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.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Another stunning advance achieved by non-embryonic stem cells

By Dennis Byrne

Thankfully scientists ignored the clatter of Michael J. Fox, assorted Hollywood dolts, left-wing ideologues and media spaniels who insisted on paying no attention to, and even ridiculing, the potential of adult and umbilical cord stem cells.

While Fox and the others were living in their embryonic stem cell nirvana,scientists pursued the most promising route. And here’s the result: a toddler’s stunning recovery from Cerebral Palsy symptoms. View video.

Not that they’ve been slowed down by the recent stunning breakthrough in which stem cells generated from skin cells have the same potential of those generated from embryos. They only dig their heads further in the sand, as this editorial posted on the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research shows.

Stubborn, sad folks

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Henry Hyde's finest hour

By Dennis Byrne

How best to remember Henry Hyde? With his own words.

As I wrote in a Chicago Sun-Times column, the best of Henry Hyde is perhaps one of the great speeches in the history of Congress: His Jan. 16, 1999 closing argument in support of the impeachment of President William Jefferson Clinton.

It is, I wrote in 1999,
a gift to the people of the United States. It should be read, savored and preserved by all who love liberty and justice. It is the most eloquent dissent of this or any recent decade against the disintegration of the American community, a place where dedication to principle, respect for the law and the rights of the powerless against assaults by the mighty once were revered as high political virtue.

Hyde spoke of the “covenant” that Clinton himself espoused early in his term, that the presidency was a solemn pact of mutual trust and obligation with the American people. Said Hyde: “Trust—not what James Madison called the parchment barriers of laws—is the fundamental bond between the people and their elected representatives; between those who govern and those who are governed. Trust is the mortar that secures the foundations of the American house of freedom…

“We here today are the heirs of 3,000 years of history in which humanity slowly and painfully, and at great cost, evolved a form of politics in which law, not brute force, is the arbiter of our public destinies…The rule of law is no pious aspiration from a civics textbook. The rule of law is what stands between us and the arbitrary exercise of power by the state. The rule of law is the safeguard of our liberties. The rule of law is what allows us to live our freedom in ways that honor the freedom of others while strengthening the common good.”

What remains today, I wrote then, after the Senate acquitted Clinton, were Senators, who in turning their backs on the rule of law for the sake of personal preservation, partisan interest and public popularity, are mere echoes of a handful of people who loved their country more than themselves. The kind of people that John F. Kennedy wrote about in his Profiles in Courage.
The speech is worth reading in its entirety. It can be found here.

Is the recession here yet?

By Dennis Byrne
Human Events

Congratulations one and all, we’re doing a fine job of talking ourselves into a recession.

Thanks go to the media for acting like the kids in the back seat, unremittingly asking if we’re in a recession yet. Thanks go to Democrats, for looking for the slightest crack in the economy so they can stick it to President Bush and the Republicans. Thanks go to financial analysts who gladly deploy the most cockamamie schemes imaginable for predicting the arrival of the slide. Thanks to everyone who, apparently not content with the joys of prosperity, can be counted on to the find the dark lining in every silver cloud.

Thanks to ya’ll for knocking down the value of my house and drying up the real estate market just as my wife and I figure it’s time to downsize. Thanks for diminishing the value of my retirement nest egg. Thanks for weakening the American economy and increasing the chance of leading the world into a global recession. Is it dark enough for ya’ll yet?

Read more in Human Events

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Is it possible for the CTA to operate without a loss, no taxpayer subsidy required?

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

That question is asked and answered in the affirmative by the Illinois Policy Institute, a free-market think tank, in its thought-provoking new analysis: “CTA looking in all the wrong places: Sustainable solution requires new thinking and real reforms.”

I can’t remember anyone seriously and convincingly making such a claim since the early 1970s when, as the Chicago Daily News urban affairs reporter, I started covering the CTA. That’s when it became conventional political wisdom that mass transit should be considered to be a public utility requiring a public subsidy. Hell, I even bought it.

