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.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

How do You Make Americans Sign up For Universal Health Insurance?

By Dennis Byrne
Human Events

What happens when someone refuses to get the health insurance that would be mandated by two Democratic presidential candidates, Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) and former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.)?

If an uninsured patient shows up at a doctor’s office or hospital emergency room, is he refused care? Does he have to produce evidence that he can pay? Will he be required to sign up on the spot for health care coverage before receiving care?

Read more at Human Events

Monday, September 24, 2007

Alliance for the Great Lakes as absolutists

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

“Which would be harder for you to survive without for three days, oil or clean water?” —Cameron Davis, President of the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

Davis has managed in one sentence to capture the essence of the debate over whether BP should be allowed to slightly increase discharges of ammonia and suspended particulate matter into Lake Michigan as part of a $3.8 billion expansion of its northwestern Indiana refinery.

For Davis, and so many others, the issue is one of absolutes: Do you want clean water or oil?

In real life, that’s not the choice we face. Choices are not so absolute, but the opponents who have bashed BP, the state of Indiana and the U.S. EPA for approving the expansion plans would have it so. Either or. Black or white. Good or evil.

Read more in the Chicago Daily Observer

Free, clear, endangered by our mayor

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

After all is said, the rationale for relocating the Chicago Children's Museum into Grant Park comes down to this: Nothing's there, something has to go there and it might as well be the museum.

Obviously, that reasoning flunks all tests of logic, but, at base, it's the best that the move's backers can do. Put aside all the red herrings (racism, classism, adultism) raised by Mayor Richard Daley. A Tribune headline succinctly got to the heart of the argument: "Fixing 'nowhere.'" The northeast corner of Grant Park is "underused;" enter it from the serpentine bridge from Millennium Park and you'll find yourself "nowhere." Because large-scale work must be done on the parking garage below, we'll have an opportunity to fix the supposedly desolate park by relocating the privately operated, fee-to-enter Children's Museum from its cramped Navy Pier quarters.

Of course, that's bunk. There is a "there" there. A "there" with a grand view of the park and Buckingham Fountain to the south. The lake to the east. The skyline to the west. In the heart of downtown, it is a rare and valuable place of quietude. It was my favorite lunchtime refuge when I worked downtown, a place to be immersed in the city's beauty and to forget the office lunacy. The wildflower gardens; the expansive lawns; the plunk of tennis balls on nearby courts; the fountain, framed by rows of trees, rising like an exclamation point blocks away. Anyone who doesn't see the something in all this has nothing for brains.

But wait, museum backers say this won't change after the museum moves there. All that you will see of the subterranean museum are some skylights poking through the landscape. The grass, benches, the opportunity for solitude and all the rest will stay, only better.

Museum backers appear to overlook the irony in their argument: We need to fill in that corner of the park with something; after we fill in that corner, nothing will still be there.

Let's leave that aside and get to why the museum should go elsewhere. Let's also put aside all the legalities, the parsing of court rulings about what constitutes the "forever open, free and clear" standard for Grant Park, and the chuckleheaded digressions about the park's racial, social and economic diversity. This is, after all, a park and what goes in there should have some relationship to it being a park. The Children's Museum does not. Its existence does not depend on it being near grass or the lakefront. It can go many other places without it being diminished as a museum. Its existence in Grant Park doesn't add anything to it. Grant Park can do just fine as a lakefront park without a children's museum.

Longtime readers (if there are any) know that I have felt that the lakefront has been an underutilized resource. As a kid growing up in Chicago, the lakefront as a "destination" wasn't for much my life. It wasn't until the Navy Pier revitalization, Millennium Park and other items came along to add some diversity of activity that the lakefront's potential has been more fully realized. But Grant Park is different. It is legacy land. There's enough already on it. More is coming: the Art Institute's new wing for its modern collection will rise three stories above grade. The park doesn't need another precedent for more stuff to be added.

This fight, thanks to Daley's invective, is far out of proportion. It won't be the end of the world if the museum goes elsewhere, or if Daley wins, as he surely will, and the museum goes into the park. Still, the fight is useful in one respect: It is yet another look into the Chicago Way, or in Daley's mind, the Daley Way. We again see the same full-blown arrogance of a mayor who, in violation of the law and common sense, bulldozed at midnight a civic asset that he personally disliked -- the lakefront Meigs Field.

Some folks are puzzled by Daley's blowup last week -- the uncontrolled anger and the hysterical accusations of racism against the museum's opponents. What on Earth, they ask, set it off. Simple. Daley blew his top at the mere challenge to his authority. He takes it personally. Opponents of the museum's move to Grant Park can only be thankful that building takes longer than destroying. Otherwise, the construction crews would have arrived some dark night, and Chicago would have awoken to a fait accompli in the park.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

They Shudda Let CTA Doomsday Happen

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

They should have let the CTA, Metra and Pace cut service and raise fares this week. They still can go ahead with it, and it wouldn’t have been “doomsday.”

