stroger is, well, somewhere.

John Stroger's house reportedly has been sold and he, again according to Todd, has moved into a downtown high-rise condo outside of his South Side district.But Ald. Todd Stroger (8th) assures us that Pop will tell us his plans when he's ready. Don't ask when; it's all family business. As in: Royal Family. The House of Stroger. Even for a town that has been numbed by the stunning autocracy of the House of Daley, the arrogance of the Strogers--or whoever is pulling the puppet strings--is stunning.

The Cook County presidency is not a papacy in which we, the assembled masses, gather in the square awaiting puffs of white smoke. We don't even know which cardinals are meeting, or in what chapel, or their intrigues.

I am reminded of the review of the Chicago opening of Shakespeare's Henry IV by Tribune theater critic Chris Jones. Prince Hal thinks his father, Henry IV, has died and "then literally walks off with the crown." But the old man isn't dead; he roars back to life, and the rest can be seen at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.

So, did Todd Stroger or a number of other Princes of the Machine try to walk off with the crown--until John Stroger became alert enough to roar back and pull their plugs? Did they try to tell him that he's in no shape to run the county? Is he?

Illinois law provides for the replacement of a Cook County Board president in case of death, resignation or other inability to act. It only takes a vote of the commissioners to choose one of their own as a replacement. Does a coalition of Republican, independent and non-servile Democratic commissioners have the guts to do it? When will the hearings begin to receive sworn testimony about Stroger's state of health and whether he is a capable of governing?

Cook County voters, of course, will have the final say. And they ought to consider Peraica, a Croatian orphan who came here as a teen unable to speak English and made something of himself: a successful lawyer, civic activist and County Board commissioner representing the 16th District.

Peraica is appealing to independents who voted for Forrest Claypool in the Democratic primary against Stroger. A strong crossover vote from them might work, if Republicans finally acted as if they had a party in Cook County. In other words, if the Illinois GOP provided the necessary financial and other support. If they do, it might be the first time since 1966, when Richard Ogilvie was elected president, that a Republican has held the office.

Cook County hasn't been governed as well since.-

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Monday, May 22, 2006

English is Spoken Here

By Dennis Byrne

The second dumbest statement in the debate over Senate legislation establishing English as the national language came from Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), who said it was needlessly divisive.

Wait. A law that unifies a country under a single language is divisive? What kind of logic is that?

Perhaps Salazar's statement is symbolic of just how contorted our national debate has become under the directives of multiculturalism. Consider the reasoning: We can't pass a law that helps bring us all together under a common language because it will drive us apart. We can't say that we will understand each other better when we speak the same language, because that will only worsen our misunderstandings.

If it were only Salazar, we could ignore this mindlessness. But Sen. Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) agreed that it was divisive, and "mean-spirited" to boot. (This would put Reid in a second-place tie with Salazar for saying the dumbest thing, but Reid managed to lap the field and win going away by calling legislation to affirm the pre-eminence of English "racist.")

Dennis Byrne is a regular contributor to Read full column here.

Chicago and its corrupt leanings

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

The sideshow put on by the Chicago aldermen during the City Hall corruption trial is almost as entertaining as the main attraction.

Who but a bunch of Chicago aldermen would throw dirt on the idea of prosecuting people accused of fraudulently ripping off taxpayers by denying them the right to have their money spent on qualified city workers? Yet, here they come whining about how U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald supposedly is stepping over some imaginary line by prosecuting city administrators who participated in an alleged scheme to ladle out jobs and promotions to political toilers for City Hall and other Democratic organization candidates.

People are afraid to talk to them, the aldermen complained to Tribune reporters last week. What the defendants are accused of doing is just politics, not really a crime, some suggest. It's merely a violation of a civil agreement sanctioned by a federal court to limit patronage hiring. No one should have to go to jail for that! The agreement and the prosecution amount to federal micromanaging of city affairs, they say, as if left to their own devices the aldermen wouldn't sell every job in sight.

"You guys decide: Is it a crime or is it politics?" U.S. prosecutor Patrick Collins asked the jury in the corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan.

The jurors decided it was a crime. And the fraud charges faced by Robert Sorich and three "co-schemers," as the indictment called them, in the current corruption trial? As the indictment explains: "the defendants were full-time salaried employees at the city. Each ... had a role in administering the hiring and promotion process at the city, and each owed a duty of honest services to the city and the people of the city in performing that duty, as well as various duties under state law."