Except for this: How many public utilities (e.g., the electric and gas companies) operate like the CTA, with their consumers paying only about half the costs, while taxpayers pick up the other half?

Read more at Chicago Daily Observer

Monday, November 26, 2007

No guts in Springfield, no transit fix

Iraqi parliament has shown more courage in solving its problems than Illinois legislators

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

For all of the Iraqi parliament's flaws, I would trade it straight up for the crowd that we've got in Springfield. Ridiculous, you say? Then, consider what both have accomplished. First, the Illinois state government: (This space left intentionally blank.)

That's right, nothing. Maybe the Iraq parliament hasn't done much more but think about its challenges compared with Illinois' crew. Iraq has to repair centuries of tyranny and brutalization. The country is split in three, marked by a centuries-long and sometimes bloody religious feud. With virtually no experience with self-government, the Iraqis are expected to come up instantly with a government and culture that respects democratic values.

Compared with Illinois, Iraq is a shining city on a hill. Compared with Iraq, Illinois is a stupefying challenge to the idea that democracy is the best form of government. Compared with Iraq, all Illinois has to do is relatively easily: come up with a few hundred million dollars to keep mass transit running. Yet, Illinois remains stymied because the political leadership here doesn't have the guts to face transit riders who would be upset if they were asked to pay a fairer share of their costs. As I have mentioned before, mass transit is one of the best transportation deals around; taxpayers match every dollar riders pay in fares. If commuters paid, say, 60 or 75 percent of their rides' cost, instead of 50 percent, perhaps transit wouldn't be knocking on our doors so often. With this, I'm not suggesting that taxpayers should no longer subsidize mass transit, as some of my critics charged. Even if riders paid a fairer share of the cost of their rides, they would still benefit from hundreds of millions of dollars a year in taxpayer largesse.

Which leads to another, thoughtful suggestion, presented in a new study by the Illinois Policy Institute, a free-market think tank. It challenges the common assumption that the only "sustainable solution" to the Chicago Transit Authority's problem is to increase revenues, with some fascinating and surprising findings.

While the CTA has indeed made some cuts, huge productivity savings remain yet to be made, the analysis concludes. If the CTA were as productive now as it was in 1979, it could reduce the agency's public subsidy to $257 million, from the current $527 million. That would more than cover the $158million deficit projected for the 2008 budget.

The key problem is the bus system: Now there are 154 bus routes, compared with 134 in 1979, and the total route miles have more than doubled; yet ridership has fallen 45 percent. "The bus operations data indicate that in 1979, the CTA operated a tightly focused, more market-sensitive route map. ... Today, with the route miles up 143 percent, it appears the CTA is running too many route miles for too few riders, making the bus system inefficient," according to the study. In other revealing comparisons between the CTA of today and 30 years ago (all financial figures are in constant 2007 dollars), the analysis discovered that the subsidy per rider has increased 35 percent, to $1.07 from 79 cents. That illustrates the "fallacy of the CTA public relations and budget document claims that the CTA's public subsidy has not kept pace with inflation. While that fact is true in absolute dollars, it is a misleading fact since the key data point is the subsidy per rider. In fact, one could make the case that the subsidy is excessive by $138million."

The institute offers 10 thoughtful proposals for a truly sustainable solution to the crisis, including a call for cessation of all expansion projects: "The CTA has been spending money on expansion and other unneeded projects while basic maintenance is being ignored." Another is to require true transparency of CTA spending: "Every check written, every contractor paid, every consultant hired and all the other details of spending should be open in an online easily searchable database. ... The bill offered by [state Rep.] Julie Hamos [D-Evanston] has transparency window dressing, but we need real sunshine to fix the problems."