This is contrary to the given wisdom about “ticking clocks” and the approach of our ruination. Everyone meekly accepted the idea that fewer buses and trains running in Chicago and suburbs would be a disaster for “all of us.” They RTA board—the overseer of the region’s transit systems—said they no choice but to grab tens of millions of dollars from next year’s budget to keep service going, or else we would have strangled ourselves on—take your pick—traffic gridlock, suffocating fog and economic disaster. Or all of the above.

This is nuts.

Spending next year’s revenues isn’t too far removed from what millions of American homeowners did by taking out mortgages they could barely afford today, never mind when their ...

Read more at Chicago Daily Observer

Monday, September 17, 2007

What is Pork to Blago?

Whether you call the 1,504 budget items that Gov. Rod Blagojevich vetoed “pork” or public services of great import, you’ve got to be impressed with one thing: There is so much of it.

Wade through the breathtaking enormity of it all, if you can, and you’ll come to appreciate just how attached the people of Illinois are to the state’s largesse. There’s $20,000 here, $50,000 there, intermixed with a few hundred grand for this and that, and pretty soon, it comes to $463 million in projects whose funding the governor either reduced or eliminated.

You’ve really got to see it for yourself. And thanks to the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability (but not to anyone in government), you can. Go to the bipartisan group’s website and there you’ll find lists of all projects vetoed or reduced in funding and then sliced and diced by category, such as health care ...

Read more in the Chicago Daily Observer


'Chicago Way' is no way to run mass-transit system

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Imagine the astonishment of the feds who came here to investigate last year's CTA Blue Line subway accident that injured more than 150 riders and scared untold more. It has to be the same level of stupefaction that greets feds who come here to prosecute the indigenous mob.

Actually, you don't have to imagine the astonishment.

The shock and awe, typically registered by out-of-towners who get a glimpse at how Chicago really works, is graphically laid out in the National Transportation Safety Board's report, released last week, of the subway accident. The "worst" he's ever seen. That's how one NTSB official regarded the CTA's track inspection and maintenance non-system. The train derailed because the track was deteriorating, because no one noticed, because inspections weren't done, or not done well enough, and if they were, the problems weren't getting reported and those that were, weren't getting fixed. Lucky no one was killed. Riders and taxpayers have a right to be enraged at the "Chicago Way" of doing things.

The investigation, citing a deficient safety culture, noted "a series of latent conditions and active failures at many levels through the CTA corporate structure, which is characteristic of an organizational accident." That's bureaucratese for: This is one pathetic, dangerous operation.

But it's the result of more than just one kind of failed "culture." It's the convergence of multiple failed cultures that constitute the Chicago Way, and explain why the CTA is a mess, operationally, physically and financially.

The Chicago Way dictates that the CTA must first be an instrument of political power and greed for City Hall and Springfield; moving people efficiently and safely is but a secondary consideration. The Chicago Way has fostered a larger regional transit setup in which transit, engineering, marketing and other professionalism is smothered in a balance of power struggle among competing political forces in the Chicago area and the state. The latest permutation of the power struggle is again -- sigh -- "reform" that would give the Regional Transportation Authority badly needed and stronger powers to knock some heads together, to get the city and suburban rail and bus lines to act like the single system they should be. A good idea. But it would require a supermajority of the newly constituted RTA board to do anything that would really matter.

Then there is the Illinois Way, which is actually the Democratic Party Way, because all the dolts and opportunists who run (or ruin) things in Springfield are Democrats. The supporting cast of Republicans is like the chorus in the background of a Greek tragedy, wailing in observance, but not doing much else.

Let's not forget the Organized Labor Way, which for decades saddled the CTA with outrageous work rules and pay demands. Yes, labor leaders have made some concessions, no doubt in the spirit of public interest, and not because they were forced.

Throw in the Riders' Way. If they have to pay a bigger share, it's a capital crime. Even though the bargain they're getting, courtesy of taxpayers, allows them to ride for not much more than the price of a good candy bar. Politicians feed this sense of entitlement in many cowardly ways, some of them so covert that they escape even sharp eyes. I refer to a provision of the "reform" legislation that exempts $200 million in aid to regional transit from a law that requires that it be matched by revenues generated from fares.

Which leads us to the Assured Funding Way. This cultural mind-set argues that mass transit must finally get from taxpayers the kind of "assured funding" that it deserves. We go through this Kabuki dance every decade or so. When the RTA was created in the early 1970s, assured funding was a regional gasoline tax. Sure enough, that wasn't assured enough, so that was dropped in favor of a regional sales tax, which was "more assured." Now, an increased sales tax and a huge real estate transfer tax on the sale of Chicago homes, rest assured, are the answers.