Only aldermen would have to be reminded of such basics. To illustrate: Incredibly, they have exempted themselves from investigations by the city inspector general, David Hoffman. He said he knows of no other "major" city that provides such an exemption for its city council. No fooling.

The aldermen's reasons for this self-granted exemption are good for a laugh: They said they would be harassed by opponents who file anonymous and false charges. And this: Allowing the inspector general--a part of the executive branch of government--to investigate the august council would intrude on legislative powers. As if they've been studying political philosopher Montesquieu's theory on the separation of powers.

It's beyond me how the aldercreatures can keep a straight face about the need to fight off "intrusions by the executive branch" when the genuflecting council allows the city's chief executive--Richard M. Daley--to tell them when to breathe.

Inevitably, some will say that because I live in the suburbs, I should just shut up (even though my Chicago roots go deeper than most such critics).

- First, it is my business, because some of my taxes go to Chicago.

- Second, Chicago is a legal creation of the State of Illinois, my state.

- Third, we all should uphold the rule of law.

- Fourth, if Daley and his minions would leave the suburbs alone, maybe we would be glad to leave Chicago alone.

Chicago's patronage system provides an army of political workers that Daley and his machine sent into Will County and other suburbs to do his bidding. This army of stooges helped elect Rahm Emanuel to Congress representing Chicago's North Side, and now is invading the west suburban 6th Congressional District, to foist Emanuel's handpicked, carpetbagging candidate, Tammy Duckworth, onto voters.

The aldermen apparently think that Chicago works better when served by the kind of incompetents and sloths that sprout from the patronage compost pile. Or when unqualified safety inspectors are sent into the field. Or when the system shafts qualified applicants who play by the rules.

To some, this is what Chicago is; it's what gives the toddlin' town character, and it makes for lots of fun copy. They tell us that patronage is why Chicago is "The City That Works" because the politically beholden, unlike entrenched civil servants, can be fired if they don't do a good job.

Maybe someone can tell me the last time that happened.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Friday, May 19, 2006

NSA Story Has Media Confused, Carried Away

By Dennis Byrne

Not that it matters that three giant phone companies said they didn't do it, they stand convicted of turning over the personal phone records of hundreds of millions of Americans talking to their Aunt Millies.

All we have to go on is a story in USA Today that, while long in words, is thin on facts. Nothing about how the National Security Agency actually monitors billions of phone calls. Nothing about how they aggregate the data. Nothing about what data they're aggregating. Nothing about what they do with it. No confirmation that the story was even close to accurate.

All we know is that President George W. Bush has done it again--committed an immoral outrage against all Americans by "listening in" to their conversations.

Read more at:

Thursday, May 18, 2006

"The Da Vinci Code" Doesn't Exist. Dan Brown doesn't either.

With the release of the movie, The Da Vinci Code, I am re-releasing my Dec. 15, 2003 Chicago Tribune column on the book.

By Dennis Byrne

After reading the immensely popular book "The Da Vinci Code," I have decided that its author, Dan Brown, does not exist.

Why? If someone, like the alleged Brown, can distort, fabricate or even wipe out a couple thousand years of political and religious history for the sake of an exciting adventure mystery, then why can't I deny the existence of a single individual for the sake of a good column? If a Dan Brown can capriciously make up a whole bunch of stuff to entertain, why can't I do the same by hitting the delete button on whoever this Dan Brown is supposed to be? Oh, sure, I know there's a picture of someone claiming to be Dan Brown on the book cover, smiling out at us in a writer's uniform of khaki pants, black mock turtle neck and tweedy jacket. And it says right there that he wrote some other books and lives in New England. But I've never seen him. Have you?

Yes, my phone might ring and the voice might say, "I saw your column, and I'm Dan Brown." But I know that would be a lie. The voice can't prove that it's Dan Brown. Someone could come to my door and claim to be Dan Brown, producing a driver's license, voter's registration card and a birth certificate. But that doesn't prove anything. I choose to believe it's counterfeit.

And you people who are about to send me e-mails, telling me I finally have provided incontrovertible proof that I am a moron? You don't exist either. Then who wrote this 454-page book? Offhand, I'd guess that the author was Oliver Stone, a noted fabulist. Except that Stone doesn't exist either. He is the creation of a conspiracy that wants us to think that John F. Kennedy's assassination was a conspiracy plot.

Actually, Kennedy does exist. He lives in a bungalow with Elvis. In France.