Any governor, legislator, politician or public policy wonk who claims to be looking for a sustainable, permanent solution to mass transit funding problems without closely examining and implementing the Illinois Policy Institute's real solutions is lacking the courage to stand up to the given wisdom that the only way to solve the problem is to throw more money at it. It's pathetic when you consider the courage that is required of the members of the Iraqi parliament for the life-threatening job of just showing up.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Ex-Sunni insurgent becomes U.S. ally

How refreshing to read top-notch reporting about what is actually happening on the ground in Iraq. This straight-forward story by Chicago Al Qaeda in Iraq leader and turned into a reliable U.S. ally.

"Americans are our protectors and saviors," he said of the alliance after he and the people in his community became fed-up with the violence and murder. His community now is safe to walk.

Such fact-based reporting is an antidote to the mindless rantings of Democratic presidential candidates. It is thanks to increasing reports of such progress in Iraq that the American public will begin--if it hasn't already--to break through the fog of war.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Mayor Daley as Business Leader

Could Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley survive as the head of a corporation as infected, as is his administration, with the same level of corruption, waste, incompetence and red ink?

Business Week raised that question in an interesting and readable account, “The CEO of City Hall,” of the Chicago business community’s love affair with Daley and its tolerance of destructive and illegal practices they would never allow in their own operations.

“Admittedly, Daley’s admirers overlook some shortcomings,” wrote correspondent Joseph Weber with longtime Chicago business observer Bob Reed. “In fact, if he were a corporate CEO, his job security would be, well, in doubt.” The article then goes on to list the administration’s....

Read more in the Chicago Daily Observer

Stem Cell Breakthrough Uses No Embryos

Told ya so.

For years now, pro-choice fanatics have been insisting that pro-life fanatics have been blocking cures for all sorts of diseases by opposing embryonic stem cell research.

Now, the pro-choice fanatics have been proven wrong, and those who opposed the use of embryonic stem cells because it destroys a human life can take a bow.

They can congratulate themselves because they stuck to their guns when they were slandered as anti-science wackos, who were ready to sacrifice the lives of uncounted millions who suffered from various, fatal diseases, for the sake of something “smaller than a pin prick.”

They can congratulate themselves because it was their insistence on doing what was ethical and right that led to a discovery that today is being compared with the Wright brothers’ first flight.

Read about it here , here and here

Monday, November 19, 2007

New York state of mind

It's unsettling that top candidates come from that 'provincial' place

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

It's time to carefully weigh the likely possibility that the next president will be from New York, and is that what the rest of us really want?

If the polls are an accurate crystal ball (they're not intended to be), New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton will be the Democratic nominee and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani the Republican. By this time next year, the nation could be facing the certainty of a New Yorker as boss man or lady. If that isn't bad enough, chew on this: The name of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg keeps showing up as a possible independent candidate. That would be three New York candidates; now if that doesn't give the rest of America the willies, what will?

It seems like we're always talking about New Yorkers as presidential and vice presidential candidates, simply because there are so many voters there. Franklin Roosevelt. The immortal Thomas E. Dewey and Nelson Rockefeller, New York governors who thought they had a chance to be president, save for the voters not thinking so. The legendary Bill Miller. But I can't recall a time when both candidates were from New York.

I find it curious that American voters may have to choose between two New Yorkers and it has received little, if no attention, from the coastal media. Maybe they think the rest of us won't notice. Maybe they don't care whether the rest of us notice. After all, New York is the Center of Everything (followed at a respectful distance by the District of Columbia and a great distance by everyone else), so the rest of us should be glad that someone from New York would be sitting in the Oval Office.

(By the way, we flatlanders cannot accept the suggestion that Clinton is one of us because she was raised in suburban Chicago, no more than we could accept the assertion that she's really a good ol' girl from Arkansas. When forced to declare her loyalty to the Chicago Cubs or New York Yankees, she -- what else? -- triangulated. I'd like to hear how she would answer the question: "Where are you from?")

