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, December 25, 2006

`Childize' a merry Christmas

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

It's Christmas morning and time to hit the pause button, thank God.

Why does a holiday celebrated for peace and goodwill to all mankind create such anxiety, exhaustion, discord and anger?

Some secularists despise how it constantly creeps back into the public view, as if it were a bug that couldn't be stomped. Some Christians loathe what they believe it has become today in America, a profane bacchanal of greed and avarice. Some parents wear themselves down to a nub, trying to make things perfect for their children. Some children think they don't--a smaller number of whom actually don't--get their share. Some folks are offended that the Christians usurped a pagan holiday dedicated to the return of the sun for a celebration of the appearance of the Son.

Peace? Don't count on it. This afternoon, you have to clean up the dinner plates and a few days later take down the tree. Goodwill? Well, at least for the lawyers who make a mint, serving opposing sides of the Christmas wars who regard their antagonists with anything but goodwill.

Every year we bemoan Christmas. Every year we say it gets worse. Every year we try to remind ourselves what it's all about.

So, let's do it again. Do not read this standing up. Sit. Let normal respiration reassert itself, tight muscles unknot and the heart rate descend.

Now what?

Jeez, I don't know; whaddya expect? It's hard enough for me to relax without doing it for you too. But, here's what I do:

Childize (pronounced child eyes). Ize is a suffix, meaning to make or become. For children, Christmas is the whole package. At once, without contradiction, it is a religious holiday and a secular holiday. Days to flood the senses with things new, mystifying, warm, compassionate, hopeful and fun. Children don't segment Christmas into secular and religious, giving and receiving.

It's all one vast, amazing, deeply remembered sequence of events that fills heads with special memories, very private memories.

I've been blessed with three generations to childize Christmas: mine, my children's and now my granddaughters'. When I childize, I'm back on North Maplewood Avenue , trying to figure out how Santa Claus on Christmas Eve could make it down a fake, chimney-less fireplace in our two-flat with a big load of toys, while my brother and sister were holed up in the kitchen, speculating about wonders to come. And I'm wondering later why Santa would give me a tricycle whose front wheel would fall off. (I eventually learned about World War II shortages and grew to appreciate how my folks must have looked high and low to find a second-hand trike in any kind of shape). Or years later, in Northfield, walking home after serving midnight mass, through a foot of fluffy, unplowed snow, the night so quiet you could almost hear the snow falling, so snug and comforting it almost felt warm. As I turned into our driveway, I felt a tug of regret, as if I could keep walking forever, but knowing that it would become one of the most peaceful and enduring memories of my life. One that, until now, I've shared with no one.

At my brother Bill's annual Rotary children's Christmas party, it was Leia, 4 and the second oldest, who ratted out Santa. "Grandpa, that's not really Santa," she whispered after the party. How do you know? She looked at me as if no one could believe that beard. I pulled out that old fallback about Santa's helpers. Lisa, 5, knew better: "It was too Santa." I can imagine their later conversations on the matter.

Ava, dealing with a bout of the terrible twos, fussed her way through lunch until the wonderful Glenbrook North High School Express choir caught her eyes and ears. Moving closer to Uncle Bill, she soon was placidly resting her head on and then climbing onto his lap, a spontaneous and tranquil moment that touched us all, one that she was too young to remember. Sadly, we won't be out east this year to see our newest granddaughter, Julia, but when we were there on Thanksgiving, we saw her excitement at new sights.

Now we'll be picturing her bolting and bobbing in surprise at every new color and shape she sees. She's too young to remember; too bad none of us does, either.

And so, why are you sitting there reading a newspaper on Christmas?

Go find someone to childize; go see someone creating life's most precious memories. Oh, and Merry Christmas.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Monday, December 18, 2006

Cents or sensibility on detector law?

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

You've only got a couple of weeks left before you must--by order of the state of Illinois--install a carbon monoxide detector within 15 feet of every bedroom in your home.

You have a right to ask why, when your chance of dying of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning is about as slim as getting struck by lightning.