So what if I'm selective with facts? Whatever suits my purpose, I say. For example, I don't believe in Des Moines. I do believe in Des Plaines. But why is denying the existence of an entire town more moronic than what this supposed Brown guy is doing? An example. He turns the Star of David into a sex symbol. The bottom half (the V) is a female symbol called the chalice. The top half (the inverted V) is really a phallus symbol "still used today on modern military uniforms to denote rank." And the more such "penises" you wear on your sleeve, the higher your rank, we're told. This, of course, will surprise U.S. sailors and airmen whose higher enlisted ranks are designated by the number of female chalices they wear on their insignia.

Minor mistake, sure. But not so minor are nonsense assertions that the Dead Sea Scrolls talked about Mary Magdalene, that "80" gospels were written, that the gospels portrayed her as a prostitute. Laughable is the assertion that a church which has been criticized for nearly "deifying" Mary the mother of Jesus has engaged in a centuries-long plot to destroy the "sacred feminine."

More absurd is an underlying presumption of this novel, that Christianity, and especially the Catholic Church, would for two millennia knowingly hide theological truth from millions upon millions of believers so--why? Just the fact that any institution could survive for 2,000 years is remarkable enough. That it could survive while hiding some dark secret that is directly contrary to its core belief--the divinity of Christ--is an assertion that can be swallowed only by the incurably gullible.

See, this story, while an exciting yarn, is so filled with errors, you have to start wondering if it was written by an incompetent (whose root, found in the ancient scribblings of Iyioneic lore, means nincompoop). If not, then someone who is trying to make the church's presumed enemies look stupid. Maybe someone who wants to discredit, say, gnosticism, by making up such a foolish story that any examination would expose its absurdities. Someone, maybe, working undercover for the Catholic Church. Maybe not a someone, but a something, a computer, a robotic writer, which compresses all the silliness and goofiness out there into one blockbuster of a book. Yes, it's becoming clear now. Dan Brown really didn't write this book! Because Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" is an anagram for the Vatican's new hidden robo CD.

Tape to come later.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Let the throat-cutting commence: How can it be anything but business as usual if the 2016 Olympics comes to Chicago?

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune contributing op-ed columnist

Good, now we've got something new to fight about--the Olympics.

Whether Chicago should bid for the 2016 Olympics will provide fresh and irresistible material for commentary, politicking, demagoguery and, if things get really good, bar fights.

Mayor Richard M. Daley, once a skeptic about holding the Olympics here, had a vision and slapped his forehead in the sudden realization that it could mean a lot for Chicago, as in a lotta money, prestige and power. The vision has led him to China, to see how they are preparing for their 2008 Summer Olympics.

While he's there, he might want to pick up a few tips from the Chinese about how to avoid the bickering that's bound to break out here over a multibillion-dollar project. The Chinese might say that rolling a few tanks onto Daley Plaza would do the trick.

Which, of course, would require Daley to start a "hired-tank program," something that might be a little awkward for the mayor, considering how well the corrupt program worked for the city.

Somehow, I don't think that even tanks will mute the fight that will erupt over this project, including the necessity of maybe building a huge new stadium, bigger than the newly remodeled Soldier Field, to accommodate the world's most chemically enhanced athletes and all their publicists.

First up to complain, as usual, will be the "neighborhood advocates," who think that every project that involves a lot of concrete or downtown is a direct assault on the "people in the neighborhoods." They will say that the money instead must go to improve "vital neighborhood services," "educate our children," "raise the quality of life" and reinforce their conceits about what a city should be.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, except their argument is based on the incorrect premise that if the money isn't spent on sports facilities, it will be spent on neighborhood improvements. In fact, money not spent on sports facilities would have plenty of other places to go, besides neighborhoods. Or not be spent at all.

They also are leaving out what economists call the "multiplier effect." New, outside money that is brought into a city gets spent over and over again, multiplying its impact as it flows through the neighborhoods, increasing jobs.

Closely allied are Big Business haters, who will automatically oppose anything that involves corporate bigwigs. Except that they might not show up for this one. Didn't they already get sucked in enough by cost overruns from Millennium Park? How much more would they be expected to cough up for a project that already is being hyped as mostly privately funded?

And speaking of big money, there is the matter of huge contracts involving consultants and contractors, lawyers and accountants, design teams and architects, truckers and earthmovers, sand and gravel suppliers and all the rest who would be eyeing the billions of dollars.

The huge potential for corruption in the "City that Grafts" can't be overlooked. And the suspicion that Daley is proposing this to enrich insiders can't be so easily dismissed.

Let's not leave out of the fight those who don't dream, who would not have reversed the Chicago River's flow or who would have opposed skyscrapers because it would be too costly, impractical or just inconceivable.