Back to my point: Regional politics always has played a role in presidential elections from the republic's very beginning when New England commercial and shipping interests and the South's agrarian and slavery interests were at each other's throats. Regionalism is just one of the things that has divided American politics. Others include big state versus small state. Protestant/Catholic. Liberal/Conservative. Rural/Urban. Nativist/Immigrant. Populist/Establishment. Free trade/ Protectionist. Gold standard/Silver standard.

Of course, after Thursday's debate, we can add a few more: Asbestos pants suit versus guy trousers; cliche versus bromide; platitude versus banality. Nonsensical "choices" (Just answer "yes" or "no," host Wolf Blizter demanded) such as whether human rights are more important than national security. By the time it was over, I had little more information than before it started about where they all stood on, for example, universal health-care insurance, other than they all thought it was kinda important.

So, with all the debate's profundity (the upcoming Republican debate won't be any better), why can't the candidate's hometown or home state be an issue? If New Yorkers don't appreciate that it's a legitimate issue, they should ask themselves: How would they like it if their choice for president came down to two or three candidates from Chicago or Illinois. Even for those of us here, the thought staggers. President Richard M. Daley, Rod Blagojevich or Todd Stroger? Our ex-mayor, Jane Byrne?

The difficulty, of course, would be to find a local Republican to put on the GOP ticket. Former Gov. George Ryan would have to run from prison. GOP leadership here is so absent that they'd have to scrounge around in the Illinois legislature for someone. Wait, the Democrats already have done that.

So, it is fair to ask: Are Clinton and Giuliani the best that the nation has to offer? Is it provincial of anyone outside of New York to raise the issue, when New York itself is provincial? Or is it just a stereotype that New York is provincial? Is it a sure sign of a rube to suggest that New York, itself, is provincial? Isn't the hometown question at least as important as "who won the debate?" Or the degree to which the male candidates criticized Clinton? Or whether the debate "drew blood"? Or all the other meaningless tripe that seems to surround these events, which have become such a waste of time?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Why Can’t Jonathan Succeed?

Ask his old man, if you can find him in this story.

By Dennis Byrne
Human Events

Alas, poor Jonathan; his Washington D.C. high school failed him miserably. He barely passed after years of ditching classes, stringing together a chain of Ds and Fs and acting as if just showing up was reason enough to be awarded a diploma.

This pathetic story was told in a two-part series (here and here) in the Washington Post that rightly indicted the D.C. school system for deep-seated incompetence and indifference. It is worth reading, for what it says, but -- perhaps more importantly -- for what it doesn’t.

Jonathan, in his second attempt to graduate (no explanation was forthcoming about how he even got as far as his senior year), was running out of time, as teacher after counselor bent over backwards to give him every chance possible. Despite papers not turned in and exams flunked (everyone says he’s a bright kid) Jonathan keeps telling himself that he’s going to graduate, as if he had as much contact with reality as the Mad Hatter.

Read more at Human Events

Monday, November 12, 2007

Silence isn't prayer

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

Children, we’re going to have a moment of silence. You can use it to reflect on what you’ll be doing today, for silent prayer, or whatever you want. Everyone has to participate, everyone must remain quiet for the next 30 seconds.”

Such a ruckus that statement has caused. A recently passed law, enacted over Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s veto, has propelled school prayer back into the headlines by requiring every school in the state to start the day with a moment of silence. If children choose, it can be used for silent prayer.

One would think that asking children to be quiet for a few seconds or minutes to reflect on whatever they want would be a good thing. Reflection doesn’t seem to be the long suit of today’s stretched-tight generations. Teachers also might even welcome the relief of a longer mandated silence. Not that many children are going to spend the moment praying for anything except the answers to the test they weren’t prepared for. Or reflecting on pleasurable thoughts about the budding adolescent in the next seat.

Read more in the Chicago Daily Observer

Step forward, be a community

Daley is right: ID the suspects

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

What more proof do we need that Mayor Richard Daley has lost his mind? How else can you explain his recent public scolding of the Back of the Yards community for not ratting out the shooters who killed a pregnant woman in front of her three children on Halloween?