Especially when no one can tell you with certainty exactly how many people die from the poisoning in Illinois, or nationally, for that matter. The Illinois Department of Public Health includes the accidental monoxide deaths with other poison fatalities, such as sulfur dioxide inhalation. In 2004, the latest year that figures were available, there were 21 such deaths. The Illinois Poison Center, whose figures are admittedly incomplete, has recorded only two carbon monoxide deaths since 2003.

Let's do the math: There are about 4.5 million households in Illinois; we can safely estimate that there are at least that many bedrooms in the state that require a detector. Figuring a detector costs anywhere from $20 to $60, that means that Illinois residents have to lay out $90 million to $270 million by Jan. 1 for the detectors. Assuming that Illinois has four accidental carbon monoxide deaths annually (which probably errs on the high side), the residents of Illinois are spending somewhere between $22.5million and $67.5 million for each life saved. No one wants to place a price on the value of a life, but that goes way beyond what is reasonable in the public or private sector at any level.

Some experts will concede that it's not a cost-effective way to prevent deaths, but they argue that the detectors have other important benefits. Dr. Michael Wahl, medical director of the Illinois Poison Center, said the health effects of carbon monoxide poisoning could be serious over the long run. He pointed to a study that found that exposure can increase the risk of a heart attack later in life. Dr. Jerrold B. Leikin, medical toxicologist with Evanston Northwestern Healthcare-Omega, said focusing only on fatalities overlooks the magnitude of serious illnesses associated with carbon monoxide poisoning, many of them indistinguishable from flu, food poisoning and neurological damage.

Others point out that the alarms will sound before anyone shows symptoms of poisoning, which could prevent serious harm. A study based on media accounts shows that cities, like Chicago, with mandatory detectors tend to have fewer carbon monoxide deaths.

Then there's the anecdotal evidence. "Oftentimes, when I diagnose a patient with accidental CO poisoning, the patient expresses how lucky he or she is," Leikin said in testimony to the Illinois House several years ago. "With general usage of these electronic detectors, luck can be taken out of the equation."

All right, all right already.

Here's where the libertarian rant is supposed to come about government not only prescribing what you can't do (eating trans fat), but also what you must do (wear a seat belt, buy carbon monoxide detectors). About the legislature, with hardly any notice, finally passing such a law after failing for years to do so. About doing the detector industry a big favor by passing the mandate. About actually making it a criminal violation, with time in jail, for ignoring the law.

But I can't rant. I'm worn out. It has just become too much. Who can be against a device that could save some lives and secure health?

Besides, how bad would I feel about my family--anyone's family--getting harmed or even dying, because I refused to shell out $20? Especially if the reason I refuse to buy one is because I don't want government telling me what to do.

After all is said and done, a carbon monoxide detector now adorns my bedroom.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Monday, December 11, 2006

Iraq report beyond naive; it's dangerous

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

For as smart and high-powered as it is, the Iraq Study Group's hope, if not confidence, that the U.S. can successfully negotiate with Iran is stunningly naive. Despite all the hype, it doesn't bring us one inch closer to ending the Iraq war.

The group's suggestion that our national interest can be served by trying to bargain our way out of Iraq with Iran has no basis in history, fact or reason. It's more than stupid; it's also dangerous, for the U.S., Iraq, the Middle East, Europe and anyone else within flying distance of Tehran.

Just read the complete report and you can't avoid asking yourself: What in the world can we offer Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that he would want in exchange for bargaining with us? What can we give Ahmadinejad, other than our utter betrayal of our commitment to Iraq, and to freedom and democracy in the Middle East? What can Iran possibly gain by pulling our chestnuts out of the fire?

The answer is, nothing. But the group doesn't bother answering such questions. Not rationally, anyway. The one answer we get is that Iran is so anxious for "stability" in the region that it would be glad to help us calm things down in Iraq. And the reason Iran wants stability? The group's answer is breathtakingly simple-minded and wrongheaded: to avoid its own internal turmoil if Iraq collapses into chaos.

"Iran's interests would not be served by a failure of U.S. policy in Iraq that led to chaos and the territorial disintegration of the Iraqi state," the group's report said. "Worst-case scenarios in Iraq could inflame sectarian tensions with Iran, with serious consequences of Iranian national security interests." Why? Because, the report reasons, Iran has minorities of Shiites, Christians and Jews.