If they had their way, Chicago today would be a suburb of Gary.

Then there are the usual overly rosy promises that have cast the public into a deep cynicism about anything coming out of the mouths of politicians. Such as: The Olympics will "reshape" the city, provide plentiful new housing and improve transportation.

All of this is entirely predictable and tiresome, because we went though the same thing years ago with the big fight over the proposed 1992 Chicago World's Fair. Like the Olympics, it was to be a global event, marking the 500th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of America, and the 100th anniversary of Chicago's historic World's Fair of 1893. The idea died an ugly death, crushed by the same predictable divisions that will arise from the debate over the Olympics.

The coming debate will be marked by lots of speculation, ideology, personal vendettas and bellyaching. It doomed a World's Fair that could have greatly benefited the city, its residents and businesses. It doesn't make for a very exciting column to say so, but maybe this time we can wait for some solid information and analysis before cutting each other's throats.



Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Heaven help us when politicians start governing

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

On May 1, millions of illegal immigrants and their supporters marched to demand that huge numbers of their own immediately get out of America.

I haven't seen anyone else put it that way, but if the protesters took to the streets to force Congress to pass what is dishonestly called "comprehensive," "balanced" and "fair" immigration reform, then that is exactly what they want.

The Senate legislation would require that an estimated 1.6 million immigrants who have lived here illegally for less than two years turn themselves in and leave America, perhaps forever. They're supposed to do this without any incentive, when a better option for them would be to stay here undetected. Who among the millions who marched would throw themselves under that bus, just because a new law comes along that says--just like the present one--that they must?

No one.

Here's something else all those marchers are demanding of millions of their compadres who have been here illegally for two to four years: They must uproot their families, travel hundreds or thousands of miles, return to a U.S. port of entry, announce they are illegal immigrants and then hope they are issued a temporary work visa to let them re-enter America. Some won't get the cards, because only 1.4 million work visas will be issued over three years, and about 2.8 million people would be asking for them.

As for the estimated 8 million illegal residents who have been here five years or more, the marchers are demanding that they: turn themselves in, pay a $2,000 fine (or $4,580 for an average-size illegal immigrant family) and any back taxes, hope to clear a criminal background check, learn English, keep a steady job and then, maybe, they'd be eligible for citizenship.

I keep harping on this because this legislation is a cruel hoax.

And the hoaxers are the immigrants' alleged friends--assorted "activists," agenda journalists, organized labor, above-the-law clergy, self-righteous "progressives" and, of course, politicians. Every politician knows perfectly well that it's a hoax, but they push ahead with their deceit to make themselves look good, and to hell with the immigrants. The disservice that this legislation does for illegal immigrants is so obvious that those who won't confront it have to be dishonest or blind. Or so enthralled by the sight of all those people marching arm-in-arm that they have abrogated their obligation to read the legislation and report on its real impact on real people.

In the contempt-of-the-public department, this dishonesty ranks right up there with politicians who know that pushing down gas prices is something that's way beyond their reach, but they act like they can do it anyway, calling press conferences and looking seriously into the camera as if they mean it. Pass a law, punish a villain. Ignore the law of supply and demand. Hand out $100 rebates. Have you ever seen so many transparently witless ideas taken so seriously by so many supposedly responsible people? Why is it that so many politicians think that we'll like them more if they treat us like idiots? Probably because they know it gets them re-elected.

Speaking of idiots, Illinois legislators obviously want us to believe that they're doing their job (governing) when they pass a $56 billion ("rough" estimate) budget a mere two or three days after they first see it. It was handed to them by a legislative oligarchy that has run Illinois government for years, effectively reducing remaining lawmakers to mopes. You know few of them are giving $56 billion the scrutiny that a pile of money that size deserves. Not when they only have enough time to check whether projects they promised favor-seekers back home made it into the budget.

Not a person who lays eyes on this budget even momentarily can fail to understand that it is a dishonest document, supplying money not for the public good, but for re-electing whoever is in control, which happens now to be a cluster of Democrats. How else do you explain Gov. Rod Blagojevich securing agreement from the Democratic-controlled legislature for funding "universal" pre-school?

"This is the real deal," Senate President Emil Jones said last week of this charade, apparently not noticing how foolishly self-serving that statement makes him look. Just like the "real deal" is a new immigration law that penalizes the very people it's supposed to help. Or vapid promises by reckless politicians to lower gasoline prices.

Do these people have a conscience?