It's exactly what so many of us think every time someone gets killed in the crossfire between gangs, but it's a truth that no one dare speak for fear of getting raked over the coals. Unless he is out of his mind.

"You know who did it," Daley told several hundred people who had gathered for an end-the-violence rally. "Don't be blaming the police. Look in the mirror and say, 'I can do better.' ... If you don't turn these individuals in, you'll be marching for the rest of your life."

He spoke the truth, and it took courage. Some undoubtedly will accuse him of "blaming the victim," which is sociological coinage for, "You can't say anything negative about victims." It's like saying, "If a woman doesn't want to be stared at, she shouldn't dress provocatively." Only a primitive would say such a thing.

When it comes to the causes of violence, the willingness to be victims can't be overlooked. It is simply inconceivable that the gang members were complete strangers to every single person in the neighborhood. Yet no one is willing to step forward to identify the shooters and, hence, to help stop the violence. This is not an isolated case.

We're told that the witnesses are too terrified to step forward: "Ha, you have no concept what it is to live in a neighborhood infected by gang violence and hopelessness. Identifying the shooters can get you killed!"

All true. I don't know what it is like. I'm fortunate enough to live in a community free of such fears. Most of us do. But that doesn't make the principle any less valid. Daley is right; nothing will save a community if it isn't willing to save itself, all the candlelight marches demanding an end to the violence notwithstanding.

Daley's frustration with the treatment of his police department is obvious, and it's not unexpected that he pleads for us not to blame the police, who constantly are being assaulted -- sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly -- by charges of excessive force. Just a few weeks ago, Daley's emotions overflowed when he was responding to demands for the release of the names of cops most frequently accused of brutality. In that case, he overemoted; the public, I believe, has a right to the names.

But sometimes the complaints are just bellyaching. Days before, Daley was presented with knee-jerk criticism of police officers who used a Taser to stun an 82-year-old woman who was brandishing a hammer. Daley expressed proper amazement and distress, but wasn't so quick to condemn the police, as were some others, before knowing all the facts.

The police had been called to the woman's home because Department on Aging employees trying to do a well-being check were face to face with the hammer-swinging, belligerent, mentally ill woman. When she refused to put down the hammer, the police zapped her. Which brought on the furies: She was just a tiny, little thing, confronting people who "forced" their way into her house; she was within her rights to refuse police entry; the police should have found a better way to subdue her (with their nightsticks?); she wasn't a danger to herself or neighbors (although I'm not sure how they were supposed to know that in the heat of the moment); and so forth.

Maybe the police should have said, "OK, suit yourself. We're gone." You can imagine the criticism then: "Just another example how police aren't doing their jobs. They wouldn't have deserted their responsibility if it had been in a white or better-off neighborhood." And so forth.

No, I'm not in favor of the willy-nilly Tasering of grandmothers. I'm married to one. But I do wish that the folks who are so hard on the cops would get their demands straight. The cops are condemned for supposedly failing to protect the neighborhoods from the punks, but witnesses then refuse to name names in the most egregious of murders. We are supposed to believe cops randomly pick on innocent people for -- what? -- the fun of it? We're supposed to be outraged that in one crime-ridden Chicago Housing Authority development, the police ask residences to carry identification cards voluntarily so that the officers can keep away outsiders who bring drugs and violence into the neighborhood.

All I know is that I wouldn't want to be a Chicago cop.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Get off that bus, into telework

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Hey, you, sitting there on your train or bus, have you had enough yet? Sick of this ritualistic dance about mass-transit "doomsday"? Fed up with the endless maneuvering over fares and taxes? Isn't there some "long-term" solution to this mess that would free us from this exhausting exercise? Yes, there is: telecommuting. And you should be demanding it. Now. When you're fed up.