Eventually, taxes will be raised, fares will go a little higher, some service will be "rationalized" (cut), political egos will be bruised and "reform" will bring a "new day." But the Chicago Way and other ways of doing things here won't change, and in 10 years, we'll be back where we started.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

PGA to Chicago: Drop Dead!

By Dennis Byrne

Seeing the good, but hardly record-breaking crowds at the former Western Open in Lemont watch Tiger Woods impressively capture his mind-boggling 60th professional golf title this weekend, the PGA feels confirmed in its decision to shaft one of the nation’s best golf cities—Chicago.

The Professional Golf Association has not just snuffed the Western Open name—a Chicago institution and professional golf’s oldest tournament—but has decided to move it out of Chicago—one of the nation’s most enthusiastic golf venues—leaving us without a single PGA event.

According to the PGA, we’re supposed to feel good about that.

For those who don’t share my passion for golf, here’s a way to better understand the PGA’s insult: If you’re a big fan of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, think about insult when the legendary Sir Georg Solti commemorated his last concert as music director of the CSO in New York’s Carnegie Hall.

Read more at Chicago Daily Observer

Monday, September 10, 2007

Craig the villain, not cop

Individual rights don't extend to solicitation in public bathrooms

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

So why is the cop who enforced the law by arresting Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) for trolling for sex in a public washroom now the one who's getting hammered?

The cop, Sgt. Dave Karsnia, and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Police Department were doing their jobs. But you might get the idea from some of the reaction that the cops did something awful. "They should mind their own business," is the heart of the astonishing criticism.

So, it has come to this, a debate over whether public restrooms can be used for sexual meet-and-greets. Even though Craig has been humiliated and is contemplating giving up his U.S. Senate seat -- at least that's the latest word -- the question of the legitimacy of the police arresting panderers in public bathrooms lingers as an issue. This is the consequence of today's "progressive" canons, which now challenge even routine law enforcement as "entrapment."

Consider CBS' "Sunday Morning" commentator Ben Stein last week when he called Craig the "innocent victim of a setup by the evil-minded police of Minneapolis-St. Paul that Stalin would have admired."

Stalin? You mean the Stalin who had 20 million murdered? Sheesh, Ben, for good measure, why not throw in Pol Pot, Genghis Khan and Hitler?

Said Stein: "Sen. Craig has been the victim of a police lynching. A [Republican] party that believes in individual rights should be rallying to his defense, not making him walk the plank. Shame on the GOP leadership, and utter disgrace to the airport police and their thug behavior."

Thug? Does that mean that Karsnia grabbed Craig by the ankles, dragged him out of the stall over the filthy washroom floor, kicked him unconscious and transported him across the Bridge of Sighs into oblivion? Now that would be thuggery.

And "individual rights"? Does Stein think that sexual solicitation among strangers who may not want to be solicited is a right? In this way of thinking, I gather that Stein wouldn't want the cops to move in on a bunch of prostitutes who had set up a booth in front of his home. Or who were prowling his apartment building's vestibule in search of johns.

Stein and others were pouring it on the Police Department for supposedly depleting their resources by entrapping consenting adults for nothing more than what goes on in a singles bar, when every cop in the department supposedly should be sweeping the airport clean of terrorists. Hanging around a public bathroom to hook up for some sex between two (or more, I suppose) consenting adults is, by this train of thought, none of anyone's business. What Craig did, Stein said, was a "trifle." And certainly no reason to ruin a man's career.

Oh, stop. Here's one good reason, and reason enough for me, for arresting Craig: People should not have to put up with having public bathrooms turned into sexual staging grounds. Let the horny little devils use the Internet to hook up.

But in today's environment of radical individualism, everything comes down to "choice." As in, "I choose to hunt for men with boyish faces in public restrooms." Choice trumps decency, deportment and all the other things that once comprised standard instruction for all children.

But, hey, it's my bathroom too. Choice, apparently, doesn't extend to those of us who choose not to have their feet tapped by the guy in the next stall, especially when your only choice is to use this particular facility while on the interstate highway or at the airport. And therein lies the difference between what goes on in a singles bar (gay or straight) and what shouldn't happen in a public bathroom. If I don't like what happens in the meet markets, I can stay out of them.

I'm old enough to remember when train stations and bus terminals were infected by this kind of virus, and you wouldn't want your kid to go in alone. If some guy gets arrested for thinking that the airport restroom should become the same kind of pit, then more power to the cops.