Dennis Byrne is a Chicago-area writer and consultant.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Biden's Counterproductive Iraq Proposal

By Dennis Byrne

Just as the Iraqis were finally putting together a unity government, along comes Sen. Joseph Biden with a "detailed plan" to unravel it.


As brilliant as Abraham Lincoln preparing a detailed plan to end the Civil War upon the fall of Vicksburg.

In a much heralded and publicized op-ed in the New York Times (where else?), Biden said the only way to prevent chaos was to divide Iraq into three autonomous regions, along religious and ethnic lines. Give each their own army and, I suppose, let them have at one another.

Biden pops up with this lunacy just as Norui al-Maliki, Iraqi's new prime Minister is trying to put together a cabinet under a three-week deadline and form the long-sought unity government. Biden's timing couldn't have been more self-serving or destructive.

Dennis Byrne has joined as a regular columnist. Read the rest of this article there.

Monday, May 01, 2006

So what if we were punked? Soldier Field should have been bulldozed

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

On an autumn weekend in 1958, we St. George High School "Dragons" filled 500--to be charitable--seats in Soldier Field. Far across the gridiron were the fans of another Catholic League football power, whose name I forget, filling another, say, 500 seats.

That left 99,000 empty seats. Well, not seats. Benches, with places to put about 100,000 butts.

Which is how I remember Soldier Field: A pile of concrete rubble getting in the way of a perfectly good ride on the Outer Drive. A place so unattractive, dysfunctional and unwanted that it had been reduced to hosting high school football games.

St. George, late of Evanston, played there only because it didn't have its own football stadium. So we always were on the road, pretending that this or that stadium gave us home-field advantage. Gately Stadium or Lane Tech Field, for example, where a crowd of 1,000 actually looked big.

If you haven't seen a few hundred fans spread out loosely between the 47-yard lines at Soldier Field, then you don't know the meaning of the word "empty." Empty meant Soldier Field. The Bears played elsewhere. So did the Cardinals.

Soldier Field was so desperate that it even booked stock-car races. I remember them in the late 1940s, the jalopies not exactly speeding around an asphalt track on the field's perimeter, just inside the stands. I can't remember how large the crowd was, but I doubt that anyone was in that 100,000th seat at the far north end of the then-horseshoe-shaped stands. Actually, that seat might not have been occupied since the celebrated 1927 Dempsey-Tunney world championship boxing match, one of the events that supposedly made Soldier Field a national treasure.

This was a pathetic, miserable place, and some of us native Chicagoans wish for an end to the constant carping about the conversion of what we're told is a venerable landmark into a yucky, discordant playhouse for the Bears. The latest lamentations were heard last week when the world awoke to the awful news that some obscure committee of the U.S Department of Interior had yanked Soldier Field's designation as a "national historic landmark."

For a while, we had been warned that Interior Secretary Gale Norton, on the advice of the National Park System Advisory Board, was about to de-designate Soldier Field. As if it were our last chance to repair our mistake.

But the expected de-designation came anyway, meaning that Soldier Field no longer was one of the nation's 2,500 most-hallowed sites, as historically significant and possessing "as much exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States" as--get this--the White House. For years, some of us were unaware of the Rock Pile's historical luminescence. But please, don't make us laugh so hard that it hurts.

The de-designation of Soldier Field now is being read as a comeuppance to Mayor Richard M. Daley and the rest of us Chicago provincials who, well, just don't care and no longer deserve this great honor. I guess we're supposed to say: "Oh, gosh, we're really sorry now that we didn't listen to the landmark preservationists when they blistered the idea of any alteration or removal of the Lakefront Blemish."

It was explained to us that the loss wasn't just Chicago's, but the entire nation's. Said Carol Ahlgren, architectural historian of the U.S. Park Service's Midwest regional office: "If we had let this [designation] stand, I believe it would have lowered the standard of National Historic Landmarks throughout the country." Here's news for her: Just including it on the list lowered the national standard.

Years ago, I suggested that the best way to settle the fight over Soldier Field was to bulldoze the entire mess, start from scratch and construct a memorial stadium befitting the 120,000 American military personnel lost in World War I. But no, the heat was on, and the designers of the remodeled facility had to accommodate the absurd demands of the preservationists. The result? An absurd compromise that indeed may be the ugliest structure in the city, if not the nation.

Well, perhaps, this will assuage the preservationists: Yes, Soldier Field was expelled from the landmarks list, but we got something better added: Lincoln Park's "exquisite" hidden Alfred Caldwell lily pool, which "symbolically celebrates the history of the Midwest." Which, according to the list's creators, puts it in the company of the U.S. Capitol.