The crux of the commuting problem is simple: too many people going to too many places. You can try to fix it by improving the means of getting there (e.g., more subsidies, higher taxes, more cars, more concrete) without surcease or effect. Or you can reduce the number of people who depend on 19th and 20th Century technology to get there.

Some think that the answer lies in fighting sprawl, but that's been a flop. Academics who continue to cram the idea of "controlled growth" on an unwilling public are as out of touch as disco. All that's accomplished by propping up a mass-transit system with ever-expanding bases of "assured funding" is agony over when we'll have to face the next transit doomsday.

Instead of chasing a utopian ideal by tossing more money and effort at increasing the supply of transit, the enduring solution is reducing the demand for it, whether it is mass or individual. Instead of concentrating on how to best move people, we should be focusing on how to best move information. Instead of fighting technology and its inevitable impact on society, we should be facilitating and promoting the societal change that already has begun.

Almost 4.2 million people worked at home in 2000, up from 3.4 million in 1990, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That 23 percent increase was double the growth in the overall work force during the decade. According to the International Telework Association and Council, the number of Americans who spent at least some portion of the week teleworking jumped from 19.7 million in 1999 to 28 million in 2001, up 42 percent in two years.

Sadly, the greatest resistance comes from the private sector, not government. Telework in the federal government grew 35 percent in 2006, compared with 10 percent in the private sector, according to a study by CDW Government Inc. consultancy. Forty-four percent of federal employees surveyed indicated they have the option to telework, up 6 percent from 2006, compared with 15 percent of private-sector employees. That's thanks to a federal law that gives eligible executive branch employees the option to telecommute "to the maximum extent possible" without damaging their performance evaluations.

No, I don't want a law forcing the private sector to do the same, although just mentioning it will make someone think it's a good idea. Stiff corporate lobbying would make passage of such a law nearly impossible; it'd be easier to educate corporate minds about the benefits, to them and their employees. Not the least of which is the increased ability to continue operations after a natural disaster or terrorist attack. Surveys also show that employees are happier telecommuting, if indeed, companies think having happy employees is a good idea. Other advantages, says the American Telecommuting Association, are improved productivity, information turnaround and communications; greater staffing flexibility; lower employee turnover; and access to a larger pool of potential employees. I'd throw in fewer of those annoying, unproductive, face-to-face meetings.

The challenge is to disabuse private employers of myths about telecommuting and their stubborn belief that if they can't see the workers, then the workers aren't working. Organized labor also resists, citing fears, among others, of overtime abuse and the difficulty of maintaining union cohesion. For companies and unions that absolutely insist on having their employees in a corral, subregional or neighborhood telecenters are an option. For example, instead of making south suburban employees travel to the big northwest suburban headquarters, a company might set up a center in Orland Park.

For society, the benefits are clear and abundant. Among them are reduced energy consumption and pollution, and greater opportunities for the physically impaired, at-home parents, the elderly, people living in remote areas and caretakers for the infirm.

No, I'm not declaring the end of offices and downtowns, or that trains, buses and highways can or should be ignored or eliminated. We'll always need them, and they need to operate as best as they can. But I'm betting that when it comes to investing, say, $1 billion in roads and transit, compared with $1 billion in telecommuting, there's no question of which will produce the greatest return for everyone.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

This Just In: Boys and Girls are different!

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

So, how many billions did it cost us to discover that girls outpace boys on school tests?

That apparently is the latest finding to be coaxed out of the load of academic tests weighing down children and teachers, tying administrators in knots and showering the education and testing industries with untold riches. This latest crisis in gender disparity was described in detail in a recent page-one Chicago Tribune story revealing that Illinois grade school girls last year outperformed boys on every state achievement exam.

I could have saved them the trouble, if they had only asked. Ever since my first day in school in 1946 and every year thereafter, girls did better than boys in school. They were the first to raise their hands and when called on to have the right answer. They got the highest grades, scored big on “deportment” and graduated first in the class.

Read more at Chicago Daily Observer