Especially when it nabs a hypocrite like Craig, who has spent his career attacking the very kind of behavior in which he has wallowed. The villain in this is Craig, not the police. Spare them the ridicule and simple-minded comparisons to Stalin.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The light goes on in GOP HD

A few minutes after you read this, there is no guarantee that Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho won't change his mind again about resigning because he was nabbed in a Minnesota airport men’s room trolling for sex.

As of this writing, it has been almost impossible to keep track of his on-again, off-again plans to carry out his statement after his arrest became public that it was his “intention” to resign his Senate seat on Oct. 11

Even USA Today’s OnPolitics fast-moving web site couldn’t keep up with the current state of Craig’s intent, and, apparently, neither could his office, as his spokesmen, being of two minds like their boss, issued contradictory clarifications.

Still, his waffling has provided a clearer look into his mind, and the sight of what’s there isn’t pretty:

Read more at Political Mavens

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Thompson's Bold Vision

By Dennis Byrne
RealClearPolitics

As Fred Thompson proclaimed his presidential candidacy on NBC's "Tonight Show," the most telling moment came when he sparked wild cheering as he spoke this truth: America has laid down more of its blood and treasure in the cause of freedom than all other countries combined.

Bingo.

If Thompson's advisors don't know what his campaign theme should be, they know it now. It is, indeed, a grand and visionary statement that leaves all opponents of both parties quibbling in the dust over the details of public policy and personal qualifications

Read more at RealClearPolitics

Monday, September 03, 2007

Plenty of Road Rage for All

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

'Now, I'd never say that," I said to a friend who had just spoken the unspeakable:

"Women drivers use their cell phones more often than men," implying, of course, that you're more likely to get whacked by a distracted woman driver than a man. "You," I said, "will go straight to the dark, infernal pit reserved for misogynists such as yourself."

Still, I had to wonder if he was right. Especially as a woman talking on a cell phone had nearly clipped my car as she made a left turn while I was waiting at a stoplight. Jerk. So, I commenced my own informal survey, observing over the last few months the sex of drivers who were yakking on their cells. My survey concluded that women cell-phone users outnumbered men 2-1, and, during some weeks, 3-1.

Of course, this is only "anecdotal" evidence, proving nothing. It led me to an Internet search of the "literature," as scholars are wont to say, of the demographics of phone users. It failed to turn up anything definitive. (Rare, in my view, is the study that's definitive, especially ones done by sociologists. Pointless, perhaps, but definitive, no.)

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a December 2004 report that men had a slight edge over women in daytime cell-phone use in cars. The report concluded that "there is no significant effect of hands-free or hand-held cell-phone use on accidents." The American Enterprise Institute-Brookings Institution Joint Center for Regulatory Studies agreed, adding that the accident risks by some previous studies may be overstated by 36 percent. They also find no evidence that cell-phone bans reduce traffic accidents.

Blah, blah. I don't buy it. How else do you explain that after the few times I've used a cell phone while driving, I can't remember driving through some intersections?

But if you want to ban a worse, more dangerous device, I'd suggest ...

Cruise controls.

That's right, outlaw that seemingly innocent device that automatically controls the speed of your car, freeing you of the laborious task of pressing your foot against the gas pedal.

This may make me the only driver in the world who thinks that cruise controls are a menace in the wrong hands. Cruise controls are supposed to be used only on straight highways in light traffic. But the cruise-control putz, like the cell-phone user, is oblivious to other drivers as he dials in a set-in-stone speed while plying crowded interstates, winding mountain roads and even city streets, his foot off the accelerator.

On an interstate, he'll pick, say, 68 m.p.h., and position himself in the left (fast) lane. Never mind that the guy he's passing in the right lane is going 67. He doesn't speed up or slow down because, by God, 68 is what he's decided to go, and no one or nothing will change his mind. Not even the growing line of cars stuck behind.

Thus, the cruise-control putz has created the dreaded and deadly traffic node. The node is best seen, as are clouds, from a distance, a mile or two back. From afar, the node appears as a tightly moving long, narrow and dark monster, making its way at a relentless pace, up and down hills and around turns. Up close, the cars are bunched dangerously close to each other, as their drivers jockey for position, some swerving into the right lane to try to cut in line farther up, and raising already frayed tempers to near violent levels.

Honk and flash their lights as other drivers might, no one is getting past cruise-control putz. One misstep by anyone, and look out for the chain-reaction accident.

Even after cruise-control putz passes the car on his right, he may still choose to stay as the fast-lane captain, despite the roadside signs instructing him: "Slower traffic keep right."

The smart, patient and safe driver (me) assiduously avoids nodes; he adjusts his speed so that he never catches up, allowing a mile of vacant highway between him and the node, until, hours later, the node somehow, miraculously, unravels.

The temptation when you pass one of these morons is to give the driver the evil eye and the bird. But don't bother; the driver probably wouldn't notice because she's on her cell.