I had to read this several times, because I didn't believe what I was reading. Did I somehow miss that Ahmadinejad's highest (or even lowest) goal in the current Middle Eastern turmoil is to create stability in Iraq and Iran? Is there even a hint in anything that Ahmadinejad has said about his intention to wipe Israel off the face of the world and so forth that signals that he'd give up his bloodlust if, well, Iraq would just settle down? Would Ahmadinejad stop helping terrorists kill infidels if ... what?

Fundamentally, the report asserts that Ahmadinejad can and would use his influence to help get Sunni insurgents, rogue Shiite militias and Al Qaeda in Iraq to cool it, because he doesn't want minority Sunnis, Christians and Jews in Iran to upset his government. As if he's had any trouble keeping the lid on the Sunnis, Christians and Jews, not to mention the majority Shiites, in the first place.

And what if Iran decides not to participate in diplomacy and negotiations? What if Ahmadinejad decides Iran has more to gain by letting the U.S. suffer a humiliating defeat, and that an Iraq in turmoil (which is partially his doing in the first place) ultimately serves his greater purpose: making Iran the Middle East's top dog?

The study group never really gets into that possibility.

It's as if the purity of the process is an end in itself (as it is with a number of American critics of the war). There is no thought about what the negotiations should achieve in our national interest, or what should happen if diplomacy fails. It's nearly impossible to carry the group's arguments to their logical conclusion, because they are devoid of logic. I think the group implicitly realized that itself when it fell back on the following as the ultimate reason why Iran should (would?) participate in the "Support Group" of Iraqi neighbors:

"An Iranian refusal to do so would demonstrate to Iraq and the rest of the world Iran's rejectionist attitude and approach, which could lead to its isolation. Further, Iran's refusal to cooperate on this matter would diminish its prospects of engaging with the United States in the broader dialogue it seeks." As if the "world" isn't already aware of Ahmadinejad's "rejectionist," as well as his belligerent and bloodthirsty, policies. Jeez.

You'd expect more from former secretaries of state and defense, top White House aides and a Supreme Court justice. Maybe we flatlanders are such simpletons that we don't understand (Washington cliche warning) the "nuances" of foreign policy.

But we know idiotic when we see it.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Saturday, December 09, 2006

ISG Prescribes Vietnam All Over Again

By Dennis Byrne
RealClearPolitics

"...[Y]ou have my assurance of continued assistance in the post-settlement period and that we will respond with full force should the settlement be violated by North Vietnam."

That was a pledge by President Richard M. Nixon to Republic of South Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu that the United States would not abandon his nation, if he would only cooperate in negotiations with North Vietnam to end the war.

Nixon's word wasn't worth crap.

Nor, obviously, is our word to the Iraqi people, if the Iraqi Study Group has its way. We betrayed millions of people by abandoning our principles and trashing our promises when we stood by--willingly and intentionally--as South Vietnam fell to the tyranny of North Vietnam. Now, as the ISG provides us with intellectual cover for weaseling our way out of Iraq, we're about to do the same to the Iraqi people.

Let us review history, which we appear condemned to repeat:

Continue reading at RealClearPolitics

Monday, December 04, 2006

City saves us from ... ?

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Good thing that they're keeping a film about Christmas out of a Christmas festival on Daley Plaza.

Christians, Jews and Muslims already have elbowed their way onto the plaza with a creche, menorah and crescent and, worst of all, a huge Christmas tree, symbols of their religions. Shouldn't that be enough? If Chicago were to allow showings of "The Nativity Story" film clips during Christkindlmarket, what would be next?

Nature-worshiping Druids? Allow them onto the plaza and they might want to poison us with the sight of an oak tree, one of nature's creations that they venerate. The Falun Gong also might show up, with their offensive meditating. Who knows, they might even try to cash in by selling books on the benefits of reflection. As we all know, no one should be able to use the government or its property to profit personally. In Chicago, we have strictly enforced rules against that kind of behavior.

Covens of Wicca also might invade the plaza, wanting to practice their magical powers by stirring boiling pots of eels and frogs. Or we might have to step around unsightly piles of dead chickens left scattered about by careless adherents of the Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye.

If we're not careful, the Inquisition might demand use of the plaza for a few autos-da-fe, to weed out the heretics. The plaza could become another Piazza della Signoria, always available for hanging and burning a Savonarola or two.

Chicago Bulls center Ben Wallace might show up in a headband.

You might think that this is an exaggeration, but if the city gave an inch now, all sorts of oddballs, cranks, crackpots and fanatics soon would be invading the plaza. Oh sure, for standing up to the horror of a Christmas scene on the plaza, the city got scalded by those right-wing religious zealots for its so-called attack on Christmas. Under this unfair onslaught, no wonder the city said it had been misunderstood. As it said later, its intent was only to keep "blatant commercial messages" off the plaza.

Well, that's as good as any excuse, and if you want to believe it, that's fine by me, because the effect was the same: shielding the public from the vulgar scenes of a mother and child.

Actually, I think that the city might be on to something. Christmas has become so commercialized with its retail sales frenzies that any Christmas message is, indeed, a commercial message. So maybe it all should be banned from the plaza--Christmas trees, creches, the "festive" trappings. Even Macy's Christmas lights that are visible from the plaza should be extinguished. It's all designed to make someone a buck anyway.

Of course, the summer farmers market also would have to be banned from the plaza, because folks are making money off that too. While we're at it, we might as well take away the flowers, benches and the Picasso Thing. Make the plaza the lifeless, sterile place that it was intended to be in the first place. Suitable only for celebratory gatherings of all the payrollers, insiders, grafters and other serpents who feed off the taxpayers. If the plaza can hold them all.

I'm just grateful--I won't offend you by saying to Whom--that the city's exclusionary actions on the plaza have provided more evidence that we've all come to appreciate the true meaning of diversity. To foster our diverse society, we must not allow anything that reminds us of our differences, especially if that reminder comes in a public place, and most especially if it is about religion. Exposing people to different religions, let alone religion in general, will give them the wrong idea; they might end up thinking that we're different. How can we be a diverse society with folks walking around thinking they're different?

Let us pause for a moment, in the silent night of a new winter, as we are comforted by a blanket of new-fallen snow, to use this joyous and hopeful season to renew our commitment to diversity. And what better way to do it than by stomping out any public recognition of our differences?

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Saturday, December 02, 2006

More Harrumphing From Jesse Jackson

By Dennis Byrne

The opportunistic Rev. Jesse Jackson is at it again, using comedian Michael Richard's use of the "n-word" to flog white Americans for a supposed streak of racism that we stubbornly refuse to recognize or let go of.

Speaking in Little Rock on Thursday, Jackson said Richard's outburst directed at comedy club hecklers was not an aberration, but symptomatic of a deep racism throughout the land, of an "anti-black mania," as he put it. "Don't just stop with the comedian," he said, pointing to other incidents that he would have us believe indict the entire country.

Aw jeez, not again.

Read more at RealClearPolitics

Friday, December 01, 2006

Apologies Don't Mean Anything Anymore

By Dennis Byrne
Human Events

Enough already with the apologies.

We’ve turned ourselves into a nation of apologizers. Or, more precisely, a nation of people demanding apologies.

We’re up to our eyeballs in apology ultimatums. Actor Michael Richards was barraged with demands to apologize for hurling racial slurs at hecklers during a comedy club appearance, but when he did, it wasn’t enough. His career is ruined, supposedly. Likewise, a professional basketball player, Damon Jones of Cleveland, called a press conference to apologize for getting booted out of a game, but for some it was “too late.” In a recent call for public groveling, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) needed to apologize to soldiers in Iraq for implying that they’re dropouts and losers.

Rush Limbaugh had to apologize to Michael J. Fox for doubting his afflictions. Rep. Charlie Rangel (D.-N.Y.) for calling Vice President Dick Cheney a "son of a bitch."
Ted Haggard, an evangelical Christian leader, for paying for gay sex and hypocritically violating his preachments. Republicans for having anything to do with evangelicals. Idaho Gov. Jim Risch for ordering an emergency hunt of 160 elk that had escaped from a hunting preserve. The sponsors of a TV ad about a Florida constitutional amendment for demeaning Italian-Americans. President Bush for … well, everything.

Continue reading at Human Events